A fundamental relationship of mainstream economic theory at the heart of the Federal Reserve’s strategy for setting interest rates has been a poor guide for policy makers for at least three decades, according to a study by the Philadelphia Fed’s top-ranking economist. The paper, co-authored by Philadelphia Fed Director of Research Michael Dotsey, shows that forecasting models based on the so-called Phillips curve, which asserts a link between unemployment and inflation, don’t actually help predict inflation. “Our results indicate that monetary policymakers should at best be very cautious in their reliance on the Phillips curve when gauging inflationary pressures,” Dotsey and Philadelphia Fed economists Shigeru Fujita and Tom Stark wrote.
Their study is timely. Fed officials have been surprised by a deceleration in U.S. inflation over the past several months despite a continued decline in unemployment, the opposite of what the Phillips curve relationship would predict. Minutes of the last meeting of the central bank’s rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee in July revealed that “a few participants cited evidence suggesting that this framework was not particularly useful in forecasting inflation,” while “most participants thought that the framework remained valid.” If the majority view on the FOMC is that the Phillips curve framework is still valid, it implies that central bankers should continue raising interest rates with unemployment at a 16-year low, because they expect inflation will rise in the medium term even though prices pressures have been disappointingly soft.
Kansas City Fed President Esther George, who has been more forceful than many of her colleagues in recent years about the need to raise rates, lent support to that view on the sidelines of this week’s annual gathering of central bankers from around the world in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “There may in fact be something wrong with the models, I don’t know, I think that continues to be a question that many economists are asking,” George said during a TV interview with Bloomberg’s Michael McKee that aired Thursday. Even so, she favors another rate increase this year.
In Dealers “Wildly Overweight” SUVs as Sales Slow, I commented “Vehicles account for 20% of retail spending. A crash or even a significant slowdown will impact retail sales and thus GDP.” A reader asked me how I calculated that. Let’s take a look. My number came from the latest Census Department Advance Retail Sales Report. Here are some charts I created from 7-month totals (January-July) 2017.
• Motor vehicles and parts account for 21.18% of retail sales. Gasoline stations account for 7.94%. Together that adds up to 29.12%.
• Food and beverage stores (grocery and liquor stores) account for 12.62 percent of retail sales. Food services and drinking places (restaurants and bars) account for 12.14. The food and drink total is 24.76%.
• Nonstore retailers (think Amazon) account 10.39% of retail sales.
Over seven years, the state of California has spent $449 million on consumer rebates to boost sales of zero-emission vehicles. So far, the subsidies haven’t moved the needle much. In 2016, of the just over 2 million cars sold in the state, only 75,000 were pure-electric and plug-in hybrid cars. To date, out of 26 million cars and light trucks registered in California, just 315,000 are electric or plug-in hybrids. The California Legislature is pushing forward a bill that would double down on the rebate program. Sextuple down, in fact. If $449 million can’t do it, the thinking goes, maybe $3 billion will. That’s the essence of the plan that could lift state rebates from $2,500 to $10,000 or more for a compact electric car, making, for example, a Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car cost the same as a gasoline-driven Honda Civic.
Already approved by several Senate and Assembly committees, the bill will go to Gov. Jerry Brown for his approval or veto if the full Legislature approves it by the end of its current session on Sept. 15. California aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to a level 40% below what they were in 1990. “If we want to hit our goals, we’re going to have to do something about transportation,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), sponsor of Assembly Bill 1184. Without a dramatic boost in subsidies, Ting said, the state risks falling short of Gov. Brown’s goal of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on California highways by 2025, and the California Air Resources Board’s goal of 4 million such cars by 2030. The bill is opposed by Republicans averse to taxpayer subsidies and even the Legislature’s own analysts have called it “duplicative,” “unclear” and “problematic.”
Those who think today’s stock market is unlike that of 2000, when baseless enthusiasm pushed stocks up to wild valuations, only to collapse in subsequent years, should take another look. Do they remember counting eyeballs as a basis for value? Once again, history and reality are replaced by dreams with little substance. Tesla, in which I have a short position, is becoming the loudest canary in Wall Street’s coal mine. Tesla requires repetitive capital raises to fund persistent operating losses. This requires bullish analysts and holders to keep the stock aloft with projections of imagined earnings from future products, while they overlook existing businesses, which continue to lose vast sums of money. Morgan Stanley, one of Tesla’s major underwriters, has an analyst covering Tesla named Adam Jonas. Astonishingly, he raised his price target for the stock, despite recognizing the need to slash his earnings forecast.
In May, Jonas had estimated per-share losses (excluding stock-option expense) of $3.53 in 2017 and $1.14 in 2018, and a profit of $2.43 in 2019. His latest estimates: losses of $7.60 and $3.66, and a 2019 profit of $2.01. Raising the target price while more than doubling the company’s projected loss indicates the craziness of the times. Price targets are fantasies, discounting distant earnings estimates by analysts who show little accuracy in estimating only a year ahead. For most companies, profit is the major objective. Tesla is different because its founder is different. Elon Musk is driven by a mission to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. Unlike companies seeking profit maximization by using patents to establish exclusive rights to products, Musk encourages competitors and has made virtually all of his patents available. Almost all auto companies have imminent plans to compete.
Tesla has been first-to-market in electric cars, but this in no way guarantees success, as competition and technological change are major challenges. Remember Atari, Blackberry, AOL, Napster, Netscape, and Palm? Musk is smart and imaginative, but none of his major companies are profitable. Tesla has been around for 14 years and has cumulatively lost more than $3.7 billion, despite the massive subsidies that it and its customers have received. SolarCity, also a beneficiary of alternative-energy subsidies, lost hundreds of millions of dollars before being bailed out by Tesla. As subsidies diminish, and competition emerges, profits will be even more elusive. Tesla tries to convey the illusion of inexhaustible demand for its cars, yet sales of the Model S and Model X have been flat for four quarters. Tesla’s rising inventory and shrinking deposits suggest declining demand.
Tesla claims to have more than 400,000 deposits for the Model 3, but these aren’t orders. They reflect a decision by potential buyers to get in line for a $7,500 tax credit at virtually no cost. Shifting $1,000 from a savings account into a refundable Tesla deposit costs only about $1 per year in lost interest. Fewer than 100,000 of these depositors will actually get full tax credits before Tesla consumes its allowable allotment of them. Its competitors will be able to offer such credits to prospective buyers, just as Tesla’s expire.
Labour is to announce a dramatic policy shift by backing continued membership of the EU single market beyond March 2019, when Britain leaves the EU, establishing a clear dividing line with the Tories on Brexit for the first time. In a move that positions it decisively as the party of “soft Brexit”, Labour will support full participation in the single market and customs union during a lengthy “transitional period” that it believes could last between two and four years after the day of departure, it is to announce on Sunday. This will mean that under a Labour government the UK would continue to abide by the EU’s free movement rules, accept the jurisdiction of the European court of justice on trade and economic issues, and pay into the EU budget for a period of years after Brexit, in the hope of lessening the shock of leaving to the UK economy.
In a further move that will delight many pro-EU Labour backers, Jeremy Corbyn’s party will also leave open the option of the UK remaining a member of the customs union and single market for good, beyond the end of the transitional period. Permanent long-term membership would only be considered if a Labour government could by then have persuaded the rest of the EU to agree to a special deal on immigration and changes to freedom of movement rules. The announcement, revealed in the Observer by the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, means voters will have a clear choice between the two main parties on the UK’s future relations with the EU after a year in which Labour’s approach has been criticised for lacking definition and appeared at times hard to distinguish from that of the Tories.
The decision to stay inside the single market and abide by all EU rules during the transitional period, and possibly beyond, was agreed after a week of intense discussion at the top of the party. It was signed off by the leadership and key members of the shadow cabinet on Thursday, according to Starmer’s office.
This is the week-of-weeks when the official grand viziers of finance gather at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to confab and interpret the lay of animal neck-bones and other auguries scattered in the sand, with the hope of steering the awesome powers of the universe this was or that as they affect the operations of money. The exercise is hardly different in function from the sort of rude ceremonials that took place on top of Sumerian ziggurats and Aztec temples — to reassure the masses that effective spells for favor of the Gods have been cast — except that in our civilization money is God. Or “money,” we should say, because the old definitions don’t fit so well anymore. It used to have a straightforward relationship with the work required to produce actual things of value, but those days are gone.
“Money” nowadays is a byproduct of wishful analytics and computer legerdemain seasoned with generous measures of fraud and larceny. This is a big problem when everything is measured in money and it becomes quite impossible to state with assurance what the value of money actually is. Obviously, you end up not knowing the value of anything. That’s the perilous situation the world faces. And since the USA is the straw the stirs the world’s drink — at least for now — the utterances emanating from Jackson Hole may determine which way that situation turns. We should suppose that the officers of the Federal Reserve are upright, well-intentioned, patriotic people. No doubt they think they are. But the perilous situation is largely one of their own making, and seems to be veering out of their control, and reputations are at stake.
Their task at this year’s Jackson Hole confab is to maintain the appearance of confidence in their own rituals. But with a kicker. That kicker is named T-r-u-m-p. This modern Balaam, riding the ass of the Deep State into wickedness, must be stopped, perhaps at all costs. On his way to the oval office last fall, Trump prophesied that the stock markets represented “one big, fat, ugly bubble.” That was an offense to the grand viziers, for whom the elevated stock market valuations stood as the main testament to their power and wisdom. In fact, it was the only testament, and a rather flimsy one. More recently, though, the wicked Trump changed his tune and declared that the tower of stock market exaltation was his own doing, setting himself up for the revenge of the grand viziers.
Since nothing else has worked so far to dislodge Trump from the White House, a tumbling tower of stocks might seal his fate. The tower has to fall anyway, lest the moiling masses of flyover America think about besetting Wall Street with pitchforks and torches. A controlled demolition might be just the thing to appease these suffering holders of three part-time jobs (if they are so lucky) who have stood by in wonder and nausea while a tiny fraction of the elite gather unto themselves all the dwindling riches of the realm — at least in paper securities denominated in US dollars — while the wicked Trump will be left to the jackals of the Deep State, to be torn apart with the 25th Amenedment.
If it’s Independence Day, then you can count on John McCain to be bunkered down in a remote outpost of the Empire growling for the Pentagon to unleash airstrikes on some unruly nation, tribe or gang. This July the Fourth found McCain making a return engagement to Kabul, an arrival that must have prompted many Afghans to scramble for the nearest air raid shelter. From the press room at NATO command, McCain announced that “none of us could say we are on a course to success here in Afghanistan.” The senator should have paused for a reflective moment and then called for an end to the war. Instead, McCain demanded that Trump send more US troops, more bombers and more drones to terrorize a population that has been riven by near constant war since the late 1970s.
McCain’s martial drool is now as familiar as the opening notes to the “Law & Order” theme song. What may surprise some, however, is the composition of the delegation that signed up to travel on his frequent flier program, notably the presence of two Democratic Senators with soaring profiles: Sheldon Whitehouse and Elizabeth Warren. Whitehouse, the former prosecutor (aren’t they all?) from Rhode Island, has lately taken a star turn in the role of chief inquisitor of suspected Russian witches in the Senate intelligence committee hearings. Perhaps he finally located one selling AK-47s to the Taliban to replace the guns they’d gotten from the CIA. (We now know that it’s the Saudis–not the Russians–who have been covertly funneling money to the Taliban, though don’t expect the Trump to impose any sanctions on the Kingdom of the Head-choppers.)
For her part, Warren largely echoed McCain’s bellicose banter that Trump needs to double down militarily to finish off the Taliban, the impossible dream. No real surprise here. To the extent that she’s advanced any foreign policy positions during her stint in the senate, Warren has been a dutiful supplicant to the demands of AIPAC and the Council on Foreign Relations, rarely diverging from the neocon playbook for the global war on Islam. Warren’s Afghan junket is a sure sign of her swelling presidential ambitions. These days “national security” experience is measured almost exclusively by how much blood you are willing to spill in countries you know almost nothing about. It didn’t take long for Warren to matriculate to the company position.
[..] Nothing better illustrates the eclipse of US global power than the fact that Afghanistan refuses to be subjugated or even managed, despite 16 years of hard-core carnage. Since the first US airstrikes hit Kandahar in October 2001, more than 150,000 Afghan civilians have been killed. Still Afghanistan resists imperial dictates. Even after Obama’s shameful troop surge in 2010, an escalation that went almost unopposed by the US antiwar movement, the Taliban now retains almost as much control of the country as it did in 2001. And for that Afghanistan must be punished. Eternally, it seems.
For years, optimists have talked up carbon capture and storage (CCS) as an essential part of taking emissions out of electricity generation. Yes, build wind and solar farms, they have said, but they can t be relied on to produce enough power all the time. So we ll still need our fleet of fossil-fuel-burning power stations; we just need to stop them pumping carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Most of their emphasis has been on post-combustion capture. This involves removing CO2 from power station flue gases by absorbing them into an aqueous solution containing chemicals known as amines. You then extract the CO2 , compress it into a liquid and pump it into a storage facility the vision in the UK being to use depleted offshore oil and gas fields. One of the big attractions with such a system is it could be retrofitted to existing power stations.
But ten years after the UK government first announced a £1 billion competition to design CCS, we re not much further forward. The reason is summed up by the geologist Lord Oxburgh in his contribution to the government-commissioned report on CCS published last year: “There is no serious commercial incentive and it will stay that way unless the state demonstrates there is a business there.” The problem is that the process is costly and energy intensive. For a gas-fired power station, you typically have to burn 16% more gas to provide the capture power. Not only this, you end up with a 16% increase in emissions of other serious air pollutants like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Concerns have also been expressed about the potential health effects of the amine solvent used in the carbon capture.
You then have to contend with the extra emissions from processing and transporting 16% more gas. And all this before you factor in the pipeline costs of the CO2 storage and the uncertainties around whether it might escape once you ve got it in the ground. Around the world, the only places CCS looks viable are where there are heavy state subsidies or substantial additional revenue streams, such as from enhanced oil recovery from oilfields where the COC is being pumped in. Well, say the carbon capture advocates, maybe another technology is the answer. They point to oxy-combustion, a system which is close to reaching fruition at a plant in Texas.
First proposed many years ago by British engineer Rodney Allam, this involves separating oxygen from air, burning the oxygen with the fossil fuel, and using the combustion products -water and CO2- to drive a high-pressure turbine and produce electricity. The hot CO2 is pressurised and recycled back into the burners, which improves thermal efficiency. It has the additional advantage that CO12 is also available at pressures suitable for pipeline transportation.
Industrial agriculture is bringing about the mass extinction of life on Earth, according to a leading academic. Professor Raj Patel said mass deforestation to clear the ground for single crops like palm oil and soy, the creation of vast dead zones in the sea by fertiliser and other chemicals, and the pillaging of fishing grounds to make feed for livestock show giant corporations can not be trusted to produce food for the world. The author of bestselling book The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy will be one of the keynote speakers at the Extinction and Livestock Conference in London in October. Organised by campaign groups Compassion in World Farming and WWF, it is being held amid rising concern that the rapid rate of species loss could ultimately result in the sixth mass extinction of life.
This is just one reason why geologists are considering declaring a new epoch of the Earth, called the Anthropocene, as the fossils of soon-to-be extinct animals will form a line in the rocks of the future. The last mass extinction, which finished off the dinosaurs and more than three-quarters of all life about 65 million years ago, was caused by an asteroid strike that sent clouds of smoke all around the world, blocking out the sun for about 18 months. Prof Patel, of the University of Texas at Austin, said: “The footprint of global agriculture is vast. Industrial agriculture is absolutely responsible for driving deforestation, absolutely responsible for pushing industrial monoculture, and that means it is responsible for species loss. “We’re losing species we have never heard of, those we’ve yet to put a name to and industrial agriculture is very much at the spear-tip of that.”
Speaking to The Independent, he pointed to a “dead zone” – an area of water where there is too little oxygen for most marine life – in the Gulf of Mexico that has grown to the same size as Wales because of vast amounts of fertiliser that has washed from farms in mainland US, into the Mississippi River and then into the ocean. “That dead zone isn’t an accident. It’s a requirement of industrial agriculture to get rid of the sh*t and the run-off elsewhere because you cannot make industrial agriculture workable unless you kick the costs somewhere else,” he said. “The story of industrial agriculture is all about externalising costs and exploiting nature.” “Extinction is about the elimination of diversity. What happens in Brazil and other places is you get green deserts — monocultures of soy and nothing else. “Various kinds of chemistry is deployed to make sure it is only soy that’s grown on these mega-farms. “That’s what extinction looks like. If you ever go to a soy plantation, animal life is incredibly rare. It’s only soy, there’s nothing there for anything to feed on.”
There are many voices saying crazy things in this North Korea thing, and I’m not even watching CNN. But this is the craziest thing of all: how to make money off a nuclear attack. These people are mentally blind.
Financial markets haven’t really reacted much to the escalation in tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, and some observers explain that it’s largely because in the worst-case scenario it’s impossible to guess the appropriate price for things like stocks and bonds. “It’s hard to price a potentially extinction event (at least for much of the Korean peninsula),” is how Timothy Ash, a senior strategist at Bluebay Asset Management in London, puts it. It’s a point also made by Mark Mobius, the Templeton Emerging Markets Group executive chairman and apostle for emerging-market investing. He said in a May interview about the prospect of a North Korean nuclear conflict: “there’s nothing you can do about it – if something breaks out, we’re all finished anyway.” Maybe that’s why the worst day this year for the Kospi index of South Korean stocks was July 28, which was all about a global tech-stock retreat and nothing to do with geopolitics.
After deleveraging in the aftermath of the last U.S. recession, Americans have once again taken on record debt loads that risk holding back the world’s largest economy. Household debt outstanding – everything from mortgages to credit cards to car loans – reached $12.7 trillion in the first quarter, surpassing the previous peak in 2008 before the effects of the housing market collapse took its toll, Federal Reserve Bank of New York data show. To put the borrowing in perspective, it’s more than the size of China’s economy or almost four times that of Germany’s. People are borrowing more not necessarily because they’re confident about their financial prospects. They’re doing it for necessities like education or transportation and, in many cases, just to get by.
On the surface, liabilities at an all-time high aren’t alarming when the assets side of ledger is taken into account. Household net worth stands at a record $94.8 trillion, thanks to rebounding home values and soaring stock portfolios. But that increase has primarily benefited the nation’s wealthiest, said Lance Roberts, chief investment strategist at Clarity Financial in Houston and editor of the Real Investment Advice newsletter. “When you look at net worth, it’s heavily skewed by the top 10%,” Roberts said. “The average family of four is living paycheck to paycheck.” For most Americans, whose median household income, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was at its peak in 1999, borrowing has been the answer to maintaining their standard of living. The increase in debt helps explain why the economy’s main source of fuel is providing less of boost than in the past.
Personal spending growth has averaged 2.4% since the recession ended in 2009, less than the 3% of the previous expansion and 4.3% from 1982-90. A look at worker pay presents a more dire backdrop for discretionary spending for those without a lot of assets. While the difference between income from wages and household debt has improved since the last recession, it’s been leveling off and remains at a depressed level. The improvement also reflects less mortgage debt because of increased home foreclosures, rather than a pickup in earnings. “This increase in leverage has sapped our ability to spend,” Roberts said. “I think we’re stuck.”
A series of articles on today’s new marvels, Tesla, Uber, Amazon, Airbnb. They all fall to bits, one by one.
Tesla is a highly destructive company. All it takes is a basic understanding of thermodynamics. Strip-mining, cutting down forests, throwing the Congo into even deeper misery, just so you can fool yourself into thinking you’re clean.
Tesla proponents love to remind people how their vehicles are “carbon free” (in spite of Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s own carbon profligate lifestyle): Fact: the Tesla Model S is an environmentally friendly, zero emissions electric vehicle that won’t pollute the air like gas-powered cars. Carbon emissions from a gas car’s tailpipe has a dangerous impact on global warming…. In addition, Tesla CEO Elon Musk explains that, “combustion cars emit toxic gases. According to an MIT study, there are 53,000 deaths per year in the U.S. alone from auto emissions.” But in reminding people about how they don’t burn fossil fuels, they make sure to omit and/or obfuscate all the other emissions-laden factors that go into production of Tesla automobiles, including the oft-unspoken costs of the vehicles to the taxpayer and to other auto manufacturers.
Start with the power source for the Tesla; their electric power plant uses lithium-ion batteries to store the electricity required to run the car. And while a good amount of lithium is produced at salt lake brines that use chemical processes to extract the requisite lithium… …a large (and growing) amount of lithium is sourced from hard-rock mining, which is also referred to as strip mining: This type of mining involves not just all the carbon used to extract the lithium from mines, it “strips” the land of its forests, which is far more environmentally (and carbon) detrimental. And while it is likely impossible to know exactly where Tesla sources its materials from, a closer examination on Tesla’s impact on the mining industry should paint a crystal clear picture:
Should the concept capture the imagination of Americans who are increasingly conscious of reducing their carbon footprint demand for these crucial elements could skyrocket in addition to the already robust global demand for lithium, nickel and copper. Major mining companies are already “future proofing” their businesses for climate change by focusing more investment into commodities that will be required by the renewable energy industry. You can’t make this stuff up – Tesla and other renewable energy industries are going to save the world by mining its natural resources to excess, without regard for the environmental impact and carbon emissions generated in the process. You shouldn’t be surprised to seldom hear this mentioned by Elon Musk, or the liberal crowd that champions electric vehicles.
Uber, which has lost $3 billion last year and has gotten itself into a thicket of intractable issues and scandals that cost founder and CEO Travis Kalanick his job, is now facing a subprime auto-leasing crisis. Two years ago when these folks launched the subprime auto leasing program to put their badly paid drivers into new vehicles they couldn’t otherwise afford, they apparently didn’t do the math. In July 2015, when the “Xchange Leasing” program was announced, the company gushed: “We’re excited about how these new solutions meet drivers’ unique needs, and offer more and better choices and greater flexibility than ever before.” The leasing program would be “administered by an Uber subsidiary and designed to fit with the flexibility that drivers value most,” it said. This is how it would work:
Unlike most multi-year leases that have high fees for early termination, drivers who participate in Xchange for at least 30 days will be able to return the car with only two weeks notice, and limited additional costs. The program allows for unlimited mileage and the option to lease a used car, with routine maintenance also included. It wasn’t supposed to be a money maker – nothing at Uber is. But hey. And the company invested $600 million in the business, “people familiar with the matter” told the Wall Street Journal. This type of lease was offered to drivers with subprime credit ratings or no credit ratings who barely earned enough money to get by and make the payments, if they stuck around long enough. It allowed drivers to drive new cars. When it didn’t work out for them, they could return the cars after 30 days with two weeks’ notice.
The only penalty for the early return is that Uber keeps the $250 deposit. And these leases came with “unlimited miles.” No one in the car business would ever conceive of such a thing. But Uber is different. It defies the laws of economics. Or so it thought at the time. Now, the 14-member executive committee that is running the show looked at the math and was horrified. “According to people familiar with the matter,” cited by The Journal, executives had briefed the committee in July: “The Xchange Leasing division had been estimating modest losses of around $500 per auto on average, these people said. But managers recently informed Uber executives that the losses were actually about $9,000 per car — about half the sticker price of a typical leased vehicle.”
Maybe Amazon has figured out that you’re not the only one who isn’t buying groceries online. Maybe it has figured out, despite all the money it has thrown at it, that selling groceries online is a very tough nut to crack. And no one has cracked it yet. Numerous companies have been trying. Safeway started an online store and delivery service during the dotcom bubble and has made practically no headway. A plethora of startups, brick-and-mortar retailers, and online retailers have tried it, including the biggest gorillas of all — Walmart, Amazon, and Google. Google is trying it in conjunction with Costco and others. It just isn’t catching on. And this has baffled many smart minds. Online sales in other products are skyrocketing and wiping out the businesses of brick-and-mortar retailers along the way. But groceries?
That’s one of the reasons Amazon is eager to shell out $14.7 billion to buy Whole Foods, its biggest acquisition ever, dwarfing its prior biggest acquisition, Zappos, an online shoe seller, for $850 million. Amazon cannot figure out either how to sell groceries online though it has tried for years. Now it’s looking for a new model — namely the old model in revised form? This is why everyone who’s online wants to get a piece of the grocery pie: The pie is big. Monthly sales at grocery stores in June seasonally adjusted were $53 billion. For the year 2016, sales amounted to $625 billion: But it’s going to be very tough for online retailers to muscle into this brick-and-mortar space, according to Gallup, based on its annual Consumption Habits survey, conducted in July. Consumers just aren’t doing it:
Only 9% of US households say they order groceries online at least once a month, either for pickup or delivery. Only 4% do so at least once a week. By contrast, someone in nearly all households (98%) goes to brick-and-mortar grocery stores at least once a month, and 83% go at least once a week. Gallup summarizes the quandary: At this point, online grocery shopping appears to be an adjunct to retail shopping rather than a replacement, as most shoppers whose families purchase groceries online once or twice a month or more say they still visit a store to buy groceries at least once a week. But there are some differences by age group – and maybe that’s where Amazon sees some distant hope: Of the 18-29 year olds, 15% shop for groceries on line at least once a month. For 30-49 year olds, this drops to 12%. For 50-64 year olds, it drops to 10%. For those 65 and older, it essentially fades out (2%).
Amazon paid just €16.5m (£15m) in tax on European revenues of €21.6bn (£19.5bn) reported through Luxembourg in 2016. The figures, published in Amazon’s latest annual accounts for its European online retail business, are likely to reignite the debate about US tech companies using complex crossborder arrangements to minimise the tax they pay across the continent. Separately, Amazon UK Services – the company’s warehouse and logistics operation that employs almost two-thirds of its 24,000 UK staff – more than halved its declared UK corporation tax bill from £15.8m to £7.4m year-on-year in 2016. The cut came despite turnover at the UK business, which handles the packing and delivery of parcels and functions such as customer service, rising from £946m to £1.46bn.
Ana Arendar, Oxfam’s head of inequality, said: “Despite some action by ministers and companies, widespread corporate tax avoidance continues to cost both rich and poor countries billions every year that could pay for schools and lifesaving healthcare. “We urgently need comprehensive public country-by-country reporting for multinationals to ensure they pay their fair share of tax – the UK government should implement this by the end of 2019 – unilaterally if necessary.” Amazon Europe, which is based in Luxembourg and aggregates the billions of pounds of sales the retailer makes from individual countries across the continent, reported a pre-tax profit of €59.6m last year. As a result the company, which clocked up €21.6bn in sales across Europe last year, had a tax bill of just €16.5m.
EU finance ministers will discuss how to force home-sharing platforms such as Airbnb to pay their fair share of taxes and in the right tax domains next month after the French minister for the economy described the current situation as “unacceptable”. The European commission announced on Thursday that a joint proposal from France and Germany would be discussed at a meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, on 16 September. Brussels will also advise on how best to deal with the so-called sharing economy, in which Airbnb is a major player. It was revealed this week that Airbnb paid less than €100,000 (£90,336) in French taxes last year, despite the country being the room-booking firm’s second-biggest market after the US.
In response, the French economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, informed the national assembly that the EU’s Franco-German axis would be proposing a pan-European clampdown. “These digital platforms make tens of millions of sales and the French treasury gets a few tens of thousands,” the minister said, adding that the current setup was “unacceptable”. Le Maire further claimed in parliament that an ongoing consultation being led by the commission and the OECD to address the tax question were “taking too much time, it’s all too complicated”. Many digital platforms operating in the EU have a base in Ireland, including Airbnb, where they can exploit a low corporation tax regime. Le Maire said: “Everybody has to pay a fair contribution.”
I[..] Paris city council has already voted to make it mandatory from 1 December to obtain a registration number from the town hall before posting an advertisement for a short-term rental on its website. The ruling potentially makes it harder for property owners using Airbnb to exceed the 120 days a year legal rental limit for a main residence, and easier for the authorities to collect local taxes. In Barcelona, where tensions have been rising for years over the surge in visitors, the impact of sites such as Airbnb on the local housing market has led to anti-tourist protests. In Mallorca and San Sebastián, an anti-tourism march is being planned for 17 August to coincide with Semana Grande, a major festival of Basque culture.
In Ibiza, the authorities are placing a cap on the number of beds for tourists. Owners will also be banned from renting their homes, or rooms within them, via websites such as Airbnb and Homeaway unless they obtain a licence. Owners face fines of up to €400,000 if they break the law. The websites face the same fine for letting people advertise without a valid licence number.
Donald Trump signaled he could soon declare a state of emergency in an attempt to deal with America’s opioid overdose crisis. A commission reporting to the president said recently that declaring a state of emergency was its “first and most urgent recommendation”. But Trump, in his first remarks on the subject, appeared to set his face against treating the epidemic as a health emergency – calling instead for tougher prison sentences and “strong, strong law enforcement”. However, returning to the issue on Thursday, Trump seemed to have changed his tone. “We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency,” he said, adding the administration is “drawing documents now to so attest”. “It is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had,” Trump said at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort, where he is on a “working vacation”.
The president can declare a state of emergency two legal ways: he could use the Stafford Act, or the Public Health Service Act, which is specific to health emergencies and can be declared by the health secretary. “When I was growing up they had the LSD, and they had certain generations of drugs,” Trump said. “There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the last four or five years. And I have to say this in all fairness, this is a worldwide problem, not just a United States problem. This is happening worldwide.” In fact, while drug overdoses happen all over the world, the US leads by a significant margin. Though the nation has just 4% of the world’s population, the US also has 27% of the world’s drug overdose deaths, according to the UN’s 2017 World Drug Report. For example, for every million Americans between 15 and 64 years old, 245 people per year die of drug overdoses. In Mexico, 4 people per million die of drug overdoses.
Being an irrational optimist, there’s an innocent side of my scratched journalistic hide that still believes in education and wisdom and compassion. There are still honourable Israelis who demand a state for the Palestinians; there are well-educated Saudis who object to the crazed Wahhabism upon which their kingdom is founded; there are millions of Americans, from sea to shining sea, who do not believe that Iran is their enemy nor Saudi Arabia their friend. But the problem today in both East and West is that our governments are not our friends. They are our oppressors or masters, suppressors of the truth and allies of the unjust.
Netanyahu wants to close down Al Jazeera’s office in Jerusalem. Crown Prince Mohammad wants to close down Al Jazeera’s office in Qatar. Bush actually did bomb Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad. Theresa May decided to hide a government report on funding “terrorism”, lest it upset the Saudis – which is precisely the same reason Blair closed down a UK police enquiry into alleged BAE-Saudi bribery 10 years earlier. And we wonder why we go to war in the Middle East. And we wonder why Sunni Isis exists, un-bombed by Israel, funded by Sunni Gulf Arabs, its fellow Sunni Salafists cosseted by our wretched presidents and prime ministers. I guess we better keep an eye on Al Jazeera – while it’s still around.
Ben Bernanke, then Chairman of the Federal Reserve, told Congress in March 2007 that subprime was contained. He will rightfully be remembered in infamy for that, but that wasn’t the most egregious example of being wrong. Even putting it in those terms risks understating the problem and why it stubbornly lingers. Being really wrong is claiming that IOER will establish a floor for money market rates, and then finding out it actually doesn’t. No, what policymakers did especially in the early crisis period was altogether worse; they demonstrated conclusively that though they shared this world with the rest of us, they inhabited and continue to inhabit a totally different planet. Given the anniversary date and our human affinity for round numbers (ten years or a lost decade), there is a desire to revisit some of the worst of the list which happened just before August 9, 2007. My favorite has always been Bill Dudley, as I recounted last at the ninth anniversary of nothing being done:
As far as the issue of material nonpublic information that shows worse problems than are in the newspapers, I’m not sure exactly how to characterize that because I guess I wouldn’t know how to characterize how bad the newspapers think these problems are. [Laughter] We’ve done quite a bit of work trying to identify some of the funding questions surrounding Bear Stearns, Countrywide, and some of the commercial paper programs. There is some strain, but so far it looks as though nothing is really imminent in those areas.” [emphasis added]
He spoke those words, recorded for posterity, on August 7, 2007, at the regular FOMC policy meeting. As noted earlier today, both Countrywide and the whole commercial paper market would be decimated really within hours from his “inspiring” confidence. What really stands out is for Dudley to have been the one who said them, because as head of the Open Market Desk he had to be technically proficient in a way that the others could avoid (and why so often in its history policy discussions especially about these great things would often flow through whomever was the Open Market Desk chief at that moment in time). He proved still to be an empty suit like the rest, but he was always that much less of one. So if the best the Fed had to offer was so thoroughly unaware, is it any wonder what happened then and continues to happen now?
One day after Dudley’s private embarrassment, one Bank of England governor and future chief perhaps joined his level in the Hall of Fame of Famous Last Words. Meryn King remarked on August 8, 2007: “So far what we have seen is not a threat to the financial system. It’s not an international financial crisis.” He said these words at the behest of the ECB in front of the assembled press ostensibly to impart calm. Also noted earlier today, it was the European Central Bank that made the first crisis move the very next day in a record liquidity injection.
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To bring readers fully up to speed, the 21st century has been a flaming dud. In practically every way. Despite more new technology than ever… more PhDs… more researchers… more patents… more earnest strivers than ever before sweating to move things ahead… and despite more “stimulus” from the Fed ($3.6 trillion) than ever in history…U.S. GDP growth rates are only half of those of the last century. And household incomes, after you factor in inflation, are flat. In fact, by some calculations – using non-fiddled measures of inflation – growth has been negative for the whole 21st century. Meanwhile, there are more people tending bar or waiting tables… and fewer people with full-time breadwinner jobs. And productivity and personal savings rates have collapsed.
And those are only the measurable trends. Political and social developments have been similarly dud-ish – including the longest, losingest war in U.S. history… the biggest government deficits… the most vulgar public life… the least personal freedom… and, in our hometown, Baltimore, a record murder rate. What went wrong? Herewith, a hypothesis. It suggests three “causes,” all three linked by a single shared element: time.
[..] Fake money causes people to waste time and money. And central bank policies discourage savings by lowering interest rates… even pushing them into negative territory. Instead of saving them for the future… resources are consumed today. These mistakes accumulate as debt… which then forces people to spend more time servicing the mistakes of the past. Meanwhile, the internet gives people a new way to waste time. At home. At work. On the high plains. Or in the lowlife back alleys. People spend their precious time on idle distractions and entertainments. That leaves fewer people doing the real work that progress requires – saving, investing, and working for the future. Time is always the ultimate constraint. You can substitute one resource for another. You can switch from oil to solar… or copper to aluminum. But there’s no swapping out time. There’s nothing like it. Get on the wrong side of time, and you are out of luck.
The Rosenau Palace in southern Germany has published a lonely hearts ad on behalf of its resident black swan. Ground keepers believe the bird’s former companion was eaten by a fox. The department that oversees state-owned palaces, gardens and lakes in the southern state of Bavaria sent out its rather unusual appeal to the public on Thursday. “The sex of the animal isn’t important,” a message on the department’s website read. “Ideally it should be more than three years old, but this isn’t an absolute must.” The department has been on the lookout for a match since May, when one of the two black swans that lived in the palace grounds disappeared. Palace gardeners later found bones and feathers in one of the park’s bushes. “He was probably eaten by a fox,” the department concluded.
Rosenau garden department head Steffen Schubert has been sending out enquiries every day to try and locate a candidate – without success. Finding a replacement isn’t just about sparing the surviving swan from loneliness, he says. “Swans have a special significance in the history of Rosenau Palace and park,” he said. Black swans were reportedly first introduced to the palace grounds by Britain’s Queen Victoria as a symbol of mourning following the premature death of her husband Prince Albert, who was born at Rosenau Palace in 1819. The royals visited the palace together in 1845, five years after they were married. In her memoirs, the queen wrote: “If I were not who I am, this would be my real home.” The palace, near the town of Coburg in northern Bavaria, is home to Swan Lake and Prince’s Pond.
In its statement, the department said the new swan would have a good life, with a 2-hectare lake and a newly built “swan house” at its disposal. In the chillier months, the birds also have winter quarters with water access and are fed every day. The department said it would go itself to pick up the bird if a member of the public was willing to donate a swan to the grounds. “We hope our swan does not have to be alone for too long,” a spokeswoman for the palace management told German news agency DPA.
What would be the outcome of Trump’s following his instincts and going for the gold? Prosperity, that’s what. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan just provided a barely noticed Big Reveal. In an interview with the World Gold Council’s Gold Investor Chairman Greenspan, stating “I view gold as the primary global currency,” went on to explicitly reveal, for the first time to my knowledge, that “When I was Chair of the Federal Reserve I used to testify before US Congressman Ron Paul, who was a very strong advocate of gold. We had some interesting discussions. I told him that US monetary policy tried to follow signals that a gold standard would have created.”
The period of “following signals that a gold standard would have created,” called the Great Moderation under President Clinton, was one of the most equitably prosperous in modern American history. That era saw the creation of over 20 million jobs. Robust growth converted the federal deficit into a surplus. It was, if only virtually rather than institutionally, a golden age. After the Fed abandoned its Great Moderation America experienced almost no net job creation under President George W. Bush and very mediocre job creation under President Obama. Sad! I want the American Dream back. We all do, very much including President Trump. How might President Trump go about turning this around? He has a unique opening to forcefully pivot America toward epic prosperity.
As Paul-Martin Foss of the Menger Center astutely points out the Federal Reserve Board currently has three vacancies. If Trump were to fill those vacancies with three sophisticated gold standard advocates from the short list of Lewis E. Lehrman (whose eponymous Institute I formerly served), Dr. Judy Shelton (who served as an advisor on his presidential economic transition team), former presidential candidate Steve Forbes, and John Allison, former CEO of BB&T (preferably as vice chairman for regulation) the president would create a super “beachhead team” at the Fed to seriously restore equitable prosperity.
These appointments would be the safe and sure first steps out of economic stagnation for America. Couple these with a White House “Team B” to plan the enactment of the Jack Kemp Gold Standard Act and removal of the regulatory and tax barriers to using gold as currency. Then watch an American economic miracle take place. Mr. President: “No such thing as a global currency?” The dollar is the global currency. Want prosperity? Heed Chairman Greenspan and do not just view but restore “gold as the primary global currency.” President Trump: replace the dollar with gold as the global currency to make America great again. We have the gold.
Top advisers to French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen have met with strategists and analysts from BlackRock, Barclays and UBS, among other firms to explain their economic program and plans to withdraw France from the euro. While such meetings are common for campaign officials from mainstream parties in France and other European countries, this is the first time Le Pen’s National Front has been approached, the candidate’s chief economic adviser Bernard Monot and her business aide Mikael Sala said in interviews. In the last seven months, they have met with analysts from British and American financial institutions in Paris, Brussels and Strasbourg at the firms’ request.
The interest from financial markets underlines how seriously financial analysts take the possibility that Le Pen may win power in the euro zone’s second-largest economy. Polls have shown her holding a lead in the first round of voting for more than a year, though all surveys predict that she will also lose the run-off ballot on May 7. “These strategists see that Le Pen may be the next president of France and they are doing their due diligence,” Monot said. “They’re very much looking for a detailed account of our plans.” Monot and Sala, who head Le Pen’s business advisory council Croissance Bleu Marine, said they also met or spoke with representatives from the Medley Advisors and CheckRisk consultancies. Monot added that he met with U.S. pension funds without naming them.
The Netherlands’ future relationship with the euro will be comprehensively debated by its parliament following elections in March, after lawmakers commissioned a report on the currency’s future. The motion approving the investigation by the Council of State, the government’s legal advisor, coincides with a rising tide of euroscepticism in Europe, which populist parties are hoping to tap into in a series of national elections this year also taking in euro zone powerhouses France and Germany. The probe will examine whether it would be possible for the Dutch to withdraw from the single currency, and if so how, said lawmaker Pieter Omtzigt. Omtzigt, of the opposition Christian Democrats, tabled the parliamentary motion calling for the investigation, which legislators passed unanimously late on Thursday.
It was prompted by concerns the ECB’s ultra-low interest rates are hurting Dutch savers, especially pensioners, and doubts as to whether its bond purchasing programmes are legal, he said. Its findings will be presented in several months, by which time the make-up of parliament will have changed dramatically. While most Dutch voters say they favour retaining the euro, the eurosceptic far-right party of Geert Wilders is expected to book large gains though it is unlikely to win enough votes to form a government. The most probable outcome of the March 15 vote is a new centrist coalition including some parties, such as Omtzigt’s Christian Democrats, that have been vocal in their opposition to current ECB policy. “The problems with the euro have not been solved,” Omtzigt said. “This is a way for us to look at ways forward with no taboos.” Thursday’s motion instructs the Council to look at “what political and institutional options are open for the euro,” and “what are the advantages and disadvantages of each.”
Across Europe, we can see three trends in elections, which can be described in the famous terms of the German-American economist Albert Hirschman: exit, voice and loyalty. In two of these the Dutch lead the way, but one bucks the broader trend. To start with exit (non-voting), throughout Europe turnout in national and European elections has been dropping. Although the trend is not universal, the past 10 years has seen a sharp drop in several countries. Perhaps most shocking is the situation in Greece, a country that has compulsory voting, although it is not really enforced. In 1985 the abstention rate in national elections was “just” 16.2%, in 2004 it was 23.4%, and in the last elections, in September 2015, it was a staggering 44%. In other words, in a country with compulsory voting a modest majority of 56% turned out.
Compared with that, the decrease in turnout in Dutch national elections is modest: in 1986 turnout was 86% and in the last two elections it was still a commendable 75%. Expectations are that turnout might actually go up in this year’s elections. With regard to loyalty (the vote for established parties), the Netherlands is very much in line with the European trend. Most European countries have seen a sharp decline in electoral support for established parties. While this development is related to societal changes that date back to the 1960s and 1970s, such as secularisation and a shrinking working class, the decline of the established parties only became a broader issue in the 1990s, and has significantly increased during the great recession. The process has been particularly pronounced in the Netherlands.
Throughout the 1980s the three established parties – the Christian democratic CDA, the social democratic PvdA, and the conservative VVD – received around 80% of the vote. In 2002 that dropped to about 60% as a consequence of the rise of Fortuyn’s LPF, and it stayed like that until 2012 – although Rutte’s VVD is now bigger than the CDA and the PvdA. However, in the most recent polls the three parties only have some 40% of the vote, half of what they had in the 1980s. At the same time, voice (the support for populist parties) has increased significantly. In the 1980s populist parties barely got more than a few seats in parliament, whereas in 2002 the left populist SP and Fortuyn’s right populist LPF together gained more than 20%. In the latest polls Wilders’s PVV is the largest party, or at least running neck-and-neck with the Rutte’s VVD, while the SP is struggling a bit – and has become less populist. Together they are close to 30% of the vote, of which the PVV would get almost two-thirds.
[..] The two most likely outcomes of the Dutch elections are either a very broad coalition of four or five parties, with or without Wilders’s PVV, or a minority government, dependent upon temporary coalitions to get some policies through. Whatever the outcome, it will only strengthen political dissatisfaction, creating more fragmentation and polarisation, leading to even less loyalty and even more voice. That is the main European lesson of the Dutch elections.
One unresolved issue from the financial crisis is the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two firms that stand behind much of America’s housing market. Fannie and Freddie purchase mortgages, bundle them into securities and sell them on to investors with a guarantee. When America’s housing market collapsed a decade ago, the government had to bail them out. Its treatment of the firms since then has created a titanic legal struggle. Shareholders have cried foul. On February 21st, a federal appeals court upheld a ruling in the government’s favour. At issue is the Obama administration’s decision in 2012 to hoover up all of Fannie and Freddie’s profits. Until then, it had received a fixed dividend on its investment. The timing of the shift was striking—just before a surge in the firms’ profitability. Since 2008 the Treasury has sucked in about $250bn from the firms, 30% more than the cost of the bail-out.
The change enraged hedge funds who had bought Fannie and Freddie’s shares and found themselves expropriated. The investors’ lawsuit held that the government overstepped its authority by seizing all profits. A federal court dismissed that claim in 2014; it has taken until now for an appeals court to uphold the most important parts of the decision. An odd aspect of the ruling is that it largely ignored the substantive arguments but concluded the court lacked the authority to curb the government’s actions. Its ruling sent shares in Fannie and Freddie tumbling (see chart). That reversed about half of the rally sparked by Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election. Investors reckon that Mr Trump’s administration will be more favourable to Fannie and Freddie’s investors. Initially Steve Mnuchin, now treasury secretary, told a business-news network that Fannie and Freddie should be privatised again.
But in his confirmation hearing before the Senate in January, he seemed to roll back those remarks. The firms are hardly robust. The Treasury is running down their capital by $600m a year. By 2018 they will have none left. From then on, should the firms make a loss, they will need to draw on an emergency line of credit from the government. Doing so would be characterised by some as a second bail-out. That worrying prospect should provide some impetus to the search for an alternative solution. But it will be hard to find an ownership structure for Fannie and Freddie that satisfies everyone. The firms keep mortgages cheap by lumping taxpayers with a staggering amount of risk. (If the housing market collapsed, the cost to the Treasury could be 2-4% of GDP, according to an analysis by The Economist). Few will want investors to make profits on the back of such a taxpayer guarantee.
A hammer pounds away in the living room of a middle class home. A sanding machine smoothes the grain of the wood floor in the dining room. But this home Pastor Ada Valiente is showing off in Los Angeles, with its refurbished floors, is no ordinary home. “It would be three families we host here,” Valiente says. By “host,” she means provide refuge to people who may be sought by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The families staying here would be undocumented immigrants, fearing an ICE raid and possible deportation. The purchase of this home is part of a network formed by Los Angeles religious leaders across faiths in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The intent is to shelter hundreds, possibly thousands of undocumented people in safe houses across Southern California. The goal is to offer another sanctuary beyond religious buildings or schools, ones that require federal authorities to obtain warrants before entering the homes.
“That’s what we need to do as a community to keep families together,” Valiente says. At another Los Angeles neighborhood miles away, a Jewish man shows off a sparsely decorated spare bedroom in his home. White sheets on the bed and the clean, adjacent full bathroom bear all the markers of an impending visit. The man, who asked not to be identified, pictures an undocumented woman and her children who may find refuge in his home someday. The man says he’s never been in trouble before and has difficulty picturing that moment. But he’s well educated and understands the Fourth Amendment, which gives people the right to be secure in their homes, against unreasonable searches and seizures. He’s pictured the moment if ICE were to knock on his door. “I definitely won’t let them in. That’s our legal right,” he says. “If they have a warrant, then they can come in. I can imagine that could be scary, but I feel the consequences of being passive in this moment is a little scary.”
A state governor has banned his employees from cooperating with Donald Trump’s policies on immigration. Jay Inslee signed an executive order that bars the state of Washington’s agencies from denying services to people based on their citizenship or legal status and from helping detain immigrants for breaking civil rules. It came after memos were released by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly showing his department planned to prioritise the removal of undocumented immigrants who “have been convicted of any criminal offence”, following directives from the President. This will include those who “have abused any programme related to receipt of public benefits”.
Governor Inslee said: “Washington will not be a willing participant in promoting or carrying out mean-spirited policies that break up families and compromise our national security and community safety. “Our officers are here to keep the public safe by enforcing the criminal laws, not to act as [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] officers or enforce civil violations.” He added that it reaffirmed “the state’s commitment to tolerance, diversity, and inclusiveness” and the order was “designed to ensure that all state agencies under my executive authority carry out only those duties and responsibilities prescribed to them in state and federal law.” He said: “In Washington state we know this: we do not discriminate based on someone’s race, religion, ethnicity or national origin. That remains true even as federal policies create such uncertain times.”
Washington agencies must comply to the extent to which they are permitted under federal law, he said. The agencies are ordered not to collect any more information about people than is necessary to perform their basic duties. Mr Inslee’s office said immigrants make up 17% of Washington’s workforce and contribute some $2.4bn in taxes. Mr Kelly has insisted there will be “no mass deportations” during the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown. He told reporters in Mexico City there would be “no use of military force for immigration operations” and said enforcing new policies would be done legally and with respect for human rights.
On the Monday after the 2016 election, Keith Ellison announced that he intended to run for DNC chair. At the time of his announcement, Ellison had the support of prominent establishment Democrats (Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer) and prominent left-wing Democrats (Bernie Sanders, Raúl Grijalva). He was the clear frontrunner. His challengers were mostly insignificant or bygone figures that nobody thought posed a threat to his bid. Around a week after he announced, the New York Times reported that Obama’s people were not happy with Ellison and that they were scouring the benches for someone to beat him: But after steadily adding endorsements from leading Democrats in his bid to take over the party, Mr. Ellison is encountering resistance from a formidable corner: the White House.
In a sign of the discord gripping the party, President Obama’s loyalists, uneasy with the progressive Mr. Ellison, have begun casting about for an alternative, according to multiple Democratic officials close to the president. The Obama people did not rally around an existing candidate in the field that they thought was better. They went out and recruited someone. The point of this recruitment was to beat back the left faction that Ellison represented. They considered many potential avatars for this anti-Ellison effort and eventually settled on Tom Perez. On December 15, Tom Perez came into the DNC race. Around the same time, the establishment forces mounted a brutal smear campaign against Ellison, placing stories all over the place about how he was (or still is) an anti-semitic, Farrakhan-loving, Nation of Islam guy. This effort ultimately paid off with Perez narrowly winning the DNC chair election over Ellison.
During and after the DNC chair race, many moderate pundits and posters took the position that who wins the DNC chair does not really matter and also that infighting between left and right factions of the Democratic party is unhelpful in the times of Trump. But this, bizarrely enough, wasn’t self-criticism of the moderate establishment wing of the party. No, it was criticism that was and continues to be lobbed at the left-wing sorts who backed Ellison. Before this gets turned into another thing where the establishment Democrats posture as the reasonable adults victimized by the assaults of those left-wing baddies, let’s just be very clear about what happened here. It was the establishment wing that decided to recruit and then stand up a candidate in order to fight an internal battle against the left faction of the party. It was the establishment wing that then dumped massive piles of opposition research on one of their own party members. And it was the establishment wing that did all of this in the shadow of Trump, sowing disunity in order to contest a position whose leadership they insist does not really matter.
Around half of Germans are against granting debt relief to Greece and around three in 10 want it to quit the eurozone, a survey showed on Friday. The INSA poll for the Bild newspaper showed 46.4% of people living in Germany, Europe’s paymaster, thought giving Greece debt relief would be unfair for other eurozone countries. That compared with around a fifth (18.4%) who did not share that view and 9.1% who said they did not care.
Athens and its creditors agreed on Monday to resume talks on a long-stalled review of Greece’s bailout, but only after Greece accepted examination of its reforms for 2019 onward. The head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, said on Wednesday that Greece does not need a haircut on its debt at the moment but added that debt restructuring and interest rate cuts on bailout loans were necessary. The German government, preparing for an election on September 24, is against debt relief for Greece.
One in five species on Earth now faces extinction, and that will rise to 50% by the end of the century unless urgent action is taken. That is the stark view of the world’s leading biologists, ecologists and economists who will gather on Monday to determine the social and economic changes needed to save the planet’s biosphere. “The living fabric of the world is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring,” say the organisers of the Biological Extinction conference held at the Vatican this week. Threatened creatures such as the tiger or rhino may make occasional headlines, but little attention is paid to the eradication of most other life forms, they argue. But as the conference will hear, these animals and plants provide us with our food and medicine.
They purify our water and air while also absorbing carbon emissions from our cars and factories, regenerating soil, and providing us with aesthetic inspiration. “Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate,” said biologist Paul Ehrlich, of Stanford University in California. “We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?”
Monday’s meeting is one of a series set up by the Vatican on ecological issues – which Pope Francis has deemed an urgent issue for the Catholic church. “We need to unravel the processes that led to the ills we are now facing,” said one of the conference’s organisers, the economist Sir Partha Dasgupta, of Cambridge University. “That is why the Vatican symposia involve natural and social scientists, as well as scholars from the humanities. That the symposia are being held at the Papal Academy is also symbolic. It shows that the ancient hostility between science and the church, at least on the issue of preserving Earth’s services, has been quelled.”
Caters Extremely rare albino elephant, Kruger National Park in South Africa
Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back … Springsteen, Atlantic City
“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatium as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.” Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend
What drives our economies is waste. Not need, or even demand. Waste. 2nd law of thermodynamics. It drives our lives, period.
First of all, don’t tell me you’re trying to stop the ongoing extinction of nature and wildlife on this planet, or the destruction of life in general. Don’t even tell me you’re trying. Don’t tell me it’s climate change that we should focus on (that’s just a small part of the story), and you’re driving an electric car and you’re separating your trash or things like that. That would only mean you’re attempting to willfully ignore your share of destruction, because if you do it, so will others, and the planet can’t take anymore of your behavior.
This is the big one. And the only ones amongst us who don’t think so are those who don’t want to. Who think it’s easier to argue that some problems are too big for them to tackle, that they should be left to others to solve. But why should we, why should anyone, worry about elections or even wars, when it becomes obvious we’re fast approaching a time when such things don’t matter much anymore?
The latest WWF Living Planet Report shows us that the planet is a whole lot less alive than it used to be. And that we killed that life. That we replaced it with metal, bricks, plastic and concrete. Mass consumption leads to mass extinction. And that is fully predictable, it always was; there’s nothing new there.
We killed 58% of all vertebrate wildlife just between 1970 and 2012, and at a rate of 2% per year we will have massacred close to 70% of it by 2020, just 4 years from now. So what does it matter who’s president of just one of the many countries we invented on this planet? Why don’t we address what’s really crucial to our very survival instead?
The latest report from the WWF should have us all abandon whatever it is we’re doing, and make acting to prevent further annihilation of our living world the key driver in our everyday lives, every hour of every day, every single one of us. Anything else is just not good enough, and anything else will see us, that self-nominated intelligent species, annihilated in the process.
Granted, there may be a few decrepit and probably halfway mutant specimens of our species left, living in conditions we couldn’t even begin, nor dare, to imagine, with what will be left of their intelligence wondering how our intelligence could have ever let this happen. You’d almost wish they’ll understand as little as we ever did; that some form of ignorance equal to ours will soften their pain.
It’s important to note that the report does not describe a stagnant situation, there’s no state of affairs, not something still, it describes an ongoing and deteriorating process. That is, we don’t get to choose to stop the ongoing wildlife annihilation at 70%; we are witnessing, and indeed we are actively involved in, raising that number by 2% every year that we ‘live’ (can we even call it that anymore, are you alive when you murder all life around you?) in this world.
This is our only home.
Without the natural world that we were born into, or rather that our species, our ancestors, were born into, we have zero chance of survival. Because it is the natural world that has allowed for, and created, the conditions that made it possible for mankind to emerge and develop in the first place. And we are nowhere near making an earth 2.0; the notion itself is preposterous. A few thousand years of man ‘understanding’ his world is no match for billions of years of evolution. That’s the worst insult to whatever intelligence it is that we do have.
Much has been made through the years of our ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and much of that is just as much hubris as so much of what we tell ourselves, but the big question should be WHY we would volunteer to find out to what extent we can adapt to a world that has sustained the losses we cause it to suffer. Even if we could to a degree adapt to that, why should we want to?
Two thirds of our world is gone, and it’s we who have murdered it, and what’s worse – judging from our lifestyles- we seem to have hardly noticed at all. If we don’t stop what we’ve been doing, this can lead to one outcome only: we will murder ourselves too. Our perhaps biggest problem (even if we have quite a few) in this regard is our ability and propensity to deny this, as we deny any and all -serious, consequential- wrongdoing.
There are allegedly serious and smart people working on, dreaming of, and getting billions in subsidies for, fantasies of human colonies on Mars. This is advertized as a sign of progress and intelligence. But that can only be true if we can acknowledge that our intelligence and our insanity are identical twins. Because it is insane to destroy the planet on which we depend one-on-one for everything that allows us to live, and at the same time dream of human life on another planet.
While I see no reason to address the likes of King of Subsidies Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking is different. Unfortunately, in Hawking’s case, with all his intelligence, it’s his philosophical capacity that goes missing.
Professor Stephen Hawking has warned humanity will not survive another 1,000 years on Earth unless the human race finds another planet to live on. [..] Professor Hawking, 74, reflected on the understanding of the universe garnered from breakthroughs over the past five decades, describing 2016 as a “glorious time to be alive and doing research into theoretical physics”. “Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years and I am happy if I have made a small contribution,“ he went on.
”The fact that we humans, who are ourselves mere fundamental particles of nature, have been able to come this close to understanding the laws that govern us and the universe is certainly a triumph.” Highlighting “ambitious” experiments that will give an even more precise picture of the universe, he continued: “We will map the position of millions of galaxies with the help of [super] computers like Cosmos. We will better understand our place in the universe.”
“But we must also continue to go into space for the future of humanity. I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.”
The tragedy is that we may have gained some knowledge of natural laws and the universe, but we are completely clueless when it comes to keeping ourselves from destroying our world. Mars is an easy cop-out. But Mars doesn’t solve a thing. Because it’s -obviously- not the ‘fragile planet’ earth that is a threat to mankind, it’s mankind itself. How then can escaping to another planet solve its problems?
What exactly is wrong with saying that we will have to make it here on planet earth? Is it that we’ve already broken and murdered so much? And if that’s the reason, what does that say about us, and what does it say about what we would do to a next planet, even provided we could settle on it (we can’t) ? Doesn’t it say that we are our own worst enemies? And doesn’t the very idea of settling the ‘next planet’ imply that we had better settle things right here first? Like sort of a first condition before we go to Mars, if we ever do?
In order to survive, we don’t need to escape our planet, we need to escape ourselves. Not nearly as easy. Much harder than escaping to Mars. Which already is nothing but a pipedream to begin with.
Moreover, if we can accept that settling things here first before going to Mars is a prerequisite for going there in the first place, we wouldn’t need to go anymore, right?
We treat this entire extinction episode as if it’s something we’re watching from the outside in, as if it’s something we’re not really a part of. I’ve seen various undoubtedly very well-intentioned ‘green people’, ‘sustainable people’, react to the WWF report by pointing to signs that there is still hope, pointing to projects that reverse some of the decline, chinook salmon on the North American Pacific coast, Malawi farmers that no longer use chemical fertilizers, a giant sanctuary in the Antarctic etc.
That, too, is a form of insanity. Because it serves to lull people into a state of complacency that is entirely unwarranted. And that can therefore only serve to make things worse. There is no reversal, there is no turnaround. It’s like saying if a body doesn’t fall straight down in a continuous line, it doesn’t fall down at all.
The role that green, sustainability, conservationist groups play in our societies has shifted dramatically, and we have failed completely to see this change (as have they). These groups have become integral parts of our societies, instead of a force on the outside warning about what happens within.
Conservationist groups today serve as apologists for the havoc mankind unleashes on its world: all people have to do is donate money at Christmas, and conservation will be taken care of. Recycle a few bottles and plastic wrappings and you’re doing your part to save the planet. It is utterly insane. It’s as insane as the destruction itself. It’s denial writ large, and in the flesh.
It’s not advertized that way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not how it works. Saying that ‘it’s not too late’ is not a call to action as many people continue to believe. It’s just dirt poor psychology. It provides people with the impression, which rapidly turns into an excuse, that there is still time left. As almost 70% of all vertebrates, those animals that are closest to us, have disappeared. When would they say time is up? At 80%, 90%?
We do not understand why, or even that, we are such a tragically destructive species. And perhaps we can’t. Perhaps that is where our intelligence stops, at providing insight into ourselves. Even the most ‘aware’ amongst us will still tend to disparage their own roles in what goes on. Even they will make whatever it is they still do, and that they know is hurtful to the ecosystem, seem smaller than it is.
Even they will search for apologies for their own behavior, tell themselves they must do certain things in order to live in the society they were born in, drive kids to school, yada yada. We all do that. We soothe our consciences by telling ourselves we mean well, and then getting into our cars to go pick up a carton of milk. Or engage in an equally blind act. There’s too many to mention.
Every species that finds a large amount of free energy reacts the same way: proliferation. The unconscious drive is to use up the energy as fast as possible. If only we could understand that. But understanding it would get in the way of the principle itself. The only thing we can do to stop the extinction is for all of us to use a lot less energy. But because energy consumption provides wealth and -more importantly- political power, we will not do that. We instead tell ourselves all we need to do is use different forms of energy.
Our inbuilt talent for denying and lying (to ourselves and others) makes it impossible for us to see that we have an inbuilt talent for denying and lying in the first place. Or, put another way, seeing that we haven’t been able to stop ourselves from putting the planet into the dismal shape it is in now, why should we keep on believing that we will be able to stop ourselves in the future?
Thing is, an apology for our own behavior is also an apology for everyone else’s. As long as you keep buying things wrapped in plastic, you have no right, you lose your right, to blame the industry that produces the plastic.
We see ourselves as highly intelligent, and -as a consequence- we see ourselves as a species driven by reason. But we are not. Which can be easily demonstrated by a ‘reverse question’: why, if we are so smart, do we find ourselves in the predicament of having destroyed two thirds of our planet?
Do we have a rational argument to execute that destruction? Of course not, we’ll say. But then why do we do it if rationality drives us? This is a question that should forever cure us of the idea that we are driven by reason. But we’re not listening to the answer to that question. We’re denying, we’re even denying the question itself.
It’s the same question, and the same answer, by the way, that will NOT have us ‘abandon whatever it is we do’ when we read today that 70% of all wildlife will be gone by 2020, that 58% was gone by 2012 and we destroy it at a rate of 2% per year. We’re much more likely to worry much more about some report that says returns on our retirement plans will be much lower than we thought. Or about the economic growth that is too low (as if that is possible with 70% of wildlife gone).
After all, if destroying 70% of wildlife is not enough for a call to action, what would be? 80%? 90? 99%? I bet you that would be too late. And no, relying on conservationist groups to take care of it for us is not a viable route. Because that same 70% number spells out loud and clear what miserable failures these groups have turned out to be.
We ‘assume’ we’re intelligent, because that makes us feel good. Well, it doesn’t make the planet feel good. What drives us is not reason. What drives us is the part of our brains that we share in common with amoeba and bacteria and all other more ‘primitive forms of life, that gobbles up excess energy as fast as possible, in order to restore a balance. Our ‘rational’, human, brain serves one function, and one only: to find ‘rational’ excuses for what our primitive brain has just made us do.
We’re all intelligent enough to understand that driving a hybrid car or an electric car does nothing to halt the havoc we do to our world, but there are still millions of these things being sold. So perhaps we could say that we’re at the same time intelligent enough, and we’re not.
We can see ourselves destroying our world, but we can not stop ourselves from continuing the destruction. Here’s something I wrote 5 years ago:
We have done exactly the same that any primitive life form would do when faced with a surplus, of food, energy, and in our case credit, cheap money. We spent it all as fast as we can. Lest less abundant times arrive. It’s an instinct, it comes from our more primitive brain segments, not our more “rational” frontal cortex. It’s not that we’re in principle, or talent, more devious or malicious than more primitive life forms. It’s that we use our more advanced brains to help us execute the same devastation our primitive brain drives us to, but much much worse.
That’s what makes us the most tragic species imaginable. We’ll fight each other, even our children, over the last few scraps falling off the table, and kill off everything in our path to get there. And when we’re done, we’ll find a way to rationalize to ourselves why we were right to do so. We can be aware of watching ourselves do what we do, but we can’t help ourselves from doing it. Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.
The greatest miracle you will ever see, that you could ever hope to see, is so miraculous you can’t even recognize it for what it is. We don’t know what the word beautiful means anymore. Or the word valuable. We’ve lost all of that, and are well on our way, well over 70% of it, to losing the rest too.
PS Please note I could not gather all sources for all pictures here, but I’d be more than happy to add them. It’s not that I don’t recognize the effort that goes into them; it’s an emotional thing.
Donald Trump is doing to U.S. equity bears what seven years of economic stimulus rarely could: shut them up. Two years of paralysis has for now ended in stocks, with more than $1 trillion added to shares values since Election Day and the DJIA looking bound for 20,000. Both the Dow and S&P 500 Index jumped to fresh records Wednesday, joined by transportation companies and small caps, while banks traded at eight-year highs. Wall Street stock forecasters, more pessimistic than any time since 2013 as recently as September, are suddenly falling over themselves to push up targets and explain a market where measures of anxiety are near five-year lows. The average call of bank prognosticators is for the S&P 500 to rally 3.4% next year, with strategists at JPMorgan and Bank of Montreal calling for even bigger gains.
For investors, the question is how much credence to put in analysts whose futility in sussing out Trump’s impact on share prices was rivaled only by the inaccuracy of political polls prior to his victory. Not only has he not been the disaster many of them warned about, the rally since he defeated Hillary Clinton is now the biggest for any new president since Ronald Reagan. “What we didn’t expect was the speed and the magnitude of the so-called ‘Trump Trade,’” Doug Ramsey at Leuthold Group wrote. “The consensus hope, which we share, is that tax reform and regulatory roll-back will extend and maybe enliven an economic recovery that’s already long in the tooth.” To be sure, pinpointing Trump’s role in the rally is an inexact science, and a case could be made that his election is coinciding with the consummation of the Fed’s efforts. Among other things, annualized GDP rose 3.2% in the third quarter, the most in two years, while unemployment hit a nine-year low in November.
Donald Trump’s election win sent a $2 trillion shock wave through global markets over the past month. That’s how much equities’ global market value has jumped. And that’s about the size of the loss in worth of the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Index of bonds, over the worst month for global bonds in dollar terms on record. Other assets were roiled, too: the yen plunged the most in 21 years against the dollar. It all amounted to a complete reversal of the playbooks mapped out by a bevy of analysts and investors who had anticipated a Brexit-style rush for havens in the event of a surprise Republican presidential victory. Those projections did pan out – for about eight hours, when the yen and Treasuries advanced as the vote-count momentum favored Trump.
Then the great reflationary rotation trade started, as Carl Icahn started snapping up S&P 500 futures and other investors decided that the likely new U.S. leader’s promises to cut taxes, boost spending and slash regulation would revive inflation and economic growth. Oh, and potentially force more aggressive interest-rate increases from the Fed. How lasting a pattern the new market dynamics will be is an open question, with more than a month to go before Trump takes office and plenty of potential roadblocks to his fiscal and regulatory proposals in a fractious U.S. Congress. For now, eyes turn toward next week’s Fed meeting to set the tone for the outlook as far as monetary policy goes. “It’s astounding how big the move has been,” said James Audiss at Shaw and Partners. “It’s been incredible. Now it all hinges on the Fed and the pace of those rate hikes, but for now the markets are happy to be risk-on.”
I believe the shock of Donald Trump’s election will soon be vastly exceeded by an even more shocking shutdown of Washington governance within days of the inauguration. For the first time since the 1930s there will be a crash on Wall Street and a recession on main street, but the Imperial City will be powerless to remedy either. That’s because financial history is not circular; it’s cumulative and all the fiscal and monetary artifices, expedients and frauds that can be deployed by the state to maintain the illusion of prosperity and soaring financial asset prices will have finally been exhausted. With the Fed pitifully impaled on the zero bound for 96-months running, it has become evident to even the bubble vision cheerleaders that the massive monetary stimulus of the last two decades is over and done.
The only thing left in the Fed’s arsenal is sub-zero interest rates, and that option does not have even a remote prospect of getting off the ground. Donald Trump won the election against all odds, and that he did so on the back of a populist uprising that is unmitigated bad news for Wall Street. Brandishing whatever the present day equivalent of torches and pitchforks might be, the people will surely descend en masse on the Eccles Building if the Fed even hints at the possibility of imposing negative rates on savers and retirees. Nor can the market be rescued through the backdoor of some kind of antiseptic QE that showers gamblers with unspeakable windfalls and stir the populist political pot to a full boil. The obvious dead-end of monetary policy, in fact, is why there has been such frenzied rotation to the Trump reflation trade after the election.
The idea of a massive Trump stimulus was literally invented on the spot late on election night by Wall Street operators in order to attract gullible homegamers into the casino one last time. But the smart money will soon be done selling and the unvarnished Washington disaster looming dead ahead will come screaming back into view. Even if Donald Trump had a semi-coherent economic program, which he clearly doesn’t, there is not a chance that he could get it through the Congress.
The Federal Reserve shouldn’t be driving the United States economy because monetary stimulus is quite limited, Trump economic advisor Judy Shelton told CNBC on Wednesday. “What you want is productive growth and the kind of growth that is truly stimulated by tax reform, by regulatory reform, trade reform and important infrastructure projects to upgrade our ability to be more productive as a nation,” she said in an interview with CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” That’s what President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to do when he takes office, and the market apparently likes what it’s hearing. It has been rallying since Trump’s surprising win on Nov. 8, and on Wednesday the Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 hit all-time highs.
However, the Fed meets next week and it is widely believed it will hike interest rates. Shelton, though, doesn’t believe a small rate increase is going to derail the rally because it is already priced in. If there is turmoil, then “things are a lot more fragile than we thought,” she said. Shelton, co-director of the Sound Money Project at Atlas Network, is known to favor the gold standard and calls the U.S. monetary system an “anti-system.” She’s also been touted by some as a good candidate to fill empty Fed spots. Jim Grant, founder and editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, told CNBC recently he likes Shelton as a replacement for Chair Janet Yellen when she retires in early 2018.
In 2014, the Chinese city of Haimen on the mouth of the Yangtze River set out to build a large apartment complex and turned to Bank of Nanjing for about $29 million in financing. The bank was happy to oblige but it didn’t call the money a loan, according to people familiar with the matter. It was added to Bank of Nanjing’s balance sheet as an “investment receivable,” a loosely regulated category of assets that allows bank officials to set aside little or nothing for potential losses. Bank officials aren’t shy about the accounting sleight of hand, which is rampant across China. The bank had about $39 billion in investment receivables in the third quarter, nearly as big as its loan portfolio, and profits have climbed by more than 20% a year.
As of June, 32 publicly traded Chinese banks had a total of $2 trillion in investment receivables as of June, up from $334 billion at the end of 2011, according to a tally by The Wall Street Journal of the latest available information from data provider Wind. The investments are equivalent to 20% of the same banks’ total loans in dollar terms, up from 6% at the end of 2011. The 32 banks have about 70% of all the banking assets in China. The surge shows how Chinese banks are trying to keep the credit spigot open to support the country’s slowing economy. Structuring financing deals as investments instead of loans frees up bank capital and makes it easier to extend loan deadlines or new credit to borrowers. The strategy has been especially popular at small and midsize banks, said executives and analysts.
The epidemic of investment receivables has created a parallel buildup of debt in addition to China’s rising official debt levels, now 2.5 times GDP. “The rapid growth in banks’ off-balance-sheet and investment activities, in essence, means hidden credit risks and could threaten financial safety,” said Shang Fulin, China’s top banking regulator, in an unusually blunt speech in September. Economists at Swiss bank UBS estimate as much as $2.4 trillion (16.5 trillion yuan) was “missing” from the broadest measurement of credit disclosed by China’s central bank last year, up from $712 billion (4.9 trillion yuan) in 2014. The discrepancy is largely because Chinese commercial banks use so-called shadow lenders to mask loans as investments, the economists said.
China’s foreign currency reserves, the world’s largest, fell the most since January after the yuan declined to an eight-year low. • Reserves decreased $69.1 billion to $3.05 trillion in November, the People’s Bank of China said in a statement Wednesday • That compares with the median forecast of $3.06 trillion in a Bloomberg survey of economists • Decline was biggest since reserves tumbled $99.5 billion in January • The fifth-straight monthly decline brings the reduction in the stockpile to almost $1 trillion from a record $4 trillion in June 2014. While authorities have begun tightening capital controls, a $50,000 limit that Chinese citizens are allowed to convert from yuan annually will reset at the start of the new year, potentially adding depreciation pressure on the currency.
“Containing capital outflows is the key to keeping China’s systematic risk in check,” Harrison Hu, chief greater China economist at RBS in Singapore, wrote in a note. “Market turmoil one year earlier showed the strong feedback loop between capital flight and currency depreciation can destabilize China’s financial system and lead to escalating systemic risk.” “A combination of yuan weakness and a peak in the mainland property sector is conspiring to increase capital outflows,” Bloomberg Intelligence economists Tom Orlik and Fielding Chen wrote in a report. “Another month of falling reserves does little to inspire confidence, especially as households await the renewal of their FX quota at the start of 2017. Even so, with the yuan steady so far in December and capital controls in place, there’s reason to hope China’s reserve buffer will end the year on a more stable note.”
One of the biggest engines soaking up the world’s oil is starting to sputter. Growth in crude imports by China, the second largest consumer after the U.S., will probably slow by more than 60% in 2017, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts including FGE and Energy Aspects. Private refiners that helped boost purchases to record levels are expected to be constrained by tighter licenses and increased scrutiny on their taxes. At the same time, the current space available for stockpiles may run out. While OPEC’s deal to curb output may help erode a glut and lift prices, Chinese imports remain key for any sustained recovery. It’s the biggest buyer in Asia, the world’s top oil market, and its insatiable appetite was a significant driver for crude’s climb to more than $100 a barrel in the past decade.
[..] Concern about teapots’ creditworthiness and lack of experience in international trade are challenges, while the implementation of higher fuel-quality standards could force some to shut. The Chinese government has signaled its intention to slow new quota approvals as it assesses whether the teapots made good on their pledges to close outdated refining units or build storage facilities, according to JPMorgan, which predicts the Asian nation’s oil imports may stop expanding in 2017. Stockpiling may also slow. In 2016, a lot of China’s imports went into oil storage, said Amy Sun, an analyst with ICIS-China. “Going into next year, due to the slow construction of new capacity and already full tanks in current facilities, there will be limited space for further growth.”
“..the Government cannot run out of money, and at times like this — when it saves instead of spending — the only thing that can make the economy grow is if we do the borrowing. And, unlike the Government, we as individuals can — and will — run out of cash.”
The greatest lie ever sold is that the Australian Government can run out of Australian dollars. This is exactly the lie Treasurer Scott Morrison wants you to believe as he rolls out the same old deception — deficit bad, surplus good — ahead of next year’s budget. Social Services Minister Christian Porter is relying on this myth as he tries to sell more cuts to the dole and other welfare benefits: by giving voters the impression that welfare bludgers are sending the country broke and that they have to be made to suffer in the cause of “budget repair”. If you feel like there is a disconnect between your bank balance and what you see and hear on television, you are not taking crazy pills.
“Smashed avo” commentators like Bernard Salt paint everyone from Generation X through to “The Millennials” as ingrates who are incapable of saving, while the Government takes a victory lap claiming 25 years of “unprecedented economic growth”. In reality, Australia is experiencing its first quarter of negative economic growth in five years and the weakest wage growth since the last recession. Official figures released yesterday by the ABS showed a 0.5% contraction in seasonally-adjusted GDP growth for the September quarter, dragging the yearly growth number down to 1.8%. The figures fell well shy of market expectations, with Bloomberg having forecasted a 0.1% contraction over the third quarter down from its previous forecast of 0.2% growth. For its part, the RBA has kept the official cash rate on hold again this week.
The ratio of disposable income to debt for households (released November 2, 2016). (ABS, RBA)
Meanwhile, homes are less affordable, jobs are less secure, a growing number of people are forced into part-time work, and more and more people are struggling to pay their bills and must therefore cope with a greater burden of debt. “There are more than 15% of willing labourers not working in one form or another,” economist Professor Bill Mitchell said. Saying things like “we have to live within our means” is telling voters the Government — which issues the dollar — can run out of its own money. But this is literally impossible. Our means as a country are limited to what we can produce using our effort, our skills and our technology. The Government cannot spend without limit, or it will cause inflation. But the Government cannot run out of money, and at times like this — when it saves instead of spending — the only thing that can make the economy grow is if we do the borrowing. And, unlike the Government, we as individuals can — and will — run out of cash.
The following graph shows the quarterly percentage growth in real GDP over the last five years to the September-quarter 2016 (blue columns) and the ABS trend series (red line) superimposed. Growth was negative in the September-quarter 2016 – minus 0.5% (annualised minus 2%). The annual growth figure of 1.8% is down from 3.1% in the June-quarter and shows how far the economy has slipped. It is now well below trend growth and well below the figure required to maintain stable unemployment (much less reduce it). The annualised growth from this quarter (if continued) means Australia will enter a deep and totally unnecessary recession that has been chosen by the Federal Government, which claims it is intent on pursuing a fiscal surplus.
The automatic stabilisers are already working against that and the ABS announced yesterday that Taxation revenue fell a further 15.3% in the September-quarter against a very small increase in spending. In the June-quarter, it was the large boost in public sector infrastructure spending that saved the economy from negative growth such was the overall weakness of non-government spending. As we will see soon, that contribution turned negative and so went the aggregate growth position. While exports continued to grow (with an uptick in the terms of trade), the external sector overall subtracted from growth. Add to that the fact that domestic wages growth is flat and household indebtedness is at record levels and you have a fairly sober outlook.
If the government sector persists in implementing its planned spending cuts then recession looms for the Australian economy. The graph clearly shows that the trend has been downwards for 4-quarters now and will hit zero by the time we learn about the current December-quarter data unless there is a dramatic shift in government policy. It must announce renewed stimulus or face recession.
The following graph presents quarterly growth rates in trend GDP and hours worked using the National Accounts data for the last five years to the September-quarter 2016. You can see the major dislocation between the two measures that appeared in the middle of 2011 persisted throughout 2013 and has reasserted itself in recent quarters. The GDP growth has driven by capital-intensive exports and more recently, capital infrastructure growth, which is one reason why labour productivity growth had been strong and employment growth weak. Just in case you think the labour force data is suspect, the hours worked computed from that data is very similar to that computed from the National Accounts.
A recount of presidential election ballots in Michigan was effectively halted after a federal judge deferred to a state court finding that losing Green Party candidate Jill Stein wasn’t an “aggrieved person.” U.S. District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith in Detroit ruled Monday that the recount could proceed, then reversed himself Wednesday after Republican backers of President-elect Donald Trump persuaded a state appeals panel that Stein wasn’t qualified to initiate the process because she had no chance of winning the election. Stein’s lawsuit was based on claims of potential hacking of electronic voting machines and reports of foreign interference in the election, particularly by Russia.
Stein has “not presented evidence of tampering or mistake,” Goldsmith wrote in Wednesday’s ruling. Instead, she has made “speculative claims going to the vulnerability of the voting machinery – but not actual injury,” he said. Stein’s attorneys had argued the Michigan Court of Appeals misinterpreted state law when it accepted a claim by state Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, that Stein couldn’t petition for a recount because she wasn’t an “aggrieved person.” Goldsmith wrote that he was obligated to follow Michigan law, which permits a recount to an “aggrieved” candidate who stands a reasonable chance of winning an election “but for mistake or fraud.”
Boris Johnson accused Saudi Arabia of abusing Islam and acting as a puppeteer in proxy wars throughout the Middle East, in remarks that flout a longstanding Foreign Office convention not to criticise the UK’s allies in public. The foreign secretary told a conference in Rome last week that the behaviour of Saudi Arabia, and also Iran, was a tragedy, adding that there was an absence of visionary leadership in the region that was willing to reach out across the Sunni-Shia divide. At the event, Johnson said: “There are politicians who are twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives. That’s one of the biggest political problems in the whole region. And the tragedy for me – and that’s why you have these proxy wars being fought the whole time in that area – is that there is not strong enough leadership in the countries themselves.”
The foreign secretary then identified Saudi Arabia and Iran specifically, saying: “That’s why you’ve got the Saudis, Iran, everybody, moving in, and puppeteering and playing proxy wars.” Johnson’s criticism of Saudi Arabia came as Theresa May returned from a prestigious two-day visit to the Gulf in which she lauded both the Saudi royal family for its visionary leadership, and the value of the 100-year-old alliance with the UK. Foreign Office ministers, aware of Saudi sensitivity to criticism and the strategic importance of the Gulf relationship, usually soft-pedal and focus on their path to reform. [..] The British defence industry is also heavily dependent on arms contracts with the Gulf states, and the Royal Navy has established a major naval base in Manama, the capital of Bahrain. Johnson is due to visit the region this weekend, when he will have to explain why he thinks the Gulf states are abusing Islam for political ends.
Greeks went on strike on Thursday to protest planned labor reforms and painful austerity cuts demanded by the country’s EU and IMF lenders as part of a crucial bailout review. Passenger ships remained docked at ports, city transport was disrupted and local administration offices shut down as workers joined the 24-hour nationwide walkout called by the country’s largest private and public sector unions, GSEE and ADEDY. “The burden we carry is already unbearable,” said GSEE in a statement, calling lenders’ demands “irrational”. “The downturn must finally end,” its rally poster read. Workers and pensioners will march in central Athens later in the day. Turnout in street protests has been low since Greece signed up to a third international bailout in July 2015 after tough negotiations that almost forced it out of the eurozone.
Eurozone finance ministers said on Monday that Athens and its lenders needed to speed up the review which has hit a snag on labour reforms, including liberalising mass layoffs and reviving collective bargaining between employers and unions. Energy reforms and measures to plug a projected fiscal gap in 2018, when Greece’s bailout program expires, are also among thorny issues in the review which may resume next week. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hopes a deal can be reached by the end of the year for the country’s bonds to be included in the ECB’s bond buying program by March 2017. [..] In parliament, lawmakers debated more tax hikes and spending cuts as part of next year’s budget, which projects the economy will grow by 2.7% and attain a 2% of GDP primary surplus – excluding debt servicing costs.
The European Commission will set Greece a deadline on Thursday to fix its migration system and resume taking in asylum seekers from March next year, which would put an end to its six year-long exemption from the EU’s “Dublin rules” on asylum. Under an agreement signed in the Irish capital in 1990, member countries which are the first point of entry for people seeking asylum in the EU have an obligation to process their application, and take them back if they have travelled on to other EU countries without authorization. Transfers from other EU countries to Greece were suspended in 2011, however, after the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights ruled that conditions in Greek facilities for asylum seekers were unacceptable.
A new 17-page proposal from the Commission, set to be adopted on Thursday and obtained by POLITICO, says: “It is recommended that the transfer of asylum applicants to Greece … should be resumed.” Forcing Greece to assume its responsibilities is part of a wider effort to reduce controls at many of the EU’s internal borders that were reintroduced in response to the refugee crisis, causing the temporary suspension of Schengen, the passport-free travel zone. Countries that reimposed border controls, such as Austria, Germany and Denmark, are likely to only remove them if they can send back asylum seekers to the country where they first set foot in the EU. The current state of the Dublin system will be on EU leaders’ agenda at their summit in Brussels next week.
Prior to that, their interior ministers meet on Friday to discuss arrangements for dealing with asylum seekers, as well as a controversial Commission proposal for a permanent relocation system in the event of unusually high levels of refugee arrivals. The Greek government has its work cut out if it is to respond to the Commission’s request for a report by mid-February on improvements in the standard of accommodation for asylum seekers and the management of the asylum process. “In terms of quality, many of the reception facilities in Greece still fall short of the requirements,” says the Commission document, adding that there are particular problems on the Aegean islands, where reception centers “are not only overcrowded but have substandard material conditions in terms of sanitation and hygiene.”
The massive Greenland ice sheet has melted away at least once during the last 1.4 million years, according to a study published on Wednesday, raising fears that manmade climate change could provoke dangerous sea levels. Bedrock samples retrieved through more than three kilometres (two miles) of ice reveal for the first time that the island’s surface was exposed directly to the atmosphere in the not-so-distant past. It may have been a single period of up to 280,000 years, or several shorter ones, researchers reported in the journal Nature. But either way the evidence shows that the island was largely ice-free. “Unfortunately, this makes the Greenland ice sheet look highly unstable,” said lead author Joerg Schaefer, a palaeoclimatologist at Columbia University in New York.
Covering an area larger than France, Spain and Germany combined, the northern hemisphere’s largest ice block on land is kilometres thick and holds enough frozen water to lift the world’s oceans by more than seven metres (24 feet). Even a couple of metres would swamp cities that are home to hundreds of millions of people and planted with many of the crops that feed them. Hence the sense of urgency among climate scientists trying to figure out just how sensitive the ice sheet is to global warming, which has already pushed temperatures in the Arctic region 2ºC (3.6ºF) above pre-industrial era levels – twice the global average. The rate of Greenland’s ice loss has doubled since the 1990s. In the last four years alone, the ice sheet has shed more than a trillion tonnes of mass, according to earlier research.
A dramatic drop in giraffe populations over the past 30 years has seen the world’s tallest land mammal classified as vulnerable to extinction. Numbers have gone from around 155,000 in 1985 to 97,000 in 2015 according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The iconic animal has declined because of habitat loss, poaching and civil unrest in many parts of Africa. Some populations are growing, mainly in southern parts of the continent. Until now, the conservation status of giraffes was considered of “least concern” by the IUCN. However in their latest global Red List of threatened species, the ungainly animal is now said to be “vulnerable”, meaning that over three generations, the population has declined by more that 30%.
According to Dr Julian Fennessy, who co-chairs the IUCN giraffe specialist group, the creatures are undergoing a “silent extinction”. “If you go on a safari, giraffes are everywhere,” he told BBC News. “While there have been great concern about elephants and rhinos, giraffes have gone under the radar but, unfortunately, their numbers have been plummeting, and this is something that we were a little shocked about, that they have declined by so much in so little time.” The rapid growth of human populations has seen the expansion of farming and other forms of development that has resulted in the fragmentation of the giraffe’s range in many parts of Africa. But civil unrest in parts of the continent has also taken its toll. “In these war torn areas, in northern Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia in the border area with South Sudan, essentially the giraffes are war fodder, a large animal, extremely curious that can feed a lot of people,” said Dr Fennessy.
China’s economy has managed a curiously singular feat for any country: Growing a steady rate of 6.7% for the third quarter in a row. “It’s definitely unusual in an international context,” noted Julian Evans-Pritchard, a China economist at Capital Economics on Wednesday. “There are almost no countries that have such stable GDP growth rates.” The GDP trifecta is the first since at least 1992 when Reuters began compiling data. “It suggests quite significant smoothing of the data behind the scenes. Even by Chinese standards, this is quite rare,” Evans-Pritchard said. [..] “In China, these numbers don’t tend to bounce around a lot. They tend to be remarkably smooth,” said Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics at Oxford Economics.
“The authorities feel so strongly about the GDP numbers that the whole government apparatus are always doing everything they can, especially in terms of policies and stimulating growth to make sure that the activity numbers, the economic growth numbers are pretty close to what it’s targeting.” Kuijs said he viewed the focus on meeting the 6.5-7.0% economic growth target as a setback. He noted that last year, high-level policymakers had indicated that it would be acceptable to miss growth targets, but then late in 2015, the government returned to a rigid interpretation. “Many economists find that unfortunate,” Kuijs said. “If you have organic growth in your economy of around 5.5% in a context of a pretty subdued global economy, if you continue to insist on 6.5% growth, that means you have to rely on rapid credit growth and other macro-economic stimulus to achieve it.”
The value of China’s new home sales rose 61% in September from a year earlier, defying policymakers’ moves earlier this year to cool the property market. The value of homes sold rose to 1.2 trillion yuan ($178 billion) last month from a year earlier, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data the National Bureau of Statistics released Wednesday. The increase compares with a 33% gain the previous month. Residential transactions surged in an extended real-estate bull market, prompting local authorities in late September to roll out tougher curbs in big cities. At least 21 cities have introduced purchase restrictions and toughened mortgage lending since late September, reversing two years of easing to support buyers. Property-development investment growth, which expanded at the slowest pace in 15 years in December, was running at 5.8% in the first three quarters of this year, up from 5.4% in the first eight months.
When our buttoned-down economic guardians start using words like “disruptive adjustment” it’s a sign something’s amiss. Over the past few weeks both the Reserve Bank and the IMF have used that same ominous phrase with reference to Australia’s biggest trading partner, China. In essence, the problem is a corporate debt binge. Credit growth in China has accelerated and is growing at twice the pace of its economic growth rate. Debt levels have ballooned to 250% of GDP and alarm bells are ringing. So how worried should we be here in Australia? No one knows for sure, but probably a fair bit. Economists often resort to the term “uncharted waters” to describe unusual conditions but in this case the cliche is apt.
It is notoriously hard to predict how and when debt bubbles will unwind in the most transparent of democratic systems. In a huge one-party-state like China it’s even more mysterious. Few institutions have invested as much over recent years in understanding the Chinese economy as the Reserve Bank of Australia. In its regular review of financial stability, released on Friday, it described China as “a key locus of risk” given its increasing size in the global economy and the run-up in borrowing. “The potential for a disruptive adjustment in China remains pronounced, given the ongoing increase in debt,” it said. The sheer pace of lending growth makes it likely many loans are going to marginal borrowers or unprofitable projects.
China’s growth is slowing and that will make it harder for highly leveraged firms to service their debts, especially if loans have funded unviable projects. To make matters worse much of the rapid growth has been from China’s less regulated “shadow banking” sector. China’s financial system “has become increasingly large, opaque and interconnected,” the Reserve warned.
Our old friend Michael David White has this: “Greece is a savvy tycoon sitting on piles of money compared to the United States. Detroit is a model of careful planning. Venezuela is smooth and efficient in its operation.”
Every person in America can sell everything they own two times — every house, car, bicycle, tent, stock, bond, blanket and kitchen sink — send all the money to the federal government, and Medicare and social security will almost be in good standing. Americans have $90 trillion of personal wealth and $210 trillion of federal debt. We are a dead man. We rest peacefully, in a lead coffin, at the bottom of the sea. We are underwater and we can’t pay our bills. We are dead broke. Plan B is now our destiny. The federal government’s debt of $210 trillion is two times greater than all of the personal wealth of all Americans combined. The federal government’s debt is 11 times greater than the debt of a country in bankruptcy.
And the federal government’s debt is more than 20 times greater than the mortgage debt on every American home. The Democratic Party, led by the progressive Big Media, whose signature legislation is social security and Medicare, has bankrupted the wealthiest country in the history of the world. The “social justice” initiatives of President Roosevelt and Johnson will end with the greatest financial crisis ever. The Roosevelt-Johnson global depression will spread poverty misery and violence far and wide. Socialism bankrupts host countries. America is going to learn the hard way and the world will be forced to go with us for a very long ride. Big Media will bury the story until the cities are burning.
Mike shows you how much the government controls the economy today. And why it will be very difficult to get out of this mind-boggling level of debt. You’ll see this is not just a problem in the Western world, it’s the entire world. As Mike says, “this is going to be a global recession and it’s going to be bad.”
France produced the most power from fossil fuels for September in 32 years to help meet demand as nuclear generation dropped. Output from coal and gas plants more than doubled as Paris-based Electricite de France was forced to keep reactors offline for inspections. French month-ahead power prices have risen to near the highest since 2009. “The availability of French nuclear continues to alarm market participants,” said Bruno Brunetti, managing director of global power at Pira Energy Group in New York. “With the lack of French exports supporting thermal generation, we have revised upward forecasts of coal-fired dispatching by roughly 5 terawatt-hours through 2017 in western Europe.”
EDF’s reactors produced 26.6 terawatt-hours of electricity in September, the least since August 1998, prompting “heavy use” of stations burning coal and gas in a trend that has been increasing since April, according to a report by French grid operator Reseau de transport d’electricite. Thermal power generation was 4,132 gigawatt-hours, or 11% of the total. France has seven fewer reactors available than at the same time last year after EDF announced it needed more time to carry out inspections to rule out potential anomalies on steam generators at 18 of its 58 units ordered by the nation’s nuclear regulator.
The constitutional argument against Brexit is clever and powerful. It’s being made by David Pannick, a member of the House of Lords and a particularly skilled and brilliant barrister. As articulated before the court it runs like this: A well-recognized principle of the U.K. constitution is that one law enacted by Parliament may only be changed by another law. Parliament enacted the European Communities Act in 1972. That law, which opened the way for the U.K. to join the European Economic Community, says that European laws apply in the U.K. European law today includes lots of individual rights, including those found in the European Declaration of Human Rights. Once the U.K. leaves the EU, the rights will no longer apply to Britons. Hence, Pannick says, the U.K. can’t leave the EU without a law authorizing withdrawal. And a law requires an act of Parliament.
If accepted by the courts, Pannick’s argument would have the effect of blocking PM Theresa May’s government from invoking Article 50 of the EU treaty, which allows member states to withdraw. The government would need to go to Parliament, which would say no – and Brexit would be blocked. So is Pannick right? There’s a somewhat plausible technical response to his claims. It says essentially that since the 1972 law incorporates European law, and Article 50 of the EU treaty is European law, there’s no need for another act of Parliament, because the 1972 law isn’t really being revoked but simply relied upon to withdraw. This would be a pretty cheap way for courts to solve the deeper problem, and I suspect the judges won’t want to reject Pannick’s claim on a technicality – or at least they shouldn’t.
The better, more substantive answer to Pannick’s argument is that while Parliament hasn’t enacted a new law for EU withdrawal, there has been a public pronouncement on the topic: the Brexit referendum. True, a referendum isn’t a law. But it is the voice of the people, at least as expressed on the fateful day of the vote. Here’s where things get really interesting from a constitutional standpoint. If the U.K. had a written constitution, it would probably say whether a referendum should be treated the same as a legislative vote. But because it doesn’t, the courts will have to decide whether a referendum is just as good as a legislative vote, or better, or worse. And that judgment will require some serious thought about the true nature of democracy.
Homeless people are being told by councils to sleep rough so they can get help, research by a charity has found. People who turned to their local authority for help were often sent packing without support or instructed to sleep rough in order to access services, according to a report by St Mungo’s. The findings, based on interviews with 40 St Mungo’s clients, suggested that three-quarters of homeless people had slept rough the night after they asked a council for help because they had nowhere to stay. One of those interviewed by St Mungo’s said: “We decided to go to the local council and they told us that we had to sleep rough for three nights in a row before they could actually do anything to help us. We just felt complete despair.”
The charity is calling on the government to ensure that no one is sent away by local authorities when they have nowhere to go. St Mungo’s will take part in a mass lobby of Parliament on Wednesday in support of the Homelessness Reduction Bill. The research also found that 129 rough sleepers have died in London since 2010, while a quarter reported being physically assaulted when they were on the streets. One interviewee said: “I’ve been beaten up quite a few times sleeping in doorways, or even in cars, they smash the window in on top of you, spit on you, urinate on you, try and set you on fire. I’ve had all of those things happen to me.” In the past five years, the number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled – with a 30% increase in the past year alone.
All agencies are quietly being armed just in case there may be civil unrest which arises by rigging the election to defeat Donald Trump. Even Ben Carson has come out and explained why Trump beat everyone in the Republican field: “the people themselves have just gotten disgusted with being manipulated and controlled”. There is no question that we have entered a new age post-2015.75 that is one of betrayal and deception. Many people assume that Obama would never declare martial law and that the proposition is simply a conspiracy theory. This is simply not true. Martial law in the United States has been declared several times, so it is by no means off the table. The martial law concept within the United States legally is very closely linked with the right of habeas corpus, which has been suspended and reduced in many cases over the years.
That is why they keep Guantanamo open for if they are not on US soil, they cannot file a habeas corpus. Effectively, the right to a hearing on “lawful” imprisonment is embodied in the essence of habeas corpus that is under the supervision of law enforcement by the judiciary, which of course has been stacked with pro-government judges. The constitutional ability to suspend habeas corpus is related to the imposition of martial law. Under the Constitution, Article 1, Section 9 states; “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” There you have the authority to suspend the law if there is a “rebellion” based upon civil unrest that is political in nature. Obama can also claim “public safety” is at stake if Trump supports riot.
Therefore, under United States law, martial law is very limited by several court decisions that were handed down between the American Civil War and World War II. Don’t forget the Japanese Internment camps during World War II. You were locked up just because of your heritage without any rioting or committing some threatening act. It was just “presumed” you “might” do something and that was as good as guilt.
Half of all American adults are included in databases police use to identify citizens with facial recognition technology, according to new research that raises serious concerns about privacy violations and the widespread use of racially biased surveillance technology. A report from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology found that more than 117 million adults are captured in a “virtual, perpetual lineup”, which means law enforcement offices across the US can scan their photos and use unregulated software to track law-abiding citizens in government datasets. Numerous major police departments have “real-time face recognition” technology that allows surveillance cameras to scan the faces of pedestrians walking down the street, the report found.
In Maryland, police have been using software to identify faces in protest photos and match them to people with warrants, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The report’s findings, along with revelations from the ACLU on police monitoring in Baltimore, suggest that the technology may be violating the rights of millions of Americans and is disproportionately impacting communities of color, advocates said. “Face recognition, when it’s used most aggressively, can change the nature of public spaces,” said Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of Georgetown’s privacy and technology center. “It can change the basic freedom we have to go about our lives without people identifying us from afar and in secret.”
The center’s year-long investigation, based on more than 100 police records requests, has produced the most comprehensive survey of facial databases to date and raises numerous questions about the lack of transparency and privacy protections. Law enforcement biometric databases have traditionally captured DNA profiles related to criminal arrests or forensic investigations. What’s alarming about the FBI’s “face recognition unit”, according to the report, is that it is “overwhelmingly made up of non-criminal entries”.
While Hillary Clinton has spent the presidential campaign saying as little as possible about her ties to Wall Street, the executive who some observers say could be her Treasury Secretary has been openly promoting a plan to give financial firms control of hundreds of billions of dollars in retirement savings. The executive is Tony James, president of the Blackstone Group. The investment colossus is most famous in politics for its Republican CEO likening an Obama tax plan to a Nazi invasion. James, though, is a longtime Democrat — and one of Clinton’s top fundraisers. The billionaire sculpted the retirement initiative with a prominent labor economist whose work is supported by another investment mogul who is a big Clinton donor. The proposal has received bipartisan praise from prominent economic thinkers, and James says that Clinton’s top aides are warming to the idea.
It is a plan that proponents say could help millions of Americans – but could also enrich another constituency: the hedge fund and private equity industries that Blackstone dominates and that have donated millions to support Clinton’s presidential bid. The proposal would require workers and employers to put a%age of payroll into individual retirement accounts “to be invested well in pooled plans run by professional investment managers,” as James put it. In other words, individual voluntary 401(k)s would be replaced by a single national system, and much of the mandated savings would flow to Wall Street, where companies like Blackstone could earn big fees off the assets. And because of a gap in federal anti-corruption rules, there would be little to prevent the biggest investment contracts from being awarded to the biggest presidential campaign donors.
[..] Recently, [..] regulators, pension trustees, investment experts and academics have questioned whether retiree savings should be invested with firms like Blackstone in the first place. Some pensions are pulling out their money. Other pension systems have been turned into 401(k)-style plans, which are difficult for the alternative investment industry to break into because of federal laws that discourage those plans from buying into riskier, illiquid investments. In the face of these challenges, James’ proposal could provide a government-mandated flow of money from workers’ paychecks into the high-fee alternative investment industry.
Earlier today we wrote about a new Project Veritas undercover video that uncovered several democratic operatives openly discussing, in explicit detail, how to commit massive voter fraud. One of the operatives was a person by the name of Robert Creamer who is a co-founder of a democratic consulting firm called Democracy Partners. Within the video, an undercover journalist details a plan to register Hispanic voters illegally by having them work as contractors, to which Creamer can be heard offering support saying that “there are a couple of organizations that that’s their big trick”. Unfortunately, the embarrassing video caused Creamer to subsequently resign from consulting the Hillary campaign as he issued a statement saying that he was “stepping back from my responsibilities working the [Hillary] campaign” over fears that his continued assistance would be a distraction for the campaign.
But voter fraud isn’t Creamer’s only criminal specialty. A quick look at Wikipedia reveals that Creamer spent 5 months in federal prison back in 2006 for a “$2.3 million bank fraud in relation to his operation of public interest groups in the 1990s.” So, with that kind of history, you can imagine our surprise when we discovered that a Mr. Robert Creamer showed up on the White House visitor logs 340 times beginning in 2009 when Obama took office and culminating with his latest visit in June 2016. Moreover, in 45 of those instances, Creamer was scheduled to meet with POTUS himself. Perhaps this is just two old Chicago “community organizers” hanging out?
We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless migrant crisis, random bomb attacks. And those who are supposed to be in power are paralysed – they have no idea what to do. This film is the epic story of how we got to this strange place. It explains not only why these chaotic events are happening – but also why we, and our politicians, cannot understand them.
It shows that what has happened is that all of us in the West – not just the politicians and the journalists and the experts, but we ourselves – have retreated into a simplified, and often completely fake version of the world. But because it is all around us we accept it as normal. But there is another world outside. Forces that politicians tried to forget and bury forty years ago – that then festered and mutated – but which are now turning on us with a vengeful fury. Piercing though the wall of our fake world.
Abdul Shakoor thought nothing could shock him anymore. He has, after all, survived an assassination attempt by Pakistani security agents, he claims, in addition to torture in a Lahore prison. “But I was wrong.” Thirty-three-year-old Shakoor is standing in the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos and pointing at the overcrowded plastic tents inside of which women, children and the ill are lying pushed up against one another, at the cement wall that surrounds the camp, and at the barbed wire. “I would have expected these kinds of conditions in Pakistan or Afghanistan,” he says. “But not in Greece.” As a result of the refugee influx, the infrastructure on Lesbos and other Greek islands is in danger of collapsing. Europe’s model is no longer working.
Although the number of migrants dropped after the EU-Turkey deal came into effect in March, the number of refugees heading for Greece has once again gone up, partially in response to the failed military coup in Turkey on June 15. In August and September, 6,527 refugees crossed the Aegean, twice as many as in May and June. The crisis in Turkey, it seems, isn’t just scaring many Turks, it is also driving refugees out of the country. Currently, there are at least 15,000 migrants on the Greek islands, with the camps available only able to handle half that many. And new boats arrive every day. Skirmishes between camp residents – and between refugees and locals – have become a frequent occurrence.
The Greek government is facing a dilemma, says political advisor Gerald Knaus, whose think tank, the European Stability Initiative, helped conceive the EU-Turkey deal. The Greeks, he says, can no longer ignore the chaos on the islands. If Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras carries through on his recent pledge to move large numbers of refugees onto the mainland, it would be a signal to the smugglers in Turkey that the Aegean Route has reopened. “If the EU doesn’t do anything quickly,” Knaus warns, “the refugee deal will be dead in a few months.” Knaus, whom many people describe as the creator of the refugee deal, warns that if the deal fails, chaos could result. Hundreds of thousands of refugees, he says, would arrive in Greece and try to break through the fences to the north. The Balkans would turn into a battleground for migrants, smugglers, border guards and soldiers, Knaus says. “That would be the end of European asylum policy.”
Hundreds of mammal species – from chimpanzees to hippos to bats – are being eaten into extinction by people, according to the first global assessment of the impact of human hunting. Bushmeat has long been a traditional source of food for many rural people, but as roads have been driven into remote areas, large-scale commercial hunting is leaving forests and other habitats devoid of wildlife. The scientists behind the new analysis warned that, without action, the wiping out of these species could lead to the collapse of the food security of hundreds of millions of people reliant on bushmeat for survival.
The work comes against the backdrop of the natural world undergoing the greatest mass extinction since a giant meteorite strike wiped out the dinosaurs 65m years ago, with species vanishing far more rapidly than the long term rate, driven by the destruction and invasion of wild areas by humans and their livestock and hunting. The researchers, whose study is published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, used the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list to identify the endangered land mammals that are primarily at risk from hunting for food. They found 301 such species, representing 7% of all the land mammals assessed by IUCN and about a quarter of all endangered mammals.
Other mammals are threatened by habitat loss or hunting for other reasons, such as elephants which are poached for their ivory. The 301 species include 168 primates, such as the lowland gorilla and mandrill, 73 hoofed animals, such as the wild yak and bactrian camel, 27 bats, such as the golden-capped fruit bat and the black-bearded flying fox, and 12 carnivores, such as the clouded leopard and several bear species. There are also 26 marsupials threatened by meat hunting, including the grizzled tree kangaroo, and 21 rodent species, such as the Sulawesi giant squirrel and the alpine woolly rat.
The leading academic theory of asset bubbles is that they don’t really exist. When asset prices skyrocket, say mainstream theorists, it might mean that some piece of news makes rational investors realize that fundamental values like corporate earnings are going to be a lot higher than anyone had expected. Or perhaps some condition in the economy might make investors suddenly become much more tolerant of risk. But according to mainstream theory, bubbles are not driven by speculative mania, greed, stupidity, herd behavior or any other sort of psychological or irrational phenomenon. Inflating asset values are the normal, healthy functioning of an efficient market. Naturally, this view has convinced many people in finance that mainstream theorists are quite out of their minds. The problem is, mainstream theory has proven devilishly hard to disprove.
We can’t really observe how investors in the financial markets form their beliefs. So we can’t tell if their views are right or wrong, or whether they’re investing based on expectations or because of changing risk tolerance. Basically, because we can usually only look at the overall market, we can’t get into the nuts and bolts of how people decide what prices to pay. But what about the housing market? Housing is different from stocks and bonds in at least two big ways. First, because house purchases are not anonymous, we can observe who buys what. Second, housing markets are local, so we can see what is happening around them, and thus have some sort of idea what information they are receiving. These unique features allow us to know much more about the decision-making process of each buyer than we know about investors in the anonymous national financial markets.
In a new paper, economists Patrick Bayer, Kyle Mangum and James Roberts make great use of these features to study the mid-2000s U.S. housing boom. Their landmark results ought to have a major effect on the debate over asset bubbles. Bayer et al. find that as the market overheated, the frenzy spread like a virus from block to block. They look at the greater Los Angeles area – a hotbed of bubble activity – from 1989 through 2012. Since they want to focus on people buying houses as investments (rather than to live in), the authors looked only at people who bought multiple properties, and they tried to exclude primary residences from the sample. They found, unsurprisingly, that the peak years of 2004-2006 saw a huge spike in the number of new investors entering the market. Here is the graph from their paper:
Red flags are rising on Corporate America’s debt. The average rating on U.S. corporate debt has hit nearly a 15-year low, according to a new report by Standard & Poor’s. “We believe corporate default rates could increase over the next few years,” according to S&P credit analysts Jacob Crooks and David Tesher. The average rating on companies that issue debt has fallen to ‘BB,’ or junk status. That is even below the average S&P rating for U.S. corporate debt during and in the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. There are already concerns about energy companies defaulting on loans due to low oil prices. But new tech firms like Solera and media companies like iHeart too have had their credit rating downgraded this year, according to S&P. Since 2012, there’s been a surge in low-rated companies seeking cash.
In the past four years, S&P has assigned a single-B rating to 75% of companies accessing the debt markets for the first time. That rating is just one notch up from triple-C, a rating given to companies with a high probability of default. Companies with a single-B rating include PF Chang’s, Toys R US and Men’s Wearhouse (MW). That doesn’t mean they’re going to default: They’re just dangerously close to the territory where companies tend to default. The “rapid rise” in companies with low credit ratings accessing the bond markets can be traced to the easy availability of cash in recent years. How did this happen?
Here are a few key dominoes.
1. The Fed created a super low interest rate environment when it put rates next to zero in 2008.
2. Investors looking for more yield move away from safe assets like U.S. Treasury bonds and into higher-risk assets like bonds issued by lower-rated companies.
3. That makes it easier for low-rated companies to get cash at low rates from the capital markets.
Now, however, the tables are turning. The Fed is slowly starting to increase rates and investors’ appetite – and the cash available – for low-rated companies is on the decline. Add to that the gloomy outlook for the global economy and low commodity prices, and some companies may struggle to pay back what they borrowed.
My grandfather was never rich. He did have some money in the 1920s, but he lost most of it at the tail end of the decade. Some of it disappeared in the stock market crash in October of 1929. The rest of his deposits fell victim to the collapse of New York’s Bank of the United States in December of 1931. I wish I could say that my grandfather recovered from the wrath of the stock market disaster and subsequent bank failures. For the most part, however, living above the poverty line was about the best that he could do financially, as he buckled down to raise two children in Queens. There was one financial feature of my grandfather’s life that provided him with greater self-worth. Specifically, he refused to take on significant debt because he remained skeptical of credit. And with good reason.
The siren’s song of “you-can-pay-me-Tuesday-for-a-hamburger-today” only created an illusion of wealth in the Roaring Twenties; in fact, unchecked access to favorable borrowing terms as well as speculative excess in the use of debt contributed mightily to the country’s eventual descent into the Great Depression. G-Pops wanted no part of the next debt-fueled crisis. Here’s something few people know about the past: Consumer debt more than doubled during the ten year-period of the Roaring 1920s (1/1/1920-12/31/1929). And while you may often hear the debt apologist explain how the only thing that matters about debt is the ability to service it, the reckless dismissal ignores the reality of virtually all financial catastrophes.
During the Asian Currency Crisis and the bailout of Long-Term Capital Management (1997-1998), fast-growing emerging economies (e.g., South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, etc.) experienced extraordinary capital inflows. Most of the inflows? Speculative borrowed dollars. When those economies showed signs of strain, “hot money” quickly shifted to outflows, depreciating local currencies and leaving over-leveraged hedge funds on the wrong side of currency trades. The Fed-orchestrated bailout of Long-Term Capital coupled with rate cutting activity prevented the 19% S&P 500 declines and 35% NASDAQ depreciation from charting a full-fledged stock bear. Did we see similar debt-fueled excess leading into the 2000-2002 S&P 500 bear (50%-plus)? Absolutely. How long could margin debt extremes prosper in the so-called New-Economy?
How many dot-com day-traders would find themselves destitute toward the end of the tech bubble? Bring it forward to 2007-2009 when housing prices began to plummet in earnest. How many “no-doc” loans and “negative am” mortgages came with a promise of real estate riches? Instead, subprime credit abuse brought down the households that lied to get their loans, destroyed the financial institutions that had these “toxic assets” on their books, and overwhelmed the government’s ability to manage the inevitable reversal of fortune in stocks and the overall economy. Just like 1929-1932. Just like 1997-1998. Just like 2000-2002.
First, China’s property bubble popped. Then, China’s stock market bubble burst over the summer, and investors lost a ton of money before the government took control of the system. Now the concern floating around the world of markets is that the third in China’s “triple bubble” is about to burst. That bubble is credit, especially corporate bonds, which have absolutely exploded over the past year as refugees from the other bubble bursts searched for yield. This one is going to be for a very straightforward reason, too — supply. Simply put, there are about to be too many bonds in China, and that could ultimately harm the weakest part of the Chinese economy, the debt-loaded zombie companies that helped form the property bubble and are now unable to turn a healthy profit.
Here’s how all of this happened. When the Chinese stock market went careening downward last summer, a ton of the money that was invested in the market ran into the credit market, specifically corporate bonds. “In our view, China is in the midst of a triple bubble, with the third-biggest credit bubble of all time, the largest investment bubble (proxied by the investment share of GDP) and the second-biggest real-estate bubble,” Credit Suisse analyst Andrew Garthwaite wrote in a note back in July. This was great for China’s debt-laden corporates. They could keep running on easy credit because demand was so high. Corporate-bond issuance increased 21% from 2014 to 2015, and by the end of last year their total stock made up 21.6% of GDP, as opposed 18.4% the year before, according to Societe Generale.
Chinese Treasury-bond supply is set to increase too, from 936 billion yuan in 2015 to 1.4 trillion yuan in 2016. At the same time, the government has been getting a move on an important project it has been working on for some time — turning local-government debt from the country’s infrastructure boom into a real municipal-bond market. We’re talking a lot of money here. In March alone the government allowed 1 trillion yuan ($160 billion) of local-government debt to be converted into local-government bonds (LGB). In 2016 analysts expect the government to issue another 6 trillion yuan in LGBs. That’s a lot of bonds.
Bad loans are likely to outnumber good ones soon in the U.S. oil patch, an indication of the pressure on energy companies and their lenders from the crash in prices. The number of energy loans labeled as “classified,” or in danger of default, is on course to extend above 50% this year at several major banks, including Wells Fargo and Comerica, according to bankers and others in the industry. In response, several major banks are reducing their exposure to the energy sector by attempting to sell off souring loans, declining to renew them or clamping down on the ability of oil and gas companies to tap credit lines for cash, according to more than a dozen bankers, lawyers and others familiar with the plans.
The pullback is curtailing the flow of money to companies struggling to survive a prolonged stretch of low prices, likely quickening the path to bankruptcy for some firms. 51 North American oil-and-gas producers have already filed for bankruptcy since the start of 2015, cases totaling $17.4 billion in cumulative debt, according to law firm Haynes and Boone. That trails the number from September 2008 to December 2009 during the global financial crisis, when there were 62 filings, but is expected to grow: About 175 companies are at high risk of not being able to meet loan covenants, according to Deloitte. “This has the makings of a gigantic funding crisis” for energy companies, said William Snyder, head of Deloitte’s U.S. restructuring unit. If oil prices, which closed at $39.79 a barrel Wednesday, remain at around $40 a barrel this year, “that’s fairly catastrophic.”
As Britain ponders its future in the EU, investors are betting an amount almost the size of Iceland’s economy on the pound falling to levels last seen in the 1980s. At least 11 billion pounds ($16 billion) has been wagered this year on options that would profit if sterling fell to or below $1.3502, a 4.5% drop from current levels, after the June 23 referendum. More than half of the positions were placed since the date of the vote was set on Feb. 20. The figures give an indication of what’s at stake as investors weigh the possibility of the U.K. quitting the world’s largest single market, which accounts for about half its imports and exports. Even with opinion polls showing no clear lead for either side, the prospect of a “Brexit” has seen the pound fall more than any other major currency versus the dollar this year.
“There is a risk premium in sterling, both in terms of the spot rate and in terms of the volatility market, but this is one of those events where you have no way of calibrating how big it should be,” said Paul Meggyesi at JPMorgan Chase in London. “Few investors believe that sterling has fallen to levels where the risk-reward favors buying.” While tumbling to $1.3502 would barely exceed the pound’s decline so far this year, it would take the U.K. currency to the lowest level since 1985. Traders assign 54% odds to sterling reaching that level by the day of the referendum, according to Bloomberg’s options calculator. Meggyesi sees the pound falling to $1.38 by mid-year, from $1.4145 as of 4:45 p.m. London time on Thursday. Even forecasts of a drop to these levels may be optimistic if the U.K. actually ends up leaving the EU.
PBOC fixed the Yuan at its weakest in 3 weeks, pushing the devaluation streak to its longest since early January. However, Offshore Yuan has now dropped over 1.1% against the USD, extending losses for the 6th straight day to 3-week lows. This is the longest streak of weakness in the offshore Yuan since April 2014.
It appears EUR and JPY took enough pain so the basket is reverting to the USD again…
What’s the opposite of passive-aggressive as a clear message is being sent to The Fed – tighten and we unleash the Yuan-weakness-driven turmoil…
Think there’s a housing affordability crisis in Britain, with low mortgage rates likely to drive house prices even higher? Take a look at Sweden where lending policies have been more generous, and where house price inflation has been (at least recently) more extreme. A number of banks and analysts have warned that Sweden’s housing market is overheating, with HSBC in January saying: “The pace of acceleration in the housing market points to a bubble.” House prices across the country were up 18pc last year. This compares to Britain’s house price rises in 2015 of between 5pc and 10pc, depending on which index is used. Now Sweden is dealing with its overheated housing market by reining in mortgage availability.
Regulators introduced restrictions which will mean mortgage terms – the time homebuyers have to clear the debt – will be drastically reduced to just… 105 years. The move comes because historically there has been no time limit on mortgage duration. So as prices rose and affordability became tougher, Swedish banks’ response was to extend terms, as had been the case in other high-cost property markets including Japan in the Eighties. The average term is reported to be 140 years. This meant many people who inherited property but who could not afford to take on the mortgage debt had to sell up. Swedish banks were quoted in the local press as opposing the move.
“It isn’t good for the finances of households as it will make mortgages more expensive and the terms not as good. And it isn’t good for financial stability,” the head of Swedish Bankers’ Association was reported to say. In Britain, there has been a move by some lenders to increase mortgage terms but only for younger borrowers. Even then, the maximum term tends to be 35 years, although some lenders – including Halifax and Nationwide – go up to 40, brokers say. The Mortgage Market Review introduced by British regulators in 2013 made it difficult for lenders to arrange loans which went into borrowers’ likely retirement.
House prices in Shenzhen, the city which is a hub for technology hardware and known as China’s Silicon Valley, soared by almost 50% last year – the fastest growth in residential property prices worldwide. A new survey puts two Chinese cities – Shenzhen and Shanghai – in the top five fastest-growing property markets despite the Chinese stock market tumbling in 2015. The research, by the estate agents Knight Frank (pdf), also shows the impact of last year’s debt crisis in Greece. House prices in the two biggest Greek cities – Thessaloniki and Athens – were both ranked among the worst six in the survey of 165 cities, falling 5.9% and 4.8% respectively. There were also significant drops in some Italian cities, including Rome, Trieste and Genoa. Nicosia and Larnaca in Cyprus were also among the worst performers.
The Global Residential Cities Index showed that house prices in cities worldwide went up 4.4%. Behind Shenzhen, Auckland was the second fastest growing market with rises of 25.4%, followed by Istanbul (25%) and Sydney (19.9%). Shenzhen has become a hub for the production of hardware used in electronics and has a permanent population of 10 million, rising to 15 million in the summer – autumn electronics season. Their average age is 30. The city bordering Hong Kong did not exist 30 years ago, sporting just a few fishing villages. In 1979, it was declared China’s first special economic zone and surrounded by an 85-mile long, barbed wire fence. Investment and migrant workers flooded the area and factories and housing were built from scratch. By the mid-90s, the population had climbed to 3 million.
In 2004, the first metro station opened and a decade later the network had grown to 131 stations. Two Turkish cities featured in the top 10 – Istanbul and Izmir – while Budapest recorded the biggest rise among European Union cities, with prices up 16.3%. Budapest is also the strongest performing capital city in the index, with demand fuelled by an investment immigration bond for Chinese nationals. Cities traditionally associated with high prices failed to feature prominently. London was ranked at 16 (11.4% growth) with New York at 89th (3.3%). The fast rising prices of Sydney, the fourth fastest rising market, has resulted in high rents and the same sort of concerns about the effects on the young population in the city as in London. In the US, Portland in Oregon and San Francisco were the highest risers, both with increases over the year of 10%. The fastest growing North American city was Vancouver, with prices up nearly 12% on an annual basis.
Despite all the government talk about the nonperforming loans secured by borrowers’ homes being protected from falling into the hands of hedge funds, the latest recapitalization process has resulted in the entire credit sector now being controlled by foreign investors – hedge funds no less. Those foreign firms, the majority of which control high-risk portfolios, hold stakes of more than 50% in all of Greece’s systemic lenders, and in some cases far above that. Therefore, by extension, they control a loan portfolio which exceeds 200 billion euros and includes performing loans amounting to some 100 billion and bad loans that also add up to around 100 billion, and there is currently a negotiations battle under way for them not to be sold on to others.
It makes no difference to borrowers who owns their loans; it is the general legal framework and the legal moves they can make in case they are unable to fulfill their obligations that matter. The banks’ planning does not provide for the sale of bad loans, and there are strong indications that the existing stock of NPLs includes many strategic defaulters who have taken advantage of the crisis to avoid fulfilling their obligations. The Bank of Greece estimates that they account for 20% of all bad loans.
The National Review, a conservative magazine for the Republican elite, recently unleashed an attack on the “white working class”, who they see as the core of Trump’s support. The first essay, Father Führer, was written by the National Review’s Kevin Williamson, who used his past reporting from places such as Appalachia and the Rust Belt to dissect what he calls “downscale communities”. He describes them as filled with welfare dependency, drug and alcohol addiction, and family anarchy – and then proclaims: “Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster, There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. … The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles.”
A few days later, another columnist, David French, added: “Simply put, [white working class] Americans are killing themselves and destroying their families at an alarming rate. No one is making them do it. The economy isn’t putting a bottle in their hand. Immigrants aren’t making them cheat on their wives or snort OxyContin.” Both suggested the answer to their problems is they need to move. “They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.” Downscale communities are everywhere in America, not just limited to Appalachia and the Rust Belt – it’s where I have spent much of the past five years documenting poverty and addiction. To say that “nothing happened to them” is stunningly wrong. Over the past 35 years the working class has been devalued, the result of an economic version of the Hunger Games.
It has pitted everyone against each other, regardless of where they started. Some contestants, such as business owners, were equipped with the fanciest weapons. The working class only had their hands. They lost and have been left to deal on their own. The consequences can be seen in nearly every town and rural county and aren’t confined to the industrial north or the hills of Kentucky either. My home town in Florida, a small town built around two orange juice factories, lost its first factory in 1985 and its last in 2005. [..] Over the past 35 years, except for the very wealthy, incomes have stagnated, with more people looking for fewer jobs. Jobs for those who work with their hands, manufacturing employment, has been the hardest hit, falling from 18m in the late 1980s to 12m now.
The economic devaluation has been made more painful by the fraying of the social safety net, and more visceral by the vast increase at the top. It is one thing to be spinning your wheels stuck in the mud, but it is even more demeaning to watch as others zoom by on well-paved roads, none offering help. It is not just about economic issues and jobs. Culturally, we are witnessing a tale of two Americas that are growing more distinct by the day.
A total of 20 people have been detained in China following the publication of a letter calling on President Xi Jinping to resign, the BBC has learned. The letter was posted earlier this month on a state-backed website Wujie News. Although quickly deleted by the authorities, a cached version can still be found online. In most countries the contents of the letter would be run-of-the-mill political polemic. “Dear Comrade Xi Jinping, we are loyal Communist Party members,” it begins, and then cuts to the chase. “We write this letter asking you to resign from all party and state leadership positions.” But in China, of course, and in particular on a website with official links, this kind of thing is unheard of and there have already been signs of a stern response by the authorities. The detention of a prominent columnist, Jia Jia, was widely reported to be in connection with the letter.
Friends say he simply called the editor of Wujie to enquire about it after seeing it on line. But now the BBC has spoken to a staff member at Wujie who has asked to remain anonymous and who has told us that in addition to Jia Jia another 16 people have been “taken away”. The source said they included six colleagues who work directly for the website, including a senior manager and a senior editor, and another 10 people who work for a related technology company. And a well-know Chinese dissident living in the US said three members of his family, living in China’s Guangdong Province, had also been detained in connection with the letter. Wen Yunchao said he believed his parents and his brother had been detained because authorities were trying to pressure him to reveal information. But he told the BBC that he knew nothing about the letter.
The letter focuses its anger on what it says is President Xi’s “gathering of all power” in his own hands, and it accuses him of major economic and diplomatic miscalculations, as well as “stunning the country” by placing further restrictions on freedom of speech. The latter is a reference to Mr Xi’s high profile visit last month to state-run TV and newspaper offices, where he told journalists that their primary duty was to obey the Communist Party. The letter first appeared on an overseas-based Chinese language website, well outside the realm of Communist Party censors, but the big question is how it then made its way onto Wujie. The idea that any Chinese editor of sane mind would knowingly publish such a document seems so unlikely that there has been speculation amongst some Chinese journalists, in private, that Wujie was either hacked, or had perhaps been using some kind of automatic trawling and publishing software.
One of two prominent Turkish journalists facing life in prison on charges of espionage vowed to make the trial, which begins on Friday, a prosecution of official wrongdoing. Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, told Reuters he would use his trial, which has drawn international condemnation, to refocus attention on the story that landed him in the dock. Dundar, 54, and Erdem Gul, 49, Cumhuriyet’s Ankara bureau chief, stand accused of trying to topple the government over the publication last May of video purporting to show Turkey’s state intelligence agency helping to truck weapons to Syria in 2014. “We are not defendants, we are witnesses,” Dundar said in an interview at his office, promising to show the footage in court despite a ban and at the risk that judges may order the hearings to be held behind closed doors.
“We will lay out all of the illegalities and make this a political prosecution … The state was caught in a criminal act, and it is doing all that it can to cover it up.” Dundar and Gul spent 92 days in jail, almost half of it in solitary confinement, before the constitutional court ruled last month that pre-trial detention was unfounded because the charges stemmed from their journalism. Both were subsequently released pending trial, although President Tayyip Erdogan said he did not respect the ruling. Erdogan has acknowledged that the trucks, which were stopped by gendarmerie and police officers en route to the Syrian border, belonged to the MIT intelligence agency and said they were carrying aid to Turkmens in Syria. Turkmen fighters are battling both President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and Islamic State.
Erdogan has said prosecutors had no authority to order the trucks be searched and that they acted as part of a plot to discredit the government, allegations the prosecutors denied. Erdogan has cast the newspaper’s coverage as part of an attempt to undermine Turkey’s global standing and has vowed Dundar would “pay a heavy price.” The trial comes as Turkey deflects criticism from the European Union and rights groups that it is bridling a once vibrant press. “We were arrested for two reasons: to punish us and to frighten others. And we see the intimidation has been effective. Fear dominates,” Dundar said.
We now know that greenhouse gases are rising faster than at any time since the demise of dinosaurs, and possibly even earlier. According to research published in Nature Geoscience this week, carbon dioxide (CO2 ) is being added to the atmosphere at least ten times faster than during a major warming event about 50 million years ago. We have emitted almost 600 billion tonnes of carbon since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and atmospheric COC concentrations are now increasing at a rate of 3 parts per million (ppm) per year. With increasing CO2 levels, temperatures and ocean acidification also rise, and it is an open question how ecosystems are going to cope under such rapid change. Coral reefs, our canary in the coal mine, suggest that the present rate of climate change is too fast for many species to adapt: the next widespread extinction event might have already started.
In the past, rapid increases in greenhouse gases have been associated with mass extinctions. It is therefore important to understand how unusual the current rate of atmospheric CO2 increase is with respect to past climate variability. There is no doubt that atmospheric COC concentrations and global temperatures have changed in the past. Ice sheets, for example, are reliable book-keepers of ancient climate and can give us an insight into climate conditions long before the thermometer was invented. By drilling holes into ice sheets we can retrieve ice cores and analyse the accumulation of ancient snow, layer upon layer. These ice cores not only record atmospheric temperatures through time, they also contain frozen bubbles that provide us with small samples of ancient air. Our longest ice core extends more than 800,000 years into the past.
During this time, the Earth oscillated between cold ice ages and warm interglacials . To move from an ice age to an interglacial, you need to increase COC by roughly 100 ppm. This increase repeatedly melted several kilometre-thick ice sheets that covered the locations of modern cities like Toronto, Boston, Chicago or Montreal. With increasing COC levels at the end of the last ice age, temperatures increased too. Some ecosystems could not keep up with the rate of change, resulting in several megafaunal extinctions, although human impacts were almost certainly part of the story. Nevertheless, the rate of change in COC over the past million years was tame when compared to today. The highest recorded rate of change before the Industrial Revolution is less than 0.15 ppm per year, just one-twentieth of what we are experiencing today.
James Hansen’s name looms large over any history that will likely be written about climate change. Whether you look at the hard science, the perils of political interference or modern day activism, Dr Hansen is there as a central character. In a 1988 US Senate hearing, Hansen famously declared that the “greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now”. Towards the end of his time as the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Hansen described how government officials had on other occasions changed his testimony, filtered scientific findings and controlled what scientists could and couldn’t say to the media – all to underplay the impact of fossil fuel emissions on the climate. In recent years, the so-called “grandfather of climate science” has added to his CV the roles of author and twice-arrested climate activist and anti-coal campaigner. He still holds a position at Columbia University.
So when Hansen’s latest piece of blockbuster climate research was finalized and released earlier this week, there was understandable global interest, not least because it mapped a potential path to the “loss of all coastal cities” from rising sea levels and the onset of “super storms” previously unseen in the modern era. So what is Hansen claiming? Well, the first thing to understand is that Hansen’s paper, written with 18 other co-authors, many of them highly-reputable names in climate science in their own right, is far from conventional. Most scientific papers only take up four or five pages in a journal. Hansen’s paper – in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics – grabs 52 pages (although it’s hard to quibble over space when you’re laying out a possible path to widespread global disruption and the complete reshaping of coastlines).
Nor was the paper published in a conventional way. If you’re getting a faint sense of déjà vu about Hansen’s findings, then that could be down to how a draft version of the study was published and widely covered in July last year. The journal runs an unconventional interactive system of peer review where comments and criticisms from other scientists are published for everyone to see, as are the responses from Hansen and his colleagues. This is arguably a more transparent way of conducting the scientific process of peer review – something usually carried out privately and anonymously. None of this should really detract from Hansen and his co-author’s central claims. Firstly, Hansen says they may have uncovered a mechanism in the Earth’s climate system not previously understood that could point to a much more rapid rise in sea levels. When the Earth’s ice sheets melt, they place a freshwater lens over neighboring oceans.
This lens, argues Hansen, causes the ocean to retain extra heat, which then goes to melting the underside of large ice sheets that fringe the ocean, causing them to add more freshwater to the lens (this is what’s known as a “positive feedback” and is not to be confused with the sort of positive feedback you may have got at school for that cracking fifth grade science assignment). Secondly, according to the paper, all this added water could first slow and then shut down two key ocean currents – and Hansen points to two unusually cold blobs of ocean water off Greenland and off Antarctica as evidence that this process may already be starting. If these ocean conveyors were to be impacted, this could create much greater temperature differences between the tropics and the north Atlantic, driving “super storms stronger than any in modern times”, he argues. “All hell will break loose in the North Atlantic and neighbouring lands,” he says in a video summary.
The government said Thursday it will fast-track procedures to create new centers to accommodate 30,000 people within the next 20 days as it finds itself in a race against time to meet an obligation to provide shelter to more than 50,000 asylum seekers stranded in the country, and to prevent an imminent humanitarian disaster. The current capacity of shelters is 38,000. The decision came after a meeting of the government’s council of ministers, chaired by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, amid a growing sense of urgency surrounding camps around the country and the increasing realization that the existing infrastructure simply cannot cope with the huge refugee numbers. It also follows the worsening toll on migrants’ health after the withdrawal on Wednesday of aid agencies from camps in Greece to protest the recent EU-Turkey deal – which was activated last Sunday – to stem refugee inflows to Europe, which, they say, contravenes international law.
At the same time, the spokesman of the coordinating committee for refugees, Giorgos Kyritsis, said legislation facilitating the implementation of the EU deal will be tabled in Parliament on Wednesday. The government also said it will further empower the Immigration Policy Ministry to deal with increased obligations implicit in the deal, while temporary staff will also be enlisted. Kyritsis also announced the creation of a monitoring mechanism under the general secretary of the Defense Ministry, Yiannis Tafyllis. The government’s immediate priority, Kyritsis said, will be to provide relief to the sprawling and overcrowded border camp of Idomeni in northern Greece. He added that transport means will be made available over the next few days to transfer refugees to other centers affording more humane conditions.
The mayor of the nearby town of Paionia, Christos Goudenoudis, is calling for the camp’s immediate evacuation as the local community, he said, is feeling increasingly insecure as crime in the area has proliferated. Meanwhile the latest figures suggest a marked decrease in refugee flows into the country over the last few days, while none arrived Thursday – for the first time since the deal between the European Union and Turkey was struck. Authorities, however, have attributed this mostly to bad weather. On Tuesday, inflows were limited to 260 – a significant decrease from the several thousand a couple of weeks ago.
The build-up of emerging-market credit began just as the rich world’s financial system started to creak in 2007. According to figures collated by JP Morgan, private-sector debt in emerging markets rose from 73% of GDP at the end of 2007 to 107% of GDP by the end of last year. These figures include loans made by banks and bonds issued by companies. Including the credit extended by non-bank financial institutions (so-called “shadow banks”) for the handful of emerging markets where such estimates are available gives a steeper rise and a higher total burden: 127% of GDP. The credit boom in emerging markets was in large part a response to the credit bust in the rich world. Fearing a depression in its richest export markets, the authorities in China brought about a massive increase in credit in 2009.
Meanwhile a flood of capital escaping the paltry yields on offer in developed economies pushed interest rates lower in developing ones. This search for yield by rich-world investors took them to ever more exotic places. A dollar-denominated government bond issued in 2012 by Zambia, a copper-rich country with an average GDP per person of $1,700 a year, offered just 5.4% interest; even so, it was 24 times oversubscribed as rich-world investors clamoured to buy. The following year a state-backed tuna-fishing venture in Mozambique, a country even poorer than Zambia, was able to raise $850m at an interest rate of 8.5%.
In contrast to the credit booms in America and Europe, where households were the main borrowers, three-quarters of the private debt burden in emerging markets is shouldered by businesses: corporate debt has ballooned from less than 50% of GDP in 2008 to almost 75% by 2014. Much of the lending was done in Asia, notably in China. But Turkey, Brazil and Chile also saw substantial increases in the ratio of company debt to GDP. Construction firms (notably in China and Latin America) increased their leverage a great deal. The oil and gas industry was a big player, too, according to the IMF’s latest Global Financial Stability Report.
Unaccountable forces removed from democratic control are today in control in the European Union, President Michael D Higgins has declared in one of the most pointed speeches of his term in office. “The present institutional structure of the European Union can be seen as reflecting the distribution of political power in recent decades, decades that have seen the emergence of a new financialised global order, where unaccountable agencies and forces removed from democratic oversight or control are in the ascendancy,” he said. He made the speech as he opened the Royal Irish Academy’s Centre for the Study of the Moral Foundations of Economy and Society. The anti-austerity street protests in many EU states, he said, could be seen as “not just the mechanical result of deplorable levels of unemployment and deteriorating material circumstances”, but also a reflection of a “breakdown of trust between citizens and their institutions”.
Deep injury has been inflicted on people’s moral outlook in recent decades by an extraordinarily narrow version of economics which had cut ties with its ethical and philosophical roots, Mr Higgins said. European leaders must remain “attentive and open”, he added saying, “a social view of Europe demands that our fellow citizens should never be seen merely as ‘consumers’ of public policies, driven by a sense of their sectional interests.” He was confident, he said, that the new educational centre “will contribute in an important way, over the years to come, in tackling the deep injuries inflicted upon our moral imaginations by the extraordinary ascendancy in recent decades of what is an extraordinarily narrow version of economics”.
This connection “of economy, ecology and ethics” and “of policy, theory and method”, had been at the centre of his presidency, “because I believe that they are essential to reading and understanding the current situation in which we find ourselves”. Referring to upcoming commemorations in Ireland, he said: “One can legitimately wonder, for example, what shape would our economy and society have assumed, had our fellow citizens kept alive, during Ireland’s recent economic boom, the cultural, philosophical, political and moral motivations which underpinned the Irish national revival, or the spirit of other historical movements for social and political reform such as the co-operative movement. “We neglected the contribution of the co-operative instinct to our social cohesion,” he said.
Goldman Sachs’s decision to close down its loss-making Bric fund was a symbolic reminder that the days are gone when the economic rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China (the four countries from which the fund drew its name) seemed guaranteed. Indeed, Brazil and Russia are both in recession. The US Federal Reserve’s plans to raise interest rates from near zero, which many experts now expect to happen next month, could deepen the agony of countries already struggling with plunging currencies and rising borrowing costs. The International Monetary Fund has warned of a flurry of bankruptcies in emerging economies as rates rise.
“A lot of these countries haven’t been helping themselves: Taiwan, Korea; they’ve all been cranking up their own credit growth,” says Russell Jones of Llewellyn Consulting, an economics advisory firm. But he too believes the world should escape a general slump. “I don’t think we’re on the cusp of a major downturn — probably more of the same.” Simon Evenett of St Gallen University in Switzerland, who collates detailed data for the thinktank Global Trade Alert, offers an alternative explanation for the recent slide in trade volumes. He calculates that about half of the fall, since exports peaked in September last year, has been caused by the commodity price rout; but the rest, rather than evidence of sickly global demand, has resulted from a creeping rise in protectionism.
His analysis suggests the declines have overwhelmingly taken place in just 28 categories of product. “That’s very concentrated; that makes me doubt that it’s a global downturn.” Eight of these categories are commodities; but the rest map closely on to areas where countries have taken protectionist measures. In the wake of the financial crisis, policymakers from the G20 countries pledged not to resort to the tit-for-tat protectionism that led to collapsing trade volumes in the wake of the Great Crash of 1929, and was ultimately seen as a contributor to the Great Depression. Since then, there has been little sign of anything with the scope of America’s Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930, which slapped import tariffs on more than 800 products.
But Evenett says there has been a flurry of more subtle manoeuvres: restricting public procurement to domestic firms, for example, or quietly tightening regulations to raise the bar against imports. “I think the China story is adding spice to it, but I think there’s more going on here,” he says. He is concerned that unless action is taken, politicians will continue to throw sand in the wheels of the international trading system. If he’s right, the downturn seen so far may not be sending a warning signal about global demand; instead, it would be best read as a measure of the fragility of globalisation.
With China’s yuan taking the biggest step yet toward joining the dollar and euro as a top-rank reserve currency, the global economy may be approaching an era of greater stability. So say economists who highlight the dollar’s role in the biggest financial crises in recent decades. Drawn to the liquidity and security of the unit of the world’s biggest economy, investors and governments relied on the dollar and produced dislocations including historically low borrowing costs in the 2000s even as the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. Rushes toward the safety of the dollar challenged global policy makers in 2008 as money markets seized up, prompting the Fed to open swap lines with counterparts that remain in place today.
China responded in 2009 with a call for reducing reliance on the dollar, with central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan floating the idea of a “super-sovereign” reserve currency. While the proposal fell flat, Zhou and his allies began a campaign to win inclusion for the yuan in the IMF’s special drawing rights unit. The SDR, as it’s called, is a kind of overdraft account for members of the IMF, convertible into dollars, euros, pounds and yen. The fund’s staff said Friday that the yuan has now met the qualification terms for inclusion in the SDR. “The current configuration of the global monetary-financial system that is centered and increasingly dominated by the dollar is not a stable or a sustainable one,” Stephen Jen of SLJ Macro Partners, a former IMF economist, wrote with colleague Joana Freire last week.
Some 87% of foreign-exchange trading involves the dollar, the most recent survey by the Bank for International Settlements showed. “The role of the U.S. dollar as the world’s dominant vehicle currency remains unchallenged,” the BIS said in 2013, noting that the euro had declined in the wake of the European debt crisis. With the world’s second-largest economy and as the number-one trading nation, China may offer the global system a currency that can complement the dollar. For now, restrictions on the ability to take money in and out of China, and on what foreign investors can buy, mean the yuan’s role will be limited.
When the long-delayed official report into the near-collapse of HBOS is released on Thursday former bank bosses James Crosby, Andy Hornby and Lord Stevenson will be braced for a fresh round of condemnation. But if the report’s 500 pages are likely to revive painful criticism of their role in the demise of Britain’s biggest mortgage lender and savings institution, its publication also marks a crucial moment for a lesser known former executive at the bank: Paul Moore. Moore, 57, emerged some years ago as the whistleblower at HBOS. He said he was sacked as head of group regulatory risk at the end of 2004 – less than two years after joining – after warning that the then fast-growing bank was too strongly motivated by sales.
His views were first aired in public shortly after the bank had to be rescued by Lloyds in September 2008. The enlarged institution was later bailed out with £20bn of taxpayer money. On learning that the publication of the report by the Financial Conduct Authority and Bank of England – first promised in 2013 – has finally been scheduled for Thursday, Moore said: “I’m a bit nervous and a bit frightened and I hope and pray I’m not going to have to fight for the next five years.” His main fear now, he says, is that the report could turn out to be “a cover-up and a fudge”. If he was writing it, he says, he would refer the directors not just for banning orders but for criminal investigation, as well as demanding a proper judicial inquiry into the auditing of all the big banks and the conduct of the credit ratings agencies.
That is not all. “I would name and shame in the most rigorous detail the ludicrously bad regulators,” says Moore. Thursday’s report will be published alongside an analysis of the decision by the City regulator at the time of the collapse, the Financial Services Authority, to punish only one HBOS banker – Peter Cummings, who ran the bank’s commercial lending arm and has now been banned for life from the City and fined £500,000. Work on the official report only began after the enforcement action against Cummings, although in 2013 the parliamentary commission on banking standards, set up in the wake of the Libor-rigging scandal, published its own account of the collapse. It accused Crosby, Hornby and Stevenson of “colossal” management failures and questioned why it was only Cummings who had been censured by the City regulator.
Earlier evidence Moore had given to the Treasury select committee in 2009 had been so damning it led to a fresh examination of the role of Crosby, and forced his resignation as deputy chairman of the then City regulator, the Financial Services Authority. When Moore’s allegations were first aired at the select committee, Crosby had insisted there was no substance to them. A report – commissioned from the bank’s auditors, KPMG – concluded that he lost his job because of personality clashes inside the lender and not that Crosby sacked him because of warnings that HBOS was “going too fast”. Crosby has since handed back his knighthood and 30% of his pension, and keeps out of the public eye.
The government is hoping to clinch the release of €2 billion in loan funding, and another €10 billion for Greek banks, after a tough round of negotiations with representatives of the country’s international creditors which has focused mainly on the issue of nonperforming loans and foreclosures of primary residences. The money is linked to a series of additional measures that Greece must legislate next week before turning to a second set of prior actions including even more contentious reforms such as higher taxes on farmers and an overhaul of the pension system. Greece is already running behind schedule on reforms. But authorities are hoping the creditors will show some flexibility so the process of recapitalizing Greece’s banks is not derailed.
Talks are already under way within the key ministries on the next round of reforms. Labor and Social Security Minister Giorgos Katrougalos, whose ministry is overseeing the difficult task of pension reform, aims to reach a “comprehensive” agreement with creditors and approve it in Parliament by early next month, according to sources. The hope is that the creditors will reward an active effort by Greeks to make up for lost time by making some concessions in the pension overhaul. Already Greek authorities are seeking to soften the impact of the pension overhaul by exploring the possibility of increasing the social security contributions of employers and workers instead of further reducing monthly payouts.
Other politically contentious challenges the government faces in the coming weeks include raising taxes on Greek farmers, creating a new tax system, creating a task force that will manage a new fund for privatizing state assets and drafting new measures to meet fiscal targets for the next two years. SYRIZA officials have expressed concerns about the impact on social cohesion of the bailout program’s austerity measures, which has already struck the leftists’ popularity, according to opinion polls.
The ECB has ordered Portugal’s Novo Banco to fill a €1.4 billion hole in its finances, possibly delaying its planned sale and hampering Lisbon’s efforts to draw a line under its biggest banking collapse. The request to repair Novo Banco, created from the failed Banco Espirito Santo (BES), presents a challenge for any anti-austerity, Socialist-led government that could come to power in coming weeks after a parliamentary vote this week. Of nine banks across the euro zone tested by the ECB as a follow-through on wider checks last year, only Novo Banco was found to be short of capital. It has two weeks to present a plan of action and nine months to plug the gap. The Bank of Portugal said in a statement that Novo Banco had already started working on a plan to raise capital through asset sales to meet the shortfall.
The plan will be presented in the coming weeks. The central bank failed to sell Novo Banco in September as the bids it received were seen as too low. The result of the ‘stress test’ means the sale can resume. “Preparation for the new phase of the sale process will be initiated immediately, now that one of the main factors of uncertainty hanging over the previous process is out of the way,” the Bank of Portugal said. The Bank of Portugal is in charge of the sale process under the terms of the €4.9 billion rescue plan for BES, which was carried out by a bank resolution fund that is formally the responsibility of Portugal’s other banks. The government lent part of the money to the fund used in the rescue and must be repaid.
I come from a privileged Francophone community in Lebanon. This has meant that I have always seen France as my second home. The streets of Paris are as familiar to me as the streets of Beirut. I was just in Paris a few days ago. These have been two horrible nights of violence. The first took the lives of over 40 in Beirut; the second took the lives of over 120 people and counting in Paris. It also seems clear to me that to the world, my people’s deaths in Beirut do not matter as much as my other people’s deaths in Paris. We do not get a “safe” button on Facebook. We do not get late night statements from the most powerful men and women alive and millions of online users. We do not change policies which will affect the lives of countless innocent refugees. This could not be clearer. I say this with no resentment whatsoever, just sadness.
It is a hard thing to realize that for all that was said, for all the progressive rhetoric we have managed to create as a seemingly united human voice, most of us members of this curious species are still excluded from the dominant concerns of the “world”. And I know that by “world”, I am myself excluding most of the world. Because that’s how power structures work. I do not matter. My “body” does not matter to the “world”. If I die, it will not make a difference. Again, I say this with no resentment. That statement is merely a fact. It is a political fact, true, but a fact nonetheless. Maybe I should have some resentment in me, but I am too tired. It is a heavy thing to realize. I know that I am fortunate enough that when I do die, I will be remembered by friends and loved ones.
Maybe my blog and an online presence might even gather some thoughts by people around the world. That is the beauty of the internet. And even that is out of reach to too many. Never so clearly as now have I understood what Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about when he spoke of the Black Body in America. I think there is a story to be told of the Arab Body as well. The Native American Body. The Indigenous Body. The Latin American Body. The Indian Body. The Kurdish Body. The Pakistani Body. The Chinese Body. And so many other bodies. The Human Body is not one. It sure feels that it should be by now. Maybe that in itself is an illusion.
But maybe it is an illusion worth preserving because without even that vague aspiration towards oneness on the part of some part of the body, I am not sure what sort of world we would be living in now. Some bodies are global, but most bodies remain local, regional, “ethnic”. My thoughts are with all the victims of today’s and yesterday’s horrific attacks, and my thoughts are with all those who will suffer serious discrimination as a result of the actions of a few mass murderers and the general failure of humanity’s imagination to see itself as a unified entity. My only hope is that we can be strong enough to generate the opposite response to what these criminals intended. I want to be optimistic enough to say that we are getting there, wherever “there” might be. We need to talk about these things. We need to talk about Race. We just have to.
How long will it be before European liberalism cracks? The aftermath of a terrorist massacre is the worst time to make predictions. The extremity of the outrage pushes policy-makers and citizens to play with equally outraged responses. It is worth steadying yourself with the thought that until Friday night, Europe’s response to terrorism has not been extreme. Despite gruesome predictions to the contrary, European democracies have not turned themselves into police states. There have been no backlashes or pogroms against Muslims. EU countries, including Britain, have remained free and good societies overall; nations we can be proud of in our necessarily grudging way, for all the faults and abuses we must tackle.
People running from real terror know our true state better than we do. They flee to Europe, not from Europe. Callous though it may sound today to say it, the modest response to terrorism is the consequence of the modesty of the violence. Since al-Qaida’s assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, the most striking feature of Islamist terrorism in Europe is how little of it there has been. You can give credit to police forces and intelligence agencies for arresting suspects before they strike. You can repeat the essential point that we are up against Islamism, not Islam, and most Muslims want nothing to do with totalitarian religion. Whatever the reason, the practical consequence remains that no one in power has felt the need to move towards anything resembling martial law.
Europe has “just” endured the attacks on Madrid and the 7/7 assault on London, and the actual and attempted murders of Jews, satirists, freethinkers in Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen and Marseille. Beyond that, there have been “lone wolf” killers of the type who did for poor Lee Rigby. I am not pretending that Europe has stayed the same. After Islamists sanctioned the murder of cartoonists who mocked Muhammad, a cowardly self-censorship spread across the arts and journalism, which was all the more cowardly for being unacknowledged. But it remains true that radical Islam has not forced a radical break with the past.
If you could travel in a time machine, you would see the continuities between our world and the Britain or France or Denmark of 20 years ago hugely outweigh the differences. I do not mean to minimise Islamist crimes when I say that Europe has been lucky. From Nigeria to Afghanistan, a clerical fascist doctrine that mandates mass murder and self-murder has pushed whole regions into civil war. Yet divinely sanctioned violence has failed to engulf our continent. Suspects are still innocent until proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The European convention on human rights remains in force. Terrorism is still subject to the rule of law, not martial law. In spite of all the provocations, we are what we once were.
After a terrorist attack killed more than 120 people and injured hundreds more on Friday, France imposed border controls and authorities discovered a Syrian passport on one of the attackers. While it’s not clear whether any of the assailants were migrants themselves, the attack has nonetheless reignited the debate over Europe’s migrant crisis. As Quartz notes, the attacks attributed to ISIS are anything but good news for migrants in Europe. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front party in France, told reporters on Saturday that “urgent action is needed” to “annihilate” Islamic fundamentalism. Le Pen went on to advocate that France regain control of its borders and expel “illegal migrants.”
In Poland, incoming Minister of European Affairs Konrad Szymanski announced today that the country will not accept migrants without security guarantees. In September, Poland agreed to accept 4,500 refugees as part of a European Union quota system. In the U.S., the role the country should play in this refugee crisis is a subject of continued partisan debate. President Obama announced in September that at least 10,000 Syrian refugees will be resettled in the U.S. over the next year. While this number might seem small compared to the 4 million total refugees created by the war since 2011, it represents a marked jump from the fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees accepted last year. But some GOP candidates argued against the administration’s policy by suggesting that ISIS militants could infiltrate the country by hiding among refugees.
According to Vox, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum quickly cited the Paris attacks to justify closing the borders to more Syrian refugees. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders have remained mostly quiet on the subject so far. All three have publically expressed their condolences for the victims and their families, but no one has yet made the leap to policy. Meanwhile, to the north, Canada has its own ambitious refugee agenda to assess. Newly elected Canadian PM Justin Trudeau committed to resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year — a number deemed unrealistic by some observers. [..] the Toronto Star reported earlier today that the country remains steadfast in its plan despite the Paris attacks. Ultimately, how the recent events will affect the debate surrounding migration in Europe and beyond remains to be seen. What is clear is that there are 4 million people displaced by the crisis and, for them, a solution will need to be reached.
Syrians who fled a brutal war and often undertook deadly sea journeys to settle in France reacted with horror to Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, and said they recognized the enemy all too well. “Syrians left Syria in dangerous ways to live in peace, but the killers followed them to Europe,” said Moaz Shaklab, a businessman from the Syrian city of Homs who settled in France two years ago as a refugee. The Paris attacks could spark new waves of Islamophobia in France and beyond — and with it fear of the refugees pouring into Europe from Syria and other countries. This is exactly what ISIS wants; the group has vowed to make it impossible for Muslims to exist peacefully in the West. Yet citizens in France share an ally against Islamic extremism in most refugees settling there.
Many newly arrived Syrians sought to escape the terror of ISIS and other jihadi groups, in addition to the brutal campaign being waged by Bashar al-Assad. Many worked against ISIS and other jihadi groups before leaving or have friends and family doing so now. “We’re united with the French people against terrorism,” Shaklab said. “And we don’t forget that they are united with us to get our freedom.” French police officials told the AP on Saturday that they had found a Syrian passport at the scene of an attack that they believed belonged to an assailant. But because of the refugee crisis, fake Syrian passports are now prevalent and easy to obtain.
Whether or not the passport is authentic, news of its discovery promised to help to fan refugee fears — which may have been the intent of the man who brought it to the scene. Sakher Edris, a journalist and political organizer who worked against both ISIS and the Syrian government before fleeing to France this summer, said he expected a backlash against refugees following the attacks. “We are really scared,” he said. “French people are kind, and it’s understandable to have some backlash, but we want them to know that we are with them against terror.”
It’s not like this is any kind of secret. In 2010, thanks to WikiLeaks, we learned that the State Department, under the direction of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, knew full well where the money for foreign terrorism came from. It came from countries and not from a faith. It came from sovereign states and not from an organized religion. It came from politicians and dictators, not from clerics, at least not directly. It was paid to maintain a political and social order, not to promulgate a religious revival or to launch a religious war. Religion was the fuel, the ammonium nitrate and the diesel fuel. Authoritarian oligarchy built the bomb. As long as people are dying in Paris, nobody important is dying in Doha or Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba – but the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money, according to Hillary Clinton. “More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups,” says a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state. Her memo urged US diplomats to redouble their efforts to stop Gulf money reaching extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,” she said. Three other Arab countries are listed as sources of militant money: Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The cables highlight an often ignored factor in the Pakistani and Afghan conflicts: that the violence is partly bankrolled by rich, conservative donors across the Arabian Sea whose governments do little to stop them. The problem is particularly acute in Saudi Arabia, where militants soliciting funds slip into the country disguised as holy pilgrims, set up front companies to launder funds and receive money from government-sanctioned charities.
It’s time for this to stop. It’s time to be pitiless against the bankers and against the people who invest in murder to assure their own survival in power. Assets from these states should be frozen, all over the west. Money trails should be followed, wherever they lead. People should go to jail, in every country in the world. It should be done state-to-state. Stop funding the murder of our citizens and you can have your money back. Maybe. If we’re satisfied that you’ll stop doing it. And, it goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway – not another bullet will be sold to you, let alone advanced warplanes, until this act gets cleaned up to our satisfaction. If that endangers your political position back home, that’s your problem, not ours. You are no longer trusted allies. Complain, and your diplomats will be going home.
Complain more loudly, and your diplomats will be investigated and, if necessary, detained. Retaliate, and you do not want to know what will happen, but it will done with cold, reasoned and, yes, pitiless calculation. It will not be a blind punch. You will not see it coming. It will not be an attack on your faith. It will be an attack on how you conduct your business as sovereign states in a world full of sovereign states… And the still, stately progress of the news from Paris continues. There are arrests today in Brussels, of alleged co-conspirators. The body count has stabilized. New information comes at its own pace, as if out of respect for the dead. In the stillness of the news itself, there is refuge and reason and a kind of wounded, ragged peace, as whatever rolled up from the depths of the sickness of the human heart rolls back again, like the tide and, like the tide, one day will return.
Seventeen nations, spurred on by Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris, overcame their differences on how to end Syria’s civil war and adopted a timeline that will let opposition groups help draft a constitution and elect a new government by 2017. As a first step, the United Nations agreed to convene Syria’s government with opposition representatives by Jan. 1, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday at a joint press conference in Vienna. A cease-fire between the government in Damascus and recognized opposition groups should be in place within six months, according to their statement. The terrorist attacks in Paris galvanized the diplomats, who at previous talks had been unable to resolve the discord within their ranks.
While Russia and Iran had sided with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the U.S. and its regional allies had insisted upon his removal. With diplomats bogged down over the question of Assad, terrorist groups like Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, grew and become more powerful inside Syria. “It is time to deprive the terrorists of any single kilometer in which to hide,” Kerry said. “There can be no doubt that this crisis is not Syria’s alone to bear.” Assad has “cut his own deal” with Islamic State, buying oil from the group and failing to attack militants, Kerry said. Assad’s allies have conveyed that he’s prepared to be serious and engage in talks, but the “proof will be in the pudding,” he said. In a statement posted on Twitter, Islamic State said the Paris attacks that killed 129 people and injured 352 came in retribution for French involvement in the Syrian civil war.
The conflict has so far cost about 250,000 lives, sent millions fleeing the region, and triggered Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. Diplomats meeting in the Austrian capital also decided to place Islamic State, along with the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front terrorist group, on a list of those subject to military strikes even when a cease-fire is in place. The list, managed by the Kingdom of Jordan, may later be expanded to include other groups in Syria, Kerry and Lavrov said. The Paris attacks “show that it doesn’t matter if you’re for Assad or against him,” said Lavrov, “ISIS is your enemy.”
Poland’s new government won’t accept migrant quotas imposed by the European Union, as the terror attacks in France have exposed the weakness in the bloc, the nation’s future minister for European affairs said. “In the wake of the tragic events in Paris, Poland doesn’t see the political possibilities to implement a decision on the relocation of refugees,” Konrad Szymanski was quoted as saying on Wpolityce.pl website on Saturday. “The attacks mean there’s a need for an even deeper revision of the European policy regarding the migrant crisis.” Szymanski’s rejection of the EU quotas hours after Paris was rocked by terrorist attacks underscore the divide among governments in the bloc over the influx of Middle Eastern migrants.
His Law & Justice party will take power in Poland this week after winning last month’s general election on a campaign that tapped into concerns among the country’s conservative Catholic base that too many Muslims are arriving in Europe. Poland’s previous cabinet, led by the Civic Platform party, also opposed efforts led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to force EU member states to take in more migrants. While incoming Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said Poland will meet an commitment by the Civic Platform to shelter 7,000 refugees, prime minister designate Beata Szydlo referred to the deal as “blackmail.” She will be sworn in on Monday.
A new study suggests that being a little shrimpy might come in handy when the going gets tough. A mass extinction called the Hangenberg event, which took place some 359 million years ago, led to a reduction in vertebrate size for around 40 million years afterward. The research, published Thursday in Science, adds support to the so-called Lilliput Effect, which suggests that mass extinctions cause marked shrinkage in the animal population. To study how fish fared after this devastating extinction, the University of Pennsylvania’s Lauren Sallen (along with Andrew K. Galimberti at the University of Maine) studied 1,120 fish fossils dating back 419 to 323 million years ago. She found that the ancient fish had been increasing in size over time — which is to be expected — but that body size plummeted after 97% of species were wiped out.
“Some large species hung on, but most eventually died out,” Sallan said in a statement. Before the extinction, some fish had grown to be as big as school buses. But in the unstable ecosystem of a post-mass-extinction ocean, only small fish — ones that could reproduce quickly and survive on less food — could thrive. That means an ocean full of enormous sea monsters gave way to an ocean full of sardine-like critters. “[T]he end result is an ocean in which most sharks are less than a meter and most fishes and tetrapods are less than 10 centimeters, which is extremely tiny. Yet these are the ancestors of everything that dominates from then on, including humans,” Sallan said. There’s a very good reason to look into these devastating extinctions of the distant past: Many scientists believe that Earth is on the verge of a sixth mass extinction — one caused by human activity.
Two refugee children died in Greece in two separate incidents on Saturday. A 3-year-old boy drowned off the coast of Chios, in the eastern Aegean, after an engine blast on a refugee boat that threw the passengers in the sea, coast guard officials said. Fifteen other people were rescued while officials arrested an 18-year-old Turk believed to be a trafficker. Meanwhile, a 5-year-old Syrian girl was killed by an oncoming train while she was walking on rail tracks near the town of Alexandroupoli, police said.
You have to go back to August’s selloff to find a week as bad as this one for U.S. equities. Catalysts that drove the S&P 500’s 12% summer tumble, from interest rate dread to a commodities rout, surfaced again after being sidelined during October’s surge. Signs of slowing growth from China to Europe rekindled concern that weakness could spread to America as the Federal Reserve prepares to tighten monetary policy. While equities are nowhere near their August lows, the weekly slump raised concern that the S&P 500’s six-week rally went too far, too fast. Volatility jumped after an October lull, with a measure of price swings surging 40%.
Bank of America says shares are more likely to decline before New Year’s amid weak consumer earnings and the specter of higher borrowing costs. “For the next month and a half I think there may be more downside than upside risk to stocks,” Savita Subramanian at Bank of America said by phone. “The market is going to be more skittish about seeing the first Fed rate hike. We’re not going to get there without a little more volatility.” The S&P 500 Index fell 3.6% in the five days, sliding below its average price for the past 100 days for the first time in three weeks. The decline snapped a run of six weekly gains, the longest rally of the year that included an 8.3% surge in October.
The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index jumped above 20 for the first time since August, when it touched a four-year high. For Subramanian, who in October lowered her year-end target for the S&P 500 to 2,000 from 2,100, the list of worries is tallying up. Weak corporate earnings and the prospect for higher rates will keep a lid on gains through the remainder of the year, she said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Earnings are not coming in particularly great for sectors like consumer stocks, and on top of that you’ve got the Fed in December,” Subramanian, head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy, said by phone. “Those all kind of conspire against near-term gains.”
Today Nomi Prins, the keynote speaker who recently addressed the Federal Reserve, IMF and the World Bank, warned King World News “It’s all coming to an end.” Eric King: “Nomi, we went through a round of terror in 2008, and certainly China just went through that again recently when their stock market crashed along with the emerging markets, but when does this whole global Ponzi scheme finally come unraveled?” Nomi Prins: “We are seeing small unravelings all the time. Brazil is doing badly, Mexico is struggling, currencies around the world relative to the dollar are hurting, which means relationships of imports to exports and money coming into those countries are hurting.
China has had problems but its central bank has been big enough and strong enough to boost it at least somewhat back up again. The United States is in complete denial in terms of what the economic indicators are said to be vs what they actually are and how the markets themselves are being continually buoyed either by the Federal Reserve or the Fed’s associations with some of the big banks in terms of continuing to buy Treasury bonds… “The ECB is still on a mission, and as of the November 12th announcement from Mario Draghi, an even stronger mission to continue to infuse those markets with artificial money and perhaps even enhance their quantitive easing program. So you ask, ‘When is this all coming to an end?’
It is all coming to an end, but you have all these actors trying to prop up different pieces of it (the global financial system) and so that’s why there is all this enhanced volatility and you have so many ups and downs (in global markets). (The end will come) when there are no more creative concepts on the part of these central banks to provide the artificial stimulus to the markets. And that could be the middle or the end of 2016, only because one big central bank in play has already committed to doing their part of it (with enhanced stimulus). And so that’s why we continue to have enhanced volatility to the downside in global markets that is also met with intervention, which is unprecedented. But it (the stimulus) does exist and we have to recognize that, as unprecedented and bizarre as it is, and there are indications that it will continue.
And so that keeps the artificial game in play through the middle or fall of 2016. But in the core of markets and economies things are not stable, which is why all of these (volatile) movements are happening. If anything was stable for real, the Federal Reserve would have raised rates years ago, the ECB wouldn’t have needed to come up with another round of quantitative easing, the People’s Bank of China wouldn’t need to reduce the reserve requirements to their financial institutions in order to give them more money to play with — none of that would be happening. So we are in a state of deterioration. The timing of an eventual implosion has to do with when the big banks have nothing left to counteract the artificial markets coming apart that they themselves have created.
SocGen’s permarealist, Albert Edwards, has been the one person who for the past decade has firmly held the belief that a “deflationary Ice Age” is upon the world – courtesy of an unmanageable debt load – no matter what central banks do. There is, of course, one way to short circuit said Ice Age, and it involves paradropping money in an act of terminal fiat desperation (the outcome is always hyperinflation) onto the general population, something which as we reported last Friday is already in the works courtesy of first Adair Turner and the IMF, and soon all other “very serious people”.
Keep an eye on Japan as this is where said paradropping will be attempted first as Ben Bernanke suggested back in 2003 when he said to “consider for example a tax cut for households and businesses that is explicitly coupled with incremental Bank of Japan purchases of government debt – so that the tax cut is in effect financed by money creation.” But before we get there, here is a snapshot of where, according to Edwards, we are now and why “there” is getting very close. In his latest note he says, quite simply, that it is now too late to put the “Orc-like monster” of excess debt and declining cash flows back in the bottle, and why “the global economy will be thrown into chaos.”
The deeply held wish of central bankers not to de-rail the fragile economic recovery is on display for all to see as they grasp at the slightest excuse for their continued inaction. The UK’s central bank governor, Mark Carney, exceeded all dovish expectations recently in his latest rate flip-floppery. But what is this? The Fed has finally summoned up its courage and looks set to raise rates next month. It is, however, already too late. Having delayed way beyond the point when it might typically have raised rates in previous cycles, it has allowed an Orc-like monster to incubate, hatch and emerge into the sunlight, snarling and ready to do battle.
Free Fed money has led to an unprecedented corporate credit binge of excess spending, especially on share buybacks. This is even bigger than it was at the time of the 2000 technology and telecom bubble. The rotten fruit of the Fed’s seemingly innocuous inaction will now be clear to onlookers as it is ripped to shreds on the battlefield by the powerful credit monster. The global economy will be thrown into chaos.
U.K. prosecutors charged 10 former Deutsche Bank and Barclays employees with manipulating a benchmark interest rate, including high-profile trader Christian Bittar, with an 11th facing indictment as soon as next week. Six traders from Deutsche Bank employees and four from Barclays were charged with conspiracy to manipulate the Euribor benchmark, the Serious Fraud Office said in a statement Friday. Another trader listed anonymously in court documents may also be charged, according to three people familiar with the case. Alongside Bittar, those linked to Deutsche Bank are Andreas Hauschild, Joerg Vogt, Ardalan Gharagozlou, Achim Kraemer and Kai-Uwe Kappauf. Former Barclays employees Colin Bermingham, Carlo Palombo, Philippe Moryoussef and Sisse Bohart also face charges.
The SFO won the first conviction by trial tied to benchmark manipulation in August, when former UBS trader Tom Hayes was found guilty of rigging the London interbank offered rate and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Banks and other financial institutions have paid about $9 billion in fines tied to Libor and other key rates. One other person has pleaded guilty in the Libor probe. Lawyers for Bittar, Hauschild and Moryoussef said they will contest the allegations. Lawyers for the other eight either declined to comment or didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. The nine men and one woman are scheduled to appear in a London magistrates court on Jan. 11.
Documents distributed in the case have listed an unidentified 11th trader that will be charged, according to people familiar with the matter who declined to be named because the prosecution isn’t public. The trader could be charged as soon as next week, one of the people said. Other than Bermingham, the 10 defendants named by the SFO all live outside Britain, according to an SFO spokeswoman. Bittar and Moryoussef live in Singapore, Bohart in Denmark and Palombo in the U.S. and Italy, while the remaining five are in Germany. All have been notified they face charges. No extradition requests have been made and all appearances will be voluntary at present, the SFO said.
[..] we find out that the ECB – the same ECB where policymakers like to meet with banks and asset managers before major policy meetings, actually had three of the traders accused of gaming Euribor by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office on Friday in a group that helped the the bank craft its response to the financial crisis! From Reuters:
The documents on the ECB website show that former Barclays euro money market desk head Colin Bermingham and Joerg Vogt and Ardalan Gharagozlou from Deutsche Bank – three of 10 people charged by the SFO on Friday – were part of the central bank’s Money Market Contact Group at the height of the crisis. The group regularly met and held conference calls as the central bank scrambled to stabilise markets that were threatening to push debt-strained Greece, Portugal, Ireland and even Italy and Spain out of the euro in 2010 and 2011.
Amusingly, the 10 people charged include Deutsche Bank’s Christian Bittar who can’t seem to get away from his title as rate rigger par excellence (although that’s not the term Anshu Jain used, that’s the spirit of a conversation the ex-Deutsche CEO once had about Bittar with a colleague back in the good ol’ days). Here’s Bloomberg:
U.K. prosecutors charged 10 former Deutsche Bank and Barclays employees with manipulating a benchmark interest rate, including high-profile trader Christian Bittar, with an 11th facing indictment as soon as next week. Six traders from Deutsche Bank employees and four from Barclays were charged with conspiracy to manipulate the Euribor benchmark, the Serious Fraud Office said in a statement Friday. Another trader listed anonymously in court documents may also be charged, according to three people familiar with the case. Alongside Bittar, those linked to Deutsche Bank are Andreas Hauschild, Joerg Vogt, Ardalan Gharagozlou, Achim Kraemer and Kai-Uwe Kappauf. Former Barclays employees Colin Bermingham, Carlo Palombo, Philippe Moryoussef and Sisse Bohart also face charges.
Ok, so the ECB was regularly communicating with three traders who are now charged with manipulating Euribor. Here’s what Francesco Papadia, head of market operations at the ECB during the financial and euro zone debt crises has to say about the group: “They helped understand what was going on beyond what you see on the screens.” If you follow financial markets and that doesn’t strike you as hilarious, then check your pulse. That is, we bet they did “help the ECB what was going on behind the screen”, after all, they were the ones colluding to fix the market! In any case, we’ll have to see what the time frames were here and if there was any overlap between when the allegations stem from and when this ECB committee operated (it’s probably a better bet that the manipulation took place before the euro debt crisis), but in any case, we’ll close with the following amusing quote for now: “The ECB plays no role in the setting of the Euribor rate,” the ECB said in a statement. Are you guys sure about that?…
“Super” Mario Draghi’s nickname is very much justified, according to Angel Gurria, the secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), who has called on governments to do more to tackle the global growth slowdown. “Central bankers have been the heroes of this story since this financial and economic crisis hit in 2008, but the problem is they have run out of room. It’s time for the governments,” Gurria told CNBC Friday. The most influential central banks in the Western world, the U.S. Federal Reserve, European Central Bank (of which Draghi is president) and the Bank of England, have been running ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing programs for years in some cases, to try and handle the fallout from the credit crisis.
With the Fed likely to become the first to signal a return to more normal monetary policy by raising rates, potentially as early as December, Gurria gave the central bank his blessing – although he said it should have started sooner. On Monday, the OECD cut its forecast for global growth to around 2.9% this year – well below its long-term average – citing a further sharp downturn in emerging market economies and world trade. Gurria, who was speaking at the G-20 summit of the heads of the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies, said: “The issue is about getting growth and trade back. It’s very ominous that trade is growing at about 2% when the world economy is growing at 2.9%. There’s only five years in the last 50 at which trade has grown at a rate lower than the world GDP and there has always been a recession following that.” “We’ve got to get all cylinders of the growth engine firing again. There is no room for complacency,” he added.
China’s yuan moved closer to joining other top global currencies in the IMF’s benchmark foreign exchange basket on Friday after Fund staff and IMF chief Christine Lagarde gave the move the thumbs up. The recommendation paves the way for the Fund’s executive board, which has the final say, to place the yuan on a par with the U.S. dollar, Japanese yen, British pound and euro at a meeting scheduled for Nov. 30. Joining the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket would be a victory for Beijing, which has campaigned hard for the move, and could increase demand for the yuan among reserve managers as well as marking a symbolic coming of age for the world’s second-largest economy. Staff had found the yuan, also known as the renminbi (RMB), met the criteria of being “freely usable,” or widely used for international transactions and widely traded in major foreign exchange markets, Lagarde said.
“I support the staff’s findings,” she said in a statement immediately welcomed by China’s central bank, which said it hoped the international community would also back the yuan’s inclusion. Staff also gave the green light to Beijing’s efforts to address operational issues identified in a report in July, Lagarde said. The executive board, which represents the Fund’s 188 members, is seen as unlikely to go against a staff recommendation and countries including France and Britain have already pledged their support for the change. This would take effect in October 2016, during China’s leadership of the Group of 20 bloc of advanced and emerging economies. China has rolled out a flurry of reforms recently to liberalize its markets and also help the yuan meet the IMF’s checklist, including scrapping a ceiling on deposit rates, issuing three-month Treasury bills weekly and improving the transparency of Chinese data.
Volkswagen is working with banks to put together as much as €20 billion in short-term bridge financing to show that the automaker has adequate liquidity to weather the emissions cheating crisis, two people familiar with the matter said. VW does not need the money currently and is seeking extra funds to create a financial cushion, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private talks. The automaker will begin meeting with about a dozen prospective banks on Monday at its headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, to go over the proposed funding, which it aims to have in place before the end of the year, the people said.
“We have always considered that a well-diversified portfolio of funding tools gives us the necessary flexibility to offer appropriate and competitive financing options for our customers as well as our industrial investment needs,” Volkswagen said in an e-mailed statement. “It is perfectly normal that we are in a constructive ongoing dialog.” The scandal has spread since Volkswagen first admitted in September to cheating on diesel pollution tests. The carmaker will need to recall as many as 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide and admitted earlier this month that another 800,000 cars had unexplained inconsistencies in carbon dioxide output. By 2017, the price tag of VW’s emissions woes will probably reach about €25 billion, Barclays estimated on Friday.
“It makes perfect sense” to shore up financing, said Sascha Gommel at Commerzbank. “In order to protect their rating, they need to show that liquidity will never become an issue for them, because then you have a vicious circle. If the ratings agencies think you won’t have cash and they downgrade you, then your funding gets more expensive.” Volkswagen has the equivalent of €2.57 billion in bonds maturing this year, €14.3 billion next year and €13.5 billion in 2017. The company said earlier Friday it has put bond financing on hold because it needs time to update its documentation to reflect potential fines and penalties. Thus far, the automaker has set aside €6.7 billion to recall diesel cars and estimated the economic risk of the CO2 irregularities at another €2 billion.
During the 2012 election, President Barack Obama held up his bailout of General Motors as a model in the fight against China’s growing manufacturing dominance, telling voters that the auto rescue would reverse the industry’s multi-decade trend of outsourcing. A single election cycle later, the question of government support for automakers has all but disappeared from the political discourse, yet Detroit is back to sending jobs out of the industrial Midwest. And now GM is leading the way on Chinese outsourcing, announcing it will become the first U.S. firm to import a vehicle made in China to the U.S. It’s about time taxpayers ask what their $50 billion rescue really bought them. Starting next year, GM will import between 30,000 and 40,000 Buick Envision crossovers annually from a plant in Shandong Province.
That won’t make the Envision one of GM’s best-selling models, but it will greatly outsell the only other Chinese-import car on the market, the Volvo S60L. More importantly, GM’s pioneering Chinese import will likely help break down the consumer stigma attached to Chinese cars, leading the way for other automakers to follow suit. If a bailed-out company can get away with selling Chinese cars in the U.S., there’s no doubt that the rest will try too. The Envision is just the tip of GM’s Chinese iceberg: though the firm has not announced further plans to import other vehicles from Asia, it is increasingly making China a hub for new vehicle development and global exports. The next generation of GM’s small- and medium-sized vehicles will be offered with a new engine and high-tech dual-clutch transmission co-developed with its Chinese partner, the Shanghai Automobile Industry Corporation.
The two companies are also jointly creating an entire family of small vehicles to be exported from China to markets around the world. Taxpayers aren’t the only ones GM appears to be abandoning. The United Auto Workers is incensed by the Envision decision. As union vice president Cindy Estrada told the Detroit Free Press in August when the rumors of the plan surfaced, “after the sacrifices made by U.S. taxpayers and the U.S. workforce to make General Motors the profitable quality company it is today, UAW members are disappointed with the tone-deaf speculation that the Envision would be imported from China.” Yet given that the UAW has a new wage-raising contract nearing ratification, it can be argued that the union may have brought some of this disappointment upon itself.
But perhaps it is in Canada, where the government spent $10 billion rescuing G.M. and Chrysler, where anger is most justified. With GM’s “vitality commitment” – made to protect jobs in Canada as a condition of its bailout – expiring at the end of next year, the automaker has already decided to cut 1,000 jobs from its Oshawa, Ontario, plant when production of the Chevrolet Camaro ends there next week. GM has hinted that more outsourcing could follow. And as a new Liberal government is taking power in Ottawa, GM is pushing for “more amenable” subsidies than the $750 million in loans that had been offered by the outgoing Conservatives. If new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn’t bow to GM pressure – turning those loans into grants that it need not repay – the automaker may well pull even more jobs from a country that stood by it at its darkest hour.
The austerity imposed on the Portuguese people by the 1% has resulted in the election of a coalition government of socialists, communists, and a “left bloc.” In the 20th century, socialism and the fear of communism humanized Europe, but beginning with Margaret Thatcher the achievements of decades of social reforms have been rolled back throughout Europe as bought-and-paid for governments have given all preference to the One%. Public assets are being privatized, and social pensions and services are being reduced in order to make interest payments to private banks. When the recent Portuguese vote gave a majority to the anti-austerity bloc, the right-wing Portuguese president, Anibal Cavaco Silva, a creature of Washington and the big banks, announced that the leftwing would not be permitted to form a government, just as the senior British general announced that a Labour Government formed by Jeremy Corbyn would not be permitted to form.
True to her word, Anibal reappointed the austerity prime minister, Passos Coelho. However, the unity of the socialists with the communists and the left bloc swept Coelho from office and the president had to recognize a new government. The new government means that for the first in a long time there is a government in Portugual that possibly could represent the people rather than Washington and the One%. However, if the new government leaves the banks in charge and remains committed to the EU, the current president, previous prime minister, and previous finance minister, Maria Luis Albuquerque, will continue to work to overthrow the people’s will as occurred in Greece. The new Portuguese government cannot escape austerity without nationalizing the banks and leaving the EU. The failure of the Greek government to bite the bullet resulted in the Greek government’s acceptance of the austerity that it was elected to oppose.
While the saying goes “good fences make good neighbors,” it appears the leadership of The EU is starting to get frustrated with the lack of acquiescence among some of the ‘union’s’ newer or more marginal members. In a somewhat stunning statement, following ongoing and contentious meetings to discuss solutions to the migrant ‘problem’, EU Commissioner Timmermanns appeared to warn disagreeable member states, “There is an alternative to everything. I believe in EU cooperation because of all other forms in history have been tried to help Europeans get on better, and with the exception of this one, all other forms have led to war – so let’s stick to this one.” As Elsevier reports (via Google Translate),
European leaders read the last few days the alarm about the survival of the European Union (EU). Prague said Commissioner Frans Timmermans (PvdA) Friday that the EU is only one alternative: war. “The only alternative to the EU is war,” said Timmermans Friday gave a speech at a conference in Prague, said a reporter for The Times of London who attended the speech. Timmermans is the way Europe responds to the migration crisis’ the biggest threat to the EU ever. The Commissioner underlined that countries should cooperate better when it comes to border controls. “Migration is part of life, but we must lead these movements together in the right direction,” said Timmermans.
Matching words Timmermans in the alarmist tone that European leaders were heard in recent days about the survival of the EU. Earlier this week, Timmermans at the House of Europe Lecture in Amsterdam that he fears for the survival of the EU. “I do not optimistic about doing that, because I’m just not.
The current migration crisis is the European ideal of free movement shaking on its foundations. EU President Donald Tusk said that the EU is engaged in “a race against the clock.” “But we are determined to win this race,” said Tusk. “As I warned earlier, the only way not to dismantle the Schengen ensure proper management of the external borders of the EU.” The EU appears to be unable to curb migration flows. Because the borders are not guarded, seeing more and more countries are forced to protect their own borders. Even the welcoming Sweden went on Thursday to intensive checks on the southern border.
Remember when Hank Paulson waved the “Mutual Assured Destruction” card in the face of the U.S. with his infamous “blank check” three page term sheet? Now, it’s Europe’s turn. What’s worse, however, for things to devolve this much, it confirms that the European ‘Union’ is rapidly disintegrating, much more than the recent surge in barbed wire fences around European nations will demonstrate, and as Timmermanns warns, that means war.
Greece’s migration minister on Friday said refugee smuggling in Turkey was conducted in “broad daylight” as he called on the EU to step up relocation plans. “The entries (from Turkey) are happening in an organized fashion,” junior interior minister for migration Yiannis Mouzalas told a news conference. “It is happening in broad daylight, with villages gathering around to watch the refugees being put in boats by the traffickers. There is no secrecy in this,” he said, citing evidence from Turkish media and the Greek coastguard. Greek PM Alexis Tsipras will travel to Turkey next week to press the country’s leaders to take a stronger stance against refugee traffickers.
Turkey “is spending a lot of money, it is holding three million refugees on its soil, but we believe it has the ability and it must acquire the will to stop the flows from its coasts,” Mouzalas said. Greece has been overwhelmed this year by a migration crisis unseen in Europe since the Second World War. The United Nations on Friday said over 800,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, with over 3,400 dying in the attempt. EU states put together a scheme to share out some 160,000 people inside the bloc, but fewer than 2,000 relocation places have been found so far. And the program is already threatened by undue inflexibility, Mouzalas said.
“One EU country said it was prepared to accept 12 people. We wanted to send 14 as they were a family, and the country did not accept the extra two. Such cancellations could cancel out the substance of relocation,” he said. Greece has pledged to find accommodation for 20,000 refugees by January. Another 20,000 will be temporarily housed in rented flats under a UN scheme, Mouzalas said. And registration centres on Greek islands created with EU funds, known as hotspots, will provide short-term accommodation for over 6,500 people, he said. “If (registration) procedures go smoothly people will stay 48-72 hours” before moving to the mainland, the minister said.
Greece has warned the European Union to obtain specific commitments from Turkey ahead of putting together a €3 billion fund for Ankara to help tackle the refugee crisis. The key role of Turkey in the process of stemming the flow of refugees and migrants was discussed on Friday during the second and last day of a summit in Malta. According to sources, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stressed to his EU counterparts that Brussels has to make it clear what it will be getting in return for providing Turkey with emergency funding and assistance. For instance, Tsipras said that in return for receiving new equipment for its coast guard, Turkey should be made to prove that it is cracking down on human-trafficking gangs.
The Greek premier said that if the EU is going to provide money for the construction of reception centers on Turkish soil, then Ankara has to commit to allowing the relocation of refugees to take place directly from these camps. Also, Tsipras said that if the EU is going to lift visa restrictions on Turkish citizens, Ankara’s readmission agreement with Greece should be upgraded to a pact between Turkey and the EU. It is expected that these will be some of the key points that Tsipras will raise when he visits Ankara next week, ahead of an EU-Turkey summit in Brussels on November 29. Tsipras held a meeting with Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias in Athens on Friday to begin preparation for the upcoming trip to Turkey.
Alternate Minister for Immigration Policy Yiannis Mouzalas said that Greece has no plans to create more spaces at relocation camps on the eastern Aegean islands beyond those needed as part of Athens’s commitment to the EU for the relocation scheme. Mouzalas said that those refugees who will be included in the transfer process would be moved on from the islands to the mainland. He said the government plans to have reception centers capable of holding 2,000 arrivals on Lesvos, 1,500 on Samos, 1,000 on Chios, 1,000 on Kos and around 800 on Leros.
A crowdfunded 100km-long boom to clean up a vast expanse of plastic rubbish in the Pacific is one step closer to reality after successful tests of a scaled-down prototype in the Netherlands last week. Further trials off the Dutch and Japanese coasts are now slated to begin in the new year. If they are successful, the world’s largest ever ocean cleanup operation will go live in 2020, using a gigantic V-shaped array, the like of which has never been seen before. The so-called ‘Great Pacific garbage patch’, made up largely of tiny bits of plastic trapped by ocean currents, is estimated to be bigger than Texas and reaching anything up to 5.8m sq miles (15m sq km). It is growing so fast that, like the Great Wall of China, it is beginning to be seen from outer space, according to Jacqueline McGlade, the chief scientist of the UN environmental programme (Unep).
“We have to admit that there has been a market failure,” she told the Guardian. “Nevertheless, we have to create a market success that brings in new forms of chemistry and technology.” The Ocean Cleanup project aims to do the technology part with a floating barrier as long as the Karman line that reaches from the sea to outer space. Sea currents and winds will be used to passively funnel plastic debris into an elbow made of vulcanised rubber where it can be concentrated for periodic collection by vessels. Sub-sea buoys at depths of up to 30 metres would anchor the contraption in depths of up to 4.5km. Sea currents flowing beneath its booms would allow fish to escape, while hoovering up 42% of the Pacific’s plastic soup. At least, that is the plan.
“Everything is unknown so everything is a potential problem,” said Lourens Boot, the programme’s chief engineer, who has previously worked on offshore oil and gas rigs. “The risk matrix is big, but one by one we are tackling those risks.” One of the biggest has been finance. Charles Moore, the racing boat captain who discovered the floating vortex in 1997, once said that the cost of a cleaning operation would “bankrupt any country”. But around half the scheme’s initial €30m (£20m) budget has now been raised through online donations and wealthy sponsors. In the long term, the project plans to finance itself with a major retail line of ocean plastic fashion wear.
Waves of deadly attacks have held France in a constant state of stress, anger and grief over the past 12 months, as the country has faced a series of deadly assaults and terror acts by radicalized Islamists and jihadists. It all started just before Christmas on December 20, 2014, in the largest suburb of the city of Tours, in Central France, when an attacker of Burundian origin, shouted “Allahu Akbar” [God is great] before attacking officers at a police station with a knife. The assailant, identified as Bertrand Nzohabonayo, injured three policemen before officers took him down. The following day, on December 21, a man in the French city of Dijon run over 11 pedestrians in five areas of the city. The driver – who also shouted “Allahu Akbar” – was arrested. Authorities later stated that the attacker ploughed into passers-by because he suffered from severe psychiatric problems.
On the third day after the initial attack, a man in a white van rammed over ten pedestrians at a Christmas market in the French city of Nantes. The driver is said to have stabbed himself and officials said he appeared to be in an unstable metal condition. One civilian died in those attacks. The spate of attacks forced the French government to heighten security by deploying 300 soldiers onto the country’s streets. In early January, the French nation was in state of horror after a series of five terrorist attacks, which took place in and around Paris. The four attacks killed at least 20 people and wounded dozens more, before three of the assailants were killed by special forces. The fourth terrorist remains at large.
The intimidation of the French public began on January 7, after two gunmen, identified as Cherif and Said Kouachi, attacked the headquarters of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, over the publication’s depiction of the Prophet Mohammed. Twelve people, including two police officers, were killed in the onslaught, while eleven others were injured. The suspects fled the scene. Hours after the Charlie Hebdo attack, a third assailant, Amedy Coulibaly, shot a 32-year-old man who was out for a run in a park near Coulibaly’s home. On January 8, the same attacker shot and killed a municipal police officer in a suburb of Paris. A street sweeper was also wounded in that attack. The following day, on January 9, the Charlie Hebdo attackers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, attacked a signage production company in Dammartin-en-Goele, taking hostages on premises.
At the same time, Coulibaly, entered a kosher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes killing four people and taking the rest of the people in the store hostage. To neutralize the attackers, French special forces conducted simultaneous raids in Dammartin and at Porte de Vincennes, killing three terrorists. The fourth suspect, believed to be Coulibaly’s wife is still on the run. January’s atrocities became the deadliest act of terrorism in France since 1961, when a bomb on a Strasbourg–Paris train took the lives of 28 people. Following Charlie Hebdo attacks, the French government announced the creation of 2,680 new positions in the French military and intelligence agencies. The €425 million program was unrolled with the sole purpose to monitor a population of approximately 3,000 people with any possible connections to terrorist groups abroad. Furthermore, the government deployed some 122,000 police, military and gendarmes to provide security across France.
But terror in France did not stop there. On June 26, 2015 a French Muslim of North African descent, Yassine Salhi, decapitated his employer before driving his van into gas cylinders at a gas factory near Lyon. This caused an explosion and injured two other people. Prior to ramming his van in an effort to destroy the factory, Salhi placed his boss’s decapitated head on a fence along with two Jihadist black flags. The suspect was arrested after being taken down by the firefighters that rushed to the scene. That attack on the factory near Lyon coincided with a number of other Islamist terrorist attacks that have taken place in Tunisia and Kuwait. Finally, before the monstrous wave of attacks on Friday, a Thalys train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris via Brussels was attacked by an assailant who opened fire in a carriage before being subdued by off duty US servicemen aboard the train. Four people were injured but luckily none fatally.
There have been horrible, disgusting terrorist attacks in France this night, with over 120 dead already reported. In response, premier François Hollande has declared a state of emergency for the first time since the Second World War. The media are subject to state control, gendarmes can enter any private home, and the borders are shut. The borders that have been the last hope for so many refugees crowding the camps of Calais and elsewhere, the borders that are so important to the women, children and men shivering in the rain, their feet rotting, have been closed by a frightened France. Probably the rest of Europe will follow suit. I hope not. A handful of terrorists—maybe French nationals, maybe not—blew up a crowd in a stadium with grenades, killed diners and walkers and concert-goers with guns and suicide bombs, traumatizing Paris to its core.
And what Hollande has done in response is to close the borders, the lifeline to the many suffering people fleeing war in Syria—even before we know for sure who the murderers are, or what their aims were. Reports claim the terrorists fought in Syria’s name. But if they did, and if they were ISIS, then the tens of thousands of refugees shivering in camps hate and fear them as much as the friends and families of the dead of Paris do. The refugees huddling in France, Germany, Turkey, Greece, and elsewhere are not the terrorists. They are fleeing the same terrorists—fleeing death, torture and destruction, trusting their lives to crumbling boats, washing up on shore hated, beaten, half-dead—and we are forsaking them.
I am a member of a Facebook group where people organize aid for the refugee camp in the northern seafront town of Calais. Now a shanty town of a full 6,000 refugees, such aid has never been more needed. Shoes are rotting on the feet of the camp’s dwellers as the weather worsens, food and medical care are scarce, and graves are rapidly filling. The lifesavers in the camp are not the government or the UN refugee groups—they are ordinary people connecting with tiny charities to bring desperately needed wood, food, medicine, blankets, water. Closing the borders as the terrifying war continues in Syria will not punish the terrorists; it will only cause more needless suffering and death, including to innocent children.
Why is Hollande using the refugees as hostages, condemning them with his border closure to a death that is slower but no less certain than that of a head chopped by a guillotine, or that of a concert-goer blown up by a grenade? He only helps the terrorists. ISIS and those in the West who hate the refugees want the same thing: martial law, state control of discourse, the spreading of Islamophobia, and a global atmosphere of suspicion and discord. In such a world, ISIS gets its youthful cannon fodder—those disaffected by the climate of hate and brutal racism—and the Front Nationales, the Ukips, all the soft and hard white supremacists of the world, get their white utopia, where a refugee child cannot migrate but guns and money can.
Tonight, Paris mourns, and the world mourns with Paris. I mourn, and my anguish at needless death drives these words. Forsake vengeance. Open the borders, Hollande. Open them even further than the painful trickle that they allowed before, and let mercy be the response to horror. Open them, Cameron. Let those people fleeing for their lives through the borders—through all the borders—fly all the way through to peace and safety in whatever countries they wish to reach. Open the borders, Obama, and let those people through, those people just like us, just like the diners and concert-goers of Paris, who are trying to save their lives.
If they all die of illness and exposure in their tents, fighting starvation, sickness, fire, fear or hate, it will neither save a single life from terrorism, nor avenge a single soul. Even if terrorists slip in among the refugees, each one of them who dies, each day they are locked down, will make more terrorists, watered by the tears of grief of their families and friends. No high-security level can ever end the threat of terrorism. Only mercy can do that; only the mercy of refuge, of acting like the just countries we believe ourselves to be—rather than what the terrorists believe us to be—can make us safe.
This book shows us the face of Earth’s sixth great mass extinction, revealing that this century is a time of darkness for the world’s birds and mammals. In The Annihilation of Nature: Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals, three of today’s most distinguished conservationists tell the stories of the birds and mammals we have lost and those that are now on the road to extinction. These tragic tales, coupled with eighty-three color photographs from the world’s leading nature photographers, display the beauty and biodiversity that humans are squandering. Gerardo Ceballos, Anne H. Ehrlich, and Paul R. Ehrlich serve as witnesses in this trial of human neglect, where the charge is the massive and escalating assault on living things.
Nature is being annihilated, not only because of the human population explosion, but also as a result of massive commercial endeavors and public apathy. Despite the well-intentioned work of conservation organizations and governments, the authors warn us that not enough is being done and time is short for the most vulnerable of the world’s wild birds and mammals. Thousands of populations have already disappeared, other populations are dwindling daily, and soon our descendants may live in a world containing but a minuscule fraction of the birds and mammals we know today. The Annihilation of Nature is a clarion call for engagement and action. These outspoken scientists urge everyone who cares about nature to become personally connected to the victims of our inadequate conservation efforts and demand that restoration replace destruction. Only then will we have any hope of preventing the worst-case scenario of the sixth mass extinction.
Money doesn’t grow on trees, but in the middle of a forest deep in the Bavarian countryside it comes pretty close. An hour’s drive south of Munich hidden by spruces is Louisenthal, the mill and printing presses that help produce banknotes for about 100 currency zones. Giesecke & Devrient, owner of Louisenthal, is one of a few companies competing to make the 160bn banknotes printed each year. While the world’s central banks usually hold monopoly licences on printing local currencies, up to 70bn banknotes are printed on material produced in the private sector. Although people are becoming comfortable with paying for goods and services electronically, banknote production is thriving. One reason for the enduring appeal of cold, hard cash is the global economic downturn.
Giesecke & Devrient expects banknote production to rise by 5% a year for the “foreseeable future”, despite projections of double digit increases in the use of cards and other forms of electronic payments. “Cash is 100% reliable in times of crisis. It’s in periods of panic where a solid financial system has to prove itself,” said Ralf Wintergerst, a Giesecke & Devrient board member. “In a crisis situation, the demand for cash typically rises sharply. The reason for this is trust in real currency.” The turmoil in Greece, which not only sparked speculation of a return to the drachma but also led to a surge in demand for cash, is a case in point. The number of banknotes in circulation in Greece was €45.2bn at the end of May: a level last seen in June 2012, the last time fears of a Grexit sparked a bank run.
In 2012, the ECB had to fly additional supplies of banknotes to Athens from around the region. The €45.2bn amounts to a little over €4,000 for every Greek. ECB data also show leaps in the demand for banknotes following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the US investment bank, in 2008. Most of this increased demand was for higher denomination notes such as the €200 and €500 bills: a clear sign the leaps were down to hoarding by anxious savers. The enduring appeal of banknotes is not just down to the financial crisis. More than half of payments in stable, advanced economies such as Germany’s are still made in cash, while globally the figure is about 80%. Notes also need to be replaced frequently, with low value bills such as the €5 bill taken out of circulation as often as once every six months.
When the banking crisis crippled global markets seven years ago, central bankers stepped in as lenders of last resort. Profligate private-sector loans were moved on to the public-sector balance sheet and vast money-printing gave the global economy room to heal. Time is now rapidly running out. From China to Brazil, the central banks have lost control and at the same time the global economy is grinding to a halt. It is only a matter of time before stock markets collapse under the weight of their lofty expectations and record valuations. The FTSE 100 has now erased its gains for the year, but there are signs things could get a whole lot worse.
1 – China slowdown China was the great saviour of the world economy in 2008. The launching of an unprecedented stimulus package sparked an infrastructure investment boom. The voracious demand for commodities to fuel its construction boom dragged along oil- and resource-rich emerging markets. The Chinese economy has now hit a brick wall. Economic growth has dipped below 7pc for the first time in a quarter of a century, according to official data. That probably means the real economy is far weaker. The People’s Bank of China has pursued several measures to boost the flagging economy.
The rate of borrowing has been slashed during the past 12 months from 6pc to 4.85pc. Opting to devalue the currency was a last resort and signalled the great era of Chinese growth is rapidly approaching its endgame. Data for exports showed an 8.9pc slump in July from the same period a year before. Analysts expected exports to fall only 0.3pc, so this was a huge miss. The Chinese housing market is also in a perilous state. House prices have fallen sharply after decades of steady growth. For the millions who stored their wealth in property, it makes for unsettling times.
Japan’s economy shrank at an annualized pace of 1.6% in April-June as exports slumped and consumers cut back spending, adding pressure on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to step up his policy drive to lift the economy out of decades of deflation. China’s economic slowdown and its impact on its Asian neighbors has also heightened the chance that any rebound in growth in July-September will be modest, analysts say. The gloomy data adds to signs that Japan’s economy is at a standstill and heightens pressure on policymakers to offer additional monetary or fiscal stimulus later this year. The contraction in GDP compared with a median market forecast of a 1.9% fall and followed a revised expansion of 4.5% in the first quarter, Cabinet Office data showed on Monday.
“If weak private consumption persists, that would be a further blow to Abe’s administration, which is facing falling support rates ahead of next year’s Upper House election,” said Hiromichi Shirakawa, chief Japan economist at Credit Suisse. “This could raise chances of additional fiscal stimulus.” Private consumption, which makes up roughly 60% of economic activity, fell 0.8% from the previous quarter, double the pace expected by analysts. It was the first decline since April-June 2014, when a sales tax hike hit consumption, as households spent less on air conditioners, clothing and personal computers. Overseas demand shaved 0.3 percentage point off growth as exports to Asia and the United States slumped.
The data looks likely to force the BOJ to cut its forecast of a 1.5% economic expansion for the current fiscal year when it reviews its long-term projections in October. But the weak consumption underscores a dilemma the central bank faces that may discourage it to expand stimulus. Economics Minister Akira Amari acknowledged that consumption may have been hit by rising food prices, as the BOJ’s easing weakened the yen and pushed up import costs. Aides close to Abe have signaled that additional monetary easing is unwelcome as further yen falls will push up food costs further and hurt consumption. That puts the onus of the government to underpin growth despite diminishing returns. Japan’s economy grew just 2% since Abe took office in December 2012, even as he deployed fiscal stimulus roughly equal to 3% of GDP.
High summer and life, for many in Europe, is a beach. This year again the Mediterranean is the stage for two seasonal dramas: the one, the annual vacations that give many their main chance to meet fellow Europeans from other countries; the other, the washing ashore of desperate refugees from wars and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, some already dead. The first is a chance for pleasure, discovery and to enjoy the peace and open borders that most cite as the main benefits of the European Union, 70 years after the end of World War Two – even if accompanied by national stereotype grumbles about beach-towel Lebensraum, noisy joie de vivre and importunate seaside Romeos.
The second has triggered a poisonous round of every-man-for-himself bickering among the EU’s 28 governments and the Union institutions in Brussels over how to deal with record numbers of migrants arriving by sea and land and heading across Europe. More even than that other Mediterranean summer theater that has been the Greek volte-face on German-prescribed austerity to stay in the euro zone, EU divisions on the migration crisis have brought on dire warnings that populist nationalism could propel Europe back toward its nightmarish divisions of last century. Amid confrontation with Russia in the east, and with Britain soon to vote on breaking away in the west, this summer sees a bout of soul-searching over whether the bloc can ever subsume national rivalries to a common good.
Can half a billion citizens ever feel “European” more than Austrian, Belgian or Croatian? “If this is your idea of Europe, you can keep it,” a furious Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was quoted telling fellow EU leaders as traditionally Europhile Italy lost patience with a lack of help. Hungary, which tore the first rent in the Iron Curtain in the daring summer of 1989 before the Berlin Wall fell, is building a fence on its border with Serbia; Britain is adding fencing too, round its Channel Tunnel beachhead at Calais. Even founder members France and Italy have feuded on their frontier.
At the eye of the storm is Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, the bloc’s Brussels executive. Claiming – despite scepticism from national capitals – a democratic mandate due to being the lead center-right candidate in last summer’s elections to the European Parliament, Juncker has become a vocal critic of governments for lacking solidarity. “Je m’en fous!” he snapped – “I don’t give a damn” – in singularly undiplomatic French during a June summit, as equally irritated leaders rejected his demand for mandatory quotas on member states to take in asylum seekers from Italy and Greece.
The government issued their monthly retail sales this past week and four of the biggest department store chains in the country announced their quarterly results. The year over year retail sales increase of 2.4% is pitifully low in an economy that is supposedly in its sixth year of economic growth with a reported unemployment rate of only 5.3%. If all of these jobs have been created, why aren’t retail sales booming? The year to date numbers are even worse than the year over year numbers. With consumer spending accounting for 70% of our GDP and real inflation running north of 5%, it’s pretty clear most Americans are experiencing a recession, despite the propaganda data circulated by the government and Fed.
The only people not experiencing a recession are corporate executives enriching themselves through stock buybacks, Wall Street bankers using free Fed Bucks while rigging the the markets in their favor, politicians and government bureaucrats reaping their bribes from billionaire oligarchs, and the media toadies who dispense the Deep State approved propaganda to keep the ignorant masses dazed, confused, and endlessly distracted by Cecil the Lion, Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, Ferguson, and blood coming out of whatever. You won’t hear CNBC, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal or any corporate mainstream media outlet reference the fact retail sales growth is at the exact same levels as when recession hit in 2008 and 2001. Their job is to regurgitate the message of economic recovery and confidence in the future, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Retail sales are actually far worse than the 2.4% reported number. Excluding the subprime debt fueled auto sales, retail sales only grew by 1.3% in the last year. The automakers are practically giving vehicles away as their lots are stuffed with inventory. The length of auto loans and the average amount of auto loans are now at all-time highs. The percentage of subprime auto loans is surging to record levels, as defaults begin to rise. The percentage of vehicles being leased is also at an all-time high. To call these “auto sales” strains credibility. These people are either perpetually renting their vehicles or just driving them until the repo man shows up.
The sudden fall in China’s currency last week spurred a lively debate about whether the move was a victory for market reform or a competitive devaluation designed to shore up flagging exports. But even those who believe the 3% drop was aimed at exporters acknowledge that a weaker renminbi by itself is radically insufficient to cope with the challenges facing China’s economy. “Currency depreciation to stimulate export growth is neither useful nor necessary,” said Qu Hongbin, HSBC chief China economist. He notes that while China’s exports have fallen this year, “exporters across Asia faced the same challenge, suggesting that the underlying problem is sluggish demand in developed markets”.
China’s economy officially grew at an annual rate of 7% during the first half of this year, neatly in line with the government’s full-year target. However, some doubt that figure — Capital Economics, for example, reckons it is 5-6% — and there are widespread suggestions that further stimulus will be needed to prevent a slowdown. Yet an export revival would boost growth only marginally. Contrary to received wisdom, China has not pursued so-called “export-led growth” for the past decade. Net exports subtracted 3% from annual growth in Chinese gross domestic product on average from 2004 to 2014. Meanwhile, investment contributed an average of 52% of growth each year.
The importance of investment explains why data released last week will keep Premier Li Keqiang awake at night. Fixed-asset investment grew at its slowest pace since 2000 in the first seven months of 2015, led by a collapse in property investment. Factory output in July was also barely above the four-year low touched in March. “China economic data for July may have lacked the lethal explosive force of last night’s detonation in the industrial city of Tianjin, but it laid bare the wider deterioration of domestic macroeconomic conditions,” Chen Long at Gavekal Dragonomics wrote last week.
Though property sales have begun to inch up following 13 consecutive months of decline, the market remains saddled with a huge overhang of unsold flats. That has caused developers to pull back on new construction, hitting demand for basic materials such as steel and cement. Faced with this slowdown, factories that produce these commodities are cutting back both on current output and investment in new capacity.
Among the many unknowns in China is just how much of its prodigious credit boom has been built on foreign capital. After last week’s high-stakes gamble to devalue the yuan, we may soon find out. So much investment and hot money had bought into Beijing’s flagship policy of a strong yuan pegged to the U.S. dollar — which has appreciated about 30% since 2005 — that this reversal moves into almost uncharted territory. By shattering a 10-year consensus held by everyone from deposit holders in Hong Kong to high-yield-bond investors in Europe, the unwind in capital flows could be of seismic proportions.
While some explain last week’s surprise yuan devaluation as little move than an overdue step toward a market-determined exchange rate, a more plausible interpretation is that the People’s Bank of China jettisoned its exchange rate policy as a last resort; a culmination of events after which the pain of attempting to hold its currency peg to the U.S. dollar finally became unbearable. This scenario would be supported by data released last Friday for July, showing the biggest monthly surge in money outflows since 1998 as foreign-exchange funds held at Chinese banks fell by 249.1 billion yuan ($39 billion). Meanwhile, another sign of stress is that short-term borrowing costs in the interbank markets in China and Hong Kong spiked last week, suggesting again that investors were pulling out of the yuan.
The overnight Shanghai interbank offered rate (or Shibor) leapt 1,380 basis points to 1.667% over the past week, reaching a near 4-month high, and the one-month Shibor jumped to 2.495%, a one-week high. For some time Beijing has been under pressure to hold together the “impossible trinity” of a closed capital account, independent monetary policy and a tightly managed exchange rate. Capital outflows ratchet up the pain as the central bank has to buy yuan to support the peg and withdraw liquidity from the economy. This was difficult enough when authorities have been attempting to provide sufficient liquidity to put a floor under a foundering economy.
But then the stock market rout heaped further pressure on the PBOC as it was given ultimate responsibility, through a massive state-buying scheme, to also keep shares from falling. If this wasn’t enough, the central bank had just pushed the problem of near-bankrupt municipal authorities out of its in-tray. Weeks earlier the central government had strong-armed state banks into buying 2 trillion yuan’s worth of debt swap bonds designed to refinance broke municipal authorities. It is hardly a stretch to state that with the central government lining up to be on the hook for municipal authority debt and stock-market losses, this deteriorating picture would persuade some investors to get out of yuan.
China’s surprise move to weaken the yuan will have repercussions far beyond last week’s market turmoil. For one: Governments and companies in emerging markets will have a harder time paying the dollar-denominated debt they have amassed. The yuan’s depreciation – by almost 3% against the U.S. dollar – triggered instability and exchange-rate declines across emerging markets. As of Friday evening in Asia, the Malaysian ringgit was down 3.8% from a week earlier. The Turkish lira, Mexican peso and Russian ruble also fell sharply. The depreciations might help the countries’ exports remain competitive. But they also expose a vulnerability: Over the past several years, borrowers in emerging markets have built up more than $2 trillion in dollar-denominated debt.
When the U.S. currency was cheap and the Federal Reserve was holding interest rates close to zero, that debt seemed like a great deal. Now, with the dollar getting stronger and the Fed set to start raising rates, it’s becoming more of a burden. If investors decide the debts aren’t sustainable, they could pull out en masse, starting a dangerous spiral of declining exchange rates and financial stress that could render otherwise viable companies and governments insolvent. One can only hope that regulators are trying to understand where the resulting losses would be concentrated, and how to mitigate the potential fallout.
Turmoil in China’s currency and stocks has highlighted the anxiety the Communist Party feels over the power and dynamism that markets represent. Even as market-opening policies have allowed hundreds of millions of Chinese to break out of poverty to build the world’s second-largest economy, the party’s ambivalence can be seen across the economic landscape. The leadership keeps fences around the currency, restricts capital flows and operates a central bank that lacks independence. Many Chinese economic planners have a solid understanding of markets. Still, there remains a “deep-seated narrative of the evils of capitalism, even though they embrace huge parts of it,” said Kerry Brown, director of the University of Sydney’s China Studies Center.
The tug of war has left China dragging its heels on financial overhauls necessary to continue improving living standards at a pace Chinese people have become used to. “The government knows it has to implement a more efficient system because it no longer has double-digit growth that can buy people’s loyalty,” said Mr. Brown. “It’s an epic clash of systems.” The stock market is a basic building block of any financial system, including China’s, but no Chinese president has publicly embraced share ownership. “Where does the stock market’s money come from?” asked Jiang Zemin a month before the Shanghai exchange’s 1990 opening, according to an account in a biography of the former president by American banker Robert Lawrence Kuhn.
President Xi Jinping pledged to let markets take a “decisive role” in the economy, and when stocks rose it was called his bull market in state media. But as the Shanghai Composite started falling sharply in mid-June, regulators under him quickly halted initial public offerings, leaned on state institutions to buy shares and blocked large shareholders from selling. On Friday, China’s stock regulator said government entities would hold shares for years as needed to stabilize the market. “They’re happy to let markets go in the direction they want, namely up,” said Alexander Wolf, economist with Standard Life Investments. “It’s like a car they don’t allow to go in reverse.”
One likely reason for China’s early intervention in the stock market is Beijing’s extreme sensitivity to social unrest in a system where discontent is often repressed. “There’s fear in the government, which is most fearful of the people,” said the University of Sydney’s Mr. Brown.
With the U.S. recession behind them and the European fiscal crisis fading, American companies are grappling with a new threat: China’s economic blues. In quarterly conference calls, U.S. executives recited a litany of pain, from mild to severe, resulting from a slowdown in China’s economy, the world’s second-largest. Engine-maker Cummins, for example, said demand for excavators in China fell 34% in the second quarter from a year ago with no signs of improvement. For such companies as Weyerhaeuser, less construction in China means logs and lumber pile up in the U.S., pushing down prices. “China was weak in the quarter, and we expect it to be weak as we move forward,” Robyn Denholm, CFO of Juniper Networks, told investors.
China pulled down the networking-gear maker’s Asia-Pacific revenues by 3% from the prior quarter; without China, they would have risen 11%. China’s policy makers are stimulating the economy to counter slackening consumer demand and falling factory output. Authorities have intervened in financial markets by devaluing the currency, a move that would help Chinese exporters while pinching some U.S. companies by making their products more expensive for Chinese buyers. Chinese officials are trying to keep the economy growing at 7% in 2015, the country’s slowest pace in more than two decades. It comes at a tough time for U.S. businesses. Overall, companies in the S&P 500 index are on track to eke out a 1.2% increase in second-quarter earnings, according to data from Thomson Reuters.
That is the slowest growth since fall 2012. The modest earnings growth was recorded on a 3.5% decline in revenues—the biggest drop in nearly six years—suggesting that much of the profit gain is from cost-cutting, buybacks or other maneuvers, rather than increased sales. Excluding the hard-hit energy sector, big-company profits fared better in the June quarter. Earnings are poised to rise 8.7%, though revenue growth has remained tepid at just under 1.5%, its lowest level since fall 2009, according to Thomson Reuters. China remains a relatively small part of operations at most big U.S. companies: Just 16 companies in the S&P 500 index say they collected 10% or more of their sales there, with most of those in the technology sector, according to data from Wells Fargo Securities.
So let’s start by reframing the debate about austerity. When Yanis Varoufakis describes what has happened to Greece as “Fiscal Waterboarding” he is part way in the direction that I mean. His description of austerity as a form of terrorism is also right. The purpose of austerity is to create insecurity and instill fear in the general population in order to protect the finance and banking sector from popular rage against the crimes the participants of this sector have committed against ordinary people. This rage ought to have given rise a long time ago to legal actions and desperately needed fundamental reforms to take away from bankers the right to create money, a right which they have abused at tremendous cost to ordinary people.
Instead of a rage focused on collective reforms what we are being subjected to is a policy of deliberately spreading insecurity together with the scapegoating of vulnerable people. Attention and emotion is directed away from the financiers and their political representatives onto easier targets who cannot fight back and who had no part in creating our difficulties. Peoples’ anger and discontent is channelled towards people weaker than themselves which also serves to exacerbate the sense of fear by making the prospect of “social descent” into the vulnerable groups – even more of a frightening prospect. The people who run the mass media and the PR industry have been only too willing to help.
So what, exactly is this fear that is being instilled in people? I am writing here of the sort of ruin in which because one does not have money to pay the rent, one can be evicted from where one lives and through that lose the ability to maintain relationships. Where one can fail in one’s responsibilities to dependents and from this point on fall in a downwards spiral, lose one’s job, lose everything else and that includes one’s emotional and mental equilibrium. Elite terrorism does not operate by setting off bombs but by creating fear of being pushed beyond one’s coping capacities into life management breakdowns.
For that fear to be generalised it helps to have scapegoat social groups – “swarms” as David Cameron calls them – whose desperate state is an example of what can happen if you do not pay your debts and work for whatever pittance you are offered. The mentality of the elite can be observed from comments like those of the economist Hayek. Unemployment was necessary, he wrote, as an alternative to corporal punishment for disciplining the labour force. In the absence of a “reservoir” of unemployed, he wrote “discipline cannot be maintained without corporal punishment, as with slave labour”.
The Third Greek MoU is now enshrined in Greek Law. Written in troika-speak it is almost impossible to decypher by those not speaking this unappetising language. Click the link for the complete MoU text annotated liberally by yours truly – in pdf form. It is best read in conjunction with my annotated version of the EuroSummit Agreement of 12th July.
The ECB’s 26 October 2014 publication of the results of a comprehensive assessment of 130 banks under its oversight (ECB, 2014) identified problems in terms of non-performing assets and capital shortfalls. Nevertheless, the outcome brought a sense of relief to financial markets. Unlike stress tests conducted in July and December 2011 by the European Banking Authority, the ECB’s assessment was considered broadly credible.The assessment showed that the largest banks appear to be out of the woods. However, in our recent research we show that the small and medium-sized banks (SMBs) – and among them the unlisted banks – remain under considerable stress.
The ECB data covers 130 banks in 19 countries, which can be divided into three size categories: small (assets below €100bn), medium (assets between €100bn and €500 billion) and large (assets more than €500 billion). Of the €22 trillion in assets in total, the ‘small’ group has 84 banks with €3.1 trillion, the ‘medium’ group has 33 banks with €6.3 trillion, and the ‘large’ group has only 13 banks with aggregate assets of €12.5 trillion. Thus, ‘small’ banks have about 14% and ‘medium’ banks have 29% of total bank assets in the euro area.SMBs thus control a sizeable share of the euro area’s bank assets. They have also received substantial bail-outs. During recent periods of market pressure, SMBs have become closely interconnected in the market’s perception, thereby posing a broader systemic risk.
Though there is no cause to believe that the vulnerabilities of SMBs will lead to widespread banking distress, their weakness could delay the recovery.To measure the vulnerability of individual banks, we conducted a simple ‘stress test’ which asks the following question: if 65% of a bank’s non-performing loans have to be written off, then after accounting for provisions, what would the bank’s equity/assets ratio be? Contrary to the ECB, we look at non risk-weighted equity. If the ratio falls below 3%, we consider the bank to be ‘under stress’. This, we acknowledge, is very crude. It is intended only to assess where the current trouble spots are without claiming to detect all problems.
At the end of last week, amid much smiling and hand-shaking, European finance ministers said they were ready to give Greece a new bailout of 86 billion euros. It’s the third time in five years they’ve declared victory in the battle to revive the Greek economy. This latest triumph shows every sign of being as durable as those previous failures. The first challenge is to get the deal, regardless of its merits, up and running. Germany’s parliament is due to vote on it this week, and rebellion is stirring in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party. The bailout is thought likely to pass despite the protests, thanks to support from other parties in the Bundestag – but skepticism in Germany and some other euro-area countries runs deep.
That’s a problem because it suggests low or zero tolerance of any departure by Greece from the program it has agreed to – an extraordinarily demanding series of tax increases, spending cuts and structural reforms. The scope of the plan all but guarantees some backsliding. Greece is resentful and agreed to the terms only under extreme duress. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s ruling Syriza party is deeply split on the issue, and fresh elections may soon be necessary. Supposing that these difficulties can be overcome, and the program is followed conscientiously, will it work? That depends on what “work” means. The program assumes that output will contract even further both this year and next. Recovery after that, according to the IMF and most observers, will depend on new debt relief.
Speaking after last week’s meetings, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said: “I remain firmly of the view that Greece’s debt has become unsustainable and that Greece cannot restore debt sustainability solely through actions on its own.” This complicates things even more. The IMF is rightly embarrassed by its participation in the two previous bungled bailouts, and has warned that it won’t join the third unless debt relief “well beyond what has been considered so far” is part of the plan. Germany and its supporters, on the other hand, have opposed new debt reduction throughout – while insisting that IMF participation in the new bailout is vital.
Merkel this weekend said lower interest rates and new maturity extensions – though not, presumably, outright write-downs – were possible, and she was confident the IMF would sign up. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who has spent most of this year insisting on steely-eyed clarity about Greece’s obligations, says he is “assuming” the fund will get on board. If this is clarity, one shudders to think what confusion would look like.
Greece’s socialist PASOK party joined the main opposition on Sunday in saying it would not back Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras if he calls a confidence vote following a rebellion in the governing party over a new bailout deal. Tsipras had to rely on opposition groups including PASOK to win a parliamentary majority on Friday in favour of the bailout programme, Greece’s third with international creditors since 2010. By contrast, Tsipras suffered the biggest rebellion yet among anti-bailout lawmakers from his leftist Syriza party, forcing him to consider a confidence vote that would pave the way for early elections if he loses. PASOK made clear that while it had backed the government over bailout for the sake of saving Greece from financial ruin, that support would not extend to any confidence vote in the coming weeks.
The party blamed Tsipras and Panos Kammenos, who leads the minority partner in the coalition government, for the fact that Greece had to take yet another bailout with tough austerity and reform conditions demanded by the euro zone and IMF. “The government has signed the third and most onerous bailout. All the negative consequences for the country and its citizens bear the signatures of Mr Tsipras and Mr Kammenos,” the party said in a statement. “We have no confidence in the Tsipras-Kammenos government and of course will not give it if we are asked.” PASOK, once the dominant force on the Greek left, now has just 13 members in the 300 seat parliament but Tsipras may need all the support he can get. Crucially, it did not say whether it would vote against the government, or merely abstain.
On Friday, support for the government from within its own coalition parties fell below 120 votes, the minimum needed to survive a confidence vote if some others abstain. The main conservative opposition party, New Democracy, has also said it would not back the government, which won power in January on promises to reverse austerity policies. Tsipras was forced to back down to secure the new deal. Opinion polls show Tsipras remains popular, even though he presided over the closure of banks for three weeks, the imposition of capital controls and a near brush with financial collapse. This has raised doubts about how much the opposition parties may want to force new elections.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is fighting to contain the largest revolt from her party this week when the German parliament votes on a new, €86bn rescue plan for Greece. Ms Merkel has rescheduled trips to Italy and Brazil to maximise her time in Berlin and party managers have been mobilised to dissuade potential rebels from voting against the bailout in the Bundestag on Wednesday. She took to national television on Sunday evening to rally support for the bailout deal, saying Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras had changed his approach after a “real confrontation” with creditors. Greece’s third international bailout, which was approved by eurozone finance ministers on Friday night, faces a stormy ride through some of the bloc’s parliaments this week as doubts over its viability continue to surface.
The deal is certain to get German legislative approval thanks to support from the Social Democrats, but a big rebellion by Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party, the CSU, would represent the biggest challenge to Ms Merkel since she took power a decade ago and could dent her reputation for political invulnerability. It could also raise concerns that if the three-year Greece rescue runs into difficulties over implementation in Athens or debt relief, opposition to handing over loan instalments could grow in Berlin and among an increasingly sceptical German population.
Parliamentary approval in Germany and a few other eurozone states, including the Netherlands and Estonia, is the final political hurdle for the rescue deal, following months of difficult negotiations in which Greece came close to default, financial meltdown and exit from the single currency. Crucially for conservative MPs, finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble on Friday backed the deal, despite considerable misgivings about the radical left Greek government s willingness to deliver the promised reforms. He told Bild-am-Sonntag newspaper on Sunday that Greece would have to implement reforms to the letter of the agreement. “We shall pay attention. Any further aid will be dependent on it”, he said.
Mr Schäuble was unable to secure a guarantee that the IMF will join the new rescue plan in the autumn, which could add to sceptical lawmakers concerns. The fund may not decide until October whether to take part and has indicated it will only do so if the eurozone grants debt relief to Athens. Adding to Berlin’s discomfit, Christine Lagarde, IMF chief, on Friday said the eurozone needed to make “concrete commitments” … to provide significant debt relief, well beyond what has been considered so far .
Angela Merkel has said that she expects the IMF to take part in a new €86bn bailout for Greece, as the German chancellor prepares to face Bundestag opposition to the package in a vote on Wednesday. In an attempt to reassure sceptical MPs, Merkel said the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, would ensure the fund’s participation if conditions on Greek pension reform and debt relief were met. “Mrs Lagarde, the chief of the IMF, made very clear that if these conditions are met, then she will recommend to the IMF board that the IMF takes part in the programme from October,” Merkel told the broadcaster ZDF. “I have no doubts that what Mrs Lagarde said will become reality.”
Representatives from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, want the IMF involved because of its reputation for rigour. Lagarde, who has been pressing eurozone countries to provide Athens with “significant” debt relief, reiterated at the weekend that Greece’s European creditors must make “concrete commitments” on relieving the debt burden. She has said the IMF will wait until October to decide whether to participate. That would force lawmakers to vote without any guarantees that the Washington-based institution would have a role. In a nod to IMF calls for debt relief, Merkel said there was room to ease the burden on Greece by extending the maturities on its debt and reducing interest rates.
Greece’s three European creditors – the EC, ECB and the ESM bailout fund – also admitted last week that they had “serious concerns” about the level of Greek debt. Meanwhile, Merkel’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that the deal reached last week was “responsible” and ensured that Athens had to execute tough reforms in return for aid. “After truly arduous negotiations, they understand now in Greece that the country cannot get around real and far-reaching reforms,” he said, referring to changes that include an overhaul of the Greek VAT regime and the state pension system.
Chancellor Angela Merkel today condemned a surge in German attacks on refugee shelters and warned that the issue of asylum could become a bigger challenge for the European Union than the Greek debt crisis. Asked about more than 200 arson attacks against homes for asylum-seekers seen in Germany this year as the country faces a record influx of refugees, Merkel said: “That is unworthy of our country.” Merkel warned that waves of refugees would “preoccupy Europe much, much more than the issue of Greece and the stability of the euro”. “The issue of asylum could be the next major European project, in which we show whether we are really able to take joint action,” she told ZDF public television.
For Germany, where some officials have said the number of asylum-seekers could top 600,000 this year, Merkel said the issue posed particular challenges. With thousands of refugees sleeping in tents and authorities saying they are overwhelmed with applications, Merkel said the current situation was “absolutely unsatisfactory”. She called for the European Union to establish a list of safe countries of origin, where citizens are not under threat of violence or persecution. Last week Germany’s interior minister said it was “unacceptable” that 40 percent of asylum-seekers in his country were from the Balkans, calling it “an embarrassment for Europe”.
About half of Germany’s 300,000 asylum applications since January have come from the southeast European region that includes Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. Berlin is looking at ways to deter such claims in order to better serve people from crisis zones such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The UN refugee agency has said the number of people driven from their homes by conflict and crisis has topped 50 million for the first time since World War II, with Syrians hardest hit.
When the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, talked of the threat to the UK from “marauding migrants” at Calais last week, I decided to review the stories of the hundreds of foreign-born workers I have met in more than a decade of writing about their lives in the UK: those working for the mainstream economy, albeit hidden in the shadows of its long subcontracted supply chains, whether in food production, construction, care work, cleaning or catering. What becomes immediately clear is the deep dishonesty at the heart of much of the rhetoric on this issue. The right claims to be tough on immigration, but it is the opposite of tough on the causes of immigration. It promotes a business model that depends on a constant churn of workers to carry out jobs that are underpaid and insecure at best, and all too often dirty, dangerous, and degrading.
It requires not just immigration, but immigration without end, since only the newly arrived, the desperate and the vulnerable will tolerate the conditions that have been created, as the roll call of migrant workers I have met, with its constantly changing nationalities, shows. [..] The zero-hours agency habits pioneered in the food and agriculture sector have spread across the economy. In the south-east, Ukrainian and Chinese workers are the predominant nationality on the domestic building sites I have seen, providing cheap hard labour to dig out new underground floors for affluent renovations by hand. We have created jobs that are inhuman, and incompatible with any normal settled existence.
Instead of regulating these sectors properly, taxpayers’ money has been used to augment inadequate pay in the form of tax credits to low-paid UK and EU workers – introduced by Labour – subsidising profitable businesses with corporate welfare. The Conservatives have trumpeted their intention to move from tax credits to a living wage. But enforcement of the national minimum wage, never mind a living wage, has been feeble and inadequate under successive administrations, including theirs. The government’s migration advisory committee calculated in 2014 that that a business might statistically expect a visit from one of just 142 national minimum wage inspectors once every 250 years. The government has increased the team this year to 230, hardly enough to make employers quake.
A sustained assault on union rights has seen the steep decline of recognition and collective bargaining that might take on the asymmetries of power in the work place. The Conservatives have announced yet more anti-union legislation. Equally dishonest is the myth that migration can be controlled, if only we had sharper razor wire, or more border dogs, or more deportations of illegal immigrants. As the Ministry of Defence’s strategic trends programme makes clear, today’s large-scale migrations are a historic force, just as those from rural areas to emerging cities were in the industrial revolution.
The Greeks have a lot more decency than most Europeans. Why there are not entire teams of German, Dutch, British volunteers helping out on the Greek islands is beyond me. Instead, they go to lie on the beaches.
Father Efstratios Dimou knows all about physical suffering and his family has also known what it is to be a refugee. Now the Orthodox priest leads a small army of volunteers on the island of Lesbos tackling Greece’s crisis within a crisis. Despite suffering from lung cancer, Dimou – along with fellow volunteers from near and far – has toured the island offering people help that the Greek state, mired in a five-year debt crisis, can scarcely afford to provide any more. Once Dimou’s group Aggalia – Greek for “Embrace” – fed only the local poor, victims of the long economic depression. But now Greece is struggling with what Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called a “humanitarian crisis within the economic crisis”.
He has acknowledged his cash-strapped government cannot cope with boatloads of migrants fleeing war and poverty who are crossing to the Greek islands from neighboring Turkey. So once again Aggalia is trying to fill the gap created by strained government resources. “State services are virtually non-existent so volunteers are stepping in. We are doing as much as we can, but there are so many arrivals,” said Dimou, known as “Papa Stratis”, who is permanently hooked up to an oxygen tank because of his chronic respiratory condition. Greece has become the biggest European gateway for migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa seeking a safer and better life. Numbers exceeded 135,000 this year at the last count, more even than those making the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean to Italy.
On Lesbos, local people often sympathize with the migrants’ plight because among the population of about 75,000 are many descendents of refugees from Turkey. Dimou, 57, himself is the third generation of a family that arrived as refugees. In the 1920s huge numbers of ethnic Greeks were forced out of Turkey, many settling on Greek islands such as Lesbos which lies in sight of the Turkish coast. Under this “population exchange”, hundreds of thousands of Muslims living in Greece were forced to move in the opposite direction. Dimou has long set off from his home town of Kalloni, touring the island in a sturdy old car he affectionately calls “Tarzan”, helping where he can. “We fed 100 people today,” he told Reuters. “We offer them love, a plate of food and hope.”
There is no doubt that Earth is undergoing the sixth mass extinction in its history – the first since the cataclysm that wiped out the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. According to one recent study, species are going extinct between ten and several thousand times faster than they did during stable periods in the planet’s history, and populations within species are vanishing hundreds or thousands of times faster than that. By one estimate, Earth has lost half of its wildlife during the past 40 years. There is also no doubt about the cause: We are it. We are in the process of killing off our only known companions in the universe, many of them beautiful and all of them intricate and interesting. This is a tragedy, even for those who may not care about the loss of wildlife.
The species that are so rapidly disappearing provide human beings with indispensable ecosystem services: regulating the climate, maintaining soil fertility, pollinating crops and defending them from pests, filtering fresh water, and supplying food. The cause of this great acceleration in the loss of the planet’s biodiversity is clear: rapidly expanding human activity, driven by worsening overpopulation and increasing per capita consumption. We are destroying habitats to make way for farms, pastures, roads, and cities. Our pollution is disrupting the climate and poisoning the land, water, and air. We are transporting invasive organisms around the globe and overharvesting commercially or nutritionally valuable plants and animals. The more people there are, the more of Earth’s productive resources must be mobilized to support them.
More people means more wild land must be put under the plow or converted to urban infrastructure to support sprawling cities like Manila, Chengdu, New Delhi, and San Jose. More people means greater demand for fossil fuels, which means more greenhouse gases flowing into the atmosphere, perhaps the single greatest extinction threat of all. Meanwhile, more of Canada needs to be destroyed to extract low-grade petroleum from oil sands and more of the United States needs to be fracked. More people also means the production of more computers and more mobile phones, along with more mining operations for the rare earths needed to make them. It means more pesticides, detergents, antibiotics, glues, lubricants, preservatives, and plastics, many of which contain compounds that mimic mammalian hormones.
Indeed, it means more microscopic plastic particles in the biosphere – particles that may be toxic or accumulate toxins on their surfaces. As a result, all living things – us included – have been plunged into a sickening poisonous stew, with organisms that are unable to adapt pushed further toward extinction. With each new person, the problem gets worse. Since human beings are intelligent, they tend to use the most accessible resources first. They settle the richest, most productive land, drink the nearest, cleanest water, and tap the easiest-to-reach energy sources.