Jan 012018
 


Happy New Year Bill Watterson

 

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US Dollar Refuses to Die as Top Global Reserve Currency (WS)
The Rise And Fall Of The Eurodollar (ZH)
Behind Korea, Iran & Russia Tensions: The Lurking Financial War (Crooke)
Polanyi Best Explains Trump, Brexit And The Failure Of Neoliberalism (Prime)
UK Government Relies On Rising Household Debt To Hit Targets – Labour (G.)
‘Desperate Times’ For Overcrowded British Hospitals (PA)
China’s Growth Engine Stutters As Factories Slow Down (G.)
Greece Dismisses Turkey’s Threats Over Asylum Row (GR)
Greece: Turkish Soldiers Won’t Be Extradited Regardless Of Asylum Process (K.)
UK ‘Faces Build-Up Of Plastic Waste’ (BBC)

 

 

The graphs seem to say it all: the demise of the dollar (and petrodollar, eurodollar -dollars held outside US-) has been greatly exaggerated.

US Dollar Refuses to Die as Top Global Reserve Currency (WS)

Over the decades, there have been a number of efforts to deflate the dollar’s hegemony as a global reserve currency, which it has maintained since World War II. Some of these efforts – such as the creation of the euro – have made a visible dent into the dollar’s status. Other efforts have essentially passed unnoticed. Now there’s a new contender: the Chinese yuan. On December 31, the IMF released its report on the Currency Composition of Official Foreign Exchange Reserves (COFER) for Q3 2017. So how has the US dollar fared as the top world reserve currency, now that the Chinese yuan has also been anointed as one, and that the euro has emerged from its debt crisis? First things, first. The IMF doesn’t really disclose all that much. The COFER data for the individual countries – the level of their reserve currencies and how they allocate them – is “strictly confidential,” it says.

So what we get to look at is the global allocation by currency. Total global foreign exchange reserves rose to $11.3 billion in Q3 2017, within the range of the past three years, between $10.7 trillion (Q4 2016) and $11.8 trillion (Q3, 2014). But something is happening to “allocated reserves.” Not all central banks disclose to the IMF how their foreign exchange reserves are allocated. In Q3 2017, 14.6% of the reserves hadn’t been allocated. But this number is plunging. In Q3 2014, just three years ago, it was still 41.2%. This means that more and more central banks report to the IMF their allocation of foreign exchange reserves, and the COFER is getting broader.

So of the 85.4% of the officially “allocated” reserve currencies in Q3 2017: • US dollar: 63.5% share, down from 64.6% in Q3 2014. • Euro: 20% share, down from 22.6% in Q3 2014. • Yen: 4.5% share, up from 3.6% in Q3 2014. • Pound Sterling: 4.5% share, up from 3.75% in Q3 2014. The Australian and Canadian dollars had a share of 1.8% and 2.0% respectively. • The Chinese yuan – that thin red sliver in the chart below – had a share of 1.1%, up from 1.08% in the prior three quarters, and up from zero before then. • The Swiss franc, the hair-fine black line in the chart below, has a share of 0.2%. • And a number of “other” currencies have a combined share of 2.4%.

The Chinese yuan made its entry after IMF boss Christine Lagarde and the IMF staff declared in mid-November 2015 that they were gung-ho about adding it to the IMF’s currency basket, the Special Drawing Rights (SDR), which is an important step toward becoming a major global reserve currency. At the end of November 2015, it was approved by the board. And it took effect in October 2016. Sure enough, in Q4 2016, the Chinese yuan started showing up in the COFER data as a global reserve currency with a share of 1.08%. But rather than soaring, it didn’t move at all over the first two quarters in 2017. And in Q3, it ticked up to a still minuscule 1.1%. Central banks do not appear to be overeager to hold this currency in large amounts. The chart below shows the changes since Q3 2014. The black line at the top is the US dollar – its hegemony unbroken.

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Russia experienced dollar shortages with oil prices still at $95 a barrel. It can’t do without dollars. Maybe sometime in the future, but that may well be a long time away.

The Rise And Fall Of The Eurodollar (ZH)

Gromen, who largely sat out this segment, offers a few thoughts toward the end that add to the picture of weakness defining the contemporary eurodollar system. Looking back to the summer of 2014, Gromen posits that the largest oil exporters were able to maintain current account surpluses because they’d already started settling an increasing percentage of their oil sales in dollars.

“It’s interesting, Jeff and Mark (this is Luke of course) when you look back to September – and we put this in our slide deck (which we can touch on later) – but if you look back at the actual timing of events it’s kind of interesting. And it’s, to me it hints to motive. So I’d love to get your thought on it, Jeff or Mark, of – if you go back to August of 2014, actually back even to May of ‘14, you had the Holy Grail gas and energy deal signed between China and Russia. It was rumored that that deal was going to be done in non-dollars, but no proof of that. It was later proven to be the case. In August of 2014, Putin announced that they wanted to start moving away from the dollar in oil trade, because the dollar’s monopoly in the global energy trade was damaging their economy.

And, what’s kind of interesting – and we wrote about this at the time – at this point oil is still $100 a barrel. And then, all of a sudden, by late September, with oil still $96 a barrel, $95 a barrel, Russia’s having dollar shortages. Russia was still – and they weren’t the only ones – Venezuela, Ecuador, a couple of others – you have three major oil exporters that are running still current account surpluses in the low- to mid-single digits at this point, starting to run into dollar shortages. And it was, I think, an underappreciated point at the time that, basically, if you’re an oil exporter you’re only selling in dollars, you’re running a current account surplus.

And so, if you’re only selling in dollars, in theory, there’s only two explanations for that, for those dollar shortages that began to pop up well before the price of oil crashed. Which was (#1) Russia and other places got dramatically more corrupt in the three months versus the three months before. Or they were starting to sell energy at an accelerating rate in non-dollar terms. And, as a result, you were seeing – where you were getting $100 before, now you were getting whatever, $90, $80, whatever the mix was. And at that point, then you started to see some of the devaluations etc. I guess I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.”

Read more …

Alastair Crooke also looks at the dollar demise.

Behind Korea, Iran & Russia Tensions: The Lurking Financial War (Crooke)

What have the tensions between the US and North Korea, Iran and Russia in common? Answer: It is that they are components to a wider financial war. Russia and Iran (together with China) happen to be the three key players shaping a huge (almost half the global population) alternative currency zone. The North Korean issue is important as it potentially may precipitate the US – depending on events – towards a more aggressive policy toward China (whether out of anger at Chinese hesitations over Korea, or as part and parcel of the US Administration’s desire to clip China’s trading wings). The US has embarked on a project to restore America’s economic primacy through suppressing its main trade competitors (through quasi-protectionism), and in the military context to ensure America’s continued political dominance.

The US ‘America First’ National Security Strategy made it plain: China and Russia are America’s ‘revisionist’ adversaries, and the US must and intends to win in this competition. The sub-text is that potential main rivals must be reminded of their ‘place’ in the global order. This part is clear and quite explicit, but what is left unsaid is that America is staking all on the dollar’s global, reserve currency status being maintained, for without it, President Trump’s aims are unlikely to be delivered. The dollar status is crucial – precisely because of what has occurred in the wake of the Great Financial crisis – the explosion of further debt. But here is a paradox: how is it that a Presidential Candidate who promised less military belligerence, less foreign intervention, and no western cultural-identity imposition, has, in the space of one year, become, as President, a hawk in respect to Korea and Iran.

What changed in his thinking? The course being pursued by both states was well-known, and has offered no sudden surprise (though North Korea’s progress may have proved quantitatively more rapid than, perhaps, US Intelligence was expecting: i.e. instead of 2020 – 2021, North Korea may have achieved its weapons objective in 2018 – some two years or so earlier that estimated)? But essentially Korea’s desire to be accepted as a nuclear weapon state is nothing new. It is ‘the Federal debt’, and a pending ‘debt ceiling’ that is crucial. There is little doubt that the US military is not what it used to be, and the Republican Party possesses a wing that is quite fundamentalist about limiting debt (Freedom Caucus). A serious military crisis is possibly the only way Trump is likely to get a huge ramp-up of military expenditure past Congress’ fiscal hawks.

President Trump – the Tax Bill saga tells us — is going to be a big spender as part of MAGA (Make America Great Again). The increase in proposed US defence spending alone, more or less equates to the whole annual Russian defence spending. US Federal debt is already above $20 Trillion, and accelerating fast: the borrowing requirement is ballooning and interest payments to service this additional borrowing, normally would be expected to rise. But Trump is also explicitly a low interest rate, expanding balance-sheet, sort of guy. So, how does one finance a truly ballooning budget deficit, whilst keeping interest rates low, or at zero? Well a fear-driven rush by foreigners into ‘risk free’ US Treasuries (i.e. military crisis again), historically serves to keep rates low – and dollars plentiful — as ‘overseas dollars’ return ‘home’ to Wall Street.

Read more …

No sure why economists et al have such a hard time understanding why limitless liberalization must by definition backfire.

Polanyi Best Explains Trump, Brexit And The Failure Of Neoliberalism (Prime)

It’s good to see the latest (21 December) New York Review of Books give space to a review – by Robert Kuttner of American Prospect– of a biography of “Karl Polanyi: a Life on the Left” by Gareth Dale. For as we have been arguing for a long time, it was Polanyi who better than any other historian/analyst got to the heart of the contradictions of free market globalised liberalism, and saw that it was such economic liberalism, pushed too far, that is likely to lead to authoritarian, or even fascist, outcomes. As Kuttner puts it, “Global capitalism has escaped the bounds of the postwar mixed economy that had reconciled dynamism with security through the regulation of finance, the empowerment of labor, a welfare state, and elements of public ownership”.

The outcome is extreme inequality and instability. However, as Kuttner reminds, “We have been here before. During the period between the two world wars, free-market liberals governing Britain, France, and the US tried to restore the pre–World War I laissez-faire system. They resurrected the gold standard and put war debts and reparations ahead of economic recovery. It was an era of free trade and rampant speculation, with no controls on private capital. The result was a decade of economic insecurity ending in depression, a weakening of parliamentary democracy, and fascist backlash. Right up until the German election of July 1932, when the Nazis became the largest party in the Reichstag, the pre-Hitler governing coalition was practicing the economic austerity commended by Germany’s creditors.”

It was these extremist policies of free market liberalism that Polanyi dissected in his most famous work, “The Great Transformation”, published in 1944. The worst consequences were in Germany and other continental European states, but declining imperial Britain was still the heart of ultra-liberal ideology. I am currently reading David Kynaston’s rambling History of the Bank of England, which sets out the disgraceful pressure that Governor Montagu Norman and the City of London put on elected governments to return to the Gold Standard (at the pre-war rate) and impose harsh austerity, with terrible economic consequences. [..] “[T]he simple proposition that all factors of production must have free markets implies in practice that the whole of society must be subordinated to the needs of the market system.” We see Polanyi’s key insight – in the essays and in the later book – as encapsulated in these passages:

“The real nature of the dangers thus become apparent which are inseparable from the market-utopia. For the sake of society the market mechanism must be restricted. But this cannot be done without grave peril to economic life and therefore to society as a whole. We are caught up on the horns of a dilemma: – either to continue on the paths of a utopia bound for destruction, or to halt on this path and risk the throwing out of gear of this marvellous but extremely artificial system.” “A self-regulating market-system is a utopia. No society could stand its devastating effects once it got really going. Hardly had laissez-faire started when the State and voluntary organizations intervened to protect society through factory laws, Trade Union and Church action from the mechanism of the market.”

Read more …

All western countries do. It’s why interest rates are so low.

UK Government Relies On Rising Household Debt To Hit Targets – Labour (G.)

John McDonnell has accused the government of relying on millions of British families going further into debt in order to meet Treasury targets. The shadow chancellor said families were set to borrow £445bn by the end of the parliament. He also highlighted official figures showing the ratio between household debt and income had reached a five-year high, with forecasts suggesting it will hit 150% by 2022. That means families will have amassed debts worth a year and a half’s income – which Labour warned could result in people falling into financial difficulties. McDonnell is planning for the Labour party to focus heavily on the question of household debt as part of its new year strategy. “The alarming increase in household debt at a time when wages are not keeping up with prices is creating the perfect storm for our economy,” McDonnell told the Guardian.

“There needs to be more done to protect working households from extortionate rates of interest, and also ensure that their earnings are not being squeezed just so Philip Hammond can pretend to meet his own targets, which he has so far failed to meet.” The Labour frontbencher said his party had already promised to cap interest on insecure lending, but would be unveiling a string of further interventions in 2018 about how to protect households from burgeoning debt. He has described the situation as a “personal debt crisis” with levels of unsecured borrowing predicted to hit a record of £19,000 per household by the end of this parliament. Analysis from Labour shows unsecured debt is on course to exceed £15,000 per household next year and could go on to exceed £19,000 per household by 2022 if it follows the current trajectory.

Read more …

They had an excellent health care service. Those days are gone. The poor have become expendable.

‘Desperate Times’ For Overcrowded British Hospitals (PA)

Pressures on the NHS have “escalated rapidly” over the festive period, with hospitals experiencing significant bed shortages, a leading doctor has warned. Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine (SAM), said many hospitals reported more than 99% capacity in the week before Christmas. He said services are being placed under significant strain as they enter the new year and called for non-urgent operations to be postponed until at least the end of January. Doctors have described corridors overflowing with patients and used social media in a bid to find extra staff to cope with demand. Portsmouth hospitals NHS trust, in Hampshire, tweeted on Sunday: “The hospital is extremely busy at the moment and we are asking any medical or nursing staff available for a shift tonight or tomorrow to make contact.”

Epsom and St Helier University hospitals trust, in London, also appealed for staff to work on New Year’s Eve “due to sickness and high volumes of patients”. Dr Richard Fawcett, from the Royal Stoke University hospital, wrote on Saturday that it had run out corridor space in A&E after ambulances were diverted from County hospital, Stafford. NHS England said hospitals were “generally coping”, with overall bed occupancy levels down from 95% in the lead-up to Christmas to about 93%. Scriven said: “Since the bank holiday, things have escalated rapidly and we are on the cusp of a major issue at least as bad as last year when it was described by the Red Cross as a humanitarian crisis. “There is an awful lot of respiratory illness causing a lot of severe symptoms in the old and young and 10- to 12-hour delays in emergency departments are now not uncommon – along with patients being placed on inappropriate wards.”

Read more …

Good story for 2018.

China’s Growth Engine Stutters As Factories Slow Down (G.)

Growth in China’s manufacturing sector slowed in December as a punishing crackdown on air pollution and a cooling property market start to weigh on the world’s second-largest economy. The data supports the view that the Chinese economy is beginning to gradually lose steam after growing by a forecast-beating 6.9% in the first nine months of the year. However, signs of a sharper slowdown – a major fear among global investors – have yet to materialise. The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) released on Sunday dipped to 51.6 in December, down from 51.8 in November and in line with forecasts from economists in a Reuters poll. The 50-point level divides growth from contraction on a monthly basis. The figures showed that China’s full-year 2017 economic growth would be at about 6.9% and 6.5% for 2018, according to the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing, which compiles the data.

Boosted by hefty government infrastructure spending, a resilient property market and unexpected strength in exports, China’s manufacturing and industrial firms have driven solid economic growth this year, with their strong appetite for raw materials boosting global commodity prices. However, a slowdown has started to take hold in the last few months due to a wide-ranging combination of government measures, from a crackdown on smog in some heavily industrialised provinces to continued curbs on the housing market, which are weighing on property investment. Chinese steelmakers in 28 cities have been ordered to curb output between mid-November and mid-March, while a campaign to promote cleaner energy by converting coal to natural gas has also hampered manufacturing activity in some cities, leading to shortages and price rises.

Read more …

Any politician seen as giving in to Turkish strong-arming faces a huge problem at home. Long history and all that.

Greece Dismisses Turkey’s Threats Over Asylum Row (GR)

Greece dismissed Turkish angry threats on Sunday over its decision to grant asylum to a soldier who Ankara accuses of involvement in the abortive coup against President Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016. Turkey said on Saturday the decision by a Greek asylum board undermined relations between the two countries. The soldier was one of eight who fled after the July 15 coup attempt. It also accused Athens of harbouring “coup plotters”, a charge Greece denies. Turkey also threatened that the incident would affect bilateral relations over a host of issues from ethnically split Cyprus to sovereignty over airspace. The asylum board rejected the applications by the other seven soldiers, and the Greek government has appealed the decision to grant the soldier asylum and sought its annulment.

The government announcement that it will appeal the decision has caused a minor political storm, with opposition parties accusing the PM of hypocrisy and of bowing to Turkish threats. the row began when the government added to its appeal release that the country’s judiciary is independent. “Our faith in democratic principles and practices is not a weakness, but a source of strength,” the Greek foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday. “Democracies do not threaten, or can be threatened,” the foreign ministry said. “On the contrary, they work responsibly and methodically to promote understanding and entrench stability and good neighbourly relations. Greece will continue this path and hopes its neighbours will do the same.” The eight soldiers had flown by helicopter to Greece in the early hours of July 16, 2016, as the attempted coup against Erdogan crumbled. They have denied any involvement in the attempt.

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Erdogan is not going to like this one.

Greece: Turkish Soldiers Won’t Be Extradited Regardless Of Asylum Process (K.)

Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos has said the eight Turkish soldiers wanted by Ankara in connection with a failed coup attempt in 2016 “will not be extradited regardless of the outcome of their asylum applications.” In a message posted on social media late Sunday, Tzanakopoulos said the asylum claims submitted by the soldiers concerns their granting of refugee status. “This is a completely different from their non-extradition,” he said. Turkey said on Saturday the decision by a Greek asylum board to grant asylum to one of the eight soldiers undermined relations between the two countries. It also accused Athens of harboring “coup plotters.”

On Sunday, Tzanakopoulos said it was up to the Greek justice system to decide if the suspect in question is entitled to refugee protection, “in light of the enormous political significance of the issue which directly impacts on relations with the neighboring country.” “The political position of the Greek government is nevertheless clear,” Tzanakopoulos said. “Those suspected of being involved in Turkey’s coup are not welcome.”

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It’s not as if this is a British issue. Just refuse to use all the packaging etc.

UK ‘Faces Build-Up Of Plastic Waste’ (BBC)

The UK’s recycling industry says it doesn’t know how to cope with a Chinese ban on imports of plastic waste. Britain has been shipping up to 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling in China every year, but now the trade has been stopped. At the moment the UK cannot deal with much of that waste, says the UK Recycling Association. Its chief executive, Simon Ellin, told the BBC he had no idea how the problem would be solved in the short term. “It’s a huge blow for us… a game-changer for our industry,” he said. “We’ve relied on China so long for our waste… 55% of paper, 25% plus of plastics. “We simply don’t have the markets in the UK. It’s going to mean big changes in our industry.”

China has introduced the ban from this month on “foreign garbage” as part of a move to upgrade its industries. Other Asian nations will take some of the plastic, but there will still be a lot left. Environment Secretary Michael Gove has admitted that he was slow to spot the problem coming. The UK organisation Recoup, which recycles plastics, said the imports ban would lead to stock-piling of plastic waste and a move towards incineration and landfill. Peter Fleming, from the Local Government Association, told the BBC: “Clearly there’s a part to play for incineration but not all parts of the country have incinerators.

Read more …

Jan 272017
 
 January 27, 2017  Posted by at 10:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Kathimerini Trump and Evolution Jan 25 2017

Theresa May: US and UK Will No Longer Invade Foreign Countries (Ind.)
Donald Trump’s Plan For China Relations Is To Be Unpredictable (G.)
Wave Of US State Department Personnel Resign, Are Fired (ZH)
How America Could Collapse (Nation)
Outrage Dilution (Adams)
How America Lost Its Identity – Megalomania & Small-Mindedness (Spiegel)
Obama Bequeaths A More Dangerous World (Parry)
China’s Shadow Banking Crusade Risks Bond Market Crash (R.)
China’s Army of Global Homebuyers Is Suddenly Short on Cash (BBG)
Lurching Towards the New Paradigm (Art+M)
Greece Creditors Demand Legislation Of Reforms For 2018-19 (Kath.)
Greek Supreme Court Rules Against Extraditing Eight Turkish Soldiers (WSJ)
EU Looks To Camps In Africa To Cut Immigration (R.)
Europe’s Crackdown On African Immigration Is Hitting Vulnerable Refugees (G.)
EU’s Mishandled Millions Not Reaching Refugees (DW)

 

 

If it could only be true. Between this from Theresa May, and the disappearance of Victoria Nuland, not such a bad day. But I find it hard to go through all the ‘serious’ press who report on things like the US spelling Theresa without the ‘h’. Is that worth paying a journalist for? That’s the best you got? Then again, I did like the person on twitter pointing out that Teresa May is the name of a pornstar, and wondering who Trump thought he was going to meet.

Theresa May: US and UK Will No Longer Invade Foreign Countries (Ind.)

Britain and the US will never again invade sovereign foreign countries “in an attempt to make the world in their own image,” Theresa May told Republican policymakers in Philadelphia. The Prime Minister vowed never to repeat the “failed policies of the past” in reference to Western military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, breaking from the “liberal intervention” principle established by Tony Blair. Referencing the “special relationship” between the UK and US, Ms May also stressed the importance of cooperation between the two countries to meet their “obligations of leadership” and “stand up for our interests”. “It is in our interests – those of Britain and America together – to stand strong together to defend our values, our interests and the very ideas in which we believe,” she said.

“This cannot mean a return to the failed policies of the past. The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.” However she called for “strong, smart and hard-headed” actions to stand up for Western principles, adding: “Nor can we afford to stand idly by when the threat is real and when it is in our own interests to intervene.” She also pledged support to Mr Trump in the continued fight against the “new enemies of the west and our values”. Ms May said it was a “priority” to push back on “Iran’s aggressive efforts” to increase its “arc of influence from Tehran through to the Mediterranean”. However, she defended the nuclear deal brokered by Barack Obama despite threats from Mr Trump that he would rip up the agreement, saying it had been successful in neutralising a potential threat. [..] “With President Putin, my advice is to engage but beware.”

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What’s that worth if you announce it, though?

Donald Trump’s Plan For China Relations Is To Be Unpredictable (G.)

Donald Trump’s game plan for relations with China is to use unpredictability as a means of wrong-footing the country’s Communist party leaders and extracting economic concessions, a prominent adviser has said. Since his election, Trump and his team have repeatedly discombobulated the Chinese government with a series of interventions on sensitive issues such as the South China Sea, US relations with Taiwan and China’s alleged manipulation of its currency, the yuan. Those moves have unsettled and angered Beijing, which had expected Trump to tone down his anti-China rhetoric after his victory. In an interview with China’s state-run broadcaster, Michael Pillsbury, a former Pentagon official and longtime China scholar, suggested Trump’s decision to repeatedly tweak Beijing’s nose was part of a calculated strategy.

The US president believed the Chinese were “the best negotiators in the whole world, so to get an advantage he wants to be unpredictable in the eyes of the Chinese government,” Pillsbury told CGTN, an international mouthpiece for the Chinese government that was formerly called CCTV. “I think he has succeeded in this, don’t you?” Pillsbury, a fluent Mandarin speaker who is known for his contacts within China’s People’s Liberation Army and has been advising Trump’s team, said the president had outlined this strategy in his most recent book, Great Again: How To Fix Our Crippled America. In it Trump writes: “The element of surprise wins battles. So I don’t tell the other side what I’m doing, I don’t warn them, and I don’t let them fit me comfortably into a predictable pattern … I like being unpredictable. It keeps them off balance.”

In a chapter on foreign policy, Trump accuses his predecessors of “rolling over” for Beijing and hints it will be one of the main targets of his strategy. “There are people who wish I wouldn’t refer to China as our enemy. But that’s exactly what they are,” Trump writes. China specialists on both sides of the Pacific fear relations between Beijing and Washington could deteriorate rapidly under Trump, increasing the risks of a potentially calamitous great power conflict. However, Pillsbury, who has written a book about a supposed Chinese plot to become the world’s preeminent military, political and economic power by 2049, claimed ties could warm. “I say the road to making America great again runs through Beijing,” he told CGTN, calling for greater Chinese investment in the US.

“It can be win-win. I think it will be win-win,” Pillsbury said, using one of the favourite phrases of Chinese diplomats. Another China scholar who is understood to have offered advice to Trump’s team also said this week that he believed an improved relationship was on the cards. “I don’t quite understand why people seem to be operating under the assumption that the relationship with China was good and now all of a sudden it is going to change to be less good,” Daniel Blumenthal, the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute told the Guardian.

Read more …

Bit confusing who left of their own accord and who got a pink slip. Been a thorough clean-up. Getting rid of Victoria Nuland is worth just about any price.

Wave Of US State Department Personnel Resign, Are Fired (ZH)

Update: according to a CNN report – so as always take with lots of salt – the story has shifted materially, because according to two senior administration officials, it wasn’t a resignation by the State Department officials, but more of a termination: “the Trump administration told four top State Department management officials that their services were no longer needed as part of an effort to “clean house” at Foggy Bottom.”

Patrick Kennedy, who served for nine years as the undersecretary for management, Assistant Secretaries for Administration and Consular Affairs Michele Bond and Joyce Anne Barr, and Ambassador Gentry Smith, director of the Office for Foreign Missions, were sent letters by the White House that their service was no longer required, the sources told CNN. All four, career officers serving in positions appointed by the President, submitted letters of resignation per tradition at the beginning of a new administration. The letters from the White House said that their resignations were accepted and they were thanked for their service.

The White House usually asks career officials in such positions to stay on for a few months until their successors are confirmed. “Any implication that that these four people quit is wrong,” one senior State Department official said. “These people are loyal to the secretary, the President and to the State Department. There is just not any attempt here to dis the President. People are not quitting and running away in disgust. This is the White House cleaning house.” Mark Toner, the State Department’s acting spokesman, said in a statement that “These positions are political appointments, and require the President to nominate and the Senate to confirm them in these roles. They are not career appointments but of limited term.”

A second official echoed that the move appeared to be an effort by the new administration to “clean house” among the State Department’s top leadership. “The department will not collapse,” the second official said. “Everyone has good deputies. It’s a huge institutional loss, but the department has excellent subordinates and the career people will step up. They will take up the responsibility.” Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s assistant secretary for Europe, was also not asked to stay on. The following org charts breaks out the unfilled appointee positions, in blue, while the red crosses show the resignations.

Read more …

America has killed its resilience and redundancy, its back-up system. All western nations have. Best argument for protectionism: produce your own essentials.

How America Could Collapse (Nation)

A few months ago, a friend in the entertainment industry told me of a new business model in Hollywood: hoarding videotapes. Apparently, the earthquake in Japan knocked offline a Sony factory that makes certain types of tape. That factory was also in the tsunami zone, so now there’s a serious tape shortage threatening the television industry. The NBA scrambled to get enough tape to broadcast the NBA finals; one executive told the Hollywood Reporter, “It’s like a bank run.” In the last few years, economists have spent a lot of time and energy thinking about bank runs. A bank run happens when depositors think a bank is weak and scramble to get their money out before it collapses. “Tight coupling” of financial institutions, like when banks are overly dependent on each other, can create a cascading series of problems for the system itself.

We saw this with Lehman Brothers when it went bankrupt. Its AAA-rated debt instruments lost value unexpectedly; that caused money market funds that held those presumably safe bonds to suddenly lose value. A shadow bank run was the result, as investors rushed to withdraw from the money market funds. Worryingly, there’s been very little consideration of how systemic collapses can happen in another, perhaps more dangerous realm—the industrial supply system that keeps us in everything from medicine to food to cars to, yes, videotape. In 2004, for instance, England closed one single factory, which caused the United States to lose half of its flu vaccine supply. Barry Lynn of the New America Foundation has been studying industrial supply shocks since 1999, when he noticed that global computer chip production was concentrated in Taiwan.

After a severe earthquake in that country, the global computer industry nearly shut down, crashing the stocks of large computer makers. This level of concentration of the production of key components in a globalized economy is a new phenomenon. Lynn’s work points to the highly dangerous side of globalization, the flip side of a hyper-efficient global supply chain. When one link in that chain is broken, there is no fallback. Lynn has continued to study industrial supply shocks and says, “What I have found most interesting recently is the apparent role supply chain shocks played in triggering a synchronized slowdown of industrial economies in April—production down (in USA, China, Europe, Southeast Asia), jobs down, demand down, GDP numbers down—due almost entirely to the loss of a single factory that makes microcontroller chips for cars.”

[..] There’s a good amount of grumbling about the state of American infrastructure—collapsing bridges, high-speed rail, etc. But American infrastructure is not just about public goods, it’s about how the corporations that enforce, inform and organize economic activity are themselves organized. Are they doing productive research? Are they spreading knowledge and know-how to people who will use it responsibly? Are they creating prosperity or extracting wealth using raw power? And most importantly, are they contributing to the robustness of our society, such that we can survive and thrive in the normal course of emergencies? The answer to all of these questions right now is “no.” And while this may not be hitting the elite segments of the economy right now, there will be no escape from a flu pandemic or significant food shortage. The re-engineering of our global supply chain needs to happen—and it will happen, either through good leadership or through collapse.

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As much as people may dislike Scott Adams, he has a story to tell that many do not understand but should.

Outrage Dilution (Adams)

I’m having a fun time watching President Trump flood the news cycle with so many stories and outrages that no one can keep up. Here’s how the math of persuasion works in this situation: 1 outrage out of 3 headlines in a week: Bad Persuasion. 25 outrages out of 25 headlines in a week: Excellent Persuasion. At the moment there are so many outrages, executive orders, protests, and controversies that none of them can get enough oxygen in our brains. I can’t obsess about problem X because the rest of the alphabet is coming at me at the same time. When you encounter a situation that is working great except for one identifiable problem, you can focus on the problem and try to fix it. But if you have a dozen complaints at the same time, none of them looks special. The whole situation just looks confusing, and you don’t know where to start. So you wait and see what happens.

Humans need contrast in order to make solid decisions that turn into action. Trump removed all of your contrast by providing multiple outrages of similar energy. You’re probably seeing the best persuasion you will ever see from a new president. Instead of dribbling out one headline at a time, so the vultures and critics can focus their fire, Trump has flooded the playing field. You don’t know where to aim your outrage. He’s creating so many opportunities for disagreement that it’s mentally exhausting. Literally. He’s wearing down the critics, replacing their specific complaints with entire encyclopedias of complaints. And when Trump has created a hundred reasons to complain, do you know what impression will be left with the public? He sure got a lot done. Even if you don’t like it. In only a few days, Trump has made us question what-the-hell every other president was doing during their first weeks in office. Were they even trying?

For a fun party trick, ask your most liberal friends if they think the Federal government should have a say in whether a woman gets an abortion or not. When they say the Federal government should stay out of that decision, inform them that President Trump shares their opinion. He doesn’t want the Federal government to be in the business of making health care choices for women. He prefers leaving that decision to the woman, her doctor, and state laws.

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Not bad at all from Der Spiegel.

How America Lost Its Identity – Megalomania & Small-Mindedness (Spiegel)

On a frigid January evening one year ago, I was standing in a line of around 1,000 people in Burlington, Vermont, to see Donald Trump. I reported my very first story on the United States in 1991 and had been living in the country since 2013. I thought I knew the country well. But on that evening in January, I realized that I had been mistaken. Burlington lay under a blanket of snow and next to me in line stood Mary and Tim Loyer, both wrapped in dark-blue parkas. Mary was unemployed and her son Tim had a job at a bar. Both told me they were Bernie Sanders supporters. Tim said he was particularly bothered by the power held by large companies, that the division of wealth was unfair and that people like him no longer had opportunities to improve their lives. It was the anthem of the working class.

When asked what he found attractive about Trump, Tim said: “Bernie and Trump are the only politicians who say what they’re thinking and do what they say,” as his mother Mary nodded along. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, is corrupt, he said. In an election pitting Trump against Clinton, Tim said he would not vote for Clinton. Again, Mary nodded. At the entrance, security personnel patted us down and asked if we were planning on voting for Trump. Only those who said yes were allowed to proceed. When Trump began speaking, a demonstrator stood up and yelled that Trump was a racist. The candidate paused, shook his fist and demanded that security throw the protester out. “Keep his coat. Confiscate his coat,” Trump said from the stage. It was 21 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 degrees Celsius) outside.

Trump snarled as his fans jumped to their feet hooting and jeering. One was reminded of a lynch mob. I learned three things on that evening in Burlington: In the fatherland of capitalism, anger with the elite is so vast that even leftists would rather vote for a narcissist billionaire than a veteran of the political establishment. In a country that values freedom of opinion higher than almost any other country in the world, there were now attitude tests prior to admission to political rallies. And many Americans, who are otherwise so polite, lose all restraint when confronted by those who think differently. Everything that I associated with America seemed no longer to apply on that evening in Burlington. What had happened to this once-proud country?

I found answers to this question on a journey through American society – to places like Vermont, Maryland, Rhode Island and Virginia. Those are just a few of the places I have visited in the last four years – places where those symptoms could be seen that together add up to the huge crisis that has gripped America. This self-confident country that has spent decades exporting its values with imperialist hubris has lost its identity. Democratic capitalism no longer works well enough to keep together a country of 325 million people and to guarantee domestic peace. The United States is not alone in having been struck by this identity crisis: It has also hit the United Kingdom, France, Germany and other countries. But America, where capitalism flourishes to a greater degree than anywhere else, has been hit the hardest of all.

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Not Robert Parry’s strongest effort, he seems to want to stick to two contradictory stories at the same time: is Obama a closet neocon or is he a coward?

Obama Bequeaths A More Dangerous World (Parry)

[..] perhaps Obama’s most dangerous legacy is the New Cold War with Russia, which began in earnest when Washington’s neocons struck back against Moscow for its cooperation with Obama in getting Syria to surrender its chemical weapons (which short-circuited neocon hopes to bomb the Syrian military) and in persuading Iran to accept tight limits on its nuclear program (another obstacle to a neocon bombing plan). In both cases, the neocons were bent on “regime change,” or at least a destructive bombing operation in line with Israeli and Saudi hostility toward Syria and Iran. But the biggest challenge to these schemes was the positive relationship that had developed between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. So, that relationship had to be shattered and the wedge that the neocons found handy was Ukraine.

By September 2013, Carl Gershman, the neocon president of the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, had identified Ukraine as “the biggest prize” and a steppingstone toward the ultimate goal of ousting Putin. By late fall 2013 and winter 2014, neocons inside the U.S. government, including Sen. John McCain and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, were actively agitating for a “regime change” in Ukraine, a putsch against elected President Viktor Yanukovych that was carried out on Feb. 22, 2014. This operation on Russia’s border provoked an immediate reaction from the Kremlin, which then supported ethnic-Russian Ukrainians who had voted heavily for Yanukovych and who objected to the coup regime in Kiev. The neocon-dominated U.S. mainstream media, of course, portrayed the Ukrainian conflict as a simple case of “Russian aggression,” and Obama fell in line with this propaganda narrative.

After his relationship with Putin had deteriorated over the ensuring two-plus years, Obama chose to escalate the New Cold War in his final weeks in office by having U.S. intelligence agencies leak unsubstantiated claims that Putin interfered in the U.S. presidential election by hacking and publicizing Democratic emails that helped Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. The CIA also put in play salacious rumors about the Kremlin blackmailing Trump over a supposed video of him cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. And, according to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. counterintelligence agents investigated communications between retired Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor, and Russian officials. In the New McCarthyism that now surrounds the New Cold War, any conversation with Russians apparently puts an American under suspicion for treason.

The anti-Russian frenzy also pulled in The New York Times, The Washington Post and virtually the entire mainstream media, which now treat any dissent from the official U.S. narratives condemning Moscow as prima facie evidence that you are part of a Russian propaganda apparatus. Even some “progressive” publications have joined this stampede because they so despise Trump that they will tout any accusation to damage his presidency.

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Scary insane: “..WMPs jumped 42% year-on-year to 26 trillion yuan ($3.8 trillion) at the end of June, doubling in just two years.”

China’s Shadow Banking Crusade Risks Bond Market Crash (R.)

China’s campaign to cut high debt levels in its economy is aiming this year to shrink the $3 trillion shadow banking sector, which could drain a critical source of income for the country’s banks and of funding for its fragile bond market. Shadow banking, a term for financial agents that perform bank-like activity but are not regulated as banks, has boomed in China, the world’s second-largest economy, as a way of circumventing government’s tight controls on lending. It has been a key driver of the breakneck growth in debt in the economy, which UBS says rose to 277% of GDP from 254% in 2016, and is now a target as Beijing tries to reduce that figure before it destabilizes the economy.

But with banks’ shadow banking business accounting for about a fifth of total outstanding loans, analysts fear that the unintended consequences of government efforts could trigger the fate it seeks to avoid. “We see a policy-induced drastic deleveraging in shadow banking as a policy miscalculation that could trigger unexpected tail risks for the banking sector,” said Liao Qiang, credit analyst at S&P Global Ratings. Investors’ concerns stem from new rules this month that put lenders’ wealth management products (WMPs), the biggest component of shadow banking, under the scrutiny of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) for the first time and into its calculations on prudence, capital adequacy and loan growth guidelines.

According to the latest official data, WMPs jumped 42% year-on-year to 26 trillion yuan ($3.8 trillion) at the end of June, doubling in just two years. WMPs are typically kept off banks’ balance sheets, making it difficult for regulators to assess the stability of a banking sector reliant upon them for growth. And just as in the global financial crisis of 2008, banks’ interconnectedness amplifies the risks. Banks are increasingly buying into each other’s WMPs, such that interbank WMPs hit 4 trillion yuan in June, a doubling from two years ago.

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Wonder how this connects to the shadow banks.

China’s Army of Global Homebuyers Is Suddenly Short on Cash (BBG)

China’s escalating crackdown on capital outflows is sending shudders through property markets around the world. In London, Chinese citizens who clamored to purchase flats at the city’s tallest apartment tower three months ago are now struggling to transfer their down payments. In Silicon Valley, Keller Williams Realty says inquiries from China have slumped since the start of the year. And in Sydney, developers are facing “big problems” as Chinese buyers pull back, according to consultancy firm Basis Point. “Everything changed’’ as it became more difficult to send money offshore, said Coco Tan, a broker associate at Keller Williams in Cupertino, California. Less than a month after China announced fresh curbs on overseas payments, anecdotal reports from realtors, homeowners and developers suggest the restrictions are already weighing on the world’s biggest real estate buying spree.

While no one expects Chinese demand to disappear anytime soon, the clampdown is deterring first-time buyers who lack offshore assets and the expertise to skirt tighter capital controls. “If it’s too difficult, I’m out,’’ said Mr. Zheng, 66, a retired civil servant in Shanghai who declined to give his first name to avoid attracting regulatory scrutiny. He may abandon a 2.4 million yuan ($348,903) home purchase in western Melbourne, even after shelling out a 300,000 yuan deposit last August. He’s due to make another big payment next month. The change spooking Zheng and his compatriots came in a statement from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Dec. 31, hours before the reset of Chinese citizens’ annual foreign currency quotas.

Among other requirements, SAFE said all buyers of foreign exchange must now sign a pledge that they won’t use their $50,000 quotas for offshore property investment. Violators will be added to a government watch list, denied access to foreign currency for three years and subjected to money-laundering investigations, SAFE said. “A lot of clients are worried and have started hesitating,’’ said Wang Ning, vice president of the international department at Fang Holdings, China’s most popular property website.

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A pity this ends in a political rant, the first part is interesting.

Lurching Towards the New Paradigm (Art+M)

The world heaved under the sudden weight of its own nervous system. Lit up and lashed to the planet in only a few decades, we lost our bearings in the paradox of connectivity: minute detail of every moment yet removed from any tangible presence, our animal bandwidth compressed to sound and vision, crowded and alone. We got connected and it’s terrifying. Direct confrontation with The Other. Massive social relativism. A fractal collage of affinity networks and sub genres and Things That Seem Really Different. Nature red in tooth and claw, in full glorious monstrosity. And now it’s like “oh shit you mean we’re responsible for all of this??” The Web is a planetary architecture that compresses and distributes information. There’s only so much bandwidth and the Web is just one modality of acting in the world.

The network compresses physical experience from 5 senses to mostly one. The lo-fidelity of text invites us to project our fears and insecurities on vagaries stripped of all the social cues we use to interrogate communication. No tone of voice, no body language, no skin flush or eye contact or simple touch. We get complete vision at the expense of physical connection. We casually act like monsters when online, say terrible things, things we would never say to someone’s face. We’d see their hurt, feel their anger. Yet, such is the new asymmetry of power that dateless trolls can destroy lives from the safety of their parents’ basement. It turns out social media is pretty sociopathic. But this couch is pretty comfortable and many of us in the developed world enjoy tremendous security, all things being equal.

Our relentless sapien modeling no longer frets about saber toothed beasts rumbling in the brush to devour us, but abstracts those same spirits, those hopes and fears, into the characters and dramatic occurrences that enchant our fickle minds. So we sat on the couch and projected ourselves into the astral theater of television. The Gods we looked to for hope and guidance, for rules and consequences, those gods became priests, then politicians, and then celebrities. The Stars of the Silver Screen. Then we broke open the screen, tore apart the TV and unbundled its business entanglements and made it so we could all walk onto the soundstage and stand beneath those glowing lights, big smile, ready to share ourselves with the masses. On the way to Godhead we are tempted by Stardom.

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The longer this takes, and there’s no end in sight, the more I’ll be thinking of the Treaty of Versailles. It won’t lead to a new Hitler, but the risk of destabilizing the entire region is very real. Destroying a country is always a bad idea, destroying a member of your own union is much worse. And entirelu unnecessary too.

Greece Creditors Demand Legislation Of Reforms For 2018-19 (Kath.)

Eurozone finance ministers turned the heat up on Athens on Thursday, demanding that it legislates measures now for the period after 2018, when the country’s bailout ends, dashing the government’s hopes of a swift conclusion to the second review of its third bailout. The Eurogroup in Brussels, which the government hoped would pave the way for the return to Athens of the representatives of the country’s quartet of creditors to continue talks, was held just two days after the emphatic refusal by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to enact any further measures now. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said the demands by the IMF went “well beyond the European framework of democracy.”

“It’s not correct to ask a country in a program to legislate two to three years beforehand what it will do in 2019,” he said after the Eurogroup. Moreover, what is worrisome for the leftist-led government is that Greece appears to have lost the support of the European Commission, which aligned itself with the demands made by the IMF and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble for Athens to legislate measures now for the period after 2018. However, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said that completing the review is “in everybody’s interest,” adding that Greece’s creditors remain committed to continuing talks, and that eurozone finance ministers want to expedite procedures that will allow creditor representatives to return to Athens “as quick as possible.” The good news, he said, was that the Greek economy is recovering fiscally, and that state revenues were higher than expected.

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The only possible decision. Time for the EU to stand up for Greece. Yeah, right.

Greek Supreme Court Rules Against Extraditing Eight Turkish Soldiers (WSJ)

Greece’s Supreme Court rejected an extradition request for eight Turkish military officers who fled to Greece after a failed coup, a decision that Turkey warned would hurt the countries’ relations. The court ruled that the servicemen wouldn’t get a fair trial in Turkey and that their extradition could put their lives at risk while exposing them to torture or degrading treatment. The decision is final and cannot be appealed. “We protest this judgment which prevents these individuals who actively participated in the coup attempt which targeted the democratic order in Turkey, killed 248 members of our security forces and civilians, wounded 2193 of our citizens and attempted against the life of our President, to be brought before the independent Turkish judiciary,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a written statement in English.

The Turkish statement accused Greece of sheltering “putschists” and said it that in light of a decision “taken for political motives,” Turkey will evaluate bilateral ties, including cooperation against terrorism. The eight officers, with ranks up to the level of major, flew by helicopter to the northern Greek city of Alexandroupolis the day after the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey. The Turkish government requested the rapid extradition of the men, whom it has described as “traitors,” to face charges of trying to overthrow the democratic constitution. The eight men deny the charges. They say they were unaware of the coup attempt until it was under way and fled to Greece to escape violent reprisals against soldiers after the coup failed. Greek intellectuals and activists, including prominent author Apostolos Doxiadis, campaigned forcefully against the men’s extradition in recent weeks, turning the men’s plight into a high-profile political issue.

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Like Trump’s ‘safe places’. In other words, rebuild what you destroyed. Not going to happen. They’ll just throw billions at it and hope it disappears. It won’t. But then they can say they tried the best they could.

EU Looks To Camps In Africa To Cut Immigration (R.)

EU interior ministers will consider plans on Thursday to finance camps in Africa where the UN refugee agency and aid groups would process migrants to prevent them trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. The sea crossing from Libya to Italy, operated by people smugglers, is now the main route for migrants seeking better lives in wealthy Europe, but the EU wants to shut it down and admit only refugees. More than 4,500 people are known to have drowned last year alone trying to make the crossing. The European Union has deployed a naval mission in the Mediterranean and is training the Libyan coastguard to cut the numbers attempting the journey. Now it also wants to return migrants plucked from the sea to where they came from. “The idea is to send them to a safe place, without bringing them into Europe,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters as he arrived for the talks in the Maltese capital Valletta.

“The people taken up by the smugglers need to be saved and brought to a safe place, but then from this safe place outside Europe we would bring into Europe only those who require protection,” he said. The camps in Libya or its neighbors would be run by the UN refugee agency UNHCR or the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which would screen the migrants and help return those not eligible for asylum to their home countries. Most of those taking the Libya-Italy route are regarded as economic migrants with no chance of winning asylum in the EU. Since the influx of more than a million people in 2015, many of them fleeing the Syrian conflict, the EU has tightened border controls, making it increasingly hard for migrants and asylum seekers alike to enter the 28-nation bloc.

It is also offering money and assistance to countries along the migration routes in the hope that fewer people will seek to leave their homes or will be stopped on the way before they embark for Europe. The idea of financing camps in Africa enjoys wide political backing in the EU, but poses legal and security challenges. Libya sank into chaos following the 2011 overthrow of veteran ruler Muammar Gaddafi, and the new UN-backed government in Tripoli exercises no control over its territory. Such lawlessness means returning people to Libya would likely violate international law, which prohibits sending people back to a place where their lives could be in danger. That is why the EU needs the UNHCR and IOM to create sites there that could be deemed as meeting international humanitarian standards. It is an effort to replicate parts of existing agreements the EU has with Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, which host several million Syrian refugees in camps on their soil.

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“The German magazine Der Spiegel revealed a warning from the European commission that “under no circumstances” should the public learn what was said during talks held in March last year.”

Europe’s Crackdown On African Immigration Is Hitting Vulnerable Refugees (G.)

Documents cited in the Guardian on Monday showing that the UK government downplayed the risk of human rights abuses in Eritrea in an attempt to reduce asylum-seeker numbers are the latest indication of Britain’s determination to reduce African immigration. But this is a Europe-wide initiative, co-ordinated in Brussels. With French, German, Dutch and Italian elections later this year, there is intense pressure across the European Union to cut the flows of refugees and migrants across the Mediterranean. European plans to deal with the question have been veiled in secrecy, since they involve close cooperation with some of Africa’s most notorious dictatorships.

The German magazine Der Spiegel revealed a warning from the European commission that “under no circumstances” should the public learn what was said during talks held in March last year. A member of staff working for Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative for foreign affairs, warned of the risk to Europe’s reputation. Plans are being formulated under arrangements agreed between the EU and African leaders in Malta in November 2015. These called for close cooperation between European security services and those of African states. Among those around the table at Valletta were representatives of repressive regimes in Sudan (whose president, Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes) and Eritrea, which has been accused of crimes against humanity.

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Everybody accuses the other. Meanwhile, it’s going to be very cold again in Greece this weekend.

EU’s Mishandled Millions Not Reaching Refugees (DW)

On January 18, Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos. The reason for his visit was simple, if disheartening: a wave of bitterly cold weather had blanketed much of Greece in snow, and with it the country’s refugee camps. In the world’s richest continent, images emerged of refugees – many of them children, elderly or disabled -battling sub-zero temperatures with little more protection than tents and blankets. A few days earlier Ioannis Mouzalas, the country’s Minister for Migration, had stated, “No refugee or migrant is in the cold.” Avramopoulos called on authorities and NGOs to do more. Pointedly he noted that Greece was the single biggest recipient of EU Home Affairs funding, with €1 billion ($1.1 billion) made available over two years in financial support.

So where has the money gone? And why has the country proven unable to provide rudimentary living conditions for many of the roughly 50,000 refugees? The fact is that the €1 billion figure touted by Avramopoulos conflates a number of funds many of which have not yet been spent. Nevertheless the funds that have already been awarded to the government or NGOs remain substantial. Since the start of 2015, the Greek government, according to data from the European Commission and the Greek Ministry of Development, has absorbed 179 million euros of emergency funds from the Directorate General of Home Affairs (DG HOME). This is in addition to €60 million from the €509 million of long-term funding allocated to Greece for the period 2014-2020.

Meanwhile the UNHCR, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have received €175 million from DG HOME’s emergency funds. An additional €186 million of emergency funding has also been contracted to a number of major NGO’s for humanitarian assistance in Greece from the Directorate General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) for projects starting in 2016. An additional €500 million has been earmarked for this fund until 2018.

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Jan 142017
 
 January 14, 2017  Posted by at 9:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Arnold Genthe 17th century Iglesia el Carmen, Antigua, Guatemala 1915

Investors Are Bracing For A Massive Stock-Market Selloff (MW)
Trump Suggests He May Drop Russia Sanctions If Moscow ‘Is Helpful’ (G.)
Tucker Carlson and Glenn Greenwald Discuss Deep State War Vs. Trump (ZPN)
As VW Settles, Probes Open Into Fiat, Renault Emissions Test Cheating (BBG)
Senior VW Managers Warned Not To Travel To US (R.)
Tulsi (Midweek)
Generate Your Own Personalized Insulting Trump Tweets (TG)
Deutsche Bank Rejects Claims of ‘Economic Terror’ in Turkey (BBG)
Greek Supreme Court Rules Against Extradition of Turkish Officers (GR)
UNCHR Calls On Greece To Fix ‘Dire’ Situation For Migrants (Kath.)
Refugees, Migrants Dying Of Cold, ‘Dire’ Situation In Greece (R.)
Woman Dies From Superbug Resistant To All Available Antibiotics In US (CBS)

 

 

Trump volatility, sort of like an aftertaste of the Trump effect.

Investors Are Bracing For A Massive Stock-Market Selloff (MW)

If options traders are correct, stocks are in for a wild ride in February. Demand for one-month call options tied to the CBOE Volatility Index, a popular gauge of stock-market volatility, has spiked in the past week, a sign that some are bracing for a sharp downturn following the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump. In that time, investors have purchased 250,000 VIX call options with a strike price at 21, and another 100,000 with the strike at 22, according to Brian Bier, head of sales and trading at Macro Risk Advisors, an options brokerage. The options cost roughly 49 cents per contract, Bier said. By comparison, the CBOE Volatility Index was at 11.16 in midday trading on Friday as the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 were on track to record modest daily gains. It would take a massive selloff to make these options profitable, Bier said.

Call options represent bets that the level or price of a given asset or index will rise during a given time—in this case, the period between Friday and Feb. 15, when these options expire. Investors frequently use VIX futures and options as a hedge against volatility. That way, if stocks tank, they can offset some of those losses with the profits from their options trades. “Even in the current low volatility environment, we’ve seen a lot of people still looking at the VIX as a hedge,” Bier said. Since the beginning of the year, stock-market volatility has been relatively subdued despite increasing uncertainty surrounding the future direction of fiscal and monetary policy in the U.S. The Daily Shot, a popular market newsletter, illustrates this divergence in the chart below.

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The right thing to say.

Trump Suggests He May Drop Russia Sanctions If Moscow ‘Is Helpful’ (G.)

Donald Trump has suggested he might drop sanctions against Russia and that the communist party rulers in Beijing needed to show good faith on currency and trade practices before he committed to a “One China” policy on Taiwan. In fresh signs that the US president-elect is prepared to reshape longstanding Washington foreign policy, he told the Wall Street Journal that he would keep sanctions against Russia in place “at least for a period of time”. But he added: “If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?” Trump’s policy towards Russia is the subject of intense interest in Washington amid a Senate inquiry into allegations that the Kremlin ordered a hacking operation against the Democratic party to help the billionaire politician win the November election.

Trump – who has praised Vladimir Putin for being “very smart” – said he was willing to meet the Russian president in the months after he moves into the White House following his January 20 inauguration. “I understand that they would like to meet, and that’s absolutely fine with me,” he said. Controversy also surrounds the Trump administrations’s attitude towards China, with soon-to-be secretary of state Rex Tillerson warning Beijing this week that China would “not be allowed access” to its artificial islands in the South China Sea. Asked if he supported the “One China” policy on Taiwan that has underpinned US relations with Beijing for decades, Trump said: “Everything is under negotiation including ‘One China’,” the Journal reported.

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Who could have predicted a year ago that the Democrats would fall in love with the CIA, and Tucker and Glenn Greenwald would become friends?

Tucker Carlson and Glenn Greenwald Discuss Deep State War Vs. Trump (ZPN)

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who is not a fan of President-elect Trump, appeared on Tucker Carlson tonight to discuss the dangerous ongoing effort among powerful anti-Trump factions within the US Government’s “Deep State,” who have collaborated with members of the Democratic Party and the traditionally liberal media to inflict maximum damage on the incoming President. Recall Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s ominous “six ways from Sunday” comment from 10 days ago. Greenwald, an accomplished litigator, journalist, and author, does a masterful job illustrating the players, motives, and potential fallout from this dangerous effort within the US Government’s intelligence apparatus. Greenwald goes deep, discussing how Trump’s election ruined the plan for regime change in Syria, specifically mentioning, among other things, that the deep state was waiting for Obama to leave office before executing their plan:

“The number one foreign policy priority of the CIA over the last four to five years has been the proxy war they’re waging in Syria to remove Bashar Al Assad – and Hillary Clinton was quite critical of Obama for constraining them. She wanted to escalate that war to unleash the CIA, to impose a no-fly zone in Syria to confront Russia, whereas Trump took the exact opposite position. He said we have no business in Syria trying to change the government, we ought to let the Russia and Assad go free and killing ISIS and Al Quaeda and whoever else they want to kill. He [Trump] was a threat to the CIA’s primary institutional priority of regime change in Syria.

Beyond that, Clinton wanted a much more confrontational and belligerent posture towards Moscow, which the CIA has been acrimonious with for decades, whereas Trump wanted better relations. They viewed Trump as a threat to their institutional pre-eminence to their ability to get their agenda imposed on Washington. What you’re seeing is actually quite dangerous. There really is at this point obvious open warefare between this un-elected, but very powerful faction that resides in Washington and sees Presidents come and go – on the one hand, and the person that the American democracy elected to be elected on the other. There’s clearly extreme conflict and subversion taking place.”

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[Fiat] CEO Sergio Marchionne called the allegations “unadulterated hogwash.”

I said when this broke in late 2015 that it was unpossible that VW’s competitors would not have known. Nobody had succeeded in making ‘clean’ engines’. Then VW claims it has. So the others go out, buy a VW car and take it completely apart, including software. They knew. Simple as that. And some will have used that knowledge.

As VW Settles, Probes Open Into Fiat, Renault Emissions Test Cheating (BBG)

Pressure weighing on the global auto industry for more than a year finally appeared to ease on Wednesday as Volkswagen agreed to $4.3 billion in fines for cheating on emissions tests, largely putting the scandal to rest. Less than a day later, the outlook darkened again as Renault and Fiat Chrysler were hit with similar allegations of violating clean-air regulations. Paris prosecutors, who raided Renault a year ago in an initial emissions investigation, opened a probe into the automaker on Thursday. About the same time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accused Fiat Chrysler of installing software in 104,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ram 1500 pickups that allowed them to exceed pollution limits on the road. The Justice Department also is investigating Fiat Chrysler over its diesel emissions, according to people familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reported Friday.

Both companies denied using software like Volkswagen’s, which was designed to lower emissions to legal limits when it senses the car is being tested and then easing pollution controls on the road to improve performance. Nonetheless, the prospect of a fight with authorities sent shares of the two automakers tumbling. Fiat fell 16% on Thursday before clawing back some of those losses today after CEO Sergio Marchionne called the allegations “unadulterated hogwash.” Renault lost as much as 6% in Paris trading Friday morning, its sharpest drop since June, after word of the probe filtered out. The shares finished the day down 3.2%.

[..] “There will be many more probes,” said Matthias Holweg, a management professor at Oxford University’s Said Business School. “The scope for manipulation is very present for every car company.” Renault, whose biggest shareholder is the French government with a 20% stake, says it hasn’t received any official notification about the latest developments in the probe, which French prosecutors announced in a brief statement on Friday. The company insists its vehicles comply with French and European Union legislation and aren’t equipped with software to cheat on emissions.

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There must be a lot of data on them then.

Senior VW Managers Warned Not To Travel To US (R.)

Senior Volkswagen managers have been warned not to travel to the United States, legal and company sources told Reuters, after six current and former managers were indicted for their role in the German carmaker’s diesel test-cheating scheme. One of the six charged, Oliver Schmidt, was arrested at Miami International Airport on Saturday as he was about to fly home from holiday in Cuba. Schmidt, who is caught up in the “Dieselgate” investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, was ordered to be charged and held without bail on Thursday pending trial. Under the constitution, German citizens can be extradited only to other European Union countries or to an international court.

But leaving Germany at all could pose a risk of being extradited to the United States from a third country. “Several Volkswagen managers have been advised not to travel to the United States,” one legal adviser to Volkswagen said on condition of anonymity because the matter is confidential. A second legal adviser said this also applied to managers who had not yet been charged with any offense in the United States. “One doesn’t need to test the limits,” the adviser said. Schmidt was among those who had been warned by lawyers working for the company not to travel to the United States, one of the legal sources said.

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I’m still hoping she takes a job with Trump. If only as an antidote to all the hysteria emanating from Washington.

Tulsi (Midweek)

Tulsi Gabbard has had a banner year. She resigned as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, broke ranks with her colleagues in Hawaii’s congressional delegation by throwing her support to Bernie Sanders rather than Hillary Clinton, drew the largest applause at the Hawaii Democratic Party Convention, and entered the national spotlight by putting Sanders’ name in nomination at the Democratic National Convention in August. But Gabbard wasn’t done. Following Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the last half-century’s most vile campaign, she was invited to Trump Tower to meet with the president-elect. Worse in the eyes of some of the bluest of blue Democrats, she accepted the invitation. Gabbard offers no apologies, starting with the Trump meeting.

“He invited me to talk about Syria,” she says. “I’ve been focused on Syria for a long time. It’s a counterproductive regime-change war. “We had an hour-long, very substantive discussion about Syria and the Middle East. On some things we seemed to agree, on others we didn’t. I think the issue provides an opportunity for bipartisanship.” Nor does Gabbard have second thoughts about her support for Sanders. “I don’t make decisions based on political expediency,” she insists. “I supported him because of his positions on the issues, particularly on foreign policy. He opposed destructive regime-change wars, like Iraq and Syria. He called for Wall Street reform, reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act. I thought he was right on trade, opposing the Pacific Partnership that, like NAFTA, undermines our sovereignty.”

Nor to those who feel that, as a woman, she should have been supporting Clinton: “I’m offended that I must think with my gender regarding the candidacy of Hillary Clinton for president. I’m interested in the issues.” For Gabbard, a major in the Hawaii National Guard and veteran of two deployments to the Middle East, “issues of war and peace can’t be dealt with like other issues. I’ve seen firsthand the cost of war, the deaths of fellow soldiers — the billions of dollars spent on regime-change wars that could have been used for our own domestic needs. “That’s why I supported Bernie Sanders. That’s why I took the meeting with Trump. I wanted to share my views on these subjects, to get to him before the neoconservative voices get behind another regime-change war.”

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Some things in life are inevitable.

Generate Your Own Personalized Insulting Trump Tweets (TG)

Have Trump insult your friends!

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The Turkish lira is getting hammered. Erdogan needs scapegoats.

Deutsche Bank Rejects Claims of ‘Economic Terror’ in Turkey (BBG)

Deutsche Bank’s Turkish unit rejected claims by a pro-government newspaper that it’s plotting to undermine the economy, and said it’s “unacceptable” for the lender’s name to be associated with terrorism. The daily Yeni Safak on Thursday reported that Deutsche Bank and other German institutions were attempting “economic terror” against Turkey by recalling loans to companies before their their due dates. It didn’t identify the debtors or the other German institutions. “Claims in the story about calling loans before their maturity and conducting operations in coordination with other institutions are totally groundless,” the lender’s Istanbul-based business said in an e-mailed statement Friday. Deutsche Bank hadn’t been approached for comment before the publication of the article, it said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his aides often invoke a conspiracy against Turkey by outside powers when the lira declines, saying other nations are jealous of the country’s economic growth under his leadership. On Thursday, Erdogan accused Turkey’s enemies of speculating in the lira and called on Turks to “thwart these games” by selling their holdings in other currencies. Deutsche Bank, which has been in Turkey since 1987, employs 143 people at its Turkish unit, which posted net income of 72.5 million lira ($19.2 million) at the end of 2015, according to its annual report. It’s not the first time that Deutsche Bank has attracted the fury of the Turkish press. In January 2014, the German lender denied local reports that it deliberately drove down shares of a Turkish state-run lender that had been implicated in a corruption scandal.

Deutsche Bank said most of the shares it processed in that episode were owned by its clients, and it wasn’t trading sufficient volumes to affect the company’s share price. More recently, the Frankfurt-based institution figured in a different way in government rhetoric. At the height of the bank’s share slide and capital concerns last September, Yigit Bulut, a chief adviser to Erdogan, said Turkey should consider buying Deutsche Bank. “Some very good companies in the EU are going to fall into trouble and we need to be ready to buy a controlling stake in them,” Bulut wrote on Twitter. “Wouldn’t you be happy to make Germany’s biggest bank into a Turkish Bank!!”

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How to make friends with Erdogan. Politicians can still overrule this, but that’s a slippery slope.

Greek Supreme Court Rules Against Extradition of Turkish Officers (GR)

Supreme Court prosecutor Nikos Pantelis on Friday suggested that the remaining four Turkish army officers who sought asylum in Greece should not be extradited to Turkey. The four Turkish military men are part of a group of eight who fled to Greece after the July 15 failed coup attempt in the neighboring country and request asylum. Earlier in the week, the Supreme Court also ruled against the extradition of the other four. Nikos Pantelis cited the risk of torture and the prospect of an unfair trial in Turkey as the key reasons behind his recommendation that Greek authorities refuse Ankara’s extradition request. Earlier this week, in two separate sessions at the Supreme Court, two other prosecutors also opposed extradition for the other four men, citing the same concerns.

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Question: what is the UNCHR doing to help? Who got paid to winterize the camps but didn’t deliver?

UNCHR Calls On Greece To Fix ‘Dire’ Situation For Migrants (Kath.)

Governments along the Western Balkan route into the European Union must do more to help migrants and refugees who are dying in the cold winter weather rather than just violently push them back from the border, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Friday, adding that the “situation in Greece is dire.” “Children are particularly prone to respiratory illnesses at a time like this,” said UNICEF spokesperson Sarah Crowe at a UN briefing in Geneva, while the UNHCR called for the transfer of some 1,000 people, including children, who are living outdoors in tents with no heating on the island of Samos to shelters on the Greek mainland.

Meanwhile, locals on the island of Lesvos are reportedly dismayed by the presence of the Lesvos, a navy vessel which has become a temporary shelter for just 40 asylum seekers. In a letter to Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas, the island’s mayor, Spyros Galinos, called for the transfer of a sizable number of asylum seekers from camps on Lesvos in order to “finally decongest the island.” Galinos accused Mouzalas of transforming the port into a reception center and slammed what he described as the minister’s failed policies which have had “tragic consequences for the island.” Despite the presence of the vessel, migrants at the Moria camp are refusing to move there as they prefer to remain close to the nearby Asylum Service to get information and updates on their applications.

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The deaths of 5-6 human beings have been, let’s say, underreported so far. Wonder why.

Refugees, Migrants Dying Of Cold, ‘Dire’ Situation In Greece (R.)

Refugees and migrants are dying in Europe’s cold snap and governments must do more to help them rather than pushing them back from borders and subjecting them to violence, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday. “Children are particularly prone to respiratory illnesses at a time like this. It’s about saving lives, not about red tape and keeping to bureaucratic arrangements,” Sarah Crowe, a spokeswoman for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF told a U.N. briefing in Geneva. “The dire situation right now is Greece.” UNHCR spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly cited five deaths so far from cold and said about 1,000 people including children were in unheated tents and dormitories on the Greek island of Samos, calling for them to be transferred to shelter on the mainland.

Hundreds of others had been moved to better accommodation on the islands of Lesbos and Chios in the past few days. In Serbia, about 80% of the 7,300 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are staying in heated government shelters, but 1,200 men were sleeping rough in informal sites in Belgrade. The bodies of two Iraqi men and a young Somali woman were found close to the Turkish border in Bulgaria and two Somali teenagers were hospitalized with frostbite after five days in a forest, Pouilly said. The body of a young Pakistani man was found along the same border in late December. A 20-year-old Afghan man died after crossing the Evros River on the Greece-Turkey land border at night when temperatures were below -10 degrees Celsius.

The body of a young Pakistani man was found on the Turkish side of the border with Bulgaria. “Given the harsh winter conditions, we are particularly concerned by reports that authorities in all countries along the Western Balkans route continue to push back refugees and migrants from inside their territory to neighboring countries,” Pouilly said. Some refugees and migrants said police subjected them to violence and many said their phones were confiscated or destroyed, preventing them from calling for help, she said. “Some even reported items of clothing being confiscated thus further exposing them to the harsh winter conditions,” she said. “These practices are simply unacceptable and must be stopped.”

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“This is not some future, fantasized armageddon threat..”

Woman Dies From Superbug Resistant To All Available Antibiotics In US (CBS)

A Nevada woman has died from an infection resistant to all available antibiotics in the United States, public health officials report. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the woman’s condition was deemed incurable after being tested against 26 different antibiotics. Though this isn’t the first case of pan-resistant bacteria in the U.S., at this time it is still uncommon. Still, experts note that antibiotic resistance is a growing health concern globally and call the newly reported case “a wake up call.” “This is the latest reminder that yes, antibiotic resistance is real,” Dr. James Johnson, a professor specializing in infectious diseases at the University of Minnesota Medical School, told CBS News. “This is not some future, fantasized armageddon threat that maybe will happen after our lifetime. This is now, it’s real, and it’s here.”

According to the report, the woman from Washoe County was in her 70s and had recently returned to America after an extended trip to India. She had been hospitalized there several times before being admitted to an acute care hospital in Nevada in mid-August. Doctors discovered the woman was infected with carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), which is a family of germs that CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden has called “nightmare bacteria” due to the danger it poses for spreading antibiotic resistance. The woman had a specific type of CRE, called Klebsiella pneumoniae, which can lead to a number of illnesses, including pneumonia, blood stream infections, and meningitis. In early September, she developed septic shock and died. The authors of the report highlight the need for doctors and hospitals to ask incoming patients about recent travel and if they have been hospitalized elsewhere.

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Jan 132017
 
 January 13, 2017  Posted by at 10:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edgar Degas Dancers in Blue 1895

Assange Agrees To Extradition If US Releases Chelsea Manning (AFP)
China Posts Worst Export Fall Since 2009 As Fears Of US Trade War Loom (R.)
Fiat Chrysler Shares Plunge 13% After EPA Cheat Software Accusation (CNBC)
Wages For Lowest-Paid UK Men Have Been Stagnant For Two Decades (Ind.)
Abolish Central Banks And Slay The Zombies (Planet Ponzi)
WHO Warns Of Outbreak Of Virulent New ‘Economic Reality’ Virus (Steve Keen)
The Utter Stupidity Of The New Cold War (SCF)
Obama’s “Farewell To Arms” As War Presidency Ends (SCF)
Massive Security Preparations Under Way For Inauguration (Fox)
Germany’s Schaeuble Urges ECB To Start Unwinding Stimulus This Year (CNBC)
Germany To Return New Asylum Seekers To Greece From March (AFP)
Greece’s Healthcare System: Train Wreck In Slow Motion (Occupy)
Weitergeleiteter Spendenaufruf für Griechenland (Das Gelbe Forum)

 

 

What does it say about us if our best and brightest feel compelled to sacrifice themselves? Where is this going to leave us? Where would we be without Assange, Snowden and Manning? Certainly not in a better place.

Assange Agrees To Extradition If US Releases Chelsea Manning (AFP)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will agree to be extradited to the United States if President Barack Obama grants clemency to the former US soldier Chelsea Manning, jailed for leaking documents, the company said on Thursday. “If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ (US Department of Justice) case,” WikiLeaks wrote on Twitter. Assange has been living in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations. The Australian former computer hacker said he fears Stockholm will in turn extradite him to the US, where he angered Washington over WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of US military and diplomatic documents leaked by former US soldier Manning.

Manning is currently serving a 35-year sentence in solitary confinement for handing over the 700,000 sensitive documents from the US State Department. Supporters of the transgender soldier are putting their hopes in a pardon by Obama before he leaves office later this month, although the White House has said the president will not be granting her clemency. Manning has already made two suicide attempts and currently has an appeal pending before a military court. Washington has maintained the threat of prosecuting Assange over the 2010 leak, though no charges have been filed. WikiLeaks’ post on Twitter was accompanied by a letter addressed to US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in which Assange’s lawyer Barry Pollack argues there is no legitimate basis for continuing the investigation into the WikiLeaks founder.

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“The trend of anti-globalization is becoming increasingly evident, and China is the biggest victim of this trend..”

China Posts Worst Export Fall Since 2009 As Fears Of US Trade War Loom (R.)

China’s massive export engine sputtered for the second year in a row in 2016, with shipments falling in the face of persistently weak global demand and officials voicing fears of a trade war with the United States that is clouding the outlook for 2017. In one week, China’s leaders will see if President-elect Donald Trump makes good on a campaign pledge to brand Beijing a currency manipulator on his first day in office, and starts to follow up on a threat to slap high tariffs on Chinese goods. Even if the Trump administration takes no concrete action immediately, analysts say the specter of deteriorating U.S.-China trade and political ties is likely to weigh on the confidence of exporters and investors worldwide.

The world’s largest trading nation posted gloomy data on Friday, with 2016 exports falling 7.7% and imports down 5.5%. The export drop was the second annual decline in a row and the worst since the depths of the global crisis in 2009. It will be tough for foreign trade to improve this year, especially if the inauguration of Trump and other major political changes limit the growth of China’s exports due to greater protectionist measures, the country’s customs agency said on Friday. “The trend of anti-globalization is becoming increasingly evident, and China is the biggest victim of this trend,” customs spokesman Huang Songping told reporters. “We will pay close attention to foreign trade policy after Trump is inaugurated president,” Huang said.

China’s trade surplus with the United States was $366 billion in 2015, according to U.S. customs data, which Trump could seize on in a bid to bring Beijing to the negotiating table to press for concessions, economists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a recent research note. A sustained trade surplus of more than $20 billion against the United States is one of three criteria used by the U.S. Treasury to designate another country as a currency manipulator. China is likely to point out that its own data showed the surplus fell to $250.79 billion in 2016 from $260.91 billion in 2015, but that may get short shrift in Washington. “Our worry is that Trump’s stance towards China’s trade could bring about long-term structural weakness in China’s exports,” economists at ANZ said in a note.

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And now for the rest…

Fiat Chrysler Shares Plunge 13% After EPA Cheat Software Accusation (CNBC)

Shares of Fiat Chrysler fell Thursday after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accused the automaker of using software that allowed excess diesel emissions in about 104,000 vehicles. The U.S.-listed shares of Fiat Chrysler plunged as much as 19% Thursday after Reuters first reported the news. The automaker’s stock was briefly halted after the EPA made the announcement. The stock later recovered some of those losses and ended the day about 10% lower. The agency alleged Fiat Chrysler violated the Clean Air Act by installing and failing to disclose “engine management software in light-duty model year 2014, 2015 and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3.0 liter diesel engines sold in the United States.”

The undisclosed software results increased nitrogen oxide emissions from the vehicles, the EPA said. The Justice Department is reportedly working with the EPA on this issue. The company could be liable for civil penalties and injunctive relief for the alleged violations, the EPA said. It said it is also investigating whether the auxiliary emission control devices constitute “defeat devices,” which are illegal. On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement he was deeply troubled by the evidence the EPA presented. “My office was proud to take a leading role in the multi-state investigation of Volkswagen that uncovered flagrant abuses of New York’s environmental laws and, in the case of VW, a culture of corruption that enabled blatantly illegal conduct to persist over many years,” he said.

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Huge move towards part-time work.

Wages For Lowest-Paid UK Men Have Been Stagnant For Two Decades (Ind.)

Pay for the poorest fifth of men has been flat for twenty years, according to a new report for the Institute for Fiscal Studies. At the same time the proportion of this low-paid group working part time, rather than full time, has shot up from 10% to 25% over the same period. The research helps explain what has become something of an inequality puzzle in the UK, in which official headline gauges have shown flat-lining income inequality since the early 1990s and yet there is simultaneously a widespread impression that inequality has been rising strongly.

The IFS research shows that average inflation-adjusted annualised weekly pay growth for the lowest fifth of the male income distribution was zero or less between 1994-95 and 2014-15, while for men further up the income distribution real weekly pay has grown. And while part-time work among the lowest paid men has ballooned, rates have not changed for better paid men. This all means that among working men wage inequality has increased over the past two decades. “The rise in household earnings inequality has been the product of a complex set of interactions between trends in hours and wages for men and women, but it is largely due to a rise in male earnings inequality,” said the IFS report.

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Mitch with the obvious.

Abolish Central Banks And Slay The Zombies (Planet Ponzi)

Have the [BOE]-enabled grotesque bubbles in the bond, stock and property markets or the eight years of “temporary emergency measures” and zero-interest-rate policies created infrastructure investment? Job creation? Savings? No, no and no. It has killed savers, students and seniors while generating record bonuses for chief executives. While earnings may have peaked almost 18 months ago, stock prices keep bubbling and wealth inequality continues to surge to record highs — along with homelessness and underemployment. Will Carney blame Brexit, Putin or Trump for the upcoming problems? Why not? Certainly, extreme valuations enabled by the Bank recklessly allowing debt, credit and leverage to skyrocket out of this universe had nothing to do with the coming collapse — nothing to see here, look away.

It is not only the UK but also global central bank policies that have broken our financial system beyond repair. The world’s oldest bank, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, founded in 1472, is now an insolvent zombie bank thanks to the handiwork of JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank and Nomura. They sold Monte billions of dollars of derivative trades it did not understand. These predictably exploded, leaving the bank bust. JPMorgan, Deutsche and Nomura made a fortune — and Monte’s shareholders and depositors, and EU taxpayers, will get slammed with the massive bailout tab. The new normal is apparently a world of financial fraud where the only rules which apply are too big to fail, bail or jail and too connected to prosecute —steal all you can, while you can, with impunity.

After the financial crisis, I wrote extensively exposing the toxic “culture of fraud” at Deutsche, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, RBS, Lloyds and Barclays. So what was done? Can you guess the number of staff at these banks jailed for the numerous frauds committed during the Great Financial Crises? Zero. That’s not capitalism! Capitalism doesn’t have zero accountability or zero transparency. This is ethically, financially and socially wrong. Much of it is also, in my opinion, illegal and should be punished by long jail terms. No need for new regulation — we need to enforce existing rules rather than repeatedly turning a blind eye.

Market manipulation by central banks has destroyed price discovery in every asset class and market. This has crushed the basic concept of capitalism. Central banks now pick winners and losers rather than letting free markets decide. The Swiss National Bank holds $140 billion in stocks, including shares in Apple, Google and Amazon. Valuations, growth projections and normal business cycles are all unnecessary. The central banking bubble factory forces investors to chase yields resulting in zombie corporations and zombie banks that inhibit growth, infrastructure spending and the creation of productive assets.

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‘The WHO therefore recommends complete avoidance of “Reality” as the only effective strategy for those wishing to remain as Mainstream Economists’.

WHO Warns Of Outbreak Of Virulent New ‘Economic Reality’ Virus (Steve Keen)

The WHO today warned of a virulent new virus affecting vulnerable groups in the Mid-West and Eastern USA. The outbreak, which began in the Mid-West’s extensive Great Lakes ‘Freshwater’ river system, has recently jumped the ‘Saltwater’ barrier, meaning that the entire population of its target species – ‘Mainstream’ economists – is now at risk. Speaking on behalf of the WHO, Dr Cahuc explained that the virus works by turning off the one genetic marker that distinguishes this species from the rest of its genus, the Human Race. This is the so-called ‘Milton’ gene (Friedman 1953), which goes dormant in other Humans as they pass through puberty. Its inactivity reduces their imaginative capacity, making it impossible for them to continue believing in such endearing infantile fantasies as the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. While regrettable, this drop in imagination is necessary to prepare Humans for the adult phase of their existence.

‘Professor Milton Friedman found a way to re-activate this gene during PhD training, using his “as if” gene splicing technique’, Dr Zylberberg elaborated. ‘This enabled a wonderful outpouring of imaginative beliefs by Mainstream Economists, which gave birth to concepts like NAIRU, Money Neutrality, Rational Expectations, and eventually even DSGE models. This wealth of imagination was regarded by Mainstream Economists as a more than sufficient compensation for returning to the child-like phase of the Human species.’ The Milton gene conferred other advantages on Mainstream Economists, which have been highly important to their success in competition against their rival species, the Heterodox Economists. ‘Being endowed with a child-like nature, the arguments of Mainstream Economists were treated with the low level of critical evaluation that adult humans normally reserve for conversations with their infant stage’, said Dr Cahuc.

‘This made their policy recommendations much more likely to be adopted, instead of the more complicated proposals put forward by their niche rivals’, he said. The new virus – named ‘Reality’ – de-activates the Milton gene once more. ‘Consequently’, Dr Cahuc warned, ‘the very beliefs that define this unique species are at risk. Unless we are very careful, it may become extinct!’. Unfortunately, there is as yet no known cure to this virus. ‘The WHO therefore recommends complete avoidance of “Reality” as the only effective strategy for those wishing to remain as Mainstream Economists’, Dr Cahuc concluded. However, this strategy is made extremely difficult by one cunning characteristic of the Reality virus: after an initial phase of disorientation and distress, its sufferers begin to experience pleasure, and actually want to pass the virus on to others. ‘Its transmission mechanism is a particularly insidious aspect of this disease’, Dr Cahuc lamented.

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Amen.

The Utter Stupidity Of The New Cold War (SCF)

It seems so strange, twenty-seven years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to be living through a new Cold War with (as it happens, capitalist) Russia. The Russian president is attacked by the U.S. political class and media as they never attacked Soviet leaders; he is personally vilified as a corrupt, venal dictator, who arrests or assassinates political opponents and dissident journalists, and is hell-bent on the restoration of the USSR. (The latter claim rests largely on Vladimir Putin’s comment that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a “catastrophe” and “tragedy” – which in many respects it was. The press chooses to ignore his comment that “Anyone who does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart, while anyone who wants to restore it has no brain.” It conflicts with the simple talking-point that Putin misses the imperial Russia of the tsars if not the commissars and, burning with resentment over the west’s triumph in the Cold War, plans to exact revenge through wars of aggression and territorial expansion.)

The U.S. media following its State Department script depicts Russia as an expansionist power. That it can do so, so successfully, such that even rather progressive people—such as those appalled by Trump’s victory who feel inclined to blame it on an external force—believe it, is testimony to the lingering power and utility of the Cold War mindset. The military brass keep reminding us: We are up against an existential threat! One wants to say that this — obviously — makes no sense! Russia is twice the size of the U.S. with half its population. Its foreign bases can be counted on two hands. The U.S. has 800 or so bases abroad. Russia’s military budget is 14% of the U.S. figure. It does not claim to be the exceptional nation appointed by God to preserve “security” on its terms anywhere on the globe.

Since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the U.S. has waged war (sometimes creating new client-states) in Bosnia (1994-5), Serbia (1999), Afghanistan (2001- ), Iraq (2003- ), Libya (2011), and Syria (2014- ), while raining down drone strikes from Pakistan to Yemen to North Africa. These wars-based-on-lies have produced hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, millions of refugees, and general ongoing catastrophe throughout the “Greater Middle East.” There is no understating their evil. The U.S. heads an expanding military alliance formed in 1949 to confront the Soviet Union and global communism in general. Its raison d’être has been dead for many years. Yet it has expanded from 16 to 28 members since 1999, and new members Estonia and Latvia share borders with Russia. (Imagine the Warsaw Pact expanding to include Mexico. But no, the Warsaw Pact of the USSR and six European allies was dissolved 26 years ago in the idealistic expectation that NATO would follow in a new era of cooperation and peace.)

And this NATO alliance, in theory designed to defend the North Atlantic, was only first deployed after the long (and peaceful) first Cold War, in what had been neutral Yugoslavia (never a member of either the Warsaw Pact nor NATO), Afghanistan (over 3000 miles from the North Atlantic), and the North African country of Libya. Last summer NATO held its most massive military drills since the collapse of the Soviet Union, involving 31,000 troops in Poland, rehearsing war with Russia. (The German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier actually criticized this exercise as “warmongering.”)

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it’s time to let this sink in. Tearful goodbyes or not.

Obama’s “Farewell To Arms” As War Presidency Ends (SCF)

Eight straight years of warmongering come to an end as US President Barack Obama bows out with his «farewell to the nation» speech this week, as fawning American media dubbed his valediction. In reality, Obama’s outgoing address should have been billed as a «farewell to arms» made by arguably one of the most belligerent presidents to ever have occupied the White House. Only in exceptionally delusional America could such a pernicious paradox be presented as something honorable and sentimental. Obama, the 44th US president, may have been the first black president and winner of a Nobel peace prize during his first year in office in 2009. But apart from those dubious accolades – championed by supposedly liberal Hollywood celebrities and media pundits – his actual record in office is one of blood-soaked disgrace.

Instead of ending American overseas wars as he had promised back in 2008, Obama expanded on his predecessor George W Bush’s criminal foreign interventions. At least seven countries – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia – have been routinely bombed under Obama’s watch as the US Commander-in-Chief. That’s one repugnant record. Last year alone, the US military reportedly dropped over 26,000 bombs around the world killing countless thousands of people, the exact number buried under official secrecy and American mainstream media indifference. At that rate, American anti-war campaigner Medea Benjamin estimates that US forces deployed three bombs every hour of every day for the whole of 2016. This death from the skies included Obama’s personal ordering of drone assassinations during his weekly Terror Tuesday briefings from Pentagon chiefs, the use of which increased 10-fold under his command, killing thousands of innocent civilians as «collateral damage».

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Could be quite the party.

Massive Security Preparations Under Way For Inauguration (Fox)

The stage is set for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration – not just the traditional swearing-in platform on Capitol Hill, but a massive security presence amid protest plans to “shut down” the nation’s capital. Most crowd estimates for the Jan. 20 festivities are far short of the record-setting 1.8 million visitors for President Obama’s historic 2009 inauguration. But the throngs of spectators and protesters alike are enough to create transit, security and hospitality challenges. “Security is my greatest concern,” Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt, chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, recently said. “No question that on inaugural day, this would be the most appealing target in the world.” He suggested the city could have as many as 750,000 demonstrators alone.

More than three-dozen law enforcement agencies are working together on security and safety plans in anticipation, including the Capitol Police, FBI, Secret Service and National Guard. Roughly 7,500 Guardsmen from across the country will come to Washington, along with about 3,000 police officers from various states, with the Secret Service taking the lead on security. Essentially everybody involved already is rehearsing for the big weekend, which kicks off next Friday morning with the swearings-in on the Capitol’s West Front, followed by official events including the traditional parade on Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and the inaugural balls. The Joint Task Force – National Capital Region – 58th Presidential Inauguration has held several “table top” sessions in which agencies plot strategy over a large-scale, three-dimensional map.

“It’s a rehearsal, but in the military we call it a drill,” Navy Cmdr. Jonathan Blyth, the group’s spokesman, told FoxNews.com on Wednesday. “We’ve been preparing for this since the last inauguration. We’re focused to protecting and honoring a new commander in chief.” The task force and its Capitol Hill counterpart are holding a “dress rehearsal” this weekend for the swearings-in, the Presidential Review of troops and the parade along the roughly 2.5-mile stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue. Several protest groups planning large-scale demonstrations have permits in place and have already held organizational meetings, among them the collaborative DisruptJ20. “We’re planning a series of massive, direct actions that will shut down the inauguration ceremonies and any related celebrations,” the group says. “We’re also planning to paralyze the city.”

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“Schaeuble and other German lawmakers have warned the ECB risks fuelling support for eurosceptic parties..” No, it’s Schaeuble who fuels that support.

Germany’s Schaeuble Urges ECB To Start Unwinding Stimulus This Year (CNBC)

The ECB should start unwinding its ultra-loose monetary policy this year, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in an interview to be published on Friday, adding that it would not be easy. “The ECB will have the tough task of getting out of the ultra-expansionary monetary policy,” Schaeuble told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “It would presumably be right if the ECB dared to exit this year”. Schaeuble added it was “possible and necessary” for the next government to lower taxes after Germany’s general election in September. He said forecasts that inflation could reach 3% in Germany this year would exacerbate concerns about current low interest rates. While admitting he was no fan of the ECB’s monetary policy, he added, “The ECB has a mandate for the eurozone, and it carries it out well.”

Schaeuble said the core issue was that a number of eurozone countries had not been able to boost competitiveness as required. “The problem is the weakness of the other countries, not Germany’s strength,” he said. The conservative minister said it would take a great effort to convince German citizens that the common currency provided more employment, social and business benefits than risks and negative consequences. To help Germany make the argument, he said it was essential that Italy and other countries stuck to the agreed rules. Schaeuble’s deputy Jens Spahn told Reuters last week that a “prudent start to the exit” of the ECB’s expansive monetary policy was desirable. The ECB aims for inflation of just under 2%, but it has undershot its target for years. To fight off deflation, the central bank has cut interest rates to zero and launched a massive but controversial bond-buying programme. Schaeuble and other German lawmakers have warned the ECB risks fuelling support for eurosceptic parties if it does not change course soon.

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There are new lows to be achieved out there. But go ahead, this too will make the EU crumble.

Germany To Return New Asylum Seekers To Greece From March (AFP)

Germany will begin returning asylum seekers to Greece from mid-March, an interior ministry spokesman told AFP on Thursday, essentially lifting a five-year suspension on such transfers because of poor conditions there. Under the EU’s so-called Dublin rules, would-be refugees must file for asylum in the first member-state of the bloc they enter, often the Mediterranean nations of Greece and Italy. If asylum seekers have travelled on to other EU nations, they are to be returned to their first port of call. But that requirement had been halted for Greece, which together with Italy has been the main point of entry for the more than one million immigrants who have entered the bloc since 2015 fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

A German interior ministry spokesman told AFP that Germany would reinstate the Dublin rule in two months’ time and return newly arrived asylum seekers to their first EU port of call. “In line with the recommendation from the European Commission, Germany believes that such transfers will be possible from March 15th,” said the spokesman, Tobias Plate. The EU recommended on December 8th that member states resume sending asylum seekers back to Greece from March next year, after such transfers were halted since 2011. Athens has criticized the EU’s assessment, with Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas saying the current legal framework was “unable to respond to the historic migration flows and leaves the burden to the member states that migrants first arrive in”.

German refugee relief group Pro Asyl has also raised concerns, warning that the measure would put the asylum system in Greece, a country still recovering from a deep debt and economic crisis, under further pressure. Photos of refugees living in tents amid heavy snowfall in Greece caused outrage recently, and the European Commission on Monday called such conditions “untenable”.

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This is just too sad.

Greece’s Healthcare System: Train Wreck In Slow Motion (Occupy)

In 2014, the Greek health department cut off its cancer screening prevention program, despite a number of warnings issued by professionals both within the country and abroad that such an action would lead to an explosion in otherwise preventable cases turning serious. According to a statement by Evgenia Thanou, general manager for Doctors of the World, “There are people with tumors who can’t afford the cost of chemotherapy, which costs €2,500 for a single dose. As a result there are people who have died because they have not been able to get the correct treatment from the point of diagnosis.” The rationale was that the budget cutbacks, in the range of 55%, would only take place on a short term basis, just long enough to allow for the country to recuperate from recently imposed austerity measures.

Charges for outpatient visits were also increased by 50% per visit, and almost 200 medicines were de-stocked by pharmacies. A further consequence was the artificial drug shortage, caused by companies like Novo Nordisk, which halted insulin shipments to Greece unless the retail prices were raised in a supposed effort to curb hoarding and black market export by professionals. Almost three years later, this policy is still in effect. The result was the gradual closure of 850 medical clinics, both in the capital Athens as well as in the countryside. Ten thousand beds have been shut down across the country, and 30,000 healthcare professionals removed from frontline positions. Those who remained saw their wages cut by at least 50%.

Among 11 hospitals that have shut down, three are psychiatric while the rest include rural clinics in remote parts of the country, leaving locals without access to a professional in the event of an emergency. The crisis led to the creation of numerous volunteer healthcare organizations in 2015, but their contributions couldn’t put a dent in the number of patients unable to afford any healthcare options. That same year saw the mass migration of thousands of recently graduated or established Greek healthcare professionals across Europe, with almost 4,000 headed for Germany and the Nordic countries seeking steadier employment in a more welcoming professional environment. The results of the brain drain haven’t yet been entirely felt, but experts agree the long-term effects could cripple the country’s prospects for decades to come.

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Taking my Automatic Earth for Athens fund directly to Germany.

Weitergeleiteter Spendenaufruf für Griechenland (Das Gelbe Forum)

Raul Ilargi Meijer von The Automatic Earth ist wieder in Athen und versucht, die schwierigen Bedingungen zu erleichtern, die in Griechenland bestehen. Die Aufmerksamkeit der Medien und der Welt ist abgelenkt, obwohl sich selbst diese Bedingungen zunehmend verschlechtern. Akute Probleme ziehen kollektive Aufmerksamkeit an, chronische aber leider nicht. Griechenland steckt tief in volkswirtschaftlicher Depression mit ausgewachsenem Liquiditätsengpass, Kapitalkontrollen, Massenarbeitslosigkeit, fehlender medizinischer Versorgung, Hungerepidemien und vielen anderen Schwierigkeiten.

Die von außen bereitgestellten Resourcen fließen zum größten Teil durch offizielle Kanäle, aber die Körperschaften, die mit der Auslieferung der Hilfen beauftragt sind, sind oft zu groß um zu erkennen, wo die wahren Bedürfnisse liegen, um dann rechtzeitig darauf zu reagieren, oder um die Mittel effektiv und effizient einzusetzen. Einfach gesagt neigen große Organisationen dazu, bürokratisch zu sein, und einen großen administrativen Wasserkopf zu haben, der viele Resourcen intern verschlingt. Als Außenseiter fehlen ihnen auch oft die kulturellen Verbindungen, welche notwendig sind um informelle Brücken zu bauen und Hilfmittelverteilung zu lenken. Die Regeln, welche die intitutionalisierte Hilfsindustrie befolgen muß, zum Beispiel die Bedingung für Hungernde, sich auszuweisen, bevor man berechtig ist, Lebensmittel zu erhalten, kann zu großen Hindernissen führen.

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