Feb 152017
 
 February 15, 2017  Posted by at 10:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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Times Square New York City, 1958

 


The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn (BBG)
Kucinich Pins Flynn Leak on Intel Community, Warns of Another Cold War (Fox)
America’s Spies Anonymously Took Down Flynn. That Is Deeply Worrying (Week)
Russian Foreign Ministry Says Crimea Will Not Be Returned To Ukraine (R.)
China Credit Surging to Record Underscores PBOC Shift to Tighten (BBG)
China Should Prudently Manage Deleveraging Process – PBOC (R.)
Nigel Farage – You’re In For a Bigger Shock in 2017 (TNTV)
Germany’s Burden: The Euro Is The Most Crisis-Ridden Currency (MW)
Greece Defies Creditors Over More Cuts As Economy Shrinks Unexpectedly (G.)
‘Fed Up’ Exposes The Elite Rot Inside The Federal Reserve (MW)
Why “Everyone Wins” When Housing Is More Expensive (AS)
Who Will Be Blamed if the Oroville Dam Fails? (McMaken)
The Technosphere: You Are Not In Control (Dmitry Orlov)
Greece’s Frozen Children: What Will Happen To Young Refugees? (NS)

 

 

So many diffferent angles. This one from Eli Lake is bearable. “Nunes told me Monday night that this will not end well. “First it’s Flynn, next it will be Kellyanne Conway, then it will be Steve Bannon, then it will be Reince Priebus,” he said. Put another way, Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entree.”

The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn (BBG)

Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told me Monday that he saw the leaks about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak as part of a pattern. “There does appear to be a well orchestrated effort to attack Flynn and others in the administration,” he said. “From the leaking of phone calls between the president and foreign leaders to what appears to be high-level FISA Court information, to the leaking of American citizens being denied security clearances, it looks like a pattern.” Nunes said he was going to bring this up with the FBI, and ask the agency to investigate the leak and find out whether Flynn himself is a target of a law enforcement investigation. The Washington Post reported last month that Flynn was not the target of an FBI probe.

The background here is important. Three people once affiliated with Trump’s presidential campaign – Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone – are being investigated by the FBI and the intelligence community for their contacts with the Russian government. This is part of a wider inquiry into Russia’s role in hacking and distributing emails of leading Democrats before the election. Flynn himself traveled in 2015 to Russia to attend a conference put on by the country’s propaganda network, RT. He has acknowledged he was paid through his speaker’s bureau for his appearance. That doesn’t look good, but it’s also not illegal in and of itself. All of this is to say there are many unanswered questions about Trump’s and his administration’s ties to Russia. But that’s all these allegations are at this point: unanswered questions.

It’s possible that Flynn has more ties to Russia that he had kept from the public and his colleagues. It’s also possible that a group of national security bureaucrats and former Obama officials are selectively leaking highly sensitive law enforcement information to undermine the elected government. Flynn was a fat target for the national security state. He has cultivated a reputation as a reformer and a fierce critic of the intelligence community leaders he once served with when he was the director the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama. Flynn was working to reform the intelligence-industrial complex, something that threatened the bureaucratic prerogatives of his rivals. He was also a fat target for Democrats. Remember Flynn’s breakout national moment last summer was when he joined the crowd at the Republican National Convention from the dais calling for Hillary Clinton to be jailed.

In normal times, the idea that U.S. officials entrusted with our most sensitive secrets would selectively disclose them to undermine the White House would alarm those worried about creeping authoritarianism. Imagine if intercepts of a call between Obama’s incoming national security adviser and Iran’s foreign minister leaked to the press before the nuclear negotiations began? The howls of indignation would be deafening. In the end, it was Trump’s decision to cut Flynn loose. In doing this he caved in to his political and bureaucratic opposition. Nunes told me Monday night that this will not end well. “First it’s Flynn, next it will be Kellyanne Conway, then it will be Steve Bannon, then it will be Reince Priebus,” he said. Put another way, Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entree.

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Interesting 8-minute, very clear take from Kucinich: “This is like the electronic version of Mad magazine; Spy vs Spy..”

Kucinich Pins Flynn Leak on Intel Community, Warns of Another Cold War (Fox)

During an interview on the FOX Business Network’s Mornings with Maria, former Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich said the intelligence community was responsible for leaking information that Trump’s national security advisor, Mike Flynn, had secretly discussed sanctions with Russian officials before the inauguration and argued their goal was to spoil the relationship between the U.S. and Russia. “What’s at the core of this is an effort by some in the intelligence community to upend any positive relationship between the U.S. and Russia,” Kucinich said.

And in his opinion, there is a big money motive behind it. “And I tell you there’s a marching band and Chowder Society out there. There’s gold in them there hills,” he said. “There are people trying to separate the U.S. and Russia so that this military industrial intel axis can cash in.” Kucinich added the intelligence community could start a war to succeed. “There’s a game going on inside the intelligence community where there are those who want to separate the U.S. from Russia in a way that would reignite the Cold War,” he said.

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Many on both the left and the right have these worries.

America’s Spies Anonymously Took Down Flynn. That Is Deeply Worrying (Week)

The United States is much better off without Michael Flynn serving as national security adviser. But no one should be cheering the way he was brought down. The whole episode is evidence of the precipitous and ongoing collapse of America’s democratic institutions — not a sign of their resiliency. Flynn’s ouster was a soft coup (or political assassination) engineered by anonymous intelligence community bureaucrats. The results might be salutary, but this isn’t the way a liberal democracy is supposed to function. Unelected intelligence analysts work for the president, not the other way around. Far too many Trump critics appear not to care that these intelligence agents leaked highly sensitive information to the press — mostly because Trump critics are pleased with the result.

“Finally,” they say, “someone took a stand to expose collusion between the Russians and a senior aide to the president!” It is indeed important that someone took such a stand. But it matters greatly who that someone is and how they take their stand. Members of the unelected, unaccountable intelligence community are not the right someone, especially when they target a senior aide to the president by leaking anonymously to newspapers the content of classified phone intercepts, where the unverified, unsubstantiated information can inflict politically fatal damage almost instantaneously.

President Trump was roundly mocked among liberals for that tweet. But he is, in many ways, correct. These leaks are an enormous problem. And in a less polarized context, they would be recognized immediately for what they clearly are: an effort to manipulate public opinion for the sake of achieving a desired political outcome. It’s weaponized spin. This doesn’t mean the outcome was wrong. I have no interest in defending Flynn, who appears to be an atrocious manager prone to favoring absurd conspiracy theories over more traditional forms of intelligence. He is just about the last person who should be giving the president advice about foreign policy. And for all I know, Flynn did exactly what the anonymous intelligence community leakers allege — promised the Russian ambassador during the transition that the incoming Trump administration would back off on sanctions proposed by the outgoing Obama administration.

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Silly idea. The New Cold War.

Russian Foreign Ministry Says Crimea Will Not Be Returned To Ukraine (R.)

Russia will not hand back control of Crimea to Ukraine, Russia’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday, responding to comments from the White House that the United States expected the Black Sea peninsula to be returned. “We don’t give back our own territory. Crimea is territory belonging to the Russian Federation,” Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, told a news briefing. On Tuesday, the White House said U.S. President Donald Trump had made it clear that he expects Russia to relinquish control of the territory. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, prompting the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions on Russia, plunging Western relations with the Kremlin to their worst level since the end of the Cold War.

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Shadow banking resurgence? It was never gone.

China Credit Surging to Record Underscores PBOC Shift to Tighten (BBG)

China added more credit last month than the equivalent of Swedish or Polish economic output, revving up growth and supporting prices but also fueling concerns about the sustainability of such a spree. Aggregate financing, the broadest measure of new credit, climbed to a record 3.74 trillion yuan ($545 billion) in January, exceeding the median estimate of 3 trillion yuan in a Bloomberg survey. New yuan loans rose to a one-year high of 2.03 trillion yuan, less than the 2.44 trillion yuan estimate. The credit surge highlights the challenges facing Chinese policy makers as they seek to balance ensuring steady growth with curbing excess leverage in the financial system. The PBOC recently moved to tighten monetary policy by raising the interest rates it charges in open-market operations and on funds lent via its Standing Lending Facility.

“China is learning what other central banks realized decades ago: trying to control monetary aggregates in a modern financial system is next to impossible,” said James Laurenceson, deputy director of the Australia-China Relations Institute in Sydney. “I expect the PBOC will focus more on interest rates and prudential regulation and supervision going forward.” China’s major state-backed banks tend to splurge at the start of the year as they seek to maximize their profits on lending. The main categories of shadow finance all increased significantly. Bankers acceptances – a bank-backed guarantee for future payment – soared to 613.1 billion yuan from 158.9 billion yuan the prior month. “The PBOC is restraining loans but allowing private credit to flow through shadow banks,” said Andrew Collier, an independent analyst and former president of Bank of China International USA. “This is not a policy designed to conquer China’s debt burden.”

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Yeah, well, it does nothing of the kind.

China Should Prudently Manage Deleveraging Process – PBOC (R.)

China should prudently manage the country’s debt deleveraging process and seek to avoid a liquidity crisis and asset bubbles, according to a central bank working paper published on Wednesday. While overall debt ratios in the world’s second-largest economy were still not high relative to many other countries, the pace of increase has been rapid in recent years, the paper said. China’s debt to GDP ratio rose to 277% at the end of 2016 from 254% the previous year, with an increasing share of new credit being used to pay debt servicing costs, UBS analysts said in a recent note.

China’s top leaders have pledged to focus on addressing rising financial risks and asset bubbles this year. The People’s Bank of China has moved to a moderate tightening bias, raising some key primary money rates this year, which analysts said was part of a bid to control risks from rising leverage. The working paper said China should avoid the negative consequences of both increases in leverage and rapid deleveraging. China should let market forces play a decisive role in the deleveraging process, including allowing defaults, the paper published on the People’s Bank of China website said.

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h/t Mish. “The people want less Europe. We see this again and again when people have referendums and they reject aspects of EU membership. But something more fundamental is going on out there.”

Nigel Farage – You’re In For a Bigger Shock in 2017 (TNTV)

I feel like I am attending a meeting of a religious sect here this morning. It’s as if the global revolution of 2016, Brexit, Trump, the Italian rejection of the referendum, has completely bypassed you. You can’t face up to the fact that this bandwagon is going to roll across Europe in these elections in 2017. A lot of citizens now recognize this form of centralized government simply doesn’t work. … At the heart of it is a fundamental point: Mr. Verhofstadt this morning said, the people want more Europe. They don’t. The people want less Europe. We see this again and again when people have referendums and they reject aspects of EU membership. But something more fundamental is going on out there. ….

No doubt, many of you here will probably despise your own voters for what I am about to say because just last week, Chatham House, the reputable group, published a massive survey from 10 Europen states, and only 20% of people want immigration from Muslim countries to continue. Just 20%. … Which means your voters have a harder line position on this than Donald Trump, or myself, or frankly any party sitting in this Parliament. I simply cannot believe you are blind to the fact that even Mrs. Merkel has now made a u-turn and wants to send people back. Even Mr. Schulz thinks it is a good idea. And the fact is, the Europen Union has no future at all in its current form. And I suspect you are in for as big a shock in 2017 as you were in 2016.

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Throw this into the German election campaign and see what happens.

Germany’s Burden: The Euro Is The Most Crisis-Ridden Currency (MW)

Target-2 occupies a central place. According to latest Bundesbank figures, the German central bank’s claims under the system rose to €796 billion at the end of January, from €754 billion at the end of December, well above the previous record €751 billion in August 2012. The Bundesbank’s ECB claims make up more than half of Germany’s net foreign assets of €1.5 trillion, which have themselves increased enormously since the euro was launched in 1999. If the eurozone broke up, or euro members redenominated their liabilities in a new, lower valued currency, Germany would relinquish a large part of these assets — a loss of German savings that would rival the country’s forced write-downs after the first and second world wars.

Both the ECB and the Bundesbank are playing down the renewed Target-2 increase, saying it reflects technical reasons linked to cross-border payments stemming from the ECB’s asset purchase program. On the one hand, these facts would argue for Germany keeping the system going. On the other, they would suggest that the Germans should try to renegotiate the Target-2 arrangements. At the present rate of increase, the Target-2 balances could be close to €1 trillion by the German elections in seven months. Target was developed during the 1990s as a technical transfer mechanism for facilitating payments within the eurozone. The innocuous name — Trans-European automated real-time gross settlement express transfer — signals its original arcane purpose.

According to Helmut Schlesinger, former Bundesbank president, the system was expected to advance credit simply for overnight settlement. Two decades later, as Schlesinger explains, it has become an overdraft system under which Germany, through its central bank, extends interest-free credit without any repayment date and without economic conditions to the central banks of heavily indebted nations.

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Paradox: BECAUSE the economy shrinks, more cuts ‘reforms’ will be demanded. The IMF wants more pension cuts. But that’s what half the population lives on.

Greece Defies Creditors Over More Cuts As Economy Shrinks Unexpectedly (G.)

The standoff between Greece and its creditors has escalated, with the embattled Athens government vowing it will not give in to demands for further cuts as data showed the country’s economy unexpectedly contracting. As thousands of protesting farmers rallied in Athens over spiralling costs and unpopular reforms, the Hellenic statistical authority revealed that Greek GDP shrank by 0.4% in the last three months of 2016. After growth of 0.9% in the previous three-month period the fall was steep and unforeseen. On Monday the European commission announced that the eurozone’s weakest member was on course to achieving a surplus on its budget of 2.3% after exceeding its 2016 fiscal targets “significantly”.

The setback came as prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ lefist-led coalition said it would not consent to additional austerity beyond the cuts the country had already agreed to administer under its third, EU-led bailout programme. Speaking on state TV, the digital policy minister Nikos Pappas, Tsipras’ closest confidant, insisted that ongoing differences between the EU and IMF over how to put the debt-stricken state back on the road to recovery were squarely to blame for the failure to conclude a compliance review at the heart of the standoff. The IMF has argued vigorously that extra measures worth 2% of GDP will have to be enforced with immediate effect if Greece is to achieve a high post-programme primary surplus of more than 1.5%. “The negotiations should have ended. Greece has done everything that it was asked to do,” he said and added there would be “no more measures”.

The future of the €86bn financial aid programme is contingent on Athens implementing agreed economic reforms. The IMF has repeatedly said it will not sign up to the programme unless the crisis-plagued country is given more generous debt relief in the form of a substantial write-down. With Greece facing a €7bn debt repayment to the ECB in July, fears of a Greek default have once again hit markets with shares falling and interest rates on Greek debt rising. But Tsipras is also under pressure from back-benchers in his fragile two-party administration. After seven years of adopting grueling austerity in return for emergency bailout aid many are openly questioning the wisdom of applying yet more measures that have already put Greece in a permanent debt deflationary cycle.

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Yellen was “oblivious as the housing market in her region imploded on multiple fronts.”

‘Fed Up’ Exposes The Elite Rot Inside The Federal Reserve (MW)

She came armed with an M.B.A., not a Ph.D., which made her suspect in the eyes of staff economists as she gradually worked her way up to Class I Clearance, with access to all policy-related material and briefings. In her columns, DiMartino Booth had warned about lax mortgage-lending standards, a housing bubble and escalating systemic risk. Once ensconced at the Fed, she was left to wonder why so many “highly educated and well-paid economists” were “oblivious as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression was about to break over their heads.” (One of the main reasons is the Fed’s reliance on econometric models that don’t include anything related to the financial system, such as debt or credit.) It wasn’t just the staff economists who were blind to what was going on in the real world.

Neither former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, who can boast of two bubbles on his watch, nor his successor Ben Bernanke saw the train wreck coming. Greenspan said a national housing bubble was “unlikely” while Bernanke expected any fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis to be “contained.” Janet Yellen, the current Fed chairwoman, is subject to withering criticism in the book. From 2004-2010, Yellen was president of the San Francisco Fed, whose district encompasses nine Western states and was ground zero for the housing bubble and subsequent bust. DiMartino Booth portrays Yellen as an uber-dove and devout Keynesian, someone who was “oblivious as the housing market in her region imploded on multiple fronts.”

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Why bubbles are blown.

Why “Everyone Wins” When Housing Is More Expensive (AS)

The perceived creditworthiness of a nation is largely dependent on market sentiment of that nation insofar as that the volume and indeed the acceleration of capital flow from that nation towards traditionally hedge instruments is indicative of their realisation of mania and is often known as the Minsky moment. Human nature inherently creates inefficiencies in markets as the incentives for those involved continue to grow, and it is that immutable fact that creates opportunities for those that see the market as being overwhelmingly influenced by self interest. The housing market is a fantastic example of this incentivised self interest. There are layers of self interest that largely go ignored as driving factors for housing price growth and poor risk modelling.

On the lowest level, buyers see property as a safe investment, and most of the time they seek to either make a return on their investment either through rental that exceeds the cost of the mortgage repayments (positive gearing) or to make money by a perceived increase in market value of the property that they can realise once they resell the property, or in many cases a combination of both. There are also people who seek to reduce their tax payment by charging less for rent than they pay in mortgage repayments, however these losses are eventually passed on to tax payers as the government thinks this is a suitable method for reducing rental costs for low income earners and that it reduces overall rental costs. The next level up from this is a combination of brokers, people employed to undertake property valuations and real estate agents, all of whom receive commission as a percentage of the sale price of the property.

There exists such a thing as home equity loans wherein banks and borrowers agree upon a valuation of the property which allows mortgagees or property owners to take on debt based on the perceived value of the property, which extends further credit than the initial loan. This feature of home equity lends itself to false market valuations by appraisers, real estate agents and brokers, in particular because it means that they are incentivised to originate additional loans that then pay commissions based on the appreciation of the previous property investment. Even if the current broker, appraiser or real estate agent is not used by the borrower for financing further property purchases, the industry wide practice almost certainly means that these people will continue to receive additional income as a direct result of the availability of credit in the form of home equity for property purchases.

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Maintenance is far less sexy than building.

Who Will Be Blamed if the Oroville Dam Fails? (McMaken)

While everyone likes to see a shiny new dam or railroad or bridge, the problem with infrastructure projects is that they require maintenance. Unfortunately, while it’s fun to build new dams and promise cheap water to many voters and powerful special interests, maintaining those projects is less exciting. As The Mercury News has reported, 12 years ago, both California and federal officials refused to consider a demand that California heighten precautions and maintenance standards at the Oroville Dam. In response to the demands, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said the dam’s emergency features were perfectly fine and that the emergency spillway “was designed to handle 350,000 cubic feet per second and the concerns were overblown.”

But, in a development reminiscent of the Army Corp of Engineers’ failure in New Orleans, state officials began ordering evacuations when flows over the spillway reached a mere “6,000 to 12,000 cubic feet per second” or “5% of the rate that FERC said was safe.” Basically, thanks to poorly maintained spillways — and perhaps other oversights — the dam itself is being eroded away, and may soon face total failure. If it does fail, the dam will have failed less than 50 years after its initial — and very, very expensive — construction. The “experts” assure us that this sort of thing has never happened before, of course, and it’s the fault of global warming or it’s just a fluke. But, it’s not as if the dam has never been under strain before. As Reisner recounted in 1987:

“In February of 1980, in the midst of a long spell of wet Pacific fronts, Oroville Reservoir, despite its capacity of something like a trillion gallons, was full, and the dam was spilling — 70,000 cubic feet per second, the Hudson River in full flood, roaring down the spillway at forty miles per hour, sending a plume of mist a thousand feet in the air.” At the time, the dam was only 12 years old. Today, the now-49-year old dam isn’t looking nearly as robust.

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Excellent Dmitry: “..there are at least 5.8 billion people alive in the world who don’t own a car. How can something be considered a necessity if 82% of us don’t seem to need it?”

The Technosphere: You Are Not In Control (Dmitry Orlov)

A good example of how the technosphere controls our tastes is the personal automobile. Many people regard it as a symbol of freedom and see their car as an extension of their personalities. The freedom to be car-free is not generally regarded as important, while the freedoms bestowed by car ownership are rather questionable. It is the freedom to make car payments, pay for repairs, insurance, parking, towing and gasoline. It is the freedom to pay tolls, traffic tickets, title fees and excise taxes. It is the freedom to spend countless hours stuck in traffic jams and to suffer injuries in car accidents. It is the freedom to bring up neurologically damaged children by subjecting them to unsafe carbon monoxide levels (you are encouraged to have a CO detector in your house, but not in your car—because it would be going off all the time). It is the freedom to suffer indignities when pulled over by police, especially if you’ve been drinking. In terms of a harm/benefit analysis, private car ownership makes no sense at all.

It is often argued that a car is a necessity, although the facts tell a different story. Worldwide, there are 1.2 billion vehicles on the road. The population of the planet is over 7 billion. Therefore, there are at least 5.8 billion people alive in the world who don’t own a car. How can something be considered a necessity if 82% of us don’t seem to need it? In fact, owning a car becomes necessary only in a certain specific set of circumstances. Here are some of the key ingredients: a landscape that is impassable except by motor vehicle, single-use zoning that segregates land by residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial uses, a lifestyle that requires a daily commute, and a deficit of public transportation. In turn, widespread private car ownership is what enables these key ingredients: without it, situations in which private car ownership becomes a necessity simply would not arise.

Now, moving people about the landscape is not a productive activity: it is a waste of time and energy. If you can live, send your children to school, shop and work all without leaving the confines of a small neighborhood, you are bound to be more efficient than someone who has to drive between these four locations on a daily basis. But the technosphere is rational to a fault and is all about achieving efficiencies. And so, an obvious question to ask is, What is it about the car-dependent living arrangement, and the landscape it enables, that the technosphere finds to be efficient? The surprising answer is that the technosphere strives to optimize the burning of gasoline; everything else is just a byproduct of this optimization.

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Not the strongest effort, but at the same time, children should always receive our protection.

Greece’s Frozen Children: What Will Happen To Young Refugees? (NS)

The snow-covered tents were an ugly spectacle around the island of Lesbos as this harsh winter gripped Greece. It was in this same area that an accident involving a gas heater had killed a mother and child in late November, when their tent – and others near it – went up in flames. It was pure luck that there weren’t more victims. The incident served as a stark reminder that there are numerous children living in these miserable conditions and that sometimes they die as a result. I had visited the camp just days earlier, hoping to talk to some of the approximately 80 unaccompanied minors who live there. Facilities for refugees around Greece can look anything from decent to shabby, but none resembles a prison as much as the Moria camp on Lesbos. It looks the last place you would host vulnerable children, some of whom are as young as 13.

Yet more than 5,000 children have arrived in Greece without their parents and, like everyone else, they have to be sorted through “hot spots” such as Moria. About 2,500 are still in Greece, and some of them have to live in places like this. While adults and children accompanied by their parents can leave the camp, unaccompanied children, who are placed formally under the guardianship of the district attorney, cannot. The facility, guarded by police in full riot gear and surrounded by concrete walls topped with barbed wire, is both home and prison. It takes nine months on average for an unaccompanied child to be reunited with family in another country – if indeed the child has one. The alternative is that they remain in Greece until they turn 18, when they can try to claim asylum. If a child’s application is rejected, he is then deported back to the country he left years earlier as a child.

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Nov 222016
 
 November 22, 2016  Posted by at 9:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Library of Congress Crowds of people waving at President Kennedy’s motorcade, Dallas, Texas Nov. 22 1963


Donald Trump To Withdraw From TPP On First Day In Office (G.)
Fed Should Allow “Elephant Size Quantitative Eurodollar Easing” (BBG)
China May Have To Float The Yuan If Tighter Capital Controls Fail (BBG)
Eurozone Nations Turn To Hedge Funds To Meet Borrowing Needs (R.)
Goldman: How Corporations Will Spend Their Huge Piles of Overseas Cash (BBG)
Why Free Trade Doesn’t Work for the Workers – Steve Keen (ET)
Boo-Hoo (Jim Kunstler)
Top Network Executives, Anchors Meet With Donald Trump (CNN)
Trump Is ‘Just The President’ – Snowden (AFP)
Nigel Farage Would Be Great UK Ambassador To US – Trump (G.)
Richard Branson To Bankroll Secret Blairite Campaign To Stop Brexit (Ind.)
Brexit Vote Wiped $1.5 Trillion Off UK Household Wealth In 2016 (G.)
Merkel’s ‘Days Are Numbered’, Warns France’s Le Pen (CNBC)
Greek Doctors Continue To Emigrate In Large Numbers (Kath.)
Why Don’t We Grieve For Extinct Species? (G.)

 

 

Still think it’s a lot of fuzz over a Pacific deal that excludes China.

Donald Trump To Withdraw From TPP On First Day In Office (G.)

Donald Trump has issued a video outlining his policy plans for his first 100 days in office and vowing to issue a note of intent to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership “from day one”. In the brief clip posted to YouTube on Monday, the president-elect said that “our transition team is working very smoothly, efficiently, and effectively”, contradicting a wealth of media reports telling of chaos in Trump Tower as Trump struggles to build a team. He said that he was going to issue a note of intent to withdraw from the TPP trade deal, calling it “a potential disaster for our country”. Instead he said he would “negotiate fair bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back”.

Hours before Trump’s announcement, Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, warned that the TPP would be “meaningless” without US participation. Speaking to reporters in Buenos Aires on Monday, Abe conceded that other TPP countries had not discussed how to rescue the agreement if Trump carried out his promise to withdraw. Abe, a vocal supporter of the 12-nation agreement, appears to have failed in his recent attempts to coax Trump out of his “America first”, protectionism. The TPP, which excludes China, is thought to have been high on Abe’s agenda when he became the first foreign leader to meet the president-elect in New York last week.

While details of their 90-minute meeting have not been released, Abe would have used the time to try to persuade Trump to go back on his campaign threat to pull the US out of TPP on day one of his presidency. “The TPP would be meaningless without the United States,” Abe said, after Japan and other TPP countries had discussed the agreement on the sidelines of the Apec summit in Lima at the weekend. He added that the pact could not be renegotiated. “This would disturb the fundamental balance of benefits,” he said.

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Dollar liquidity is under severe strain. There’s only one reserve currency. And letting this push up the value of the USD without limit will hurt the US in the end.

Fed Should Allow “Elephant Size Quantitative Eurodollar Easing” (BBG)

As Donald Trump threatens to turn away from the rest of the world, the Fed will find itself under increasing pressure to extend a helping hand outwards. That’s the prognosis from Credit Suisse Director of U.S. Economics Zoltan Pozsar, who contends that the U.S. central bank needs to take a much more activist approach to ensuring adequate availability of the world’s reserve currency in light of recent regulatory changes that have raised bank funding costs and constrained sources of dollar funding. The liquidity financial institutions can draw upon has been drained by new rules that require banks to hold vast buffers of easy-to-sell assets, on the one hand, and a larger-than-expected exodus from prime money-market funds linked to financial reforms implemented in October, on the other.

That’s induced a pick-up in bank funding costs that looks to be permanent, the analyst said. That means that when foreign banks need dollars, they’re increasingly forced to procure them through currency swaps from U.S. banks and asset managers — who are themselves balance-sheet constrained. The cost of converting local currency payments in euros and yen into dollars is now at its most expensive since 2012, as implied by persistently negative cross-currency basis swap rates. The net result is an “existential trilemma” for the Federal Reserve, as it is forced to choose between two of the following three objectives: shoring up banks’ balance sheets, stabilizing costs for onshore and offshore dollar borrowing, and an independent monetary policy.

The best possible solution, according to Pozsar, is for the U.S. central bank to let its own balance sheet go: serving as a “dealer of last resort” by way of “elephant size quantitative eurodollar easing,” in other words, that it should allow the unlimited use of its dollar swap lines to prevent foreign banks’ dollar borrowing costs from getting too high in an environment of constrained bank balance sheets. “The tool to use is the Fed’s dollar swap lines but the aim would no longer be to backstop funding markets, but to police the range within which various cross currency bases trade,” Pozsar writes, arguing for the “fixed-price, full-allotment broadcast of eurodollars globally” by the U.S. central bank.

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The flipside of a strong dollar. And of Trump’s America first.

China May Have To Float The Yuan If Tighter Capital Controls Fail (BBG)

Dollar strength and rising U.S. interest rates under President-elect Donald Trump would intensify pressure on capital outflows from China, forcing its policy makers to choose between tightening capital controls or a drastic floating of the currency in coming months. That’s according to Victor Shih, a University of California at San Diego professor who studies China’s government and finance and specializes in tracking politics at the most elite level. “Given the Chinese government’s consistent preference for control, we may see much more Draconian capital controls before a decision to float the currency can be made,” Shih said in an interview in Beijing. “The main objective is to avoid a panicky float.”

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has indicated a rate hike could be appropriate “relatively soon,” and investors anticipate Trump’s proposals to cut taxes and boost infrastructure will spur faster U.S. growth and inflation. At the same time, the record indebtedness of China’s companies limits the government’s ability to raise interest rates because doing so would increase the cost of repaying debt. China may face a stark choice between abandoning recent policy changes to tie the yuan more to a basket of currencies and letting it float more freely or stringent capital controls sometime in the next six to 18 months, said Shih. The Communist Party’s preference for control suggests economic reform is unlikely to accelerate, Shih said. He sees China following Russia toward slower growth and rising currency volatility.

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More signs the euro is failing.

Eurozone Nations Turn To Hedge Funds To Meet Borrowing Needs (R.)

Eurozone governments are increasingly relying on hedge funds to help them meet their borrowing needs, which risks leaving them vulnerable to a debt market sell-off driven by a class of investors dubbed “fast money” for their speculative approach. With banks playing a less active part in the sovereign debt market because of pressures on their balance sheets, several countries have turned to hedge funds to sell their targeted amount of bonds, according to data, officials and bankers. Hedge funds tend to look for quick returns on investments, which could increase the volatility of government bond markets as they face several tests of sentiment in coming months.

A populist revolt that propelled Donald Trump and the Brexit vote is sweeping the developed world and threatens to unseat established leaders in an Italian referendum next month, and Dutch, French and German elections in 2017. Any such political shocks, compounded by rising bond market volatility, could potentially trigger a sell-off – a risk that stirs painful memories of the region’s debt crisis in 2010-2012 when a bond rout led to several countries unable to pay their debts and raised fears the euro zone could unravel. Hedge funds have been particularly active in the market for long-dated bonds as they offer the higher risk and reward that they traditionally seek.

Spain, Italy, Belgium and France have sought to lock in record-low borrowing rates this year with 50-year bond issues for €3-5 billion. Each of them reported a historically high allocation of 13-17% to hedge funds. By contrast, just three years ago, Spain, Italy and Belgium were selling only 4-7% of their syndicated bond sales to that community of investors.

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Trump should penalize buybacks, make sure the money is used productively.

Goldman: How Corporations Will Spend Their Huge Piles of Overseas Cash (BBG)

Companies in the S&P 500 Index will spend most of their sizable cash hoard buying back stock next year, analysts at Goldman Sachs write in a new note. If so, it would be only the second time in the past 20 years that buybacks have accounted for the largest share of cash usage. Much of this, Goldman says, would be due to the enacting of plans President-elect Donald Trump proposed on the campaign trail, such as a tax holiday for overseas income and changes to the corporate tax code. “A significant portion of returning funds will be directed to buybacks based on the pattern of the tax holiday in 2004,” the team, led by Chief U.S. Equity Strategist David Kostin, write. They estimate that $150 billion (or 20% of total buybacks) will be driven by repatriated overseas cash.

They predict buybacks 30% higher than last year, compared to just 5% higher without the repatriation impact. Other areas that will see a boost include capital expenditures, research and development, as well and mergers and acquisitions. Here’s a broader look at how the analysts see firms allocating their cash in 2017. Other Wall Street banks have started looking at the potential impacts of repatriation as well. A new note from Morgan Stanley analysts Todd Castagno and Snehaja Mogre says that this is one of the top questions they are receiving from clients, and that most are overestimating how much cash will be brought back from overseas.

“The often cited $2.5 trillion statistic [of cash for repatriation] represents accumulated foreign earnings that companies have declared permanently reinvested abroad for GAAP accounting purposes,” they write. “We estimate that only 40% of this amount, or roughly $1 trillion, is available in the form of cash and marketable securities. Thus, the other $1.5 trillion has been reinvested to support foreign operations and exists in the form of other operating assets, such as inventory, property, equipment, intangibles and goodwill.” The note did not provide more detail on how much of that available cash the analysts expect to be used for buying back stock.

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Can America still reverse this, or is it too late? “You haven’t just lost the industrial capacity, you have lost the skill-base as well, you don’t have the engineers and designers anymore.”

Why Free Trade Doesn’t Work for the Workers – Steve Keen (ET)

Once you have transferred all your capacity offshore, it’s very hard to reverse the process. You haven’t just lost the industrial capacity, you have lost the skill-base as well, you don’t have the engineers and designers anymore. They used to build news versions every year; now they are gone. What [Trump] can do on the fiscal front is his plan to invest in infrastructure. If he goes into this massive program as he has talked about and insists on a made-in-America policy, which he will do, that will provide the financing for the reindustrialization to occur. I’m not worried about a potential deficit because he has the world reserve currency in his hands and the Fed can print as much of it as necessary.

Then, if you produce all the infrastructure components onshore, you don’t even need trade tariffs. In my opinion, this wouldn’t be a trade barrier under WTO rules, but this could be the first dispute he has with the WTO. Because there is demand by the government and the components have to be manufactured onshore, capital needs to be invested and workers trained for the job. On top, you have the increases in productivity through infrastructure, another positive.

Epoch Times: What about tariffs? Mr. Keen: It’s not going to be peaceful, and there will be repercussions for American companies. Trump is used to playing hardball, and now he will have to negotiate with bureaucrats and their corporate backers. There will be attempts to control what Trump does through the WTO and it will be interesting to see how successful those attempts will be.


World Merchandise Exports in trillions of dollars. (World Bank)

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“Mommy is all about feelings and Daddy’s role is action and that is another reason that Hillary lost and Trump won.”

Boo-Hoo (Jim Kunstler)

America didn’t get what it expected, but perhaps it got what it deserved, good and hard. Daddy’s in the house and he busted straight into the nursery and now the little ones are squalling in horror. Mommy was discovered to be a grifting old jade who ran the household into a slum and she’s been turned out to solemnly await the judgment of the courts, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. The kids on campus have gone temporarily insane over this domestic situation and some wonder if they’ll ever get over it. Trump as The USA’s Daddy? Well, yeah. Might he turn out to be a good daddy? A lot of people worry that he can’t be. Look how he behaved on the campaign trail: no behavioral boundaries… uccchhh. He even lurches as he walks, like Frankenstein.

Not very reassuring — though it appears that somehow he raised up a litter of high-functioning kids of his own. Not a tattoo or an earplug among them. No apparent gender confusion. All holding rather responsible positions in the family business. Go figure…. Judging from the internal recriminations among Democratic Party partisans playing out in the newspapers, it’s as if they all woke up simultaneously from a hypnotic trance realizing what an absolute dud they put up for election in Hillary Clinton — and even beyond that obvious matter, how deeply absurd Democratic ideology had become with its annoying victimology narrative, the incessant yammer about “diversity” and “inclusion,” as if pixie dust were the sovereign remedy for a national nervous breakdown. But can they move on from there?

I’m not so sure. For all practical purposes, both traditional parties have blown themselves up. The Democratic Party morphed from the party of thinking people to the party of the thought police, and for that alone they deserve to be flushed down the soil pipe of history where the feckless Whigs went before them. The Republicans have floundered in their own Special Olympics of the Mind for decades, too, so it’s understandable that they have fallen hostage to such a rank outsider as Trump, so cavalier with the party’s dumb-ass shibboleths. It remains to be seen whether the party becomes a vengeful, hybrid monster with an orange head, or a bridge back to reality. I give the latter outcome a low percentage chance.

Mommy is all about feelings and Daddy’s role is action and that is another reason that Hillary lost and Trump won. We’ve heard enough about people’s feelings and it just doesn’t matter anymore. You’re offended? Suck an egg. Someone appropriated your culture? Go shit in your sombrero. What matters is how we’re going to contend with the winding down of Modernity — the techno-industrial orgy that is losing its resource and money mojo. The politics of sacred victimhood has got to yield to the politics of staying alive.

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“Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, who arranged the meeting, said afterward that it was “very cordial, candid and honest.”

Top Network Executives, Anchors Meet With Donald Trump (CNN)

Executives and anchors from the country’s five biggest television networks met with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower on Monday afternoon. And they got an earful. Trump vented about media coverage, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He was highly critical of CNN and other news organizations. But while Trump showed disdain for the news media, he also answered questions; listened to the journalists’ arguments about the importance of access; and committed to making improvements. A source in the room told CNNMoney that there was “real progress” made with regards to media access to Trump and his administration. One specific topic was the importance of the “press pool,” a small group of journalists that traditionally travels with the president.

The hour-long meeting was off the record, meaning the participants agreed not to talk about the substance of the conversations. But Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, who arranged the meeting, said afterward that it was “very cordial, candid and honest.” While there was “no need to mend fences,” she said, “from my own perspective, it is great to hit the reset button, it was a long, hard-fought campaign.” Some of the attendees were struck by Trump’s anti-media posture. During the meeting, Trump revived some of the specific arguments he made weeks before winning the presidency. According to Politico, among Trump’s complaints, even as he asked for a “cordial” relationship, was that NBC had used unflattering pictures of him. But one of the participants told CNNMoney that Trump also asked for a positive relationship between his White House and the media.

The participant said that a New York Post account – which had a source describing it as Trump giving the assembled members of the media a “dressing down” like a “firing squad” – was overstated. Conway herself has also criticized the Post report. [..] NBC’s Chuck Todd and Lester Holt; CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Erin Burnett; CBS’s Norah O’Donnell, Charlie Rose, John Dickerson, and Gayle King; and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, David Muir and Martha Raddatz were some of the anchors seen entering Trump Tower shortly before 1 p.m. Several executives from the network news divisions were also spotted on the way into Trump Tower, including ABC News president James Goldston; CNN president Jeff Zucker; Fox News co-presidents Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy; NBC News president Deborah Turness; MSNBC president Phil Griffin; and CBS News vice president Chris Isham.

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“But if I get hit by a bus, or a drone, or dropped off an airplane tomorrow, you know what? It doesn’t actually matter that much to me, because I believe in the decisions that I’ve already made.”

Trump Is ‘Just The President’ – Snowden (AFP)

Former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden on Monday downplayed the importance of President-elect Donald Trump and again defended his decision to leak documents showing massive surveillance of US citizens’ communications. “Donald Trump is just the president. It’s an important position. But it’s one of many,” Snowden told an internet conference in Stockholm, speaking via a video link from Russia, where he has been living as a fugitive. The 33-year-old is wanted in the United States to face trial on charges brought under the tough Espionage Act after he leaked thousands of classified documents in 2013 revealing the vast US surveillance of private data put in place after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

He said he was not worried about the Trump administration stepping up efforts to arrest him and stood by his decision to leak the classified material. “I don’t care,” he said. “The reality here is that yes, Donald Trump has appointed a new director of the CIA who uses me as a specific example to say that, look, dissidents should be put to death. “But if I get hit by a bus, or a drone, or dropped off an airplane tomorrow, you know what? It doesn’t actually matter that much to me, because I believe in the decisions that I’ve already made.”

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Just a president-to-be having some fun.

Nigel Farage Would Be Great UK Ambassador To US – Trump (G.)

US president-elect Donald Trump has suggested that Nigel Farage, controversial leader of the United Kingdom Independence party, should be the UK’s ambassador to the US. “Many people would like to see @Nigel_Farage represent Great Britain as their Ambassador to the United States,” Trump tweeted on Monday evening. “He would do a great job!” In a brief call with BBC Breakfast, Farage said he had been awake since 2am UK time when the tweet was first posted. The Ukip leader said he was flattered by the tweet, calling it “a bolt from the blue” and said he did not see himself as a typical diplomatic figure “but this is not the normal course of events”. But a Downing Street spokesman said: “There is no vacancy. We already have an excellent ambassador to the US.”

Farage, a member of the European parliament and on-again-off-again leader of Ukip for a decade, recently suggested he could launch an eighth bid to become an MP. Seven previous attempts were unsuccessful. It is unprecedented for an incoming US president to ask a world leader to appoint an opposing party leader as ambassador, and the statement puts British prime minister Theresa May in a difficult position. The role of UK ambassador to the US is among the most prestigious in the diplomatic service. Sir Kim Darroch, formerly the UK’s national security adviser and permanent representative to the European Union (EU), took over the role in January this year. The Ukip leader has previously said it was “obvious” that Darroch should resign his post, calling him part of the “old regime”.

But he told Sky News at that time he did not see himself as Darroch’s replacement: “I don’t think I will be the ambassadorial type. Whatever talents or flaws I have got I don’t think diplomacy is at the top of my list of skills.”

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Bringing Blair back would be the end of Labour.

Richard Branson To Bankroll Secret Blairite Campaign To Stop Brexit (Ind.)

Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is to help bankroll a campaign set up in secret by Blairite former ministers and advisers to derail Brexit, The Independent can reveal. An email seen by The Independent highlights the scale of backing the group has already secured. It shows the campaign has been months in the planning and claims “substantial progress” has already been made, including the identification of “an excellent potential CEO”. The memo was written by Alan Milburn, who was one of Tony Blair’s closest cabinet allies. It reveals the group has heavy financial, political and corporate backing and is receiving advice and support from a host of high-level business and communications organisations. High-profile MPs including former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour MP Chuka Umunna are believed to have had contact with the group, as have celebrities such as Bob Geldof.

Freuds, a leading public relations agency that was founded by Matthew Freud, a close friend of both Mr Blair and David Cameron, is understood to have been commissioned to manage the strategy and marketing of the campaign. The email says: “We have been beavering away over the last few months to get a Europe campaign up and running. I’m pleased to say that substantial progress has been made.” “I have met the Freuds team several times and we are making good progress. “I have been in discussions with an excellent potential CEO to lead the campaign. “Virgin … are keen to help … Since we last spoke [they] have offered a further £25k, plus bigger office space, help with legal advice and a possible secondment. “I have held discussions with Stronger In, Chuka Umunna, a new organisation called Common Ground, Bob Geldof and a number of senior politicians across the party spectrum.”

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Catchy headline and all, but hardly what the report in question is about.

Brexit Vote Wiped $1.5 Trillion Off UK Household Wealth In 2016 (G.)

The UK saw $1.5tn (£1.2tn) wiped off its wealth during 2016 after the Brexit vote sent the pound tumbling and the stock market into reverse, according to a survey by Credit Suisse. A fall in values at the top-end of the property market also contributed to about 400,000 Britons losing their status as dollar millionaires and one of the biggest drops in wealth among the major economies. But the UK remained third for the number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals, who own more than £50m in assets, behind the US and China. And the UK’s top 1% of richest people also continued to own 24% of the nation’s wealth, the report said.

Across the globe, the richest 1% own more wealth than the rest of the world put together, continuing the dominance seen in last year’s report. A recovering in the global stock markets in recent weeks is also likely to reverse some of the losses suffered by pension savers and wealthy individuals. Oxfam said the huge gap between rich and poor was “undermining economies, destabilising societies and holding back the fight against poverty”.

The findings from the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s seventh annual global wealth report that found the overall growth in global wealth remained flat in 2016, following a trend that emerged in 2013 and contrasting sharply with the double-digit growth rates witnessed before the global financial crisis of 2008. Michael O’Sullivan, chief investment officer in Credit Suisse’s wealth management arm: “The impact of the Brexit vote is widely thought of in terms of GDP but the impact on household wealth bears watching. “Since the Brexit vote, UK household wealth has fallen by $1.5tn. Wealth per adult has already dropped by $33,000 to $289,000 since the end of June. In fact, in US dollar terms, 406,000 people in the UK are no longer millionaires.”

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“Merkel is isolated given she represents the status quo while the pace of change in Europe is accelerating”

Merkel’s ‘Days Are Numbered’, Warns France’s Le Pen (CNBC)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “days are numbered,” according to the leader of France’s right-wing National Front party, Marine Le Pen. Merkel confirmed on Sunday she would run for a fourth term in 2017, however, Le Pen says the German leader does not fit the mood of the times. Speaking to CNBC on Monday, the National Front’s presidential candidate claims Merkel is isolated given she represents the status quo while the pace of change in Europe is accelerating. Turning to another international relationship, Le Pen said it would be natural for France to retain relations with Russia given the close history of the two countries. Arguing she sees no reason why we cannot live in a multi-polar world, she lambasted the U.S. for taking the world into the Cold War, saying it put France and Europe at great risk, given they were caught in the middle.

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The numbers look a bit shaky, but the trend is glaringly obvious. The Troika is dismantling what until just a few years ago was an absolute world class health system.

Greek Doctors Continue To Emigrate In Large Numbers (Kath.)

For a sixth consecutive year, Greece has been unable to stem the flow of doctors leaving the country. The numbers emigrating during 2016 have been high again, with most opting for work in other European countries. The only difference this year is that there has been a slight dip in those leaving for the UK, which may be due to Brexit. Overall, the Athens Medical Association (ISA) issued a total of 1,018 certificates between January 1 and October 24 allowing Greek doctors to practice abroad. During the whole of 2015, ISA issued 1,521 such documents, which was slightly higher than the 1,380 it produced in 2014 and 1,488 in 2013. The year which saw the highest level of emigration among Greek doctors was in 2013, when ISA issued 1,808 certificates. In total, between 2010 and this year, ISA has readied paperwork for more than 9,300 medical professionals looking to leave Greece.

[..] While Greek doctors pursue their futures abroad, the Greek National Health System (ESY) is buckling due to the shortage of medical staff. According to the Federation of Greek Hospital Doctors’ Unions (OENGE), Greece lacks some 6,000 specialized doctors. The vast majority of doctors hired over the last few years were on fixed-term contracts, which is not a very attractive proposition for those in the medical field. According to the Health Ministry, ESY employs 1,464 auxiliary doctors at the moment. “The medical world has been seriously affected by the crisis over the last few years,” ISA president Giorgos Patoulis told Kathimerini. “The proliferation of mostly young doctors and the low rate at which they are absorbed into the public or private sector creates serious challenges for them in finding work and drives wages down.

“In combination with the government’s failure to set out a sustainable and effective health policy, this has caused an unprecedented migratory wave. This leaves us facing a paradox: Even though there is a plethora of young doctors who are unemployed, the health system is getting old and collapsing due to a lack of personnel.”

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Seems a tad quirky, but there’s more than meets the initial eye.

Why Don’t We Grieve For Extinct Species? (G.)

In early 2010, artist, activist and mother, Persephone Pearl, headed to the Bristol Museum. Like many concerned about the fate of the planet, she was in despair over the failed climate talks in Copenhagen that winter. She sat on a bench and looked at a stuffed animal behind glass: a thylacine. Before then, she’d never heard of the marsupial carnivore that went extinct in 1936. “Here was this beautiful mysterious lost creature locked in a glass case,” she said. “It struck me suddenly as unbearably undignified. And I had this sudden vision of smashing the glass, lifting the body out, carrying the thylacine out into the fields, stroking its body, speaking to it, washing it with my tears, and burying it by a river so that it could return to the earth.”

[..] .. grief doesn’t occur only when we lose loved ones. Ask anyone who has seen a local forest they once played in as a child demolished for another cookie-cutter development or has watched as fewer bees and butterflies show up in their garden each summer. Or ask any conservationist who has to witness year-after-year as the species they work with slowly vanish, ask any marine biologist about coral reefs or any Arctic biologist about sea ice. Grief can extend far beyond our human parochialism. “We realised that there was a hunger for a way of grieving ecological loss through ritual,” said Porter who in 2011 directed a Funeral for Lost Species through her group, Feral Theatre. This was an outdoor theatrical performance in a churchyard that included various traditional forms of mourning and tilted between somber and whimsical.

Porter believes many people are simply “stuck in a kind of denial” when it comes to extinction, biodiversity loss and environmental crises. “If we face it honestly and fully we have to face our own collective shadow, our out-of-control destructive urges and acts. These are terrible, terrifying things to face alone,” she said. Part of this denial is also due to our growing disconnect from nature. “Many humans now solely interact with domesticated animals and plants. Some have no experience whatsoever of intact forest, field, and aquatic community. The total loss of other community members, their families, and life affirming ways then is an utterly distant abstraction,” Hollingsworth said. “Yet in grief, as in love, humans are wired for intimacy. “


A thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, in captivity sometime in the 1920s. The thylacine was killed off by European settlers in Australia who erroneously viewed it as a sheep killer. Photograph: Popperfoto

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Jun 242016
 
 June 24, 2016  Posted by at 10:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Stephen Green 18×24 inches. 2016. Acrylic on canvas. MuseumofAwesomeArt.com

Well, they did it. A majority of Britons made clear they’re so fed up with David Cameron and everything he says or does, including promoting the EU, that they voted against that EU. They detest Cameron much more than they like Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson. It seems that everyone has underestimated that.

Cameron just announced he’s stepping down. And that points to a very large hole in the ground somewhere in London town. Because going through a list of potential leaders, you get the strong impression there are none left. Not to run the country, and not to negotiate anything with Brussels. Which has a deep leadership -credibility- hole of itself, even though the incumbents are completely blind to that.

But first Britain. The Leave victory was as much a vote against Chancellor George Osborne as it was against Cameron. So Osborne is out as potential leader of the Conservatives. Boris Johnson? Not nearly enough people like him, and he fumbled his side of the Leave campaign so badly his credibility, though perhaps not being fully shot, is far too much of an uncertainty for the Tories to enter the upcoming inevitable general elections with.

Who else is there? Michael Gove? Absolute suicide. Likeability factor of zero Kelvin. That bus these guys drove around which proclaimed they could get £350 million extra a week for the NHS health care system in case of a Brexit will come back to haunt all of them. Just about the first thing Farage said earlier when the win became clear, was that the £350 million was a mistake.

I guess you could mention Theresa May, who apparently wants the post, but she’s an integral part of the Cameron clique and can’t be presented as the fresh start the party so badly needs.

 

Talking about Farage, who’s not Tory, but Ukip, he’s done what he set out to do, and that means the end of the line for him. He could, and will, call for a national unity government, but there is no such unity. He got voted out of a job today -he is/was a member of the European Parliament- and Ukip has only one seat in the British parliament, so he’s a bit tragic today. There is no place nor need for a UK Independence Party when the UK is already independent.

Then there’s Labour, who failed to reach their own constituency, which subsequently voted with Farage et al, and who stood right alongside Cameron for Remain, with ‘leader’ Jeremy Corbyn reduced to the role of a curiously mumbling movie extra. So Corbyn is out.

Shadow finance minister John McDonnell has aspirations, but he’s a firm Remain guy as well, and that happens to have been voted down. Labour has failed in a terrible fashion, and they better acknowledge it or else. But they already had a very hard time just coming up with Corbyn last time around, and the next twist won’t be any easier.

Cameron, Osborne, Corbyn, they have all failed to connect with their people. This is not some recent development. Nor is it a British phenomenon, support for traditional parties is crumbling away everywhere in the western world.

 

The main reason for this is a fast fading economy, which all politicians just try to hide from their people, but which those same people get hit by every single day.

A second reason is that politicians of traditional parties are not perceived as standing up for either their people nor their societies, but as a class in themselves.

In Britain, there now seems to be a unique opportunity to organize a movement like (Unidos) Podemos in Spain, the European Union’s next big headache coming up in a few days. Podemos is proof that this can be done fast, and there’s a big gaping hole to fill.

Much of what’s next in politics may be pre-empted in the markets. Though it’s hard to say where it all leads, this morning there’s obviously a lot of panic, short covering etc going on, fact is that as I write this, Germany’s DAX index loses 6% (-16.3% YoY), France’s CAC is down 7.7% (-18.5%) and Spain’s IBEX no less than 10.3% (-30%). Ironically, the losses in Britain’s FTSE are ‘only’ 4.5% (-11%).

These are numbers that can move entire societies, countries and political systems. But we’ll see. Currency moves are already abating, and on the 22nd floor of a well-protected building in Basel, all of the relevant central bankers in the world are conspiring to buy whatever they can get their hands on. Losses will be big but can perhaps be contained up to a point, and tomorrow is Saturday.

By the way, from a purely legal point of view, Cameron et al could try and push aside the referendum, which is not legally binding. I got only one thing on that: please let them try.

As an aside, wouldn’t it be a great irony if the England soccer (football) team now go on to win the Euro Cup? Or even Wales, which voted massively against the EU?

 

Finally, this was of course not a vote about the -perhaps not so- United Kingdom, it was a vote about the EU. But the only thing we can expect from Brussels and all the 27 remaining capitals is damage control and more high handedness. It’s all the Junckers and Tusks and Schäubles and Dijsselbloems are capable of anymore.

But it’s they, as much as David Cameron, who were voted down today. And they too should draw their conclusions, or this becomes not even so much about credibility as it becomes about sheer relevance.

Even well before there will be negotiations with whoever represents Britain by the time it happens, the Brussels court circle will be confronted with a whole slew of calls for referendums in other member states. The cat is out of Pandora’s bag, and the genie out of her bottle.

Many of the calls will come from the far-right, but it’s Brussels itself that created the space for these people to operate in. I’ve said it before, the EU does not prevent the next battle in Europe, it will create it. EC head Donald Tusk’s statement earlier today was about strengthening the union with the remaining 27 nations. As if Britain were the only place where people want out…

Holland, France, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Hungary, they will all have calls for referendums. Greece already had one a year ago. The center cannot hold. Nor can the system. If referendums were held in all remaining 27 EU member states, the union would be a lot smaller the next morning. The Unholy Union depends on people not getting a say.

The overwhelming underlying principle that we see at work here is that centralization is dead, because the economy has perished. Or at least the growth of the economy has, which is the same in a system that relies on perpetual growth to ‘function’.

But that is something we can be sure no politician or bureaucrat or economist is willing to acknowledge. They’re all going to continue to claim that their specific theories and plans are capable of regenerating the growth the system depends on. Only to see them fail.

It’s high time for something completely different, because we’re in a dead end street. If the Brexit vote shows us one thing, it’s that. But that is not what people -wish to- see.

Unfortunately, the kinds of wholesale changes needed now hardly ever take place in a peaceful manner. I guess that’s my main preoccupation right now.

 

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
Yeats

Sep 102015
 
 September 10, 2015  Posted by at 11:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »
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Thomas Eakins Walt Whitman 1891

Jean Claude Juncker held a speech yesterday that had, oh irony, been labeled a State of the Union. A perfect way of showing how pompous Juncker and his surroundings have become. A perfect way, too, to point out how much the European Union differs from the United States. The gap is so wide it doesn’t need any explaining.

Much of the speech concerned the refugee crisis Juncker and his cronies share a lot of the blame for, and for good measure he managed to get in a vile threat to Greece, in the vein of “Greece must respect the bailout, or the EU reaction will be ‘different'”, and “Greece cannot be kept in the euro at all costs”. In Brussels, democracy is a word fast losing even the last shreds of its meaning.

Juncker’s a very boring speaker -when he’s not been drinking-, but that doesn’t take away from the message. Brussels seeks to use the refugee crisis for the same purpose it uses all crises for: power grabbing. A reaction from Nigel Farage that was dripping with vile bigotry was the best reaction I read about to the speech, and in my not so humble opinion that is desperately sad.

It’s a shame and a disgrace that bigots like Farage, Le Pen, Orban and Wilders will have to decide the future of the EU, but it’s still a mile and a half better than more EU, because the European Union is rapidly turning into a monstrosity the likes of which even Europe has seldom seen in its history, and that’s saying something.

28 separate formerly sovereign nations are coming under the thumb of a de facto occupying force that is squeezing their sovereignty and democracy out of them in boa constrictor fashion, leaving them behind as empty political shells. And every single one of these nations has voluntarily signed up for this treatment, blindly lured by financial promises that the Greek crisis has abundantly exposed as hollow and void.

Brussels has created another crisis. No, the refugee situation didn’t start last week and yes, the EU did nothing for months, other than shutting down Italy and Greece’s own refugee aid programs and replacing them with the very suspicious Frontex bureau.

And now this crisis is in full flight, what does Juncker call for? More EU, more Union. Which means more power moving to Brussels. This is an MO, not an unfortunate accident.

The Europe of Juncker, Merkel, Cameron and Hollande could and should have moved much faster on the refugee issue, and not have let thousands of people drown before coming up with the plan Juncker presented yesterday, which comes up way short of what will be needed, but which some Reuters editor still had the audacity to label ‘bold’.

A grand resettlement plan for 160,000 refugees makes no sense at all at a time that Germany alone will receive perhaps as much as a million refugees this year. The best thing about the plan may turn out to be the compulsory character Juncker seeks to give it, complete with sanctions for countries that refuse to be told by him what to do.

Even better, obviously, is the fully braindead idea of letting countries pay NOT to accept refugees. Once you start translating human misery into monetary terms, your only possible future looks excruciatingly bleak.

But it will be a spectacle to watch, Brussels dictating terms on sovereign countries, or countries that still think they are sovereign at least.

Brussels succeeded in getting all EU nations to gang up on Greece earlier this year, and countries that are non-compliant on the refugee issue are going to receive death threats like the ones Greece received, but the 27-to-1 majority that existed in that case will not repeat itself.

There is not much difference in depth of bigotry and opportunism between Juncker, Farage and Le Pen. So perhaps it’s only fitting that they get to fight to secure the end of the grandiosely ill-conceived pan-European project amongst themselves. There are no other voices left, no reason, no moderation, no common sense.

Europe’s left is all but dead from largely self-inflicted wounds, set in motion by the likes of Tony Blair. That leaves just one voice, that of the sociopaths, the type of individual overly large institutions select for by default.

If Brussels and Juncker have their way, the EU is going to turn Europe into a -perhaps guerrilla- warzone, of occupiers and occupied battling for power. If the European Union is dissolved, the sovereign nations that remain behind may yet have a -fighting- chance.

The refugee crisis has shown us, and in rich colors, that there are still a lot of decent people in Europe. The problem is that they have no political voice. The dissolution of the Union may be the best -if not only- way to return that voice to them.

Separate sovereign countries with decision making and accountability on a smaller and therefore more human scale are much less likely to draw sociopaths into leading positions.

May 082015
 
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Jack Delano Long stairway in mill district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1940

We at the Automatic Earth always try to steer clear of elections as much as possible, because there are no functioning democracies left in the west -no more than there are functioning markets-, and no journalists reporting on them either. Interesting question, by the way: how can a journalist report on a democracy that isn’t there? And where in that setting does news turn to mere opinion, and where does opinion then become news ?

Still, of course we caught some bits of the UK elections along the way regardless. The decisive moment for us must have been when Jeremy Paxman interviewed David Cameron at the BBC, and asked him if he knew how many foodbanks had been added in Britain since he took office 5 years ago.

Cameron, well duh obviously, had no idea, and instead of answering the question he started a flowery discourse praising the many volunteers who work in the foodbanks he didn’t know existed. Paxman cut him short and said there were 66 when Cameron came to power, and 421 now. Apparently in Britain, volunteers are needed to take care of the needy, they’re not going to pay people to do that. You would think that takes care of Cameron’s candidacy, but you couldn’t be more wrong.

At least Paxman seemed to try, but interviews like his should take place on the eve of an election, not 6 weeks before them like this one. That leaves far too much time for spin doctors to repair damage done by their candidate’s ignorance and gullibility. It’s crazy enough that party leaders can refuse to discuss each other, let alone the public, in public. Then again, that too would only be significant if there would be an actual democracy in Britain.

As things are, they might as well have put the royal baby in charge as soon as she was born, or for that matter the newborn macaque in Japan that ‘stole’ her name (at least there was an honest public ballot for that). Or perhaps the adorable little monkey can take over polling in the UK, since we can’t imagine any British pollsters still being employed tomorrow morning, not with the degrees to which they missed any and all election outcomes today.

A whole bunch of ‘leaders’ will leave too, but there’s plenty of shades of dull grey humanoids waiting in the wings to replace them. Besides, though Nigel Farage has often been dead on in describing, in the European Parliament, the inherent failures of Brussels, at home he’s never been more than a sad lost clown. I had to think hard about LibDem Clegg’s first name, even needed to look it up -it’s Nick- , and that sort of says it all: he would do well to change his name to Bland.

And perhaps Ed Milibland should do the same. Can anyone ever really have believed that this lady’s underwear salesman could have won this election? Or did they all just fudge the numbers so they had material to print? Ed Milibland never stood a chance. And Russell Bland can now go lick his wounds from supporting the guy, and no, Russell, saying now that you’re just a comedian won’t do the trick. You’ve been tainted. If it’s any consolation, you screwed up the same way Springsteen did when he played Obama’s support act. No surrender, no excuses.

Milibland, by the way, had one last no-no to offer in stepping down. He tweeted: “I am grateful to the people who worked on our campaign and for the campaign they ran. The responsibility for the result is mine alone.” Sorry, boyo, but that just ain’t so. The responsibility lies at least as much with the people who put you in the leader’s chair that doesn’t fit you, and with those who kept you in that chair throughout the campaign.

All Brits should feel blessed that they’re not in America, where these campaigns, which are equally hollow and devoid of democratic principles, last ten times as long. If your blessings are few, do count them.

But then, we all get what we deserve. If the Brits want to be governed and gutted by the same people who raised the number of foodbanks the way they have, by a factor of seven in five years, and who fabricated the pretense of a functioning economy by blowing the biggest bubble in British history in selling off London town to monopoly money printing Chinese, Russian expat oligarchs and other such impeccable and blameless world citizens, if that’s what the Brits want, then let them have it.

One things’s for sure: Cameron and his ilk, now that they have a majority, will let them have it. And then some. In reality, though, even if they deserve what they get, there’s no vox populi here: the people have not spoken, the people have done what the press told them to do. Like in so many countries, there effectively is no press anymore in Britain, at least not in the sense that we used to knowl; the press no longer asks questions. Which begs yet another question: what is first to go, the media or the democratic values?

Peter Yukes wrote this for Politico just before the election:

The British Press Has Lost It

For months polls have put Conservatives and Labour close with about third of the vote each, and smaller parties destined to hold some balance of power. But there has been no balance in the papers. Tracked by Election Unspun, the coverage has been unremittingly hostile to Ed Miliband, the Labour challenger, with national newspapers backing the Conservative incumbent, David Cameron over Labour by a ratio of five to one.

Veteran US campaign manager David Axelrod finds this politicization of the print media one of the most salient differences with the US. “I’ve worked in aggressive media environments before,” he told POLITICO, “but not this partisan.” Axelrod may have ax to grind as he advises the Labour Party, but even a conservative commentator and long-serving lieutenant of Rupert Murdoch has been shocked. “Tomorrow’s front pages show British press at partisan worst,” Andrew Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times rued. “All pretense of separation between news and opinion gone, even in ‘qualities.’”

Excuse me, but how is ‘this politicization of the print media one of the most salient differences with the US’? Which US paper has not long been grossly politicized? It’s a shame Yukes devalues his article with such statements.

And that’s the difference. The whole newspaper industry seems to be affected by the tabloid tendentiousness trade-marked by Murdoch’s best-selling the Sun when it roared, in 1992, “It’s the Sun Wot Won It.” The Daily Mail specializes in political character assassination and the ‘Red Ed’ tag was predictable. But when the paper went on from attacking Miliband’s dead father to a hit-job on his wife’s appearance, the politics of personal destruction sank from gutter to sewer.

In this precipitous race to the bottom, perhaps the Daily Telegraph had the steepest fall. Known as a bastion of the Tory thinking, it had long been respected for separating fact from comment. During this election cycle is was caught sourcing its front pages direct from Conservative Campaign HQ, seeming to confirm the parting words of its senior political commentator, Peter Oborne, that it was intent on committing “a fraud on its readership.”

Well, at least it’s no surprise that the Telegraph does what it’s always done. Nobody expects them to be impartial.

The paper of record, The Times, fared a little better, in that there has been two vaguely positive front pages about Miliband — compared to 18 for Cameron.Meanwhile, the publication that arose in rebellion to Murdoch’s acquisition of the Times in the 80s, The Independent, shocked most its staff and readership by backing a continued Lib Dem/Tory Coalition. Reports said the endorsement was a ‘diktat’ from the wealthy Russian-born owner, Evgeny Lebedev, causing many to mock its original ad slogan “The Independent: It’s Not. Are You?” or renaming it ‘The Dependent’.

Even the sober, tight-lipped Financial Times, which once supported Blair and endorsed Obama, lost credibility. The paper said it backed another Conservative-led coalition because Ed Miliband was too “preoccupied with inequality.” But that magisterial tone was undermined when it emerged the leader writer, Jonathan Ford, was pictured in the notorious 1987 photo of Oxford’s elite hard drinking Bullingdon Club next to the Tory mayor Boris Johnson and just below David Cameron.

A bigger problem would seem to be that Milibland can’t have been far from that club; he attended much of the same educational institutions the other ‘leader elites’ did. Yukes is on to something, but he’s missing the point.

Therein lies the problem, and an indication the newspaper world is a microcosm of a wider malaise. The Conservative politician John Biffen once said “whenever you find a senior politician and a powerful media owner in private conclave, you can be certain that the aims of healthy, plural democracy are not being well-served.” This election that conclave looks like an exclusive club.

Rarely have the economic interests of the handful of wealthy men who own most the press (nine men own 90% of all national and regional titles) appeared so brutally transparent. Most of the conservatives among them don’t like Cameron’s modernizing project, or the fact he looks set to fail to get a majority for a second time. But they fear Miliband with a passion because he threatens their power in several ways.

They fear(ed) Milibland? I don’t believe that for a second. I think it’s much more likely that they’ve all intentionally exaggerated Milibland’s poll numbers to make it look like there was an actual race going on. That they were only too happy to have a guy run against theirs that everybody could see from miles away would never be a contender (maybe if his first name would have been Marlon? or Stanley?)

Plus they have the outdated and somewhat inane electoral system, in which for instance the Green Party got – roughly – one million votes and 1 seat, while the Conservatives accumulated 10 million votes and 331 seats. If you can work that system in your favor, you’re half way home. Moreover, if and when you hire the cream of the crop American spin doctors, as the Cons have certainly done, who love purchasing media, you’re way past halfway.

The system can certainly be given some sort of name, but a functioning democracy it’s not. If anything, a democracy is “A system of government in which power is vested in the people”. Makes us wonder how many clients of the 421 foodbanks and counting have voted Con. and figured they were proudly doing their democratic duty.