Dec 082019
 
 December 8, 2019  Posted by at 9:04 pm Finance, Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »


Saul Leiter 463 1956

 

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev first met in Geneva in 1985, in a summit specifically designed to allow them to discuss diplomatic relations and the -nuclear- arms race. At the time, the Soviet Union had started to crumble, but it was still very much the Soviet Union. They met again in 1986 in Reykjavik, in a summit set up to continue these talks. There, they came close to an agreement to dismantle both countries’ nuclear arsenals.

They met once again in Washington in 1987. That was the year Reagan made his famous “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech about the Berlin wall. Then they held a next summit in 1988 in Moscow, where they finalized the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) after the US Senate’s ratification of the treaty in May 1988.

Reagan’s successor George H.W. Bush met with Gorbachev first in December 1989 in Malta, and then the two met three times in 1990, among others in Washington where the Chemical Weapons Accord was signed, and in Paris where they signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. They met three more times in 1991, with one of their meetings, in Moscow, resulting in the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I).

One of the most interesting things agreed on during the Bush-Gorbachev meetings was that Russia would allow Germany to re-unite after the wall came down, in exchange for the promise that NATO would not try to expand eastward.

 

I’ve been re-researching this a bit because it feels like it’s high time that people should realize what US foreign policy was like not that long ago. Even as it involved Reagan and Bush sr., not exactly the peace-mongers of their times. The one thing that was clear to all parties involved is that it was crucial to keep meeting and talking. And talk they did. But look at us now. When was the last summit of a US president with Vladimir Putin?

This came to mind again when I read Elizabeth Warren’s piece in the Guardian today, which made me wonder if she’s for real, if she is really as ignorant as she appears to be when it comes to foreign policy, to Russia, to Trump and to NATO. It would seem that she is, and that makes her a hazard. Not that I see her as a serious candidate, mind you, but then again, I do not see any other one either.

In her article, which reads more than anything like some nostalgic longing for the good old times when she was young, just watch her get all warm and fuzzy over the success of NATO:

 

Donald Trump Has Destroyed American Leadership – I’ll Restore It

For seven decades, America’s strength, security and prosperity have been underpinned by our unmatched network of treaty alliances, cemented in shared democratic values and a recognition of our common security. But after three years of Donald Trump’s insults and antics, our alliances are under enormous strain. The damage done by the president’s hostility toward our closest partners was on full display at this week’s gathering of NATO leaders in London, which should have been an unequivocal celebration of the 70th anniversary of the most successful alliance in history.

The success of NATO was not inevitable, easy or obvious. It is a remarkable and hard-won accomplishment, and one based on a recognition that the United States does not become stronger by weakening our allies. But that is just what Trump has done, repeatedly and deliberately. He treats our partners as burdens while embracing autocrats from Moscow to Pyongyang. He has cast doubt on the US commitment to NATO at a moment when a resurgent Russia threatens our institutions and freedoms. He has blindsided our partners on the ground in Syria by ordering a precipitate and uncoordinated withdrawal.

[..] he has wrecked US credibility by unilaterally tearing up our international agreements on arms control, non-proliferation and climate change. This reckless disregard for the benefits of our alliances comes at a perilous moment, when we face common threats from powerful adversaries probing the weaknesses of our institutions and resolve. Longstanding allies in Asia are doubting our reliability and hedging their bets. Russia’s land grab in Ukraine has upended the post-1989 vision of a Europe “whole, free, and at peace”. The chaotic Brexit process has consumed our closest partners, while sluggish growth and rising xenophobia fuel extremist politics and threaten to fracture the European Union.

 

To start with that last point, no. That “post-1989 vision of a Europe “whole, free, and at peace” was destroyed by NATO’s eastward expansion, executed in spite of US, EU and NATO promises that it wouldn’t. Moreover, you can talk about a resurgent Russia, but the country has hardly recovered economically from the 1980’s and 90’s today, and it has no designs on countries to its west.

Just look at the military budgets of the respective countries, where Russia has maybe 10% of the expenditure of the US, let alone the rest of NATO, and you get the picture. Is Russia getting more bang for its buck, because it doesn’t have to maintain a long running Pentagon-Boeing/Raytheon link? Yes, it does. But a 10 to 1 difference is still way out there. It’s not as if they spend half of what the US does, they spend just 10%.

This is because not only Russia doesn’t have to satisfy the desires and needs of Pentagon-Boeing/Raytheon, it’s also because they have no desire to conquer any territory that is not at present Russian.

Russia “annexed” Crimea through fair elections, and it knew that “we” knew that it would never let go of its only warm water port, Sevastopol. When “We” tried to take it away regardless, it did the only thing it could do. And it did it very intelligently. As for Eastern Ukraine, everyone there is Russian, whether by blood or by passport. And there are a lot of strong ties between them and Russians in Russia proper.

If Putin would have volunteered to let these Donbass Russians be shot to bits by the Ukraine neo-nazis that helped the US and EU in the Maidan coup, he would have had either a civil war in Russia, or an all-out war in the Donbass, with perhaps millions of casualties. Putin did what he could to prevent both. Back to Warren:

 

A mounting list of global challenges demand US leadership and collective action. As president, I will recommit to our alliances – diplomatically, militarily and economically. I will take immediate action to rebuild our partnerships and renew American strategic and moral leadership, including by rejoining the Paris climate accord, the United Nations compact on migration, and reaffirming our rock-solid commitment to NATO’s Article 5 provisions.


But we must do more than repair what Trump has broken. Instead we need to update our alliances and our international efforts to tackle the great challenges of our age, from climate change and resurgent authoritarianism to dark money flows, a weakening international arms control regime and the worst human displacement crisis in modern history.

 

Wait, what exactly has Trump broken in the foreign policy field? There have been dozens at the very least who have called for NATO to be disbanded, Ron Paul et al, because its sole purpose was to counter the Soviet Union, which no longer exists. In fact, when Emmanuel Macron labeled NATO “brain-dead” last week, it was Trump who defended the alliance.

And sorry, Elizabeth, but to hold Trump responsible for “the worst human displacement crisis in modern history” is just not right. That started way before he arrived at the scene. Obama and Hillary carry the burden and blame for that, along with Bush jr. and Dick Cheney. They shot the crap out of Iraq, Lybia etc. Trump only dumped a few bombs in a desert. He didn’t invade any country, he didn’t go “We Came, We Saw, He Died”. That was not Trump.

And before we forget, the military aid for Ukraine Trump allegedly held back for a few weeks had been refused by Obama for years. I’ve been wondering for ages now why the Democrats are so eager to make things up while ignoring simple facts, but I think at least it’s time to start pointing out these issues.

This is not to make Trump look better in any sense, but to try and make people understand that he did not start this thing. Though yeah, I know, it’s like talking to a wall by now. The political divide has turned into such a broad and yawning one, you can’t not wonder how it could ever be broached.

But, you know, it might help if people like Elizabeth Warren don’t ONLY talk about Trump like he’s the antichrist, or a Putin tool, if they engage with him in conversation. But sadly, it feels like we’re past that point. Like if she would even try, and I don’t know if she would want to, her party would spit her out just for trying to build a single bridge. Like Tulsi Gabbard seems to have tried; and look at how the DNC treats her.

 

This means revitalizing our state department and charging our diplomats to develop creative solutions for ever more urgent challenges. It means working with like-minded partners to promote our shared interest in sustained, inclusive global economic growth and an international trade system that protects workers and the environment, not just corporate profits. And it means reducing wasteful defense spending and refocusing on the areas most critical to our security in years to come.

 

Well, apart from the fact that we’ve seen some of those diplomats in the Schiff hearings, and they seemed like the least likely people to develop anything “creative” -other than their opinions-, and the boondoggle of “sustained, inclusive global economic growth”, it’s probably best to forget about that entire paragraph. It’s nicer to Warren too.

 

Alliances are not charities, and it’s fair to ask our partners to do their share. I will build on what President Obama started by insisting on increased contributions to NATO operations and common investments in collective military capabilities. But I will also recognize the varied and significant ways that European states contribute to global security – deploying troops to shared missions, receiving refugees, and providing development assistance at some of the highest per capita rates in the world.

 

The problem appears to be that the partners don’t increase their contributions. Just this March, Germany refused to do just that. And if Berlin refuses, why would other countries spend more?

 

The next president must tackle our common problems using the lessons of common defense. Together, we can counter terrorism and proliferation. We can make common cause in constructing new norms and rules to govern cyberspace. We can dismantle the corruption, monopolies and inequality that limit opportunity around the world and take on the increasingly grave threats to our environment. We can and will protect ourselves and each other – our countries, our citizens and our democracies.

 

Now we’re getting into entirely nonsensical territory, with words and sentences designed only to make people feel good about things that have no substance whatsoever. Anyone can go there, anyone can do that.

In the meantime, the neverending investigations into Trump, Russia, Ukraine, taxes, have had one major effect: he hasn’t had a chance to have a summit with Putin. And that, to go back to how I started out this essay, is the worst idea out there. If Reagan and Bush sr. did those summits all the time, then why do we now think such summits are the work of the devil?

And yeah, we get it, we got it again last week from alleged law expert Pamela Karlan in the House, who let ‘er rip on the dangers Putin poses to all of humanity, and of course she would never trust Trump to hold any such summit because he’s Putin’s puppet.

What Pamela, and all the MSM, and the Dems, and the FBI/CIA, appear to refuse to see, though, is that Trump was democratically elected by the American people to be the only one who can have any such conversation. Karlan again talked about how Russia would attempt to attack American soil unless “we” keep them from doing that.

Now I can say that is absolute bollocks, and it is, but how many -potential- Democratic voters will recognize that at this point? They’ve been trained to believe it. That Russia wants one US presidential candidate over another, or one UK one, or fill in your country, and therefore they want to invade the US, UK, etc. In reality, Russia has plenty problems of its own, and it’s slowly trying to solve them.

The two countries need to start talking to each other again, and the sooner the better. That it will happen under Elizabeth Warren, however, is very unlikely. First because she has her mind made up about Russia, and second because the likelihood of her becoming president is very low. What do you think, is that a good thing?

If for some reason -who can tell- she would end up winning 11 months from now, do you think she’s likely to establish a peace treaty with Russia? You know, given what she wrote here? And if not, why would you vote for her? Don’t you want peace? Do you think antagonizing Putin forever is a good idea? While Russia continues to outperform America in arms development, and in just about any field? While Russia only wants peace?

Good questions, ain’t they, as we move into 2020?!

 

 

 

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Nov 172019
 


Pablo Picasso Chair 1942

 

Ex-NSC Official Claims Sondland Said He Was Directed By Trump On Ukraine (CNN)
Prince Andrew Denies Sex With 17 Year Old, Says He Was At Pizza Express (Ind.)
High-Stakes Gamble On TV Interview Over Epstein Backfires On Prince Andrew (G.)
Boeing Pressures FAA To Re-Approve 737 MAX, Staff Beg Not To Fly In It (BI)
Macron Plays Fox in the EU Hen House (Spiegel)
Saudi Aramco IPO Set To Value Company Up To $1.7 Trillion (CNBC)
Iran Gas Price Hike Protests Escalate (RT)
Hong Kong Protesters Hurl PETROL BOMBS, Shoot ARROWS At Police (RT)
Tensions Run High During Yellow Vests Protests (RT)
Bolivia Death Toll Mounts Amid Pro-Evo Morales Protests (BBC)
Chile Agrees To Replace Pinochet Constitution Amid Turbulent Protests (AP)

 

 

The smell that emanates from this is something in the vein of : “How dare a president be involved in foreign policy?” Sure, Sondland is an out of place character, but to label this ‘interference’ is odd. “At the NSC, “we have a way we do things that works,” talking about regular vs irregular foreign policy channels. But the thing is that Trump didn’t trust the regular channels; he thought they’d protect Biden, and keep the focus on Russia Russia.

Is Trump dangerous for asking for a Burisma investigation? Or is he merely a problem for the State Lifers and their backers? Want to check what the Constituion says about foreign policy?

Ex-NSC Official Claims Sondland Said He Was Directed By Trump On Ukraine (CNN)

Gordon Sondland, the American envoy to the European Union, was acting at President Donald Trump’s instruction in his dealings with Ukraine, and Sondland said that the President told him Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “must announce the opening of the investigations,” according to the closed-door deposition of a former National Security Council official. Former NSC official Tim Morrison testified that he had heard from Sondland that US aid to Ukraine was conditioned on the country announcing an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

Morrison’s testimony, which was released by House impeachment investigators on Saturday, adds additional corroboration to the testimony of others, like US diplomat Bill Taylor, that Sondland said he was acting at Trump’s direction when he was urging Ukraine to announce political investigations. Morrison’s testimony will only fuel questions about Sondland’s closed-door interview, which has been called into question based on the testimony others have given about his conversations with Trump. Sondland is scheduled to testify publicly before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. House impeachment investigators also released Saturday the transcript of Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, who listened into the July 25 call along with Morrison.

While Morrison did not take specific issue with the content of Trump’s call with Zelensky, both aides described their concerns as they listened to Trump discussing political investigations. Morrison’s testimony also added additional detail explaining how the call ended up on a highly secure server outside of normal channels. Morrison, who is scheduled to testify publicly on Tuesday, described how Sondland was a “problem” as he operated in what previous witness testimony described as irregular foreign policy channels. And he recalled Sondland speaking directly to Trump about the investigations and the military aid. “He related to me he was acting – he was discussing these matters with the President,” Morrison said.

[..] Morrison said Sondland was a concern for his predecessor, former White House Russia expert Fiona Hill, who is also scheduled to testify publicly next week. “She described Ambassador Sondland as a problem,” Morrison said, recounting a conversation they had about Sondland. “We both discussed that Ukraine was not in the EU, which led to the follow-on question of, why is he involved in Ukraine? And, as I mentioned, she mentioned Burisma, which I nearly did not know what that was.” Morrison explained their concern: “It was less about his role in Ukraine and more about how he conducted himself. He did not participate in the process. So we are very process-oriented on the NSC; we have a way we do things that works. And so when people come in and get involved in issues and they’re not of that process, it creates risk.”

Read more …

He can’t for the life of him remember meeting Virginia Giuffre, but he distinctly remembers going for pizza.

Prince Andrew Denies Sex With 17 Year Old, Says He Was At Pizza Express (Ind.)

Prince Andrew has claimed he could not have had sex with a 17-year-old girl on the night he is accused of doing so – because he had taken his daughter to Pizza Express in Woking. Giving an unprecedented television interview to address claims surrounding his friendship with billionaire sex offender Jeffery Epstein, the Duke of York denied having sex with Virginia Giuffre in 2001. [..] “On that particular day, that we now understand is the date which is the 10th of March, I was at home,” the duke said. “I was with the children and I’d taken Beatrice to a Pizza Express in Woking for a party at I suppose, sort of, four or five in the afternoon.

“And then because the duchess [of York] was away, we have a simple rule in the family that when one is away, the other one is there.” When asked why he remembered the specific trip to the restaurant, he replied: “Because going to Pizza Express in Woking is an unusual thing for me to do, a very unusual thing for me to do. “I’ve never been … I’ve only been to Woking a couple of times and I remember it weirdly distinctly. “As soon as somebody reminded me of it, I went: ‘Oh yes, I remember that’.”

[..] The duke went on to question the validity of a photograph with his arm around Ms Giuffre in London – saying it was not possible to prove if the image had, or had not, been faked. He said: ”I don’t believe it’s a picture of me in London because when I would out to… When I go out in London, I wear a suit and a tie. “That’s what I would describe as… those are my travelling clothes if I’m going to go… If I’m going overseas.” He added: ”Nobody can prove whether or not that photograph has been doctored but I don’t recollect that photograph ever being taken.”

Read more …

What a trainwreck of a man. Saw Epstein umpteen times, a man who everybody says was always surrounded by minor girls, but not during all those times Andrew was around, in London, New York, pedo island.

High-Stakes Gamble On TV Interview Over Epstein Backfires On Prince Andrew (G.)

The prince’s answers are likely to ensure he remains in the headlines for the conceivable future, and several commentators have condemned his approach. Catherine Mayer, founder of the Women’s Equality Party, tweeted that the prince was “too stupid to even pretend concern for Epstein’s victims”. Charlie Proctor, editor of the Royal Central website, said: “I expected a train wreck. That was a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear explosion level bad.” It is known that some close to the prince had reservations about how the interview – reportedly the result of six months of negotiations with the royal household – would play out.

Jason Stein, who previously worked for the former work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, recently quit as an adviser to the prince after less than a month. It is understood he had disagreed with the decision to go ahead with the interview. It is claimed that the prince sought permission from the Queen before giving it, and that she gave her consent early last week. In the interview, the prince said that with “hindsight” his decision to stay at Epstein’s house was “definitely the wrong thing to do”. Giuffre’s lawyers did not respond to requests for comment but her Twitter account retweeted a comment from the former editor of the Northern Echo, Peter Barron, who said: “Astonishing decision by the royal family to go ahead with this Prince Andrew confessional interview in the hope it would draw a line under the scandal. It will have the opposite effect.”

[..] Giuffre’s lawyer, Jack Scarola, told Mail Online the prince should agree to an interview “under oath” instead of giving statements to the media that carry “little weight”. He said: “I believe there is an ongoing investigation in New York by the FBI under the supervision of the US Attorney’s office into those involved in facilitating Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse. “I would love to see Prince Andrew submit to an interview under oath with the investigating authorities. Talking to the media doesn’t quite cut it. Statements that are not under oath carry little weight.”


Prince Andrew: I don’t do public displays of affection

Read more …

Getting antsy: “Asking the FAA to let Boeing deliver newly-manufactured 737 MAXes to clients before it is approved to fly..” Wait, how are you going to deliver them then?

Boeing Pressures FAA To Re-Approve 737 MAX, Staff Beg Not To Fly In It (BI)

Boeing is exerting pressure on the Federal Aviation Administration to speed up the approval of its 737 Max jet to fly again, according to multiple reports, and seemingly confirmed by the agency’s head. At the same time, airline crew and pilots are pushing back against any expedited timescale for the Max’s return, with some begging not to be assigned to the jets even after they return to service. The Max has been grounded for eight months, since the second of two fatal crashes which killed more than 300 people between them. The approval process centers on proposed fixes to an automated flight control system which malfunctioned in the two crashes. It has taken far longer than many in the aviation industry expected.

According to The New York Times and the Reuters news agency, Boeing has pushed the FAA on two fronts in the hope of getting the plane back in the air faster: • Pushing for pilots to test the new software on flight simulators before the FAA has finished vetting it. • Asking the FAA to let Boeing deliver newly-manufactured 737 Maxes to clients before it is approved to fly, to shorten the lag between approval and airlines putting passengers on it. The FAA has resisted, The Times reported. It said engineers pointed out that it does not make sense to ask pilots to test software before it is fully vetted, since it could be changed during that process. Senior figures at the FAA have encouraged staff to take all the time they need to keep assessing the plane, both in public and in private.

Lori Bassani, the head of Association of Professional Flight Attendants, a union representing staff at American, said: “I hear from flight attendants every day, and they’re begging me not to make them go back up in that plane.” She said Boeing needs to share more information with her members about their safety changes before they will be happy to get back on. Her words followed a harsh rebuke from Jon Weaks, the head of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, who said Boeing was demonstrating “arrogance, ignorance, and greed” in its push to get the plane flying again.

Read more …

“Russia, he said, is part of Europe and it cannot and should not be ignored..”

Macron Plays Fox in the EU Hen House (Spiegel)

French diplomats in Brussels are open about the fact that differences between Berlin and Paris are growing more frequent. Berlin officials, by contrast, insist that the frontlines now run between Paris and the rest of the EU. That has also been easy to see when it comes to Brexit. In recent months, Macron has repeatedly failed in his demand that Britain not be granted a deferral or, if unavoidable, merely a short delay. Most recently, the French had virtually no allies left on the issue. Macron was similarly isolated at the EU summit in mid-October, when he blocked the beginning of accession negotiations with North Macedonia by making use of his veto. Outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker referred to it as a “historic mistake” that could endanger the Balkan country’s stability.

Merkel likewise said pointedly that the EU had to “remain reliable.” Insiders say that it only became clear how Macron would vote on the issue just one day before EU heads of state and government gathered for the summit. When Chancellery staff inquire at the Élysée as to why they aren’t always kept informed, they sometimes receive answers that they have thus far only associated with the Trump administration in Washington: Élysée staff, they hear, only has limited influence over the president. In August, Macron initiated a new approach to Russia without consulting at all with his allies. Just a few days ahead of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, a group that Russia was expelled from after the annexation of the Crimea, Macron invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to southern France for talks.

Not speaking with Russia would be a major mistake, Macron said immediately before the consultations. Russia, he said, is part of Europe and it cannot and should not be ignored, adding that he believed in the power of geography and European history. Even then, it was growing clear that Macron was thinking about a new security concept for Europe. For Macron, a strong Europe is one that self-confidently seeks dialogue with the large and mid-sized powers the world over. The more we do to ensure that Russia becomes a power within Europe, Macron said at the time, the better.

Read more …

Some people are suggesting the Saudis badly need the cash.

Saudi Aramco IPO Set To Value Company Up To $1.7 Trillion (CNBC)

Saudi Aramco has set a price range for its listing that implies the oil giant is worth between $1.6 trillion to $1.7 trillion, below the $2 trillion that the Saudi crown prince had previously targeted, making it potentially the world’s biggest IPO. Aramco said on Sunday it plans to sell 1.5% of its shares or about 3 billion shares, at an indicative price range of 30 riyals ($8.00) to 32 riyals, valuing the initial public offering (IPO), as much as 96 billion riyals ($25.60 billion) at the top end of the range. Aramco could just beat the record-breaking $25 billion raised by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba when it made its stock market debut in New York in 2014.

Read more …

A sreies of protests articles. The one in Iran ignited fast.

Iran Gas Price Hike Protests Escalate (RT)

The Iranian government’s surprise decision to raise gasoline prices, which caused protests around the country, should be implemented, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said, blaming the violence amid demonstrations on criminals. The divisive decision, announced this week, has caused protests in several Iranian cities. Khamenei was cited by the Iranian media on Sunday as saying that, while he was no expert in petrol industry, he still believed the government’s decision should be implemented. The Iranian leader also confirmed that there have been deaths related to the protests caused by the hike, blaming them on foreign influence.


“Sabotage and arson is done by hooligans not our people. The counter-revolution and Iran’s enemies have always supported sabotage and breaches of security and continue to do so,” he said as quoted by state TV. The demonstrations that started on Friday have been largely peaceful, but on some occasions the public anger escalated into vandalism and clashes. Iranian authorities confirmed that one person was killed in the southeastern city of Sirjan. There were also reports of protesters vandalizing cars, setting banks on fire and otherwise causing property damage.

Read more …

There’s a shift in emotion going on. Sympathy for the Hong Kong protesters appears to be waning.

Hong Kong Protesters Hurl PETROL BOMBS, Shoot ARROWS At Police (RT)

Demonstrators in Hong Kong attacked common citizens who attempted to free the roads from barricades amid a new round of clashes with police. A fierce street battle erupted outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) on Sunday, as protesters threw bricks at police, which responded with tear gas and water cannons. The officers were trying to remove the barricades erected by the demonstrators earlier this week, and urged them to stop placing metal spikes on the roads in hopes of piercing the police vehicles’ tires. The protesters earlier attacked a group of citizens who were clearing the roadblocks and debris outside the PolyU. A man and a woman were hospitalized with head injuries in result of the attack.

Similar scuffles occurred near the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and the City University of Hong Kong (CityU), where black-clad, masked rioters threw bricks and petrol bombs at the volunteers, who were removing the makeshift barricades. The residents, many of whom are alumnae of these universities, have answered online calls from pro-government politicians to help clean the streets. Some of them told the South China Morning Post that protesters have gone “too far” when they switched from rioting downtown to seizing campuses and blocking major roads, including the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, which connects the Hong Kong Island with the rest of the city.

Around 50 Chinese army soldiers joined the volunteers to dismantle the barricades near the Hong Kong Baptist University, marking the first time when Beijing’s troops have left their barracks since the start of the protests this summer. The soldiers were unarmed and wore no protective gear.

Read more …

“Celebrating” the 1 year anniversary.

Tensions Run High During Yellow Vests Protests (RT)

Yellow Vest protesters were doused with water during clashes with police and rioting in downtown Paris, ahead of the first anniversary of their nationwide anti-government demonstrations. The Place d’Italie circle in the city’s 13th arrondissement descended into chaos as protesters erected makeshift barricades and threw stones at police officers, which responded with tear gas and water cannon. The protesters overturned several parked cars and set vehicles on fire. A group of Yellow Vests attempted to block a fire truck from getting through to the barricades, which were also set ablaze.


A shopping mall and several bus stops were vandalized when the protesters vented their anger over what they deem as government inaction towards their demands, made throughout a full year of weekly demonstrations. The windows of a bank were smashed during the rioting. The protester groups on social media had earlier called on their colleagues to occupy and block several stores, including the Ikea and Apple stores. Police were also called in to disperse protesters who were blocking traffic along the Boulevard Peripherique, the city’s main ring ‘beltway’ road. The authorities revoked their permit to stage a rally at the Place d’Italie, after the protests turned violent. Police had arrested 61 protesters by 3pm, Prefect of Paris Didier Lallement confirmed, adding that some officers were injured in the clashes.

Read more …

Can they bring Morales back?

Bolivia Death Toll Mounts Amid Pro-Evo Morales Protests (BBC)

The death toll in Bolivia continues to rise after violent clashes between security forces and supporters of former President Evo Morales. On Friday, security forces opened fire on supporters of Mr Morales in Sacaba, killing at least eight people. A doctor in the city told the Associated Press that most of those killed and injured had bullet wounds. The country’s national ombudsman said a total of 19 people had died since the disputed election on 20 October. On Saturday, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned that violence in Bolivia could “spin out of control”. “Repressive actions by the authorities… are likely to jeopardise any possible avenue for dialogue,” she added. Amid claims of electoral fraud, Mr Morales resigned on 10 November and later fled to Mexico.


On Friday, before the violence in Sacaba, he told the BBC that there were no meaningful charges that could be brought against him. He was responding to interim President Jeanine Áñez, who said he could be prosecuted if he returned to Bolivia. Mr Morales had previously said he was willing to return to Bolivia in order to restore peace. He also told US broadcaster CNN that what happened in Sacaba was “a real massacre”. Ms Áñez, who declared herself interim president on Tuesday, has already broken ties with Venezuela and is sending home more than 700 Cuban medics. The moves are meant to show that the interim government is distancing itself from Mr Morales’s regional left-wing allies.

Read more …

Heavy protests in Chile too.

Chile Agrees To Replace Pinochet Constitution Amid Turbulent Protests (AP)

Chile’s most important political parties agreed Friday to call for a new constitution to replace one imposed by a military dictatorship almost 40 years ago, a move that follows a month of turbulent social protests in the streets. The agreement calls for an April plebiscite asking Chileans who should draft that document: the existing Congress or a new group made up of legislators and specially elected citizens. Holding the plebiscite itself will require a modification of the existing constitution. The agreement follows a month of demonstrations that began with a protest over subway fares and expanded into a mass movement against inequality that has shaken the nation.


At least 25 people have died and thousands injured. It wasn’t immediately clear if the pact would pacify the hundreds of thousands of Chileans who have taken to the streets in recent weeks. “They are hearing what the people have been asking for so long,” said Pedro Alastuey, a 36-year-old physical education teacher who took part in some of the protests. But he added, “Until they give a concrete solution to the demands of the people, it will be very hard to stop this.” [..] A broad swath of the centre and left of Chile’s political spectrum has long demanded scrapping or major overhauls to the 1980 constitution imposed by the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, which overthrew democratically elected Socialist Party President Salvador Allende in 1973.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Aug 082014
 
 August 8, 2014  Posted by at 1:26 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  10 Responses »


Dorothea Lange Family of 4 from Taos Junction, resettled at Bosque Farms, NM Dec 1935

The Nikkei lost 2.98% overnight, European exchanges continue their fall, hundreds of trucks carrying European produce are turned back at the Russian border, and high yield bond funds saw record high outflows in the past week. And in that world, China reports it highest trade balance surplus ever, a ‘fact’ that’s duly parroted by ‘news’ services around the globe.

Meanwhile, the WHO declares the Ebola outbreak an ‘international public health emergency’ and Barack Obama goes on national TV to announce he’s ordered targeted airstrikes in Iraq, ostensibly to prevent a massacre. Is this the US trying to clean up some of the mess and the vacuum it’s left behind?

Don’t bet on it, creating messes, vacuums and chaos is an integral part of American foreign policy. Perhaps seeing ISIS militants take over Iraq’s biggest hydroelectric dam earlier in the week was the proverbial straw. There’s a Pentagon report that says “a failure at the dam could send a 65-foot wave across parts of northern Iraq.”

Talking about Obama, journalist Greg Palast, who knows a thing or two about vulture funds, writes one of the most damning articles about the president that I’ve seen in a while. Palast contends that it would be very easy for Obama to halt Argentina’s default – and the credit event it would result in – by simply invoking one single clause from the US Constitution.

In fact, George W. did just that, and used it against the very same hedge fund that now threatens Argentina. Moreover, the very same judge who rules over the present case was warned over the “Separation of Powers” clause 30 years ago. But Obama hasn’t moved an inch.

How Barack Obama Could End Argentina Debt Crisis

The “vulture” financier now threatening to devour Argentina can be stopped dead by a simple note to the courts from Barack Obama. But the president, while officially supporting Argentina, has not done this one thing that could save Buenos Aires from default. Obama could prevent vulture hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer from collecting a single penny from Argentina by invoking the long-established authority granted presidents by the US constitution’s “Separation of Powers” clause.

Under the principle known as “comity”, Obama only need inform US federal judge Thomas Griesa that Singer’s suit interferes with the president’s sole authority to conduct foreign policy. Case dismissed. Indeed, President George W Bush invoked this power against the very same hedge fund now threatening Argentina. Bush blocked Singer’s seizure of Congo-Brazzaville’s US property, despite the fact that the hedge fund chief is one of the largest, and most influential, contributors to Republican candidates.

Notably, an appeals court warned this very judge, 30 years ago, to heed the directive of a president invoking his foreign policy powers. In the Singer case, the US state department did inform Judge Griesa that the Obama administration agreed with Argentina’s legal arguments; but the president never invoked the magical, vulture-stopping clause. Obama’s devastating hesitation is no surprise. It repeats the president’s capitulation to Singer the last time they went mano a mano.

It was 2009. Singer, through a brilliantly complex financial manoeuvre, took control of Delphi Automotive, the sole supplier of most of the auto parts needed by General Motors and Chrysler. Both auto firms were already in bankruptcy. Singer and co-investors demanded the US Treasury pay them billions, including $350m (£200m) in cash immediately, or – as the Singer consortium threatened – “we’ll shut you down”. They would cut off GM’s parts. Literally.

GM and Chrysler, with no more than a couple of days’ worth of parts to hand, would have shut down, permanently; forced into liquidation. Obama’s negotiator, Treasury deputy Steven Rattner, called the vulture funds’ demand “extortion” – a characterisation of Singer repeated last week by Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. But while Fernández declared “I cannot as president submit the country to such extortion,” Obama submitted within days. Ultimately, the US Treasury quietly paid the Singer consortium a cool $12.9 billion in cash and subsidies from the US Treasury’s auto bailout fund.

I recommend you read the rest of Palast’s piece as well, there are still people in the world who know how to do investigative journalism. Here’s one more paragraph:

In the case of Argentina, Obama certainly has reason to act. The US State Department warned the judge that adopting Singer’s legal theories would imperil sovereign bailout agreements worldwide. Indeed, it is reported that, in 2012, Singer joined fellow billionaire vulture investor Kenneth Dart in shaking down the Greek government for a huge payout during the euro crisis by threatening to create a mass default of banks across Europe.

Best remember who your friends are. Argentina has filed a complaint against the US with the International Court Of Justice, but it may be of little use, since the US doesn’t recognize its jurisdiction (it’s too afraid some former Washington hotshots would be called to stand trial for, among other things, war crimes).

Mario Draghi yesterday reiterated his intention to prepare for launching QE, but that may not just be impossible, it may be too late as well, since even Germany is rumored to be near a recession. What global central banks have pulled out of their hats so far has already resulted in such a distorted marketplace that German and Dutch 10-year bonds yield 1% or less, and the German 2-year even briefly went negative yesterday. Draghi QE would only exacerbate the very situation that has led to this distortion, and we must hope at least some heads are clear enough to recognize that.

But don’t bet on that either. Draghi may have to save his native country first, and urgently:

The ECBs Next Problem: Saving Italy

Since Matteo Renzi grabbed the Italian premiership in February, Rome has fallen off the radar of most crisis watchers. Renzi’s promise to institute sweeping reforms to business and labour markets appeared to be more than hot air following the appointment of Pier Carol Padoan as finance minister. The heavy-hitting former chief economist of the OECD appeared to give the youthful Renzi the intellectual ballast and political clout needed to push through an ambitious agenda.

This narrative was allied to figures showing Italy was already close to achieving a balanced budget and its banks were in better shape than many of France’s famous names. Maybe it is too soon to judge, but figures showing the country has fallen back into recession will dent the new government’s plans along with its image.

Fathom Consulting, run by former Bank of England economist Danny Gabay, warns that Rome may rank as another of Europe’s Black Swans. It has flirted with disaster before and always pulled back. Without an ECB rescue, in the form of large-scale quantitative easing, maybe a full-blown run on its debt is inevitable, possibly next year.

But Mario thinks it’s a good idea to chastise his fellow countrymen, especially new PM Renzi, first. Perhaps his dreams of one day becoming Prime Minister himself have something to do with that.

Draghi Takes Aim at Italy as Recession Scars Euro Area

Mario Draghi says Italy can only blame itself for its third recession since 2008. The day after data showed the euro-area’s third-biggest economy unexpectedly contracted last quarter, the European Central Bank president singled out his country’s lack of structural reform and the disincentive for investment it engenders. [..] “I keep on saying the same thing, really – I mean, of reforms in the labor market, in the product markets, in the competition, in the judiciary, and so on and so forth [..] “These would be the reforms which actually have shown to have a short-term benefit.”

The ECB president’s comments on his homeland are blunter than normal, adding to the contrast with countries such as Spain that have engaged in more structural adjustments. “Draghi made a strong call for structural reforms, noting that there is now ample evidence to suggest that countries that have reformed their economies are showing a stronger economic performance than the rest of the euro zone,” said Riccardo Barbieri [at Mizuho]. “This sounds like a strong rebuttal of the approach taken by Italy’s new prime minister.”

Still, as Wolf Richter states, things are not as easy as an IMF style reform or two here and there. Italy has a hidden pile of debt to suppliers it would rather see go bankrupt.

Italy’s Unrecovery: GDP Negative In 11 Of Last 12 Quarters

In the second quarter, Italy’s economy contracted 0.2% from the first quarter, which surprised economists who’d expected, somehow, more growth now that the Italian economy – in parallel with the grander Eurozone economy – is recovering so nicely. However, reality is not playing along. Crummy exports and a refusal by businesses to pile on inventories were blamed.

Not blamed, of course, was the Italian government, which refuses to pay its suppliers. The arrears, according to the most recent data by the Bank of Italy, amounted to €75 billion ($102 billion). Italy could just issue more bonds to fund what it owes, but that would show to the rest of the world that its debt is actually much higher than the current pretenses. So no way.

Successive politicians have promised for years to pay it, only to push the date when payment would be considered seriously out further and further. So far, no one has forced the government to pay its bills, and so they don’t get paid. The past dues have been sucked out of the working capital of businesses. They strangle the private sector, lead to layoffs, and wreak general havoc in an already very fragile economy. Based on the government’s failure to comply with Europe’s Late Payments Directive, which requires governments to cut payment delays to a maximum of 60 days, the European Commission commenced an infringement procedure against Italy. But that too may just be decoration. The way it looks, it may never be paid.

The (in)famous Martin Armstrong, in his own unique style, takes things a step further:

Italy’s Recession Means ‘The End Of Democracy’

Italy has entered that phase of zero-point growth. Italy’s people have been beaten by Europe and no longer expect recovery. But then, yesterday, the Statistical Office of the economic data for the second quarter of 2014 released economic numbers that froze a dumb look even on the faces of the hardcore pessimists. For the second time this year, Italy experienced a slump of its GDP by 0.3% year on year. The economic data is so bad, not seen for 14 years, that everyone no matter what side of the political fence is whispering or shouting the same world – “Recession!”

The advantage of Italy and its legendary corruption has been its equally inefficient government that has allowed the people to just ignore it and get along with life in the real world of the underground economy. When you look at the numbers at the gross level, one cannot imagine how Italy has functioned economically. However, looking closer one sees the vibrant underground economy that has allowed the people to make their own living and still prices, taxes and debt per capita are much lower than everywhere else in Europe[..] The solution for Italy? The politician’s dream. Brussels wants to take away the right of the Italian people to vote on anything meaningful.

The Senate in Italy was rather unique. All legislation had to go through the Senate which was elected by the people and had the power to dismiss the government. This was actually a very good idea. However, it prevents tyranny from Brussels and this is the real problem. Renzi has succeeded against the resistance of the deputies. The Senate, the second chamber of Parliament, today or at the latest on Friday will decide to self-disempowerment. [..]

Italy is where the Republic was born in 509 BC that sparked a contagion that spread with the overthrow of monarchy giving birth to Democracy in Athens in 508 BC. The land that had inspired the American Revolution against monarchy is now itself surrendering the last vestige of democratic process yield to the growing tyranny of Brussels under the pretense of saving the Euro.

I’ve said it often: the only thing that would actually benefit Italy is for it to leave the Eurozone. But with people like Draghi, Monti and Renzi, plus the very extensive cabal that has held the reins for ages, that will not happen. The country will have to default, and see extensive rioting in the streets, before something fundamental will change. Until then, an ongoing parade of technocrats and bureaucrats will be elected to rule the ruins of the dramatically tragic, and dramatically beautiful, nation.

Whether the old style Senate was as great as Armstrong makes it out to be, I’m not so sure, there’s too many pictures on my retina of 95 year old life long senators soaked in ties to much less than squeaky clean segments of Italian society. Italy needs a truly fresh start, and while it’s hard to see how it will get there, it won’t get it inside the eurozone. As for democracy, Beppe Grillo’s M5S was the single largest party in the last general elections, and the system still manages to ignore him.

As for American democracy, you tell me. Who amongst ordinary Americans is happy with what the US does in Ukraine? The only voice I’ve seen consistently make sense on the topic is Ron Paul. That’s not much. Who wants to see the US go back into Iraq, as Obama has decided it will?

And who’s happy to see the President not use the powers very evidently at his disposition, to call a halt to an attack on yet another sovereign nation, this one from behind desks and courtrooms in New York and Washington? Shouldn’t the President be the one to decide on foreign policy, and is President Obama still the one making those decisions? Is he the one who went looking for a new cold war?

Democracy in America, you tell me. A few last words from Greg Palast:

Singer has certainly earned his vulture feathers. His attack on Congo-Brazzaville in effect snatched the value of the debt relief paid for by US and British taxpayers and, says Oxfam, undermined the nation’s ability to fight a cholera epidemic.

[..] since taking on Argentina, Singer has unlocked his billion-dollar bank account, becoming the biggest donor to New York Republican causes. He is a founder of Restore Our Future, a billionaire boys club, channeling the funds of Bill Koch and other Richie Rich-kid Republicans into a fearsome war-chest dedicated to vicious political attack ads. And Singer recently gave $1 million to Karl Rove’s Crossroads operation, another political attack machine.

In other words, there’s a price for crossing Singer. And, unlike the president of Argentina, Obama appears unwilling to pay it.

How Obama Could End Argentina Debt Crisis, And Why He Doesn’t (Greg Palast)

The “vulture” financier now threatening to devour Argentina can be stopped dead by a simple note to the courts from Barack Obama. But the president, while officially supporting Argentina, has not done this one thing that could save Buenos Aires from default. Obama could prevent vulture hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer from collecting a single penny from Argentina by invoking the long-established authority granted presidents by the US constitution’s “Separation of Powers” clause. Under the principle known as “comity”, Obama only need inform US federal judge Thomas Griesa that Singer’s suit interferes with the president’s sole authority to conduct foreign policy. Case dismissed. Indeed, President George W Bush invoked this power against the very same hedge fund now threatening Argentina. Bush blocked Singer’s seizure of Congo-Brazzaville’s US property, despite the fact that the hedge fund chief is one of the largest, and most influential, contributors to Republican candidates.

Notably, an appeals court warned this very judge, 30 years ago, to heed the directive of a president invoking his foreign policy powers. In the Singer case, the US state department did inform Judge Griesa that the Obama administration agreed with Argentina’s legal arguments; but the president never invoked the magical, vulture-stopping clause. Obama’s devastating hesitation is no surprise. It repeats the president’s capitulation to Singer the last time they went mano a mano. It was 2009. Singer, through a brilliantly complex financial manoeuvre, took control of Delphi Automotive, the sole supplier of most of the auto parts needed by General Motors and Chrysler. Both auto firms were already in bankruptcy. Singer and co-investors demanded the US Treasury pay them billions, including $350m (£200m) in cash immediately, or – as the Singer consortium threatened – “we’ll shut you down”. They would cut off GM’s parts. Literally.

GM and Chrysler, with no more than a couple of days’ worth of parts to hand, would have shut down, permanently;forced into liquidation. Obama’s negotiator, Treasury deputy Steven Rattner, called the vulture funds’ demand “extortion” – a characterisation of Singer repeated last week by Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. But while Fernández declared “I cannot as president submit the country to such extortion,” Obama submitted within days. Ultimately, the US Treasury quietly paid the Singer consortium a cool $12.9bn in cash and subsidies from the US Treasury’s auto bailout fund.

Read more …

Argentina Files Legal Action Against US Over Debt Default (Reuters)

Argentina has asked the International Court Of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to take action against the United States over an alleged breach of its sovereignty as it defaulted on its debt. Argentina defaulted last week after losing a long legal battle with hedge funds that rejected the terms of debt restructurings in 2005 and 2010. A statement issued by the ICJ, the United Nation’s highest court for disputes between nations, said Argentina’s request had been sent to the US government. It added that no action will be taken in the proceedings “unless and until” Washington accepts the court’s jurisdiction.

The US has recognised the court’s jurisdiction in the past, but it was not immediately clear if it would do so in Argentina’s case. The default came after Argentina failed last week to strike a deal with the main holdouts among investors, hedge funds NML Capital and Aurelius Capital Management. Buenos Aires maintains it has not defaulted because it made a required interest payment on one of its bonds due in 2033, but a judge in the US district court in Manhattan blocked that deposit in June, saying it violated an earlier ruling. Argentina said in its application to the court that the United States had “committed violations of Argentinian sovereignty and immunities and other related violations as a result of judicial decisions adopted by US tribunals.”

Read more …

Any questions?

Checkers Vs Chess: Why Europe Implodes On ‘Russian’ Sanctions (Zero Hedge)

The West’s leaders are full of lawyers, Putin is ex-KGB. If ever there was an example of him playing chess while the West plays checkers, the following chart is it. Despite Western protestations that its sanctions will hurt Russia more than Europe this morning, one look at Europe’s huge net trade balance with Russia for food and it’s clear who is really going to feel the pain. As Martin Armstrong noted previously, “Putin has responded to [Western] sanctions as any really smart chess-player would – you get the supporters of your adversary to jump-ship.” What better way to crack the ‘stop-Putin’ alliance than to force Europe into trade deficits and squeeze their economies (especially Germany)?

Read more …

Ban? What ban?

Russia’s Import Ban Means Big Business For Latin America (RT)

Russia’s 1-year ban on food products from the EU, US, Canada, and Norway will force Russia to increase food imports from Latin America, specifically Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Russia will ban meat, dairy, fruit, and vegetable imports from countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict, which opens the door to Russia’s partners on the other side of the world.

Russia will have to fill an 8% gap in its total agricultural imports that it sources from the EU, USA, Canada, Australia, and Norway. The Netherlands, Germany and Poland are currently Russia’s biggest food suppliers in the EU. Meat and dairy products from Ecuador, Chile and Uruguay may appear on Russian supermarket shelves as early as September, said Julia Trofimova, a at Rosselkhoznadzor, Russia’s consumer watchdog. On Wednesday the three countries confirmed they are ready to start supplying Russia with agricultural goods and Moscow will soon hold meetings with ambassadors from Brazil and Argentina.

Read more …

“NML Capital, a subsidiary of the hedge fund Elliot Management, headed by Paul Singer, spent $48m on bonds in 2008; thanks to Griesa’s ruling, NML Capital should now receive $832m – a return of more than 1,600%.”

Argentina Default? Griesafault Is Much More Accurate (Stiglitz/Guzman)

On 30 July Argentina’s creditors did not receive their semi-annual payment on the bonds that were restructured after the country’s last default in 2001. Argentina had deposited $539m (£320m) in the Bank of New York Mellon a few days before. But the bank could not transfer the funds to the creditors: US federal judge Thomas Griesa had ordered that Argentina could not pay the creditors who had accepted its restructuring until it fully paid – including past interest – those who had rejected it. It was the first time in history that a country was willing and able to pay its creditors, but was blocked by a judge from doing so. The media called it a default by Argentina, but the Twitter hashtag #Griesafault was much more accurate. Argentina has fulfilled its obligations to its citizens and to the creditors who accepted its restructuring. Griesa’s ruling, however, encourages usurious behaviour, threatens the functioning of international financial markets, and defies a basic tenet of modern capitalism: insolvent debtors need a fresh start.

Sovereign defaults are common events with many causes. For Argentina, the path to its 2001 default started with the ballooning of its sovereign debt in the 1990s, which occurred alongside neoliberal “Washington Consensus” economic reforms that creditors believed would enrich the country. The experiment failed, and the country suffered a deep economic and social crisis, with a recession that lasted from 1998 to 2002. By the end, a record-high 57.5% of Argentinians were in poverty, and the unemployment rate skyrocketed to 20.8%. Argentina restructured its debt in two rounds of negotiations, in 2005 and 2010. More than 92% of creditors accepted the new deal, and received exchanged bonds and GDP-indexed bonds. It worked out well for both Argentina and those who accepted the restructuring. The economy soared, so the GDP-indexed bonds paid off handsomely.

But so-called vulture investors saw an opportunity to make even larger profits. The vultures were neither long-term investors in Argentina nor the optimists who believed that Washington Consensus policies would work. They were simply speculators who swooped in after the 2001 default and bought up bonds for a fraction of their face value from panicky investors. They then sued Argentina to obtain 100% of that value. NML Capital, a subsidiary of the hedge fund Elliot Management, headed by Paul Singer, spent $48m on bonds in 2008; thanks to Griesa’s ruling, NML Capital should now receive $832m – a return of more than 1,600%.

Read more …

Wow!

US High Yield Bond Funds See Shocking, Record $7.1B Cash Outflow

Retail-cash outflows from high-yield funds ballooned to a shocking, record $7.07 billion in the week ended Aug. 6, with ETFs representing just 18% of the sum, or roughly $1.28 billion, according to Lipper. The huge redemption blows out past the prior record outflow of $4.63 billion in June 2013. With four straight weeks of outflows from the asset class totaling $12.6 billion, the four-week trailing average expands to negative $3.15 billion per week, from $1.4 billion last week. This reading is also a record, eclipsing a prior record at $2.8 billion, also in June 2013.

The full-year reading is now deeply in the red, at $5.9 billion, with 43% of the withdrawal tied to ETFs. One year ago at this time outflows were $3.9 billion, with 15% linked to the ETF segment. In addition to the huge outflow, the change due to market conditions was negative $1.24 billion, also the greatest negative move dating to June 2013. The change this past week is nearly negative 1% against total assets, which stood at $176.3 billion at the end of the observation period, with 19% tied to ETFs, or $34.1 billion. Total assets are up $6.5 billion in the year to date, reflecting a gain of roughly 4% this year.

Read more …

ECB Ready To Pump Cash Into Eurozone As Fears Rise Over Recovery (Guardian)

The European Central Bank is accelerating plans to unleash fresh growth-boosting measures as the eurozone’s recovery loses steam and the risk increases of a geopolitical shock from the Ukraine crisis. Mario Draghi, president of the ECB, said that the Bank had “intensified preparatory work” on quantitative easing as a potential new weapon in its battle against deflation and economic stagnation. He revealed that the eurozone’s policymakers were closer to using QE – which would inject cash into the eurozone by acquiring assets such as bonds from financial institutions – amid worrying signs that weak growth in the 18-member currency bloc is slowing further still. “The recovery remains weak, fragile and uneven. In recent weeks, the data shows growth momentum is slowing down. It is quite clear that if geopolitical risks materialise, the next two quarters will show lower growth.”

Recovery in the region is barely established, with GDP increasing by only 0.2% in the first quarter of the year. Speaking at a press conference in Frankfurt, Draghi said sanctions and counter sanctions between the west and Russia were among the biggest risks facing the eurozone economy, with the potential to drive energy prices higher and depress exports. He stressed it was too early to say what the precise impact sanctions would have on the region. “We are just at the beginning. We are still assessing what impact sanctions might have on the economy. “Geopolitical risks are heightened. And some of them, like the situation in Ukraine and Russia will have a greater impact on the euro area than they … have on other parts of the world.” Earlier, the ECB’s governing council left rates on hold at its July policy meeting, as expected.

Read more …

Germany Close To Recession As ECB Admits Recovery Is Weak (AEP)

German bonds yields plunged to a historic low and two-year rates briefly fell below zero on Thursday on fears of widening recession in the eurozone, and a flight to safety as Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border. Yields on 10-year Bunds dropped to 1.06% after a blizzard of fresh data showed that recovery has stalled across most of the currency bloc, with even Germany now uncomfortably close to recession. Commerzbank warned that the German economy may have contracted by 0.2% in the second quarter and is far too weak to pull southern Europe out of the doldrums. Industrial output fell 1.5% over the three months. The DAX index of equities in Frankfurt has dropped 10% over the past month and is threatening to break through the psychological floor of 9,000.

Mario Draghi, head of the ECB, said the recovery remained “weak, fragile and uneven”, with a marked slowdown in recent weeks on escalating geopolitical worries over Russia and the Middle East. He said the ECB, which on Thursday held benchmark interest rates at 0.15%, “stands ready” to inject money through purchases of asset-backed securities and quantitative easing if needed, but would not take further action yet even though inflation had fallen to 0.4%. The debt markets are pricing in 0.5% inflation in Germany and Italy over the next five years through so-called “break-even” rates, evidence that investors think the ECB is falling far behind the curve. Mr Draghi insisted that a string of measures unveiled in June were starting to work and should be enough to stave off deflation.

The ECB ignored pleas from leading economists for pre-emptive action to bolster the eurozone’s defences before an external shock hit and before the US Federal Reserve tightened monetary policy, an inflection point that risks sending tremors through the global system, according to a paper by the Chicago Fed. Hopes for a swift rebound in Germany are fading. The economics ministry said new orders in manufacturing fell 3.2% in June, with orders from the rest of the eurozone collapsing by 10.4%. “What this shows is that Europe is nowhere close to recovery. Monetary policy has run out of traction,” said Steen Jakobsen from Saxo Bank.

Read more …

Draghi Takes Aim at Italy as Recession Scars Euro Area (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi says Italy can only blame itself for its third recession since 2008. The day after data showed the euro-area’s third-biggest economy unexpectedly contracted last quarter, the European Central Bank president singled out his country’s lack of structural reform and the disincentive for investment it engenders. That followed an opening statement that lamented the region’s “uneven” recovery. “I keep on saying the same thing, really – I mean, of reforms in the labor market, in the product markets, in the competition, in the judiciary, and so on and so forth,” Draghi, the former Bank of Italy governor, said in Frankfurt yesterday after keeping ECB interest rates unchanged at record lows. “These would be the reforms which actually have and have shown to have a short-term benefit.”

The comments may increase pressure on Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to turn around an economy with youth unemployment above 40% and a recession that threatens the 18-nation currency bloc’s nascent revival. The ECB president’s comments on his homeland are blunter than normal, adding to the contrast with countries such as Spain that have engaged in more structural adjustments. “Draghi made a strong call for structural reforms, noting that there is now ample evidence to suggest that countries that have reformed their economies are showing a stronger economic performance than the rest of the euro zone,” said Riccardo Barbieri, the London-based chief European economist at Mizuho International Plc. “This sounds like a strong rebuttal of the approach taken by Italy’s new prime minister.”

Read more …

Without ECB Rescue, ‘Full-Blown Run On Italian Debt Is Inevitable’ (Guardian)

Since Matteo Renzi grabbed the Italian premiership in February, Rome has fallen off the radar of most crisis watchers. Renzi’s promise to institute sweeping reforms to business and labour markets appeared to be more than hot air following the appointment of Pier Carol Padoan as finance minister. The heavy-hitting former chief economist of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) appeared to give the youthful Renzi the intellectual ballast and political clout needed to push through an ambitious agenda. This narrative was allied to figures showing Italy was already close to achieving a balanced budget and its banks were in better shape than many of France’s famous names. Maybe it is too soon to judge, but figures showing the country has fallen back into recession will dent the new government’s plans along with its image.

Fathom Consulting, run by former Bank of England economist Danny Gabay, warns that Rome may rank as another of Europe’s Black Swans. It has flirted with disaster before and always pulled back. Without a European Central Bank (ECB) rescue, in the form of large-scale quantitative easing, maybe a full-blown run on its debt is inevitable, possibly next year. Mario Draghi, the ECB president, is expected to tell his audience today that he is waiting to see how his previous attempts at offering cheap credit are faring before considering QE. Interest rates will be kept on hold alongside further monetary easing. The view from Draghi’s Frankfurt base is that Italy is one of Europe’s children and must be parented with an iron rod. Any hand-outs or relaxation in tough fiscal constraints will be spent by Rome on the equivalent of sweets and sugary drinks, is his view. And he is not alone. The Germans, Dutch and Brussels elite think the same way.

Read more …

Italy’s Unrecovery: GDP Negative In 11 Of Last 12 Quarters (WolfStreet)

In the second quarter, Italy’s economy contracted 0.2% from the first quarter, which surprised economists who’d expected, somehow, more growth now that the Italian economy – in parallel with the grander Eurozone economy – is recovering so nicely. However, reality is not playing along. Crummy exports and a refusal by businesses to pile on inventories were blamed. Not blamed, of course, was the Italian government, which refuses to pay its suppliers. The arrears, according to the most recent data by the Bank of Italy, amounted to €75 billion ($102 billion). Italy could just issue more bonds to fund what it owes, but that would show to the rest of the world that its debt is actually much higher than the current pretenses. So no way.

Successive politicians have promised for years to pay it, only to push the date when payment would be considered seriously out further and further. So far, no one has forced the government to pay its bills, and so they don’t get paid. The past dues have been sucked out of the working capital of businesses. They strangle the private sector, lead to layoffs, and wreak general havoc in an already very fragile economy. Based on the government’s failure to comply with Europe’s Late Payments Directive, which requires governments to cut payment delays to a maximum of 60 days, the European Commission commenced an infringement procedure against Italy. But that too may just be decoration. The way it looks, it may never be paid. Meanwhile, businesses are suffocating. And it shows: over the last 12 quarters, 11 quarters were contractions, with the sole errant quarter being Q1 2014, when the economy booked a tiny growth of 0.1% from the prior quarter and gave rise to an avalanche of hope, now obviated by events.

Read more …

Italy’s Recession Means ‘The End Of Democracy’ (Martin Armstrong)

Italy has entered that phase of zero-point growth. Italy’s people have been beaten by Europe and no longer expect recovery. But then, yesterday, the Statistical Office of the economic data for the second quarter of 2014 released economic numbers that froze a dumb look even on the faces of the hardcore pessimists. For the second time this year, Italy experienced a slump of its gross domestic product by 0.3% year on year. The economic data is so bad, to the point it has not been seen for 14 years, that everyone no matter what side of the political fence is whispering or shouting the same world – “Recession!”

The advantage of Italy and its legendary corruption has been its equally inefficient government that has allowed the people to just ignore it and get along with life in the real world of the underground economy. When you look at the numbers at the gross level, one cannot imagine how Italy has functioned economically. However, looking closer one sees the vibrant underground economy that has allowed the people to make their own living and still prices, taxes and debt per capita are much lower than everywhere else in Europe, Italy’s real problem – it joined the Euro which did not benefit the Italians and only increased their national debt in “real terms” as the Euro rallied to excessively high levels in this wave of deflation. The solution for Italy? The politician’s dream. Brussels wants to take away the right of the Italian people to vote on anything meaningful. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had hoped to celebrate his “epochal success” in the parliamentary reform in practice.

The Senate in Italy was rather unique. All legislation had to go through the Senate which was elected by the people and had the power to dismiss the government. This was actually a very good idea. However, it prevents tyranny from Brussels and this is the real problem. Renzi has succeeded against the resistance of the deputies. The Senate, the second chamber of Parliament, today or at the latest on Friday will decide to self-disempowerment. [..] Italy is where the Republic was born in 509BC that sparked a contagion that spread with the overthrow of monarchy giving birth to Democracy in Athens in 508BC. The land that had inspired the American Revolution against monarchy is now itself surrendering the last vestige of democratic process yield to the growing tyranny of Brussels under the pretense of saving the Euro.

Read more …

And that’s just the Fed polling.

Fed Survey Finds 4 in 10 Americans in Financial Stress in 2013 (Bloomberg)

Almost four in 10 Americans were suffering financial stress in September 2013 and more than a third said they were worse off than they were five years earlier, a new Federal Reserve report on U.S. household finances showed today. One-fourth of respondents reported they were “just getting by” financially and another 13% said they were struggling to do so, the Fed said. Thirty-four% were worse off financially than in 2008, 34% were about the same, and 30% were better off, according to the report. “The survey found that many households were faring well, but that sizable fractions of the population were at the same time displaying signs of financial stress,” researchers wrote. “For some, perceived credit availability remains low.”

One-third of those who applied for credit were denied or given less credit than they requested, the survey showed. Twenty-four% reported having education debt of some kind, with an average unpaid balance of $27,840. The central bank said its Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households is a snapshot of financial and economic well-being of U.S. households to help monitor their recovery from the recession and “identify perceived risks to their financial stability.” It aimed to gather household data not readily available from other sources.

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HELOCs will make a big comeback in the news.

Default Risk Rises on 20% of Boom-Era Home-Equity Loans (Bloomberg)

As much as 20% of home equity lines of credit worth $79 billion are at increased risk of default as their payments jump a decade after the loans were made during the U.S. housing boom, according to TransUnion Corp. Borrowers face rate shocks as payments on the credit lines, known as HELOCs, switch from interest-only to include principal, causing monthly bills to surge more than 50%, according to a report today by the Chicago-based credit information company. The 20% of borrowers most in danger of default are property owners with low credit scores, high debt-to-income ratios and limited home equity, said Ezra Becker, TransUnion’s vice president of research.

Maturing home equity lines, which allow borrowers to use the value of their home as collateral on loans for personal spending, are the last wave of resetting debt from the era of high property values and easy credit before the 2008 financial crisis. The three biggest home equity lenders – Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase – held 36% of the $691.5 billion debt as of the first quarter, according to Federal Reserve data. [..] About $23 billion in HELOCs will have payment increases this year as the interest-only phase ends, rising to a projected peak of $56 billion in 2017, according to a June report by the Treasury Department’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

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Haha!

China Trade Balance At Highest Ever – EVER! (Zero Hedge)

Filed in the “are you kidding us” folder… Chinese exports rose an astounding 14.5% YoY in July (the biggest surge since April 2013 and double the 7.0% YoY expectations). Chinese imports plunged 1.6% to 4-month lows, dramatically missing expectations of a 2.6% YoY gain. These miracles of goalseek.xls and fake trade invoicing left the Chinese Trade Balance for July at $47.3 Billion – its highest ever (ever) and almost double the $27.4bn expectations. In the midst of collapsing European economies, plunging Russia, and stumbling ‘hard’ US macro data, the Chinese government would have us believe the world (net) bought the most stuff ever from them in July… Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you…

It would appear – as we noted previously, that China is up to its old tricks… China’s exports have been overstated by Chinese data…

We cannot show just how crazy this data is because US and more importantly Hong Kong imports from China data is not updated to end July yet… but it is noteworthy that the hub of fake invoicing – Hong Kong – saw a 13.3% YoY jump – its most in 16 months… after being totally flat for 4 months

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“One figure stands out: the $343 billion these nonbank lenders owe in interest and principal repayments this quarter alone.”

China’s $343 Billion Q3 Payments Due in the Shadows (Bloomberg)

China’s “trust companies” are a growth industry, notable not for imparting stability to the $9.2 trillion economy, but for the red flags they raise. One figure stands out: the $343 billion these nonbank lenders owe in interest and principal repayments this quarter alone. This topic may not sound very exciting to those far removed from the mechanics of China Inc. and President Xi Jinping’s efforts to rein in credit and investment bubbles. But these nonbank lenders are at the core of the shadow-banking industry that makes China’s financial system both opaque and fragile. The greater the repayment requirements, the greater the risk of a miss and the turmoil that might follow. That’s why the latest report from Hu Yifan of Haitong International Securities, titled “Day of Reckoning for China Trusts,” is so troubling. From now through 2015, Hu says, such repayments will be at elevated levels.

The odds of missed payments and headline-making credit events is increasing as data suggest government stimulus measures are gaining less traction than in years past. “The brisk development of trust funds is leading to a dead-end,” Hu says. The “uncertainties surrounding their regulatory requirements have led to an accumulation and concentration of risk in this sector.” And even as Chinese regulators try to curb trust-company indebtedness, they find new ways to expand. This “liquidity binge,” Hu says, is fueling excessive leverage and risk in real estate, infrastructure and mining. “Current payment difficulties of trust fund companies are only the tip of the iceberg,” he warns. Here, the reference is to the part of the problem we can see. What’s worrying outside observers, including the IMF, is what we can’t. At the top of any wish list for economists in Washington is discerning China’s true debt profile – national, local and financial.

Until we know for sure, if we even can, the IMF can do little more than urge China to address its “web of vulnerabilities” inherent in its credit-and-investment-fueled growth. Hu’s iceberg comment has me thinking back to Bill Gross’s oft-quoted China analogy about “mystery meat.” “Nobody knows what’s there and there’s a little bit of bologna,” the bond-fund manager said in a Feb. 4 Bloomberg Television interview. “So we’re just going to have to wonder going forward through this year as to the potential problems in China and other emerging markets.” Make that next year, too. The lack of transparency that pervades Beijing makes it harder to know which of Xi’s planned reforms are being carried out and which aren’t. China’s grow-fast-at-any-cost ethos, rampant corruption and the lack of a free press conspire to make second-biggest economy more of a black box than investors like Gross and policy makers at the IMF would prefer.

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23 months inventory …

China Home Glut Worsens as Developers Won’t Sell at Lower Prices (Bloomberg)

The biggest immediate risk facing China’s economy is about to get worse. A reluctance among some developers to sell units at prices lower than they could fetch just months ago threatens to cause a swelling in unsold properties. The worsening glut would extend a slide in construction that’s already put a drag on the world’s second-largest economy, and counter policy makers’ efforts to stimulate the real-estate industry with loosened rules. In Nanjing, eastern China, nine housing projects originally planned for sale in the first half of 2014 were held for later this year, consulting firm Everyday Network Co. says. The number of homes added to the market in July in 21 major cities dropped 25% from June, according to Centaline Group, parent of China’s biggest real-estate brokerage.

“The completed apartments will be in the marketplace sooner or later, and potential buyers will continue to expect prices to fall,” said Hua Changchun, China economist at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Hong Kong. “The property-market weakness hasn’t changed, despite the policy adjustments.” July economic data due over the next week, starting with tomorrow’s trade numbers, will give a sense of how well growth is holding up after accelerating to 7.5% in the second quarter from a year earlier. The statistics bureau releases inflation figures Aug. 9, followed by industrial production, fixed-asset investment and retail sales on Aug. 13. The central bank reports lending and money-supply figures by the middle of August.

China’s broadest measure of new credit rose in June to the highest level for the month since 2009, underscoring the role of debt in supporting expansion. Home-price data for cities are due from the statistics bureau on Aug. 18, after June prices fell from the previous month in 55 of 70 cities tracked by the government. China’s home sales slumped 9.2% in the first half of this year from a year earlier, following a full-year 26.6% increase in 2013, while new-property construction plunged 16.4%. Developers are responding with sales delays and discounts as well as incentives including no-down-payment purchases and buyback guarantees. Developers’ sales delays in the first half were “very widespread” because prospects were poor given weak demand and tight credit conditions, said Donald Yu, a Shenzhen-based analyst at Guotai Junan Securities Co. “Will the increased supply lead to declines in prices in the second half? That for sure will happen.”

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But we’ll do it anyway.

Mining the Bottom of the Ocean Is as Destructive as it Sounds (Vice)

Have you ever wondered how much the ocean floor is worth? The answer is in the trillions. Metals and materials are the foundation of our life, but with seven billion people occupying the earth, supplies are rapidly dwindling. So mining industries have set their sights miles deep under the sea. It’s estimated there are billions of tonnes worth of valuable metals and minerals on the seabed. However, marine biologists and researchers have raised concerns that those doing deep sea mining don’t appreciate the delicate and fragile ecosystem of the deep-ocean, and how their actions could affect it. Andrew Thurber, a researcher at the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, talked to me about the issue. Thurber’s review on the deep sea’s relationship to us on land and our duty to protect it was recently published in Biogeosciences, a journal of the European Geosciences Union.

In their report, Thurber and his colleagues pointed out the many important uses of the deep sea. The deep sea is used as a dumping ground to absorb waste; it contains many life forms, some of which are being looked at for new medicines; and it serves as an environment for fish to breed. I asked Thurber about the implications of deep sea mining. “It’s really not different from clear-cutting a forest of redwoods, except instead of majestic trees there are many small organisms that, together and en masse, gain their importance to the planet,” he said. “We also know that many of the services that are provided by this habitat are connected.”

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What else would you expect?

Massive Toxic Tailings Pond Spill Floods Canadian Waterways (eNews)

A middle-of-the-night breach of the tailings pond for an open-pit copper and gold mine in British Columbia sent a massive volume of toxic waste into several nearby waterways on Monday, leading authorities to issue a water-use ban. Slurry from Mount Polley Mine near Likely, B.C. breached the earthen dam around 3:45 am on Monday, with hundreds of millions of gallons — equivalent to 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to Canada’s Global News — gushing into Quesnel Lake, Cariboo Creek, Hazeltine Creek and Polley Lake. An estimated 300 homes, plus visitors and campers, are affected by the ban on drinking and bathing in the area’s water.

Chief Anne Louie of the Williams Lake Indian band told the National Post the breach was a “massive environmental disaster.” With salmon runs currently making their way to their spawning grounds, “Our people are at the river side wondering if their vital food source is safe to eat,” said Garry John, aboriginal activist and member of the board of directors of the Council of Canadians, in a press release.

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Not the last word on this.

WHO Declares Ebola Outbreak ‘International Public Health Emergency’ (DW)

The World Health Organization says the Ebola epidemic in West Africa constitutes a public health emergency of international proportions. More than 900 people have died since the virus broke out earlier this year. In a press conference on Friday, the WHO said the Ebola epidemic required an extraordinary response to stop its spread. “Countries affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of this size and complexity on their own,” said WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan. She called on the international community to provide urgent support to countries affected by the crippling virus. The WHO previously declared similar emergencies for polio in May, and for the swine flu pandemic in 2009. The agency had convened an expert committee this week for an emergency session to assess the severity of the ongoing Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The virus was first identified in Guinea in March, before it spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. All three countries have already implemented states of emergency.

The WHO has described the current outbreak as unprecedented. So far, it has killed 932 people and infected more than 1,700, with the death rate hovering around 50%. Medical charity Doctors Without Borders has warned that the virus is “out of control,” while US health authorities acknowledges on Thursday that the pathogen’s spread outside Africa was inevitable. The first European Ebola victim, Spanish Roman Catholic priest, Miguel Pajares, was flown out of Liberia on Thursday. Authorities said the 75-year-old’s condition was stable. Meanwhile two Americans who are being treated in Atlanta, Georgia, after being infected in Liberia are showing signs of improvement. Ebola was first discovered in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The virus causes severe fever, headaches, vomiting and bleeding, and is spread via bodily fluids.

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