Mar 252017
 
 March 25, 2017  Posted by at 9:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Drought hit OK farm family on way to CA 1936

 


With Health Bill Down, Trump Can Still Unleash HHS To Bedevil Obamacare (MW)
The Heart Of The American Dream Has Stopped Beating (DiMartino Booth)
Pension Crisis Too Big for Markets to Ignore (Danielle DiMartino Booth)
The Swamp Drains Trump (Jim Kunstler)
It Was A Very Bad Earnings Season (Snider)
Flynn and Turkish Officials Discussed Kidnapping Erdogan Foe From US (WSJ)
A ‘Deaths Of Despair’ Crisis Is Gripping America (BI)
New Canadian Budget Drops Obsession With Balanced Budgets (Star)
US Debt of $20 Trillion Visualized in Stacks of Physical Cash (Demonocracy)
The Pound Is Going To Take A Huge Hit, According To Deutsche Bank (Ind.)
Leaving Euro Would Not Help France And Italy – ECB Chief Economist (Ind.)
Greece to Break Off Face-to-Face Talks With Creditors (BBG)
Where Next For Greece? (Makropolis)

 

 

Big defeat. But not a knock-out. Trump needs better advisers.

With Health Bill Down, Trump Can Still Unleash HHS To Bedevil Obamacare (MW)

In a spectacular turn of events, a shortage of support prompted Republican leadership to pull their health-care plan from a House of Representatives vote on Friday. The move means that the Affordable Care Act, also know as Obamacare, will remain in place “for the foreseeable future,” according to House Speaker Paul Ryan. Democrats, ACA supporters and opponents of the Republican American Health Care Act quickly hailed the development as a victory. But what was a legislative battle now is likely to move into the executive realm and the Department of Health and Human Services, led by longtime ACA opponent Dr. Tom Price. Experts say there is plenty that President Donald Trump’s administration can do to undermine the ACA. And any poor deterioration in the performance of the ACA could give Republicans a new opening: Trump indicated Friday that he might re-visit health care after Obamacare “explodes.”

“It’s going to be interesting to see how they balance the responsibility for ensuring the government functions with their hatred for the law,” said Spencer Perlman, director of health-care research at Veda Partners. “If they want to completely sabotage it they probably could, and call it a self-fulfilling prophecy.” The latter is all the more likely because the ACA works best with the help of administrative support and resources. Think of the ACA as a plant, one that requires light and tending-to, that gets inherited by a downright hostile owner. The best example of this occurred during enrollment for 2017 exchange plans. The months-long enrollment period began under former President Barack Obama’s administration, which passed the ACA, and ended under President Trump’s administration.

Enrollment, which had looked like it was on track to surpass previous years, dropped off following the transition, which many attributed to a dearth of marketing and promotional activity under Trump. Plus, the ACA’s problems — which may have helped elect Trump — still exist. Many insurers, including UnitedHealth, Humana and Aetna have exited the exchanges on which many participants purchase health insurance, contributing to a 25% on average increase in premiums. “The biggest thing that needs to be done is figuring out some way to attract young, healthy people” to exchange plans, Perlman said. But HHS, under Price’s leadership, seems unlikely to try to improve the law. And “purposefully sabotaging the exchanges and the ACA probably isn’t difficult,” said Perlman. And for that matter, HHS is “probably the only game in town right now” that can do it.

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“..55% of mortgages in active foreclosure were originated between 2004 and 2008..”

The Heart Of The American Dream Has Stopped Beating (DiMartino Booth)

According to ATTOM Data Solutions, the new parent company of RealtyTrac, default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions slid to 933,045 last year, the lowest tally since the 717,522 reported in 2006. Is the final chapter written? Not if you live in judicial foreclosure states such as New York, New Jersey and Florida where ‘legacy’ foreclosures take years to clear. At the end of last year, 55% of mortgages in active foreclosure were originated between 2004 and 2008. Factor in what’s still in the pipeline and one in ten circa 2006 homeowners will have lost their homes before it is all said and done. That helps explain one part of the chart below which was generously shared with me by one Dr. Gates. Longtime readers of these missives will recognize the nom de plume of my inside-industry economic sleuth. His first take on this sad visual, was that, “The heart of the American Dream has stopped beating.” Did that stop your heart as it did my own?

As you can see, after a steady 40-year build, owner-occupied housing has stagnated and sits at the lowest level since 2004. This has sent the homeownership rate crashing to 63.4%, the lowest since 1967. It would be nice to think that things were looking up for would-be homeowners. But it’s difficult to be overly optimistic when the local newspaper reports that house flipping in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area rose 21% in 2016, seven times the national rate. In all, 193,000 properties nationwide were flipped for a quick inside-12-months profit last year, a 3.1 increase to a nine-year high. Moreover, the median age of a flipped home rose to a two-decade high of 37 years, about double the median age of homes flipped before the crisis hit. That translated into a median gross profit of $69,624 on a median selling price of $189,900 in 2016, a neat 49.2% margin, the highest on record. Awesome!

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Very good -and scary- from Danielle DiMartino Booth. I’ve often asked: what happened to pension funds investing in AAA paper? But there’s more: without accounting tricks dominoes would already be falling. This is not some coincidence, it’s actual policy as conducted by The American Academy of Actuaries.

Pension Crisis Too Big for Markets to Ignore (Danielle DiMartino Booth)

The question is why haven’t the headlines presaged pension implosions? As was the case with the subprime crisis, the writing appears to be on the wall. And yet calamity has yet to strike. How so? Call it the triumvirate of conspirators – the actuaries, accountants and their accomplices in office. Throw in the law of big numbers, very big numbers, and you get to a disaster in a seemingly permanent state of making. Unfunded pension obligations have risen to $1.9 trillion from $292 billion since 2007. Credit rating firms have begun downgrading states and municipalities whose pensions risk overwhelming their budgets. New Jersey and the cities of Chicago, Houston and Dallas are some of the issuers in the crosshairs.

Morgan Stanley says municipal bond issuance is down this year in part because of borrowers are wary of running up new debts to effectively service pensions. Federal Reserve data show that in 1952, the average public pension had 96% of its portfolio invested in bonds and cash equivalents. Assets matched future liabilities. But a loosening of state laws in the 1980s opened the door to riskier investments. In 1992, fixed income and cash had fallen to an average of 47% of holdings. By 2016, these safe investments had declined to 27%. It’s no coincidence that pensions’ flight from safety has coincided with the drop in interest rates. That said, unlike their private peers, public pensions discount their liabilities using the rate of returns they assume their overall portfolio will generate.

In fiscal 2016, which ended June 30th, the average return for public pensions was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5%. Corporations’ accounting rules dictate the use of more realistic bond yields to discount their pensions’ future liabilities. Put differently, companies have been forced to set aside something closer to what it will really cost to service their obligations as opposed to the fantasy figures allowed among public pensions. So why not just flip the switch and require truth and honesty in public pension math? Too many cities and potentially states would buckle under the weight of more realistic assumed rates of return. By some estimates, unfunded liabilities would triple to upwards of $6 trillion if the prevailing yields on Treasuries were used.

That would translate into much steeper funding requirements at a time when budgets are already severely constrained. Pockets of the country would face essential public service budgets being slashed to dangerous levels. What’s a pension to do? Increasingly, the answer is swing for the fences. Forget the fact that just under half of pension assets are in the second-most overvalued stock market in history. Even as Fed officials publicly fret about commercial real estate valuations, pensions have socked away 8% of their portfolios into this less than liquid asset class. Even further out on the risk and liquidity spectrum is the 10% that pensions have allocated to private equity and limited partnerships.

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“While the nation remains entertained by all this, the Potemkin financial system will wobble, crash, and burn and the humiliation of Donald Trump will be complete.”

The Swamp Drains Trump (Jim Kunstler)

One can’t help marveling at the way the “Russian interference” motif has shifted the spotlight off the substance of what Wikileaks revealed about Clinton Foundation and DNC misdeeds onto Trump campaign officials “colluding” with Russians, supposedly to support their interference in the election. It’s true that the election is way over and the public is no longer concerned with Hillary or her foundation (which is closing shop anyway). But the switcheroo is impressive, and quite confusing, considering recently retired NSA James Clapper just two weeks ago said on NBC’s Meet the Press that there was “no evidence” of collusion Between Trump and Russia. Okay… uh, say what? On Monday, FBI Director James Comey revealed that his agency had been investigating the Trump Campaign since at least last August. Is that so…? Investigating how? Some sort of electronic surveillance?

Well, what else would they do nowadays? Send a gumshoe to a hotel room where he could press his ear on a drinking glass against the wall to eavesdrop on Paul Manafort? I don’t think so. Of course they were sifting through emails, phone calls, and every other sort of electronic communication. Trump’s big blunder was to tweet that he’d been “wiretapped.” Like the FBI patched into a bunch of cables with alligator clips in the basement of Trump Tower … or planted a “bug” in the earpiece of his bedside phone. How quaint. We also don’t have ice boxes anymore, though plenty of struggling weight-watchers across the land speak guiltily of “raiding the icebox.” But if it’s true, as Mr. Comey said, that the FBI had been investigating Trump’s campaign, the people around him, and Trump himself, since August, how could they not have captured some of Trump’s conversations?

[..] So, the long and the short of it is that the RussiaGate story is spinning out of control, and Trump’s adversaries — who go well beyond Congress into the Deep State — might be getting enough leverage to dump Trump. Either they will maneuver him and his people into some kind of perjury rap, or they will tie up the government in such a web of investigative procedural rigmarole that all the country lawyers who ever snapped their galluses will never be able to unravel it. While the nation remains entertained by all this, the Potemkin financial system will wobble, crash, and burn and the humiliation of Donald Trump will be complete. Abandoned by the Republican Party, isolated and crazed in the White House, tweeting out mad appeals to heaven, he’ll either voluntarily pass the baton to Mike Pence or he will be declared unfit to serve and removed under the 25th amendment.

The after-effects of that will be something to behold: a “lose-lose” for both old-line political parties. The Trumpists will never forgive the Republican Party, and the Democrats will have gained nothing. Don’t let the door bang you on the butt on your way out.

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What a surprise.

It Was A Very Bad Earnings Season (Snider)

With nearly all of the S&P 500 companies having reported their Q4 numbers, we can safely claim that it was a very bad earnings season. It may seem incredulous to categorize the quarter that way given that EPS growth (as reported) was +29%, but even that rate tells us something significant about how there is, actually, a relationship between economy and at least corporate profits. Keynes famously said that we should never worry about the long run for there we will all be dead, but EPS has arrived at the long run and there is still quite a lot of living to do. As late as October, analysts were projecting $29 in earnings for the S&P 500 in Q4 2016. As of the middle of the earnings reports last month, that estimate suddenly dropped to just $26.37. In the month since that time, with the almost all of the rest having now reported, the current figure is just $24.15 – a decline of over $2 in four weeks. Therefore, 29% growth is hugely disappointing because it wasn’t 55% growth as was projected when the quarter began.

It is also the timing of the downgrades that is important as it relates to both “reflation” and the economy meant to support it. All throughout last year, in the aftermath of the near-recession to start 2016, EPS estimates for Q4 (and beyond) were very stable, unusually so given the recent past. That shows us how analysts, at least, were expecting the economy to go once it got past “global turmoil.” It was the “V” shaped rebound typical for past cyclical behavior. But it wasn’t until companies actually started reporting earnings that the belief was tested and then found severely lacking. With just $24.15 for Q4, total EPS was for the calendar year less than $95, the ninth straight quarter below the $100 level. More importantly, on a trailing-twelve month basis, EPS don’t appear to be in any hurry (except in future estimates) to revisit the prior peak of $106 all the way back in Q3 2014.

 

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Like a cheap crime novel: Flynn gets paid $530,000 “on behalf of an Israeli company seeking to export natural gas to Turkey”, and ends up discussing kidnapping Erdogan’s enemy. Oh, and Biden knew about this conversation. So Obama knew too.

Flynn and Turkish Officials Discussed Kidnapping Erdogan Foe From US (WSJ)

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, while serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign, met with top Turkish government ministers and discussed removing a Muslim cleric from the U.S. and taking him to Turkey, according to former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey, who attended, and others who were briefed on the meeting. The discussion late last summer involved ideas about how to get Fethullah Gulen, a cleric whom Turkey has accused of orchestrating last summer’s failed military coup, to Turkey without going through the U.S. extradition legal process, according to Mr. Woolsey and those who were briefed. Mr. Woolsey told The Wall Street Journal he arrived at the meeting in New York on Sept. 19 in the middle of the discussion and found the topic startling and the actions being discussed possibly illegal.

The Turkish ministers were interested in open-ended thinking on the subject, and the ideas were raised hypothetically, said the people who were briefed. The ministers in attendance included the son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the country’s foreign minister, foreign-lobbying disclosure documents show. Mr. Woolsey said the idea was “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away.” The discussion, he said, didn’t include actual tactics for removing Mr. Gulen from his U.S. home. If specific plans had been discussed, Mr. Woolsey said, he would have spoken up and questioned their legality. It isn’t known who raised the idea or what Mr. Flynn concluded about it. Price Floyd, a spokesman for Mr. Flynn, who was advising the Trump campaign on national security at the time of the meeting, disputed the account, saying “at no time did Gen. Flynn discuss any illegal actions, nonjudicial physical removal or any other such activities.”

[..] On March 2, weeks after Mr. Flynn’s departure from the Trump administration, the Flynn Intel Group, his consulting firm, filed with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for the government of Turkey. Mr. Trump was unaware Mr. Flynn had been consulting on behalf of the Turkish government when he named him national security adviser, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said this month. In its filing, Mr. Flynn’s firm said its work from August to November “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.” The filing said his firm’s fee, $530,000, wasn’t paid by the government but by Inovo BV, a Dutch firm owned by a Turkish businessman, Ekim Alptekin.

[..] Mr. Woolsey said he didn’t say anything during the discussion, but later cautioned some attendees that trying to remove Mr. Gulen was a bad idea that might violate U.S. law. Mr. Woolsey said he also informed the U.S. government by notifying Vice President Joe Biden through a mutual friend. [..] Inovo hired Mr. Flynn on behalf of an Israeli company seeking to export natural gas to Turkey, the filing said, and Mr. Alptekin wanted information on the U.S.-Turkey political climate to advise the gas company about its Turkish investments.

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“.. he identified three kinds of suicide: altruistic, anomic, and egoistic. Of the three, the most complicated is anomic suicide. Anomie essentially means the breakdown of social values and norms, and Durkheim closely associated anomic suicide with economic catastrophe.”

A ‘Deaths Of Despair’ Crisis Is Gripping America (BI)

[..] this isn’t the first time that social change has caused self-destructiveness on a mass scale. Indeed, 19th-century French sociologist Emile Durkheim wrote about similar problems in his time, and might refer to the plague of white middle-class mortality we see today as “a state of upheaval.” Of course, the lesson of the 2016 presidential election was that working- and middle-class whites are suffering. What Durkheim offers, though, is the argument for why the newly elected government in Washington — voted in by this very constituency — is getting the solution all wrong. The way to fix this problem is not through less government — but through more. Durkheim’s seminal work, the 1897 book “Suicide,” remains one of the most in-depth examinations of why these situations occur in society, and it is as relevant as ever. Its lessons are an indication that as a country, we are moving swiftly, carelessly in the wrong direction.

The Americans we are talking about are white and middle class. They are aged 45-55. They are losing the battle against heart disease and cancer, and they are succumbing to drugs, alcohol and suicide at rates unseen in modern history or in other developed countries. “The combined effect means that mortality rates of whites with no more than a high school degree, which were around 30% lower than mortality rates of blacks in 1999, grew to be 30% higher than blacks by 2015,” Case and Deaton wrote. The easy thing to say is that these people are suffering from economic and social anxiety and leave it at that. What’s harder to pinpoint is what exactly that means and how to fix it. Economic conditions for minorities in the same social class and in the same communities are as hard, if not harder, than they are for middle class whites. But death rates aren’t increasing for them.

This is where Durkheim comes in. He wrote his work in the midst of another state of upheaval, as industrialization was taking over the world and old economic patterns were falling away. This was the beginning of modern life as we now know it. And it was killing people. Durkheim found that the degree to which a person is integrated in society is inversely correlated to their likelihood to engage in life-threatening behaviors and suicide. In his work, he identified three kinds of suicide: altruistic, anomic, and egoistic. Of the three, the most complicated is anomic suicide. Anomie essentially means the breakdown of social values and norms, and Durkheim closely associated anomic suicide with economic catastrophe. [..] One of the big factors, then, in the increase in substance abuse and suicide among the white middle class could be a decline in the social framework as a result of the rapid economic changes seen over the last few decades.

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We’re getting into Steve Keen territory. At last.

New Canadian Budget Drops Obsession With Balanced Budgets (Star)

I’m intrigued by Modern Monetary Theory, which maintains governments can create (or ‘print’) money to fill public needs and can’t go into debt to themselves, though they should keep an eye on inflation.

Sorry, but I’m afraid I don’t agree that Wednesday’s federal budget was a non-event: “cynical,” a “placeholder,” “bafflegab and buzzwords” — as others wrote. I think this budget rocked, in one sense: it did a 180 on the stifling monomania of the last 30 years. I’m referring to the obsession with deficits. As recently as last election, the Liberals promised a balanced budget by the end of their first term. Now their projected deficits are even higher but that promise is gone and the thought process, transformed. Finance minister Bill Morneau blandly says, they’ll “be responsible every step along the way” and “show a decline in net debt to GDP,” which totally shifts the metric. He might as well have trilled, “Tra-la-la, we really don’t care.” It’s a damn earthquake.

For proof, look not at the opposition – Rona Ambrose predictably called it “spending out of control”- but at the journalists, who were left sputtering. It’s so radical they struggled for words. Peter Mansbridge began interviewing Morneau with: “How does it feel to know you’ll likely never have a balanced budget?” I wish Morneau had said, “I’m fine, but is there anything I can do to help you through this?” Mansbridge couldn’t stop, turning plaintively to his panel: “I tried to get him on the deficit … Is there a right and wrong any more?” Jennifer Ditchburn tried to soothe him with, “Deficit is a word they just don’t use any more.”

If I’m hyperventilating, it’s because I’ve led a cramped existence all these years, bowed under the weight of deficitism since I first heard the phrase, “Yeah, but how ya gonna pay for that?” during the 1988 election. No one knew where it came from or how it usurped all other political concerns, like a missive from heaven, or the Fraser Institute. Paul Martin adopted it, using it to sink the Canada we knew, and his own career. Yet, there’s apparently an ebb and flow to these things: a Nanos poll says Canadians now want Ottawa to run deficits as long as overall debt declines relative to GDP. That’s a pretty sophisticated alteration for ordinary folks to make intuitively; it makes you wonder if someone isn’t pulling strings somewhere and decided to drop a new backdrop (to public discourse) over the previous one.

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Nicely done. Like the music.

US Debt of $20 Trillion Visualized in Stacks of Physical Cash (Demonocracy)

Showing stacks of physical cash in following sequence: $100, $10,000, $1 Million, $2 Billion, $1 Trillion, $20 Trillion The faith and value of the US Dollar rests on the Government’s ability to repay its debt. “The money in the video has already been spent”

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Sounds reasonable.

The Pound Is Going To Take A Huge Hit, According To Deutsche Bank (Ind.)

When it comes to the pound, currency analysts at Deutsche Bank have for months proved to be some of the most bearish across the City, but they’ve just turned even more pessimistic in their outlook for the battered currency. In its latest special report on Brexit released this week, the German lender said the pound could fall as a low as $1.06 against the dollar by the end of 2017, or another 15%. “We do not see sterling (currently) fully pricing a hard Brexit outcome,” the bank wrote. “Combined with limited adjustment in the UK’s current account deficit and slowing growth, we see further downside, and forecast $1.06 in by year-end,” it added.

In an interview with Bloomberg in February, George Saravelos, the German lender’s global co-head of foreign exchange, hinted that the bank could cut its official forecast. He said at the time that sterling could still slip by 16% against the dollar to $1.05 cent as the “incredibly complicated” nature of Brexit becomes ever more clear. Most economists’ forecasts are still more optimistic than Deutsche Bank’s, but few expect the currency to recover from its post-referendum lows any time soon. According to poll of more than 60 banks and research institutions conducted by Reuters that was released earlier this month, forecasters on average expect the currency to trade at $1.23 against the dollar by the end of June, and drop to $1.21 in the subsequent three to six months.

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Praet is a true believer.

Leaving Euro Would Not Help France And Italy – ECB Chief Economist (Ind.)

The chief economist of the ECB has warned Italy and France that their economic problems would not be solved by breaking up the single currency. In an interview with Italy’s Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper, Peter Praet, an executive board member of the ECB, said the idea that the euro was the root cause of high unemployment and low growth in certain European countries was a populist “deception”. “What I do worry about is the populist narrative that things were better before the euro,” he said. “This is a deception. We arrived at monetary union after disastrous experiences with floating exchange rates and some unsuccessful attempts of orderly floating. “The devaluations that populists claim is a free lunch and allows to regain competitiveness by miracle proved extremely expensive.”

With specific reference to Italy, he said: “The nostalgic alternative that everything will be all right just by returning to the lira amounts to fooling the people. The cost of a regime change would be huge and the poor would be the ones that suffer the most.” Mr Praet acknowledged that the euro had lost popularity in many European countries, but said that it had been made a “scapegoat” for other economic policy failures by politicians. However, many credible economists argue that in the absence of fiscal stimulus by core countries in Europe that run current account surpluses, the monetary restrictions of the single currency are indeed driving the economic distress of the likes of France, Italy, Portugal and Greece.

Italy’s Five Star movement, currently leading in national opinion polls, has proposed a referendum on Italy’s membership of the single currency. Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France has previously called for the reinstatement of the franc, although she did not reiterate this in the national debate among presidential candidates earlier this week ahead of April’s national elections. The level of Italy’s GDP is barely higher than when the single currency was formed in 2000 and its working age unemployment rate currently stands at 12 per cent. The French unemployment rate is just below 10% and for young people it is double that.

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An outright lie: “Greece can only do that if Greece has a competitive economy. To that end, it needs to carry out reforms, and we’re giving Greece time to do that.”

Greece to Break Off Face-to-Face Talks With Creditors (BBG)

Greece and the institutions managing its bailout review will break off negotiations in Brussels without having cleared a path to conclude the deliberations that would release needed rescue funds. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, who was meeting with officials from the euro area and the IMF will return to Athens by Saturday. The two sides still have issues to work out, said the official, who asked not to be named in line with policy. Some progress was made and discussions will continue from their respective headquarters, according to a spokesman from the European Stability Mechanism, the euro-area’s bailout monitor. Greece is edging closer to a repeat of the 2015 drama that pushed Europe’s most indebted state to the edge of economic collapse, as the government in Athens and its creditors disagree over reforms to the pension system and the labor and energy markets.

Greece needs to complete the review in order to get the next portion of its aid payment before it has more than €7 billion of bonds come due in July. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble increased the pressure on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to accede to creditor demands. “Greece has said it wants to stay in the euro,” Schaeuble said in an interview on Deutschlandfunk radio on Friday. “Greece can only do that if Greece has a competitive economy. To that end, it needs to carry out reforms, and we’re giving Greece time to do that.” [..] European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urged Greece and its creditors in an emailed statement to reach a deal that respects commitments made on all sides. In response to Tsipras’s letter, Juncker called on the Greeks not to reverse reforms and creditors “to give Greece the desired and necessary room for maneuver to build its own future.”

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Reasonable overview, but any talk of agreements that could lead Greece back to growth is nonsense. The EU would never sign such an agreement. Theie attitude to date has made that abundantly clear.

Where Next For Greece? (Makropolis)

In September last year, when Alexis Tsipras visited New York to speak at the UN Assembly, he held a meeting with some heavyweights of the international investment community. The Greek prime minister was reportedly advised by the participants that if he wanted to build trust in Greece as an attractive investment destination, he should shift focus from his main objective of debt relief towards ensuring Greece’s participation in the ECB’s QE programme. The investors apparently pointed out to the SYRIZA leader that such a development would have a wide range of benefits for Greece and provide the steadiest path towards regaining market access and the successful completion of the current programme, without the need to follow it up with a fourth memorandum of understanding (MoU).

Tsipras seemingly heeded the advice and, just as the second review was about to start, he charted a path out of the crisis. He set out his intention to close the review by December 2016, secure QE at the start of 2017 and dip his toe back into the markets with a small issue or two early this summer when Greece has to roll over the bond that it issued in 2014, when Antonis Samaras was prime minister. However, the timetable Tsipras identified last autumn has gone up in smoke.

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Mar 232017
 
 March 23, 2017  Posted by at 5:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Live cooking in Monastiraki Square, Athens

 

Every time I write about my ‘adventures’ in Greece for the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund, which I initiated in June 2015, I think it’s been way too long, but also every time I realize that I’ve already written so much about it (which makes every new article harder to write as well). Still, it’s been three months since the last one, and as always lots has happened; we’re not sitting still. As always, there’s a full list of previous articles at the bottom of this one.

To start with the latest development, I gave Konstantinos Polychronopoulos of O Allos Anthropos another €1,000 (the last funds I had) on March 15, which he needed to go to Lesbos, where he’s been asked to help set up a ‘Multi-Center’, to be jointly built by Greeks and refugees. It’s an initiative of a privately funded organization named Swisscross, to be located outside of the horrible Moria camp.

The center, which will have no sleeping facilities, is designed to make life more bearable for the refugees stuck inside Moria. It will provide shower rooms, laundry facilities, a kindergarten, a school (remedial teaching), a cinema, cafeteria and a restaurant.

O Allos Anthropos will be in charge of the restaurant, which will also be very much geared towards providing space, equipment, food and resources for the refugees themselves to cook. An often overlooked part of the refugee tragedy here in Greece is that preparing food is an important aspect of family- and community life, a source of dignity and pride, that has been taken away from them and replaced by real bad catering.

 


Thank you to the Texan girls who donated their Santa hat to me for Konstantinos on December 25. Perfect fit!

 

We’ve had the fifth anniversary of O Allos Anthropos in December, and of course Christmas. Then we had New Year’s, and on January 8 Greek New Year. February 16 was Tsikno Pempti (aka Charcoal Thursday or Greek Cholesterol Day), when everyone eats roasted meat – there’s a connection with carnival there-, and the Monday after that was Clean Monday, the end of carnival and the start of what is probably best compared to Lent, what once upon a time was a 40-day period of ‘fasting’ all the way to Easter. No Fat Tuesday or Ash Wednesday, as far as I could find.

Konstantinos and his people made sure that everyone, homeless and refugees, had a Christmas and New Year’s party like ‘normal’ people. Someone had donated a whole lot of turkey for Christmas, there was some meat to eat, and on Cholesterol Day there was even over 1000 kilos of meat to be spread to the Social Kitchens all over the country. It’s the kind of thing that makes people feel they do count, and they do belong, despite the misery they find themselves in.

Just as important, if not more, was the fact that all children who were present in the Big House in Athens, many of whom are homeless, received presents on Greek New Year. That means so much to them. Holidays without presents is cruel to children. I’ll sprinkle some pictures through this article.

 


Nobody gets left out at Christmas

 

Through all these events one thing that kept popping into my head was how close they brought joy and misery together. It’s pretty much priceless to see the happiness in people’s faces when they are served a real Christmas meal, a sign that they belong to the ‘human tribe’, that they ARE important, and there ARE people who care about them. Being able to do that for people is a very precious thing. As I said to someone also involved in refugee work a while ago: I’m sure that when we look back on this years from now, we’re going to say this is the best thing we’ve done in our lives, or right up there.

But at the same time, you can’t look at the joy without realizing where it comes from, why a simple meal or a Christmas present means so much; it comes from the every day misery so many people live in, in Greece these days. Looking at people knowing they’ll have no place to sleep that night, while it’s pretty cold outside too (colder than I thought Athens would be), it will never be easy. The misery is always close to the surface.

So I want to thank you once again, Automatic Earth readers, for having made much of this possible through your donations. You help make a lot of people feel better, help them eat, shower, give them a sense of dignity. In the process, you make me feel better too. Thank you. (Update: Saw a video the other day of a girl tattoo artist who set up a program to change self-mutilated arms into beautiful works of body art. Her reason to do this: “You don’t know what happiness is within yourself until you do something for another person.” That. You rock.

 


Happiness is a little girl’s face

 

That €1000 I gave Konstantinos was again the last money I had to donate to him, so I will call on you once more, and shamelessly so (which I allow myself to do because it’s for others, and it really helps). The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund has so far generated over $50,000(!) -one wonderful soul sent me a check for $10,000…-, and it’s a bit of a victim of its own success. The more there is, the more gets spent; we don’t want to not help people. And already the number of meals O Allos Anthropos can prepare and serve is dropping again, for monetary reasons; the number should be going up instead. We’re rowing against a strong current, which is awfully ironic, as you can see in the rest of this article.

 

I was reading an article earlier this week from AFP about an Italian program for refugees that shows everything that is wrong about how the crisis is being dealt with in Europe. Italy has started flying in Syrian refugees from Beirut, so they don’t have to spent a fortune on a risky sea voyage only to be locked up for months in camps. There are other ways. Kudos to Italy, and may many other countries follow their example:

Avoiding Risky Sea Journey, Syrian Refugees Head To Italy ‘Pronto’

Just before midnight in a sleepy district of Beirut, dozens of Syrian refugees huddle in small groups around bulging suitcases, clutching their pinging cellphones and one-way tickets to Italy. “Torino! Pronto! Cappuccino!” They practise random Italian words in a schoolyard in the Lebanese capital’s eastern Geitawi neighbourhood, waiting for the buses that will take them to the airport, and onwards to their new lives in Italy. Under an initiative introduced last year by the Italian government, nearly 700 Syrian refugees have been granted one-year humanitarian visas to begin their asylum process in Italy. The programme is the first of its kind in Europe: a speedy third way that both avoids the United Nations lengthy resettlement process and provides refugees with a safe alternative to crammed dinghies and perilous sea crossings.

[..] A country of just four million people, Lebanon hosts more than one million Syrian refugees. For members of Mediterranean Hope, the four-person team coordinating Italy’s resettlement efforts from Lebanon, “humanitarian corridors” are the future of resettlement. The group interviews refugees many times before recommending them to the Italian embassy, which issues humanitarian visas for a one-year stay during which they begin the asylum process for permanent resettlement. “It’s safe and legal. Safe for them, legal for us, says Mediterranean Hope officer Sara Manisera. “After people cross the Mediterranean on the journey of death, they are put into centres for months while they wait. But with this programme, there are no massive centres, it costs less, and refugees can keep their dignity,” she tells AFP.

Since March 20 was the 1st anniversary of the EU-Turkey refugee deal, many articles were published about what happened during the past year. And I haven’t seen one that was positive, which makes a lot of sense. There may be fewer refugees arriving in Greece now, but the situation of those who are in the country has gotten much worse. They are now prisoners, ‘housed’ in squalid conditions and with very little idea what will happen to them, how long their asylum applications will take to be heard, if they can or will be sent back to Turkey.

And now, with Erdogan getting ever more desperate in his quest to become the over-powerful president of Turkey, with just 4 weeks left till the referendum that should make him so, and with polls showing he’s behind, the EU-Turkey deal may well fall victim to petty politics. As it always looked to do. Who will suffer if that happens? The usual suspects, Greece and the refugees. The walls to fortress Europe are still shut tight. And it’s always election time somewhere.

 


Live cooking in Monastiraki Square, Athens

 

A friend recently translated something for me that Konstantinos had written on the O Allos Anthropos Facebook page. He said that every refugee who, before the EU-Turkey deal, passed through Greece on his/her way to Europe, cost the EU €800. For a family of 5 that adds up to €4,000, which would have been more than enough to pay for transport, stay at decent hotels and eat in normal restaurants for the duration of their trip (7-10 days). Suffice it to say, that was not what they got.

After the EU-Turkey deal made it impossible for refugees to leave Greece, €15,000 has been spent per capita. That is €75,000 per family of 5, more than enough to rent a villa on the beach, hire a butler and eat gourmet food for 8 months. Instead, the refugees are stuck in old abandoned factories with no facilities, in old tents in the freezing cold and in the rain, and forced to eat a dirt poor version of rice with chickpeas and lentil soup.

Then over the weekend I saw this confirmed in a graph issued by Refugees Deeply (with slightly lower numbers, but those are just margin errors). Note: March 16 2015 in the graph should of course read March 16 2016:

 

 

Refugees Deeply are a bit of a new kid on the block, they’re a year old, and I have no doubt they do care and have the best intentions. But since they operate throughout the world, not just in Greece, they run the same risk many international NGOs do, of spreading their resources too thin. Moreover, one thing that’s become obvious is that if you approach and treat Greece the same way as Somalia, for instance, you’re certain of making some major mistakes. Greece was a modern and prosperous country until Europe tried to turn it into Somalia.

I first heard of Refugees Deeply 2 weeks ago when they published a report called The Refugee Archipelago – The Inside Story Of What Went Wrong In Greece. A good piece, for sure, and I recommend it, but it comes up far short of naming everything that went -and is still going- wrong.

What’s good is that it focuses on the failures of the Greek government in the never-ending refugee tragedy, because that was a part that had largely been missing. But what’s not so good is that it focuses almost exclusively on that. And that’s far from the whole story.

 

You see, there are three separate parties involved in the saga that have access to serious funding, and all three have their own reasons NOT to solve the problems to the best of their abilities. There’s the EU, there’s Greece, and there are dozens of NGOs, many of whom are large and operate internationally (iNGOs).

The EU wants to use Greece as a deterrent. It aims to create an image to the world of Greece as a sordid inhumane place that no potential refugee should ever wish to flee to. Because it doesn’t want any more refugees. 1 million refugees is too much for a continent, and a political union, of 500 million people. Rich Europe is overwhelmed by 0.2% more people. (Note: I’m not advocation open borders or anything, I’m just saying we need to take care of people in need, which is basically what the Geneva Convention says. Until we decide to stop bombing countries like Syria, and start rebuilding them, people will come to our territory to seek help.)

The EU also wants to put Greece in an even harder predicament, for politico-economic reasons. Brussels hands out a lot of money, but it doesn’t- from what I’ve been reading- seem to keep proper tabs of where that money is going, or how it’s spent. That way its hands are always clean: we gave all this money, you can’t blame us! And their hands will remain clean until someone calls them on their lack of oversight of what happens to taxpayers’ money. But taxpayers don’t even know who to call on, Europe is faceless.

 

The Greek government, too, likes the deterrent idea, albeit for slightly different reasons. While the EU has money to burn, Greece has none. The country doesn’t have the means to handle the refugee influx; it doesn’t even have the means to deal with its own domestic austerity-driven misery. The last thing it wants to do is give the impression that it is able to deal with the whole thing.

That might give refugees the idea that Greece is a good place to go to, and it might give Brussels the idea that Greece can handle this, so it must be doing fine. Also, there are (party-) political issues, there is rampant corruption, and there are egos. Greece is a country that politically, socially and economically has been robbed of any and all certainties and confidence. Where the poor take care of each other and the rich only have eye for themselves. But it’s hardly a functioning society anymore, it’s a bankruptcy fire sale.

The only thing surprising about the letter bombs (parcels) for Dijsselbloem, the IMF and Schäuble sent from Greece is that it took so long. Punishing a country into paying more than they could possibly afford is Versailles redux. But sure, the Greek part in the refugee crisis needs serious scrutiny as well: how Mouzalas can still be migration minister after the Refugees Deeply piece is hard to see. Then again, sources on the ground tell me it’s not -only- him, it’s the overall chaos and infighting.

 


And there are protests

 

The third party, the NGOs, is a bit tricky to talk about. For one, because there are so many of them, and in many lots of people work with the best possible intentions. That coming to a country where you don’t know the language or culture is not a perfect plan may often get lost in translation, certainly for unpaid bright-eyed young volunteers looking for a holiday but with a meaning.

It’s tricky also because NGOs, as I’ve written before, have become an industry in their own right, institutionalized even. As someone phrased it: we now have a humanitarian-industrial complex. Which in Greece has received hundreds of millions of euros and somehow can’t manage to take proper care of 60,000 desolate souls with that.

I’ve even been warned that if I speak out too clearly about this, they may come after Konstantinos and his people and make their work hard and/or impossible. This is after all an industry that is worth a lot of money. Aid is big business. And big business protects itself.

Still, if we’re genuinely interested in finding out how and why it is possible that hundreds of millions of taxpayer euros change hands, and people still die in the cold and live in subhuman conditions, we’re going to have to break through some of the barriers that the EU, Greece and the iNGOs have built around themselves.

If only because European -and also American- taxpayers have a right to know what has made this ongoing epic failure possible. And of course the first concern should be that the refugees have the right, encapsulated in international law, to decent and humane treatment, and are not getting anything even remotely resembling it.

Refugees Deeply quotes ‘a senior aid official’ (they don’t say from what) anonymously saying that €70 out of every €100 in aid is wasted. I see little reason to question that; if anything, it could be worse. But on the sunny side that means it need not take much to improve things. If ‘only’ one third of the aid were wasted, the portion that actually helps could potentially be doubled.

 

Most importantly: how do you waste at least €560 million (7/10 of €800 million) when that was intended for people in misery, in peril, in desperate need? I find it hard to wrap my mind around this, can’t seem to understand how actual people in Brussels can allow that to happen, when it’s about taxpayers’ money supposed to help people in grave distress. And I can’t figure out how Greece can allow that people freeze to death on its territory, when that could obviously have been easily prevented.

Nor can I fathom how iNGOs, who together have received hundreds of millions, can fail to build a number of decent winter camps, having been warned and funded months in advance. A lot of money goes to contractors, to the caterers who provide the awful meals at ten times the cost that O Allos Anthropos does, to the builders who don’t build, to the ubiquitous wheeler-dealers who can smell a cheap profit from miles away. And NGO executives want their often hefty salaries to be paid in time.

But even then I keep on thinking: where has all the money gone? They could have built or rented great facilities for all 60,000 refugees, and fed them, and schooled their children, and still have plenty of profit left. Why must greed be so unbridled?

 

In view of all this wasted money, we, Konstantinos and his people, can do so much more and so much better. But then again, of course, we can’t, because we don’t have that kind of funding, not even to spend wisely. And we won‘t either since we don’t want to comply with rules that would force O Allos Anthropos to refuse a meal to a hungry person, Greek or refugee, who doesn’t have ‘the proper ID’.

That ID thing fits ‘wonderfully’ into the EU model that has turned so many refugees into de facto prisoners, and has made so many Greeks destitute. In the end, aid must come from the heart, not from a wallet. Once humanitarian aid becomes a profit-based industry, as it so clearly has here, situations like the ones I describe here become inevitable. It all must come from the desire to help fellow human beings, and that should never be something that someone gets rich off of.

And compromising that in order to let the same machine fund you that has created so much mayhem feels like a road to some place between hell and nowhere. It’s sort of the opposite of Sartre’s “L’enfer c’est les autres” (Hell is other people). O Allos Anthropos means ‘The Other Human’. In other words, heaven is other people too. I could make a good case arguing that this is the very meaning of life, that we are here to help others. But that of course is just me. And thankfully and hopefully, bless you, many of our readers.

I don’t want to spend too much time being angry over the whole thing. The best we can all do is be positive, work with we have, and help as many people as we can. Of course Konstantinos and I, and many others, talk about becoming an NGO. But in his view, that would mean becoming a part of the machine, the industry, that does so much harm, wastes so much money and precious resources, and hurts so many needy people in the process.

Konstantinos is very much opposed to that, and I agree with him (not everyone always does). For him, it’s about never forgetting the reason why you do what you do, and certainly not forgetting it for money. But at the same time, yes, with more money we could do so much more. The number of projects that don’t get done, the people who don’t get fed, because the money is simply not there, is for lack of a better term, embarrassing. Especially, obviously, because that same money does get wasted somewhere else.

So we ask you once again for your help:

 

 

For donations to Konstantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos. Every penny goes where it belongs, no overhead. Guaranteed. It’s a matter of honor.

 

Please give generously.

 

 

A list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

Nov 28 2016

The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas

Dec 21 2016

The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017

 

 


Konstantinos and a happy refugee

 

 

Mar 232017
 
 March 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Unknown GMC truck Associated Oil fuel tanker, San Francisco 1935

 


I Don’t Think The US Should Remain As One Political Entity – Casey (IM)
Trump Tantrum Looms On Wall Street If Healthcare Effort Stalls (R.)
The US Student Debt Bubble Is Even Bigger Than The Subprime Fiasco (Black)
US Auto-Loan Quality To Deteriorate Further, Forcing Tighter Underwriting (MW)
Oil Price Drops Below $50 For First Time Since OPEC Deal (Tel.)
China Shadow Banks Hit by Record Premium for One-Week Cash (ZH)
Zombie Companies are China’s Real Problem (BBG)
China Debt Risks Go Global Amid Record Junk Sales Abroad (BBG)
A Fake $3.6 Trillion Deal Is Easy to Sneak Past the SEC
Elite Economists: Often Wrong, Never In Doubt (720G)
Trump the Destroyer (Matt Taibbi)
Erdogan Warns Europeans ‘Will Not Walk Safely’ If Attitude Persists (R.)
Lavish EU Rome Treaty Summit Will Skirt Issues in Stumbling Italy (BBG)
Greek Consumption Slumps Further In 2017 (K.)
Nine Years Later, Greece Is Still In A Debt Crisis.. (Black)
In Greece, Europe’s New Rules Strip Refugees Of Right To Seek Protection (K.)

 

 

So there.

I Don’t Think The US Should Remain As One Political Entity – Casey (IM)

What’s going on in the US now is a culture clash. The people that live in the so-called “red counties” that voted for Trump—which is the vast majority of the geographical area of the US, flyover country—are aligned against the people that live in the blue counties, the coasts and big cities. They don’t just dislike each other and disagree on politics; they can no longer even have a conversation. They hate each other on a visceral gut level. They have totally different world views. It’s a culture clash. I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime.

There hasn’t been anything like this since the War Between the States, which shouldn’t be called “The Civil War,” because it wasn’t a civil war. A civil war is where two groups try to take over the same government. It was a war of secession, where one group simply tries to leave. We might have something like that again, hopefully nonviolent this time. I don’t think the US should any longer remain as one political entity. It should break up so that people with one cultural view can join that group and the others join other groups. National unity is an anachronism.

Read more …

Credibility.

Trump Tantrum Looms On Wall Street If Healthcare Effort Stalls (R.)

The Trump Trade could start looking more like a Trump Tantrum if the new U.S. administration’s healthcare bill stalls in Congress, prompting worries on Wall Street about tax cuts and other measures aimed at promoting economic growth. Investors are dialing back hopes that U.S. President Donald Trump will swiftly enact his agenda, with a Thursday vote on a healthcare bill a litmus test which could give stock investors another reason to sell. “If the vote doesn’t pass, or is postponed, it will cast a lot of doubt on the Trump trades,” said the influential bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive at DoubleLine Capital. U.S. stocks rallied after the November presidential election, with the S&P 500 posting a string of record highs up to earlier this month, on bets that the pro-growth Trump agenda would be quickly pushed by a Republican Party with majorities in both chambers of Congress.

The S&P 500 ended slightly higher on Wednesday, the day before a floor vote on Trump’s healthcare proposal scheduled in the House of Representatives. On Tuesday, stocks had the biggest one-day drop since before Trump won the election, on concerns about opposition to the bill. Investors extrapolated that a stalling bill could mean uphill battles for other Trump proposals. Trump and Republican congressional leaders appeared to be losing the battle to get enough support to pass it. Any hint of further trouble for Trump’s agenda, especially his proposed tax cut, could precipitate a stock market correction, said Byron Wien, veteran investor and vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners. “The fact that they are having trouble with (healthcare repeal) casts a shadow over the tax cut and the tax cut was supposed to be the principal fiscal stimulus for the improvement in real GDP,” Wien said. “Without that improvement in GDP, earnings aren’t going to be there and the market is vulnerable.”

Read more …

“This is particularly interesting because student loans essentially have no collateral.”

The US Student Debt Bubble Is Even Bigger Than The Subprime Fiasco (Black)

In 1988, a bank called Guardian Savings and Loan made financial history by issuing the first ever “subprime” mortgage bond. The idea was revolutionary. The bank essentially took all the mortgages they had loaned to borrowers with bad credit, and pooled everything together into a giant bond that they could then sell to other banks and investors. The idea caught on, and pretty soon, everyone was doing it. As Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera describe in their excellent history of the financial crisis (All the Devils are Here), the first subprime bubble hit in the 1990s. Early subprime lenders like First Alliance Mortgage Company (FAMCO) had spent years making aggressive loans to people with bad credit, and eventually the consequences caught up with them. FAMCO declared bankruptcy in 2000, and many of its competitors went bust as well.

Wall Street claimed that it had learned its lesson, and the government gave them all a slap on the wrist. But it didn’t take very long for the madness to start again. By 2002, banks were already loaning money to high-risk borrowers. And by 2005, all conservative lending standards had been abandoned. Borrowers with pitiful credit and no job could borrow vast sums of money to buy a house without putting down a single penny. It was madness. By 2007, the total value of these subprime loans hit a whopping $1.3 trillion. Remember that number. And of course, we know what happened the next year: the entire financial system came crashing down. Duh. It turned out that making $1.3 trillion worth of idiotic loans wasn’t such a good idea. By 2009, 50% of those subprime mortgages were “underwater”, meaning that borrowers owed more money on the mortgage than the home was worth.

In fact, delinquency rates for ALL mortgages across the country peaked at 11.5% in 2010, which only extended the crisis. But hey, at least that’s never going to happen again. Except… I was looking at some data the other day in a slightly different market: student loans. Over the last decade or so, there’s been an absolute explosion in student loans, growing from $260 billion in 2004 to $1.31 trillion last year. So, the total value of student loans in America today is LARGER than the total value of subprime loans at the peak of the financial bubble. And just like the subprime mortgages, many student loans are in default. According to the Fed’s most recent Household Debt and Credit Report, the student loan default rate is 11.2%, almost the same as the peak mortgage default rate in 2010. This is particularly interesting because student loans essentially have no collateral. Lenders make loans to students… but it’s not like the students have to pony up their iPhones as security.

Read more …

You have to wonder what exactly is keeping the US economy afloat.

US Auto-Loan Quality To Deteriorate Further, Forcing Tighter Underwriting (MW)

Auto loan and lease credit performance will continue to deteriorate in 2017, led by the vulnerable subprime sector, Fitch Ratings said in a report released Wednesday. “Subprime credit losses are accelerating faster than the prime segment, and this trend is likely to continue as a result of looser underwriting standards by lenders in recent years,” said Michael Taiano, a director at the credit-ratings agency. Banks are starting to lose market share to captive auto finance companies and credit unions as they begin to tighten underwriting standards in response to deteriorating asset quality, Fitch said. According to the Federal Reserve’s January 2017 senior loan officer survey, 11.6% of respondents (net of those who eased) reported tightening standards, compared with the five-year average of 6.1%.

“This trend is consistent with comments made by several banks on earnings conference calls over the past couple of quarters,” Fitch said in the report. Fitch considers continued tightening by auto lenders as a credit-positive but it’s also paying attention to market nuances. The tightening, to date, primarily relates to pricing and loan-to-value (how much is still owed on the car compared to its resale value), but average loan terms continue to extend into the 72- to 84-month category. “The tightening of underwriting standards is likely a response to expected deterioration in used vehicle prices and the weaker credit performance experienced in the subprime segment,” added Taiano. Used-car price declines have accelerated more recently, which will likely pressure recovery values on defaulted loans and lease residuals, the analysts said.

Read more …

Might as well call off the theater.

Oil Price Drops Below $50 For First Time Since OPEC Deal (Tel.)

The oil price has fallen back below the key $50 a barrel mark for the first time since November after surging US oil supplies dealt a blow to OPEC’s plan to erode the global oversupply of crude. The flagging oil price bounded above $50 a barrel late last year after a historic co-operation deal between OPEC and the world’s largest oil producers outside of the cartel to limit output for the first half of this year. The November deal was the first action taken by the group to limit supply for over eight years but since then the quicker than expected return of fracking rigs across the US has punctured the buoyant market sentiment of recent months. Brent crude prices peaked at $56 a barrel earlier this year and were still above $52 this week.

But by Wednesday the price fell to just above $50 a barrel and briefly broke below the important psychological level to $49.86 on Wednesday afternoon. Market analysts fear that a more sustained period below $50 could trigger a sell-off from hedge funds which would drive even greater losses in the market. The price plunge was sparked by the latest weekly US stockpile data which revealed a bigger than expected increase of 5 million barrels a day compared to a forecast rise of 1.8 million barrels. The flood of US shale emerged a day after Libya announced that would increase its output to take advantage of higher revenues from its oil exports. “The market is increasingly worried that the continued overhang of supply is not being brought down fast enough,” said Ole Hansen, a commodities analyst with SaxoBank.

Read more …

Beijing forced to save the shadows.

China Shadow Banks Hit by Record Premium for One-Week Cash (ZH)

During the so-called Chinese Banking Liquidity Crisis of 2013, the relative cost of funds for non-bank institutions spiked to 100bps. So, the fact that the ‘shadow banking’ liquidity premium has exploded to almost 250 points – by far a record – in the last few days should indicate just how stressed Chinese money markets are. While interbank borrowing rates have climbed across the board, the surge has been unusually steep for non-bank institutions, including securities companies and investment firms. They’re now paying what amounts to a record premium for short-term funds relative to large Chinese banks, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The premium is reflected in the gap between China’s seven-day repurchase rate fixing and the weighted average rate, which, by Bloomberg notes, widened to as much as 2.47 percentage points on Wednesday after some small lenders were said to miss payments in the interbank market. Non-bank borrowers tend to have a greater influence on the fixing, while large banks have more sway over the weighted average. “It’s more expensive and difficult for non-bank financial institutions to get funding in the market,” said Becky Liu at Standard Chartered. “Bigger lenders who have access to regulatory funding are not lending much of the money out.” Without access to deposits or central bank liquidity facilities, many of China’s non-bank institutions must rely on volatile money markets. As Bloomberg points out, The People’s Bank of China has been guiding those rates higher in recent months to encourage a reduction of leverage, while also stepping in at times to prevent a liquidity crunch.

Read more …

State owned zombies.

Zombie Companies are China’s Real Problem (BBG)

China needs to take on its state-owned “zombie companies,” which keep borrowing even though they aren’t earning enough to repay loans or interest, says Nicholas Lardy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “That’s where the real problem is,” Lardy said Thursday in a Bloomberg Television interview from the Boao Forum for Asia, an annual conference on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. “It’s a component of the run-up in debt that they really have to focus on.” While flagging this concern, Lardy, a senior fellow at Peterson in Washington and author of “Markets Over Mao: The Rise of Private Business in China,” said anxiety over China’s debt growth is overstated. Household deposits will continue to underpin the banking and financial system, which means the situation with zombie firms is unlikely to reach a critical point.

Household savings are “very sticky, they’re not going anywhere, and the central bank can come in to the rescue if there are problems,” he said. Chinese corporate profits will probably continue to recover this year and after-tax earnings needed to service the debt load is improving, Lardy said. Another positive sign is a slowdown in the buildup of debt outstanding to non-financial companies. The combination of that slackening and companies’ increasing earning power “is improving the overall situation,” he said. When it comes to U.S. President Donald Trump’s negative rhetoric on China, the country’s leaders deserve “very high marks so far” for their cool reaction. “They’ve been waiting to see what Mr. Trump is actually going to do as opposed to what he’s talked about, so they haven’t overreacted,” he said. “They’ve made very careful preparations for the worst case if Trump does move in a very strong protectionist direction.”

Read more …

Zombies and junk.

China Debt Risks Go Global Amid Record Junk Sales Abroad (BBG)

China’s riskiest corporate borrowers are raising an unprecedented amount of debt overseas, leaving global investors to shoulder more credit risks after onshore defaults quadrupled in 2016. Junk-rated firms, most of which are property developers, have sold $6.1 billion of dollar bonds since Dec. 31, a record quarter, data compiled by Bloomberg show. In contrast, such borrowers have slashed fundraising at home as the central bank pushes up borrowing costs and regulators curb real estate financing. Onshore yuan note offerings by companies with local ratings of AA, considered junk in China, fell this quarter to the least since 2011 at 31.3 billion yuan ($4.54 billion). Global investors desperate for yield have lapped up offerings from China. Rates on dollar junk notes from the nation have dropped 81 basis points this year to 6.11%, near a record low, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch index.

Some investors have warned of froth. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said last month that it sees little value in the country’s high-yield property bonds. Hedge fund Double Haven Capital (Hong Kong) has said it is betting against Chinese junk securities. “Today’s market valuations are tight and investors are focusing on yields without taking into account credit risks,” said Raja Mukherji at PIMCO. “That’s where I see a lot of risk, where investors are not differentiating on credit quality on a risk-adjusted basis.” Lower-rated issuers turning to dollar debt after scrapping financing at home include Shandong Yuhuang Chemical on China’s east coast. The chemical firm canceled a 500 million yuan local bond sale in January citing “insufficient demand.” It then issued $300 million of three-year bonds at 6.625% this week. Some developers have grown desperate for cash as regulators tighten housing curbs and restrict their domestic fundraising. That’s raising concern among international investors in China’s real estate sector who have been burned before.

Read more …

Priceless humor: “Congress has already raised the alarm.” After three decades, that is.

A Fake $3.6 Trillion Deal Is Easy to Sneak Past the SEC

A few hours after the New York market close on Feb. 1, an obscure Chicago artist by the name of Antonio Lee told the world he had become the world’s richest man. The 32-year-old painter said Google’s parent, Alphabet Inc., had bought his art company in exchange for a chunk of stock that made him wealthier than Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos – combined. Of course, none of it was true. Yet, on that day, Lee managed to issue his fabricated report in the most authoritative of places: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Edgar database – the foundation of hundreds of billions of dollars in financial transactions each day. For more than three decades, the SEC has accepted online submissions of regulatory filings – basically, no questions asked.

As many as 800,000 forms are filed each year, or about 3,000 per weekday. But, in a little known vulnerability at the heart of American capitalism, the government doesn’t vet them, and rarely even takes down those known to be shams. “The SEC can’t stop them,” said Lawrence West, a former SEC associate enforcement director. “They can only punish the filer afterward and remove the filing from the system. So, caveat lector – let the reader beware.” Congress has already raised the alarm. For its part, the SEC, which declined to comment, has said those who make filings are responsible for their truthfulness and that only a handful have been reported as bogus. Submitting false information exposes the culprit to SEC civil-fraud charges, or even federal criminal prosecution.

On May 14, 2015, Nedko Nedev, a dual citizen of the United States and Bulgaria, filed an SEC form indicating he was making a tender offer – an outright purchase – for Avon, the cosmetics company. Avon’s shares jumped 20% before trading was halted, and the company denied the news. (A federal grand jury later indicted Nedev on market manipulation and other charges.) After the fraudulent Avon filing, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican and former chairman of the Finance Committee, told the SEC it must review its posting standards. “This pattern of fraudulent conduct is troubling, especially in light of the relative ease in which a fake posting can be made,” Grassley wrote in a letter to the agency. In response, Mary Jo White, who then chaired the SEC, said it wouldn’t be feasible to check information. She noted that there were on average 125 first-time filers daily in 2014, and the agency was studying whether its authentication process could be strengthened without delaying disclosure of key information to investors.

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Only a major reset will do.

Elite Economists: Often Wrong, Never In Doubt (720G)

Since the U.S. economic recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, institutional economists began each subsequent year outlining their well-paid view of how things will transpire over the course of the coming 12-months. Like a broken record, they have continually over-estimated expectations for growth, inflation, consumer spending and capital expenditures. Their optimistic biases were based on the eventual success of the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) plan to restart the economy by encouraging the assumption of more debt by consumers and corporations alike. But in 2017, something important changed. For the first time since the financial crisis, there will be a new administration in power directing public policy, and the new regime could not be more different from the one that just departed. This is important because of the ubiquitous influence of politics.

The anxiety and uncertainties of those first few years following the worst recession since the Great Depression gradually gave way to an uncomfortable stability. The anxieties of losing jobs and homes subsided but yielded to the frustration of always remaining a step or two behind prosperity. While job prospects slowly improved, wages did not. Business did not boom as is normally the case within a few quarters of a recovery, and the cost of education and health care stole what little ground most Americans thought they were making. Politics was at work in ways with which many were pleased, but many more were not. If that were not the case, then Donald Trump probably would not be the 45th President of the United States. Within hours of Donald Trump’s victory, U.S. markets began to anticipate, for the first time since the financial crisis, an escape hatch out of financial repression and regulatory oppression.

As shown below, an element of economic and financial optimism that had been missing since at least 2008 began to re-emerge. What the Fed struggled to manufacture in eight years of extraordinary monetary policy actions, the election of Donald Trump accomplished quite literally overnight. Expectations for a dramatic change in public policy under a new administration radically improved sentiment. Whether or not these changes are durable will depend upon the economy’s ability to match expectations.

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I find the Trump bashing parade very tiresome, but Matt’s funny.

Trump the Destroyer (Matt Taibbi)

There is no other story in the world, no other show to watch. The first and most notable consequence of Trump’s administration is that his ability to generate celebrity has massively increased, his persona now turbocharged by the vast powers of the presidency. Trump has always been a reality star without peer, but now the most powerful man on Earth is prisoner to his talents as an attention-generation machine. Worse, he is leader of a society incapable of discouraging him. The numbers bear out that we are living through a severely amplified déjà vu of last year’s media-Trump codependent lunacies. TV-news viewership traditionally plummets after a presidential election, but under Trump, it’s soaring. Ratings since November for the major cable news networks are up an astonishing 50% in some cases, with CNN expecting to improve on its record 2016 to make a billion dollars – that’s billion with a “b” – in profits this year.

Even the long-suffering newspaper business is crawling off its deathbed, with The New York Times adding 132,000 subscribers in the first 18 days after the election. If Trump really hates the press, being the first person in decades to reverse the industry’s seemingly inexorable financial decline sure is a funny way of showing it. On the campaign trail, ballooning celebrity equaled victory. But as the country is finding out, fame and governance have nothing to do with one another. Trump! is bigger than ever. But the Trump presidency is fast withering on the vine in a bizarre, Dorian Gray-style inverse correlation. Which would be a problem for Trump, if he cared. But does he? During the election, Trump exploded every idea we ever had about how politics is supposed to work. The easiest marks in his con-artist conquest of the system were the people who kept trying to measure him according to conventional standards of candidate behavior.

You remember the Beltway priests who said no one could ever win the White House by insulting women, the disabled, veterans, Hispanics, “the blacks,” by using a Charlie Chan voice to talk about Asians, etc. Now he’s in office and we’re again facing the trap of conventional assumptions. Surely Trump wants to rule? It couldn’t be that the presidency is just a puppy Trump never intended to care for, could it? Toward the end of his CPAC speech, following a fusillade of anti-media tirades that will dominate the headlines for days, Trump, in an offhand voice, casually mentions what a chore the presidency can be. “I still don’t have my Cabinet approved,” he sighs. In truth, Trump does have much of his team approved. In the early days of his administration, while his Democratic opposition was still reeling from November’s defeat, Trump managed to stuff the top of his Cabinet with a jaw-dropping collection of perverts, tyrants and imbeciles, the likes of which Washington has never seen.

En route to taking this crucial first beachhead in his invasion of the capital, Trump did what he always does: stoked chaos, created hurricanes of misdirection, ignored rules and dared the system of checks and balances to stop him. By conventional standards, the system held up fairly well. But this is not a conventional president. He was a new kind of candidate and now is a new kind of leader: one who stumbles like a drunk up Capitol Hill, but manages even in defeat to continually pull the country in his direction, transforming not our laws but our consciousness, one shriveling brain cell at a time.

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Tourism is a very big source of income for Turkey. Erdogan’s killing it off with a vengeance.

Erdogan Warns Europeans ‘Will Not Walk Safely’ If Attitude Persists (R.)

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Europeans would not be able to walk safely on the streets if they kept up their current attitude toward Turkey, his latest salvo in a row over campaigning by Turkish politicians in Europe. Turkey has been embroiled in a dispute with Germany and the Netherlands over campaign appearances by Turkish officials seeking to drum up support for an April 16 referendum that could boost Erdogan’s powers. Ankara has accused its European allies of using “Nazi methods” by banning Turkish ministers from addressing rallies in Europe over security concerns. The comments have led to a sharp deterioration in ties with the European Union, which Turkey still aspires to join.

“Turkey is not a country you can pull and push around, not a country whose citizens you can drag on the ground,” Erdogan said at an event for Turkish journalists in Ankara, in comments broadcast live on national television. “If Europe continues this way, no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets. Europe will be damaged by this. We, as Turkey, call on Europe to respect human rights and democracy,” he said. Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier used his first speech as president on Wednesday to warn Erdogan that he risked destroying everything his country had achieved in recent years, and that he risked damaging diplomatic ties. “The way we look (at Turkey) is characterized by worry, that everything that has been built up over years and decades is collapsing,” Steinmeier said in his inaugural speech in the largely ceremonial role. He called for an end to the “unspeakable Nazi comparisons.”

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Can’t let a little crisis get in the way of your champagne and caviar.

Lavish EU Rome Treaty Summit Will Skirt Issues in Stumbling Italy (BBG)

As leaders celebrate the European Union’s 60th birthday in Rome this weekend, the host nation may be hoping that a pomp-filled ceremony distracts from any probing questions. Overshadowed by the sting of Brexit and elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany, Italy’s lingering problems have left it as the weak link among Europe’s powerhouse economies. It’s stumbling through a stop-start slow recovery from a record-long recession, unemployment is twice that of Germany’s, and voters, weary of EU institutions, are flirting with the same kind of populism grabbing attention elsewhere. The gathering on Saturday on the city’s Capitol hill is to celebrate the Treaty of Rome, the bedrock agreement signed on March 25, 1957 for what is now the EU.

From its beginnings as the European Economic Community – with Italy among the six founding members – it has since grown to a union of 28 nations stretching 4,000 kilometers from Ireland in the northwest to Cyprus in the southeast. The U.K. is heading toward a lengthy exit from the EU known as Brexit, raising questions among the remaining 27 about the bloc’s long-term future. “Italy was until very recently at the forefront of the European integration process,” Luigi Zingales, professor of finance at University of Chicago Booth School of Business, said in an interview. “Today it’s undoubtedly Europe’s weakest link.” The economy grew just 0.9% last year, below the euro area’s 1.7%, and unemployment is at 11.9%. A recent EU poll put Italy as the monetary union’s second-most euro-skeptic state after Cyprus with only 41% saying the single currency is “a good thing.” The average in the 19-member euro area is 56%.

That widespread disenchantment may be felt at elections due in about one year. A poll published on Tuesday by Corriere della Sera put support for the Five Star Movement, which calls for a referendum to ditch the euro, at a record 32.3%, well ahead of the ruling Democratic Party. Summit host Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has only been in power since December, when Matteo Renzi resigned after losing a constitutional reform referendum. For Zingales, Italy has problems that European policy makers “would rather not talk about now as they don’t want to scare people.” That’s because across the bloc, politicians are still fighting voter resentment over the loss of wealth since the financial crisis, bitterness about bailouts and anger over a perceived increase in inequality. “Sixty years after the signing of the Treaties of Rome, the risk of political paralysis in Europe has never been greater,” Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco told a conference in Rome this month.

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The EU can celebrate only because it’s murdering one of its members. Greece needs stimulus but gets the opposite.

Greek Consumption Slumps Further In 2017 (K.)

The year has started with some alarm bells regarding the course of consumer spending, generating concern not only about the impact on the supermarket sector and industry, but also on the economy in general. In the first week of March the year-on-year drop in supermarket turnover amounted to 15%, while in January the decline had come to 10%. Shrinking consumption is a sure sign that the economic contraction will be extended into another year, given its important role in the economy. The new indirect taxes on a number of commodities, the increased social security contributions, the persistently high unemployment and the ongoing uncertainty over the bailout review talks have hurt consumer confidence and eroded disposable incomes.

In this context, it will be exceptionally difficult to achieve the fiscal targets, especially if the uncertainty goes on or is ended with the imposition of additional austerity measures that would only see incomes shrink further. According to projections by IRI market researchers, supermarket sales in 2017 are expected to decline 3.6% from last year, with the worst-case scenario pointing to a 4.4% drop. Supermarket sales turnover dropped at the steepest rate seen in the crisis years in 2016, down 6.5%, after falling 2.1% in 2015, 1.4% in 2014, 3.5% in 2013 and 3.4% in 2012.

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“For a continent that has been at war with itself for 10 centuries and only managed to play nice for the last 30 or so years, it’s foolish to expect these bailouts to last forever.”

Nine Years Later, Greece Is Still In A Debt Crisis.. (Black)

Greece has had nine different governments since 2009. At least thirteen austerity measures. Multiple bailouts. Severe capital controls. And a full-out debt restructuring in which creditors accepted a 50% loss. Yet despite all these measures GREECE IS STILL IN A DEBT CRISIS. Right now, in fact, Greece is careening towards another major chapter in its never-ending debt drama. Just like the United States, the Greek government is set to run out of money (yet again) in a few months and is in need of a fresh bailout from the IMF and EU. (The EU is code for “Germany”…) Without another bailout, Greece will go bust in July– this is basic arithmetic, not some wild theory. And this matters. If Greece defaults, everyone dumb enough to have loaned them money will take a BIG hit. This includes a multitude of banks across Germany, Austria, France, and the rest of Europe.

Many of those banks already have extremely low levels of capital and simply cannot afford a major loss. (Last year, for example, the IMF specifically singled out Germany’s Deutsche Bank as being the top contributor to systemic risk in the global financial system.) So a Greek default poses as major risk to a number of those banks. More importantly, due to the interconnectedness of the financial system, a Greek default poses a major risk to anyone with exposure to those banks. Think about it like this: if Greece defaults and Bank A goes down, then Bank A will no longer be able to meet its obligations to Bank B. Bank B will suffer a loss as well. A single event can set off a chain reaction, what’s called ‘contagion’ in finance. And it’s possible that Greece could be that event. This is what European officials have been so desperate to prevent for the last nine years, and why they’ve always come to the rescue with a bailout.

It has nothing to do with community or generosity. They’re hopelessly trying to prevent another 2008-style meltdown of the financial system. But their measures have limits. How much longer do Greek citizens accept being vassals of Germany, suffering through debilitating capital controls and austerity measures? How much longer do German taxpayers continue forking over their hard-earned wages to bail out Greek retirees? After all, they’ve spent nine years trying to ‘fix’ Greece, and the situation has only become worse. For a continent that has been at war with itself for 10 centuries and only managed to play nice for the last 30 or so years, it’s foolish to expect these bailouts to last forever. And whether it’s this July or some date in the future, Greece could end up being the catalyst which sets off a chain reaction on both sides of the Atlantic.

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It’s time for lawyers to step in.

In Greece, Europe’s New Rules Strip Refugees Of Right To Seek Protection (K.)

EU leaders are celebrating a year since they carved out the agreement with Turkey that stemmed the flood of refugees seeking to escape war and strife on Europe’s doorstep. But the importance of the agreement goes far beyond the fact that it has contributed to deterring refugees from coming to Greece. At the Norwegian Refugee Council, we fear that the system Europe is putting in place in Greece is slowly stripping people of their right to seek international protection. Greece took the positive step to enshrine in law some key checks and balances to protect the vulnerable – a victim of torture, a disabled person, an unaccompanied child – so they could have their asylum case heard on the Greek mainland rather than remaining on the islands.

But a European Commission action plan is putting Greece under pressure to change safeguards enshrined in Greek law. NRC, along with other human rights and humanitarian organizations, wrote an open letter to the Greek Parliament this month urging lawmakers to keep that protection for those most in need. Importantly, this is just another quiet example of how what is happening in Greece is setting precedents that may irrevocably change the 1951 Refugee Convention. Europe is testing things out in Greece. [..] It was Europe and its postwar crisis that led to the 1951 convention that protects those displaced by war. Now that convention risks expiring on the doorstep of the same continent that gave birth to it – Europe is in danger of becoming, as NRC’s Secretary-General Jan Egeland has said, the convention’s “burial agent.”

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Mar 222017
 
 March 22, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Ray K. Metzker Philadelphia 1963

 


Vancouver Won’t Have A Middle Class Left In The Future (CBC)
Nomi Prins: Financial System Worse Now Than 2007 (EIR)
Kashkari: “A Market Drop Is Unlikely To Trigger A Crisis” (ZH)
Dijsselbloem Says Southern Europe Blew Cash On ‘Drinks And Women’ (Tel.)
Dijsselbloem Not Fit To Be Eurogroup President – Socialist MEP Leader (Pol.)
Dijsselbloem ‘Mail Bomb Target’ (AFP)
Greece Won’t Last In Eurozone In Long Run, Says Bavarian FinMin (R.)
IMF Wants Greek Opposition To Also Commit To Fiscal Targets, Measures (Naft.)
As Bailout Talks Drag, Greece Says May Not Sign EU Rome Treaty (K.)
Fresh Increase In Registered Greek Unemployed (K.)
Italy’s Populist ‘Mad Man’ Extremely Worrying For Eurozone Stability (CNBC)
Germany Rejects Arms Exports To Turkey (Kom)
Turkey Says EU Refugee Deal Near Collapse (BBG)
The Mechanical Turn in Economics and Its Consequences (Inet)
The Kagans Are Back; Wars to Follow (Robert Parry)
Ganges and Yamuna Rivers Granted Same Legal Rights As Human Beings (G.)
More Than 100 Chinese Cities Now Above 1 Million People (G.)
Access To Nature Reduces Depression And Obesity (G.)
The Man Who Planted A Tree And Grew A Whole Family Of Forests (G.)

 

 

How to Kill a City part 831. I should write the article I’ve long had in my head. But this is the trendline. Which will break, but then you have untold millions of ‘homeowners’ with properties worth much less than their mortgages -and a low interest rate is but a detail-, and a banking system threatening to topple. Again.

Vancouver Won’t Have A Middle Class Left In The Future (CBC)

A former city planner warns if Vancouver doesn’t start protecting dedicated housing for middle-income residents, there won’t be a middle class left in the city in the future. “The estimates are by 2030, if you’re a Millennial household with about $72,000 to $75,000 in your income, you won’t be able to be in this housing market at all. In fact, it would take all of your income to buy a very modest place,” explained Larry Beasley, who is currently a professor with the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning. Beasley says the solution to the problem is to create secure middle income housing. “We have a low-income sector that’s all owned by government and it’s basically rental and we have a market sector for all the rest,” he said.

“We need to protect a middle income sector of housing … It would be protected from being in the open market where it could sell at any price and rent at any price … It would be delivered, either rented or sold, time and time again to middle income people.” Although some middle income people get help from their parents, buy further away or buy smaller places, he said, this cushion won’t last forever and eventually middle income residents will be completely shut out of the city’s real estate market. “It doesn’t matter how much you save and it doesn’t matter how much you borrow from government, you still won’t be able to get into the market. People will face some pretty stark choices.” [..] “If you rule out the middle class, you rule out the potential of creativity. You rule out the people who are doing the jobs everyday and you rule out the people who are driving the day-to-day economy.”

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Private debt is much higher than 10 years ago, in far too many places, because of the housing bubbles.

Nomi Prins: Financial System Worse Now Than 2007 (EIR)

Financial analyst, Author and fmr. Goldman Sachs Managing Director, Nomi Prins sits down with EIR’s Paul Gallagher to discuss just how rotten the current financial system is, making a sobering case that we are far worse off today than we were before the 2007-08 crisis. Prins refers to her political and financial road map for 2017, (nomiprins.com) and discusses the important, combined role China and Japan can play in bringing the US back from the brink and into the new paradigm of investment in the real economy.

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Contradictions, Watson?

Kashkari: “A Market Drop Is Unlikely To Trigger A Crisis” (ZH)

Former Goldmanite and current Minneapolis Fed president, Neel Kashkari, conducted another #AskNeel session on Twitter where the dovish FOMC voter (he was the only one to dissent in last week’s rate hike decision) received numerous question. Among them was the following one from Zero Hedge:

His response:

At this point we would like to “timestamp” Kashkari’s claim that a “stock market drop is unlikely to trigger a crisis” It was not clear just how the Fed president separates a market crash from “financial instability”, but Kashkari’s response that the Fed is not concerned about the level of the S&P500, and instead is more focused on comprehensive market stability, is not being taken well by the market which has continued to sell off as Kashkari responds to further questions, among which the following exchanges:

In response to a question about rising inflation, Kashkari said he would tolerate 2.3% inflation for as long as U.S. has had below-target inflation, “if we really believe 2% is a target. That is what a target means” and adds that “Not sure if my colleagues wld really buy into that however.” We wonder how that question would look like if instead 2.3% inflation one used 3.6%, which is the current true level of inflation according to PriceStats. At least the Fed has been polite enough to advise America it will tolerate a material “overshoot” in its inflation target.

When asked about the two latest rate increases, he said that “data didn’t support a hike. Data basically hasn’t changed. Moving sideways rather than toward dual mandate.” He also said that he would like to see plan on balance sheet normalization soon, adding: “I would prefer to see it before we increase the federal funds rate again” and added that the balance sheet “needs to grow as economy and demand for dollars grows. We will shrink but not to 2006 levels.”

In short, Kashkarhi – who allegedly does not care about the level of the  S&P500 – is willing to risk a market crash and a Fed balance sheet-driven bond tantrum. Or, to paraphrase Richard Breslow, “The Fed Is Making This Up As They Go Along“”

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What a douche.

Dijsselbloem Says Southern Europe Blew Cash On ‘Drinks And Women’ (Tel.)

The head of the eurozone’s finance ministers has been criticised for stating that southern European countries blew their money on “drinks and women”. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who leads the group, made the comments in an interview on Monday with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). “During the crisis of the euro, the countries of the north have shown solidarity with countries affected by the crisis,” he said.“As a Social Democrat, I attribute exceptional importance to solidarity. “But you also have obligations. “You cannot spend all the money on drinks and women and then ask for help.” Inside the European parliament, MEPs turned on Mr Dijsselbloem on Tuesday, calling his remarks “insulting” and “vulgar”.

Gabriel Mato, a Spanish MEP, said the remarks were “absolutely unacceptable” and an “insult” to southern member states – claiming he had lost his neutrality as finance chief. Ernest Urtasun, another Spanish MEP, said: “Maybe this is funny for you, but I don’t think it is. I would like to know if this is your first statement as a candidate to renew your post as president of the eurogroup.” Mr Dijsselbloem’s term ends next year, and he is believed to be considering running for re-election. He attempted to brush off the criticism, telling the MEPs: “Don’t be offended.” He continued: “It is not about one country, but about all our countries.” He then attempted to dig himself out of the hole by saying all countries had failed to uphold the financial rules set by the EU. “The Netherlands also failed a number of years ago to comply with what was agreed,” he said. “I don’t see a conflict between regions of the eurogroup.”


If the money was spent on drinks and women, it wasn’t the Greeks

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He never was, because “..it was “not the first time” that Dijsselbloem has expressed opinions “which are openly in contradiction with the line of the European progressive family.”

MEP=Member of European Parliament.

Dijsselbloem Not Fit To Be Eurogroup President – Socialist MEP Leader (Pol.)

Jeroen Dijsselbloem is “not fit to be president of the Eurogroup,” Socialist MEP leader Gianni Pittella said Tuesday, accusing the Dutch finance minister of making “discriminatory comments” about southern EU countries in German media. Without naming names, Dijsselbloem told the Frankfurter Allgemeine on Monday that “countries in crisis” should stick to the deficit targets set by the European Commission and show the same solidarity as northern eurozone states during the financial crisis. “As a social democrat, for me solidarity is extremely important,” Djisselbloem said. “But those who call for it (solidarity) also have duties. I cannot spend all my money on liquor and women and plead for your support afterwards. This principle applies on the personal, local, national and also European level.” On Tuesday, Pittella described these comments as “shameful and shocking.”

“Dijsselbloem went far beyond by using discriminatory arguments against the countries of southern Europe,” he said. “There is no excuse or reason for using such language, especially from someone who is supposed to be a progressive.” Dijsselbloem has been Eurogroup president since January 2013 and was re-elected for a second term in July 2015. However, his Dutch Labor Party (PvdA) did badly in last week’s election and he will almost certainly not stay on as finance minister. Pittella said it was “not the first time” that Dijsselbloem has expressed opinions “which are openly in contradiction with the line of the European progressive family.” “I truly wonder whether a person who has these beliefs can still be considered fit to be president of the Eurogroup,” he added. Portuguese Foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva joined in the criticism, saying Dijsselbloem should not be able “to remain at the head of the Eurogroup and the Portuguese government shares this opinion.”

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Only surprise: What took them so long?

Dijsselbloem ‘Mail Bomb Target’ (AFP)

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem was targeted by a mail bomb which had been “intercepted,” his spokesman said Tuesday, a day after Greek police found eight “suspect” packages addressed to European officials. “I can confirm that Minister Dijsselbloem was the target of a mail bomb,” Coen Gelinck told AFP. “It was however intercepted,” said Gelinck, declining to give any further information or to confirm whether it was one of the packages found in Athens. Police in the Greek capital found eight packages Monday at the postal service’s main sorting centre north of Athens. The news came after a domestic militant group last week sent mail bombs to the IMF and the German finance ministry.

Monday’s packages were intended for “officials at European countries,” Greek police said. A police source later said the packages were intended for officials at the Eurogroup and other global institutions. Last week, a mail bomb sent to the IMF’s offices in Paris exploded and injured a secretary. A second bomb sent to the German finance ministry was intercepted by security. The investigation so far suggests that both the IMF and the German finance ministry bombs were sent by a far-left group called the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, which police thought they had mostly dismantled in 2011.

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Why stay one day longer, then?

Greece Won’t Last In Eurozone In Long Run, Says Bavarian FinMin (R.)

Greece will not last in the eurozone in the long run and officials working on a review of its bailout package should prepare for such a possibility, a senior member of the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives said. Greece has lost a quarter of its national output since it first sought financial aid in 2010. Its current bailout package is the third in seven years. “Greece is unlikely to survive in the eurozone over the long term,” Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Soeder told the Handelsblatt newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday. Soeder urged officials working on the bailout review to develop a “Plan B” or alternative plan. “We’ll see if Greece meets the conditions. I’m very skeptical,” Soeder said, adding that the participation of the International Monetary Fund was essential.

Soeder’s Christian Social Union is the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats and has long accused Greece of failing to implement reforms promised under its bailout packages. Germany faces national elections in September and the anti-euro Alternative for Germany party (AfD), which has been particularly critical of eurozone bailouts, is expected to perform well. Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said on Monday he planned to stay in Brussels for further consultations with his country’s creditors towards finalizing the latest bailout review. He said he hoped for a preliminary deal by April 7. Greece and its international lenders are still at odds over pension, labor and energy market reforms that are needed before new loans can be disbursed to Athens. The IMF has yet to decide whether to participate in Greece’s €86 billion bailout, expressing deep concerns over debt sustainability in the crisis-hit nation.

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And their grandchildren too, while we’re at it?!

IMF Wants Greek Opposition To Also Commit To Fiscal Targets, Measures (Naft.)

The IMF wants Greece’s political opposition to also approve any new agreement for fiscal measures and targets after 2019, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin maintained on Tuesday, an abrupt revelation that would further complicate ongoing negotiations between Athens and its institutional creditors if proved true. The French minister also expressed his surprise over the Fund’s latest demand vis-a-vis the Greek program. “Can you image if they asked us, the French, to ask for the opposition’s commitment,” he said, adding that such a demand is unrealistic. Moreover, he referred to the IMF’s “obsessions” with labor market liberalization and social security reform.

With fiscal targets dictating an annual primary budget surplus of 3.5% (as a percentage of GDP) in the “medium term” after 2019, the IMF has pressed for – and European creditors have accepted – that austerity measures are enacted now in order to ensure that targets are achieved after the third bailout ends in mid 2018. Sapin made the statement in Brussels, a day after yet another Eurogroup meeting ended without a staff-level agreement between creditors and the increasingly embattled leftist-rightist government in Athens. Finally, he said all parties should assume their responsibilities in concluding the now utterly delayed second review of the Greek program, which he said will have repercussions on others, and not just the Greek economy.

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Let’s see you do it, Alexis.

As Bailout Talks Drag, Greece Says May Not Sign EU Rome Treaty (K.)

With Greece’s international creditors indicating that insufficient progress has been achieved for bailout monitors to return to Athens, government sources have threatened to block the Rome Declaration, Kathimerini understands, connecting it to the negotiations on the second review. According to sources, the Greek official participating in preparatory talks ahead of the drafting of a common statement that EU leaders are expected to sign at a summit in Rome on Saturday, regarding the bloc’s common values and principles, told his interlocutors that Greece cannot agree to such a text while being pressed to implement unrealistic demands of the IMF.

Sources said that Greek officials aim to ensure that the joint declaration includes a paragraph referring to European regulations protecting citizens’ labor rights. It is the issue of labor rights — and the IMF’s demands for further liberalization of the sector — that has become the major sticking point in talks between Greece and its lenders. On Monday, finance ministers discussing Greek bailout negotiations deemed that inadequate progress had been achieved for foreign auditors to return to Athens. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos commented that he and other Greek ministers would remain in Brussels for further negotiations in a bid to establish enough common ground for bailout monitors to return to the Greek capital and resume talks.

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Inevitable. All the recovery claims are bogus. The Greek economy CANNOT recover under present conditions.

Fresh Increase In Registered Greek Unemployed (K.)

The number of people registered as unemployed at Greece’s Manpower Organization (OAED) rose by about 6,000 in February to almost 1.1 million at the end of the month, a dramatic rate which is expected to continue until at least the end of 2017. This trend corresponds with the rise seen in the quarterly jobless rate late last year. The sum of OAED-registered unemployed who are seeking work amounted to 936,110 people, with more than half of them (503,431 people or 53.78%) having been registered for at least 12 months. There is a significant difference between men and women, as they break down into 576,491 women (61.58%) and 359,619 men (38.42%). Another 159,756 people were registered who are not seeking work, of whom 32,897 or 20.59% had been on the register for at least a year. The number of unemployment benefit recipients came to 178,105 people last month, of whom 73,205 (41.1%) were seasonal workers in the tourism industry.

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Shoddy journalism. The Party is named M5S, not 5SM. Common knowledge. (Corrected)

And you can’t claim that “Europe should be strong enough to manage a “mad man” like Grillo becoming Italy’s Prime Minister”, because Beppe is not a candidate -for any office-, and won’t be.

Italy’s Populist ‘Mad Man’ Extremely Worrying For Eurozone Stability (CNBC)

Italy’s anti-establishment and anti-euro party Five Star Movement (M5S) represent the greatest threat to euro area stability, analysts told CNBC on Tuesday, as the populist party surged ahead of its political rivals in the latest opinion poll, putting it on course to be the biggest party if elections were called. M5S leader Beppe Grillo has enjoyed a recent, and remarkable, uptick in support, buoyed in part by the divisions in the ruling Democratic Party (PD) as former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi attempts to regain support. Grillo, who has campaigned for Italy to hold a referendum on the single currency if elected, has overseen M5S’s support grow to 32.3%, according to an Ipsos poll published in daily newspaper Correa della Sera on Tuesday.

“If Five Star Movement could secure 30 or 40% of the vote then of course that would be extremely worrying for the euro area’s stability. Whether they can gain an absolute majority… we’ll have to wait and see,” Claus Vistesen, chief euro zone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics told CNBC via telephone. Italy is due to hold its next national election by early 2018 and, although Europe’s heavy political calendar has pushed the thought of Italy to the back of most investors’ minds, Deutsche Bank analysts argued it is Rome that poses the greatest threat to the euro area’s stability. The German lender suggested its base case scenario is for Renzi’s PD party, currently second in the polls, to fracture as a result of internal feuds. If this were to happen, it would then leave M5S in the driving seat ahead of the country’s general election.

[..] At the moment, parties in Italy are still looking to draw up a new electoral law, which most observers expect to result in a form of proportional representation that could reward a stable majority government to any party that can secure over 40% of the vote. M5S are significantly below the 40% threshold and have ruled out any desire to form a coalition government. However, Vistesen and Stringa both suggested with some confidence that Italy could expect weak economic growth throughout 2017 and therefore it would be conceivable for Grillo’s M5S to enjoy even greater support in the run up to a vote. Both France and Germany are due to elect new premiers before Italy and Vistesen concluded that, so long as the political favorites are able to win in each country, then Europe should be strong enough to manage a “mad man” like Grillo becoming Italy’s Prime Minister.

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The US will fill in. Or Britain, France.

Germany Rejects Arms Exports To Turkey (Kom)

Germany has rejected more requests for arms exports to Turkey during the past 5 months than in five years between 2010 and 2015, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Tuesday. The sharp increase in rejections, mainly handguns, ammunition and parts needed in weapons production, is due to “the risk of a deployment in the context of internal repression or the Kurdish conflict,” according to a written response by State Secretary Matthias Machnig to a question posed by lawmaker Jan van Aken. “Respect for human rights is a matter of particular importance for arms export decisions,” the answer from Machnig of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy also outlined.

“This is a first step,” van Aken told Sueddeutsche Zeitung, “And the next must be that Turkey does not get any weapons from Germany,” the Left Party (Die Linke) law maker said, adding that the Turkish government is waging a war both within its own borders and in Syria while fast becoming a dictatorship. Relations between Germany and Turkey are strained. Turkey’s plans to campaign in Germany ahead of the referendum were refused on several occasions and Turkish politicians, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused Germany of Nazi measures.

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EU membership is now linked to the death penalty?!

Turkey Says EU Refugee Deal Near Collapse (BBG)

Turkey’s agreement with the European Union to help stem the largest flow of refugees since World War II is inching closer to collapse, according to Turkey’s minister in charge of EU integration. By hosting about 3 million refugees – the most of any nation – and halting their migration to Europe, Turkey has saved the EU from a “racist” backlash that threatens the bloc’s democratic character, Omer Celik said in an interview on Tuesday in Ankara. Describing the deal as one-sided, he said Turkey is under no obligation to continue implementing it, adding that his country’s commitment to seeking EU membership wasn’t unconditional. “We won’t abandon these people to their deaths, but an agreement has two sides and if one side doesn’t abide by its obligations, neither will the other,” Celik said. “If the refugee agreement collapses, what we foresee is clear: we won’t cooperate with any mechanisms acting on behalf of the EU.”

The prospects of Turkey joining the union are dissipating as politicians lash out ahead of a series of votes that could define relations for decades. In Europe, populists are campaigning on anti-Muslim and anti-immigration sentiment, while in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been appealing to nationalists ahead of an April referendum on endowing his office with full executive authority. European officials have voiced their disapproval of the plebiscite, saying it would undermine democracy in the NATO member. [..] While support in Turkey for EU membership remains high, belief that it will happen has collapsed, Celik said. Ultimately, the issue could be put to the public as part of a referendum on reintroducing the death penalty, he said. “This issue depends on whether relations with the EU are maintained or not.” he said. “It is up to the Turkish people whether to keep the EU process or halt it.”

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I’ve had this sitting in a tab for a while. It’s good that people are now picking it up, but it always seems weird that these things need to be explained this way. Economics truly is a blind field. Nature? Nature of man? Nah..

The Mechanical Turn in Economics and Its Consequences (Inet)

With Adam Smith, and hints before in Ricardo and others, economics took the path of treating the economy as a natural object that should not be interfered with by the state. This fit the Newtonian ethos of the age: science was great, science was mathematics; science was true, right and good. But along the way the discussion in, for example, Montaigne and Machiavelli — about the powers of imagination, myth, emotions, sentiment, human relations and community — was abandoned by the economists. (Adam Smith had written his Theory of Moral Sentiments 20 years earlier and sort of left it behind, though the Wealth of Nations is still concerned with human well-being.) Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was published in 1776, the same year as Smith’s Wealth, but hardly read today by most economists.

In philosophy and the arts (romanticism among others) there was great engagement in these issues economics was trying to avoid. But that philosophy and art criticism have not been widely read for many years. The effect of ignoring the human side of lives was to undermine the social perspective of the “political,” by merging it with the individually focused “interest.” So, instead of exploring the inner structure of interest (or later utility or preference), or community feeling and the impact of culture, these were assumed to be irrelevant to the mechanics of the market. Politics, having to do with interest groups and power arrangements, is more vague and harder to model than economic activity. Those who wanted economics to be a science were motivated by the perception that “being scientific” was appreciated by the society of the time, and was the path to rock-solid truth.

But the move towards economics as a science also happened to align with a view of the landed and the wealthy that the economy was working for them, so don’t touch it. We get the equation, embracing science = conservative. This is still with us because of the implication that the market is made by god or nature rather than being socially constructed. Since economics is the attempt at a description of the economy, it was more or less locked in to the naturalist approach, which ignores things like class and ownership and treated capital as part of economic flow rather than as a possession that was useable for social and political power. Even now, economics still continues as if it were part of the age of Descartes and avoids most social, historical and philosophical thought about the nature of man and society. Names like Shaftesbury and Puffendorf, very much read in their time, are far less known now than Hobbes, Descartes, Ricardo, Mill and Keynes.

Karl Polanyi is much less well known than Hayek. We do not learn of the social history such as the complex interplay in Viennese society among those who were classmates and colleagues such as Hayek, Gombrich, Popper and Drucker. The impact of Viennese culture is not known to many economists. The result is an economics that supports an economy that is out of control because the feedback loops through society and its impact of the quality of life – and resentment – are not recognized in a dehumanized economics, and so can’t have a feedback correcting effect. The solution, however, is not to look for simplicity, but to embrace a kind of complexity that honors nature, humans, politics, and the way they are dealt with in philosophy, arts, investigative reporting, anthropology and history. Because the way forward cannot be a simple projection of the past. We are in more danger than that.

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Parry is an authorative voice.

The Kagans Are Back; Wars to Follow (Robert Parry)

Back pontificating on prominent op-ed pages, the Family Kagan now is pushing for an expanded U.S. military invasion of Syria and baiting Republicans for not joining more enthusiastically in the anti-Russian witch hunt over Moscow’s alleged help in electing Donald Trump. In a Washington Post op-ed on March 7, Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century and a key architect of the Iraq War, jabbed at Republicans for serving as “Russia’s accomplices after the fact” by not investigating more aggressively. Then, Frederick Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the neocon American Enterprise Institute, and his wife, Kimberly Kagan, president of her own think tank, Institute for the Study of War, touted the idea of a bigger U.S. invasion of Syria in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on March 15.

Yet, as much standing as the Kagans retain in Official Washington’s world of think tanks and op-ed placements, they remain mostly outside the new Trump-era power centers looking in, although they seem to have detected a door being forced open. Still, a year ago, their prospects looked much brighter. They could pick from a large field of neocon-oriented Republican presidential contenders or – like Robert Kagan – they could support the establishment Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, whose “liberal interventionism” matched closely with neoconservatism, differing only slightly in the rationalizations used for justifying wars and more wars. There was also hope that a President Hillary Clinton would recognize how sympatico the liberal hawks and the neocons were by promoting Robert Kagan’s neocon wife, Victoria Nuland, from Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs to Secretary of State.

Then, there would have been a powerful momentum for both increasing the U.S. military intervention in Syria and escalating the New Cold War with Russia, putting “regime change” back on the agenda for those two countries. So, early last year, the possibilities seemed endless for the Family Kagan to flex their muscles and make lots of money. As I noted two years ago in an article entitled “A Family Business of Perpetual War”: “Neoconservative pundit Robert Kagan and his wife, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, run a remarkable family business: she has sparked a hot war in Ukraine and helped launch Cold War II with Russia and he steps in to demand that Congress jack up military spending so America can meet these new security threats.

[..] But things didn’t quite turn out as the Kagans had drawn them up. The neocon Republicans stumbled through the GOP primaries losing out to Donald Trump and then – after Hillary Clinton muscled aside Sen. Bernie Sanders to claim the Democratic nomination – she fumbled away the general election to Trump. After his surprising victory, Trump – for all his many shortcomings – recognized that the neocons were not his friends and mostly left them out in the cold. Nuland not only lost her politically appointed job as Assistant Secretary but resigned from the Foreign Service, too. With Trump in the White House, Official Washington’s neocon-dominated foreign policy establishment was down but far from out. The neocons were tossed a lifeline by Democrats and liberals who detested Trump so much that they were happy to pick up Nuland’s fallen banner of the New Cold War with Russia.

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How about the Colorado river, or the Rhine? Can you see it happening?

Ganges and Yamuna Rivers Granted Same Legal Rights As Human Beings (G.)

The Ganges river, considered sacred by more than 1 billion Indians, has become the first non-human entity in India to be granted the same legal rights as people. A court in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand ordered on Monday that the Ganges and its main tributary, the Yamuna, be accorded the status of living human entities. The decision, which was welcomed by environmentalists, means that polluting or damaging the rivers will be legally equivalent to harming a person. The judges cited the example of the Whanganui river, revered by the indigenous Maori people. people, which was declared a living entity with full legal rights by the New Zealand government last week. Judges Rajeev Sharma and Alok Singh said the Ganges and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries would be “legal and living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities”.

The court in the Himalayan resort town of Nainital appointed three officials to act as legal custodians responsible for conserving and protecting the rivers and their tributaries. It ordered that a management board be established within three months. The case arose after officials complained that the state governments of Uttarakhand and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh were not cooperating with federal government efforts to set up a panel to protect the Ganges. Himanshu Thakkar, an engineer who coordinates the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, said the practical implications of the decision were not clear. “There are already 1.5bn litres of untreated sewage entering the river each day, and 500m litres of industrial waste,” he said. “All of this will become illegal with immediate effect, but you can’t stop the discharge immediately. So how this decision pans out in terms of practical reality is very unclear.”

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I see slums in your future.

More Than 100 Chinese Cities Now Above 1 Million People (G.)

China now has more than 100 cities of over 1 million residents, a number that is likely to double in the next decade. According to the Demographia research group, the world’s most populous country boasts 102 cities bigger than 1 million people, many of which are little known outside the country – or even within its borders. Quanzhou, for example, on the south-east coast of China, was one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world a millennium ago, when it served as a hub for traders from across Asia and the Middle East. It is now home to more than 7 million people, nearly 800,000 more than Madrid. But while Madrid is a cultural powerhouse and the centre of Spanish politics, Quanzhou, with its 1,000-year-old mosque and charming cafes, is rarely discussed even within Chinese media, whereas Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong continue to get most of the headlines.

Outside China, meanwhile, few will even have heard of Kaifeng, a former imperial capital that was once a terminus on the Silk Road, or Weihai, both cities bigger than Liverpool (estimated population of urban area 880,000). The scale of China’s urban ambitions is staggering: it now has 119 cities bigger than Liverpool. By 2025, according to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, that number is predicted to have more than doubled. One reason is that the government is actively encouraging rural residents to urbanise. China aims to have 60% of its people living in cities by 2020, up from 56.1% currently, and the World Bank estimates a billion people – or 70% of the country’s population – will be living in cities by 2030. Thousands of government officials have campaigned across the country to convince farmers to move to newly built urban districts, turning centuries-old villages into ghost towns.

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Poorly argued but still true. The Chinese had better plant a zillion trees in those cities of them.

Access To Nature Reduces Depression And Obesity (G.)

People living close to trees and green spaces are less likely to be obese, inactive, or dependent on anti-depressants, according to a new report. Middle-aged Scottish men with homes in deprived but verdant areas were found to have a death rate 16% lower than their more urban counterparts. Pregnant women also received a health boost from a greener environment, recording lower blood pressures and giving birth to larger babies, research in Bradford found. Overall, nature is an under-recognised healer, the paper says, offering multiple health benefits from allergy reductions to increases in self-esteem and mental wellbeing.

A study team of 11 researchers at the Institute for European environmental policy (IEEP) spent a year reviewing more than 200 academic studies for the report, which is the most wide-ranging probe yet into the dynamics of health, nature and wellbeing. The project first appeared as an unpublicised 280-page European commission literature review last autumn, before being augmented for Friends of the Earth Europe with analysis of the links between nature-related health outcomes and deprivation. “The evidence is strong and growing that people and communities can only thrive when they have access to nature,” said Robbie Blake, a nature campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, which commissioned the analysis.

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Talking about planting trees:

This is a great story, which should have many people follow the example, for if we would all plant just one tree every day, we would never have a lack of trees again.

And of course I can’t post this without adding a famous French 1953 story by Jean Giono, The Man Who Planted Trees, which inspired Québec’s Frédérick Back to make his 1987 Oscar winning animation. What a masterpiece it still is. Please watch. It’ll make you feel so much better.

The Man Who Planted A Tree And Grew A Whole Family Of Forests (G.)

When Antonio Vicente bought a patch of land in São Paulo state and said he wanted to use it to plant a forest, people called him crazy. It was 1973 and forests were seen by many as an obstacle to progress and profit. Brazil’s then military government encouraged wealthy landowners to expand by offering them generously subsidised credit to invest in modern farming techniques, a move the ruling generals hoped would boost national agriculture. But water, or an impending lack of it, was Vicente’s concern as he worriedly watched the expansion of cattle grazing and industry, the destruction of local forests, and the growth of the population and the rapid urbanisation of the state. One of 14 children, Vicente grew up on a farm where his father worked. He’d watched him cut down the trees at the owners’ orders, for use in charcoal production and to clear more land for grazing cattle.

Eventually the farm’s water springs dried up and never returned. Maintaining forests are essential for water supplies because trees absorb and retain water in their roots and help to prevent soil erosion. So with some donkeys and a small team, he worked on his little patch – 31 hectares (77 acres) of land that had been razed for grazing cattle – and set about regenerating. “The area was totally stripped,” he says, demonstrating by pointing to a painting of the treeless land in 1976. “The water supplies had nearly dried up.” His neighbours, who were cattle and dairy farmers, used to tell him: “You are dumb. Planting trees is a waste of land. You won’t have income. If it’s full of trees, you won’t have room for cows or crops.” But what started off as a weekend gig has now become a full-time way of life. More than 40 years later, Vicente – now 84 – estimates he has replanted 50,000 trees on his 31 hectare Serra da Mantiqueira mountain range property.

“If you ask me who my family are, I would say all this right here, each one of these that I planted from a seed,” he says. [..] Vicente has seen first-hand the devastating effects of mass deforestation. He travelled at one point to Rondonia, now one of Brazil’s most deforested Amazon states, in 1986 during a drive by the Brazilian government to settle the region which proved disastrous as following mass deforestation, the land yielded poor results. “The government were giving the land away for cheap, but the land didn’t serve for anything,” he says. “People cut down the trees but after 3 to 4 years, the soil turned into sand and nothing grows.” Speaking of his own project in the Mantiqueira mountain range: “I didn’t do it for money, I did it because when I die, what’s here will remain for everyone.” He adds: “People don’t call me crazy any more.”

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Mar 212017
 
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Fred Stein Streetcrossing, Paris 1935

 


To Make America Great Again, Trump Will Have To Make the Dollar Weak Again (MW)
The Fed Gave Trump Just Enough Rope To Hang Himself With – Deutsche (ZH)
S&P 500 Companies Blow $1.7 Trillion On Making Earnings Look Less Bad (WS)
US “Too Big To Fail” Banks Top $1 Trillion – What Happens Next? (ZH)
Australia’s Central Bank Warns Of Growing Risks In Housing, Debt (CNBC)
Australia Bank Regulators To Unleash New Crackdown On Lenders (AFR)
Toronto Home Prices May Jump 25% This Year – TD (BBG)
Canada Real Estate: This Is Going To Blow Sky High (Bergin)
British Banks Handled Vast Sums Of Laundered Russian Money (G.)
What Central Banks Get Wrong About Economic Equilibrium (BBG)
Full Speed Ahead for Murphy’s Law (Jim Kunstler)
Earth Is A Planet In Upheaval Breaking Into ‘Uncharted Territory’ (G.)
Three-Quarters Of Older People In The UK Are Lonely (G.)
Greek Public Hospitals Stretched Further As Access Granted To Uninsured (K.)
Sharp Increase In Refugees Reaching Aegean Islands From Turkey (K.)

 

 

Currency manipulation?

To Make America Great Again, Trump Will Have To Make the Dollar Weak Again (MW)

If Donald Trump really wants to Make America Great Again, he’s going to have to Make the Dollar Weak Again first. So argued hedge fund manager Mathew Klody of MCN Capital Management at this week’s Grant’s investment conference in New York. He made an intriguing case. If Klody’s right, Trump may just be blowing smoke when he talks about tariffs and border-adjustment taxes. And, most importantly, if Klody is right, we should also buy foreign currencies, especially those issued by emerging markets. Sooner or later, the president will need to drive down the dollar, and for those based in the U.S. that will drive up foreign currencies. Mexican pesos, anyone? This is not far-fetched. Research Affiliates, the smart investment advisers in Newport Beach, Calif., argue that emerging market currencies are among the most attractive asset classes available to investors.

They’re expecting those currencies to produce returns in U.S. dollars of inflation plus about 3.5% a year over the next decade, with far less volatility than stocks. Incidentally, if Klody’s analysis is right, Trump should also, logically, be good for gold. The collapse of American manufacturing towns, and the old industrial middle class, has gone hand in hand with a staggering 40-year rise in the dollar, Klody observed. It is standard economics that as your currency rises, your exports become more expensive and less competitive in foreign markets. Meanwhile, the reverse happens at home: Imports from overseas get cheaper and cheaper compared with domestic production. Klody noted that since the mid-1970s, the U.S. dollar has quadrupled in price — yes, really — when measured against the Federal Reserve’s broad basket of foreign currencies.

It may be mere coincidence that during that same period, imports have surged, and the U.S. has lost its global dominance in many areas of manufacturing. MCN Capital’s Klody notes that during the period that the dollar soared, workers’ share of domestic income has plummeted.From the 1940s through the early 1970s, the working man and woman got a pretty consistent 50% of national domestic income.Since the mid-1970s, it’s collapsed to around 43%. And, yes, that’s happened under most political regimes (the Clinton-Gingrich-dot-com years in the 1990s being an exception).That, of course, is a big reason why Trump won. Klody himself came from a small town in Pennsylvania that used to be a classic American industrial boomtown. And now, according to the town’s mayor, it looks like a deserted bomb site.

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Tyler: “The above, simply summarized: the Fed has given Trump just enough rope to hang himself with; and since all that matters now is how effective the President will be in passing his political agenda – which is not looking good- should Trump fails, the one of two possible outcomes that is most likely is the one where the “curve bear flattens or inverts”, prompting the next, long overdue, recession. “

The Fed Gave Trump Just Enough Rope To Hang Himself With – Deutsche (ZH)

Aleksandar Kocic: “The subtext of the last week’s Fed “package” is a compromise motivated by a desire to extend the comfort zone and to hedge their position against possible fiscal irresponsibility, while, at the same time, not stand in the way to any possible fiscal stimulus (or its absence) by hiking too aggressively…. Depending on the interplay between degree of political resolve and the Fed actions we could see two distinct paths of resolution of the existing tensions in the mid- or long-run. Last week, the Fed delivered what appears as a dovish hike, in all likelihood to be followed with two hikes more in 2017 and three in 2018. Such a choice of the Fed action was a compromise driven by the developments in the labor market and the key events in Europe, on one side, combined with the risk associated with the approval of the fiscal stimulus, on the other.

The subtext of this compromise can be interpreted as being motivated by the Fed’s desire to extend the comfort zone and to hedge their position against possible fiscal irresponsibility, while, at the same time, not stand in the way to any possible fiscal stimulus by hiking too aggressively. Despite all the efforts not to create more uncertainty, this is likely to create at least mild ambiguity regarding the long-run. A Fed which is not in a standby position waiting for the fiscal package to arrive and kick in is going to be supportive for USD and higher real rates. The March FOMC “package” (in terms of rate hike, dots, rhetoric and Q&E) implies effectively a real rate rise and is most likely bearish for breakevens, which could diminish the effect of the border tax on the trade deficit and, as such, reduce the impact on growth potential.

In addition, having higher real rates increases the costs of borrowing and possibly creates political resistance against deficit expansions and structural steepening of the curve. On top of that, given what we saw in the last weeks, this suggests that the political process around the budget plan and the Legislative package already expected by the market is going to be anything but smooth, which is adding further doubts about its success and timing. Depending on the interplay of politics and policy – degree of political resolve and the Fed actions – we could see two distinct paths of resolution of the existing tensions in the mid- or long-run.

On one hand, it appears that the Fed is removing uncertainty around the terminal rate, while on the other, politics is creating a binary outcomes which could have a dramatically different effect on long rates. In that context, we are facing a future with bifurcating back end of the curve. Either political bottlenecks clear and the stimulus gets approved and goes full force leading to higher growth potential with subsequent rise in price levels and structural steepening of the curve, or political tensions effectively sabotage either its arrival or content (or both), and the curve initially bear flattens or even twists with rate shorts capitulation accelerating the rally of the back end.”

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Find a -nearly- deserted island to live on.

S&P 500 Companies Blow $1.7 Trillion On Making Earnings Look Less Bad (WS)

The S&P 500 index, closing today at 2,373, hovers near its all-time high. Total market capitalization of the 500 companies in the index exceeds $20 trillion, or 106% of US GDP. In the three-plus years since the end of January 2014, the index has soared 33%. And yet, over these three-plus years, even with financial engineering driven to the utmost state of perfection, including $1.7 trillion in share buybacks and despite “ex-bad-items” accounting schemes that are giving even the SEC goosebumps – despite all these efforts, the crucial and beautifully doctored “adjusted” earnings-per-share, perhaps the single most manipulated metric out there, has gone nowhere. “Adjusted” earnings per share are back where they’d been at the end of January 2014. It’s a sad sign when not even financial engineering can conjure up the appearance of earnings growth.

Companies report earnings in two ways: 1) All companies report as required under GAAP (our slightly inconvenient Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). These earnings are often a loss or way too small and shrinking, instead of growing, and hence not very palatable. 2) So most companies also report pro-forma, ex-bad-items, “adjusted” earnings, based on the companies’ own notions of what matters. Analysts and the media hype that metric. This is just a method of reporting the same results in a more glamorous manner. Then there’s financial engineering. Companies borrowed heavily over the past few years and used those funds to purchase their own shares. This hollowed out equity and left companies with piles of debt.

Over the past three years, companies blew $1.7 trillion on share buybacks. This money was not invested in productive activities that would have expanded the company and the economy, and generated cash flow to service this debt. All it did was reduce the number of shares outstanding. This has the effect of increasing earnings per share (EPS) though the company didn’t actually make more money. Add this system of share buybacks to the system of “adjusting” earnings per share via reporting schemes, and the result should be a miracle of soaring “adjusted” EPS. But no.

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“..surged 30% since Donald Trump was elected president..”

US “Too Big To Fail” Banks Top $1 Trillion – What Happens Next? (ZH)

For the first time ever, the market cap of America’s “Big Four” banks topped $1 trillion having surged 30% since Donald Trump was elected president. While to some this is cause for celebration, we note that the last time a nation’s “big four” banks topped $1 trillion in market cap did not end well… As Bloomberg notes, the four biggest U.S. banks were worth the most on record versus China’s “Big Four” this month, as JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup were worth over $250 billion more than Industrial & Commercial Bank, China Construction Bank, Bank of China, and Agricultural Bank of China combined. The four Chinese banks, the world’s most profitable, were worth about the same as the U.S. foursome as recently as June. However, as the chart shows, while the American quartet’s combined market value closed above $1 trillion for the first time last month, China achieved that goals in June 2015… and it did not end well.

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Too late now.

Australia’s Central Bank Warns Of Growing Risks In Housing, Debt (CNBC)

Australia’s central bank saw growing risks in the nation’s hot housing market when it left rates steady earlier this month, underlining the case against further easing in policy. Minutes of its March meeting showed the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) was generally optimistic about the economy as it transitioned away from a decade long boom in mining investment. However, board members felt there had been a “build-up of risks” in the housing market as borrowing for investment fueled brisk price rises in Sydney and Melbourne. Home prices accelerated at an annual pace of 11.7% in February, with Sydney running red-hot at 18.4%, data from property consultant CoreLogic showed. Governor Philip Lowe has repeatedly argued that cutting rates further could encourage a renewed borrowing binge by households who are already heavily indebted, outweighing any economic benefits.

With wages growing at record lows, debt was outpacing incomes and threatening to weigh on consumer spending. Data out recently showed retail sales grew at a tepid pace for a third straight month while the outlook for capital expenditure remained uninspiring. The RBA noted tighter supervision had contributed to “some” strengthening in lending standard by the banks, which has also been raising rates on some mortgage products recently. Analysts suspect even stricter standards are likely to be imposed by regulators in coming weeks. Housing affordability, or the lack of it, has become a hot-button issue for the conservative government of Malcolm Turnbull which has promised measures to ease the problem in its May budget. The RBA’s angst over housing has convinced financial markets there will be no more cuts in interest rates, already at all time lows of 1.5%.

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They’re too scared too crack down on anything. Housing can bring down the entire Oz economy by now.

“I don’t use the B-word. I refuse to use the B-word..”

Australia Bank Regulators To Unleash New Crackdown On Lenders (AFR)

Regulators are preparing to impose a fresh wave of constraints on the banks to slow investor lending growth, crack down on interest-only loans, and force buyers to stump up more equity on purchases as they scramble to manage a rampant property boom. Warning that financial and economic risks have grown in recent months, particularly across east coast property markets, the nation’s top financial regulators and Treasurer Scott Morrison unleashed co-ordinated calls for fresh restraint from banks. “Watch this space,” declared Australian Prudential Regulation Authority chairman Wayne Byres on Monday, speaking just hours after Mr Morrison urged APRA and the Australian Securities and Investments commission to use “the levers that they have”. Leaping house price growth over recent months in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as a tsunami of new apartment stock due to hit the market in coming months are creating a wall of uncertainty over the financial stability of the housing market.

That’s being exacerbated by concerns over heavily indebted households’ ability to withstand a rising global interest rate environment at a time of record-low wages growth. In a sign of growing tensions between members of the Council of Financial Regulators – which includes APRA, ASIC, Treasury and chaired by the Reserve Bank – Mr Byres pointedly refused to describe the property market as being in a “bubble”, saying use of the term was “superficial” and “binary”. “I don’t use the B-word. I refuse to use the B-word,” Mr Byres said. “We are in it – we are not in it. If we are in it we’re all going to be ruined – if we are not in it we’re going to be right. It’s too simplistic.” By contrast, Greg Medcraft, ASIC’s chairman, bluntly repeated his view that the market was in a bubble. “I have been saying for a while that I thought it was a bubble and other people are catching up now. “Clearly the issue is if you raise interest rates that’s a big tool but then you affect the whole economy.”

Read more …

Hike rates into this.

Toronto Home Prices May Jump 25% This Year – TD (BBG)

Toronto’s housing market is likely to stay strong for the rest of the year, with home prices jumping as much as 25%, amid hints that speculators are fueling demand and posing a potential risk to the economy, TD Economics Chief Economist Beata Caranci said. A “strong Toronto home-price forecast is not a vote of confidence in market fundamentals,” Caranci wrote Monday in a note to clients. “It’s getting harder to ignore warning signs that market demand pressures are increasingly reflecting speculative forces.” Residential prices in Canada’s largest metropolitan region are forecast to grow 20 to 25% this year, up from a previous estimate of 10 to 15%, according to the report by TD Economics, part of Toronto-Dominion Bank.

Toronto-area prices have climbed 19% in the past 12 months, the fastest clip since the 1980s, when a frenzied housing market resulted in year-over-year increases of 55%, Caranci said. “Evidence is building that speculative forces are growing deeper roots, which raises the risk that prices will move closer to the top end of that forecast in the absence of policy measures,” Caranci wrote. As for next year, higher mortgage rates and fewer affordable properties will likely cut the growth rate to 3 to 5%, though a lack of clarity on housing speculation makes predictions difficult, Caranci said. A housing market driven by speculators seeking a quick profit boosts the risk of rapidly unwinding price gains at the same time homebuyers are contending with larger debt burdens, she said.

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Seen this movie so many times before.

Canada Real Estate: This Is Going To Blow Sky High (Bergin)

Originally, I thought this would be a bit of a joke. There were billboards in all the Toronto subway cars advertising the Canadian Real Estate Wealth Expo – learn how to become a millionaire. I thought this was so ridiculous, it may be fun. What better way to experience the top of the housing market than watching Tony Robbins and Pitbull along with a bunch of US real estate professionals explain how Toronto real estate is the path to riches. Prices were originally $150 per ticket, but I was able to buy for $50. While it deeply bothers me that I paid $50 to these shameless (amoral) self-promoters, I thought it would be worth it to witness, in person, the top of the housing market. I had thought, there can’t be that many people stupid enough to attend this, but I was very wrong – 15,000 people were there! I was blown away. Bubbles are largely psychological. This crowd was tangible proof of that.

15k people in one spot listening to Americans explain why real estate in Toronto is an exceptional investment. The whole experience was horrifying. The crowd was very well-dressed, middle- to upper-middle class (from appearances), and super excited to hear how much money could be made if you just buy real estate (most of them clearly already owned). The first real segment of the expo was a panel of Canadian developers and real estate agents giving their views on the market. It actually started off a touch bearish, which surprised me. Two of the panelists were saying that prices are exceptionally high and no market goes up forever. With that slight bit of caution thrown out there, it became a real estate FOMO-building talk.

There are, apparently, two very important things to know when dealing with real estate. First, you have to face your fear; this fear is to be ignored and then you should ‘just do it’ and ‘buy now’. The next step is find what you can afford and then buy it. Ignore all ‘non-doers’, don’t overanalyze or focus on the numbers, just fucking buy. To allay fears the speakers are actually quite clever as they shift between a long to short term focus when it suits. For example, now is a great time to buy because short-term the market is on fire. If, however, markets cool then you just hold because it always goes up long-term – and you are a savvy long-term buyer, aren’t you? By showing no scenario where you can lose I can see how this pitch works on the susceptible.

The second important factor in real estate is financing. Not everyone has money, so what can they do? The answers were shocking. Be ‘creative’ was the first response. Pool your money, borrow from friends and family, own just 5% of a house, get the money however you can and just do it – remember, it only goes up. Other financing suggestions were get cozy with a lender and they will ‘bend the rules’ for you! The fact that the biggest condo developer in Canada (Brad Lamb) said lenders will bend (but not break, apparently) rules to get you financing in front of 15k people with most people smiling and nodding was shocking. So there you go – when it comes to Toronto real estate, just do it (using borrowed money any way you can get it).

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Well, actually, it’s HSBC again. And a few minor conspirators.

British Banks Handled Vast Sums Of Laundered Russian Money (G.)

Britain’s high street banks processed nearly $740m from a vast money-laundering operation run by Russian criminals with links to the Russian government and the KGB, the Guardian can reveal. HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, Barclays and Coutts are among 17 banks based in the UK, or with branches here, that are facing questions over what they knew about the international scheme and why they did not turn away suspicious money transfers. Documents seen by the Guardian show that at least $20bn appears to have been moved out of Russia during a four-year period between 2010 and 2014. The true figure could be $80bn, detectives believe. One senior figure involved in the inquiry said the money from Russia was “obviously either stolen or with criminal origin”.

Investigators are still trying to identify some of the wealthy and politically influential Russians behind the operation, known as “the Global Laundromat”. They estimate a group of about 500 people were involved. These include oligarchs, Moscow bankers, and figures working for or connected to the FSB, the successor spy agency to the KGB. Igor Putin, the cousin of Russia’s president, Vladimir, sat on the board of a Moscow bank which held accounts involved in the fraud. British-registered companies played a prominent role in this extensive money-laundering network. The real owners of most of the firms used in the scheme remain secret, however, because of the anonymity provided by controversial offshore laws.

The Global Laundromat banking records were obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Novaya Gazeta from sources who wish to remain anonymous. OCCRP shared the data with the Guardian and media partners in 32 countries. The documents include details of about 70,000 banking transactions, including 1,920 that went through UK banks and 373 via US banks.

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More of this interview with Steve in a few days, hopefully.

What Central Banks Get Wrong About Economic Equilibrium (BBG)

In today’s “Morning Must Read,” Bloomberg’s Tom Keene highlights comments on economic equilibrium models. He speaks with Kingston University Economics Professor Steve Keen on “Bloomberg Surveillance.”

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“What can go wrong awaits in markets, banks, currencies, and the immense dark pools of counterparty obligations that amount to black holes where notions of value are sucked out of the universe.”

Full Speed Ahead for Murphy’s Law (Jim Kunstler)

In the 1950s, finance made up about 5% of the economy. It’s mission then was pretty simple and straightforward: to manage the accumulated wealth of the nation (capital) and then allocate it to those who proposed to generate greater wealth via new productive activities, mostly industrial, ad infinitum. It turned out that ad infinitum doesn’t work in a world of finite resources — but the ride had been so intoxicating that we couldn’t bring ourselves to believe it, and still can’t. With industry expiring, or moving elsewhere (also temporarily), we inflated finance to nearly 40% of the economy. The new financialization was, in effect, setting a matrix of rackets in motion.

What had worked as capital management before was allowed to mutate into various forms of swindling and fraud — such as the bundling of dishonestly acquired mortgages into giant bonds and then selling them to pension funds desperate for “yield,” or the orgy of merger and acquisition in health care that turned hospitals into cash registers, or the revenue streams on derivative “plays” that amounted to bets with no possibility of ever being paid off, or the three-card-monte games of interest rate arbitrage played by central banks and their “primary dealer” concubines. Some of what I’ve listed above may be incomprehensible to the blog reader, and that is because these rackets were crafted to be opaque and recondite.

The rackets continue without regulation or prosecution because there is an unstated appreciation in government, and in the corporate board rooms, that it’s all we’ve got left. What remains of the accustomed standard of living in America is supported by wishing and fakery and all that is now coming to a climax as we steam full speed ahead into Murphy’s law: if something can go wrong, it will. When all of America comes to realize that President Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing, it will make last November’s national nervous breakdown look like a momentary case of the vapors. What can go wrong awaits in markets, banks, currencies, and the immense dark pools of counterparty obligations that amount to black holes where notions of value are sucked out of the universe. There is so much that can go wrong. And then it will. And then maybe that will prompt us back to consider being a nation again.

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Sometimes I think we’re going to live to see Noah’s next ark.

Earth Is A Planet In Upheaval Breaking Into ‘Uncharted Territory’ (G.)

The record-breaking heat that made 2016 the hottest year ever recorded has continued into 2017, pushing the world into “truly uncharted territory”, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. The WMO’s assessment of the climate in 2016, published on Tuesday, reports unprecedented heat across the globe, exceptionally low ice at both poles and surging sea-level rise. Global warming is largely being driven by emissions from human activities, but a strong El Niño – a natural climate cycle – added to the heat in 2016. The El Niño is now waning, but the extremes continue to be seen, with temperature records tumbling in the US in February and polar heatwaves pushing ice cover to new lows.

“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said David Carlson, director of the WMO’s world climate research programme. “Earth is a planet in upheaval due to human-caused changes in the atmosphere,” said Jeffrey Kargel, a glaciologist at the University of Arizona in the US. “In general, drastically changing conditions do not help civilisation, which thrives on stability.” The WMO report was “startling”, said Prof David Reay, an emissions expert at the University of Edinburgh: “The need for concerted action on climate change has never been so stark nor the stakes so high.”

[..] 2016 saw the hottest global average among thermometer measurements stretching back to 1880. But scientific research indicates the world was last this warm about 115,000 years ago and that the planet has not experienced such high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for 4m years. 2017 has seen temperature records continue to tumble, in the US where February was exceptionally warm, and in Australia, where prolonged and extreme heat struck many states. The consequences have been particularly stark at the poles. “Arctic ice conditions have been tracking at record low conditions since October, persisting for six consecutive months, something not seen before in the [four-decade] satellite data record,” said Prof Julienne Stroeve, at University College London in the UK. “Over in the southern hemisphere, the sea ice also broke new record lows in the seasonal maximum and minimum extents, leading to the least amount of global sea ice ever recorded.”

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Ah, look at all the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Three-Quarters Of Older People In The UK Are Lonely (G.)

Almost three-quarters of older people in the UK are lonely and more than half of those have never spoken to anyone about how they feel, according to a survey carried out for the Jo Cox commision on loneliness. The poll by Gransnet, the over-50s social networking site, also found that about seven in 10 (71%) respondents – average age 63 – said their close friends and family would be surprised or astonished to hear that they felt lonely. Gransnet is one of nine organisations – including Age UK, the Alzheimer’s Society and the Silver Line helpline for older people – working to address the issue of loneliness in older people, which is the current focus of the commission, set up by Cox before her murder last June. They are urging individuals and businesses to look for signs of loneliness and refer people to organisations that can help.

But they also want people to take time to speak to neighbours, family, old friends or those they encounter randomly. The chairs of the cross-party commission, the Labour MP Rachel Reeves and Conservative MP Seema Kennedy, said there was a stigma around loneliness that must be tackled. “We all need to act and encourage older people to freely talk about their loneliness,” they said. “Everyone can play a part in ending loneliness among older people in their communities by simply starting a conversation with those around you. “How we care and act for those around us could mean the difference between an older person just coping, to them loving and enjoying later life.” Almost half (49%) of the 73% who described themselves as lonely in the online poll said they had been so for years, 11% said they had always felt lonely and 56% said they had never spoken about their loneliness to anyone.

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Pure Greek tragedy. But you can’t leave 2.5 million people untreated.

Greek Public Hospitals Stretched Further As Access Granted To Uninsured (K.)

A change in legislation last April has given access to the public health system to some 2.5 million Greeks who did not have social insurance but has also put a financial strain on hospitals, whose funding has not increased. Treating uninsured patients cost public hospitals in Athens €57.2 million last year. Across Greece, €23.5 million was spent on providing free lab tests to about 204,000 people. “Our experience shows that the number of uninsured people coming to the hospitals is increasing,” the vice president of the Athens-Piraeus Hospital Doctors’ Association, Ilias Sioras, told Kathimerini. “But the hospitals do not have adequate funds.” State funding is at €1.1 billion this year, the same as in 2016.

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If Erdogan gets desperate enough he’ll pull the plug and turn this into a Europe supports terrorism narrative. Woe Greece.

Sharp Increase In Refugees Reaching Aegean Islands From Turkey (K.)

New arrivals to the eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos have raised the number of migrants landing in Greece from neighboring Turkey since last Thursday to 566, government figures showed on Monday. The figure represents a significant increase compared to arrivals in the rest of March and for the whole of February. In the past four days, 195 migrants landed on Lesvos, 341 on Chios and 30 on Samos. More than 14,000 migrants remain stuck on the islands of the eastern Aegean awaiting the outcome of their applications for asylum or deportation. The majority are living in overcrowded reception facilities where conditions have been described as “unacceptable” and “inhumane” by human rights groups.

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Mar 202017
 
 March 20, 2017  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Janine Niepce Paris ca. 1950

 


The Central Bank Shell Game (WS)
Using Superannuation For Deposit ‘Irresponsible’ – Keating (Nine)
Chinese Home Prices “Unexpectedly” Rebound (ZH)
The Fed’s Global Dollar Problem (BBG)
Oil Drops On Rising Us Drilling, Failing OPEC Cuts (R.)
Smile For The Auschwitz Selfie: Why Holocaust Memorials Have Failed (NS)
Spy Comments Proof Germany Supports Group Behind Attempted Coup: Erdogan (R.)
Erdogan Accused Merkel Of Using Nazi Methods (DW)
Dijsselbloem Calls For ESM To Be Turned Into A European IMF (R.)
Defeat in Victory (Jacobin)
Greece Edges Toward Another Bailout Crisis (BBG)
How Millions In Refugee Funds Were Wasted In Greece (K.)
Avoiding Risky Sea Journey, Syrian Refugees Head To Italy ‘Pronto’ (AFP)
3,000 Migrants Rescued Off Libya On Sunday (AFP)

 

 

Great example of why there is a housing bubble everywhere, from a guest writer at Wolfstreet. The second graph is priceless. “The very premise of Swedish society is under attack..”

The Central Bank Shell Game (WS)

Sweden’s welfare state supposedly allows for success while providing a safety net for those unable to keep up with the market. In principle, it is an ideal, utopian-like state. However, Sweden’s touted economic success has come at the expense of its currency, the Krone (SEK), and long-term sustainability. Riksbank, the Swedish Central Bank, like its European contemporaries, has undertaken experimental policy, driving real and nominal interest rates below zero. Since 2014, Swedish deposit rates have been negative. Not only has overall negative real interest rate policy affected housing, but it also drove Swedish consumers deeper into debt. Embarking on the dual mandate policy may have staved off recession, but it created greater problems for the future.

Although current deposit rates are at a record low of -1.25%, the latest GDP print came in at 2.3%, and the growth rate has been tapering since 2015. Sweden’s “hot” GDP growth – hot relative to the region – could be attributed, not to industrial growth, but rather increased government spending, funding social programs. Additionally, with no incentive to save, consumer debt has taken off, along with the housing prices, while disposable income lagged. Swedish household debt is now at a record high. Hence, the Swedish growth story is not organic but rather a borrow-and-spend one.

Swedes, like Norwegians, are victims of the “exchange rate versus housing price shell game.” The SEK received today for the sale of their inflated flats has fallen 30% against the US dollar (average USDSEK in 2014 was 6.86 vs. 8.95 on March 15, 2017). Stockholm housing rose 31% during the same period in SEK terms, negating the recent gains over the same period. The SEK fell 23% against gold in the same period. Hence, the “Swedish Model” is under attack. The egalitarian underpinnings, unwinding with the negative rates, are driving a wedge into Swedish society, creating extremes on both sides of the economic spectrum. The rampant consumerism, encouraged by artificially low rates, continues to widen the wealth gap. Coincidentally, the middle class deteriorated the most between 2014 and 2015: the same time that deposit rates took a dive. Furthermore, the negative savings rates are driving the average person to “gamble” on speculative investments instead of saving and building a future over the long term.

[..] instead of undertaking experimental rate policy, Riksbank and the Swedish government should be engineering a soft-landing or a “controlled crash”, adjusting taxes and policy to ensuring a smooth transition to sustainability for the general population. There is precedent from Iceland that already exists. It is clear that the negative rate experiment is neither sustainable nor helpful to economic growth. It only inflates bubbles while widening the wealth gap in Swedish society. A once prudent and financially conservative people are now getting drunk on debt, wrecking their future. The very premise of Swedish society is under attack.

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Everybody does it. When people start borrowing less from banks for housing, economies will collapse. Superannuation is sort of like Australia’s 401(K).

Using Superannuation For Deposit ‘Irresponsible’ – Keating (Nine)

Former prime minister Paul Keating has labelled as “scandalous” the Turnbull government’s suggestion it might allow young people to raid their superannuation for house deposits. Ahead of the May budget, Mr Keating argues the idea would rob younger Australians of a large block of savings at the end of their working lives. “As an economic idea, this is scandalous. But, of course, for the Liberal Party, this is an ideological proposal,” he writes in Fairfax Media today. Mr Keating, who spearheaded Australia’s superannuation sector in 1992, said if the government were to proceed with this “irresponsible” idea it would put at risk the financial future of generations.

“It would potentially destroy superannuation for those, in the main, under 40 years of age, while at the same time, driving up the cost of the housing they are seeking to purchase,” he said. The federal government earlier this month set up a taskforce to look at new ways to promote millions of dollars of investment in community housing that could benefit one in three Australians. The taskforce will be headed up by Stephen Knight, who has had extensive experience in debt capital markets as CEO of the Treasury Corporation in NSW and as a member of the Australian Office of Financial Management advisory board. The group will report back to the government by the middle of the year. Treasurer Scott Morrison said housing affordability issues were impacting on the 30% of Australians who live in rented homes, and those who relied on affordable and social housing.

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China is caught in the same bind as Sweden, Australia, and just about the entire western world. Without ever more mortgage lending, banking systems are gone.

Chinese Home Prices “Unexpectedly” Rebound (ZH)

“The government intends to pause the surging home prices, and let them walk steadily up later,” said Xia Dan, a Shanghai-based analyst at Bank of Communications Co., adding that if curbs on demand are lifted, prices will rise further. “The government doesn’t want the prices to run all the time and ferment bubbles.” As Bloomberg notes, China’s biggest cities have seen a round of home price surges in the past year. In Beijing, new home prices rose 24% in February from a year earlier, while Shanghai saw a 25% gain. Shenzhen prices increased 14% in the same period. “Beijing’s tightening will have a short-term effect to stabilize the market, but the power of policy has become increasingly weaker,” Zhang Hongwei at Tospur Real Estate Consulting, said Friday, adding more local tightening may follow.

Or maybe not, because one may ask: is the rebound really unexpected. Perhaps not: as the WSJ reported on Sunday, “this year it seemed China was finally going to make headway on an idea familiar to U.S. homeowners: a property tax. For many Chinese families, owning a home is one of few options to build wealth, driving buying frenzies as people rush to purchase before prices soar. Imposing costs on homeowners through a property tax is seen as a way to tame such speculation, while also helping fund local governments. Lu Kehua, China’s vice housing minister, last month said the government needed to “speed up” a property-tax law. Economists and academics have long recommended the move. Yet the annual National People’s Congress came and went this month with no discussion of the topic. An NPC spokeswoman said a property tax wouldn’t be on the legislative agenda for the rest of the year.

In short, China evaluted the risk of a potential housing bubble burst, and deciding that – at least for the time being – it is not worth the threat of losing a third of Chinese GDP in “wealth effect”, got cold feet. Expect the recent dip in home prices to promptly stabilize, with gains in the short-term more likely that not.

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Long predicted. Financial warfare.

The Fed’s Global Dollar Problem (BBG)

The Federal Reserve might be doing the right thing for the U.S. economy by moving to bring interest rates back up to normal. But for foreign companies and governments that have borrowed trillions of U.S. dollars, the adjustment could be painful. Thanks in large part to a prolonged period of extremely low U.S. interest rates, borrowers around the world have gone on a dollar binge over much of the past decade – making them more vulnerable to the Fed’s policy decisions than ever before. As of September, non-bank companies and governments outside the U.S. had some $10.5 trillion in dollar-denominated debt outstanding, according to the Bank for International Settlements. That’s more than triple the level of September 2004, the last time the Fed was about this far into a cycle of rate increases. Here’s a chart:

If the Fed sticks with its plan of raising rates more than a percentage point by the end of next year, the increased interest costs could stunt growth and weigh on borrowers’ finances in places as far flung as the U.K. and China. It could also mean losses for investors holding the debt, particularly given that the duration of dollar-denominated bonds – a measure of their price sensitivity to changes in interest rates – is close to its highest point in at least two decades. An increase of 1 percentage point, for example, would take $500 billion off the value of the bonds included in the Bank of America Merrill Lynch U.S. Dollar Global Corporate and High Yield Index. Here’s a chart showing how that number has changed over the years (thanks to a combination of increased dollar debt and increased duration):

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Next up: falling demand.

Oil Drops On Rising Us Drilling, Failing OPEC Cuts (R.)

Oil prices fell on Monday, with already-bloated markets pressured by rising U.S. drilling activity and steady supplies from OPEC countries despite touted production cuts. Prices for benchmark Brent crude futures were 35 cents, or 0.68%, below their last settlement at 0646 GMT, at $51.41 per barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 46 cents, or 0.94%, at $48.32 a barrel. Traders said that prices came under pressure from rising U.S. drilling and ongoing high supplies by OPEC despite its pledge to cut output by almost 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) together with some other producers like Russia.

“There is good, strong momentum to the downside,” futures brokerage CMC Markets said in a note on Monday. U.S. drillers added 14 oil rigs in the week to March 17, bringing the total count up to 631, the most since September 2015, energy services firm Baker Hughes Inc said on Friday, extending a recovery that is expected to boost shale production by the most in six-months in April. Sukrit Vijayakar of energy consultancy Trifecta said the rising drilling activity was “reinforcing the expectation of higher U.S. production offsetting (OPEC’s) supply cuts”. U.S. oil output has risen to over 9.1 million bpd from below 8.5 million bpd in June last year.

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“..for the likes of Rudd, “Never forget” means “Don’t forget for two weeks” or, if politically expedient, “Don’t forget for three days”.

“The reason they can never answer the question, ‘How could it [the Holocaust] possibly happen?’ is that it’s the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is, ‘Why doesn’t it happen more often?’”

Smile For The Auschwitz Selfie: Why Holocaust Memorials Have Failed (NS)

It is time to say that attempts to memorialise the Holocaust have failed and may even be counterproductive. The dead are still dead; anti-Semitism still exists and sometimes thrives. Myths of Jewish power circulate, now with the added insult of “playing the Holocaust card (that you presumably picked up at a Holocaust memorial gift shop)”. A clutch of these memorials, all counselling kindness to the refugee, could not save Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy, from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea in 2014. In January the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, posted a picture of herself signing a Holocaust remembrance book on Twitter. “We must never forget,” she wrote. It reminded me of my favourite line from the 1986 Woody Allen film Hannah and Her Sisters: “The reason they can never answer the question, ‘How could it [the Holocaust] possibly happen?’ is that it’s the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is, ‘Why doesn’t it happen more often?’”

Two weeks later, Rudd announced that the “Dubs amendment” – which aimed to offer sanctuary to solitary child refugees and was sponsored by Lord Dubs, who came to the UK from Czechoslovakia on the Kindertransport in March 1939 – would be discontinued after resettling just 350 children. (Even the Cameron government, no friend to the vulnerable, suggested that it could take about 3,000.) I do not expect Rudd to know that, in response to the Évian Conference on Jewish refugees, held in France in 1938, Adolf Hitler offered German Jews to the world but the world did not want them. Britain took 10,000 children, sponsored privately, and left their parents to die. After 1945, Britain agreed to take another 1,000 Jewish children but it could not find 1,000 still alive. It took 732. I now see that, for the likes of Rudd, “Never forget” means “Don’t forget for two weeks” or, if politically expedient, “Don’t forget for three days”.

But if that’s what you think, you never knew anything to forget. Rudd couldn’t see the connection between the British government of 1938 leaving children to die in far-off lands and the British government of 2016 doing the same. Her signing of a Holocaust remembrance book was so meaningless that it was, at best, hand exercise and, at worst, a cynical PR gesture. This act of Holocaust memorialising was a failure. I hope that Rudd is prevented from approaching any Holocaust-related stationery in future. But that won’t happen. The orthodoxy in these circles is: let them all come to bear witness, no matter what they do with it. Some of them might learn something. This policy led to a friend hearing a young Polish boy, touring Auschwitz, describe a fellow visitor as “a rich Jewish bitch in all that jewellery”. The boy had learned nothing, but the man had. He punched him in the face, and that is the only cheerful anecdote in this article.

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Maybe Germany and the US should make this very clear: “..the head of the BND foreign intelligence agency, who said the Turkish government had failed to convince it that Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen was responsible for the coup attempt.”

Spy Comments Proof Germany Supports Group Behind Attempted Coup: Erdogan (R.)

Doubts expressed by Germany’s spy agency regarding the role of a U.S.-based cleric in last year’s attempted coup in Turkey are proof that Berlin supports the organization behind the attempt, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Sunday. Ibrahim Kalin made the comment in a live interview with broadcaster CNN Turk. On Saturday, German news magazine Der Spiegel published an interview with the head of the BND foreign intelligence agency, who said the Turkish government had failed to convince it that Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen was responsible for the coup attempt. “Turkey has tried to convince us of that at every level but so far it has not succeeded,” Bruno Kahl was quoted as saying. Kalin said those comments were proof that Berlin supported the coup. Germany and Turkey have been locked in a deepening diplomatic row after Berlin banned some Turkish ministers from speaking to rallies of expatriate Turks ahead of a referendum next month, citing public safety concerns.

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Erdogan needs an enemy to ‘protect’ his people from, or he won’t win the referendum.

Erdogan Accused Merkel Of Using Nazi Methods (DW)

Ankara launched a new wave of anti-German rhetoric on Sunday, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling out the German chancellor in a televised speech. “When we call them Nazis, they (Europe) get uncomfortable. They rally together in solidarity. Especially Merkel,” Erdogan said. “But you are right now employing Nazi measures,” he said, addressing Merkel directly and using the unofficial, personal way of saying “you” in Turkish. Erdogan has previously accused both the Netherlands and Germany of acting like Nazis after the two countries prevented Turkish ministers from holding campaign rallies on their territory. In his Sunday speech, Erdogan accused Merkel personally of using Nazi methods against his “Turkish brother citizens in Germany and brother ministers.”

The row with Europe “showed that a new page had been opened in the ongoing fight against our country,” he added. Berlin was decidedly not amused, saying that the Turkish president had “gone too far.” Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the Passauer Neue Presse that he warned Ankara against continuing this “shocking” rhetoric. “We are tolerant but we’re not stupid,” Gabriel said. “That’s why I have let my Turkish counterpart know very clearly that a boundary has been crossed here.” Ankara also responded furiously to a Kurdish rally in Frankfurt yesterday, where participants carried flags and symbols of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and called for a ‘no’ on the upcoming referendum. The Turkish government said the rally showed Berlin’s hypocrisy after halting similar events for the ‘yes’ camp. They also summoned the German ambassador over the incident.

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Someone should shut up Dijsselbloem. When you lose as big as he did in last week’s elections, you need to pipe down, disappear.

Dijsselbloem Calls For ESM To Be Turned Into A European IMF (R.)

The European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – the euro zone’s bailout fund – should ultimately be turned into a European version of the International Monetary Fund, the head of euro zone finance ministers told a German newspaper. “I think it would make a lot of sense for the euro zone bailout fund ESM to be developed into a European IMF in the medium to long term,” Jeroen Dijsselbloem told Monday’s edition of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He said that would also mean that Greece’s current “troika” of lenders – the European Commission, ECB and the IMF – would need to be broken up in the longer term. “The ECB feels increasingly uncomfortable in its troika role, and rightly so I think,” Dijsselbloem said, adding that the European Commission had other “important tasks” that it should concentrate on.He said the ESM should “build up the technical expertise that only the IMF has at the moment”.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has also proposed turning the ESM into a European monetary fund to improve the management of crises in Europe. Dijsselbloem said the institutions should maintain their roles for Greece’s current bailout and said he still expected the IMF to decide on a new programme, adding that it would be “most welcome” if this happened by the summer. Germany, which holds elections in September, wants the IMF on board before new money is lent to Athens. But it disagrees with the IMF over debt relief and the fiscal targets that Greece should maintain after the bailout programme ends in 2018. Dijsselbloem said he did not expect the current review of Greece’s bailout programme to be concluded quickly, adding that he did not think the institutions will complete it before a Eurogroup meeting in Malta in April.

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From a Jacobin article on the Dutch elections. Yeah, as I said last week, they’re trying to find ways to allow Dijsselbloem to ‘finish the job’ of finishing off Greece.

Defeat in Victory (Jacobin)

Under the current government, the PvdA’s rightward shift took on a whole new meaning. The party gained significant ground during the 2012 elections by arguing that a vote for Labour was the only way to avoid a VVD-led austerity government. Immediately after the elections, the party turned around and started negotiating the formation of a coalition with those very opponents. This government launched a massive austerity program, entailing almost fifty billion euros in cutbacks. PvdA ministers prided themselves on taking some of the most difficult posts, including social affairs and employment (PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher) and finance (Jeroen Dijsselbloem).

A PvdA minister of the interior loyally executed the VVD’s anti-refugee policies. And Dijsselbloem not only enthusiastically applied the European Union’s fiscal stringency to the Netherlands but, as chairman of the Eurogroup, became its main enforcer against the Syriza government. Nothing could more fully demonstrate the PvdA’s neoliberal drift than the fact that Alexander Pechtold, leader of the liberal-democratic party Democrats 66 (D66), repeatedly suggested Dijsselbloem could continue to represent the Netherlands in Brussels “so that he can finish the job.” [..] The same anger and anxieties that created violent shocks to the political system — of which the PvdA’s collapse is only the latest example — also continue to drive large numbers to vote for allegedly safe parties that they wrongly believe will at least not make things worse.

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Greece spends more on pensions because it is the only fallback the economy has, they play the role that in other countries is played by unemployment benefits. The Troika knows this very well. It’s hard not to conclude that the lenders are trying to create a civil war in Greece.

Greece Edges Toward Another Bailout Crisis (BBG)

Greece is set to miss yet another deadline for unlocking bailout funds this week, edging closer to a repeat of the 2015 drama that pushed Europe’s most indebted state to the edge of economic collapse. Euro-area finance ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday will reiterate that the government of Alexis Tsipras has yet to comply with the terms attached to the emergency loans that have kept the country afloat since 2010. While Tsipras had promised the long delayed review of the latest bailout would be completed by March 20, a European official said last week that reaching an agreement even in April is now considered a long shot. The two sides are still far apart on reforms demanded by creditors in the Greek energy market and the government in Athens is resisting calls for additional pension cuts. And while discussions continue on how to overhaul the labor market, a finance ministry official said in an email to reporters on Friday that the issue can’t be solved in talks with technocrats.

Stalled bailout reviews and acrimony between successive governments and auditors representing creditor institutions are all too familiar themes in the seven-year crisis that has reduced the Greek economy by a quarter. Failure to resolve the latest standoff before the summer could mean that Greece may not be able to meet debt payments due in mid-July. Even as Greek bonds have performed better than most of its euro-area peers this year on expectations that the government will capitulate, uncertainty has weighed on economic activity, raising the risk that an additional bailout may be needed. Unemployment rose in the last quarter of 2016, the economy unexpectedly contracted, and a bleeding of deposits from the nation’s battered lenders resumed.

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Daniel Howden is a senior editor at Refugees Deeply. Good piece, but very incomplete. I’ll get back to that.

How Millions In Refugee Funds Were Wasted In Greece (K.)

For a story of waste and suffering, it’s notable that some of the worst decisions in response to the refugee crisis in Greece were born of good intentions. An archipelago of some 50 small refugee camps was scattered over Greece in preference to concentrating asylum seekers in larger ghettos. As an idea it had merits. In practice it was disastrous. Authorities still struggle to say how many camps there are. The Ministry of Migration Policy lists 39 but the UN says there may be more than 50. Many of these sites, which are in various states of closure, were clearly unfit for human habitation in the first place. The choice to build so many of them multiplied infrastructure costs for things like sewage systems built on private property or remote sites that will serve no public purpose in the future. Meanwhile, the Public Power Corporation is building substations at sites that will likely face closure.

The European Commission and its humanitarian operations agency ECHO are expected to cease support for all but 10 of Greece’s mainland camps in the near future. As the main donor, this will be decisive. There is similar confusion over how many asylum seekers remain in Greece from the 1.03 million who entered in 2015-16. Again the ministry and the UN disagree, with the former saying 62,000 and the latter nearer 50,000. European officials say privately that both numbers are overestimates. This shroud of confusion has contributed to a mess that will be remembered as the most expensive humanitarian response in history. Some $803 million flowed into Greece from the beginning of 2015, according to an investigation by Refugees Deeply, an independent reporting platform. The bulk of these funds were meant to be spent on services for the 57,000 refugees and migrants stranded in Greece when the borders shut one year ago. That translates to a rough cost per beneficiary of $14,000.

Nobody believes this has been money well spent. One senior aid official admitted that as many as $70 out of every $100 spent had been wasted. As anyone who followed the response in Haiti or Kosovo would affirm, the aid industry is inherently wasteful but this was excessive. The scale of this became obvious from November onward when refugees were pictured in tents in the snow and it sparked a blame game. None of the actors emerge with much credit. The UN refugee agency played mute witness to failures in refugee protection for fear of offending its second largest donor, the EU. The European Commission was content to make grandiose statements that exaggerated the funding it had committed, while doing nothing to correct the mistakes it witnessed on the ground. It also made promises on asylum service assistance that were not kept. The bigger the mess in Greece, the greater the deterrent and the stronger the message to future asylum seekers not to come this way.

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Wonderful. There is still hope. There are still people, even in governments, who are still people.

Avoiding Risky Sea Journey, Syrian Refugees Head To Italy ‘Pronto’ (AFP)

Just before midnight in a sleepy district of Beirut, dozens of Syrian refugees huddle in small groups around bulging suitcases, clutching their pinging cellphones and one-way tickets to Italy. “Torino! Pronto! Cappuccino!” They practise random Italian words in a schoolyard in the Lebanese capital’s eastern Geitawi neighbourhood, waiting for the buses that will take them to the airport, and onwards to their new lives in Italy. Under an initiative introduced last year by the Italian government, nearly 700 Syrian refugees have been granted one-year humanitarian visas to begin their asylum process in Italy. The programme is the first of its kind in Europe: a speedy third way that both avoids the United Nations lengthy resettlement process and provides refugees with a safe alternative to crammed dinghies and perilous sea crossings.

[..] A country of just four million people, Lebanon hosts more than one million Syrian refugees. For members of Mediterranean Hope, the four-person team coordinating Italy’s resettlement efforts from Lebanon, “humanitarian corridors” are the future of resettlement. The group interviews refugees many times before recommending them to the Italian embassy, which issues humanitarian visas for a one-year stay during which they begin the asylum process for permanent resettlement. “It’s safe and legal. Safe for them, legal for us, says Mediterranean Hope officer Sara Manisera. “After people cross the Mediterranean on the journey of death, they are put into centres for months while they wait. But with this programme, there are no massive centres, it costs less, and refugees can keep their dignity,” she tells AFP.

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Beware better weather conditions.

3,000 Migrants Rescued Off Libya On Sunday (AFP)

Around 3,000 migrants were rescued off the coast of Libya on Sunday as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, the Italian coast guard told AFP. “After some calm days, migrants are arriving in large numbers, taking advantage of a window of favorable weather,” said a coast guard official. The rescue was undertaken in 22 separate operations coordinated by the Italian coast guard. One participant was the Aquarius, a humanitarian ship run by the NGO SOS Mediterranean and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which said it saved 946 people, including 200 unaccompanied minors. An MSF video showed three young children smiling and dancing on the ship to the sound of drumming. The migrants rescued by the Aquarius had been found drifting on nine wooden and rubber boats. According to the Italian government, 16,206 people have been rescued in the sea by Friday — compared to 11,911 by the same time last year.

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Mar 192017
 
 March 19, 2017  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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DPC Broadway from Chambers Street, NYC 1910

 


More Proof of Janet Yellen’s Idiocy (David Stockman)
How The Bosses ‘Game’ Workers (Moore)
Oz Parliamentary Budget Office Costs Plan To Kill Off Stamp Duty (SMH)
Russian Parliament Backs Investigation Into US Media (R.)
German Foreign Minister: Turkey Further Away From EU Membership Than Ever (R.)
Turkey Furious As Kurds Rally In Frankfurt With PKK Insignia (AFP)
Fear Stalks Refugees Huddled Along Hungary’s Border (G.)
Dirty Deals Done Dirt Cheap (ECRE)
Desperate Conditions In Greece’s Migration Jails (AlA)
‘Exiles in the Aegean’: A Year After The EU–Turkey Deal (Christopoulos)

 

 

“..corporate America will desperately unload inventories, workers and assets to appease the robo-machines of Wall Street.”

More Proof of Janet Yellen’s Idiocy (David Stockman)

During the last 129 months, the Fed has held 86 meetings. On 83 of those occasions it either cut rates or left them unchanged. So you can perhaps understand why Wednesday’s completely expected (for the last three weeks!) 25 bips left the day traders nonplussed. The Dow rallied over 100 points that day. Traders understandably believe that this monetary farce can continue indefinitely, and that our Keynesian school marm’s post-meeting presser was evidence that the Fed is still their friend. No it isn’t! Janet Yellen’s sing-song gibberish was the equivalent of a monetary DEFCON 1, alerting all except the most addicted Kool-Aid drinkers to get out of the casino.

Our monetary politburo has expanded its balance sheet by a lunatic 22X during the last three decades and in the process has systematically falsified financial asset prices and birthed a mutant debt-fueled of simulacrum of prosperity. But once it begins to withdraw substantial amounts of cash from the canyons of Wall Street as per its newly reaffirmed “normalization” policy, the whole house of cards is destined to collapse. There will be a stock market implosion soon, and that will in turn generate panic in the C-suites as the value of stock options vanish. Like in the fall of 2008 — except on an even more sweeping and long-lasting scale — corporate America will desperately unload inventories, workers and assets to appease the robo-machines of Wall Street. But there is nothing left to brake the casino’s fall.

If the money market rate conforms to the Fed’s latest command and settles at 88 basis points, it is still effectively at the zero bound. Our monetary politburo is thus still out of dry powder — except for the nuclear option of QE4, which Yellen herself made quite clear would never happen until after the next recession is already underway. Yet by then it will be too late — way too late. That’s because the market is priced as if the business cycle has been outlawed and as if the feckless band of Keynesian pretenders who have seized control of financial markets have ushered in the Nirvana of permanent full-employment. World without end. Needless to say, they haven’t because they haven’t repealed the law of supply and demand. That is, if the Fed plans to keep raising until rates until they reach 3.0% by 2019, it will have to suck massive amounts of cash out of the financial markets.

So doing, it will drive long-term yields substantially higher and thereby obliterate the ultra-low cap rate delusion on which the entire regime of Bubble Finance is based. In fact, in a blathering response at her presser about the pace by which the Fed intends to shrink its bloated $4.4 trillion balance sheet, Yellen proved she is clueless about the financial firestorm our rogue central bank is about to unleash. She claimed that the Fed could implement 3-4 money market rate increases a year, while deferring the shrinkage of its balance sheet into the indefinite future. But that it most assuredly cannot do. With a staggering overhang of $2.1 trillion of excess reserves in the financial system, even our vaunted monetary politburo cannot command the tides to recede. If it wants the money rate to rise on its appointed path through 2019, it must drain loads of cash from Wall Street.

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“In Australia, the bottom 3.9 million people share the same level of wealth as the top 10 individuals. And the gap is growing.”

How The Bosses ‘Game’ Workers (Moore)

When was the last time we heard someone talking about economic sustainability? When was the last time an economist was heard talking about equitable sharing of the economic growth? Australia “averted a recession” with 1.1 per cent growth in the December quarter. Let’s celebrate! Good news. Well, good for some. Not so good for others. Increasing disparity! The good news: company profits are “at record levels”. In the December quarter company profits rose by a whopping 20.1 per cent. One of the big winners is mining. Mining! Those same companies who were crying doom and gloom a few years ago when they defeated the government’s attempt to apply some level of taxation on their “super profits”. The bad news: well, that is for wage earners. While profits grew by 20 per cent, average wages dropped.

Tom Kennedy, of JP Morgan, explained to the ABC: “Some of the support for profits in the non-mining economy seems to be from weaker wage payments, which fell 0.5 per cent quarter-on-quarter (annual run rate slowed further to 1 per cent year-on-year) on the precarious combination of weaker wage growth, fewer hours and elevated underemployment.” In simple language Kennedy could have said: business increased profits by cutting workers’ wages, reducing hours and by employing less people. Any number of economic inquiries or reports suggest good ideas about taxation, employment and economic growth. A much smaller number examines what is equitable sharing of wealth. Even in the current climate, where the government is constantly bombarding the community about living within our means, Turnbull’s government is determined to deliver a $50 billion tax break for the corporate sector.

They have a good return on investment for political party donations. In Australia, the bottom 3.9 million people share the same level of wealth as the top 10 individuals. And the gap is growing. Sensible taxation measures are just one method of reducing the disparity by applying straightforward rules that are not subject to exemptions. In a globalised environment, corporations avoid current tax measures by moving money around the world at a touch of a button. One alternative, to provide a fair way to levy the corporate sector and one that is difficult to “game”, is a tax on gross turnover within a country. Such a tax is simple. It is hard to avoid. Big business would pay their share and contribute to community infrastructure from which they draw significant advantage.

Personal income is also “gamed”. American tycoon Warren Buffett noted his secretary paid a higher percentage of income tax than him simply because he could afford better accounting advice. The answer is to apply a “floor level” for high-income earners. It would catch the 77 individuals, identified by the Australian Tax Office in 2015, who earned over $1 million and paid NO tax. With the “Buffett Rule”, this group of selfish leeches would not have been able to avoid their fair contribution to the education, health and infrastructure that they all use. The Australia Institute identifies an injection of $2.5 billion if a 35 per cent “Buffet Rule” level was applied to just the top 1 per cent of salary earners. Surely good government means finding ways to reduce disparity. Inequality is fodder for populist movements around the world. A disparity index is just one way to remind our politicians of their responsibilities.

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Thinking about land tax is not a bad thing. But using it to lure more people into mortgage debt is.

Oz Parliamentary Budget Office Costs Plan To Kill Off Stamp Duty (SMH)

The Parliamentary Budget Office has costed a proposal that would kill stamp duty and replace it with land tax, saving home buyers up to $40,000 in Sydney and $55,000 in Melbourne, while delivering billions of dollars to fund schools and hospitals. The costing will put land tax back up for debate when Parliament returns next week as the government looks to mark its authority on the housing affordability crisis less than two months out from the federal budget. Both the NSW and Victorian governments have thrown their weight behind broader stamp duty tax reform and Treasurer Scott Morrison has indicated his support for a transition to taxing land. “When you talk about tax reform, this is far and away the biggest prize on offer,” said John Daley, the chief executive of independent think tank the Grattan Institute.

Under current regulations, home buyers pay tens of thousands of dollars in stamp duty, creating an additional hurdle for people looking to enter the market amid soaring property prices in Sydney and Melbourne. Removing stamp duty and implementing an annual land tax on all newly purchased homes would help level the playing field and generate billions of dollars in annual returns to the NSW and Victorian budgets, while also relieving federal government spending over a 15-year-period. Under the policy submitted by the Greens and backed by the Grattan Institute and the Council of the Ageing, home buyers would no longer stump up to $40,000 in stamp duty when purchasing a property worth $1 million in Sydney. In Melbourne, a home buyer would save $55,000 stamp duty on a property of the same value.

Research from the Grattan Institute shows an annual tax of $1 per every $1000 of a home’s value would cost the median Sydney household $845 a year in tax and the median Melbourne home $623 a year. To offset the cost of losing lucrative stamp duty payments, the Commonwealth would have to loan money to the states. The loans would peak in 2020 when the hit to the budget bottom line would grow to $800 million. Rising land tax revenues would enable the states to pay back the loan by 2030. The Parliamentary Budget Office estimates that in the next four years alone the tax would generate $2.3 billion in revenue for the states, but warned the overall costings were of low reliability due to the variations in number of properties sold across Australia each year.

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“..the senator should have included a clause drawing up a list of books for burning..”

Russian Parliament Backs Investigation Into US Media (R.)

The Russian lower house of parliament, the State Duma, has approved a proposal to launch an investigation into U.S. media organizations that operate in Russia, it said in a statement posted on its web site late on Friday. The investigation, which will be conducted by the Duma’s information policy, technologies and communications committee, will check whether CNN, the Voice of America, Radio Liberty and “other American media” are complying with Russian law. The statement said the Duma backed the move on Friday evening after Konstantin Zatulin, an MP from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, proposed an investigation to retaliate for what he called a “repressive” U.S. move against Russian state-funded broadcaster RT.

He said he was referring to an initiative by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who has introduced a bill to empower the Justice Department to investigate possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act by RT. Shaheen, a Democrat, cited a U.S. intelligence agency assessment that suggested RT was part of a Russian influence campaign to help Donald Trump win the White House last year. The Kremlin and RT have strongly rejected that allegation. Foreign media in Russia are overseen by the Russian Foreign Ministry, whose spokeswoman Maria Zakharova this week singled out Shaheen’s demarche for criticism, quipping ironically that the senator should have included a clause drawing up a list of books for burning. The U.S. move also solicited the ire of Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief, who on Wednesday told the daily Izvestia it had echoes of the activities of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy..

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EU nations would never have accepted a nation of 82 million muslims as a member. Turkey’s as far away as ever, not more, not less.

German Foreign Minister: Turkey Further Away From EU Membership Than Ever (R.)

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in an interview with news magazine Der Spiegel published on Saturday that Turkey has never been less likely to join the European Union than now, as relations between Ankara and Berlin hit a low point. “Today Turkey is definitely further away from becoming a member of the European Union than ever before,” Gabriel said in the interview. He also said that he always had doubts about whether Turkey should join the EU but found himself in the minority in his Social Democrat (SPD) party. Before taking power in Germany in 2005, Chancellor Angela Merkel was an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s membership and instead called for a “privileged partnership”.

Gabriel disliked that idea because he thought it would make Turks feel like second-class Europeans but he said his opinion had changed since Britain’s decision to leave the EU. “Today the situation is totally different due to Brexit. We’d be well advised to bring about a ‘special relationship’ with Great Britain after its exit from the EU,” Gabriel said. “That will be an important learning process for the EU and perhaps some of it can serve as a blueprint for other countries in the long term,” Gabriel said. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is courting Turks abroad for support in an April 16 referendum that would grant him sweeping new powers. He infuriated Germany and the Netherlands by describing bans on planned rallies by Turkish ministers as “fascist”. The arrest of a Turkish-German journalist in Ankara has also caused upset.

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EU and US still define PKK as a terrorist organization. That should be reconsidered.

Turkey Furious As Kurds Rally In Frankfurt With PKK Insignia (AFP)

Some 30,000 pro-Kurdish demonstrators rallied in the German city of Frankfurt on Saturday calling for “democracy in Turkey” and urging a “no” vote in an upcoming referendum on expanding Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers. Turkey angrily denounced the demonstration as “unacceptable”. Many demonstrators carried symbols of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has battled the Turkish state for over three decades in a continuing insurgency. Tensions are already running high between Berlin and Ankara after German authorities refused to allow some Turkish ministers to campaign in the country for a “yes” vote in the April 16 referendum that would hand Erdogan an executive presidency. Significantly more people turned up than organisers had been expecting for the rally, which took place ahead of the annual Newroz festival when Kurds mark the traditional New Year.

Saturday’s protest march in Frankfurt went off peacefully, a police spokesman said. Some of the participants carried flags and banners of the outlawed PKK, as well as portraits of the group’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence in Turkey, calling for his release. Police said no banners or flags were confiscated so as to not provoke the crowd, but added that photos had been taken which could lead to future prosecutions. Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in a statement that the presidency “condemned in the strongest terms” the fact that the rally had been allowed to go ahead. “It is unacceptable to see PKK symbols and slogans… when Turkish ministers and lawmakers are being prevented from meeting their own citizens,” he said. He said the “scandal” of the Frankfurt demonstration showed that some EU countries were actively working in favour of a “no” vote in the critical referendum.

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For those hailing Merkel for her dealings with Trump, and calling her the leader of the western world: this is what she produced in Europe, where she really is the leader.

Fear Stalks Refugees Huddled Along Hungary’s Border (G.)

Behind a high metal fence topped with loose curls of barbed wire, the newly positioned blue shipping containers lined neatly along Hungary’s southern border at Röszke provide a glimpse of the new plans of the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, to detain thousands of asylum seekers, including children. Construction on Hungary’s new detention camps and a second electrified fence, which stretches 108 miles along its border with Serbia, are now under way despite virulent opposition from the UN, human rights groups and a European court ruling which it was hoped might halt the country’s determination to imprison refugees. President János Áder signed the bill, which will allow all asylum seekers to be locked up in detention camps, and will also permit police to return asylum seekers from anywhere in the country back to Serbia.

Orbán, leader of the rightwing populist Fidesz party, has described migration as the “Trojan horse for terrorism” and considers Muslim migrants a threat to European identity and culture. More than 7,000 asylum seekers trying to reach western Europe are stuck in Serbia, outside the EU, following Hungary’s decision last summer to introduce strict limits on the number of refugees allowed to enter and began patrolling the borders with a controversial new wing of its police force known as Határvadász, or border hunters. At an open transit camp in Subotica, Serbia, 15 miles from the border crossing, where families and unaccompanied children wait to have their asylum claims processed in Hungary, officials say the new law will cause trouble for Serbia and more hardship for people here.

“We are like storage for the Hungarians,” said Nikola Ljubomirovic, coordinator at the camp, run by Serbia’s commissariat for refugees and migrants. [..] The majority of families at this camp are fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. They have made arduous journeys but are out of funds which would enable them to try other routes to Europe. Their only option is to claim asylum in Hungary. They face a long wait. Hungary has reduced the number of asylum seekers it accepts per day from Serbia from 200 in 2015 to 10 in January this year. The decision as to which 10 people can enter the country every weekday via two transit zones, Horgos and Kelebija, is arbitrary, far from transparent, and appears to be managed in part by refugee community leaders, leading to uncertainty and confusion among already desperate families.

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“..a legitimate objective for the EU Member States to pursue is undermining rather than ensuring the right to asylum..”

Dirty Deals Done Dirt Cheap (ECRE)

The impact of the EU Turkey – Deal is widely debated and often misrepresented. The triumphant progress reports of the Commission hail the drop in numbers of refugees arriving in Greece and people drowning in the Aegean, but ignore the wider devastating impact of Europe’s containment policy on the international protection regime and beyond. If anything, one-year into its existence the deal has “succeeded” in contributing to problematic developments in four inter-linked ways: It is a key factor in the transformation of the political debate at EU level, which moves towards a consensus that a legitimate objective for the EU Member States to pursue is undermining rather than ensuring the right to asylum (enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights) is.

By endorsing this deal, the EU has jeopardized not only its own credibility as a global human rights actor but also the values of democracy, respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law upon which it is based. It has become the blueprint for outsourcing Europe’s protection responsibility to third countries often characterized by instability and with problematic human rights records in exchange for development aid or political favours as if refugees were tradable commodities. Finally, it has transferred substantial political capital from the EU to the regimes in question, leaving the EU beholden –with Turkey itself as the most obvious example of the increasing ability of these third countries to influence Europe rather than the other way around. No, for Europeans who believe in universal human rights there is nothing to celebrate but lots to regret at the one-year anniversary of the EU-Turkey Deal!

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There needs to be an EU summit on this, and a UN summit on the whole refugee issue. But I’ve been saying that for a long time, and it still has not happened. It will be done only when chaos rules and it’s too late.

Desperate Conditions In Greece’s Migration Jails (AlA)

Greece has struggled to implement the controversial EU-Turkey deal agreed last March, and many who arrived on the islands after March 19, 2016, ended up being held in closed detention facilities for months on end. This treatment of new arrivals is likely to only become even more strict. Greek authorities are building new detention facilities for irregular migrants on Samos, Lesvos and Kos, while looking for spaces in the islands of Leros and Chios. Maarten Verwey, coordinator for the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement, said that new detention facilities in Greece would be temporary. But a year ago, the UN’s refugee agency decided not to back Greek authorities. “We will not provide support to mandatory ‘detention centers’ for refugees in Greece,” said an official announcement from the UNHCR.

Greece is using ex-military camps, police stations and specially built detention centres to house those seeking refuge in the medium term. These are different from the reception and identification centres at the hotspots where newly arrived refugees and migrants are initially held. There are currently six detention centres with a total of 5,215 places in Amygdaleza, Petrou Ralli, Corinth, Paranesti, Xanthi and Orestiada. A new report, titled Forgotten, by Aitima, an Athens-based NGO, says there are some 2,000 “irregular migrants” now detained in Greece – but this number might increase fast in the next few months as pre-departure facilities on the islands are completed. Officials believe that the creation of “closed-structure facilities”, each with a capacity of 150-200 people, will be the key to easing pressure on islands where more than 10,000 new arrivals are stranded.

Conditions inside existing detention facilities in Greece continue to be alarming. Most are without hot water, reports Aitima. They have no heating, there are no interpreters, no social workers and no psychologists. Detained migrants complain about inedible food. No provisions of clothes and shoes from the authorities are given. Doctors visit detention areas only in very urgent cases.

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History repeating.

‘Exiles in the Aegean’: A Year After The EU–Turkey Deal (Christopoulos)

Bert Birtles, an Australian journalist and poet, arrived in Athens in the fall of 1935 to meet Dora “at sunset under the Parthenon”. Very soon, the interest of the young devoted admirers of classical Greece shifted from the archaeological ruins to contemporary politics. In 1936, following a fascist coup, Bert and Dora started visiting islands of the Aegean that were used as destinations for exiles. In 1938, Birtles published Exiles in the Aegean, his “personal narrative of Greek politics and travel”. The book offers an exciting first-hand chronicle of the experiences and lives of the exiled leftists on the islands of Anafi and Gavdos, but also Leros, Karpathos and Lesvos. These islands continued to operate as spaces of “administrative displacement” throughout the twentieth century, and it was only in 1974, after the end of the colonels’ dictatorship, that this practice came to an end.

Even for my generation, born in the late 1960s, the phrase “to the dry islands” was the synonym of isolation, just as the phrase “to the mountains” was the synonym of resistance against the Axis forces in the 1940s. And then, in the 1980s, the “dry islands” became the ideal tourist resort, one of the must-see destinations of the world: a synonym of pleasure and relaxation. At the dawn of the 21st century, the islands of the eastern Aegean, close to the Turkish coast, became the first entry point to the EU for the thousands fleeing their countries, either for fear of being persecuted, or just in search of a decent life in Europe. Islands became the stepping stone to Athens, and, in turn, Athens a stepping stone to northern Europe. Islands offer a prototype for an exercise in control and biopolitics, as Foucault would put it.

The pre-1974 Greek state, which was not exactly famous for its democratic culture, knew this well. The European Union, on the other hand, only really realised this a year ago, with the infamous EU-Turkey statement addressing what the Europeans labelled a “migration crisis”, i.e. the arrival of a million refugees in a continent of half a billion inhabitants… Islands, both now and then, are regarded as the ideal quarantine zone: first it was for communists so they wouldn’t intoxicate their environment with their ideas, now for migrants and refugees, with a twofold objective. First, to send the message that this is what lies ahead for those who intend to make their way across the Aegean. Second, to send a message to European citizens and to address their primary fear: the buffer zone at the periphery of the EU ensures that no more refugees and immigrants can enter the ‘promised land’.

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Mar 172017
 
 March 17, 2017  Posted by at 8:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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DPC Wall Street and Trinity Church, New York 1903

 


California Judge Seeks To Prevent Immigration Arrests Inside State Courts (R.)
Collapsing Pensions Will Fuel America’s Next Financial Crisis (MW)
Statoil CEO Warns of Globalization ‘In Reverse’ (BBG)
Treasury’s Mnuchin Says Trump Does Not Want Trade Wars (R.)
Would Trump Budget Cut Meals On Wheels Funding? (BI)
Dutch Election Puts Question Mark Over Eurogroup Chief Dijsselbloem (R.)
Congressman Huizenga Introduces Bill to Oppose IMF’s Third Greek Bailout (YV)
Senators Demand State Department Probe Into Soros Organizations (ZH)
Mounting Costs, Not PBOC, Could Slow China’s Bank Debt Binge (BBG)
Will Chrystia Freeland Finally Ruin Canadian-Russian Relations? (SCF)
The Energy Market Explained (Clarke and Dawe)
Greek Public Health System On Brink, Doctors Warn (K.)
First-Time Asylum Applicants In Greece Up 339% In 2016 (Amna)
Refugees In Greece Suffering After EU Deal With Turkey, Say NGOs (G.)
Child Refugees In Greece Self-Harming And Attempting Suicide (Ind.)
Ai Weiwei Slams ‘Shameful’ Politicians Ignoring Refugees (AFP)

 

 

One very big step over the decency line.

California Judge Seeks To Prevent Immigration Arrests Inside State Courts (R.)

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said she was gravely troubled by recent reports that federal agents were “stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests,” in a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. “Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration law,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote. Trump has vowed to increase deportations and has widened the net of illegal immigrants prioritized for detention and removal. “We will review the letter and have no further comment at this time,” Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said in an email.

Immigrant rights groups say federal agents have entered courthouses with increased frequency this year, including in California, Massachusetts, Maryland and Texas, said National Immigration Law Center staff attorney Melissa Keaney. “It’s definitely an issue we’re seeing a tremendous increase in under the new administration,” Keaney said by phone on Thursday. Cantil-Sakauye stopped short of questioning the legal right of federal agents to enter courthouses to locate and detain unauthorized immigrants. Her letter said the presence of immigration agents in California courthouses could undermine “public trust and confidence in our state court system,” which serves “millions of the most vulnerable Californians.”

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I don’t think pensions are in line to be the next crisis, but they will certainly cause one.

Collapsing Pensions Will Fuel America’s Next Financial Crisis (MW)

Washington has a knack for ignoring long-term financial shortfalls and painting overly rosy scenarios about the future to make their numbers work in the here and now. Case in point: Donald Trump’s unrealistic projection that the U.S. economy will grow at 3% this year, when the latest GDP forecasts have actually been reduced to 1.8% by a number of economists. Then there is Social Security. Many politicians are just too intimidated, uninformed or complacent to tackle the unsustainability of Social Security — which by the latest tally will see its trust fund go to zero just 17 years from now, in 2034. But while fudging GDP numbers is dangerous for America’s economic outlook and the demise of Social Security in two decades is a serious long-term concern, America faces a mathematical problem that dwarfs both of these items: A pending pension crisis that could leave millions of Americans high and dry in the very near future.

Sure, it would be difficult for many if the U.S. economy stumbles under misguided Trump policies. And yes, the idea of even modest cuts to Social Security in the coming decades could serious affect millions of seniors. But take a look South Carolina’s government pension plan, which covers roughly 550,000 people – one out of nine state residents – but is a staggering $24.1 billion in the red. This is not a distant concern, but a system already in crisis. Younger workers are being asked to do much more to support the pensions of retirees. An analysis by the The Post and Courier of Charleston noted recently that “Government workers and their employers have seen five hikes in their pension plan contributions since 2012, and there’s no end in sight.” (Most now contribute 8.66% of their pay, vs. 6.5% before the changes.) At the same time, the pension fund has been chasing more stocks and alternative investments instead of relying on stable investments like bonds that may be much less volatile but generate only meager returns.

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Of course Big Oil CEOs like globalization. But it’s still quite something to hear an oil exec claim: “Cross-border cooperation is also essential to solve climate change..”

Statoil CEO Warns of Globalization ‘In Reverse’ (BBG)

After the surprise election of Donald Trump, the head of Norway’s biggest oil company headed to Washington D.C. this month looking for reassurance. He came away as worried as ever. “I was looking for clarity, also some guidance, good advice, and also some people to talk to – new relationships within the administration,” Statoil CEO Eldar Saetre told a conference in Oslo on Thursday. “I have to be honest with you – I didn’t get much of any of it.” Saetre, whose company has stakes in three U.S. onshore areas and in the Gulf of Mexico, was concerned about the protectionist bent of the new president’s rhetoric. Combined with last year’s Brexit vote and looming elections in Europe where nationalists are gaining influence, he sees Trump’s victory as a threat to global free trade.

“From Brexit to Trump, we see warning signs that globalization could be going in reverse,” Saetre said at the annual Swedbank Energy Summit. “For our industry, I believe that would be very negative.” Trump’s energy policies could benefit oil producers in the U.S. by loosening regulations and freeing up more areas for drilling. However, his protectionist agenda could affect economic growth and trading relations with countries from neighboring Mexico to Asia. “Global collaboration and integrated markets have been and will remain key to make our industry prosper,” Saetre said. “Fair, open access to markets are keys to enable investments, value creation and jobs in our industry.” Cross-border cooperation is also essential to solve climate change, making it “more important than ever,” Saetre said.

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Schäuble and Mnuchin. Lovely pair.

Treasury’s Mnuchin Says Trump Does Not Want Trade Wars (R.)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday that the Trump administration has no desire to get into trade wars, but certain trade relationships need to be re-examined to make them fairer for U.S. workers. At a news conference with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, Mnuchin said that President Donald Trump views trade as important for economic growth. But when asked whether the Group of 20 finance ministers should explicitly reaffirm their past vow to resist protectionism, Mnuchin repeated his view that some U.S. trade relationships need to be re-examined to make them fairer and more reciprocal. “It is not our desire to get into trade wars,” Mnuchin said. “The president does believe in free trade but he wants free and fair trade.” Differences over trade could become a sticking point for G20 finance officials at a meeting in the spa town of Baden-Baden, Germany this weekend.

Schaeuble told Reuters in an interview that it was unclear whether the anti-protectionism language would remain in the G20 statement to be issued at the meeting’s close on Saturday. Given that Trump’s “America First” agenda, trade issues could be set aside for G20 leaders to tackle at a summit in July, Schaeuble said. But both Schaeuble and Mnuchin both said they had a constructive discussion ahead of the G20 meeting and pledged to work together through differences to promote growth. “It was a good start,” Schaeuble said of the meeting, adding that it was a positive sign for international cooperation and the G20 process. “We have found a good basis to talk openly about issues where we don’t have the same stance from the outset,” Schaeuble said. Mnuchin said the ministers agreed that they should fight currency manipulation.

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This viral story looks sensationalized. Meals on Wheels gets just part of its funding from the Community Development Block Grant program. I included the article anyway because we’re getting into Bizarro World territory here: “You’re only focusing on recipients of the money,” Mulvaney said. “We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place. I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard-earned money anymore.'”

Would Trump Budget Cut Meals On Wheels Funding? (BI)

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, unveiled on Thursday, would cut federal funding for Meals on Wheels, a program that provides daily meals to millions of low-income seniors across the country. White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters at a press conference Thursday that Meals on Wheels “sounds great.” But he said that along with other anti-poverty programs, it is “not showing any results.” “We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good,” Mulvaney told reporters. “We’re not going to spend money on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.”

Trump’s budget would strip $3 billion from the Community Development Block Grant program, which supports a variety of community-development and anti-poverty programs. Those include Meals on Wheels, which provided 219 million meals to 2.4 million seniors in 2016. CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked Mulvaney if the funding cuts were “hard-hearted.” Mulvaney responded that reducing government spending on ineffective programs is “probably one of the most compassionate things we can do.” “You’re only focusing on half of the equation, right? You’re only focusing on recipients of the money,” Mulvaney said. “We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place. I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard-earned money anymore.'”

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Get rid of him already. Right now. Then again, Kazimir is probably next in line, and he’s just as bad. Cooler heads should demand a more reasonable, not neo-liberal choice. Fat chance.

Dutch Election Puts Question Mark Over Eurogroup Chief Dijsselbloem (R.)

Jeroen Dijsselbloem may have to stand down as president of the Eurogroup which coordinates policy in the eurozone if he cannot retain his role as Dutch finance minister in a new coalition after his party was routed in Wednesday’s election. The Labor Party crashed from second to seventh place in preliminary results, losing more than three-quarters of its seats and making it hard for victorious liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte to retain Dijsselbloem in such a senior cabinet post, even though he has made clear his appreciation of his work. Neither man commented on the matter directly Thursday. Dijsselbloem is due to represent the Eurogroup at a G20 meeting in Germany Friday and to chair the monthly meeting of the 19 eurozone finance ministers in Brussels on Monday.

While other eurozone finance ministers may seek his role, there is a lack of obvious contenders, particularly given that many governments will resist appointing a politician from the right because conservatives hold most other top EU jobs. It is just possible Dijsselbloem might retain his Dutch portfolio. There has also been speculation that the Eurogroup could keep him on as chairman even if he loses his national job – although some senior officials say that is most unlikely. Dijsselbloem, whose second 30-month term ends in January, has been popular with fellow ministers, balancing a background on the left with support from conservative Wolfgang Schaeuble, who wields Germany’s power on the Eurogroup and insists on strict terms for Greece and other states awarded bailout loans.

The Dutchman will remain in office for weeks, and possibly months, as Rutte struggles to put together a new coalition after Wednesday’s election. Rutte’s own party lost seats and the anti-immigration party of Geert Wilders finished in second place. Eurogroup rules do not stipulate that its president must be a serving finance minister. But senior eurozone officials have said lately that they do not believe fellow ministers would keep Dijsselbloem on if he lost his main job in The Hague. In the longer term, there has been talk of making the position a full-time one, with its own staff. But that is not yet agreed.

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Dijsselbloem’s ‘friend’ Varoufakis found this.

Congressman Huizenga Introduces Bill to Oppose IMF’s Third Greek Bailout (YV)

Anyone who doubted that the IMF is in deep trouble over its inane involvement in the toxic Greek bailout, and Berlin’s policy of extending Greece’s insolvency ad infinitum while the country’s social economy shrinks, should now have no more doubts. Congressman Bill Huizenga (R-MI), a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, yesterday introduced the IMF Reform and Integrity Act, which would require the U.S. to oppose the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) co-financing of a third Greek bailout with the European Stability Mechanism. If such co-financing were to go forward, the bill would prohibit the U.S. from supporting an IMF quota increase until funds are repaid in full.

“The IMF is supposed to be a lender of last resort, not a fig leaf of first resort for Eurozone members,” said Congressman Huizenga. “The IMF isn’t a fund to rescue political parties in creditor nations, nor should it be a junior partner to outside organizations that lack the commitment to do their work. For seven years now, the IMF has been used to shield Eurozone officials from their voters, which has tarnished the Fund’s reputation, prolonged Greece’s misery, and put off hard choices about Europe’s future that must be made regardless. As the IMF’s largest shareholder, the U.S. should ensure that the Fund remains independent and free from politicization that could put taxpayer dollars at risk. This bill will help make that a reality.”

In addition, the IMF Reform and Integrity Act cancels supplementary IMF funds that have already been deactivated, rescinding them and sending those resources back to the U.S. Treasury. The bill also clarifies existing law to require the U.S. Executive Director of the Fund to oppose any loan to a country whose debt is unsustainable.

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Why Putin threw out Soros, and America should too.

Senators Demand State Department Probe Into Soros Organizations (ZH)

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and a group of his colleagues are calling on the newly appointed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to immediately investigate how US taxpayer funds are being used by the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to support Soros-backed, leftist political groups in several Eastern European countries including Macedonia and Albania. According to the letter, potentially millions of taxpayer dollars are being funneled through USAID to Soros’ Open Society Foundations with the explicit goal of pushing his progressive agenda. “Unfortunately, we have received a credible report that, over the past few years, the U.S. Mission there has actively intervened in the party politics of Macedonia, as well as in the shaping of its media environment and civil society, often favoring left-leaning political group over others. We find these reports discoraging and, if true, highly problematic.”

“Much of the concerning activity in Macedonia has been perpetuated through USAID funds awarded to implementing entities such as George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. As the recipient of multiple grant awards and serving as a USAID contractor implementing projects in this small nation of 2.1 million people, our taxpayer funded foreign aid goes far, allowing Foundation Open Society – Macedonia (FOSM) to push a progressive agenda and invigorate the political left. Our foreign aid should only be used to promote a political agenda if it is in the security or economic interests of our country to do so, and even at that, we must be cautious and respectful in such an endeavor. We should be especially wary of promoting policies that remain controversial even in our own country and that have the potential to harm our relationship with the citizens of recipient countries.”

As Fox News pointed out, USAID gave nearly $15 million to Soros’ Foundation Open Society – Macedonia, and other Soros-linked organizations in the region, in the last 4 years of Obama’s presidency alone. “The USAID website shows that between 2012 and 2016, USAID gave almost $5 million in taxpayer cash to FOSM for “The Civil Society Project,” which “aims to empower Macedonian citizens to hold government accountable.” USAID’s website links to www.soros.org.mk, and says the project trained hundreds of young Macedonians “in youth activism and the use of new media instruments.” The State Department told lawmakers that in addition to that project, USAID has recently funded a new Civic Engagement Project which partners with four organizations, including FOSM. The cost is believed to be around $9.5 million. A citizen’s initiative called “Stop Operation Soros” has also published a white paper alleging U.S. money has been funding violent riots in the streets [..]

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Can the shadow sector step in once again?

Mounting Costs, Not PBOC, Could Slow China’s Bank Debt Binge (BBG)

China may avoid having to pull out the big stick when it comes to reining in a record short-term borrowing spree by its smaller banks. The increased cost to lenders of issuing so-called negotiable certificates of deposit will naturally deflate a market that jumped by 90% in February from a year earlier, according to Ping An Securities. Demand is also waning for the securities, used by Chinese banks as a way of leveraging up investments and expanding their balance sheets, with mutual funds cutting their holdings to the lowest level in at least a year in January. “It’s unsustainable for commercial banks to take such high costs,” said Shi Lei at Ping An, a unit of China’s second-largest insurer. “NCDs are now even more expensive than short-term commercial paper. It will be corrected as lenders complete their adjustments in the term structure of the debt.”

Introduced by the People’s Bank of China in 2013 as a fresh source of money for smaller lenders which have difficulty competing for savings against big state banks, NCDs have morphed into a way for them to fund purchases of each other’s wealth-management products. That boosts refinancing risks in a banking system that will see a record 3.65 trillion yuan ($529 billion) of the notes maturing this quarter. This hasn’t escaped the attention of the authorities, with the PBOC looking at classifying NCDs as interbank liabilities, Caixin.com reported in January, a move that would quell growth in the market given limits on how much in interbank debt Chinese lenders are allowed to hold relative to their overall liabilities. The central bank has been ramping up its campaign to contain leverage since August, tightening money-market rates as a way of discouraging borrowing. The PBOC boosted borrowing costs for lenders Thursday, just hours after the Federal Reserve lifted benchmark interest rates.

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It’s remarkable that she still has her job. What a blemish on Canada she is.

Will Chrystia Freeland Finally Ruin Canadian-Russian Relations? (SCF)

On 10 January 2017 Canadian PM Justin Trudeau fired his minister of external affairs, Stéphane Dion, and replaced him with Chrystia Freeland, who was then minister of international trade. This cabinet shuffle might not have gotten much public notice except that Dion is a distinguished parliamentarian, former leader of the party and leader of the opposition, and a former key minister in the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien. Freeland, on the other hand, is a well-known Ukrainian ultra-nationalist and self-declared Russophobe and hater of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The sacking of Dion was also noteworthy because Trudeau had run on an electoral platform in 2015 promising, inter alia, to improve Canadian relations with Russia, spoilt by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. When Dion became minister of external affairs, he confirmed the Liberal commitment to re-establish more constructive Canadian-Russian relations.

[..] Why should Canadians care one way or another whether their government supports the Ukraine and sends arms and advisors there to strengthen Ukrainian military forces? Well, the most important reason is that the present government in Kiev is illegitimate in spite of democratic appearances. It is the spawn of a violent coup d’état in February 2014, brokered and supported by the United States and the European Union, which overthrew the democratically elected president Viktor Yanukovich. The vanguard of the Kiev coup d’état are neo-Nazi, fascist or ultra nationalist political and paramilitary organisations, notably the political party Svoboda, the paramilitary Pravyi sektor and various other paramilitary forces such as the so-called Azov and Aidar battalions. These paramilitary units were and are used to crush opposition in those parts of the Ukraine controlled by Kiev.

Neo-Nazi violence and intimidation worked in many places, but not in others. In the Crimea, the population united almost to the last man and woman, to toss out the putschist authorities and to vote for reunification with Russia. In the east, in the Donbass, the anti-fascist resistance repulsed Kiev punitive forces with heavy losses. These remarkable feats of arms, redolent of so many others in Russian history, were wasted by Moscow, which disregarded a first principle of war that one never lets an enemy withdraw to fight another day. «He who spares the aggressor», Stalin once remarked, «wants another war.» It may shock some people to hear Stalin quoted, but Plutarch, Sun Tzu, or Clausewitz might have said the same thing. Moscow supported the so-called Minsk peace accords which were never respected by the Kiev authorities. Ultra-nationalists even boasted that they had agreed to Minsk solely in order to rest and refit their beaten forces. It was only a ruse de guerre.

These are the forces which the Canadian government now supports with the enthusiastic backing of Minister Freeland. For her, it must be a lifelong dream-come-true. There has been much press comment during the last week or so about Freeland’s Ukrainian grandfather, Mykhailo Chomiak, a Nazi collaborator during World War II. Freeland claimed that he was only a refugee from Stalinist violence. He might have been, but he also collaborated with Nazi Germany. In many places in Europe, France and Italy, for example, collaborators were summarily shot or imprisoned after the war. In France, more than 5,000 were executed including Pierre Laval, a prominent French politician, who sided with Nazi Germany and vaunted collaboration to oppose the USSR. Another 38,000 French collaborators were jailed. Chomiak was lucky he was not hanged and that he ended up in northern Alberta, to die a well-to-do farmer.

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More brilliance. “We don’t have en energy system. We have an energy market.”

The Energy Market Explained (Clarke and Dawe)

“Wal Socket. Energy Consultant”

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A European crime. One of many perpetrated on Greece.

Greek Public Health System On Brink, Doctors Warn (K.)

The National Health System (ESY) is on the the brink of collapse, according to the Panhellenic Medical Association (PIS), which cited chronic shortages in staff and equipment at public hospitals around the country due to limited finances, and disruptions in the primary healthcare system. The association added that the only reason the health system is still running is due to the efforts of existing staff, whose endurance levels, however, are being put to the test. “The average age of ESY doctors is 60. And these people will be leaving in a few years,” said PIS president Michail Vlastarakos, adding that public hospitals need 6,500 additional permanent medical staff.

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And the EU still hasn’t supplied the promised help for dealing with the applications.

First-Time Asylum Applicants In Greece Up 339% In 2016 (Amna)

There was a 339% increase of in the number of first-time asylum applicants in Greece in 2016, which rose to 49,875 in 2016 from 11,370 in 2015, according to figures released by Eurostat on Thursday. On the basis of these figures, Greece ranks second among EU countries for the total number of asylum applications filed in relation to its population. Germany is first with 8,789 applications per million population, followed by Greece with 4,525 applications per million population. Third is Austria with 4,587, followed by Malta (3,989), Luxembourg (3,582) and Cyprus (3,350). The number of new asylum applicants on an EU level dropped to 1.204 million in 2016, for a percentage change of -4%, but were more than double the number of applicants in 2014. Most asylum applicants in EU member-states were Syrians (28%), Afghans (15%) and Iraqis (11%). In Greece, Syrians accounted for more than half of asylum applicants (53%), Iraqis for 10% and Pakistanis 9%.

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The NGOs themselves are part of the problem too.

Refugees In Greece Suffering After EU Deal With Turkey, Say NGOs (G.)

Greece is being used as a testing ground for degrading asylum policies that fall short of the democratic values Europe would normally uphold, say refugee groups marking the first anniversary of a deal designed to slow arrivals to the continent. The accord struck last year between Turkey and the EU has been praised in some quarters for having slowed arrivals into Europe and reduced deaths in the Aegean sea. But basic human rights were lost in the process, the organisations claim. “Greece has become a testing ground for policies that are eroding international protection standards,” said the Norwegian Refugee Council, International Rescue Committee and Oxfam, in a joint report based on extensive fieldwork on Aegean islands where more than 14,000 men, women and children are trapped in abysmal conditions.

“Over the course of the year, there have been deaths, suicide attempts, people engaging in self harm, and children, women and men exposed to abuse and sexual violence.” The withering assessment, coming almost 12 months to the day since the agreement was reached between Ankara and Brussels, is in stark contrast to the official view of an accord hailed by the EU, at the time, as a breakthrough in the migration crisis. Agreed in exchange for €6bn in refugee aid to Ankara, it was seen as a vital step in resolving a crisis that at its height threatened to tear the bloc apart. Since its implementation, the number of refugees and migrants going to Europe via Turkey has dropped dramatically.

Islands such as Lesbos, which is near Turkey, are reporting 100 arrivals or fewer a day, while in 2015, when more than 1 million people streamed into Europe, it received 10,000 men, women and children over one weekend. But NGOs say the reality on the ground is that the deal has prolonged and exacerbated human suffering. The report found that, incarcerated on Greek islands, asylum seekers had been made to live in substandard and overcrowded conditions for months on end. With limited access to fair and effective asylum procedures they were subject to “a convoluted and constantly changing process” that lacked oversights and checks and balances. Often legal experts were unable to keep track of a system that was impossible for people to navigate alone.

A separate report by Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières warned that there were worrying levels of mental health problems among migrants and refugees in the Greek camps. It said people including children as young as nine were cutting themselves, attempting suicide and using drugs to cope with the “endless misery”. Mental health was “rapidly deteriorating due to the conditions created as a result of this deal”, Save the Children said. [..] The report expressed the NGOs’ fears that the deal would become a blueprint for crises elsewhere. “Beyond the deeply concerning situation in Greece, the EU is looking to replicate this model elsewhere, and, in so doing, risks setting a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world,” said the report.

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Creating child zombies.

Child Refugees In Greece Self-Harming And Attempting Suicide (Ind.)

Desperate refugees trapped in Greece are self-harming and attempting suicide as a result of “disastrous” EU policies, aid agencies have warned. More refugees are dying than ever before while attempting to reach Europe, almost a year after a controversial deal was struck with Turkey in an effort to prevent boat crossings across the Aegean Sea. The agreement has stranded thousands of asylum seekers in Greece, where aid agencies say children are among rising numbers of migrants trying to kill themselves after months trapped in squalid camps. Research by Save the Children found more than 5,000 minors are living in “appalling conditions” that are driving a mounting mental health crisis. It has recorded children as young as nine self-harming and 12-year-olds attempting suicide, sometimes filming themselves in the act, as well as a spike in drug and alcohol abuse by teenagers who are exploited by dealers in camps.

Violent protests and deaths are traumatising the youngest and most vulnerable refugees, whose families say they are too scared to let their children play out of sight in case they are hurt or abused. Save the Children staff report that some unaccompanied children live in “24-hour survival mode” and sleep in shifts to try to stay safe, while others disappear or pay smugglers to leave the Greek islands. “The EU-Turkey deal was meant to end the flow of ‘irregular migrants’ to Greece, but at what cost?” said Andreas Ring, Save the Children’s humanitarian representative. “Many of these children have escaped war and conflict only to end up in camps many of them call ‘hell’ and where they say they are made to feel more like animals than humans.” Since 20 March 2016, all migrants arriving on Greek islands have been held, under threat of deportation to Turkey, while their asylum applications are processed, but legal blocks have slowed transfers and left refugees in overcrowded tent camps for up to a year.

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“..you cannot be so short-sighted, you cannot have no vision, you cannot sacrifice human dignity and human rights for political gain..”

Ai Weiwei Slams ‘Shameful’ Politicians Ignoring Refugees (AFP)

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei on Thursday slammed “shameful” politicians who ignore refugees as he launched a giant art installation centered on their fate at the National Gallery in Prague. Called “Law of the Journey”, the show features a 70-metre-long (230-foot-long) inflatable boat with 258 oversize refugee figures. A tribute to the thousands who have drowned crossing the Mediterranean, the piece is Ai’s biggest-ever installation. It will be on display until the end of the year. “My message is very clear: being a politician or a political group, you cannot be so short-sighted, you cannot have no vision, you cannot sacrifice human dignity and human rights for political gain,” Ai told AFP. “I think this is very, very shameful behaviour,” he added.

The Czech Republic and the other post-Communist central European members have rejected EU plans to allow Muslim refugees on their territories throughout the migrant crisis. Immigration from Muslim countries has become a hot political topic in these states, although most refugees have opted for wealthier western countries like Germany or Sweden. “If we see somebody who has been victimised by war or desperately trying to find a peaceful place, if we don’t accept those people, the real challenge and the real crisis is not of all the people who feel the pain but rather for the people who ignore to recognise it or pretend that it doesn’t exist,” said Ai. “That is both a tragedy and a crime,” said the 59-year-old painter, sculptor and photographer. Ai spent the last year visiting such migrant and refugee hotspots as the US-Mexican border badlands to the Turkish-Syrian frontier and crowded holding camps on Greek islands.

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Mar 152017
 
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Otto Dix The Triumph of Death 1934

 

Yes, austerity really kills real people, and it kills the societies they live in. Let’s try and explain this in simple terms. It’s a simple topic after all. Austerity is a mere left-over from faith-based policies derived from shoddy economics, and economics is a shoddy field to begin with. The austerity imposed on and in several countries and their economies after 2008, and the consequences it has had in these economies, cannot fail to make you wonder what level of intelligence the politicians have who did the imposing, as well as the economists who advised them in the process.

We should certainly not forget that the people who make these decisions are never the ones affected by them. Austerity hurts the poor. For those who are living comfortably -which includes politicians and economists that “matter”-, austerity at worst means eating and living somewhat less luxuriously. For the poor, taken far enough, it will mean not eating at all, not being able to afford clothing, medical care, even housing. Doing without 10% of very little hits much harder than missing out on 10% of an abundance.

And even then there are differences, for instance between countries. The damage done to British housing, education and health care by successive headless chicken governments is very real, and it will require a huge effort to restore these systems, if that is possible at all. Still, if the British have any complaints about the austerity unleashed upon them, they should really take a look at Greece. As this graph of households having a hard time making ends meet makes painfully clear:

 

 

Britain ‘only’ suffers from economically illiterate politicians and economists. Greece, on top of that, has to cope with a currency it has no control over, and with the foreign -dare we say ‘occupying’?- powers that do. A currency that is geared exclusively to the benefit of the richer Eurozone nations. The biggest mistake in building the EU, and the Eurozone in particular, is that the possibility has been left open for the larger and richer nations to reign over the smaller and poorer almost limitlessly. These things only become clear when things get worse, but then they really do.

This ‘biggest mistake’ predicted the end of the ‘union’ from the very moment it was established; all it will take is time, and comprehension. Eurozone rules say a country’s public debt cannot exceed 60% and its deficit must remain less than 3%. Rules that have been broken left right and center, including by the rich, Germany, France, who were never punished for doing so. The poor are.

These limits are completely arbitrary. They come from the text books of the same clueless cabal of economists that the entire Euro façade is based on. The same cabal also who now demand a 3.5% Greek budget surplus into infinity, the worst thing that can happen to an already impoverished economy, because it means even more money must flow out of an entity that already has none.

But let’s narrow our focus to austerity itself, and what makes it such a disaster. And then after that, we’ll take it a step further. We can blame economists for this mess, and hapless politicians, but that’s not the whole story; in the end they’re just messenger boys and girls. First though, here’s what austerity does. Let’s start with Ed Harrison talking about some revealing data that Matt Klein posted on FT Alphaville about comparing post-2008 Greece to emerging economies:

Europe’s Delusional Economic Policies

Here’s how Matt put it: “Greece had a very different post-crisis experience: it never recovered. By contrast, all the other countries were well past their pre-crisis peak after this much time had elapsed. On average, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey have outperformed Greece by more than 40 percentage points after nine years.”

.. unlike those countries, Greece lacked the ability to use the exchange rate as a shock absorber. So while Brazil and Greece faced the same type of downturn in dollar terms – about 45% in GDP per person – Brazilian living standards only deteriorated about 2%, compared to 26% in Greece. The net effect is that Greece had a relatively typical crisis in dollars but an unprecedently painful one in the terms that matter most”.

[..] Greece doesn’t have its own currency so the currency can’t depreciate. Greece must use the internal devaluation route, which makes its labor, goods and services cheaper through a deflationary path – and that is very destructive to demand, to growth, and to credit.

[..] it’s not about reforms, people. It’s about growth. And the euro – and the policies tied to membership – is anti-growth, particularly for a country like Greece that is forced to hit an unrealistic 3.5% primary surplus indefinitely.

 

Another good report came from the WaPo at about the same time Ed wrote his piece, some 4 weeks ago. After Matt Klein showing how hard austerity hit Greece compared to emerging economies, Matt O’Brien shows us how austerity hit multiple Eurozone countries, compared to what would have happened if they had not cut spending (or introduced the euro). It is damning.

Austerity Was A Bigger Disaster Than We Thought

Cutting spending, you see, shouldn’t be a problem as long as you can cut interest rates too. That’s because lower borrowing costs can stimulate the economy just as much as lower government spending slows it down. What happens, though, if interest rates are already zero, or, even worse, you’re part of a currency union that means you can’t devalue your way out of trouble? Well, nothing good.

House, Tesar and Proebsting calculated how much each European economy grew — or, more to the point, shrank — between the time they started cutting their budgets in 2010 and the end of 2014, and then compared it with what actually realistic models say would have happened if they hadn’t done austerity or adopted the euro.

According to this, the hardest-hit countries of Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain would have contracted by only 1% instead of the 18% they did if they hadn’t slashed spending; by only 7% if they’d kept their drachmas, pounds, liras, escudos, pesetas and the ability to devalue that went along with them if they hadn’t become a part of the common currency and outsourced those decisions to Frankfurt; and only would have seen their debt-to-GDP ratios rise by eight percentage points instead of the 16 they did if they hadn’t tried to get their budgets closer to being balanced.

In short, austerity hurt what it was supposed to help, and helped hurt the economy even more than a once-in-three-generations crisis already had.

[..] the euro really has been a doomsday device for turning recessions into depressions. It’s not just that it caused the crisis by keeping money too loose for Greece and the rest of them during the boom and too tight for them during the bust. It’s also that it forced a lot of this austerity on them. Think about it like this. Countries that can print their own money never have to default on their debts – they can always inflate them away instead – but ones that can’t, because, say, they share a common currency, might have to.

Just the possibility of that, though, can be enough to make it a reality. If markets are worried that you might not be able to pay back your debts, they’ll make you pay a higher interest rate on them – which might make it so that you really can’t.

In other words, the euro can cause a self-fulfilling prophecy where countries can’t afford to spend any more even though spending any less will only make everything worse.

That’s actually a pretty good description of what happened until the ECB belatedly announced that it would do “whatever it takes” to put an end to this in 2012. Which was enough to get investors to stop pushing austerity, but, alas, not politicians. It’s a good reminder that you should never doubt that a small group of committed ideologues can destroy the economy. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

 

 

So those are the outcomes, But what’s the theory, where does the “small group of committed ideologues” go so wrong? Let’s go really basic and simple. Last week, Britsh economist Ann Pettifor, promoting her new book “The Production of Money: How to Break the Power of Bankers”, said this to Vogue:

Politicians who advocate for austerity measures—cutting spending—like to say that the government ought to run its budget the way women manage our households, but unlike us, the government issues currency and sets interest rates and so on, and the government collects taxes. And if the government is managing the economy well, it ought to be expanding the numbers of people who are employed and therefore paying income tax and tax on purchases—purchases that turn a profit for businesses which then hire more employees, and on and on it goes. That’s called the multiplier effect, and for 100 years or so, it’s been well understood. And it’s why governments should invest not in tax breaks for wealthy people, but in initiatives like building infrastructure.

Around the same time, Ann wrote in the Guardian:

[..] the public are told that cuts in spending and in some benefits, combined with rises in income from taxes will – just as with a household – balance the budget. Even though a single household’s budget is a) minuscule compared to that of a government; b) does not, like the government’s, impact on the wider economy; c) does not benefit from tax revenues (now, or in the foreseeable future); and d) is not backed by a powerful central bank. Despite all these obvious differences, government budgets are deemed analogous (by economists and politicians) to a household budget.

[..] If the economy slumps (as in 2008-9) and the private sector weakens, then like a see-saw the public sector deficit, and then the debt, rises. When private economic activity revives (thanks to increased investment, employment, sales etc) tax revenues rise, unemployment benefits fall, and the government deficit and debt follow the same downward trajectory. So, to balance the government’s budget, efforts must be made to revive Britain’s economy, including the indebted private sector.

In other words, when faced with economic hard times, a government should not cut spending, it should increase it -and it can-. Because cutting spending is sure to make things worse. At the same time of course, this is not an option available to Greece, because it has ceded control of its currency, and therefore its economy, to a largely unaccountable and faceless cabal that couldn’t care less what happens in the country.

All they care about is that the debts the banks in the rich part of the eurozone incurred can be moved onto someone else’s shoulders. Which is where -most of- Greece’s crisis came from to begin with. And so, yes, Germany and Holland and France are sitting sort of pretty, because they prevented a banking crisis from happening at home; they transferred it to Greece’s pensioners and unemployed youth. The ‘model’ of the Eurozone allows them to do this. Coincidence? Bug or feature?

 

 

Oh, and it’s not only Greece, though it’s by far the hardest hit. Read Roberto Centeno in the Express below. Reminds me of Greeks friends saying: “In 2010, we were told we had €160 billion or so in debt, and we needed a bailout. Now we have over €600 billion in debt, they say. How is that possible? What happened? What was that bailout for?”

‘Spain Is Ruined For 50 Years’

A leading Spanish economist has hit out at the ECB saying “crazy” loans will ruin the lives of the population for the next 50 years. And it is only a matter of time before the Government is forced to default as a debt bubble and low wages effectively forge the worst declines in “living memory”. Leading economist Roberto Centeno, who was an advisor to US president Donald Trump’s election team on hispanic issues, says the country has borrowed €603 billion that it cannot conceivably pay back. And he says Spanish politicians including Minister of Economy Luis de Guindos are “insulting their intelligence” after doing back door deals with the ECB. In a blog post Mr Centeno says there needs to be audits so the country can understand the magnitude of its debt mountain.

He said Spain was “moving steadily towards the suspension of payments which is the result of out of control public waste, financed with the largest debt bubble in our history, supported by the ECB with its crazy policy of zero interest rate expansion and without any supervision.” The expert added the doomed situation will “lead to the ruin of several generations of Spaniards over the next 50 years”. [..] He said the country is currently suffering from a “third world production model”. He added: “We have a third world production model of speculators and waiters, with a labour market where the majority of jobs created are temporary and with remunerations of €600, the largest wage decline in living memory. “And all this was completed with a broken pension system and an insolvent financial system.”

Forecasting an unprecedented shock to the European financial model, Mr Centento is calling for an immediate audit despite a recent revelation that the ECB is failing in its supervisory role over Europe’s banks. He also claimed the Spanish government and European Union leaders have been manipulating figures since 2008. Mr Centento said: “We will require the European Commission and Eurostat to audit and audit the Spanish accounting system for serious accounting discrepancies that may jeopardise stability. “The gigantic debt bubble accumulated by irresponsible governments, and that never ceases to grow, will be the ruin of several generations of Spaniards. “The Bank of Spain’s debt to the Eurosystem is the largest in Europe. “The day that the ECB minimally closes the tap of this type of financing or markets increase their risk aversion, the situation will be unsustainable.”

 

 

But then it’s time to move on, courtesy of Michael Hudson, prominent economist, who should be a guest of honor, at the very least, at every Eurogroup meeting. You know, to give Dijsselbloem and Schäuble a reality check. Michael shines a whole different additional light on European austerity policies. This is from an interview with Sharmini Peries:

Finance as Warfare: IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt

MICHAEL HUDSON: You said the lenders expect Greece to grow. That is not so. There is no way in which the lenders expected Greece to grow. In fact, the IMF was the main lender. It said that Greece cannot grow, under the circumstances that it has now. What do you do in a case where you make a loan to a country, and the entire staff says that there is no way this country can repay the loan? That is what the IMF staff said in 2015.

It made the loan anyway – not to Greece, but to pay French banks, German banks and a few other bondholders – not a penny actually went to Greece. The junk economics they used claimed to have a program to make sure the IMF would help manage the Greek economy to enable it to repay. Unfortunately, their secret ingredient was austerity.

[..] for the last 50 years, every austerity program that the IMF has made has shrunk the victim economy. No austerity program has ever helped an economy grow. No budget surplus has ever helped an economy grow, because a budget surplus sucks money out of the economy.

As for the conditionalities, the so-called reforms, they are an Orwellian term for anti-reform, for cutting back pensions and rolling back the progress that the labor movement has made in the last half century. So, the lenders knew very well that Greece would not grow, and that it would shrink.

 

So, the question is, why does this junk economics continue, decade after decade? The reason is that the loans are made to Greece precisely because Greece couldn’t pay. When a country can’t pay, the rules at the IMF and EU and the German bankers behind it say, don’t worry, we will simply insist that you sell off your public domain. Sell off your land, your transportation, your ports, your electric utilities.

[..] If Greece continues to repay the loan, if it does not withdraw from the euro, then it is going to be in a permanent depression, as far as the eye can see. Greece is suffering the result of these bad loans. It is already in a longer depression today, a deeper depression, than it was in the 1930s.

[..] when Greece fails, that’s a success for the foreign investors that want to buy the Greek railroads. They want to take over the ports. They want to take over the land. They want the tourist sites. But most of all, they want to set an example of Greece, to show that France, the Netherlands or other countries that may think of withdrawing from the euro – withdraw and decide they would rather grow than be impoverished – that the IMF and EU will do to them just what they’re doing to Greece.

So they’re making an example of Greece. They’re going to show that finance rules, and in fact that is why both Trump and Ted Malloch have come up in support of the separatist movement in France. They’re supporting Marine Le Pen, just as Putin is supporting Marine Le Pen. There’s a perception throughout the world that finance really is a mode of warfare.

Sharmini Peries: Greece has now said, no more austerity measures. We’re not going to agree to them. So, this is going to amount to an impasse that is not going to be resolvable. Should Greece exit the euro?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Yes, it should, but the question is how should it do it, and on what terms? The problem is not only leaving the euro. The problem really is the foreign debt that was bad debt that it was loaded onto by the Eurozone. If you leave the euro and still pay the foreign debt, then you’re still in a permanent depression from which you can never exit. There’s a broad moral principle here: If you lend money to a country that your statistics show cannot pay the debt, is there really a moral obligation to pay the debt? Greece did have a commission two years ago saying that this debt is odious. But it’s not enough just to say there’s an odious debt. You have to have something more positive.

[..] what is needed is a Declaration of Rights. Just as the Westphalia rules in 1648, a Universal Declaration that countries should not be attacked in war, that countries should not be overthrown by other countries. I think, the Declaration of International Law has to realize that no country should be obliged to impose poverty on its population, and sell off the public domain in order to pay its foreign creditors.

[..] the looming problem is that you have to pay debts that are so far beyond your ability to pay that you’ll end up like Haiti did after it rebelled after the French Revolution.

[..] A few years after that, in 1824, Greece had a revolution and found the same problem. It borrowed from the Ricardo brothers, the brothers of David Ricardo, the economist and lobbyist for the bankers in London. Just like the IMF, he said that any country can afford to repay its debts, because of automatic stabilization. Ricardo came out with a junk economics theory that is still held by the IMF and the European Union today, saying that indebted countries can automatically pay.

Well, Greece ended up taking on an enormous debt, paying interest but still defaulting again and again. Each time it had to give up more sovereignty. The result was basically a constant depression. Slow growth is what retarded Greece and much of the rest of southern Europe. So unless they tackle the debt problem, membership in the Eurozone or the European Union is really secondary.

There is no such question as “why did austerity fail ‘in a particular case'”?. Austerity always fails. You could perhaps come up with a theoretical example in which a society greatly overspends and toning down spending might balance some things, but other than that, and nothing in what we see today resembles such an example, austerity can only work out badly. And that’s before, as Michael Hudson suggests, austerity is used as a means to conquer people and countries in a financial warfare setting.

This is because our economies (as measured in GDP) are 60-70% dependent on consumer spending. Ergo, when you force consumer spending down through austerity measures, GDP must and will of necessity come down with it. And if you cut spending, stores will close, and then their suppliers will, and they will fire their workers, which will further cut consumer spending etc. It doesn’t get simpler than that.

There is a lot of talk about boosting exports etc., but exports make up only a relatively small part of most economies, even in the US, compared to domestic consumption. As still is the case in virtually every economy, more exports will never make up for what you lose by severely cutting wages and pensions while at the same time raising taxes across the board (Greek reality). The only possible result from this is misery and lower government revenues, in a vicious circle, dragging an economy ever further down.

Since this is so obvious a 5-year old can figure it out in 5 minutes, the reason for imposing the kind of austerity measures that the Eurogroup has unleashed upon Greece must inevitably be questioned in the way professor Hudson does. If someone owes you a substantial amount of money, the last thing you want to do is make sure they cannot pay it back. You want such a person to have a -good- job, a source of income, that pays enough so that they can pay you back. Unless you have your eyes on their home, their car, their daughters, their assets.

What the EU and IMF do with Greece is the exact opposite of that. They’re making sure that Greece gets poorer every day, and the Greeks get poorer, ensuring that the debt, whether it’s odious or not -and that is a very valid question-, will never be paid back. And then they can move in and snap up all of the country’s -rich- resources on the cheap. But in the process, they create a very unstable country, something that may seem to be to their benefit but will blow up in their faces.

It’s not the first time that I say the EU and the US would be well advised to ensure Greece is a stable society, but they all continue to forcibly lead the cradle of democracy in the exact opposite direction.

The best metaphor I can think of is: Austerity is like bloodletting in the Middle Ages, only with a lower success rate.

 

 

Mar 152017
 
 March 15, 2017  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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Russell Lee Proprietor of small store in market square, Waco, Texas 1939

 


MSNBC’s Non-Story: Trump Made $150 Million, Paid 25% Tax Rate (ZH)
The Most Important Chart To See Before The Dutch Election (Ed Harrison)
Fragmentation Is the Solution, Not the Problem (CHS)
Economists Are Political Actors (Sapir)
One Chart That Captures the Debate Over Quantitative Easing (BBG)
Fed Expected To Raise Rates As US Economy Flexes Muscle (R.)
Britain Is Politically Dead From The Neck Down (Monbiot)
Turkish Paradoxes (K.)
World’s Spiders Eat More “Meat” Than All Of Mankind (G.)
Monsanto Accused of Ghostwriting Papers on Roundup Cancer Risk (BBG)
Monsanto Colluded With EPA, Could Not Prove Roundup Doesn’t Cause Cancer (ZH)
Greece: A Year of Suffering for Asylum Seekers (HRW)
As Greek Crisis Grinds On, Children Pay Price (K.)

 

 

Boomerang.

MSNBC’s Non-Story: Trump Made $150 Million, Paid 25% Tax Rate (ZH)

While Rachel Maddow drones on with the coherence of Janet Yellen, losing thousands of viewers by the minute, the MSNBC anchor was promptly scooped not only by the White House which revealed her “secret” one hour in advance, but also by the Daily Beast which reported that its contributor David Cay Johnston had obtained the first two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal income tax return, allegedly receiving them in the mail, and posted his “analysts” on his website, DCReport.org. According to the documents, Trump and his wife Melania paid $38 million in total income tax, consisting of $5.3 million in regular federal income tax, and an additional $31 million of “alternative minimum tax,” or AMT.

The White House statement confirmed the finding: “Before being elected President, Mr. Trump was one of the most successful businessmen in the world with a responsibility to his company, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required,” the White House said in a statement. “That being said, Mr. Trump paid $38 million dollars even after taking into account large scale depreciation for construction, on an income of more than $150 million dollars, as well as paying tens of millions of dollars in other taxes such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes and this illegally published return proves just that.” As the Beast notes, 2005 was the year that Trump, then a newly minted reality star, made his last big score as a real-life real estate developer, when he sold two properties, one on Manhattan’s west side and one in San Francisco, to Hong Kong investors, accounting for the lion’s share of his income that year.

“It is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns,” the White House statement concluded. “The dishonest media can continue to make this part of their agenda, while the President will focus on his, which includes tax reform that will benefit all Americans.” But the real story here is that there is no story: what MSNBC confirmed is that Trump made more money than some of his critics said he made in the period in question, and more importantly, that he paid a generous effective income tax rate, well above the 14.1% rate paid by Mitt Romney, and even higher than the 13.5% federal tax rate paid by Bernie Sanders in 2014.

Read more …

Three articles in a row that deal with decentralization, each from their own angle. Most important chart I don’t know, but a good indicator of the entire west moving away from traditional parties. The majority of votes may go to new parties, not established ones.

The Most Important Chart To See Before The Dutch Election (Ed Harrison)

The present Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, is the first Prime Minister from a party other than the two traditional centrist parties, the PvdA and the CDA, and their predecessor parties since the Dutch constitution and voting system was fundamentally changed in 1917. Clearly, we are seeing a change in voting patterns. But what is even more remarkable is that right now poling for parties that have always been in opposition is almost half of the vote for this election. Why it matters: We are in the midst of an economic upswing in Europe and globally as well. By all macro accounts, the Dutch economy is performing well. Yet, between them, previous ruling coalition parties —the VVD, PvdA, CDA, D66 and CU — are projected to only get 52% of the vote.


Source: Legatum Institute

They could even get fewer votes than the parties that have never been in government during the 100 years of the modern Dutch electoral system. People talk about voters turning to populists. But what happens to electoral patterns in a recession — or another sovereign debt crisis? And how would more populist platforms or parties in Europe deal with the existing economic orthodoxy, dominated by the stability and growth pact’s 3 and 60% deficit-debt hurdles? The next coalition in the Netherlands could be unstable, as it is likely to be cobbled together to exclude the PVV. Overall, the political risks in Europe may be high right now, but depending on how the economy does, the risks can rise further still.

Read more …

As I’ve addressed many times. Centralization is in the past.

Fragmentation Is the Solution, Not the Problem (CHS)

The fragmentation of political consensus (i.e. the consent of the citizenry) is presented by the Powers That Be and their media servants as being a disaster. The implicit fear is real enough: how can we rule the entire nation-empire if it fragments?\ As I noted the other day, fragmentation terrifies the Establishment of racketeers and insiders, for when the centrally-enforced rentier skims and scams collapse, those who own and control the rentier skims, scams and rackets will lose the source of their wealth and power. To understand why fragmentation is the solution rather than the problem, we have to look at how power is leveraged in centralized government. Let’s take the recent increase in a common pinworm treatment from $3 to $600: Pinworm prescription jumps from $3 to up to $600 a pill (via J.F.).

In a top-down, centralized hierarchy of political power (i.e. the central state), the pharmaceutical company only needs to lobby a few authorities in the central state to impose its rentier skim/scam on the entire nation. Lobbying/bribing a relative handful of federal officials and elected representatives is remarkably inexpensive: a financier or corporation only needs to focus on these few key players, and smoothing the PR pathway via a highly concentrated corporate media. A mere $5 million spent in the right places guarantees $100 million in future profits– profits earned not from open competition in a transparent market, but profits plundered as rentier skims: the product didn’t get any better or effective when the price leaped from $3 to $600, and competition was squelched by regulatory capture and high barriers to entry.

Now imagine if the pharmaceutical company had to lobby/bribe officials in each of America’s 3,142 counties to impose its rapacious rentier skim on the populace of each county. The lobbying/bribing effort will be orders of magnitude more costly and complex, and the national corporate media is less effective at the local level, where community groups and local media have some influence. If we look at the source of the 2008 Global Financial Meltdown, we find that the centralization of capital and power were the primary enablers of the meltdown. If the financial system were composed of 1,200 local banks, each of which had to comply with local and state regulations instead of five behemoth banks that had the capital and klout to buy Washington D.C.’s approval of their leverage and shady dealings, some hundreds of the smaller banks might have failed–but the system would have survived.

Read more …

Sapir is interesting. But economics is still not a science. Also addresses decentralization.

Economists Are Political Actors – Sapir (AHT)

[..] economists have appropriated a power that is not theirs. They have indeed penetrated the inner workings of the ruling apparatus. This is true at the State level, as to that of major international organizations, whether it is in the European Union, the OECD or the WTO. They are thus increasingly inclined to intervene on all social and political problems. But when they occur, it is by mixing an experts position and a position of political actors. This poses an immediate problem. For, if the expert is legitimate to speak on behalf of an acquaintance, the political actor must comply with the rule of democratic debate. By having it both ways, economists are exonerated from the problem of verification. The problem, therefore, is to know in which space one speaks, in that of pure competence or in that of political choices. If it is in the latter, it is no longer possible to accept that the “expertise” alone can decide the debate, expertise which can no longer be verified because any judgment would combine elements of competence and political values.

If one is in the political space, then the question of legitimacy arises. Now, this question immediately refers to the higher-level issue of sovereignty. In the space of politics, one asks first who is legitimate, and who is sovereign. But there is a problem that is deeper. The scientific credibility they claim to be is far from being indisputable, or undisputed. There are very serious reasons for this, which I explained in a book dating back to the early 2000s [1]. The very way in which the majority of the profession, the economists of the mainstream, understands the object of its work, is today debated and strongly criticized [2]. The methods used by these economists, the models on which they are based, are openly contested. [..] In fact, economists do politics, what nobody ever thinks to reproach them for, but they do politics by pretending not to do so, and by delegitimizing in advance any critical discourse. This is, of course, a serious attack on democracy.

[..] It is wrong here to speak of “Europe” as if it were an institution or a federation. The only reality of Europe is a historical reality, diverse, and above all a cultural reality. If you go to Vladivostok in Russia, you are in a European city. What is now a problem for democracy is the existence of the European Union, which is an institution and of which we can follow the evolution from the origin, that is to say the Maastricht Treaty. Indeed, the evolution of the European Union since 2007-2009 is a real problem. There, yes, unquestionably, we are in the presence of a structure that tends to develop itself without control or responsibility. The statements of Jean-Claude Juncker in the Greek election of January 2015 testify it [37].

The behavior of the EU and the institutions of the Euro zone call for an overall reaction because these institutions contest this freedom that is sovereignty [38]. Let us remind here the quotation from Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, the successor of the ineffable Barroso at the head of the European Commission: “There can be no democratic choice against European treaties”. This revealing statement dates from the Greek election of January 25, 2015, which precisely saw the victory of SYRIZA. In a few words, everything is said. It is the quiet and satisfied affirmation of the superiority of non-elected institutions over the voting of voters, of the superiority of the technocratic principle over the democratic principle.

Read more …

The mother of all asset bubbles.

One Chart That Captures the Debate Over Quantitative Easing

Not all price increases are created equal. Goldman Sachs raises questions about the success of the efforts by the Federal Reserve and its peers to spark inflation in the wider economy with a chart showing what’s happened with prices in the largest developed economies since the start of 2009. A replication of their analysis shows a big spread in gains. While wages would never show swings on par with the likes of high-yield bonds, the chart does illustrate how well financial markets recovered from the 2007 to 2009 meltdowns. By contrast, consumer price inflation, incomes and other such gauges of the “real” economy have put in muted performances. For politicians, the chart sums up the frustrations that have helped propel the populism that Brexiteers and Donald Trump rode to victory.

Few would question that the real economy would have been in much worse shape without the Fed, ECB and Bank of Japan’s determination to avert a financial-industry meltdown last decade, an effort that saw their balance sheets balloon by trillions of dollars. [..] Economic growth and wage increases have disappointed in recent years, depressed by poor productivity gains and historically low labor-force participation – dynamics that lie outside the purview of central banks. Now that monetary policy makers are leaving the onus on governments to address growth, and contemplating the easing off of stimulus, the big question for investors is how resilient markets will be. For now, optimism prevails – everything from corporate-bond premiums to emerging-market bonds are flashing confidence. It’s perhaps no wonder: though the Fed has ended its QE, continuing programs at the ECB and BOJ are driving almost $200 billion of purchases a month, according to Deutsche Bank estimates.

Read more …

Yawn…

Fed Expected To Raise Rates As US Economy Flexes Muscle (R.)

The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates for the second time in three months on Wednesday, encouraged by strong monthly job gains and confidence that inflation is finally rising to its target. A rate hike at the conclusion of the Fed’s latest two-day policy meeting is already baked into bond yields and financial markets overall, with investors putting the likelihood of such a move at 95%, according to CME Group’s FedWatch program. Attention is turning instead to whether the U.S. central bank will signal an even faster pace of monetary tightening this year than the current three rate hikes that it projected at the December policy meeting.

“Expectations have some catching up to do regarding the Fed’s need to ‘lean into the wind’ of rising inflation, strong growth, robust sentiment, easy financial conditions, and the likelihood of fiscal stimulus in 2018,” analysts from Goldman Sachs wrote ahead of the meeting. They said they regarded a fourth rate increase this year as a “close call.” A rate increase on Wednesday would push the Fed’s target overnight lending rate to a range of between 0.75% and 1.00%, still low but approaching the range that the central bank has typically operated within. The Fed is scheduled to release its latest policy statement along with updated economic forecasts at 2 p.m. EDT. Fed Chair Janet Yellen is due to hold a press conference half an hour later.

Read more …

“Will my family and I truly be better off by going it alone? Will we really be more safe and secure?”

Britain Is Politically Dead From The Neck Down (Monbiot)

Here is the question the people of Scotland will face in the next independence referendum: when England falls out of the boat like a block of concrete, do you want your foot tied to it? It would be foolish to deny that there are risks in leaving the United Kingdom. Scotland’s economy is weak, not least because it has failed to wean itself off North Sea oil. There are major questions, not yet resolved, about the currency it would use; its trading relationship with the rump of the UK; and its association with the European Union, which it’s likely to try to rejoin. But the risks of staying are as great or greater. Ministers are already trying to reconcile us to the possibility of falling out of the EU without a deal.

If this happens, Britain would be the only one of the G20 nations without special access to EU trade – “a very destructive outcome leading to mutually assured damage for the EU and the UK”, according to the Commons foreign affairs committee. As the government has a weak hand, an obsession with past glories and an apparent yearning for a heroic gesture of self-destruction, this is not an unlikely result. On the eve of the first independence referendum, in September 2014, David Cameron exhorted the people of Scotland to ask themselves: “Will my family and I truly be better off by going it alone? Will we really be more safe and secure?” Thanks to his machinations, the probable answer is now: yes.

In admonishing Scotland for seeking to protect itself from this chaos, the government applies a simple rule: whatever you say about Britain’s relationship with Europe, say the opposite about Scotland’s relationship with Britain. In her speech to the Scottish Conservatives’ spring conference, Theresa May observed that “one of the driving forces behind the union’s creation was the remorseless logic that greater economic strength and security come from being united”. She was talking about the UK, but the same remorseless logic applies to the EU. In this case, however, she believes that our strength and security will be enhanced by leaving. “Politics is not a game, and government is not a platform from which to pursue constitutional obsessions,” she stormed – to which you can only assent.

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“And the last of the paradoxes is that Turkish electoral law prohibits pre-election rallies abroad..”

Turkish Paradoxes (K.)

What Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to accomplish is perfectly clear: He wants to win the April 16 referendum on constitutional reform and thus gain the enhanced powers his ambitious nature so covets, some of which he already enjoys after turning last summer’s failed coup into an opportunity. His strategy is also clear: criminalizing any opposition, be it in actions or mere words, mainly at the expense of journalists and the Kurds, as well as condemning in summary fashion anyone perceived as being pro-Gulen. The second part of his strategy involves exporting his edginess and bullying rhetoric, first and foremost to the Aegean at the expense of Greece, and then to the European Union in a bid to win favor among Gray Wolves voters.

The Turkish president is also trying to strong-arm Western Europe into recognizing his prerogative (and that of his subordinates, though only those who vote his way next month) to a right that he himself openly scorns and denies his opponents. History is full of such paradoxes. Another is that while Erdogan accuses the West of Islamophobia, he is doing everything in his power to strengthen this sentiment because it will benefit him at the polls, as for years he has been cultivating the myth that he is the leader of all of Islam, both in the East and the West. In contrast to Erdogan, what the EU is trying to achieve vis-a-vis Ankara is not so clear, neither in terms of strategy nor even in tactics. Overall, it’s hard to know what it’s thinking about Turkey’s “European prospects” and, more specifically right now, about the pre-election speeches of Turkish pro-Erdogan officials in EU member-states.

Pre-election anxiety strengthened by the rising popularity of anti-systemic, anti-migrant, far-right forces, has been instrumental in Europe as well, especially in the Netherlands and Germany. It has resulted in bans against Turkish officials that demonstrate fear rather than faith in the strength of democracy, even when it is exposed to the test of regimes which are hardly democratic, such as Turkey. Meanwhile, fears that the European Union’s refugee deal with Turkey may collapse have prevented the German and Dutch leaderships from openly condemning the human rights violations in Turkey, resulting in them basically swallowing profound insults from Erdogan and some of his ministers referring to fascists and Nazis. Here’s another paradox: Turkey, which didn’t exactly shine in the war against Nazism, condemning the Netherlands, a victim of Nazism.

And the last of the paradoxes is that Turkish electoral law prohibits pre-election rallies abroad.

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I’d be interested to see a study like this done for bats. They eat a lot of insects. And there are lots of them: 1/3 of all mammals is a bat I recall reading.

World’s Spiders Eat More “Meat” Than All Of Mankind (G.)

The world’s spiders eat 400-800m tonnes of insects every year – as much meat and fish as humans consume over the same period, a study said Tuesday. In the first analysis of its kind, researchers used data from 65 previous studies to estimate that a total of 25m metric tonnes of spiders exist on Earth. Taking into account how much food spiders need to survive, the team then calculated the eight-legged creatures’ annual haul of insects and other invertebrates. “Our estimates … suggest that the annual prey kill of the global spider community is in the range of 400-800m metric tons,” they wrote in the journal The Science of Nature. This showed just how big a role spiders play in keeping pests and disease-carriers at bay – especially in forests and grasslands where most of them live.

“We hope that these estimates and their significant magnitude raise public awareness and increase the level of appreciation for the important global role of spiders,” the study authors wrote. For context, the study points out that humans consume about 400m tonnes of meat and fish every year, while whales feed on 280-500 tonnes and seabirds about 70m tonnes of seafood. There are about 45,000 known spider species, all of them meat-eating. And the critters can travel far to feed, swinging from place to place on silken threads that allow them to cover up to 30km (19 miles) in a day. Spiders are found everywhere from the Arctic to the most arid of deserts, in caves, on ocean shores, sand dunes and flood plains, the study authors said.

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Unbelievable.

Monsanto Accused of Ghostwriting Papers on Roundup Cancer Risk (BBG)

Monsanto was accused in court documents of ghostwriting scientific literature that led a U.S. regulator to conclude a key chemical in its Roundup weed killer shouldn’t be classified as carcinogenic. Lawyers suing the company on behalf of farmers and others, who claim exposure to glyphosate caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, alleged in a court filing which was partially blacked out until Tuesday that the Environmental Protection Agency “may be unaware of Monsanto’s deceptive authorship practice.” The filing was made public by a federal judge in San Francisco handling the litigation. The judge said last month he’s inclined to require a retired EPA official to submit to questioning by plaintiffs’ lawyers who contend he had a “highly suspicious” relationship with Monsanto.

The former official oversaw a committee that found insufficient evidence to conclude glyphosate causes cancer and left his job last year after his report was leaked to the press. The plaintiff lawyers said in the filing that Monsanto’s toxicology manager and his boss were ghost writers for two of the reports, including one from 2000, that the EPA committee relied on to reach its conclusion. Among the documents unsealed Tuesday was a February 2015 internal e-mail exchange at the company about how to contain costs for a research paper. The plaintiff lawyers cited it to support their claim that the EPA report is unreliable, unlike a report by an international agency that classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.

“A less expensive/more palatable approach” is to rely on experts only for some areas of contention, while “we ghost-write the Exposure Tox & Genetox sections,” one Monsanto employee wrote to another. The names of outside scientists could be listed on the publication, “but we would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak,” according to the e-mail, which goes to on say that’s how Monsanto handled the 2000 study.

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And this is even more unbelievable. After 25 years of Roundup being on the market, not one cancer study has been done.

Monsanto Colluded With EPA, Could Not Prove Roundup Doesn’t Cause Cancer (ZH)

newly unsealed court documents released earlier today seemingly reveal a startling effort on the part of both Monsanto and the EPA to work in concert to kill and/or discredit independent, albeit inconvenient, cancer research conducted by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)….more on this later. But, before we get into the competing studies, here is a brief look at the ‘extensive’ work that Monsanto and the EPA did prior to originally declaring Roundup safe for use (hint: not much). As the excerpt below reveals, the EPA effectively declared Roundup safe for use without even conducting tests on the actual formulation, but instead relying on industry research on just one of the product’s active ingredients.

“EPA’s minimal standards do not require human health data submissions related to the formulated product – here, Roundup. Instead, EPA regulations require only studies and data that relate to the active ingredient, which in the case of Roundup is glyphosate. As a result, the body of scientific literature EPA has reviewed is not only primarily provided by the industry, but it also only considers one part of the chemical ingredients that make up Roundup.” Meanwhile, if that’s not enough for you, Donna Farmer, Monsanto’s lead toxicologist, even admitted in her deposition that she “cannot say that Roundup does not cause cancer” because “[w]e [Monsanto] have not done the carcinogenicity studies with Roundup.”

[..] In early 2015, once it became clear that the World Health Organization’s IARC was working on their own independent study of Roundup, Monsanto immediately launched their own efforts to preemptively discredit any results that might be deemed ‘inconvenient’. That said, Monsanto, the $60 billion behemoth, couldn’t possibly afford the $250,000 bill that would come with conducting a legitimate scientific study led by accredited scientists. Instead, they decided to “ghost-write” key sections of their report themselves and plotted to then have the independent scientists just “sign their names so to speak.”

Finally, when all else fails, you call in those “special favors” in Washington D.C. that you’ve paid handsomely for over the years. And that’s where Jess Rowland, the EPA’s Deputy Division Director for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and chair of the Agency’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee, comes in to assure you that he’s fully exploiting his role as the “chair of the CARC” to kill any potentially damaging research…”if I can kill this I should get a medal.”

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Even HRW has moved to using the politically correct ‘asylum seekers’. for refugees.

Greece: A Year of Suffering for Asylum Seekers (HRW)

The EU-Turkey deal has trapped thousands of people in abysmal conditions on the Greek islands for the past year, while denying most access to asylum procedures and refugee protection, Human Rights Watch said today. This assessment of conditions is released ahead of the first anniversary of the agreement, signed on March 18, 2016. To carry out the deal, the Greek government has adopted a containment policy, keeping asylum seekers confined to the islands, including in the so-called refugee hotspots and other reception facilities, to facilitate speedy processing and return to Turkey. But continued arrivals, the mismanagement of aid funding, and the slow pace of decision-making, as well as the positive decisions of Greek appeals committees rejecting summary returns to Turkey as unsafe, have led to overcrowded and abysmal conditions on the Greek islands.

These factors, combined with the Greek authorities’ failure to properly identify vulnerable asylum seekers for transfer to the mainland, have resulted in deteriorating security conditions, unnecessary suffering, and despair. “The EU-Turkey deal has been an unmitigated disaster for the very people it is supposed to protect – the asylum seekers trapped in appalling conditions on Greek islands,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Greek authorities should ensure that people landing on Greece’s shores have meaningful access to asylum and put an end to the containment policy for asylum seekers. The deal’s flawed assumption that Turkey is a safe country for asylum seekers would allow Greece to transfer them back to Turkey without considering the merits of their asylum claims.

But in the months after the deal was completed, Greek asylum appeals committees have rightly ruled in many instances that Turkey does not provide effective protection for refugees and that asylum applications should be admitted for regular examination on their merits in Greece. Following EU pressure, however, Athens changed the composition of the appeals committees in June, and the restructured committees have ruled in at least 20 cases that Turkey was a safe country, even though it excludes non-Europeans from its refugee protection. That finding was challenged by two Syrian asylum seekers at Greece’s highest court, the Council of State, which heard their case on March 10. No one has yet been forcibly returned to Turkey on the grounds that their asylum application was inadmissible because they could obtain effective protection in Turkey. But if the Council of State turns down the appeal, it could pave the way for mass returns of asylum seekers to Turkey.

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Boy, the sadness…

As Greek Crisis Grinds On, Children Pay Price (K.)

In Greece’s grinding economic crisis, a home for abused children is now taking in those whose parents are struggling to feed them. It is perhaps the darkest sign of economic devastation in Greece, where traditionally strong family ties are starting to crumble after years of depression. A quarter of Greece’s workforce is unemployed and a quarter of its children live in poverty, according to United Nations figures, forcing parents to depend on grandparents for handouts. But pensions too have been cut a dozen times. In Athens, the Model National Nursery, set up a century ago for orphans of war, can hardly keep up with the number of parents turning to it for help. Unable to cover their basic needs, parents leave their children in the home all week.

Iro Zervaki, its head, says at least 40 children are on the waiting list, four times as many as a couple of years ago. The home sleeps 25 in a bare room with rows of beds draped in blue blankets, and lacks the staff and funds to increase capacity, she said. Most places are for abused children. Dozens of other children, all aged two to five, come in daily, but the days away from their parents are long. “We had incidents where children even attempted to leave, to run away, to go to their mother,” Zervaki said. In the buzzing playground, a little girl tugged the social worker’s blouse and yelled: “Miss! When will I go to my mum?” “They can’t tell the days apart so every day they ask: ‘Is it Friday?’” Anthoula Zarmakoupi, the social worker, said. “They know mum will pick them up at the weekend.”

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