Dec 062017
 
 December 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Balthus Therèse dreaming 1938

 

Just How Big Could The Next Correction Be? (Roberts)
Second Canadian Mortgage Lender Crashes After Admitting Mortgage Fraud (ZH)
Toronto Housing Prices Fall Amid Growing Pool of Homes for Sale (BBG)
Plunder Capitalism (Paul Craig Roberts)
‘We Can’t Go On Like This’: Resignation In EU As Brexit Talks Stutter (G.)
Theresa May Faces New Brexit Revolt From Boris Johnson (BBG)
Most Brits Still Want Brexit But Expect It All to End Badly (BBG)
Juncker Seeks Greater Commission Control over Eurozone (Spiegel)
What Now? (Jim Kunstler)
The Premature Delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear (CP)
Greek Pension Cuts To Hit 70% Since The Start Of The Bailouts (K.)
Aid Groups Warn Of Looming Emergency At Greek Asylum Centres (G.)
Europe’s Migrant Crisis: Millions Still to Come (Kern)
US Homeless Population Rises For The First Time Since The Great Recession (G.)
Nearly 130,000 British Children To Wake Up Homeless This Christmas (Ind.)

 

 

From a larger article by Lance, This is Nuts. A 40% crash is starting to sound like a lowball.

Just How Big Could The Next Correction Be? (Roberts)

Just how big could the next correction be? As stated above, just a correction back to the initial “critical support” set at the 2016 lows would equate to a 29.1% decline. However, the risk, as noted above, is that a correction of that magnitude would begin to trigger margin calls, junk bond defaults, blow up the “VIX” short-carry and trigger a wave of automated selling as the algorithms begin to sell in tandem. Such a combination of events could conceivably push markets to either strong support at the previous two bull market peaks or to support at the 2011 peak which coincides with the topping formations of 2000 and 2007. Such a correction would entail either a 41.1% to 49.2% decline.

I won’t even mention the remote, but real, possibility of a nearly 75% retracement to the previous lows of the last two “bear markets.” That can’t happen you say? It wouldn’t even match the decline following the 1929 crash of 85%. Furthermore, as technical analyst J. Brett Freeze, CFA, recently noted: “The Wave Principle suggests that the S&P 500 Index is completing a 60-year, five-wave motive structure. If this analysis is correct, it also suggests that a multi-year, three-wave corrective structure is immediately ahead. We do not make explicit price forecasts, but the Wave Principle proposes to us that, at a minimum, the lows of 2009 will be surpassed as the corrective structure completes.” Anything is possible.

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Behing every bubble there is fraud.

Second Canadian Mortgage Lender Crashes After Admitting Mortgage Fraud (ZH)

Back in April/May, Canada’s biggest mortgage lender, Home Capital Group, crashed its way into the headlines, coming clean over its balance sheet-full of liar loans, suffered a bank run, and was forced to take emergency liquidty from taxpaying pensioners, and was eventually bailed out by good old Warren Buffett. “Probably nothing…”

Well just when everyone though that crisis was over, a second cockroach in the Canadian mortgage bubble fiasco just emerged… Laurentian Bank of Canada fell the most in almost nine years after reporting it found customer misrepresentations on some mortgage loans it sold to another firm.

Echoing problems that almost sunk Home Capital Group, Bloomberg reports that: An audit “identified documentation issues and client misrepresentations” with some mortgages from its B2B Bank unit that were sold to a third-party firm, the lender said Tuesday in its annual report. Laurentian said it will repurchase about C$89 million ($70 million) of those mortgages in the first quarter, or 4.9% of such loans sold to the firm. It will buy back an additional C$91 million of mortgages “inadvertently” sold to the firm, also in the first quarter. Just as we saw with Home Capital, the CEO initially shrugged it off as immaterial: “This is largely a documentation and securitization-eligibility issue,” Chief Executive Officer Francois Desjardins said in a call with analysts. “It is not material for the bank, its operations, its funding nor its capital. We have worked to change processes to ensure that this issue is resolved.”

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Pop.

Toronto Housing Prices Fall Amid Growing Pool of Homes for Sale (BBG)

Canada’s largest housing market continues to see prices fall amid a widening pool of homes for sale, though there are signs the correction is beginning to lure in some new buyers. The Toronto Real Estate Board’s benchmark home price index fell for the sixth consecutive month, down another 0.4% from October. The index has fallen 8.8% since May – the largest six-month decline in the history of data back to 2000. For the first time since 2009, the average price of a home sold in Toronto – at C$761,757 ($600,991) in November – failed to surpass levels from a year earlier.

Toronto’s housing market, dubbed one of the riskiest housing bubble cities by UBS, has slumped over the past few months amid government rules and harsher mortgage guidelines aimed at curbing demand. That’s coincided with a sharp increase in supply with new listings up 37% from a year earlier. [..] Toronto realtors sold 7,374 units in November. While that’s down 13% from a year earlier, the number is one of the highest readings for the month over the past decade. The correction in Toronto’s housing market has been primarily in Toronto’s detached market, where average prices surpassed C$1.2 million earlier this year. The price index for single family detached homes is down 12% since May. The condominium price index is little changed from record levels earlier this year.

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“..the tax cut edges us closer to revolution resulting from complete distrust of government..”

Plunder Capitalism (Paul Craig Roberts)

I deplore the tax cut that has passed Congress. It is not an economic policy tax cut, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with supply-side economics. The entire purpose is to raise equity prices by providing equity owners with more capital gains and dividends. In other words, it is legislation that makes equity owners richer, thus further polarizing society into a vast arena of poverty and near-poverty and the One%, or more precisely a fraction of the One% wallowing in billions of dollars. Unless our rulers can continue to control the explanations, the tax cut edges us closer to revolution resulting from complete distrust of government. The current tax legislation drops the corporate tax rate to 20%. This means that global corporations registered in the US will be taxed at a lower income tax rate than a licensed practical nurse making $50,000 per year.

The nurse, if single, faces in 2017 a 25% marginal tax rate on all income over $37,950. A single person is taxed at a rate of 33% on all income above $191,651. 33% was the top tax rate extracted from medieval serfs, and approaches the tax rate on US 19th century slaves. Such an upper middle class income as $191,651 sounds extraordinary to most Americans, but it is so far from the multi-million dollar annual incomes of the rich as to be invisible. In America, it is the shrinking middle and upper middle class incomes that bear the burden of income taxation. The rich with their capital gains from their equity holdings are taxed at 15%. Even single individuals who earn between $1 and $9,325 are taxed at 10% on their pittance.

The neoliberal economists who are the shills for the rich, Wall Street, and the Banks-Too-Big-Too-Fail claim, erroneously, that by cutting the corporate income tax rate to 20% all sorts of offshored profits will be brought back to the US and lead to a booming economy and higher wages. This is absolute total nonsense. The money won’t come back, because it is invested abroad where labor costs are lower, if invested at all instead of buying back the corporation’s stock or buying other existing companies. After 20 years of offshoring US manufacturing and professional tradable skills and the incomes associated with the jobs, who is going to invest in America? The American population has no income with which to purchase the goods and services from new investment, and the American population’s credit cards are maxed out.

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“We have to treat the UK political system like a rotten egg..”

‘We Can’t Go On Like This’: Resignation In EU As Brexit Talks Stutter (G.)

Theresa May has less than a week to salvage a Brexit deal that would open the way to trade talks before the end of the year, amid increasing signs of impatience within the EU over her handling of the process. EU negotiators expect the prime minister to return to Brussels very soon, but have said time is running out to strike a deal at a European summit next week. “The show is now in London,” said the chief spokesman of the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. “We stand ready here in the commission to resume talks with the United Kingdom at any moment in time when we get the sign that London is ready.” While the next “final” deadline for stage one has not been defined publicly, several EU sources said the deal would have to be struck by the end of the week, with either Friday or Sunday as the last resort.

One EU ambassador told the Guardian the failure to reach a deal on Northern Ireland was a microcosm of a wider problem. “At root the problem is that [May] seems incapable of making a decision and is afraid of her own shadow,” the source said. “We cannot go on like this, with no idea what the UK wants. She just has to have the conversation with her own cabinet, and if that upsets someone, or someone resigns, so be it. She has to say what kind of trading relationship she is seeking. We cannot do it for her, and she cannot defer forever.” For weeks, European officials have walked a tightrope between sticking to the EU’s tough negotiating stance and seeking to avoid action or words that could destabilise the fragile May government. “We have to treat the UK political system like a rotten egg,” said one EU source in the run-up to Monday’s talks, suggesting that if “the realities of the world” dawned too soon, the British government could become more fragile.

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Cats in a sack.

Theresa May Faces New Brexit Revolt From Boris Johnson (BBG)

Prime Minister Theresa May is facing a revolt from inside her Cabinet over her plan to keep U.K. regulations aligned with the European Union after Brexit, a split that threatens to undermine her hopes of breaking the deadlock in negotiations. Efforts to rescue Brexit talks from an embarrassing breakdown on Monday prompted fresh divisions in the U.K. Cabinet on Tuesday, as leading Brexit-backers challenged the prime minister just days before a key deadline in talks. Brexit Secretary David Davis told Parliament he wanted the whole country to remain close to EU economic regulations after the split, a move that could have helped unblock talks that broke down over the issue of the Irish border.

Keeping the whole U.K. close to EU regulation would make it easier to avoid a border on the island of Ireland without putting up a new barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. The prospect of a border within the U.K. is a red line for the Northern Irish party that keeps Theresa May in power in London. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who together led the Brexit campaign in last year’s referendum, raised concerns about the plan, according to people familiar with the matter. The ministers believe the proposals threaten to dilute Brexit and Johnson raised his fears during a meeting of May’s Cabinet on Tuesday. Part of the Brexit narrative in the last 18 months has been that the split will allow the U.K. to break free from EU rules and chart its own course with free-trade deals around the world.

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“What’s clear, is that May will be blamed for any failure.”

Most Brits Still Want Brexit But Expect It All to End Badly (BBG)

British voters increasingly think Brexit is being mishandled. But that doesn’t mean they’re turning their backs on the idea of abandoning the EU – just on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government. A report by the National Centre For Social Research published Wednesday found that 52% of people believe the country will get a bad deal, compared to 37% in February, a month before May began divorce proceedings. Even before this week’s embarrassing breakdown, only one in five Brits said the government was handling the talks well. Among those supporting Brexit, 61% thought May was conducting talks badly. The survey of 2,200 people was completed in October, before reports that May was increasing the amount of money she was willing to pay to leave and also before the recent dramatic turn of events that has May at the mercy of a Northern Irish ally.

The findings speak to the sense of disconnect between how the population feels about a process they triggered with the 2016 referendum – and the political realities of a fragile government riven with divisions and bogged down in increasingly technical negotiations. The survey found little change in people’s attitude to Brexit itself. [..] this suggests that rather than regretting their vote, Leave supporters are coming to see it as a good idea badly implemented, something that could help Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition Labour Party. While Britons wonder what is going on – and perhaps even why leaving needs to be so complicated – the EU gave May until the end of the week to deliver a solution to an intractable problem – how to avoid a hard border in Ireland after Northern Ireland leaves the bloc along with the rest of the U.K.

Britain needs to provide an answer that satisfies all sides to move on to trade. What’s clear, is that May will be blamed for any failure. She set the clock for Britain’s exit in March 2019 and was relying on a summit next week to get EU leaders to allow discussions to begin on commerce, as well as a grace period to give businesses time to adapt.

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Merkel blinking will have far reaching repercussions. But Europeans don’t want more centralization.

Juncker Seeks Greater Commission Control over Eurozone (Spiegel)

Jean-Claude Juncker never lets others outshine him if he spots an opportunity to give the European project a boost. And that goes for friends and enemies alike. Indeed, the European Commission president has now come up with a project that not only transgressions the mandate given him by the leaders of the European Union member states, but also pits him against all the Eurozone finance ministers as well. Juncker was supposed to reach an agreement with finance ministers from the common currency area on proposals for deepening European integration he will present at the forthcoming EU summit later this month. Plans for greater EU integration are currently in vogue, a trend started by French President Emmanuel Macron, who presented his ideas for a better Europe two days after the German election in late September.

But instead of getting the finance ministers on board, Juncker has embarked on an ego trip. On Wednesday, the Commission is to present its plan without any input from the finance ministers whatsoever. The Eurogroup of 19 Eurozone finance ministers met in Brussels on Monday and on Tuesday it was the turn of Ecofin, which represents the EU finance ministers, but officially neither group was consulted on the Commission’s plans. “The entire approach is a disaster,” one participant complained. And because the national experts had no input, it’s unlikely that EU heads of state and government will do more than simply take note of Juncker’s proposals. The timing is an expression of rivalry between the Commission and the EU member states when it comes to questions relating to theeconomic and currency union. And the finance ministers aren’t likely to be impressed with the content, either. After all, the Commission’s proposals are designed to increase its own influence at the expense of the member states.

But there is more at stake than just a few bruised Brussels egos. The clash over competencies between European institutions risks torpedoing the French president’s drive for reform. For the first time in years, the French have seized the opportunity to once again set the tone in the EU. Yet, their call to arms is being met with hardly any response. Germany is preoccupied with forming a new government – and nothing much happens in Brussels without Chancellor Angela Merkel. Juncker, though, does not want to stand accused of wasting the chance to implement reforms. His central idea is to turn the EU bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, into an EU institution.

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How much longer for Mueller now the WSJ has called for his head?

What Now? (Jim Kunstler)

“Contact with Russians.” Grown men and women, doubling and re-doubling down on a political fantasy, repeat this prayer hour after hour on the cable channels and Web waves as if trying to exorcise a nation possessed by the unholy hosts of Hell. But such vicars of the news as Wolf Blitzer, Rachel Maddow, Chuck Todd, and Dean Baquet (of The New York Times) only shove the country closer to a cliff of constitutional crisis. To a certain class of people — a class that includes a lot of Intellectuals-Yet-Idiots, as Nassim Taleb has dubbed them — President Donald Trump is a figure of supernatural malignity who must be ousted at all costs. I did not vote for Donald Trump and I do not admire him; but I rather resent the dishonesty that is being marshaled against him, especially the mis-use of judicial procedure and the mendacious propagandizing of the nation in service to that end.

This is what it comes down to: General Mike Flynn, designated National Security Advisor, conferred with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak after the 2016 election about two pressing matters: a vote in the UN orchestrated against Israel, and sanctions imposed against Russia by outgoing President Obama on December 28, two weeks before the inauguration. Both these matters could be viewed as bits of mischief designed deliberately to create foreign policy problems for the incoming administration. Flynn’s discussions with Ambassador Kislyak amounted to what are called “back channel talks.” These informal, probing communications occur all the time and everywhere in American foreign policy, especially the transitional months every four or eight years when a new president comes in. They are necessarily secret because they concern issues of high sensitivity.

Every incoming presidential staff in my lifetime (going back to Dwight Eisenhower) has conducted back-channel talks with foreign diplomats in order to directly assess where things stand, minus public posturing and bloviating. And so that is what Mike Flynn did, as incoming National Security Advisor, after an eight-year run of worsening relations with Russia under Obama that Trump publicly pledged to improve. And now he’s been charged with lying to the FBI about it. Which raises some enormous and troubling questions well beyond the simple charge, questions that suggest a US government at war against itself.

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What’s America without grizzlies?

The Premature Delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear (CP)

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has decided to delist the Yellowstone grizzly bears, removing them from the protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). And state wildlife agencies in Wyoming and Montana are anxious to start sport hunting the bears. If you follow environmental politics, it is very clear why industries like the oil and gas industry, livestock industry and timber industry and the politicians they elect to represent their interests are anxious to see the bear delisted. Without ESA listing, environmentally destructive practices will have fewer restrictions, hence greater profits at the expense of the bear and its habitat. Delisting is opposed by a number of environmental groups [..] Conspicuously absent from the list of organizations opposing delisting is the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Proponents of delisting, including the FWS, argue that with as many as 700 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, thus ensuring the bears are now safe from extinction. Seven hundred bears may sound like a big number. But this figure lacks context. Consider that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is nearly 28 million acres in total area. That is nearly the same acreage as the state of New York. Now ask yourself if 700 bears spread over an area the size of New York sounds like a lot of bears? Many population ecologists believe 700 bears is far too small a number of animals to ensure long-term population viability. Rather than hundreds, we need several thousand bears.

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But politicians talk of growth.

Greek Pension Cuts To Hit 70% Since The Start Of The Bailouts (K.)

The next batch of pension cuts, voted through in the last couple of years and set to come into force within the next two years, will take total losses for pensioners since the start of the bailout period in 2010 up to 70%. A recent European Commission report on the course of Greece’s bailout program revealed that the reforms passed since 2015 will slash up to 7% of the country’s GDP up to 2030. The United Pensioners network has made its own calculations and estimates that the impending cuts will exacerbate pensioners’ already difficult position, with 1.5 million of them threatened with poverty. The network argues that when the cuts expected in 2018 and 2019 are added to those implemented since 2010, the reduction in pensions will reach 70%.

Network chief Nikos Hatzopoulos notes that “owing to the additional measures up until 2019, the flexibility in employment and the reduction of state funding from 18 billion to 12 billion euros, by 2021, one in every two pensioners will get a net pension of 550 euros [per month]. If one also takes into account the reduction of the tax-free threshold, the net amount will come to 480 euros.” Pensioners who retired before 2016 stand to lose up to 18% of their main and auxiliary pensions, while the new pensions to be issued based on the law introduced in May 2016 by then minister Giorgos Katrougalos will be up to 30% lower.

More than 140,000 retirees on low pensions will see their EKAS supplement decrease in 2018, as another 238 million euros per year is to be slashed from the budget for benefits for low income pensioners. The number of recipients will drop from 210,000 to 70,000 in just one year. There will also be a reduction in new auxiliary pensions (with applications dating from January 2015), a 6% cut to the retirement lump sum, and a freeze on existing pensions for another four years, as retirees will not get the nominal raise they would normally receive based on the growth rate and inflation.

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A few hundred have been moved, but thousands more must be.

Aid Groups Warn Of Looming Emergency At Greek Asylum Centres (G.)

Humanitarian groups have warned of a looming emergency on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, the day after residents converged on Athens in protest at policies that have seen thousands of migrants and refugees marooned in reception centres. A surge in arrivals from neighbouring Turkey has seen numbers soar with officials speaking of a four-fold increase in men, women and children seeking asylum on Chios, Kos, Leros, Lesbos and Samos. Conditions are deteriorating in the vastly overcrowded camps in a situation that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on Wednesday warned was “beyond desperate”. “In Lesbos, entire families who recently arrived from countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are packed into small summer tents, under the rain and in low temperatures struggling to keep dry and warm,” said Aria Danika, MSF’s project coordinator on the island.

“In our mental health clinic we have received an average of 10 patients with acute mental distress every day, including many who tried to kill themselves or self-harm. The situation on the island was already terrible. Now it’s beyond desperate.” Demonstrators – led by delegations of officials from Chios, Lesbos and Samos – gathered in the Athens sunshine on Tuesday to demand that the government move people out of camps. “Action has to be taken now, before it is too late,” said Panos Pitsios, president of the town council of Mytilene, Lesbos’s capital. “We are heading towards an eruption, a situation that is on the verge of getting out of control.”

The strategy of stranding migrants and refugees in remote camps where tensions have also mounted between rival ethnicities has also been condemned by human rights groups. Organisations increasingly fear that unless asylum seekers are transferred to the mainland where facilities are less crowded and better equipped, thousands could be left out in the cold as winter approaches.

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Biblical proportions.

Europe’s Migrant Crisis: Millions Still to Come (Kern)

The African Union-European Union (AU-EU) summit, held in in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on November 29-30, 2017, has ended in abject failure after the 55 African and 28 European leaders attending the event were unable to agree on even basic measures to prevent potentially tens of millions of African migrants from flooding Europe. Despite high expectations and grand statements, the only concrete decision to come out of Abidjan was the promise to evacuate 3,800 African migrants stranded in Libya. More than six million migrants are waiting in countries around the Mediterranean to cross into Europe, according to a classified German government report leaked to Bild. The report said that one million people are waiting in Libya; another one million are waiting in Egypt, 720,000 in Jordan, 430,000 in Algeria, 160,000 in Tunisia, and 50,000 in Morocco.

More than three million others who are waiting in Turkey are currently prevented from crossing into Europe by the EU’s migrant deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The former head of the British embassy in Benghazi, Joe Walker-Cousins, warned that as many as a million migrants from countries across Africa are already on the way to Libya and Europe. The EU’s efforts to train a Libyan coast guard was “too little and too late,” he said. “My informants in the area tell me there are potentially one million migrants, if not more, already coming up through the pipeline from central Africa and the Horn of Africa.” The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said that Europe is “underestimating” the scale and severity of the migration crisis and that “millions of Africans” will flood the continent in the next few years unless urgent action is taken.

In an interview with Il Messagero, Tajani said there would be an exodus “of biblical proportions that would be impossible to stop” if Europe failed to confront the problem now: “Population growth, climate change, desertification, wars, famine in Somalia and Sudan. These are the factors that are forcing people to leave. “When people lose hope, they risk crossing the Sahara and the Mediterranean because it is worse to stay at home, where they run enormous risks. If we don’t confront this soon, we will find ourselves with millions of people on our doorstep within five years. “Today we are trying to solve a problem of a few thousand people, but we need to have a strategy for millions of people.”

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Recovery.

US Homeless Population Rises For The First Time Since The Great Recession (G.)

America’s homeless population has risen this year for the first time since the Great Recession, propelled by the housing crisis afflicting the west coast, according to a new federal study. The study has found that 553,742 people were homeless on a single night this year, a 0.7% increase over last year. It suggests that despite a fizzy stock market and a burgeoning gross domestic product, the poorest Americans are still struggling to meet their most basic needs. “The improved economy is a good thing, but it does put pressure on the rental market, which does put pressure on the poorest Angelenos,” said Peter Lynn, head of the Los Angeles homelessness agency. The most dramatic spike in the nation was in his region, where a record 55,000 people were counted. “Clearly we have an outsize effect on the national homelessness picture.”

Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which produced the report, said in a statement: “This is not a federal problem – it’s everybody’s problem.” Advocates who have witnessed the homelessness crisis unfold since it emerged in the early 1980s are grimly astonished by its persistence. “I never in a million years thought that it would drag on for three decades with no end in sight,” said Bob Erlenbusch, who began working in Los Angeles in 1984. The government mandates that cities and regions perform a homeless street count every two years, when volunteers fan out everywhere from frozen parks in Anchorage to palm-lined streets in Beverly Hills and enumerate people by hand. Those numbers are combined with the total staying in shelters and temporary housing. The tally is considered a crucial indicator of broad trends, but owing to the difficulties involved it is also widely regarded as an undercount.

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There is neither a valid reason nor a justification for this. It’s simply a lack of basic values.

Nearly 130,000 British Children To Wake Up Homeless This Christmas (Ind.)

Nearly 130,000 children in Britain will wake up homeless and in temporary accommodation this Christmas as child homelessness reaches a 10-year high, new research shows. The number of youngsters who will be spending the festive period in temporary accommodation such as B&Bs and hostels – often with a single room for the whole family and no kitchen – is up 7% on last year, amounting to an additional 8,000 children, according to a report by charity Shelter. Interviews carried out by the charity reveal a quarter of families in temporary accommodation have no access to a kitchen, with many having to eat meals on the bed or floor of their room. The vast majority live in a single room, with more than a third of parents saying they have to share a bed with their children.

An analysis of government figures by Shelter shows that one in every 111 children is currently homeless in the UK, with at least 140 families becoming homeless every day. In England, where the highest number of families are placed into B&Bs, 45% stay beyond the six-week legal limit. The report also lays bare the psychological turmoil experienced by families living in these cramped conditions for often long periods of time, with three-quarters of parents saying their children’s mental health had been badly affected by living in such settings.

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Dec 302016
 
 December 30, 2016  Posted by at 10:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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DPC Memphis, Mississippi River landing, Belle of the Bends and Belle of Calhoun 1906

Putin’s Cease-Fire in Syria Boxes Out Obama (USN)
Russia: “No Enemy Of The United States Could Have Done Worse” (RT)
Obama’s Sanctions Target Trump, Not Putin (Duran)
“Grizzly Steppe” – FBI, DHS Release “Report” On Russian Hacking (ZH)
Russia’s ‘Grizzly Steppe’ Cyberattacks Started Simply, US Says (BBG)
Trump Says He’ll Weigh Intelligence Findings on Russian Hack (BBG)
The Russians Are Coming (Oliver Stone)
Russia: Mass Graves Full Of Tortured Civilians Discovered In Aleppo (TAM)
China Faces Stiff Battle to Sideline the Dollar in Valuing Yuan
China To Relax Curbs On Foreign Investment In Banking, Securities (R.)
Who Wants To Keep Gas Flowing Through Ukraine And Why? (SC)
The New Year’s Arriving With a Frigid Bang (BBG)
A 2016 Love Story: The Macedonian Cop and The Iraqi Refugee (AFP)

 

 

Can’t find a good western source on this all too obvious theme. Typical. The underlying idea seems to be that Obama should have tried to create even more chaos, deliver more weapons to the ‘rebels’. The US should have never toppled Saddam, nor Gaddafi, and we should be glad that Putin called a halt to the mayhem. Now get the US out of there, and on the double.

America over the past decades -in which it was a superpower- could have been, and should have been, a force for good, and for peace. It has instead been nothing but the exact opposite.

Putin’s Cease-Fire in Syria Boxes Out Obama (USN)

Russia and Turkey announced early Thursday they had secured a cease-fire agreement for the civil war in Syria, potentially clearing the way to a peace deal and leaving little, if any, role for the U.S. to play in the future of the war-torn country. The American failure to find a diplomatic or military solution to the conflict, which rages adjacent to an extraordinarily complicated international effort to defeat the Islamic State group, has left some traditional allies in the region worried about what leverage the U.S. has left to protect their interests in the Middle East. Very few details have emerged about the agreement, which was organized by Moscow and Ankara and backed the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. Reuters reported Wednesday that the plan could involve splitting the county into semi-autonomous Russian, Turkish and Iranian zones of influence within Assad’s government.

Perhaps the most notable question centers on the involvement of the Free Syrian Army, the U.S.-backed umbrella organization of the opposition movement which has fractured in recent months. It denies having participated in the cease-fire talks. Moscow’s leadership on the agreement, however, follows its deep involvement in Syria over the last year that has successfully shirked American calls for Assad to step down. So it’s also unclear how the U.S. could exercise any leverage over the events in Syria in the future or encourage any of the actors involved to consider American interests, including issuing humanitarian aid to the 8 million displaced Syrians displaced from their homes, supporting willing partners on the ground to fight the Islamic State group, and creating a unity government.

“If the cease-fire does spread to the point where any settlement begins, we’re going to find ourselves in the very awkward position of being the largest single aid donor to Syria and having somehow to deal in humanitarian and recovery terms with a government and structure we had no hand in creating,” says Anthony Cordesman, a former senior adviser to the departments of State and Defense, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ‘That’s certainly going to create future problems.”

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“Obama’s “bitter” and “helpless” team..”, “.. a devastating blow to America’s prestige and its leadership..” But kind words for Kerry.

Russia: “No Enemy Of The United States Could Have Done Worse” (RT)

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has posted a scathing Facebook comment on US President Barack Obama’s approval of new anti-Russian measures, arguing Obama’s “bitter” and “helpless” team did a disfavor to the White House’s reputation. Zakharova wrote that the outgoing president did not manage to leave “any” major foreign policy achievements as part of his legacy and instead of “putting an elegant period” to his two presidential terms has “made a huge blot” with his latest decision to impose more sanctions on Russia, expelling 35 Russian diplomats and closing two diplomatic compounds in the US.

“Today America, the American people were humiliated by their own president. Not by international terrorists, not by [the] enemy’s troops. This time Washington was slapped by own master, who has complicated the urgent tasks for the incoming team in the extreme,” Zakharova wrote, labeling the current administration “a group of foreign policy losers, bitter and narrow-minded.” “Today, Obama officially admitted it,” she wrote. Zakharova then offered her sympathy to Secretary of State John Kerry, who, she argued, had also suffered under the current administration as he was unable to do his job properly, being constantly “mocked” and “let down” by his own colleagues. “Mr. Kerry, in this difficult moment for the United States, let me convey you the words of sympathy – you have done all what was possible to avert your country’s collapse in foreign policy,” she said, giving credit to Kerry’s diplomatic skills.

“Out of this group of spoilers, I pity only Kerry. He was not an ally. But he tried to be a professional and maintain his human dignity.” Zakharova also said that with its incoherent foreign policy, Obama’s administration has inadvertently debunked a long-cherished myth of America’s exceptionalism that claims a special place in the world. “This is it, [the] curtain [has dropped]. The bad performance is over. The whole world, from the front row to the balcony, is watching a devastating blow to America’s prestige and its leadership, dealt by Barack Obama and his semi-literate foreign policy team, which has exposed its main secret to the world – exceptionalism was a masked helplessness.” “No enemy of the United States could have done worse,” Zakharova concluded. She promised that the US won’t have to wait too long for Moscow’s response. “Tomorrow there will be official statements, countermeasures, and much more,” she wrote.

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Smooth transition.

Obama’s Sanctions Target Trump, Not Putin (Duran)

Barack Obama ends his Presidency with the announcement of yet more sanctions against Russia. These target Russia’s two intelligence agencies which were supposedly concerned with the alleged cyber attacks during the US election – the FSB and the GRU – and what appear to be three institutions involved in IT work – the Professional Association of Designers of Data Processing Systems, the Special Technology Centre, and Zorsecurity, formerly known as Esage Lab or Tsor. In addition to these five entities four high ranking officials of the GRU have also been added to the sanctions list. Obama has also announced the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the US, giving them just 72 hours to leave, and has closed two Russian diplomatic compounds in the US.

He has also said that he will provide Congress with a report on Russian cyber activity during this and previous US election cycles. Like many of Obama’s other recent moves, this one is not really targeted at Russia. The additional sanctions will hardly affect Russia, though the wholesale expulsion of Russian diplomats will undoubtedly complicate the work of Russian diplomatic missions in the US. The true target of these sanctions is Donald Trump. By imposing sanctions on Russia, Obama is lending the authority of the Presidency to the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking, daring Trump to deny their truth. If Trump as President allows the sanctions to continue, he will be deemed to have accepted the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking as true.

If Trump cancels the sanctions when he becomes President, he will be accused of being Russia’s stooge. It is a well known lawyer’s trick, and Obama the former lawyer doubtless calculates that either way Trump’s legitimacy and authority as President will be damaged, with the insinuation that he owes his Presidency to the Russians now given extra force. Like so many of Obama’s other moves in the last weeks of his Presidency, it is an ugly and small minded act, seeking to undermine his successor as President in a way that is completely contrary to US tradition.

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You’re looking for -finally!- proof, and what you get is a disclaimer.

“Grizzly Steppe” – FBI, DHS Release “Report” On Russian Hacking (ZH)

As part of the “evidence” meant to substantiate the unprecedented act of expelling 35 Russian diplomats and locking down two Russian compounds without a major concurrent political or diplomatic incident, or an act of war, and which simply provides an outlets for the Democrats to justify the loss of their candidate in the US presidential election (sorry, Putin did not tell the rust belt how to vote), the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI released a 13-page “report” on the Russian action done “to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election”, i.e., hack it.

As the DHS writes, “this document provides technical details regarding the tools and infrastructure used by the Russian civilian and military intelligence Services (RIS) to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. Government, political, and private sector entities. The U.S. Government is referring to this malicious cyber activity by RIS as GRIZZLY STEPPE.” Where things get awkward, however, is at the very start of the report, which prefaced by a broad disclaimer, according to which nothing in the report is to be relied upon and that everything contained in it may be completely false. No really: “this report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within. DHS does not endorse any commercial product or service referenced in this advisory or otherwise.”

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US intelligence looks hell-bent on founding its credibility exclusively on gossip and propaganda.

Russia’s ‘Grizzly Steppe’ Cyberattacks Started Simply, US Says (BBG)

The attack against U.S. democracy began in the summer of 2015 with a simple trick: Hackers working for Russia’s civilian intelligence service sent e-mails with hidden malware to more than 1,000 people working for the American government and political groups. U.S. intelligence agencies say that was the modest start of “Grizzly Steppe,” their name for what they say developed into a far-reaching Russian operation to interfere with this year’s presidential election. Prodded to produce evidence by Russia, which has denied a role in hacking – and by an openly skeptical President-elect Donald Trump – the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security did so Thursday. They issued a 13-page joint analysis just as President Barack Obama imposed sanctions against Russian government organizations and individuals and expelled 35 Russian operatives.

While Trump said in a statement Thursday that “it’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” he said he “will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.” As president-elect he’s entitled to see the classified details behind the public report. The initial hackers sent e-mails that appeared to come from legitimate websites and other Internet domains tied to U.S. organizations and educational institutions, according to the report. Those who were fooled into clicking on the “spearphishing” e-mails provided a foothold into the Democratic National Committee – although the party organization wasn’t identified by name in the report – and key e-mail accounts for material that would later be leaked to damage Hillary Clinton in her losing campaign against Trump.

“This activity by Russian intelligence services is part of a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens,” according to a joint statement from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, DHS and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “The U.S. government seeks to arm network defenders with the tools they need to identify, detect and disrupt Russian malicious cyber activity that is targeting our country’s and our allies’ networks.” Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, rejected the U.S. conclusions. “We categorically disagree with any of the groundless allegations or charges against Russia,” he said on a conference call. “These actions by the current administration in Washington are unfortunately a manifestation of an unpredictable and you could even say aggressive policy.”

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Are they going to threaten him?

Trump Says He’ll Weigh Intelligence Findings on Russian Hack (BBG)

President-elect Donald Trump said he’ll meet next week with U.S. intelligence officials to discuss their findings that Russia hacked Democratic Party e-mails to meddle in the 2016 election, signaling a possible shift from his previous dismissals of Russian involvement. In his first statement following President Barack Obama’s action on Thursday to sanction Russian intelligence officials and agencies for the hacking, Trump released a statement, saying, “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”

Trump, who has pledged to seek better relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, repeatedly has expressed skepticism about the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the pilfering and release of e-mails from DNC and party officials in order to damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton. He once said the hacking could have been the work of “somebody sitting in a bed someplace” and told reporters Wednesday that “we ought to get on with our lives” instead of rehashing the cyberattack. Obama’s actions put Trump in a bind less than a month before his inauguration. He will have to decide whether to reverse course when he takes office Jan. 20, which would effectively reject the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies and put him at odds with the Republican leaders in Congress who called the sanctions a necessary step.

The Russian government said it would announce on Friday its response to Obama’s move and emphasized that it soon will be dealing with Trump. “Right now we just are not in a position to sit here and respond to all of these details before we have a full-blown intelligence report on this particular matter,” Reince Priebus, Trump’s appointee as chief of staff, said on Fox News Thursday night. “We just need to get to a point ourselves where we can talk to all of these intelligence agencies and find out once and for all what evidence is there, how bad is it.”

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Not terribly strong, but it’s Stone. Think he could get a movie financed on the theme?

The Russians Are Coming (Oliver Stone)

As 2016 draws to a close, we find ourselves a deeply unsettled nation. We’re unable to draw the lines of our national interest. Is it jobs and economy, is it national security, or is it now in our interest to ensure global security — in other words, act as the world’s policemen? As the “failing” (to quote Trump) New York Times degenerates into a Washington Post organization with its stagnant Cold War vision of a 1950s world where the Russians are to blame for most everything — Hillary’s loss, most of the aggression and disorder in the world, the desire to destabilize Europe, etc. – the Times has added the issue of ‘fake news’ to reassert its problematic role as the dominant voice for the Washington establishment. Certainly this is true in the case of Russia’s ‘hacking’ the 2016 election and putting into office its Manchurian Candidate in Donald Trump.

Apparently the CIA (via various unnamed intelligence officials), and the FBI, NSA, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (who notoriously lied to Congress in the Snowden affair), President Obama, the DNC, Hillary Clinton, and Congress agree that Russia, and Mr. Putin predominantly, is responsible. Certainly the psychotic, war-loving Senator John McCain is right up there alongside these patriots, calling President Putin a “thug, bully and a murderer and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.” He actually said this — the man whose sound judgment chose Sarah Palin as his VP nominee in ’08. And the Times followed by printing the story in its full glory on page one, clearly agreeing with McCain’s point of view.

I don’t remember Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, or Reagan, in the darkest days of the 1950s/80s, ever singling out a Russian President like this. The invective was aimed at the Soviet regime, but never were Khrushchev or Brezhnev the target of this bile. I guess this is a new form of American diplomacy. If a black youth in our inner cities were killed or a Pakistani wedding party were murdered by our drones, would President Obama be singled out as a murderer, bully, thug? Such personalization is a sign of sickness in our thinking and way beneath what should be our standards.

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We’ll have to wait for the -gruesome- proof on this too. “The results of only an initial survey of Aleppo neighborhoods abandoned by the so-called ‘opposition’ will shock many.”

Russia: Mass Graves Full Of Tortured Civilians Discovered In Aleppo (TAM)

Russian military forces have discovered mass graves in eastern parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo, with many of the bodies reportedly showing signs of torture. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesperson for the Russian defense ministry, announced the horrifying discovery on Monday. “Many of the corpses were found with missing body parts, and most had gunshot wounds to the head,” he said, according to RT. Until recently, the eastern portion of Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city and industrial and financial center, was under the control of so-called “moderate” rebels, many of whom have received both intelligence and material support from the United States and its allies in the Middle East.

Last week, Russian and Syrian military forces oversaw the evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo. Prior to that, the rebel-held portion of the city had been controlled by two main factions, Jabhat al-Nusra, a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda also known as the Nusra Front, and Ahrar al-Sham, another extremist group that receives U.S. support despite being designated a terrorist organization. In an apparent attempt to court the U.S. government by distancing itself from al-Qaeda, the Nusra Front recently attempted to “rebrand” itself. Despite efforts to market themselves as kinder, gentler terrorists, the group has continued to commit atrocities, including burning buses intended to be used in the evacuation and even blocking food aid from reaching Aleppo’s starving residents.

WikiLeaks’ archive of diplomatic cables reveals that the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have sought to overthrow the government of Syrian leader Bashar Assad since at least 2006, and support for extremist fighters remains a key part of that strategy. Konashenkov promised a full investigation into the war crimes of rebel forces in Aleppo, suggesting in his statement that the results would surprise many people who receive their news from Western mainstream media sources. He said: “The completion of a uniquely large-scale humanitarian operation by the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Aleppo will destroy many of the myths that have been fed to the world by Western politicians. The results of only an initial survey of Aleppo neighborhoods abandoned by the so-called ‘opposition’ will shock many.”

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Good luck with that: “The U.S. currency is on one side of 88% of all foreign-exchange trading..”

China Faces Stiff Battle to Sideline the Dollar in Valuing Yuan

China took another step to degrade the dollar in defining the value of its currency, in an effort that cuts against its rival’s stubbornly strong hold on the global financial system. An arm of the People’s Bank of China, which last year started setting the yuan against a basket of currencies, on Thursday said it’s adding 11 units to that reference group. The move lowers the dollar’s weighting by 4 percentage points, to 22.4% – little more than twice the share for South Korea’s won, a new entrant. While the logic of determining the yuan’s value against the currencies of its trading partners is clear, the problem is that the dollar is still the dominant reference in the perception of the public and the market. The U.S. currency is on one side of 88% of all foreign-exchange trading. “The dollar-yuan rate will still be the benchmark that determines sentiment,” said Hao Hong at Communications International Holdings.

“The basket is just a reference, so the change in the index’s composition and the efforts of keeping it stable will do little to boost confidence.” The yuan’s retreat against the CFETS RMB Index, the basket set by the China Foreign Exchange Trade System, has been more moderate this year than against the dollar, as the currencies of China’s trading partners have also declined. In recent weeks it’s even advanced. That offers an image of stability that would appeal to a Communist leadership that’s striving to maintain economic growth in excess of 6.5% and reduce leverage, all while heading off any exodus of domestic capital. The challenge is that China’s swelling middle class, along with its ultra-wealthy, are looking to diversify some of their increasing pool of savings overseas. Prospects for higher U.S. interest rates only increase the allure of the dollar.

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They need money, bad.

China To Relax Curbs On Foreign Investment In Banking, Securities (R.)

China will focus on freeing up foreign investment in banking, insurance, securities and futures market trading firms as part of a wider opening up of the services sector, the country’s state planner said in a document released on Friday. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) did not give any details or time frame on relaxing restrictions for foreign investment in the financial services sector. At a press conference held after the release of the document, Ning Jizhe, vice chairman of the NDRC, said that the government will maintain “some controls”, but did not elaborate. Businesses that the NDRC earmarked for opening up in the manufacturing sector included rail transportation equipment, motorcycles, edible fats and oils, and fuel ethanol.

The NDRC also said China will lift restrictions on foreign investment in unconventional oil and gas production, which usually refers to development of shale deposits. Industry experts noted China has already allowed foreign companies such as Shell and BP to explore and develop shale oil and gas in joint ventures with Chinese firms. China will also “orderly” open up sensitive areas such as telecoms, education, internet to foreign investment, as well as relaxing foreign investment restrictions on credit-rating services, the NDRC document said. The new list of areas marked for liberalization differ slightly from draft foreign investment guidelines that China published earlier this month.

In the draft, restrictions in critical banking and securities sectors remained largely unchanged, though a reference to 49 percent foreign investment caps on some types of securities companies appeared to have been removed. Beijing is facing mounting criticism from foreign governments over its closed markets. Despite repeated pledges to increase access for foreign firms, critics say it has not followed through on its reform agenda.

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A bit confusing, but do watch Poland.

Who Wants To Keep Gas Flowing Through Ukraine And Why? (SC)

This past year of 2016 set a new record for the export history of Gazprom, Russia’s biggest gas company. Its chairman, Alexey Miller, has claimed that by the end of the year Gazprom will have shipped a total of 180 billion cubic meters to non-CIS countries. Gazprom had only planned to export between 166 and 170 billion cubic meters of gas in 2016 (in 2015, 158.56 billion cubic meters of gas were delivered to non-CIS countries). But even this new high is not the limit. Gazprom’s latest calculations envision a further uptick in shipments in 2017, and those will primarily be to the EU. The key factors here are, first and foremost, the weather conditions (this winter promises to be a more severe one in Europe than last year), and second – the jump in demand for gas in Europe that has been seen in recent months in the face of lower domestic production in EU countries.

The biggest consumers of Russian gas are still Germany (47.4 billion cubic meters in 2015), Turkey (27 billion), Italy (24.4 billion), Great Britain (22.5 billion), and France (10.5 billion). And Russian gas shipments play a very important role in ensuring the energy security of Southeastern Europe. In 2015 Bulgaria purchased 3.1 billion cubic meters of gas from the companies that make up the Gazprom Group, while Greece bought 2 billion cubic meters, Serbia – 1.9 billion cubic meters, and Croatia – 0.6 billion cubic meters. The market price for Russian gas has taken some interesting twists and turns. It is worth noting that that figure has risen right along with the increase in supply. This proves once again that the close interdependence of European consumers and Russian energy suppliers is «overriding» the market formula: simultaneous growth in both supply and price is an atypical phenomenon in a market environment.

However, it proves once again that any moves aimed at «replacing» Russian gas or «displacing» Russia from the EU gas market might be disruptive for Europe’s energy sector. The attempts by some countries to block Russian gas supplies look particularly irrational in this context. This primarily applies to Poland, which rushed to the European Court to appeal the European Commission’s decision to allow Gazprom greater access to the OPAL pipeline that links Nord Stream with the gas-transit system of Central and Western Europe. The Polish media cites the official spokesperson for the Polish Ministry of Finance, Joanna Wajda, in its reports that Warsaw has already asked the EU to suspend the implementation of the European Commission decision. The EC’s official reaction to this proposal is still unknown, but it will be interesting to see.

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Athens is bloody cold as we speak. That map is pretty clear.

The New Year’s Arriving With a Frigid Bang (BBG)

A deep freeze is about to descend on North America, Europe and Asia thanks to record high temperatures across the Arctic. How’s that? “Think of it like a seesaw,” said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather in Bethesda, Maryland. If winter temperatures rise north of Alaska, that “forces an equal-opposite downward-southward push. The cold essentially has to go somewhere else.” Meteorologists theorize the phenomenon works this way: Warmth in the northern polar region helps lock in jet-stream kinks that drag cold air south and sets up conditions that weaken the polar vortex, the pressure zone that usually traps the chill in the northernmost part of Earth. Frigid thermometer readings are, as a result, delivered to the Northern Hemisphere. So, warm Arctic, cold continents.

Forecasts show how drastic it could be. For example, Chicago’s high on Monday is expected to be 43 degrees Fahrenheit (about 6 Celsius) and its low 33, according to MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland. By Friday, the high is predicted to be 18 and the low just 5. Climate change and the recently ended El Nino conspired over the last three years to heat the planet to record levels. The ice cap dwindled. In September it was the smallest in scope since 2007; its winter growth has been the slowest in chronicled history. Sea ice keeps the air above it cold, and in November in the Arctic it hit a record low, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For several weeks, as as consequence, a large part of the Arctic has been hotter than normal.

“We have a buoy north of Alaska that went over to freezing around the 10th of December, which is about a month later than it normally happens,” said Jim Overland, a research oceanographer at the U.S. Pacific Marine Environment Laboratory in Seattle, who made his first trips to Arctic ice in the 60s.

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Flowers grow at the weirdest places.

A 2016 Love Story: The Macedonian Cop and The Iraqi Refugee (AFP)

The scene was hardly conducive to romance: she was a sick Iraqi in a wave of refugees trying to enter Serbia, while he belonged to the stern Macedonian police force keeping guard. But Noora Arkavazi, a Kurdish Muslim, and Orthodox Christian Bobi Dodevski quickly fell in love after they met at the muddy border in early March – and celebrated their wedding four months later. Bobi recalls the rainy day he first saw Noora in no man’s land between the two Balkan countries, when he was working only by chance after swapping shifts with a colleague. “It was destiny,” the affable 35-year-old tells AFP over tea in his small apartment in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo, where he now lives happily with his young wife.

Noora, 20, hails from Diyala, an eastern province plagued with violence in the Iraqi conflict. She says at one point Islamic State jihadists kidnapped her father, an engineer, and demanded thousands of dollars for his return. Early in 2016, Noora and her brother, sister and parents abandoned their home and began a long journey west, crossing the border into Turkey, taking a boat to the Greek island of Lesbos and eventually entering Macedonia. Their path was one well-trodden by hundreds of thousands of people escaping war or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia – and like many of their fellow travellers, the Arkavazis had set their sights on Germany. While her family continued on their odyssey, Noora stayed put in Macedonia after Cupid’s arrow struck. “I had a simple dream to live with my family in Germany,” she says. “I didn’t imagine a big surprise for me here.”

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