Jan 302019
 
 January 30, 2019  Posted by at 7:58 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jan van Eyck Madonna and Child at the Fountain 1439 (height: 7.4“, 19 cm)

 

It’s educational and even somewhat entertaining to observe the role of the western press in the ongoing erosion and demise of democracy in Europe. But while it’s entertaining, it also means their readers and viewers don’t get informed on what is actually happening. The media paints a picture that pleases the political world. And it it doesn’t please politicians to lift a veil here and there, too bad for the public.

The Shakespearian comedy that was performed last night in the UK House of Commons is a lovely case in point. Basically, MPs voted whether or not to allow PM Theresa May to change the Brexit deal she had told them about a hundred times couldn’t possibly be changed. Brexit has turned full-blown Groucho by now: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

It was exactly two weeks ago last night that lawmakers voted by a historic 432 to 202 count to reject May’s Brexit deal. And now they voted to a) let her change it and b) go talk to the EU about changing it though Brussels has said as often as May herself that it cannot be changed. Remember: the UK is set to leave the EU 59 days from now, and counting.

It’s like in a game of chess that has long turned into a stalemate or threefold repetition situation: you stop playing. No such luck in British politics. The only way the parliament could find ‘unity’ (in a narrow vote) was to agree to ditch the Irish backstop that is an integral part of why the EU accepted May’s deal to begin with.

There are/are even serious voices saying Ireland should leave the EU along with the UK, to make it easier for the latter to do what the former absolutely doesn’t want. That’s also part of the kind of mindset in which this plays out. Brexit has turned into a complete delusion, in which bickering and blame-games have been more important than practical solutions, for all sides.

A hard Brexit is used as some ultimate deterrent, and 59 days before the big moment it may actually turn into the disaster some Project Fear or another has been talking about for over 2.5 years. If that time has been used the way it should have, adapting deals, agreements, contracts, laws, all might have been fine(r).

What the role of May’s opposition in all this consists of is ever more confusing. It certainly never was to profile itself or come up with original ideas. In the process, Jeremy Corbyn appears to have hurt his reputation as much, if not more, than May. Quite the achievement. And now May says Corbyn “has no plan for Brexit”, but she does: only, it was voted down in the largest defeat in modern parliamentary history.

And then all of a sudden, as everyone is busy doing something else, Britain finds itself in a huge crisis of democracy.

 

Over Two Thirds Of UK Public Don’t Feel Represented By Political Parties

More than two thirds of the British public feel they are not represented by the main political parties, according to a new report on the divisions caused by Brexit. Research by campaign group Hope Not Hate found that the disconnect had increased from 60% to 67% over the last six months as Theresa May negotiated the EU withdrawal agreement.

The poll of nearly 33,000 people and results from focus groups also revealed that many felt they were being left in the dark or were “overwhelmingly bored” by the process. It has also seen an increase in the proportion of the public feeling pessimistic about the future – with very few believing that Brexit will address the frustrations and inequalities that lay behind the vote to leave the EU in 2016.

More people also believe that Brexit is feeding prejudice and division and taking the UK “backwards”, up from 57% in July 2018 to 62% last month. Just 20% of people said they could trust the government to deliver a “good Brexit”. Almost as many Leavers (66%) as Remainers (75%) said they do not trust the government to deliver a Brexit that works for them.

None of the options being considered by parliament have consensus support across the UK, according to the report, and 42% of people think that it would be sensible to delay leaving the EU by a few months so we can agree a better deal with the EU or hold a Final Say vote.

Perhaps that is the topic that should have been discussed yesterday in the House of Commons. But the MPS far preferred to regurgitate long discredited useless stalemate ‘moves’. That’s how much they all care for their own voters. They go from one election to the next, and why would they care about the time in between, what could possibly happen to them?

Well, for one thing, pitchforks could happen. Which methinks is a clean poetic link to another European country that finds itself in deep crisis and distress but refuses to recognize it. France.

 

The interwebs are full of video’s and photos of police brutality perpetrated during the by now 11 Saturdays the Yellow Vests have protested president Macron and their people’s overall situations. It didn’t start out with all that violence, and sure, part of it may have been in response to protests, but what’s gone on in the last few Saturdays is something else.

And the media once again are silent, or mostly. Macron gets more coverage for telling Venezuela’s Maduro to resign than for his own regime’s cruelty towards its own people. But the French people do watch those videos, social media trump traditional ones in these cases, so there’s something good about them after all.

And the Yellow Vests, though the people don’t like the violence, still very much have their sympathy. Seeing Macron’s police beating them up the way they have will only increase the resolve. People losing their eyes, their hands, hundreds if not thousands with less severe but still serious injuries, it’s all being added to Macron’s tally.

 

French Police Weapons Under Scrutiny After Gilets Jaunes Injuries

The French government is under growing pressure to review police use of explosive weapons against civilians after serious injuries were reported during gilets jaunes street demonstrations, including people alleged to have lost eyes and to have had their hands and feet mutilated.

France’s legal advisory body, the council of state, will on Wednesday examine an urgent request by the French Human Rights League and the CGT trade union to ban police from using a form of rubber-bullet launcher in which ball-shaped projectiles are shot out of specialised handheld launchers. France’s rights ombudsman has long warned they are dangerous and carry “disproportionate risk”.

Lawyers have also petitioned the government to ban so-called “sting-ball” grenades, which contain 25g of TNT high-explosive. France is the only European country where crowd-control police use such powerful grenades, which deliver an explosion of small rubber balls that creates a stinging effect as well as launching an additional load of teargas.

The grenades create a deafening effect that has been likened to the sound of an aircraft taking off. France’s centrist president, Emmanuel Macron, is facing renewed calls to ban such weapons after Jérôme Rodrigues, a high-profile member of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) demonstrators was hit in the eye on Saturday in Paris. He is said by his lawyer to have been disabled for life.

Rights groups say Rodrigues’s case is the tip of the iceberg. Lawyers estimate that as many as 17 people have lost an eye because of the police’s use of such weapons since the start of the street demonstrations, while at least three have lost their hands and others have been left with their face or limbs mutilated. Injuries have happened at demonstrations in Paris and other cities, including Bordeaux and Nantes.

The whole thing is utterly insane, but the craziest thing may well be the European Court of Human Rights rejecting a temporary ban on flash-balls last month. Go ahead, Emmanuel, we won’t tell a soul! Flash-balls being an improved -and ‘home-grown’- form of rubber bullets, which in turn have been ‘improved’ upon.

 

French ‘Flash-Ball’ Row Over Riot-Gun Injuries

Appalling injuries caused by French police riot guns during the yellow-vest protests have triggered anger and calls for the weapon to be banned. The LBD launchers known by protesters as “flash-balls” have left 40 people severely wounded, reports say. France’s human rights chief has called for the weapon’s use to be halted, but the government insists it is deployed only under very strict conditions.

Since the “gilets-jaunes” protests began in November, 3,000 people have been injured or even maimed and thousands more arrested. The LBD40 is described as a non-lethal weapon which in fact replaced the old “flash-ball” in France. But the old name is still widely used. It shoots 40mm (1.6in) rubber or foam pellets at a speed of up to 100m per second and is not meant to break the skin. However, some of the accounts of people hit by flash-balls have been shocking.

Volunteer firefighter Olivier Béziade, 47, was shot in the temple by a riot gun during a protest on 12 January in Bordeaux. Video at the time caught him running from police and then collapsing in the street, his face covered in blood. He was taken to hospital, treated for a brain haemorrhage and left in an artificial coma, from which he emerged on Friday. He was one of five seriously wounded on that day alone.

Many of those wounded have been young. One teenager called Lilian Lepage was hit in the face in Strasbourg on Saturday and suffered a broken jaw. His mother said he had been shopping in the city centre when a policeman fired at him. Two schoolboys were badly wounded by flash-ball pellets in separate protests last month. Campaigners say a dozen people have lost an eye ..

A lawyer for some of the victims, Étienne Noël, said many had been maimed. He said police did not have sufficient training in use of the riot guns and many victims had been hit in the head. Earlier this week police made clear the riot gun would be used only where security forces faced violence or if they had no other means of defence. Only the torso and upper or lower limbs could be targeted.

Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez told the French Senate on Thursday that the use of force by police was always proportionate and under very strict and controlled conditions. “If the police hadn’t used these means of defence perhaps some of them would have been lynched,” he said. The European Court of Human Rights rejected a temporary ban on flash-balls last month, in a case brought by several people who said they had been hit by flash-balls.

There is also a grenade version of the flash-ball, named the sting-ball. Throw it into a crowd and everyone around gets hit by rubber balls at high speed.

But of course it’s not the weapons that cause the injuries and deaths, it’s the people deploying them. And the people deploying these people. The instructions to use excessive violence because the government feels threatened by its own citizens. And after that the pitchforks and guillotines, real or not. Yanis Varoufakis was right a few weeks ago, Macron is a spent force.

Only a blind fool would use these things against his own people. Or a dictator with absolute power, but Macron doesn’t have that.. By the way, when is Brussels going to condemn Macron for his use of violence?

And this is all before the European elections, and Merkel’s goodbye that will throw Germany into chaos, and and and. Europe, we never knew ya.

 

 

Oct 302014
 
 October 30, 2014  Posted by at 9:45 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Grief monument, Rock Creek cemetery, Washington, DC 1915

It seems like every blue moon or so I need to return to Groucho’s definition of chaos theory, it keeps on popping up. The first time I used it in an article goes back to at least May 2009, incidentally for many people the starting date of the financial crisis in their part of the world. This time around, it’s there because it’s what a lot of people in the financial markets must be feeling. And I mean ‘must’ in the sense of ‘should’ be feeling, though I don’t think they are. Yet.

But if the demise of US QE means anything, it’s the end of certainty, of confidence that someone out there would be holding your hand all along the way to riches. The difference between complacency and volatility, in a nutshell. Which is, predictably, going to freak a lot of people out. Ain’t nothing feels as comfy as a bearded gnome or a grandma in charge of the mega money machine to do your work for you. Those days are over. Might as well get used to it. First, here’s Groucho once again:

Well, art is art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.

So what do you know after Yellen’s long and generally awaited announcement yesterday? Quo Vadis? Where are stocks going to go, and bonds, and oil, and gold, and the dollar now the reserve currency meta multiplier machine has been shut down? I know a lot of people, probably most, are thinking ‘they’ are going to find – other – ways to ‘save’ the economy and the markets.

If I were you, I’d ask myself a question or two in that regard. It market stability were one of the Fed’s priorities, their surest bet would have been to maintain at least some sort and some amount of QE. Meanwhile, their argument that jobs are so greatly improved is simple nonsense. So again, and I’m asking this a lot and not getting answers, why did they do it, and why the timing?

From what I can see, the Fed is -successfully – fooling Americans into believing their economy is doing well, if not great, and they used Greenspan yesterday to inject some doubt, or realism if you will, that Yellen couldn’t have included in her speech lest she’s be perceived as doubting her own words.

It’s all a message, a spin, a story that they want people, including you, to believe. It’s a certain version, a particular interpretation, of what goes on, but that says nothing about the level of thruthiness in that message. Yelllen’s speech was followed today by the first (preliminary) Bureau of Economic Analysis US Q3 GDP report, which cheered its way all the way into a 3.54% growth rate. So people think: she was right, we don’t need QE, we’re doing great!

But behind the veil of that growth number lie far less positive ones, as for instance described today by Rick Davis at the Consumer Metrics Institute:

In their first estimate of the US GDP for Q3 2014, the BEA reported that the economy was growing at a +3.54% annualized rate, down a little more than 1% from Q2. “Improving” imports and government spending are the stars of this report. Imports swung into positive territory with a +0.29% contribution to the headline number, up +2.06% from the prior quarter. Similarly, governmental spending contributed +0.83% to the headline, up over 0.5% from Q2 (with Federal defense “consumption expenditures” creating a +0.76% boost to the headline number all by itself even as growth in state and local spending softened).

Essentially all of the other line items were either flat or had a negative quarter-to-quarter impact on the headline. Inventories (as expected) reverted to mean and took -0.57% out of the headline. Commercial fixed investments grew at about half the rate reported during the prior quarter, the growth in exports lost about a third, the growth rate for consumer spending on goods was halved, and although consumer spending on services did increase, the increase was a relatively mild +0.10%.

Inflation (or disinflation/deflation) plays a major part in this report, since during the quarter dollar-based energy prices were plunging. US “at the pump” gasoline prices fell from $3.68 per gallon to $3.32 during the quarter, a 9.8% quarter-to-quarter decline and a -33.8% annualized rate – pushing most consumer oriented inflation indexes into negative territory. During the third quarter (i.e., from July through September) the seasonally adjusted CPI-U index published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) was actually mildly deflationary at a -0.10% (annualized) rate, and the price index reported by the Billion Prices Project (BPP – which arguably reflected the real experiences of American households) was slightly more deflationary at -0.18% (annualized).

Those of you who know me also know I have a hard time seeing people equating price rises one on one with inflation, since that’s far too crude a definition, which renders itself useless in short order. There’ll always be things whose prices rise or fall, but that can be for a thousand reasons, and you want to know those reasons, or you should. What counts today when it comes to inflation is really just one single factor: spending. By people like you and me. And that kind of spending is way down, as reflected in velocity of money stats.

Which is why all the efforts to raise inflation numbers are doomed to fail before they begin. Why is spending falling the way it is? Unemployment in all its facets including persistently high personal debt, a shrinking labor participation rate, alt-control-deleted benefits and lower wages. Add to that the at best jittery numbers for M2, M3 money supplies and you’ll never get any inflation by definition. That doesn’t mean some prices won’t rise, but that just adds to the pain, it’s not the root cause.

So what do we see today in the markets? Stocks are up, because the crowd just can’t believe grandma left them to fend for themselves. Hey, it’s only been a day. Give it time. The euro falls below $1.26, first time in a while, because dollar hunger must set in for real with the free for all punchbowl taken away, oil has a hard time negotiating the $80 a barrel divide, and gold lost its battle with $1,200.

Yeah, I know Greenspan said something about holding gold yesterday, but why pay attention to that if you don’t believe one single other word he says? Gold has lost a lot of people a lot of money over the past few years, it’s not hard. And you can say that gold has been solid over the past 4000 years, as a commenter at the Automatic Earth did today, and that’s absolutely true, but your life is way shorter than that, and there’ve been many longer times of depreciated values. And there’s no way for you to know how it will keep up as a safe haven during your lifetime. So don’t bet your life on it. Don’t make it a religion.

Sure, the dollar will die at some point, but that point is not near. There’s a whole slew of fiat currencies dying to precede the greenback’s demise, first and foremost the euro, which will be killed by simple politics. And whatever the weakness of the USD may be, it’s not that Kansas will fall out with Idaho and decide to mint its own coin. Still, that’s exactly the euro’s foreland.

The US economy is much weaker than Janet Yellen and the BEA let on. But it’s not the weakest animal in the herd, not by a long shot. The American leadership can keep its predominance alive for a whole longer, albeit only at the – further – expense of the American people. Who soon won’t be able to afford even the cheaper gas prices.

Meanwhile, the Europeans still make faint attempts at convincing us their economies are doing well, but their messengers are too scattered to present a coherent picture. And Draghi’s 2-year old ‘whatever it takes’ shows wear and tear. It’s all out QE or the big flood. And QE has been a horror for the American people, even if they don’t yet realize it, so Mario won’t be allowed to unleash it. He’ll soon be campaigning for leader of Italy. Unless he’s got even darker skeletons in his closet than the rest of the candidates. Which I wouldn’t rule out.

China, like the US, survives through manipulated data, claiming a 7%+ growth rate where they have probably just 3-4%, but who’s going to know? Smarter investors are, that’s who, once they’ve dumped the dupes who clung to grandma’s aprons.

The US dollar will come home in very large amounts, because there’s nowhere else to go that feels anywhere near safe. That can be a big problem for the US economy, but then, that’s what the Fed is preparing for today. It’ll all leave China, Japan, Europe et al scrambling for the crumbs that fall off the table, unless and until some regions or smaller nations decide to go it alone and ditch the larger networks and organizations and treaties they’re presently subjected to. But that will take time.

Until then, it’s chaos theory. If you can figure out why if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce, they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does, you’ll have it made.