NPC Auto races, Rockville Fair, Montgomery County, Maryland 1923
And the economy is supposed to grow at 7%?!
• China Exports Fall 8.3% From A Year Earlier (Bloomberg)
China’s exports declined more than expected in July, hobbled by a strong yuan and lower demand in the European Union, and adding pressure on Premier Li Keqiang to stabilize growth. Overseas shipments fell 8.3% from a year earlier in dollar terms, the customs administration said. The reading was well below the estimate for a 1.5% decline in a Bloomberg survey and compared with an increase of 2.8% in June. Imports dropped 8.1%, widening from a 6.6% decrease in June, leaving a trade surplus of $43 billion. Along with weak domestic investment, subdued global demand is putting China’s 2015 growth target of about 7% at risk.
The government has rolled out fresh pro-expansion measures, including special bond sales to finance construction, but has held off weakening the yuan as China seeks reserve-currency status. “Exports are no longer an engine for China growth – no matter what the government does, it’s just impossible to see strong export growth as in the past,” said Bank of Communications economist Liu Xuezhi. “It means additional slowdown pressure, and it requires the government to be more aggressive in the domestic market.” Liu said China is likely to accelerate infrastructure spending as fixed-asset investment is the “the most immediate and effective” way to stimulate growth.
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All they can do is short everything in sight.
• The Commodity Slump Is Killing Hedge Funds (Bloomberg)
When even Cargill, the world’s largest grain trader, decides to liquidate its own hedge fund, that’s a sign that commodity speculators are in trouble. Hedge funds focused on raw materials lost money on average in the first half, the Newedge Commodity Trading Index shows. Diminishing investor demand spurred Cargill’s Black River Asset Management unit to shut its commodities fund last month. Others enduring redemptions include Armajaro Asset Management, which closed one of its funds, Carlyle Group’s Vermillion Asset Management and Krom River Trading. While hedge funds are designed to make money in both bull and bear markets, managers have a bias toward wagering on rising prices and that’s left them vulnerable in this year’s slump, said Donald Steinbrugge of Agecroft Partners.
The Bloomberg Commodity Index tumbled 29% in the past year and 18 of its 22 components are in a bear market. “No one wants to catch a falling knife, and demand for commodity-oriented hedge funds is very low,” said Steinbrugge, whose company helps funds find investors. The amount of money under management by hedge funds specializing in commodities stands at $24 billion, 15% below the peak three years ago, according to data from Hedge Fund Research. The Newedge index, which tracks funds betting on natural resources, suggests managers have lost money for clients during much of the past four years. A dollar invested in the average commodity hedge fund in January 2011, when values reached a reached a record, had shrunk to 93 cents by the end of June. Investing in the S&P 500 index would have returned 80%, including dividends.
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Maybe people should have listened to the Automatic Earth all along? That’s not to say that Stockman isn’t worth listening to, but …
• “The Top’s In”: David Stockman Warns Of “Epochal Deflation” (ZH)
The truth hurts… especially permabullish CNBC anchors. But when David Stockman explained why “the top is in,” and warned that the world is overdue for an “epochal deflation, like nothing it has ever seen,” one should listen. The “debt supernova” of the last decade or two has created massive over-capacity and this commodity deflation “is not temporary, it’s the end of the central bank bubble.” The catalyst has already happened -“It’s China,” Stockman exclaims, “China is the most lunatic pyramid of credit and speculation.. and capital is now fleeing the swaying towers of the China ponzi.” Well worth the price of admission…
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• Gross Sees September Rate Rise, Global Economy In Deflation (Bloomberg)
Bill Gross, money manager at Janus Capital, said the global economy is “dangerously close to deflationary growth.” Once there is a “whiff of deflation, things tend to reverse and go badly,” Gross said Friday in a Bloomberg Radio interview with Tom Keene. Gross pointed to how the CRB Commodity Index isn’t just at a cyclical low, but lower than in 2008 when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. The commodity markets tell a truer story of what is happening in the economy because they are subject to real-time supply and demand, Gross said. Oil, metals and crops have plunged as China’s economy has decelerated and gluts in multiple markets have further depressed prices.
Gross, who joined Janus in September after abruptly leaving PIMCO, manages the $1.5 billion Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund. He said the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next month by 25 basis points. “September is the number for sure,” said Gross, who used to manage the world’s largest bond fund. The Fed is “mentally committed to moving before year end,” he said, despite the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee this week voting 8-1 to keep its key rate at a record low and talking about changing policy next year. A move in September is “not unanimous” but is the “majority opinion” now, Gross said. Any increase will likely be 25 to 50 basis points. A 50 basis point move would “scare the market,” he added.
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More bad news for Canada.
• Shadow Banking Draws Canadians Where US Banks Are Warned Away (Bloomberg)
Canada’s largest money managers are joining the ranks of America’s shadow banks. Public Sector Pension Investment Board, Canada’s fifth-largest pension plan, said last month it intends to open a loan-origination business in New York by year-end. That follows the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board’s $12 billion deal to acquire General Electric’s business that lends to smaller companies. The Canadians are part of a wave of institutions unencumbered by U.S. regulation searching for higher returns in the market for risky loans to American companies. Bank supervisors there are pressuring the biggest lenders to pull back from deals that load up companies with too much debt, seeking to avoid a credit bubble that could damage the U.S. economy.
“Whenever you have regulatory constraints and it closes down a market, it provides opportunities for those who fall outside the regulatory constraints,” said Alan White, professor of investment strategy at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. The Canadian funds, which have pioneered the strategy of using alternative investments in pensions, are joining private-equity giants KKR and Apollo Global and other nonbank firms in seeking to profit from high-yield credit as central banks around the world suppress interest rates. Canada’s biggest private-equity firm, Onex Corp., has also moved deeper into the U.S. market, ramping up its business packaging the debt as securities with an eye to doubling that unit’s assets in two years.
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Take this with 800 pounds of salt.
• Europe Moves to Cut Risk in $505 Trillion Derivatives Market (Bloomberg)
Banks and investors in the European Union will have to send trades of some interest-rate swaps to a third party under new rules intended to make financial markets safer. The banks and major investors that hold the derivatives will have to use a third party called a clearinghouse to process their trades, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said in a statement on Thursday. “There’s been quite a long delay in getting the European Union to the end point in mandatory clearing,” said Emma Dwyer at law firm Allen & Overy in London. “People should be reasonably content with this. It hasn’t changed the scope of contracts that are covered and the compromises that were worked out along the way have been largely observed.”
The Group of 20 nations in 2009 mandated clearing for many swaps contracts in an attempt to reduce the damage that would be caused by a major financial institution defaulting on its payments. “Today we take a significant step to implement our G-20 commitments, strengthen financial stability and boost market confidence,” said Jonathan Hill, the EU commissioner for financial services. “This is also part of our move toward markets that are fair, open and transparent.” Banks have traditionally traded interest-rate swaps between themselves in over-the-counter, or off-exchange, transactions. By redirecting these transactions to a clearinghouse, the derivatives market should become safer. If a counterparty goes bust, the clearinghouse will spread the losses incurred between all its member firms.
Companies have to post collateral with clearinghouses to use them. Financial institutions held OTC swaps with a notional value of $505 trillion at the end of 2014, according to a survey from the Bank for International Settlements. The real value of the contracts is far smaller because firms often hold contracts which cancel each other out. The commission has made clearing compulsory for plain vanilla interest-rate derivatives, basis swaps, forward-rate agreements and overnight index swaps traded within the EU. It said that the mandate would be phased in over three years. The estimated daily turnover in the EU of OTC interest-rate derivative contracts denominated in so-called G4 currencies – dollar, euro, yen and pound – was more than €1.5 trillion as of April 2013, according to the commission.
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“China is a litmus test for the fiscal health of the rest of the world.”
• Economic Reality Now Catching Up To Market Fantasy (Smith)
Asia is the biggest story right now, with Chinese markets in veritable free fall despite all attempts by the communist government to quell stock selling and shorting, to the point of threatening arrest and imprisonment for some net short sellers. China’s Shanghai Stock Exchange has experienced a 30% drop in market value in a month’s time. The mainstream argument meant to marginalize this fact is that less than 2% of China’s equities are owned by foreign investors; therefore, a crash there will not affect us here. This is, of course, pure idiocy. China is the largest importer/exporter in the world; and it’s set to become the world’s largest economy within the next two years, surpassing the United States. China’s economy is a production economy, and the nation is a primary supplier for all consumer goods everywhere.
Thus, China is a litmus test for the fiscal health of the rest of the world. When Chinese companies are struggling, when exporters are seeing steady overall declines and when manufacturing begins to crawl, this is not only a reflection of China’s economic instability, but also a reflection of the collapsing demand in every other nation that buys from China. Collapsing demand means collapsing sales and collapsing market value. For a global economic system so dependent on ever growing consumption, this is a death knell. In the U.S., markets have experienced a delayed reaction of sorts, due in great part to the Federal Reserve’s constant injections of fiat fantasy fuel since the credit crisis began.
This kind of artificial support for markets has become an expected and essential part of market psychology, resulting in utter dependency on easy money siphoned into big banks that then use it to bolster equities through massive stock buybacks (among other methods). Now, however, QE has been tapered and ZIRP is nearing the chopping block. The stock buyback scam is nearing an end. Already, U.S. stocks are beginning to feel the pain as reality slowly nibbles away once dependable gains. There is a good reason for this – Wages are in constant decline; manufacturing is in steady decline; retail sales are in decline, and government and personal debts continue to rise. We are not immune to the financial chaos of other nations exactly because we have been railroaded into a highly interdependent global economic system. In fact, much international fiscal uncertainty is tied directly to the fall of the American consumer as a reliable cash cow and economic engine.
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Germany could still kill it, and go for more emergency loans.
• EU Told Greece On Track For Possible Bailout Deal Next Week (Reuters)
Greece is on track to complete a draft deal with international creditors on a third bailout by next Tuesday with a possible first disbursement by Aug. 20, a source familiar with a conference call of senior EU finance officials on Friday said. Talks are proceeding smoothly and may be completed over the weekend, the source said. If a draft memorandum of understanding and an updated debt sustainability analysis are ready as planned on Tuesday, the Greek government and parliament would be expected to approve them by Thursday. Euro zone finance ministers could then meet or hold a teleconference on Friday to endorse an up to €86 billion three-year loan programme for Athens, the source said.
Greece would be expected to enact another package of reform legislation before Aug. 20, in parallel with national ratification procedures so it could receive a first aid payment in time to meet a crucial bond payment to the ECB on Aug. 20, the source added. “Everyone is working on Plan A – a deal with disbursement by Aug. 20,” the source said. The negotiations began on July 20, a week after euro zone leaders agreed at an acrimonious all-night summit on stringent conditions for opening negotiations with Greece on a third bailout to save it from bankruptcy and keep it in the euro zone.
The source said no major differences had emerged among creditor nations on the one-hour call of the Economic and Financial Committee of deputy finance ministers, partly because there was nothing immediate to decide. Some countries, led by Germany, were keen to nail down more specific long-term reform commitments in addition to the immediate actions to be implemented, the source added.
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“..it is fair to say that the political imperatives and economic commitments of Mr. Schäuble are incompatible with the pressing needs of the Greek economy..”
• James Galbraith: ‘Not Even Schäuble Thinks It’s a Good Solution’ (Spiegel)
American economist James Galbraith was one of ex-Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’ advisors. He speaks with SPIEGEL about secret plans to return to the drachma and the role played by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.
SPIEGEL: Was the mission Varoufakis embarked on ultimately impossible?
Galbraith: As finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis gave everything he had for five months to the cause of achieving a compromise that would permit some hope for economic stabilization in Greece and recovery from the extreme debacle of the past five years. It is very disappointing that there was, in fact, no flexibility in the position of the creditors.
SPIEGEL: Varoufakis’ primary adversary was German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. How would you assess the role he played?
Galbraith: Along with Yanis Varoufakis, I have a great deal of respect for the German finance minister. But it is fair to say that the political imperatives and economic commitments of Mr. Schäuble are incompatible with the pressing needs of the Greek economy. And it could prove a tragedy for Europe that no way has been found to bridge those differences.
SPIEGEL: Is the latest agreement between Greece and Europe a good one?
Galbraith: I don’t believe even Minister Schäuble thinks it is a good solution. And of course we know that there remain very strong differences between the IMF and the European creditors, especially the German government, over the question of debt relief. So the agreement is not yet in place -= and the question of whether it will come into place remains unsettled.
SPIEGEL: Do you believe that a Grexit would be better for Europe’s future?
Galbraith: This is a difficult question. The issue is the costs of making the transition, on the one side, against the advantages and risks of having an independent currency, eventually, on the other. Ultimately that judgment is better made by the political authorities in Greece and in Europe, who are the ones who will have to take the responsibility.
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That’s all the opposition parties and western media could wring out of the narrative?!
• Acting On Varoufakis Claim, Greek Police Find No Hacking Signs (Kathimerini)
During the course of an investigation into claims by ex-Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, Kathimerini understands police computer experts have found no signs that anyone has hacked into a government database of tax registration numbers. Four members of the Cyber Crimes Unit were assigned the task of checking the General Secretariat for Public Revenues database to see if anyone had attempted to copy tax identification codes, known as AFMs in Greece. The probe was ordered after it emerged that Varoufakis claimed in a conversation with investors on July 16 that he talked to a ministry employee about hacking into the general secretariat’s online system during alleged attempts to create a scheme that would help the government overcome liquidity problems. Varoufakis did not clarify whether this breach took place. However, his claims prompted internal and judicial investigations.
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• Europe’s Neo-Liberal Road Began At Mont Pélerin (Luciano Gallino)
When I open the windows in the morning these days, my gaze inevitably falls on Mont Pélerin, beyond the lake. It is a hill a few kilometres from Switzerland’s Montreux, known since the twenties for good hotels and a good climate. It is also the birthplace of the Mont Pélerin Society in 1947, when neoliberalism began the long march to a totalitarian hegemony over the economy and politics of Europe. Today we are experiencing the dramatic consequences. Gramsci would have been fascinated by the strategy adopted by the Mont Pélerin Society to win hegemony, which the father of Italian communism saw as a power exercised with the consent of those subject to it. Rather than being yet another foundation or a think tank specializing in promoting this or that branch of the economy, the Mont Pélerin Society chose to build a large-scale “collective intellectual”.
When Friedrich Hayek in 1947 called together a small group of economists and other intellectuals (including Maurice Allais, Walter Eucken, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman and Karl Popper) to found the society, there were only 38 members, for the most part European. In the late 90s they had become a thousand, scattered throughout the world, although the majority continued to come from Europe. Rooted mostly in academia, this collective intellectual did not draft ambitious manifestos (the intent formulated in 47 at the time of its foundation amounted to just one page, you can also read it today on the website of Mont Pélerin Society ), or large projects of institutional reforms.
Instead it produced thousands of essays and books, many to a remarkable level, which all revolve around the issues that members of the society saw as the essence of neo-liberalism: the free movement of capital; the unquestioned superiority of the free market; the brutal reduction of the role of the state to the builder and guardian of the conditions that allow the widest possible dissemination of both. Thanks to this vast and detailed work, around 1980 economic doctrines and neo-liberal policies became embedded in universities and governments. It was not of course only the Mont Pelerin Society which was responsible for this, but its role has been overwhelming. The neo-liberal historian Dieter Plehwe was not exaggerating when, years ago, he called the society “one of the most powerful bodies of knowledge of our time”.
However, its members did not limit themselves to publishing articles and books. Many of them have come to occupy central positions in the apparatus of the governments of a number of countries. At the time of the Reagan presidency (1981-88), about more than a quarter of the eighty economic advisers of the President were members of the Mont Pélerin Society. The financial liberalization decided by the Thatcher government in the first half of the 1980s, which has changed the face of the British economy, were developed largely by the Institute of Economic Affairs, a subsidiary of the society founded and directed by two partners, Antony Fisher and Ralph Harris. The captains of industry in France and Germany have always been numerous among the ranks of the Mont PElerin Society, entertaining close relationships with members in the world of politics.
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It’s all about Russia.
• The US Is Destroying Europe (Eric Zuesse)
Obama’s top goal in international relations, and throughout his military policies, has been to defeat Russia, to force a regime-change there that will make Russia part of the American empire, no longer the major nation that resists control from Washington. Prior to the U.S. bombings of Libya in 2011, Libya was at peace and thriving. Per-capita GDP (income) in 2010 according to the IMF was $12,357.80, but it plunged to only $5,839.70 in 2011 — the year we bombed and destroyed the country. (Hillary Clinton famously bragged, “We came, we saw, he [Gaddafi] died!”) (And, unlike in U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, that per-capita GDP was remarkably evenly distributed, and both education and health care were socialized and available to everyone, even to the poor.)
More recently, on 15 February 2015, reporter Leila Fadel of NPR bannered “With Oil Fields Under Attack, Libya’s Economic Future Looks Bleak.” She announced: “The man in charge looks at production and knows the future is bleak. ‘We cannot produce. We are losing 80% of our production,’ says Mustapha Sanallah, the chairman of Libya’s National Oil Corporation.” Under instructions from Washington, the IMF hasn’t been reliably reporting Libya’s GDP figures after 2011, but instead shows that things there were immediately restored to normal (even to better than normal: $13,580.55 per-capita GDP) in 2012, but everybody knows that it’s false; even NPR is, in effect, reporting that it’s not true.
The CIA estimates that Libya’s per-capita GDP was a ridiculous $23,900 in 2012 (they give no figures for the years before that), and says Libya’s per-capita GDP has declined only slightly thereafter. None of the official estimates are at all trustworthy, though the Atlantic Council at least made an effort to explain things honestly, headlining in their latest systematic report about Libya’s economy, on 23 January 2014, “Libya: Facing Economic Collapse in 2014.” Libya has become Europe’s big problem. Millions of Libyans are fleeing the chaos there. Some of them are fleeing across the Mediterranean and ending up in refugee camps in southern Italy; and some are escaping to elsewhere in Europe.
And Syria is now yet another nation that’s being destroyed in order to conquer Russia. Even the reliably propagandistic New York Times is acknowledging, in its ‘news’ reporting, that, “both the Turks and the Syrian insurgents see defeating President Bashar al-Assad of Syria as their first priority.” So: U.S. bombers will be enforcing a no-fly-zone over parts of Syria in order to bring down Russia’s ally Bashar al-Assad and replace his secular government by an Islamic government — and the ‘anti-ISIS’ thing is just for show; it’s PR, propaganda. The public cares far more about defeating ISIS than about defeating Russia; but that’s not the way America’s aristocracy views things. Their objective is extending America’s empire — extending their own empire.
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What did anyone expect?
• Bank Shares Become Latest Thorn for Australia’s Market (WSJ)
In the span of a week, Australian stocks have wiped out all gains from July, making the index’s best month since February look like an anomaly. Australia’s S&P ASX 200 fell 2.4% Friday, its biggest one-day%age drop since May 18, 2012. The index closed the week with a loss of 3.9%, and has narrowed its gains for the year so far to 1.2%. The August moves mark a sharp reversal, after the benchmark last Friday briefly broke above 5700, rising 4.4% for the month. A deepening rout in commodities including oil, copper and iron ore, Australia’s biggest export, have dented resources stocks in recent months. But those firms aren’t the latest culprits. Bank shares, which account for a large chunk of the market, are leading losses this week.
In the last two days, shares in the country’s largest banks have fallen sharply after one of Australia’s biggest, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, announced plans to raise 3 billion Australian dollars ($2.2 billion). The money would help meet the industry regulator’s call for big banks to increase the level of capital held against potential home-loan losses. It follows an announcement late last month of plans to sell a finance unit to help build a cash cushion. Thursday’s move stoked concerns that others among Australia’s “Big Four” banks— Westpac Banking Corp., National Australia Bank Ltd. and Commonwealth Bank of Australia—would also tap investors for cash, leading them to dump shares.
The ASX 200 basket of financial stocks fell 5.1% this week. Australia’s four largest banks are also four of the largest stocks by market capitalization, so losses have an outsize impact on the broader index. Declines in three of those banks on Thursday—with ANZ halted because of its announcement—accounted for slightly more than half of the stocks’ daily fall, Commonwealth Securities estimated. When ANZ resumed trading on Friday, its shares fell as much as 8.5%. Shares ended Friday down 7.5% at A$30.14.
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• Economists Think Brazil Will Get Downgraded to Junk in the Next Few Years (Bloomberg)
From another economic recession to a juicy corruption scandal embroiling President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil has had a tough 2015. It’s now looking down the barrel of another likely event: a junk rating of its government bonds. Latin America’s largest economy has a 70% chance of losing its investment grade rating in the next few years, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of economists. Standard & Poor’s said last week it may downgrade the country’s rating and revised its outlook to negative from stable. Brazil’s bonds are currently rated BBB- which is one step away from junk. The company cited Brazil’s political and economic challenges amid an ongoing probe into kickbacks at the country’s state-owned oil company, Petrobras, which President Rousseff chaired at the time.
Inflation has ballooned to 9.25% in mid-July, more than double the central bank’s goal of 4.5%, according to the IBGE. Inflation won’t come back down to the target level until 2017, according to 70% of respondents in the survey. Policy makers have raised the key interest rate seven times since the end of 2014 to a nine-year high of 14.25% in an effort to taper prices by the end of 2016. All but one of 15 economists surveyed see the central bank cutting rates next year, with 60% saying the easing will start at the March or April meeting.
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Why does this take so long?
• Dutch Pension Fund Demands Full Fee Disclosure From Private-Equity Firms (WSJ)
A Dutch pension fund running €186.6 billion ($204 billion) is to cease investing in outside money managers, including private-equity firms, that don’t fully disclose their fees, a move that echoes concerns raised by a host of U.S. investors. In a document seen by The Wall Street Journal, Dutch fund PGGM sets out for the first time what it deems to be acceptable compensation for money managers. It is worried that the pensions of its clients—social workers and nurses—are being undermined by high fees. “The interests of our beneficiaries and the interests of the asset management industry are not always aligned,” Ruulke Bagijn, PGGM’s CIO for private markets, said. “We are on the side of pension funds and we no longer want to turn a blind eye on difficult subjects like fees and compensation.”
Ms. Bagijn oversees investments including private equity, which accounts for a high proportion of the fees PGGM pays to managers, especially when compared with the amount invested in the asset class. Most of the money that PGGM manages is on behalf of the PFZW pension fund. More than half of PFZW’s €811 million fee bill in 2014 went to private equity. Yet private equity only accounts for 5.6% of PFZW’s €162 billion of assets. PGGM’s determination to reduce fees coincides with a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the private equity industry which has focused on expenses. The SEC has been helpful in highlighting the issue, Ms. Bagijn said. In addition to annual management fees and keeping a share of profits, private-equity firms sometimes charge less-visible administration and transaction fees. In July, a group of U.S. state and city officials wrote to urge the SEC to require private-equity firms to make better disclosure of expenses.
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“In reality, senior government officials and intelligence agency heads in Germany have long been pursuing a policy of intimidating and deterring journalists and their sources.”
• Merkel’s War on Germany’s Press and Parliament (Spiegel)
When former German Federal Prosecutor Harald Range greeted SPIEGEL journalists for an interview at the end of July, he seemed combative. The 67-year-old recalled his oath of office as a young public prosecutor in the university town of Göttingen, to investigate “independent of a person’s standing.” He also said he refused to allow his position to be influenced by politics in any way, adding that he “had so far” not been given any orders by the government. “I am free in my decisions,” he said. But did he already suspect at that point that an investigation into two journalists would soon rock both his office and the government in Berlin?
Two weeks after the interview, Range stood in front of his admiring staff in Karlsruhe, where the federal prosecutor’s office is headquartered. It was the day after he had challenged the federal government, which he accused of an “intolerable intervention” into his work. And it was a few hours after he had been terminated. He said it was more important to him to be able to look in the mirror than in a newspaper. “I did it for myself and I did it for the agency,” he said. His staff showered him with applause. The mood in Berlin was quite a bit different. In an almost unprecedented show of unity, Chancellor Angela Merkel and her cabinet distanced themselves from Range. They acted as though they had nothing at all to do with the investigation that cost Range his job – an investigation that marked the first time the state had probed journalists for treason since the government of West Germany sought to prosecute DER SPIEGEL journalists 53 years ago.
Range is now gone, but what remains is a mess that could still lead to other politicians, ministers or agency chiefs getting pushed out. Within the course of just a few days, questions have arisen in Berlin that are fundamental to the meaning of democracy. And so far, the answers to those questions have been insufficient. How do prosecutors and members of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), perceive freedom of the press? How independent is Germany’s judiciary system? And are parliamentarians charged with oversight of the country’s intelligence agencies able to do their jobs?
In recent days, the chancellor, Justice Minister Heiko Maas and Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière have santimoniously thrown their support behind freedom of the press. But reality often looks different. In reality, senior government officials and intelligence agency heads in Germany have long been pursuing a policy of intimidating and deterring journalists and their sources. Leaks and whistleblowers are being hunted down and criminalized. Treason, a word that had hardly been heard for decades, is once again being used as part of the repertoire of politicians in Berlin – and all in the alleged name of protecting the common good.
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A strange world.
• Tourists and Refugees Cross Paths in the Mediterranean (Spiegel)
It’s quiet on the beach. Vacationers are still sleeping in their hotels, and the only sound to be heard is of a few dogs barking. Dawn is breaking over Kos. Rasib Ali drags his body out of the water with the last of his strength. His arms and legs are shaking, his lips are blue and his wet jeans and shirt cling to his body. The Greek island of Kos is only a few nautical miles from the Turkish coast. Ali, an 18-year-old migrant from Pakistan, left Turkey in a rubber boat the night before. He traveled alone, unable to afford the cost of a spot on board a smugglers’ ship. Not far from Kos, his boat capsized. Though he can’t swim, Ali somehow he managed to make it to the beach.
Some Greek fishermen hurry over, pull Ali’s clothes off and wrap him in a jacket. “Don’t be afraid, boy, you’re safe now,” they say. Ali stares at the sea. “Thank you,” he stammers, “thank you.” Three hours later, at around 7 a.m., the first hotel guests shuffle out to the shore for an early-morning yoga class, and by noon the beach is full. Families spread out their towels, retirees play bocce and children build sand castles. Tourists snorkel in the exact same spot where Ali almost drowned a few hours earlier. It’s high season once again, and millions of people are flocking to Mediterranean beaches this summer, from Sicily to the Aegean Sea – vacationers from the north and refugees from the south. The sunny weather promises relaxation and fun to some.
To others, those seeking protection from bombs, hunger or poverty, it offers a less dangerous crossing than in fall or winter. Dazzling white yachts glide across the turquoise-blue water alongside jet-skiers, guests at beach bars sip chilled rosé and tanned Germans, Swedes and Britons model the latest beach fashion along the waterside promenades. But those same waters are also the scene of a gruesome drama with no end in sight. This year alone, more than 1,800 people have already drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe. There are few places in Europe where rich and poor stand in such sharp contrast as in the vacation spots of the Mediterranean.
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The UN should call out Brussels on this, not Greece.
• UNHCR Warns Of Deepening Refugee Crisis In Greece, Calls For Action (UNHCR)
The UNHCR Directors of the Bureau for Europe and of Emergency, Security and Supply, visited Greece last week to assess the refugee crisis in the country, where some 124,000 refugees and migrants have arrived by sea this year – as of 31 July – mainly to the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros. This represents a staggering increase of over 750% compared to the same period in 2014. In July alone, 50,000 new arrivals have been reported, 20,000 more than the previous month (an increase of almost 70%). This humanitarian emergency is happening in Europe, and requires an urgent Greek and European response. The vast majority of those coming to Greece are from countries experiencing conflict or human rights violations, mainly Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
While Syrians made up 63% of all arrivals since the beginning of the year, in July alone Syrians reached 70% of arrivals. Many are in need of urgent medical assistance, water, food, shelter and information. All are exhausted. The reception infrastructure, services and registration procedures are falling far short of real needs. The Director of the Bureau for Europe, Vincent Cochetel, highlighted: “Such a level of suffering should and can be avoided. The Greek authorities need to urgently designate a single body to coordinate response and set up an adequate humanitarian assistance mechanism. As Greece faces financial challenges the country needs help, European countries should support Greece on these efforts.”
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“The EU is being tested on the issue of Greece. It has responded negatively on the economic front – that’s my view. I hope it will respond positively on the humanitarian front..”
• Greek PM Calls EU For Help On Migrants Crisis (Reuters)
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras asked Europe to help in handling tens of thousands of refugees coming in from Syria, Afghanistan and other war zones, saying yesterday his cash-strapped country could not deal with them alone. The influx has piled pressure on Greece’s services at a time when its own citizens are struggling with harsh cuts and its government is negotiating with the EU and the IMF for fresh loans to stave off economic collapse. Boatloads of migrants arriving every day had triggered a “humanitarian crisis within the economic crisis,” Tsipras said after a meeting with ministers. “The EU is being tested on the issue of Greece. It has responded negatively on the economic front – that’s my view. I hope it will respond positively on the humanitarian front,” he said.
The comments came as the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) called on Greece to take control of the “total chaos” on Mediterranean islands, where thousands of migrants have landed. About 124,000 have arrived this year by sea, many via Turkey, according to Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR director for Europe. “The level of suffering we have seen on the islands is unbearable. People arrive thinking they are in the EU. What we have seen was not anything acceptable in terms of standards of treatment,” Cochetel said after visiting the Greek islands of Lesbos, Kos and Chios. “I have never seen a situation like that. This is the EU and this is totally shameful,” he added.
At a makeshift refugee centre at Kara Tepe, a hilltop about 5km north of Lesbos island’s main town of Mytilene, about 50 white tents provided by the local council struggled to accommodate the waves of people coming in daily. Rubbish littered the area and locals said 16 toilets were frequently blocked despite attempts by authorities to keep the area clean. Up to 10 people could be seen sharing one of the tents, while others lay on pieces of cardboard, jostling for space under the shade of olive trees in sweltering heat. “The government had battles on plenty of fronts and probably could not give as much attention to the problem,” the island’s mayor Spiros Galinos said. The UNHCR’s Cochetel said Greece had to step up its response.
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When I can go back, I’ll try and find them.
• ‘If We Don’t Help, Then Who Will?’ (Kathimerini)
The founding members of Melissa, a new network of migrants who live in Greece, did not hold a special council or vote on the issue. They simply asked themselves during a normal conversation one afternoon a couple of weeks ago: “If not us, then who? If we, who are women, mothers and immigrants, don’t give a helping hand to the children of Pedion to Areos, who will?” They got to work the very next day to provide some relief to the Afghan and Syrian children living among hundreds of refugees in a makeshift camp in the downtown Athens park.
Maria Ifechukude Ohilebo from Nigeria, Debbie Carlos Valencia from the Philippines, Click Ngwere from Zimbabwe and the other women from Asia, Africa and the Balkans, all active members of their respective communities who came together to establish Melissa with the aim of building networks of communication with their host communities, noticed the situation at the park long before the authorities did. Over a month ago, Victoria Square, where Melissa has its new office, was occupied by Syrian refugees. Pedion to Areos, which many of the network’s women walked through every day, started filling with newcomers too – entire families, mothers traveling alone with their children and unaccompanied minors among them.
Their numbers became too high for the Melissa ladies to do something for all of them, but they could do something for the children at least. Starting about 10 days ago, they began preparing 170 to 220 servings of nutritious breakfast, with a different menu every day: biscuits, carrot, banana or orange cake, fritters, sandwiches, muesli bars, etc. “It’s fascinating to watch them work,” an anthropologist who helps the network, Nadina Christopoulou, tells Kathimerini. “These are women who start their day at 5.30 a.m., work a 10-hour shift and then go home, where they prepare breakfasts for the Pedion tou Areos children. These are incredibly resourceful women who make something out of nothing.”
The food is prepared every evening at one of the network members’ houses, packaged along with a piece of fruit at the Victoria Square office and then distributed the following morning – and the entire cost is covered by Melissa’s members. It is a spontaneous initiative that has not been registered with any official authorities and is therefore not entitled to apply for any funding. As the women of Melissa say, they simply couldn’t stand by and do nothing for the children – who could just as easily have been their own. The symbolism is powerful: In the middle of a full-blown crisis, among the first to extend a helping hand to the refugees in the park, at a time when even the European Union is acting simply as an observer, themselves count among society’s most vulnerable.
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