Nov 012018
 
 November 1, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Francisco Goya Witches’ Sabbath 1797-98

 

US Wages And Salaries Jump By 3.1%, Highest Level In A Decade (CNBC)
Chinese Yuan Tumbles To New Cycle Low Amid Signs Of Capital Outflows (ZH)
Southern California Suffers Its Worst Housing Slump In Over A Decade (CNBC)
Rise In ‘Zombie Firms’ Is Fueling Fears For The Global Labor Market (CNBC)
UK, EU Agree Tentative Brexit Deal On Financial Services (R.)
GOP Senators Want Trump To Halt Nuclear Technology Talks With Saudis (CNBC)
New Zealand Is Best Place To Do Business – World Bank (G.)
Europe Torn Over Islamic State Children In Syria (R.)
Tim Berners-Lee Says Tech Giants May Have To Be Split Up (R.)
Oceans ‘Soaking Up 60% More Heat Than Estimated’ (BBC)
70% Of World’s Last Remaining Wilderness In Just Five Countries (Ind.)

 

 

This means two things: 1) more fed rate hikes, and 2) ever slimmer chance of a blue wave in the midterms.

US Wages And Salaries Jump By 3.1%, Highest Level In A Decade (CNBC)

Employment costs rose more than expected in the third quarter in a sign that more inflation could be brewing in the U.S. economy. The Labor Department’s employment cost index rose 0.8 percent for the period, ahead of the estimate of 0.7 percent from economists surveyed by Refinitiv. Wages and salaries rose 0.9 percent, well ahead of expectations for 0.5 percent. Benefit costs were up 0.4 percent. On a yearly basis, wages and salaries jumped 3.1 percent, the biggest increase in 10 years. Wage increases have been the missing link in the economy since the recovery began in mid-2008. Average hourly earnings have been rising steadily but have stayed below the 3 percent level as slack has remained in the labor market.

However the unemployment rate is now at 3.7 percent, the lowest since 1969, and wage pressures have begun to build. The Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates in an effort to stave off future inflationary pressures, though the central bank’s preferred gauge of inflation rose just 2.5 percent in the third quarter, including a 1.9 percent increase for health benefits. “The employment cost index data adds to the broader evidence that wage growth has continued to trend gradually higher over recent quarters,” Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a note. “And with labor market conditions still tightening, we expect wage growth will accelerate further from here.”

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“2019 big year for China. centenary of founding of CCP [..] Being seen to succumb to Trump’s WH is just not on. Expect both sides to dig in further..”

Chinese Yuan Tumbles To New Cycle Low Amid Signs Of Capital Outflows (ZH)

As Chinese markets began to wake, yuan just broke below 6.98/USD for the first time in this downswing, despite PBOC liquidity withdrawals sending money market rates spiking (to squeeze yuan shorts). [..] if former UBS Chief Economist George Magnus is right, any hopes for the G20 meeting between Trump and Xi should be extinguished. In a series of tweets, Magnus warned… “Trump and Xi are supposed to meet at the G20 in Buenos Aires at end month. Will they talk trade? They need to cos Trump has already threatened to subject the other of 50% of imports from China to punitive tariffs. This is how he prepares the ground, telling Fox News: “I think that we will make a great deal with China and it has to be great, because they’ve drained our country,”.

Designed to turn XJP frostier, be even less inclined to bring something to the table, and more anxious not to be seen to be succumbing to foreign pressure. So I think, barring something going on in the background, these talks are set up to fail, assuming they happen. The 10% tariff rate is due to go to 25% on 200bn $ of goods on 1 Jan anyway, and we shd probably expect WHY to go for the remaining 250bn $ of imports in new year… 2019 big year for China. centenary of founding of CCP. and rivals Soviet CP’s 72 years in power. Xi’s Chinese Dream of Rejuvenation of Chinese Ppl isn’t just a slogan. Being seen to succumb to Trump’s WH is just not on. Expect both sides to dig in further

Begs question as what China will do next. Xant tit for tat any more, as they have run out of room. @davidjlynch in @washingtonpost reminds us that tourism cd be a target. Targeting US firms also could be cranked up. Yuan depreciation also poss tho v risky at home too … Much longer discussion and background written up in Red Flags, just out in the US this month….the details change with the news and announcements, but the substance is sadly all too clear.

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Should we pity the fools who bought the overpriced crap? The entire westernworld is filled with people who grossly overpaid on the back of ultra-low rates. They’re all going to claim they’re victims, and there’s so many of them they may actually be bailed out, at the cost of those who haven’t been so stupid.

Southern California Suffers Its Worst Housing Slump In Over A Decade (CNBC)

Higher mortgage rates and overheated home prices hit Southern California home sales hard in September. The number of new and existing houses and condominiums sold during the month plummeted nearly 18 percent compared with September 2017, according to CoreLogic. That was the slowest September pace since 2007, when the national housing and mortgage crisis was hitting. Sales have been falling on an annual basis for much of this year, but this was the biggest annual drop for any month in almost eight years. It was also more than twice the annual drop seen in August. “The double whammy of higher prices and rising mortgage rates has priced out some would-be buyers and prompted others to take a wait-and-see stance,” said Andrew LePage, a CoreLogic analyst, in the release.

“There was one caveat to last month’s sharp annual sales decline — this September had one less business day for recording transactions. Adjusting for that, the year-over-year decline would be about 13 percent, still the largest in four years.” On a monthly basis, sales fell 22 percent in September compared with August. Sales usually fall about 10 percent from August to September. Sales of newly built homes are suffering more than sales of existing homes, likely because fewer are being built compared with historical production levels. Newly built homes also come at a price premium. Sales of newly built homes were 47 percent below the September average dating back to 1988, while sales of existing homes were 22 percent below their long-term average.

The median price of Southern California homes sold in September, $505,000, was still 3.6 percent higher than it was a year ago. That was the lowest annual gain for any month in more than three years. “Price growth is moderating amid slower sales and more listings in many markets,” LePage said. “This is welcome news for potential homebuyers, but many still face a daunting hurdle – the monthly mortgage payment, which has been pushed up sharply by rising mortgage rates.”

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They’re everywhere that debt is cheap.

Rise In ‘Zombie Firms’ Is Fueling Fears For The Global Labor Market (CNBC)

A rise in so-called “zombie firms,” alongside higher interest rates, has led several experts to warn of the impact it could have on employment in developed nations. Zombie firms, as they are often called, are companies that would have defaulted in a normal economic cycle but continue to function due to an ultra-low interest rate environment. “Like the characters after which they are named, zombie firms are creatures that really should have shuffled off to the next realm some time ago. Instead of embracing death, they soldier on, usually wreaking havoc on the rest of society,” Eoin Murray, head of investment at Hermes Investment Management, said in a research note Wednesday.

Economists define a zombie firm as one which is at least 10 years old but is unable to cover its costs with its profits. Murray described collapsed facilities management and construction services company Carillion as one. Ever since the financial crisis, these firms have taken on huge pile of debts as borrowing became so cheap on the back of low interest rates. The numbers of such firms are currently on the rise, according to a report from the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) released last month. Decades of falling interest rates have led to a sharp increase in the number of zombie firms that are potentially threatening economic growth and preventing interest rates from rising, the report stated.

“Our analysis suggests that this increase is linked to reduced financial pressure, which in turn seems to reflect in part the effects of lower interest rates,” the research said, adding that these “zombies” weigh on economic performance because they are “less productive and because their presence lowers investment in and employment at more productive firms.”

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What’s the use without an Irish border deal?

UK, EU Agree Tentative Brexit Deal On Financial Services (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May has struck a tentative deal with the European Union that would give UK financial services companies continued access to European markets after Brexit, the Times reported on Thursday. British and European negotiators have reached tentative agreement on all aspects of a future partnership on services, as well as the exchange of data, the British newspaper reported, citing government sources. The services deal would give UK companies access to European markets as long as British financial regulation remained broadly aligned with the EU’s, the Times reported. The British pound jumped as much as 0.5 percent against the dollar following the report.

Global banks operating in the UK have had to reorganize their operations around Britain’s departure from the European Union, due to take place in March next year. Many have set up new European hubs and begun to move operations, senior executives and staff to ensure they can continue to serve their continental clients if Britain leaves the bloc without a deal. According to the Times’ report, EU will accept that the UK has “equivalent” regulations to Brussels, and UK financial services companies will be allowed to operate as they now do in Europe. EU officials have said that the EU’s financial market access system, known as “equivalence,” under which Brussels grants access to foreign banks and insurers if their home rules converge with the bloc’s, is probably Britain’s best bet.

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Yeah, let’s hand MbS some nukes.

GOP Senators Want Trump To Halt Nuclear Technology Talks With Saudis (CNBC)

Five Republican senators have asked the Trump administration to suspend talks to transfer U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Turkey. The lawmakers, led by Senator Marco Rubio, threatened to block any agreement to export civilian nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, potentially setting up a showdown with the White House. The Trump administration has courted the Saudis as they seek to build 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 25 years, an endeavor that would generate tens of billions of dollars in economic activity.

In a letter to President Donald Trump, the senators say the slaying of Khashoggi, as well as other foreign policy issues, raise questions about whether the Saudi leadership should be entrusted with U.S. nuclear technology and know-how. “The ongoing revelations about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as certain Saudi actions related to Yemen and Lebanon, have raised further serious concerns about the transparency, accountability, and judgment of current decisionmakers in Saudi Arabia,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Trump. “We therefore request that you suspend any related negotiations for a U.S.-Saudi civil nuclear agreement for the foreseeable future.”

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Number 1 in a list that includes UAE and Georgia. Nobody should want that. Nice going, Jacinda.

New Zealand Is Best Place To Do Business – World Bank (G.)

New Zealand has topped the World Bank’s ranking of the best countries to start and run a business in 2018, ahead of Singapore, Denmark and Hong Kong. The World Bank said New Zealand had retained its position in its Doing Business report ahead of 190 other countries, despite not implementing any reforms in the last year. The UK slipped to ninth place while Norway climbed to seventh in a year when the World Bank said governments pressed ahead with a record number of reforms to business regulations and tax rules to support private businesses. Georgia, the former Soviet satellite state, retained its position at number six in the rankings, despite persistent criticism from aid agencies that the World Bank was rewarding a country with high levels of inequality, showing that a business-friendly environment is not in and of itself a means of alleviating poverty.

Macedonia, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Mauritius are also among the business-friendly countries in the World Bank’s top 20 that rank among the highest in Oxfam’s list of unequal nations. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development criticised Mauritius last year for acting as a tax haven and leaching tax revenues from mainland African nations. Singapore, often held up as a model for post-Brexit Britain, recently topped Oxfam’s list of unequal nations. The World Bank Group’s president, Jim Yong Kim, said the private sector played an important role in “creating sustainable economic growth and ending poverty around the world”.

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Even the US is ahead of Europe on this.

Europe Torn Over Islamic State Children In Syria (R.)

For years, they heard little from daughters who went to join Islamic State. Now dozens of families across Europe have received messages from those same women, desperate to return home from detention in Syria. They are among 650 Europeans, many of them infants, held by U.S.-backed Kurdish militias in three camps since IS was routed last year, according to Kurdish sources. Unwanted by their Kurdish guards, they are also a headache for officials in Europe. In letters sent via the Red Cross and in phone messages, the women plead for their children to be allowed home to be raised in the countries they left behind. In one message played by a woman at a cafe in Antwerp, the chatter of her young grandchildren underscores their mother’s pleas.

Another woman in Paris wants to care for three grandchildren she has never met, born after her daughter left for Syria in 2014, at the age 18. “They are innocent,” she said. “They had no part in any of this.” Like other relatives of those held in Syria, the two mothers asked to remain anonymous – afraid of being linked to IS and worried their daughters may face reprisals. The United States has taken custody of some citizens, as have Russia and Indonesia, and wants Europe to do the same – fearing the camps may breed a new generation of militants. “We are telling European governments: ‘Take your people back, prosecute them. … They are more of a threat to you here than back home,’” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said.

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“If you put a drop of love into Twitter it seems to decay but if you put in a drop of hatred you feel it actually propagates much more strongly.”

Tim Berners-Lee Says Tech Giants May Have To Be Split Up (R.)

Silicon Valley technology giants such as Facebook and Google have grown so dominant they may need to be broken up, unless challengers or changes in taste reduce their clout, the inventor of the World Wide Web told Reuters. The digital revolution has spawned a handful of U.S.-based technology companies since the 1990s that now have a combined financial and cultural power greater than most sovereign states. Tim Berners-Lee, a London-born computer scientist who invented the Web in 1989, said he was disappointed with the current state of the internet, following scandals over the abuse of personal data and the use of social media to spread hate.

“What naturally happens is you end up with one company dominating the field so through history there is no alternative to really coming in and breaking things up,” Berners-Lee, 63, said in an interview. “There is a danger of concentration.” But he urged caution too, saying the speed of innovation in both technology and tastes could ultimately cut some of the biggest technology companies down to size. “Before breaking them up, we should see whether they are not just disrupted by a small player beating them out of the market, but by the market shifting, by the interest going somewhere else,” Berners-Lee said.

“I am disappointed with the current state of the Web,” he said. “We have lost the feeling of individual empowerment and to a certain extent also I think the optimism has cracked.” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and pledged to do more to protect users’ data. But social media, Berners-Lee said, was still being used to propagate hate. “If you put a drop of love into Twitter it seems to decay but if you put in a drop of hatred you feel it actually propagates much more strongly. And you wonder: ‘Well is that because of the way that Twitter as a medium has been built?’”

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Not at all surprised, but I have some trouble with this sentence: “..we have put about 150 times the amount of energy used to generate electricity globally into the seas..”

Oceans ‘Soaking Up 60% More Heat Than Estimated’ (BBC)

The world has seriously underestimated the amount of heat soaked up by our oceans over the past 25 years, researchers say. Their study suggests that the seas have absorbed 60% more than previously thought. They say it means the Earth is more sensitive to fossil fuel emissions than estimated. This could make it much more difficult to to keep global warming within safe levels this century. According to the last major assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s oceans have taken up over 90% of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases.

But this new study says that every year, for the past 25 years, we have put about 150 times the amount of energy used to generate electricity globally into the seas – 60% more than previous estimates. That’s a big problem. Scientists base their predictions about how much the Earth is warming by adding up all the excess heat that is produced by the known amount of greenhouse gases that have been emitted by human activities. This new calculation shows that far more heat than we thought has been going into oceans. But it also means that far more heat than we thought has been generated by the warming gases we have emitted. Therefore more heat from the same amount of gas means the Earth is more sensitive to CO2.


More heat means less oxygen in the water which could have implications for many species. Photo Victor Huang

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Well, and seas. “..more than 77 per cent of land – excluding Antarctica – and 87 per cent of the ocean has been modified by the direct effects of human activities..”

70% Of World’s Last Remaining Wilderness In Just Five Countries (Ind.)

More than 70 per cent of our planet’s remaining areas of wilderness are contained in just five countries and are at the mercy of political decisions regarding their future, new research has warned. Urgent international action is required to ensure the preservation of these last pockets of intact ecosystems, the study says, which calls for mandated conservation targets. The places where the greatest remaining tracts of wilderness containing mixes of species at near-natural levels of abundance were identified as being in Russia, Canada, Australia, the US and Brazil.

Produced by the University of Queensland (UQ) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the study published in the journal Nature, says these areas are “increasingly important buffers against changing conditions… Yet they aren’t an explicit target in international policy frameworks.” The study also examines the huge future value these areas are likely to have for our planet. “They are also the only areas supporting the ecological processes that sustain biodiversity over evolutionary timescales,” it says. “As such, they are important reservoirs of genetic information, and act as reference areas for efforts to re-wild degraded land and seascapes.”

Professor James Watson, from UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said the work provides the first full global picture of how little wilderness remains, and he was alarmed at the results. “A century ago, only 15 per cent of the Earth’s surface was used by humans to grow crops and raise livestock,” he said. “Today, more than 77 per cent of land – excluding Antarctica – and 87 per cent of the ocean has been modified by the direct effects of human activities. It might be hard to believe, but between 1993 and 2009, an area of terrestrial wilderness larger than India – a staggering 3.3 million square kilometres – was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures.”

Read more …

Jul 232018
 
 July 23, 2018  Posted by at 9:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Man in a bowler hat 1964

 

Martyrs to the Cause: Carter Page and Julian Assange (Raimondo)
British Assassination Campaign Targeting Russian Exiles? (SCF)
The Burden Of Proof Is On The Russiagaters (CJ)
Russian Hysteria An Exercise In PsyOps (Kunstler)
Liquidity Crisis: Tesla Asks Suppliers For “Cash Back” (ZH)
Portugal Dared to Cast Aside Austerity. It’s Having a Major Revival.
How The Fracking Revolution Broke OPEC’s Hold On Oil Prices (Rapier)
Less Than 20% Of US Apartments Affordable For Middle-Income Black Renters (MW)
China Probes Stainless Steel Imports From Indonesia, EU, Japan And Korea (R.)
The World’s Largest Megacities By 2100 (ZH/VC)
Earth’s Resources Consumed In Ever Greater Destructive Volumes (G.)
Crop Failure And Bankruptcy Threaten Farmers As Drought Grips Europe (G.)

 

 

“Assange is, in short, the greatest journalist of our time..”

Martyrs to the Cause: Carter Page and Julian Assange (Raimondo)

Assange was granted sanctuary due to Rafael Correa, then the President of Ecuador: unfortunately, Correa’s successor – one Lenin Moreno – has caved to pressure from the US and Britain, and it looks like Assange is going to be handed over to the British imminently. What happens next is anybody’s guess, but my own view is that there has indeed been a grand jury secretly deliberating his case, and charges will be made public: which means Assange will be sent to America, and to an uncertain fate. Uncertain due to the Supreme Court decision in the Pentagon Papers case, in which the Supremes ruled that the First Amendment protects journalists who report facts that may embarrass or otherwise inconvenience the government.

In other circumstances, and in an earlier era, his fate would not be uncertain, it would be sealed. After all, WikiLeaks has revealed more US government secrets than any single individual or state adversary in history. One after another the revelations came – a US helicopter gunship gunning down Iraqi civilians, the entire secret diplomatic history of the US, complete with original documents and references, the methodology of hi-tech US surveillance on ordinary Americans, and the list goes on and on. Assange is, in short, the greatest journalist of our time – and so naturally the rest of the profession hates his guts, and is calling for his head.

The reasons for this should be clear enough: the Russia-gate mythology, a matter of faith for the Fourth Estate, characterizes Assange as one of its chief demons. He is, in their fake-expert phraseology, a Russian “asset,” Putin’s puppet, who deprived Hillary Clinton of her rightful due and “stole” the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Donald Trump.

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Since the narrative is not based on any evidence whatsoever, we can simply turn it upside down.

British Assassination Campaign Targeting Russian Exiles? (SCF)

For its part, the Russian government has always categorically denied any involvement in the ill-fate of nationals living in exile in Britain. On the Skripal case, Moscow has pointed out that the British authorities have not produced any independently verifiable evidence against the Kremlin. Russian requests for access to the investigation file have been rejected by the British. On the Litvinenko case, Russia has said that the official British inquiry was conducted without due process of transparency, or Russia being allowed to defend itself. It was more trial by media. A common denominator is that the British have operated on a presumption of guilt. The “proof” is largely at the level of allegation or innuendo of Russian malfeasance.

But let’s turn the premise of the argument around. What if the British state were the ones conducting a campaign of assassination against Russian émigrés, with the cold-blooded objective of using those deaths as a propaganda campaign to blacken and criminalize Russia? In a recent British media interview Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was typically harangued over alleged Russian malign activity in Britain. Lavrov rightly turned the question around, and said that the Russian authorities are the ones who are entitled to demand an explanation from the British state on why so many of its nationals have met untimely deaths. The presumption of guilt against Russia is based on a premise of Russophobia, which prevents an open-minded inquiry.

If an open mind is permitted, then surely a more pertinent position is to ask the British authorities to explain the high number of deaths in their jurisdiction. As ever, the litmus-test question is: who gains from the deaths? In the case of the alleged attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, would Russia risk such a bizarre plot against an exile who had been living in Britain undisturbed for 10 years? Or would Britain gain much more from smearing Moscow at the time of President Putin’s re-election in March, and in the run-up to the World Cup?

The more recent alleged nerve-agent poisoning of two British citizens – Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess – in the southern English town of Amesbury revived official anti-Russia accusations and public fears over the earlier Skripal incident in nearby Salisbury. The Amesbury incident in early July occurred just as a successful World Cup tournament in Russia was underway. It also came ahead of US President Donald Trump’s landmark summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Again, who stands to gain most from these provocative events? Russia or Britain?

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This is how it should be done.

The Burden Of Proof Is On The Russiagaters (CJ)

As we’ve discussed previously, in a post-Iraq invasion world the confident-sounding assertions of spies, government officials and media pundits is not sufficient evidence for the public to rationally support claims that are being used to escalate dangerous cold war tensions with a nuclear superpower. The western empire has every motive in the world to lie about the behaviors of a noncompliant government, and has an extensive and well-documented history of doing exactly that. Hard, verifiable, publicly available proof is required. Assertions are not evidence.

But even if there wasn’t an extensive and recent history of disastrous US-led escalations premised on lies advanced by spies, government officials and media pundits, the burden of proof would still be on those making the claim, because that’s how logic works. Whether you’re talking about law, philosophy or debate, the burden of proof is always on the party making the claim. A group of spies, government officials and media pundits saying that something happened in an assertive tone of voice is not the same thing as proof. That side of the Russiagate debate is the side making the claim, so the burden of proof is on them. Until proof is made publicly available, there is no logical reason for the public to accept the CIA/CNN Russia narrative as fact, because the burden of proof has not been met.

[..] There are many Russiagate skeptics who have been doing copious amounts of research to come up with other theories about what could have happened in 2016, and that’s fine. But in a way this can actually make the debate more confused, because instead of leaning back and insisting that the burden of proof be met, you are leaning in and trying to convince everyone of your alternative theory. Russiagaters love this more than anything, because you’ve shifted the burden of proof for them. Now you’re the one making the claims, so they can lean back and come up with reasons to be skeptical of your argument.

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“I think that the thinking class in the United States has literally lost its mind.”

Russian Hysteria An Exercise In PsyOps (Kunstler)

The media over the last few years has indulged in wild speculation around U.S.-Russian relations. And as seen, the run up to this weeks meeting at Helsinki between the leaders of the two nations has been no different. James believes the ongoing Russia investigation, the election of Donald Trump and the defeat of Hillary Clinton has made a certain class of people in the U.S. irrational. “I think that the thinking class in the United States has literally lost its mind. Donald Trump’s persona is so odious that it’s just driven them mad and he’s like a giant splinter in the eye of the thinking class.”

A registered Democrat, Kunstler doesn’t believe that the Russians interfered in the U.S. election in any meaningful way. And any efforts to punish or antagonize them are crazy and dangerous. The ongoing expansion of NATO, playing war games at Russia’s borders and the destabilizing of Ukraine has consolidated bad relations with Russia stretching back to the Cold War. History repeats itself tragically when the thinking classes of powerful nations start to behave extremely irrationally. “Doing anything to interfere with trade and erect barriers and put up tariffs might be a dangerous thing to do,” says Kunstler.

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Boy, what a story.

Liquidity Crisis: Tesla Asks Suppliers For “Cash Back” (ZH)

According to a memo seen by The Wall Street Journal that was sent to a supplier last week, Tesla said it is asking its suppliers for cash back to, drumroll, help it become profitable, as if that is somehow the priority of the company’s suppliers. And we are not talking about a few cents here and there: Tesla requested the supplier return what it calls a meaningful amount of money of its payments since 2016. But wait, it gets better: the memo which was sent by a global supply manager (who will probably be fired shortly), described the request as “essential to Tesla’s continued operation” and characterized it as an investment in the car company to continue the long-term growth between both players.

In other words, Tesla has given its vendors an ultimatum: give us a haircut, or else we won’t survive, and not only is your business with us over, but all those billions in payables we owe you, well, good luck with the other pre-petition claims in bankruptcy court. Or as one Tesla skeptic noted on twitter: “TSLA has been cranking out cars 24/7 at 2-3x the rate they can deliver them, turning supplier parts on credit into finished goods. Then they turn around and “ask” for a cash back so they don’t default on said suppliers. Y’all just got played.” For those wondering how much money Tesla owes its suppliers, or “ransom” as it is now better known, the answer is $2.6 billion and rising exponentially.

As the WSJ further adds, “while Tesla said in the memo that all suppliers were being asked to help it become profitable, it is unclear how many were asked for a discount on contracted spending amounts retroactively.” While Tesla did not comment on the memo, it spun the situation as standard industry practice (it isn’t) confirming it is seeking price reductions from suppliers for projects, some of which date back to 2016, and some of which final acceptance many not yet have occurred. The company called such requests a standard part of procurement negotiations to improve its competitive advantage, especially as it ramps up Model 3 production. Odd that Tesla did not consider all these aspects of its business when it signed contracts which laid out, very clearly, what its obligations were.

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Why still austerity in Greece?

Portugal Dared to Cast Aside Austerity. It’s Having a Major Revival.

Ramón Rivera had barely gotten his olive oil business started in the sun-swept Algarve region of Portugal when Europe’s debt crisis struck. The economy crumbled, wages were cut, and unemployment doubled. The government in Lisbon had to accept a humiliating international bailout. But as the misery deepened, Portugal took a daring stand: In 2015, it cast aside the austerity measures its European creditors had imposed, igniting a virtuous cycle that put its economy back on a path to growth. The country reversed cuts to wages, pensions and social security, and offered incentives to businesses. The government’s U-turn, and willingness to spend, had a powerful effect. Creditors railed against the move, but the gloom that had gripped the nation through years of belt-tightening began to lift. Business confidence rebounded. Production and exports began to take off — including at Mr. Rivera’s olive groves.

“We had faith that Portugal would come out of the crisis,” said Mr. Rivera, the general manager of Elaia. The company focused on state-of-the-art harvesting technology, and it is now one of Portugal’s biggest olive oil producers. “We saw that this was the best place in the world to invest.” At a time of mounting uncertainty in Europe, Portugal has defied critics who have insisted on austerity as the answer to the Continent’s economic and financial crisis. While countries from Greece to Ireland — and for a stretch, Portugal itself — toed the line, Lisbon resisted, helping to stoke a revival that drove economic growth last year to its highest level in a decade. The renewal is visible just about everywhere. Hotels, restaurants and shops have opened in droves, fueled by a tourism surge that has helped cut unemployment in half.

In the Beato district of Lisbon, a mega-campus for start-ups rises from the rubble of a derelict military factory. Bosch, Google and Mercedes-Benz recently opened offices and digital research centers here, collectively employing thousands. Foreign investment in aerospace, construction and other sectors is at a record high. And traditional Portuguese industries, including textiles and paper mills, are putting money into innovation, driving a boom in exports. “What happened in Portugal shows that too much austerity deepens a recession, and creates a vicious circle,” Prime Minister António Costa said in an interview. “We devised an alternative to austerity, focusing on higher growth, and more and better jobs.”

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How long for?

How The Fracking Revolution Broke OPEC’s Hold On Oil Prices (Rapier)

A decade ago, in the summer of 2008, the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was racing toward $150 a barrel. Over the previous three years, and despite strong demand growth, the world had only increased oil production by 1.2 million BPD, and it essentially all came from OPEC. Many analysts, including me, were extremely concerned about the future hold OPEC would maintain over the world’s oil supplies. It appeared that there would an enormous transfer of wealth from those countries dependent upon oil imports – like the United States – to OPEC countries. In many cases, these countries have interests that are hostile to those of the U.S., so this was very much an issue of national security.

But the future played out differently than it seemed it would in the summer of 2008. Unbeknownst to most people, oil producers were experimenting with a marriage between two established oil drilling technologies — horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The success of this marriage would unlock oil in tight oil and shale oil deposits that had previously been too expensive to recover, and would result in one of the greatest oil booms the world had ever seen. In fact, the “fracking revolution” caused U.S. oil production to turn upward in 2009, and then rise over the next seven years at the fastest rate in U.S. history.

While it is still true that OPEC still produced 42.6% of the world’s oil in 2017, the majority of new oil production since 2008 has come from the U.S. Of the 10.3 million BPD of new oil production since 2008, the U.S. supplied 6.2 million BPD (60%). The world’s two other major oil-producing countries, Saudi Arabia and Russia, saw their production increase by 1.7 million BPD and 1.2 million BPD respectively since 2008. OPEC overall increased its production by 3.6 million BPD since 2008, primarily as a result of production growth in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. But OPEC’s gains were limited by production declines in Venezuela, Libya, and Nigeria. There were also regional production declines in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South and Central America.

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What happens if you use cheap credit to make your zombie economy look alive.

Less Than 20% Of US Apartments Affordable For Middle-Income Black Renters (MW)

Millions of Americans rent because they can’t afford to buy. And many of those people struggle to pay the rent, new research suggests, more so if they are African-American or Hispanic. A renter who earned $39,647 per year, the median black household income in the U.S., could afford just 16.2% of rentals available on Zillow if they kept their housing costs below 30% of their pretax income, according to a new analysis from the real-estate company. Hispanic renters fared somewhat better: Those who earned the median household income could afford 27.3% of rentals before they risked spending more than a third of their pretax income on housing.

Spending 30% of your gross income on rent is the traditional measure of affordability used by many real-estate experts. Comparatively, white renters who earned the median household income for their demographic could afford 49.7% of rentals, while Asian renters could afford 67.4%. “Perhaps more so than any other factor, income determines where and how we live in the United States today,” said Zillow senior economist Aaron Terrazas in the report. “Income disparities across racial and ethnic groups in the United States have remained stubbornly persistent and, as a result, black and Hispanic families encounter far fewer affordable rental options than white and Asian families,” he said.

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More tariffs?

China Probes Stainless Steel Imports From Indonesia, EU, Japan And Korea (R.)

China on Monday launched an anti-dumping probe into stainless steel imports worth $1.3 billion, including from a privately owned Chinese mill with operations offshore, after complaints that a flood of product has damaged the local industry. The Commerce Ministry said on Monday the investigation will target imports of stainless steel billet and hot-rolled stainless steel sheet and plate from the European Union, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia, which nearly tripled last year. The move follows a complaint by Shanxi Taigang Stainless Steel with backing from four other state-owned mills including Baosteel’s stainless steel division, which blamed cheap imports on falling prices, it said.

China makes and consumes around half of the world’s stainless steel, which is used to protect against corrosion in buildings, transportation and packaging. While the complaint targets eight foreign producers, it also lists a number Chinese companies, including the Indonesian unit of one of the world’s top producers, Tsingshan Stainless Steel, and 19 traders who import product. Some private Chinese companies have opened or started building plants in Indonesia in recent years, drawing on its plentiful nickel resources and lower-cost of production. A significant portion of the new production has been sold in China, analysts say.

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At least a little scary.

The World’s Largest Megacities By 2100 (ZH/VC)

Throughout the course of human history, the biggest cities have always seemed impossibly large. For many millennia, it was almost unfathomable for a city to sustain more than 1 million residents. In fact, as Visual Capitalist’s Jeff Desjardins notes, it wasn’t until the 19th century that the largest cities globally, such as London and Beijing, were able to consistently hold populations beyond that impressive mark. Despite this, in the modern era, we’ve quickly discovered that a city of 1 million people isn’t remarkable at all. In China alone, there are now over 100 cities with a million people today – and as such, our mental benchmark for what we consider to be a “big city” has changed considerably from past times.

Just like a city the size of modern Tokyo was hard to imagine for someone living in the 19th century, it can be an extremely difficult thought experiment for us to visualize what future megacities will look like. Researchers at the Global Cities Institute have crunched the numbers to provide us with one view of the potential megacities of the future, extrapolating a variety of factors to project a list of the 101 largest cities in the years 2010, 2025, 2050, 2075, and 2100.

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The Overshoot theme is shaky, but not fully devoid of meaning.

Earth’s Resources Consumed In Ever Greater Destructive Volumes (G.)

Humanity is devouring our planet’s resources in increasingly destructive volumes, according to a new study that reveals we have consumed a year’s worth of carbon, food, water, fibre, land and timber in a record 212 days. As a result, the Earth Overshoot Day – which marks the point at which consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate – has moved forward two days to 1 August, the earliest date ever recorded. To maintain our current appetite for resources, we would need the equivalent of 1.7 Earths, according to Global Footprint Network, an international research organisation that makes an annual assessment of how far humankind is falling into ecological debt.

The overshoot began in the 1970s, when rising populations and increasing average demands pushed consumption beyond a sustainable level. Since then, the day at which humanity has busted its annual planetary budget has moved forward. Thirty years ago, the overshoot was on 15 October. Twenty years ago, 30 September. Ten years ago, 15 August. There was a brief slowdown, but the pace has picked back up in the past two years. On current trends, next year could mark the first time, the planet’s budget is busted in July. While ever greater food production, mineral extraction, forest clearance and fossil-fuel burning bring short-term (and unequally distributed) lifestyle gains, the long-term consequences are increasingly apparent in terms of soil erosion, water shortages and climate disruption.

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Record highs everywhere.

Crop Failure And Bankruptcy Threaten Farmers As Drought Grips Europe (G.)

Farmers across northern and central Europe are facing crop failure and bankruptcy as one of the most intense regional droughts in recent memory strengthens its grip. States of emergency have been declared in Latvia and Lithuania, while the sun continues to bake Swedish fields that have received only 12% of their normal rainfall. The abnormally hot temperatures – which have topped 30C in the Arctic Circle – are in line with climate change trends, according to the World Meteorological Organization. And as about 50 wildfires rage across Sweden, no respite from the heatwave is yet in sight. Lennart Nilsson, a 55-year-old cattle farmer from Falkenberg near Malmo and co-chair of the Swedish Farmers Association, said it was the worst drought he had experienced.

“This is really serious,” he said. “Most of south-west Sweden hasn’t had rain since the first days of May. A very early harvest has started but yields seem to be the lowest for 25 years – 50% lower, or more in some cases – and it is causing severe losses.” If no rain comes soon, Nilsson’s association estimates agricultural losses of up to 8bn Swedish kronor (£700m) this year and widespread bankruptcies. The drought would personally cost him around 500,000 kronor (£43,000), Nilsson said, adding that, like most farmers, he is now operating at a loss. The picture is little different in the Netherlands, where Iris Bouwers, a 25-year-old farmer, said the parched summer had been a “catastrophe” for her farm.

“Older families around me are comparing this to 1976,” she said. “My dad can’t remember any drought like this.” The Bouwerses expect to lose €100,000 this year after a 30% drop in their potato crop. After investing in a pig stable over the winter, the family have no savings to cover the loss. Asked what she would do, Bouwers just laughed. “Hope and pray,” she said. “There is not much more I can do. I wouldn’t talk about bankruptcy yet, but our deficit will be substantial. It probably means we need to have a very good talk with the bank.”

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Jan 192017
 
 January 19, 2017  Posted by at 11:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Photograph: Palani Mohan/Getty Images

Anxious European Leaders Seek An Early Audience With Trump, Before Putin (AP)
Hands off EU, Trump; We Don’t Back Ohio Secession: Juncker (R.)
Jamie Dimon Says Eurozone May Not Survive (BBG)
In Europe We See Only One Loser From Brexit – And It Won’t Be Us (Quatremer)
Marine Le Pen Centers Presidential Run on Getting France Out of Eurozone (WSJ)
By Ripping NATO, Trump Makes Europe Nervous and Arms Trade Happy (BBG)
Steve Keen Exposes Next Global Economic Shockwaves (FinFeed)
How Deutsche Bank Made €367 Million Disappear at Monte dei Paschi (BBG)
Earth Breaks Heat Record In 2016 For Third Year In A Row (AFP)
‘A Cat In Hell’s Chance’ (Simms)
Over Half of World’s Wild Primate Species Face Extinction (G.)
If you were an elephant … (Foster)

 

 

I’m sorry, I’m trying, but I just can’t NOT find this funny. My article earlier today: He’s Just Not That Into You.

Anxious European Leaders Seek An Early Audience With Trump, Before Putin (AP)

European leaders, anxious over Donald Trump’s unpredictability and kind words for the Kremlin, are scrambling to get face time with the new American president before he can meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose provocations have set the continent on edge. One leader has raised with Trump the prospect of a U.S.-EU summit early this year, and the head of NATO — the powerful military alliance Trump has deemed “obsolete” – is angling for an in-person meeting ahead of Putin as well. British Prime Minister Theresa May is working to arrange a meeting in Washington soon after Friday’s inauguration. For European leaders, a meeting with a new American president is always a sought-after – and usually easy-to-obtain – invitation.

But Trump has repeatedly defied precedent, making them deeply uncertain about their standing once he takes office. Throughout his campaign and in recent interviews, Trump has challenged the viability of the EU and NATO, while praising Putin and staking out positions more in line with Moscow than Brussels. “There are efforts on the side of the Europeans to arrange a meeting with Trump as quickly as possible,” Norbert Roettgen, the head of the German Parliament’s foreign committee and a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, told AP. In fact, eager to stage an early show of Trans-Atlantic solidarity, Donald Tusk – the former Polish prime minister who heads the EU’s Council of member state governments – invited Trump to meet with the EU early in his administration, according to a EU official.

But a senior Trump adviser essentially rebuffed the offer, telling the AP this week that such a gathering would not be a priority for the incoming president, who wants to focus on meetings with individual countries, not the 28-nation bloc. Trump backs Britain’s exit from the EU, casting the populist, anti-establishment movement as a precursor to his own victory. In a recent joint interview with two European newspapers, Trump said of the EU, “I don’t think it matters much for the United States.” Such rhetoric alone was enough to set off alarm bells in Europe. And Trump’s praise for Putin and promise of closer ties to Moscow have deepened the uncertainty.

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“..he was sure no EU state wanted to follow Britain’s example and leave the bloc..”

Hands off EU, Trump; We Don’t Back Ohio Secession: Juncker (R.)

Donald Trump should lay off talking about the break-up of the European Union, the bloc’s chief executive said on Wednesday, pointing out that Europeans do not push for Ohio to secede from the United States. In pointed remarks on the eve of Trump’s inauguration as U.S. president, Jean-Claude Juncker said the new administration would realize it should not damage transatlantic relations but added it remained unclear what policies Trump would now pursue. Juncker told Germany’s BR television, according to a transcript from the Munich station, that he was sure no EU state wanted to follow Britain’s example and leave the bloc, despite Trump’s forecast this week that others would quit:

“Mr. Trump should also not be indirectly encouraging them to do that,” Juncker said. “We don’t go around calling on Ohio to pull out of the United States.” Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said he had yet to speak to Trump — contrary to what the President-elect said earlier this week. Juncker said Trump had confused him with European Council President Donald Tusk. “Trump spoke to Mr. Tusk and mixed us up,” said Juncker, taking a jab at the American billionaire’s grasp of his new role. “That’s the thing about international politics,” he said. “It’s all in the detail.”

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If even Jamie Dimon can understand it…

Jamie Dimon Says Eurozone May Not Survive (BBG)

The euro region could break up if political leaders don’t get to grips with the discontent that’s spurring support for populist leaders across the continent, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said. Dimon said he had hoped European Union leaders would examine what caused the U.K. to vote to leave and then make changes. That hasn’t happened, and if nationalist politicians including France’s Marine Le Pen rise to power in elections across the region “the euro zone may not survive,” Dimon, 60, said in a Bloomberg Television interview with John Micklethwait. “What went wrong is going wrong for everybody, not just going wrong for Britain, but in some ways it looks like they’re kind of doubling down,” Dimon said in the interview Wednesday at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Unless leaders address underlying concerns, “you’re going to have the same political things about immigration, the laws of the country, how much power goes to Brussels.” Dimon’s remarks on Europe were unusually pessimistic, coming in a wide-ranging interview in which he also criticized regulations that he said stunt economic growth. But he reiterated optimism for President-elect Donald Trump. Minutes later, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein also expressed concern about Europe, telling CNBC that leaders are facing a backlash in the midst of a long, complicated process to create an economic bloc. “That’s complicated, that’s very hard to do,” said Blankfein. “It’s not done, and it’s not accomplished. We’re finding the pain of that.” [..] The bottom line is that Europe must become more competitive, Dimon said. “I say this out of respect for the European people, but they’re going to have to change,” he said. “They may be forced by politics, they may be forced by new leadership.”

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Journalist Jean Quatremer is Mr. Europe. He’s been called an ‘ayatollah of European federalism’.

In Europe We See Only One Loser From Brexit – And It Won’t Be Us (Quatremer)

When someone wants the impossible, in French we say that they want “the butter, the money from the butter, and the dairymaid’s smile”. In more vulgar usage we say they want something rather more from the dairymaid than a smile. This is precisely what we can take away from Theresa May’s speech on the “hard Brexit” she wants. It is “hard” only for the other 27 states but “soft” for Britain – because May wants to keep all the benefits of EU membership and concede nothing in return. That is not really a surprise since she had already announced it in October during the Conservative party conference. She even considers that any other kind of agreement would be unacceptable, because it would amount to “punishing” the British.

May is threatening to turn Britain into a tax haven by way of retaliation, if, by some misfortune, the Europeans refuse to bend to the demands of Her Glorious Majesty’s subjects. We might think we are dreaming, but no: it is either arrogance or recklessness (or, more likely, a mixture of the two). Let’s sum up: on the one hand, of course, May would like a clear, “clean break” with the union, which means no longer sitting in its institutions, contributing to the budget or respecting EU law. On the other hand, she does not want the status of some kind of “partial or associate” member, which would imply having to meet EU’s requirements in all kinds of areas.

Thus far, we get it: the UK will be treated like any other third country – Zimbabwe, for instance. That’s clear and “clean”. But after that it gets complicated, at least for a continental mind that lacks the subtleties of reflection of a product of Oxbridge. Because May considers it possible for British companies to retain the greatest possible access to the single market, in particular to negotiate sectoral customs agreements with the union. And that’s where things get interesting. Because customs duty or no, importing goods into a market presupposes compliance with local norms and standards: to be clear, if the British want to export their cars (which are in fact German or Japanese cars) to the continent, they need to respect European laws. That means submitting (I know, what an awful word) to those laws. So in reality, the clear, “clean break” could only concern one part of UK industry – the part that manufactures for the local market.

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Le Pen is smartening up. She’s a true contender now.

Marine Le Pen Centers Presidential Run on Getting France Out of Eurozone (WSJ)

National Front leader Marine Le Pen is seeking to turn May’s presidential election into a referendum on the European Union by detailing a strategy to pull France from the bloc and its single currency if she wins. She last ran in 2012 with an initial promise of a sharp and sudden break from the euro, but this time Ms. Le Pen has sought broader support from a splintered French electorate. She says she would organize an orderly exit rather than crashing out with unpredictable consequences. If elected, she and top National Front officials say, her administration will spend its first six months negotiating the creation, along with other disappointed euro nations, of a basket of shadow European currencies. A newly reinstated franc, she says, would eventually be pegged to that basket, replacing the euro.

Ms. Le Pen says other countries struggling to meet European rules would be willing to enter into talks on pulling the EU apart. The threat of having to leave the euro, she says, has been used to blackmail Greece and other Southern European countries into implementing austerity programs their people reject. “The euro has not been used as a currency, but as a weapon—a knife stuck in the ribs of a country to force it to go where the people don’t want to go,” Ms. Le Pen said this month. “Do you think we accept living under this threat, this tutelage? It’s absolutely out of the question.”

[..] An attempt by France, the eurozone’s second-largest economy, to pull out would be far more challenging than Brexit, which doesn’t touch on currency questions. A “Frexit” would likely unleash chaos across the currency union and undermine the broader EU in a way Britain’s departure wouldn’t. No country has attempted to leave the euro, and French polls show that while people want to claw back control from Brussels, a majority wouldn’t vote to leave the currency. The complications of an exit weren’t as clear to Ms. Le Pen in 2012, when she garnered only 17.9% of the presidential vote with her push for a clean break with the euro. “We set off on the idea in 2012 of an immediate exit, slamming the door,” said Jean-Richard Sulzer, a senior economic adviser to Ms. Le Pen. “Things were said too quickly, but this time Marine is much more prudent.”

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Yeah, why not blame Trump for that too.

By Ripping NATO, Trump Makes Europe Nervous and Arms Trade Happy (BBG)

Donald Trump is right to say America’s NATO allies aren’t paying their fair share. But, to the delight of the arms industry, that may be changing. Trump himself is the change-maker. He reaffirmed his skepticism about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and his readiness to make deals with Russia, in European media interviews published last weekend. Trump isn’t famous for his policy consistency, but those positions have held fairly steady – leaving European leaders wondering whether they can still rely on the American security umbrella. “Let’s not fool ourselves,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week. “There is no infinite guarantee.”

So Merkel’s Germany, and many other European nations, are boosting military budgets. The plans predate Trump, and under NATO rules they should’ve been carried out long ago. The alliance expects its members to spend 2% of GDP on defense. But it’s no secret that most of them don’t. The shortfall added up to about $121 billion last year at 2010 prices, according to Bloomberg calculations based on NATO country estimates.

Since Trump is promising to increase America’s already enormous military budget too, the prospect of a European arms-shopping spree is a win-win for suppliers. Investors have noticed: From Raytheon to Lockheed Martin to Thales, defense contractors have hit all-time highs since Trump’s election. “This is the best market for defense in many years, across the board,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia. NATO was established after World War II to protect western democracies against the Soviet Union. A key tenet is that an attack on any alliance member is considered an attack on all. And that’s what Trump has questioned. If Russia moved against one of NATO’s Baltic members, Trump told the New York Times in July, he’d come to their aid only after reviewing whether they have “fulfilled their obligations to us.”

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Brilliant! Please don’t miss this!

It’s just that I thought Steve made his own Melania doll (no kidding.) And then she started talking.

Steve Keen Exposes Next Global Economic Shockwaves (FinFeed)

Steve, who is Trump going to be pouring drinks for, as in economic growth and benefits, in 2017?

Steve Keen: He is trying to pour it just for his own economy. And this is going to be the dramatic challenge he faces. Because he is someone who actually knows a lot about money and banks and debt, having used it extensively in his own professional career.

Lelde Smits: And succeeded and failed and hopefully learnt from the failures.

Steve Keen: He’s turned failure into success in many, many ways, and let’s not go there in terms of how beneficial that was for his various suppliers but he understands going bankrupt, he understand re-organisation, he understands finance.

Lelde Smits: So where is this liquid in 2017?

Steve Keen: He’s going to realise at some point he owns his own bank now. Because he’s running the country he is going to spend.

Lelde Smits: So we have the Federal Reserve right?

Steve Keen: The Federal Reserve is there and can top him up as much as it likes.

Lelde Smits: So when does this stop Steve? That’s the magic question.

Steve Keen: It never has to stop. He’s going to enable the American economy to spend dramatically. Taxation is going to be cut. There will be an increase in government spending. There will be a large deficit coming out of that. So the government is going to be creating a lot of money and running a lot of infrastructure projects and so on. There are 4 million Americans who aren’t employed now who were employed in 2000. They are people who are going to get jobs in construction and start spending domestically and so on. And Trump is going to see that as boosting up the American economy. It’s all about Buy America, Made in America and so on.

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How different do we think this is from what happened with Goldman and Greece? How to hide losses 101.

How Deutsche Bank Made €367 Million Disappear at Monte dei Paschi (BBG)

On Dec. 1, 2008, most of the world’s banks were still panicking through the financial crisis. Lehman Brothers had collapsed. Merrill Lynch had been sold. Citigroup and others had required multibillion-dollar bailouts to survive. But not every institution appeared to be in free fall. That afternoon, at the London outpost of Deutsche Bank, the stolid-seeming, €2 trillion German powerhouse, a group of financiers met to consider a proposal from a team led by a trim, 40-year-old banker named Michele Faissola. The scion of an Italian banking family, Faissola was the head of Deutsche’s global rates unit, a division that created and sold financial instruments tied to interest rates. He’d been studying the problems of one of Deutsche’s clients, Italy’s Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which, as the crisis raged, was down €367 million ($462 million at the time) on a single investment.

Losing that much money was bad; having to include it in the bank’s yearend report to the public, as required by Italian law, was arguably much worse. Monte dei Paschi was the world’s oldest bank. It had been operating since 1472 [..] . If investors were to find out the extent of its losses in the 2008 credit crisis, the consequences would be unpredictable and grave: a run on the bank, a government takeover, or worse. At the Deutsche meeting, Faissola’s team said it had come up with a miraculous solution: a new trade that would make Paschi’s loss disappear. The bankers in the room had seen some financial sleight of hand in their day, but the maneuver that Faissola’s staffers proposed was audacious.

They described a simple trade in two parts. For one half of the deal, Paschi would make a sure-thing, moneymaking bet with Deutsche Bank and use those winnings to extinguish its 2008 trading losses. Of course, Deutsche doesn’t give away money for free, so for the second half of the deal, the Italians would make a bet that was sure to lose. But while the first transaction was immediate, the second would play out slowly, over many years. No sign of the €367 million sinkhole would need to show up when Paschi compiled its yearend financial reports.

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New records set in 2005, 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Earth Breaks Heat Record In 2016 For Third Year In A Row (AFP)

Last year, the Earth sweltered under the hottest temperatures in modern times for the third year in a row, US scientists said Wednesday, raising new concerns about the quickening pace of climate change. Temperatures spiked to new national highs in parts of India, Kuwait and Iran, while sea ice melted faster than ever in the fragile Arctic, said the report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Taking a global average of the land and sea surface temperatures for the entire year, NOAA found the data for “2016 was the highest since record keeping began in 1880,” said the announcement. The global average temperature last year was 1.69 Fahrenheit (0.94 Celsius) above the 20th century average, and 0.07 degrees F (0.04 C) warmer than in 2015, the last record-setting year, according to NOAA.

This was “not a huge margin to set a new record but it is larger than the typical margin,” Deke Arndt, chief of NOAA global climate monitoring, said on a conference call with reporters. A separate analysis by the US space agency NASA also found that 2016 was the hottest on record. The World Meteorological Organization in Geneva confirmed the US findings, and noted that atmospheric concentrations of both carbon dioxide and methane reached new highs. The main reason for the rise is the burning of fossil fuels like oil and gas, which send carbon dioxide, methane and other pollutants known as greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and warm the planet. The mounting toll of industrialization on the Earth’s natural balance is increasingly apparent in the record books of recent decades. “Since the start of the 21st century, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times (2005, 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2016),” said NOAA.

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Denial is a river in the Arctic.

‘A Cat In Hell’s Chance’ (Simms)

What’s so special about 2C? The simple answer is that it is a target that could be politically agreed on the international stage. It was first suggested in 1975 by the environmental economist William Nordhaus as an upper threshold beyond which we would arrive at a climate unrecognisable to humans. In 1990, the Stockholm Environment Institute recommended 2C as the maximum that should be tolerated, but noted: “Temperature increases beyond 1C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage.” To date, temperatures have risen by almost 1C since 1880. The effects of this warming are already being observed in melting ice, ocean levels rising, worse heat waves and other extreme weather events.

There are negative impacts on farming, the disruption of plant and animal species on land and in the sea, extinctions, the disturbance of water supplies and food production and increased vulnerability, especially among people in poverty in low-income countries. But effects are global. So 2C was never seen as necessarily safe, just a guardrail between dangerous and very dangerous change. To get a sense of what a 2C shift can do, just look in Earth’s rear-view mirror. When the planet was 2C colder than during the industrial revolution, we were in the grip of an ice age and a mile-thick North American ice sheet reached as far south as New York. The same warming again will intensify and accelerate human-driven changes already under way and has been described by James Hansen, one of the first scientists to call global attention to climate change, as a “prescription for long-term disaster”, including an ice-free Arctic.

Nevertheless, in 1996, a European Council of environment ministers, that included a young Angela Merkel, adopted 2C as a target for the EU. International negotiators agreed the same in 2010 in Cancun. It was a commitment repeated in the Paris Climate Accord of 2015 where, pushed by a new group of countries called the Climate Vulnerable Forum, ambitions went one step further, agreeing to hold temperature rises to “well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C”.

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I don’t know how much longer I can witness this. At what point do we set up a private army?

“The industries at work in tropical forest areas are expected to be served by an extra 25 million km of roads by 2050..”

Over Half of World’s Wild Primate Species Face Extinction (G.)


Top row l-r: brown-headed spider monkey, chimpanzee, Western gorilla; Bottom row l-r: Bornean orangutan, Siau Island tarsier, ring-tailed lemur. Composite: Alamy and Getty Images

More than half of the world’s apes, monkeys, lemurs and lorises are now threatened with extinction as agriculture and industrial activities destroy forest habitats and the animals’ populations are hit by hunting and trade. In the most bleak assessment of primates to date, conservationists found that 60% of the wild species are on course to die out, with three quarters already in steady decline. The report casts doubt on the future of about 300 primate species, including gorillas, chimps, gibbons, marmosets, tarsiers, lemurs and lorises. Anthony Rylands, a senior research scientist at Conservation International who helped to compile the report, said he was “horrified” at the grim picture revealed in the review which drew on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, peer-reviewed science reports and UN databases.

“The scale of this is massive,” Rylands told the Guardian. “Considering the large number of species currently threatened and experiencing population declines, the world will soon be facing a major extinction event if effective action is not implemented immediately,” he writes in the journal Science Advances, with colleagues at the University of Illinois and the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The most dramatic impact on primates has come from agricultural growth. From 1990 to 2010 it has claimed 1.5 million square kilometres of primate habitats, an area three times the size of France. In Sumatra and Borneo, the destruction of forests for oil palm plantations has driven severe declines in orangutan populations. In China, the expansion of rubber plantations has led to the near extinction of the northern white-cheeked crested gibbon and the Hainan gibbon, of which only about 30 or animals survive.

More rubber plantations in India have hit the Bengal slow loris, the western hoolock gibbon and Phayre’s leaf monkey. Primates are spread throughout 90 countries, but two thirds of the species live in just four: Brazil, Madagascar, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In Madagascar, 87% of primate species face extinction, along with 73% in Asia, the report states. It adds that humans have “one last opportunity” to reduce or remove the threats facing the animals, to build conservation efforts, and raise worldwide awareness of their predicament. The market for tropical timber has driven up industrial logging and damaged forest areas in Asia, Africa and the neotropics. Mining for minerals and diamonds have also taken a toll. On Dinagat island in the Philippines, gold, nickel and copper mining endanger the Philippine tarsier. In the DRC, hunters working around the tin, gold and diamond mine industry are the greatest threat to the region’s Grauer’s gorilla. The industries at work in tropical forest areas are expected to be served by an extra 25 million km of roads by 2050, further fragmenting the primates’ habitats.

Read more …

If you were an elephant … You would still feel love, hurt and grief.

“Perhaps one of the reasons we’re so keen to deny non-human creatures minds, consciousness and personhood is that, if they’re people, they’re embarrassingly better people than we are. They build better communities; they live at peace with themselves and aren’t, unlike us, actively psychopathic towards other species. ”

If you were an elephant … (Foster)

If you were an elephant living wild in a western city, you’d be confused and disgusted. You’d have one two-fingered hand swinging from your face – a hand as sensitive as tumescent genitals, but which could smash a wall or pick a cherry. With that hand you’d explore your best friends’ mouths, just for the sake of friendship. With that hand you’d smell water miles away and the flowers at your feet. You’d sift it all, triaging. Category 1: immediate danger. Category 2: potential threat. Category 3: food and water. Category 4: weather forecasts – short and long range. Category 5: pleasure. Grumbles from trucks and cabs would shudder through the toxic ground, tickle the lamellar corpuscles in your feet and ricochet up your bones. You’d hear with your feet, and your femurs would be microphones.

As you walked 10 miles for your breakfast you’d chatter with your friends in 10 octaves. A nearby human would throb like a bodhran as subsonic waves bounced around her chest. Even if it swayed with grass instead of being covered in concrete and dog shit, the city would be far, far too small for you. You’d feel the ring roads like a corset. You’d smell succulent fields outside, and be wistful. But you’d make the most of what you had. You’d follow a labyrinth of old roads, relying on the wisdom of long-dead elephants, now passed down to your matriarch. You’d have the happiest kind of political system, run by wise old women, appointed for their knowledge of the world and their judgment, uninterested in hierarchy for hierarchy’s sake, and seeking the greatest good for the greatest number.

No room here for the infantile phallocentric Nietzscheanism that is destroying modern human culture. If you were a boy you’d be on the margins, drifting between family groups (but never allowed to disrupt them) or shacked up with your bachelor pals in the elephant equivalent of an unswept bedsit (though usually your behaviour would be gentler, more convivial and more urbane than cohabiting human males). Your function would be to inseminate, and that’s all. Government would be the business of the females. You’d be a communitarian. Relationality would be everything. It’s not that you couldn’t survive alone, although there would certainly be a survival benefit from being a member of a community, just as humans live longer if they are plugged into a church, a mosque or a bowling club.

Yes, at some level your altruism might be reciprocal altruism, where you scratch my back if I scratch yours, or kin selection, where you are somehow persuaded to sacrifice yourself if your death or disadvantage will preserve a gene in a sufficiently closely related gene-bearer. But at a much more obvious and important level you’d be relational – joyously shouldering the duties that come with community – because it made you happy. Why do elephants seek out other elephants? Not primarily for sex, or for an extra arsenal of receptors to pick up the scent of poachers, or because they assume that the others will have found particularly nutritious food, but because they like other elephants.

[..] As an elephant, you’d have a mind. You would, no doubt at all, be conscious. All the evidence agrees. None – absolutely none – disagrees. You’d have a sense of yourself as distinct from other things. When you looked out contemptuously at humans, wondering why they ate obviously contaminated food, opted to be miserable and alone, or wasted energy on pointless aggression and anxiety, it would be your contempt, as opposed to generic elephantine contempt, or reflexive contempt that bypassed your cerebral cortex, or the contempt of your sister. It would be you looking out, and you’d know it was you.


Photograph: Palani Mohan/Getty Images

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Jul 202016
 
 July 20, 2016  Posted by at 9:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Newsie, Washington DC 1920

To the Mattresses: Cash Levels Highest In Nearly 15 Years (CNBC)
The Financial System Is Breaking Down At An Unimaginable Pace (Black)
This ‘Market’ Discounts Nothing Except Monetary Cocaine (Stockman)
These Sicilian Mortgages Show How Hard It Is to Rescue Italian Banks (BBG)
Deal With Canada On The Brink as German Party Sues EU Over CETA (Exp.)
The Long, Sad, Corrupted Devolution Of The GOP (Intercept)
The World Is Taking Revenge Against Elites. When Will America’s Wake Up? (G.)
The Secret History of Glass-Steagall (WSJ)
We Need More Borders And More States (Mises Inst.)
June 2016 Was 14th Consecutive Month Of Record-Breaking Heat (G.)
This Year’s Record Arctic Melt Is a Problem For Everybody (Stone)

 

 

Breaking point.

To the Mattresses: Cash Levels Highest In Nearly 15 Years (CNBC)

Despite the post-Brexit market rally, fund managers have gotten even more wary of taking risks. The S&P 500 has jumped about 8.5% since the lows hit in the days after Britain’s move to leave the EU, but that hasn’t assuaged professional investors. Cash levels are now at 5.8% of portfolios, up a notch from June and at the highest levels since November 2001, according to the latest BofA Merrill Lynch Fund Manager Survey. In addition to putting money under the mattress, investors also are looking for protection, with equity hedging at its highest level in the survey’s history. Indeed, fear is running high as investors believe that global financial conditions are tightening, despite nearly $12 trillion of negative-yielding debt around the world and the U.S. central bank on hold perhaps until 2017.

In fact, fear is running so high that BofAML experts think that it’s helping fuel the recent market rally. “Record numbers of investors saying fiscal policy is too restrictive and the first underweighting of equities in four years suggest that fiscal easing could be a tactical catalyst for risk assets going forward,” Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist, said in a statement. Positioning changed, with a rotation from euro zone, banks and insurance companies shifting to the U.S., industrials, energy, technology and materials stocks. Fund managers believe that so-called helicopter money will become a reality, with 39% now anticipating the move compared to 27% in June.

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“..the total sum of negative-yielding debt in the world has increased in the last sixteen days alone by an amount that’s larger than the entire GDP of Russia.”

The Financial System Is Breaking Down At An Unimaginable Pace (Black)

Now it’s $13 trillion. That’s the total amount of government bonds in the world that have negative yields, according to calculations published last week by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Given that there were almost zero negative-yielding bonds just two years ago, the rise to $13 trillion is incredible. In February 2015, the total amount of negative-yielding debt in the world was ‘only’ $3.6 trillion. A year later in February 2016 it had nearly doubled to $7 trillion. Now, just five months later, it has nearly doubled again to $13 trillion, up from $11.7 trillion just over two weeks ago. Think about that: the total sum of negative-yielding debt in the world has increased in the last sixteen days alone by an amount that’s larger than the entire GDP of Russia.

Just like subprime mortgage bonds from ten years ago, these bonds are also toxic securities, since many of are issued by bankrupt governments (like Japan). Instead of paying subprime home buyers to borrow money, investors are now paying subprime governments. And just like the build-up to the 2008 subprime crisis, investors are snapping up today’s subprime bonds with frightening enthusiasm. We’ll probably see $15 trillion, then $20 trillion, worth of negative-yielding subprime government debt within the next few months. So this trend will continue to grow for now, until, just like in 2008, the bubble bursts in cataclysmic fashion. It took several years for the first subprime bubble to pop. This one may take even longer. But even still, we can already see the consequences today.

A few months ago I told you about the remarkable $3.4 trillion funding gap in the US pension system. Remember, we’re not talking about Social Security– that has its own $40+ trillion shortfall. I’m talking about private companies’ retirement pensions, or public service worker pensions at the city and state level. (By the way, this is NOT strictly a US phenomenon. Europe suffers its own $2 trillion pension shortfall.) There’s zero mathematical probability that these pensions will be able to meet their obligations. They’re already underfunded. And the problem is getting worse, thanks in part to this plague of low and negative interest rates.

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“Regardless of whether the November winner is Hillary or the Donald, there is one thing certain. There will be no functioning government come 2017.”

This ‘Market’ Discounts Nothing Except Monetary Cocaine (Stockman)

[..]..whether the central banks buy public debt from the inventories of the 23 prime dealers and other market speculators or directly from the US treasury makes no technical difference whatsoever. The end state of “something for nothing” finance is the same in both cases. In fact, “helicopter money” is just a desperate scam emanating from the world’s tiny fraternity of central bankers who have walked the financial system to the brink, and are now trying to con the casino into believing they have one more magic rabbit to pull out of the hat. They don’t. That’s because it takes two branches of the state to tango in the game of helicopter money.

The unelected monetary central planners can run the digital printing presses at whim, and continuously “surprise” and gratify the casino gamblers with another unexpected batch of the monetary drugs. That has been exactly the pattern of multiple rounds of QE and the unending invention of excuses to prolong ZIRP into its 90th month. The resulting rises in the stock averages, of course, were the result of fresh liquidity injections and the associated monetary high, not the discounting of new information about economics and profits. By contrast, helicopter money requires the peoples’ elected representatives to play.

That is, the Congress and White House must generate large incremental expansions of the fiscal deficit—so that the central bankers can buy it directly from the US treasury’s shelf, and then credit the government’s Fed accounts with credits conjured from thin air. To be sure, the cynics would say – no problem! When have politicians ever turned down an opportunity to borrow and spend themselves silly, and to than be applauded, not chastised, for the effort? But that assumes we still have a functioning government and that today’s politicians have been 100% cured of their atavistic fears of the public debt. Alas, what is going to cause helicopter money to be a giant dud – at least in the US – is that neither of these conditions are extant.

Regardless of whether the November winner is Hillary or the Donald, there is one thing certain. There will be no functioning government come 2017.

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Rewriting the law to save your banks?

These Sicilian Mortgages Show How Hard It Is to Rescue Italian Banks (BBG)

Down the cobbled streets of Palermo, past baroque churches and gothic palaces, a lesson is lurking for Italy’s government as it hatches a plan to save the country’s banks. Sicily’s biggest city is the focal point of a 2007 securitization of non-performing loans, or NPLs, that shows just how long it can take to resolve soured loans in the country. The deal, known as Island Refinancing, should also act as a warning for investors of the dangers of buying similar securities as Italian banks gear up to sell more of them. The Island bonds are backed by two portfolios of NPLs originated by a Sicilian bank that’s now a subsidiary of UniCredit SpA. Just under half of the loans originated in the 1990s and they include residential mortgages as well as loans financing hotels and industrial buildings.

Unlike other asset-backed securities where interest and principal are paid through cash flows from mortgage or auto credit borrowers, investors in NPL securitizations depend on getting money back from soured loans – typically through the courts. And that’s where the problem lies. A court may auction the loan collateral and use the proceeds to pay the bonds, but that is a slow process. Italy is almost as well known these days for its sluggish and cumbersome insolvency procedures as it is for the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the AC Milan soccer club. Italian bankruptcy proceedings last an average of 7.8 years, compared to an average of just over two years for the rest of Europe.

Efforts are currently being made to speed up the process, with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi saying recent reforms to insolvency laws will shorten recovery times on NPL collateral to as little as six months. Still, the thus-far glacial pace of cash collections from NPLs has resulted in multiple credit ratings downgrades for the Island Refinancing deal, which will expire in 2025.

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The time for trade deals is over.

Deal With Canada On The Brink as German Party Sues EU Over CETA (Exp.)

Centre-left Die Linke has launched legal action to block the controversial Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) pact, saying it is unconstitutional under German law. The party’s attempt to torpedo the hated deal is just the latest in a series of devastating trade blows for the EU, which is unravelling following the Brexit vote. And it reveals once more the cavernous differences opening up between different member states which have effectively rendered the European project unworkable. Earlier this month Canada’s despairing Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland asked: “If the EU cannot do a deal with Canada, I think it is legitimate to say who the heck can it do a deal with?”

But now there is a very real prospect that CETA will be torpedoed before it has even left port in a development which will throw the future of a much bigger deal with America into serious doubt. Negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) have ground to a halt, with impatient American officials warning Brussels to stop dragging their heels. The US chief negotiator said the proposed deal was nowhere near as enticing to Washington now that Britain has left the bloc, comparing a Europe without the UK to an America without California. Britain will not be affected by either calamity after voting to leave the EU, and is now free to begin informal talks on sealing its own trade deals with Canada, the US and the rest of the world.

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Lincoln, too, was a Republican.

The Long, Sad, Corrupted Devolution Of The GOP (Intercept)

In August 1956, the Republican Party gathered in San Francisco to re-nominate President Dwight D. Eisenhower as its candidate in the upcoming presidential election. The party that year adopted a platform that emphasized that the GOP was “proud of and shall continue our far-reaching and sound advances in matters of basic human needs.” This included boasting that Eisenhower had overseen a hike in the federal minimum wage that raised incomes for 2 million Americans while expanding Social Security to 10 million more people and increasing benefits for 6.5 million others.

Today’s Republican Party has made weakening labor unions a priority, but the 1956 platform noted that under Eisenhower, “workers have gained and unions have grown in strength and responsibility, and have increased their membership by 2 millions.” It also touted an increase in federal funding for hospital construction and expanded federal aid for health care for the poor and public housing. The platform also pointed out that Eisenhower had asked for “the largest increase in research funds ever sought in one year” to tackle ailments like cancer and heart disease. Rather than opposing self-governance for Washington, D.C., 1956’s Republicans encouraged it, saying they “favor self-government national suffrage and representation in the Congress of the United States” for those living there.

The platform also asked Congress to submit a constitutional amendment establishing “equal rights for men and women.” The platform boasted proudly of the African-Americans who had been appointed to positions in Eisenhower’s administration, and of ending racial discrimination in federal employment. At no point did the document call for any restrictions on immigration; rather, by contrast, it asked Congress to consider an extension of the 1953 Refugee Act, which brought tens of thousands of war-weary European refugees to American shores. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the face of the Republican Party in the 1950s. He had served as the supreme commander of the Allied forces as they retook Europe from fascist militaries in the decade before.

Experiencing two global wars shaped Eisenhower’s worldview, turning him into an advocate of peace. Eisenhower cut the military budget by 27% following the Korean War, and used his bully pulpit to highlight the trade-offs of military spending. “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” he said in a 1953 speech. In his farewell address on January 17, 1961, he highlighted the rise of what he called a “military-industrial complex” — a war industry that he cautioned could exert “undue influence” on the government.

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When indeed?

The World Is Taking Revenge Against Elites. When Will America’s Wake Up? (G.)

A snapshot of America in the middle of June 2016. It is several days before the first great shock of the summer, the Brexit vote, and here in America, all is serene. The threat posed by Senator Bernie Sanders has been suppressed. The Republicans have chosen a preposterous windbag to lead them; the consensus is that he will be a pushover. For all the doubts and dissent of the last year, the leadership faction of the country’s professional class seem to have once again come out on top, and they are ready to accept the gratitude of the nation. And so President Barack Obama did an interview with Business Week in which he was congratulated for his stewardship of the economy and asked “what industries” he might choose to join upon his retirement from the White House.

The president replied as follows: “… what I will say is that – just to bring things full circle about innovation – the conversations I have with Silicon Valley and with venture capital pull together my interests in science and organization in a way I find really satisfying.” In relating this anecdote, I am not aiming to infuriate because the man we elected in 2008 to get tough with high finance and shut the revolving door was now talking about taking his own walk through that door and getting a job in finance. No. My object here is to describe the confident, complacent mood of the country’s ruling class in the middle of last month. So let us continue. On the morning after British voters chose to leave the EU, Obama was in California addressing an audience at Stanford University, a school often celebrated these days as the pre-eminent educational institution of Silicon Valley.

The occasion of the president’s remarks was the annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit, and the substance of his speech was the purest globaloney, flavored with a whiff of vintage dotcom ebullience. Obama marveled at the smart young creative people who start tech businesses. He deplored bigotry as an impediment that sometimes keeps these smart creative people from succeeding. He demanded that more power be given to the smart young creatives who are transforming the world. Keywords included “innovation”, “interconnection”, and of course “Zuckerberg”, the Facebook CEO, who has appeared with Obama on so many occasions and whose company is often used as shorthand by Democrats to signify everything that is wonderful about our era.

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“The law was seen as protecting the specialized securities firms from having to compete with large national banks..”

The Secret History of Glass-Steagall (WSJ)

The Republican party platform calls for a revival of the Glass-Steagall Act, a depression-era banking law repealed in 1999. Glass-Steagall was the brainchild of Sen. Carter Glass (D-VA), best known as the principal architect of the Federal Reserve system. It erected a firewall between deposit-taking/loan-making banks and securities activities such as underwriting and trading. Its original goal was to prevent three things: purchasing of risky securities with government-insured deposits, extending bad loans to shaky companies owned by a bank, and pushing underwritten securities onto naïve bank customers. The provision became law when the Banking Act of 1933 was passed within days of President Franklin Roosevelt taking office in March 1933 in an effort to restore public confidence in the banking system.

The same act created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which insures bank deposits, as well as the Federal Open Market Committee, the monetary policy making board of the Federal Reserve. The act also banned banks from paying interest on checking accounts and granted the Fed authority to put ceilings on interest rates offered for other deposits. Far from resisting Glass-Steagall, Wall Street securities firms embraced and became its most vocal supporters. The law was seen as protecting the specialized securities firms from having to compete with large national banks funded by cheap retail and commercial deposits.

The law was strengthened by a 1956 law that put bank holding companies under the purview of the Federal Reserve and made it clear they could not control both a commercial bank and an investment bank. As the years passed, however, the wall separating securities firms and banks developed cracks—primarily because of pressure from banks wanting to expand into securities dealing. Banks won regulatory approval for their affiliates to underwrite government securities, mortgage-backed securities and commercial paper. They were allowed to provide brokerage services to customers and market insurance. Banks began providing advice and assistance on mergers, acquisitions and financial planning. All this occurred without the law being changed.

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The perks of decentralization.

We Need More Borders And More States (Mises Inst.)

In the context of trade and immigration, borders are often discussed as a means of excluding foreign workers and foreign goods. In one way of thinking, borders provide an opportunity for states to exclude private actors such as workers, merchants, and entrepreneurs. On the other hand, borders can also serve a far more endearing function, and this is found in the fact that borders represent the limits of a state’s power. That is, while borders may exclude goods and people, a state’s borders also often exclude other states. For example, East Germany’s border with West Germany represented the limits of the East German police state, beyond which the power of the Stasi to kidnap, torture, and imprison peaceful people was far more limited than it was within its native jurisdiction.

The West German border acted to contain the East German state. Similarly, the borders of Saudi Arabia delineate a limit to the Saudi regime’s ability to behead people for sorcery or for making critical remarks about the blood-soaked dictators known as the House of Saud. Even within a single nation-state, borders can illustrate the benefits of decentralization, as in the case of the Colorado-Nebraska border. On one side of the border (i.e., Nebraska) state police will arrest you and imprison you for possessing marijuana. They may kill you if you resist. On the other side of the border, the state’s constitution prohibits police from prosecuting marijuana users. The Colorado border contains Nebraska’s war on drugs.

Certainly, there are ways for regimes to extend their power even beyond their borders. This can be done by cozying up with the regimes of neighboring countries (or intimidating them), or through the organs of international quasi-state organizations. Or, as in the case of the US and EU, imposing broader policies upon a number of supposedly sovereign states. Nevertheless, thanks to the competitive nature of states, many states will often find it difficult to project their power into neighboring states, and thus borders represent a very-real impediment to a state’s power. This can then open the door to greater freedom, and even save lives as certain states impoverish or make war on their own citizens.

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When this streak is over everyone will think we’re safe.

June 2016 Was 14th Consecutive Month Of Record-Breaking Heat (G.)

As the string of record-breaking global temperatures continues unabated, June 2016 marks the 14th consecutive month of record-breaking heat. According to two US agencies – Nasa and Noaa – June 2016 was 0.9C hotter than the average for the 20th century, and the hottest June in the record which goes back to 1880. It broke the previous record, set in 2015, by 0.02C. The 14-month streak of record-breaking temperatures was the longest in the 137-year record. And it has been 40 years since the world saw a June that was below the 20th century average.

The string of record-breaking monthly temperatures began in April 2015, and was pushed along by a powerful El Niño, where a splurge of warm water spreads across the Pacific Ocean. But the effects of El Niño have receded, and the effects of global warming are clear, said Nasa’s Gavin Schmidt. “While the El Niño event in the tropical Pacific this winter gave a boost to global temperatures from October onwards, it is the underlying trend which is producing these record numbers,” he said.

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“..a Texas-sized chunk of sea ice has disappeared from our planet’s north pole between the early 1980s and today.”

This Year’s Record Arctic Melt Is a Problem For Everybody (Stone)

If your life has felt like a hot mess this year, you’re not alone. Same goes for the Arctic, which month after month has seen its ice cover contract to new lows. By late September, Arctic sea ice may reach its lowest extent since satellite record-keeping began. And that’s got scientists in a tizzy, because if there’s one thing geologic history has taught us, it’s that sudden drops in Arctic ice cover are often the tip of the proverbial iceberg for a whole slew of planetary feedbacks. It’s difficult to keep up with all the climate-related records our world has been smashing, so here’s a quick recap of what’s been happening up north.

At the close of 2015 (currently the hottest year in recorded history, but not for long), the Arctic was already sweating iceberg-shaped bullets, thanks to freakishly warm weather brought on by a combination of a monster El Niño and the underlying global warming trend. Then 2016 burst on the scene, with temperatures at the North Pole rising some fifty degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The Arctic stayed exceptionally hot through January and February. By the time March rolled around, the atmosphere was loaded with heat, and Arctic sea ice was already starting to look thin. NASA confirmed that it was indeed the smallest wintertime Arctic sea ice extent on the record books, peaking at some 5.6 million square miles (14.5 million square km).

Then, the Arctic started to melt. And it kept going, and going, and going, smashing record after record, month after month. As of this writing, we’ve just come off the fifth record-low sea ice month this year. Every month except March has marked an all-time monthly low, with June sea ice maxing out a full 100,000 square miles (260,000 square kilometers) below the previous record low, set in 2010. June sea ice was also 525,000 square miles (1.36 million square km) below the 1981-2010 average. Put another way, a Texas-sized chunk of sea ice has disappeared from our planet’s north pole between the early 1980s and today.

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Dec 072014
 
 December 7, 2014  Posted by at 11:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Accident on US 40 between Hagerstown and Cumberland, Maryland Nov 1936

OPEC And American Shale Keep The Oil Price Spiralling Downwards (Guardian)
Oil Poised to Extend Drop After Hitting Five-Year Low (Bloomberg)
Fossil Fuel Companies “The Sub-Prime Assets Of The Future” (Telegraph)
Osborne Oversees Biggest Fossil Fuel Boom Since North Sea Oil (Guardian)
Delinquent US Car Loans Up 27% From Last Year (NY Times)
Goldman Needs Volcker Delay to Avoid Private-Equity Losses (Bloomberg)
Wells Fargo Breaks Citigroup’s 2001 Record for Bank Value (Bloomberg)
Russia Braces For An Economic Winter (Observer)
Why A Moscow Meltdown Could Spread Around The Globe (Observer)
Clashes At Greek Protests To Mark Police Shooting (BBC)
Angry Families Of MH17 Crash Victims Seek UN Investigation (Reuters)
Ukraine’s Made-in-USA Finance Minister (Robert Parry)
Prosecutor Freezes Accounts Of Former Vatican Bank Heads (Reuters)
Australian Banks Seen Needing $25 Billion After Inquiry (Bloomberg)
Minimum Viable Sociopathy (Dmitry Orlov)
Archbishop Calls For £150 Million State-Backed Food Bank System (Daily Mail)
Hunger in UK Shocks Me More Than Africa (Archbishop Of Canterbury)
Has Modern Art Exhausted Its Power To Shock? (BBC)
California’s ‘Hot Drought’ Ranks Worst in at Least 1,200 Years (Bloomberg)

” .. the Chicago Mercantile Exchange reported a huge increase in the number of investors hedging on crude hitting $40.

OPEC And American Shale Keep The Oil Price Spiralling Downwards (Guardian)

Oil prices were back near five-year lows – below $70 per barrel – at the end of last week as commodity traders, analysts and governments struggled to come up with new forecasts for 2015. The benchmark, Brent blend, had recovered from a major drop in the aftermath of last month’s meeting of the oil producers’ cartel, Opec. However, it was back down at $69.17 on Friday as the market bet on a prolonged low in prices. Igor Sechin, Russia’s most senior oil official, warned that Opec’s unwillingness to cut production could push oil down to $60, while the Chicago Mercantile Exchange reported a huge increase in the number of investors hedging on crude hitting $40. Forecasting the future price of oil has always been fraught.

There were few warnings in the first half of the year that prices were set to plunge by 40% from a June high of $115. Analysts at Citi are now expecting Brent to average $80 over the next 12 months, while their counterparts at Natixis believe it could fall as low as $74 – and that the US benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, will slump below $70. Standard Chartered described Opec’s decision to keep the production target unchanged as “extremely negative for oil prices for 2015” and has cut next year’s Brent price forecast by $16 a barrel to $85. The reasons for the cuts are faltering growth in demand as the global economy continues to stutter, plus soaring production from the shale fields of Texas and Pennsylvania.

Lower prices have also been supported by a relatively benign geopolitical environment, because energy supplies have not been endangered by the Russian stand-off with the west over Ukraine or Islamic State’s advances in Syria. A divided Opec is now hoping that falling prices will be devastating for higher-cost US frackers, forcing them to shut down output and gradually bring balance to the wider oil markets. But according to Paul Stevens, oil expert at Chatham House, a similar strategy in the late 1980s did not encourage North Sea and other producers to halt production and the price continued to slide downwards.

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“We’re way oversold in both Brent and WTI, not to mention the products, and the market’s not responding ..”

Oil Poised to Extend Drop After Hitting Five-Year Low (Bloomberg)

West Texas Intermediate and Brent crudes are poised to decline from the lowest closing levels in more than five years after shrugging off a sign that the market has dropped too fast. The 14-day relative strength index (BCOM) for WTI slipped to 27.0364 yesterday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Investors typically start buying contracts when the reading is below 30. The 14-day RSI for Brent slipped to 23.6843. The move highlights the extent of the bear market in the face of technical support. “We’re way oversold in both Brent and WTI, not to mention the products, and the market’s not responding,” Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities said by phone yesterday. “A market that ignores these bullish signals is heading much lower.”

Futures fell 1.5% in New York and 0.8% in London yesterday. State-run Saudi Arabian Oil extended its discount for Arab Light sales to Asia next month to $2 a barrel below a regional benchmark, according to a company statement Dec. 4. That’s the lowest in at least 14 years. The slide in prices accelerated as the dollar surged to a five-year high, curbing the appeal of commodities as a store of value. WTI for January delivery dropped 97 cents to $65.84 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday. It was the lowest settlement since July 29, 2009. Prices are down 33% this year.

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There’s a lot of uncertainty about how and to what extent climate agreements will result in stranded assets. Investment in fossil fuels carries a lot of risk, for yet another reason.

Fossil Fuel Companies “The Sub-Prime Assets Of The Future” (Telegraph)

Investing in fossil fuels is becoming increasingly risky because global action to tackle climate change will curb demand, forcing companies to leave unprofitable reserves in the ground, Ed Davey, the energy secretary, has warned. Financial authorities must examine the risks posed by coal, oil and gas companies to prevent pension funds investing in what could become “the sub-prime assets of the future”, Mr Davey said. The comments are Mr Davey’s first intervention into the debate over the “carbon bubble”, the theory that the world’s existing fossil fuel reserves are overvalued because the majority must be left unburned in the ground if extremes of global warming are to be avoided.

Mr Davey told the Telegraph: “One has got to worry about the investments for pensioners. “If pension funds are investing in companies or banks have on their balance sheets huge amounts of assets in fossil fuels, and those assets don’t give the return that people expect – because of changes in technology where low-carbon becomes cheaper or because of the world having to take action against carbon emissions – one has got to protect those pensioners and those investments.”

Keeping global warming within 2C (3.6F), the level scientists say is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change, will require the world to slash its carbon dioxide emissions, phasing out the unabated burning of fossil fuels for electricity. UN talks are ongoing in Lima this week with the aim of achieving a global emission reduction agreement next year. Mr Davey singled out coal – the dirtiest of the fossil fuels – as “the short-term biggest worry by a long way” as countries including China commit to cap their coal use. “Investing in new coal mines is going to get very risky,” he said.

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The timing is exquisite.

Osborne Oversees Biggest Fossil Fuel Boom Since North Sea Oil (Guardian)

George Osborne has sparked the biggest boom in UK fossil fuel investment since the North Sea oil and gas industry was founded in the 1970s. Analysis of new Treasury data also shows investment in clean energy has plummeted this year and is now exceeded by fossil fuels, while road and airport building is soaring. After years of coalition infighting over green energy, the stark shift marks a major victory for the chancellor. But it conflicts with David Cameron’s recent statement that climate change is “a threat to our national security and to economic prosperity” and his 2010 pledge to the lead the “greenest government ever”. UK ministers are currently at UN climate talks in Peru arguing for strong action against global warming.

In Wednesday’s autumn statement, Osborne added £430m to the billions in tax breaks he has granted the fossil fuel sector since 2012. Taxpayers will also now fund seismic exploration to help companies find more oil and gas and will pay £31m for shale gas research drilling plus another £5m to “ensure the public is better engaged” with fracking. Osborne said the North Sea tax breaks “demonstrate our commitment to the tens of thousands of jobs that depend on this great British industry”. Joan Walley MP, who heads parliament’s environmental audit committee, said: “Taxpayers should not be propping up the fossil fuel industry in the 21st century.

Tax breaks should be used to support firms that come up with innovative clean energy solutions, not to keep us drilling for the fossil energy fuelling climate change.” Matthew Spencer, the director of the thinktank Green Alliance, whose experts performed the new analysis, accused Osborne of political manoeuvring before the general election. “A series of short-term tactical decisions have reversed what was a very encouraging picture for UK infrastructure. These stark figures show that you can’t focus on oil extraction and road building and expect to deliver a cleaner, leaner economy.”

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But all is well?!

Delinquent US Car Loans Up 27% From Last Year (NY Times)

An increasing number of borrowers are falling behind on their car payments, even as the total amount of outstanding debt reaches new heights, according to the latest report by Experian, the credit and research firm. In a presentation on Wednesday, Experian said the balance of loans that were 60 days delinquent increased 27%, to roughly $4 billion, in the third quarter from the same period a year ago. Signs of trouble in the market come after a significant increase in lending to people with damaged credit and limited financial means. Analysts have warned that a loosening of underwriting standards for subprime auto loans could cause widespread losses in the financial system because much of the debt has been securitized and bought by investors around the globe. Some of the highest delinquency rates in the quarter are concentrated across the South in Mississippi, South Carolina and Alabama. North Dakota had the lowest delinquency rate.

Finance companies, which tend to focus more on subprime customers than traditional banks, had the largest increases in delinquencies in the third quarter. As the delinquencies have mounted, so has the regulatory scrutiny. Subprime auto lenders have faced an onslaught of scrutiny from regulators and prosecutors, worried that the high-cost loans take advantage of some of the nation’s most vulnerable borrowers. The examinations have touched on virtually every player in the broader subprime auto lending ecosystem from used car dealers to lenders. In the latest chapter, the American Honda Finance Corporation, a lending unit of the automaker, disclosed on Tuesday that the company was bracing for an enforcement action from the Justice Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over concerns that it gives more costly loans to minority borrowers. The authorities, the company said in a regulatory filing on Tuesday, notified the lender last month about the looming action.

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Here’s betting they’ll get it.

Goldman Needs Volcker Delay to Avoid Private-Equity Losses (Bloomberg)

Goldman Sachs has $7 billion invested in private equity that it might have to sell at a loss. For Morgan Stanley, it’s $2.5 billion. The big sums explain why Wall Street has been lobbying regulators to delay a July deadline for complying with the Volcker Rule, which restricts banks from investing in private equity as part of a ban on making market bets with their own capital. Banks argue that if they dump holdings quickly, they will have to accept discount prices. Analysts and lawyers for the financial industry say Wall Street’s concerns have begun to make headway with the Federal Reserve, which plans to decide on an extension soon. “There’s considerable pressure the Fed is feeling in that they don’t want institutions to have a bloodbath trying to divest funds,” said Kevin Petrasic, a partner at Paul Hastings in Washington. “The Fed has been indicating flexibility.”

The Volcker deadline underscores the tension regulators face between enforcing rules meant to curb risk-taking and responding to banks’ complaints that many Dodd-Frank Act reforms aren’t workable. The Fed is deciding what to do after lawmakers lambasted it at congressional hearings last month for weak oversight of Wall Street. Before the 2008 financial crisis, banks purchased shares in thousands of private-equity and venture-capital funds. The money invested was used to buy stakes in private companies, meaning it’s locked up for years until the businesses are sold. When Congress included the Volcker Rule in the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, it realized banks might have difficulty dumping holdings. As a result, lawmakers authorized the Fed to put the deadline off for several years. Banks want an extension until 2022, which would allow them to keep their private-equity investments until they expire. Fed General Counsel Scott Alvarez told a conference of banking lawyers last month that the central bank will make a decision soon.

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Hardly a recovery, if there’s one at all, but banks are worth more than before the crisis. This is us. This is what we do.

Wells Fargo Breaks Citigroup’s 2001 Record for Bank Value (Bloomberg)

Wells Fargo finished trading yesterday as the most valuable U.S. bank ever, surpassing Citigroup’s 2001 record. Wells Fargo closed with a market capitalization of $285.5 billion, based on 5.19 billion shares outstanding on Oct. 31, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That beats the previous record set by Citigroup on Feb. 5, 2001, when its value reached $283.4 billion, the data show. Wells Fargo, which counts Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway as its largest shareholder, doubled its size in 2008 by outmaneuvering New York-based Citigroup to purchase Wachovia Corp. Chief Executive Officer John Stumpf made one of out every four U.S. mortgages last year and now oversees the most U.S. bank branches.

“Our focus is on doing what is right for our customers every day, and we are pleased our investors place their confidence in Wells Fargo,” Ancel Martinez, a bank spokesman, said in a statement. Wells Fargo rose 1% to $55.03 in New York, and the stock’s 21% gain this year tops the 7.7% advance for the KBW Bank Index of 24 U.S. lenders. Berkshire’s stake in the San Francisco-based bank is valued at more than $25 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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Russia will act when it’s had enough of this.

Russia Braces For An Economic Winter (Observer)

A website that was going viral on Russian social networks last week shows the rouble-dollar exchange rate, the rouble-euro exchange rate and the price of Brent crude changing in real time against a backdrop of slowly breaking waves, as soothing music plays in the background. “Russian zen: meaningless and merciless”, reads the bottom of the page Zenrus.ru. It is a play on a famous quote that Russian revolt is “meaningless and merciless.” A zen-like calm is probably hard to come by for those watching the exchange rate and the price of oil: the rouble fell to new all-time lows of more than 54 to the dollar last week after the Opec oil producers’ group decided not to reduce production, which would have bolstered sinking oil prices. Russia is especially vulnerable to those prices, since energy exports make up half of its budget, and on Monday its currency recorded its largest single-day decline since the Russian financial crisis of 1998.

In all, the rouble has sunk by more than 40% this year as Russia has been buffeted by sanctions over its role in the Ukraine crisis and steep falls in the oil price. By the end of the week Brent was hovering below $70 a barrel, down from more than $105 at the start of the year. The picture of Russia’s economic future is grim, despite the rosy outlook President Vladimir Putin tried to put on it in his annual address to the federal assembly on Thursday. Inflation has been rising, and recession next year is all but certain. On Tuesday, the economic development ministry reduced its GDP growth forecast for 2015 from 1.2% to –0.8%. State-owned banks have sought help from the government after the Ukraine sanctions cut them off from the western financial industry and its cheaper credit.

According to Vladimir Tikhomirov, an economist at Russian bank BKF, the two main factors responsible for Russia’s economic woes – sanctions and a low oil price – probably won’t change any time soon. “Oil has a stronger effect on the economy than sanctions, and the oil price and sanctions are speeding up macroeconomic processes that were already there,” Tikhomirov says. “The economy was slowing down due to structural difficulties even when oil prices were high. I think that next year there won’t be new sanctions but the current sanctions will remain; I think next year the oil price will be around $80 a barrel; and I think that the economy will shrink.”

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Merkel herself has said it would be a bad thing if Russia goes into a financial crisis.

Why A Moscow Meltdown Could Spread Around The Globe (Observer)

Russia matters. It mattered in 1998 when the shock waves from its debt default reverberated around the world. And it would matter again should the plunging oil price lead to economic collapse. That’s despite the fact that Russia is a massive land mass with a relatively small economy. It accounts for only 3% of global GDP and it is dominated by an energy sector that is responsible for 70% of exports. To an extent, the structure of Russia’s economy should mitigate contagion risks. Lacking a modern manufacturing sector, it is not vital for global supply chains and, in theory, any other energy producer could make good the disruption to oil and gas supplies in the event of a deep and damaging recession. But there are at least five ways in which a crisis for Russia could spread. Russia’s immediate problems have been caused by the sharp drop in the price of crude and it is not the only one to be suffering. Venezuela and Iran are finding it hard to cope with oil down at $70 a barrel. If Russia goes, it will be a case of: who’s next?

Second, Russia still has close economic links with eastern Europe, so a collapse would have serious consequences for countries such as Poland and an already imploding Ukraine. Western Europe, too, would be affected if for any reason gas supplies through Russia’s pipeline were cut off. Third, confidence would be hit. Germany’s weak economic performance since the spring can, in part, be attributed to the gloomier economic mood. The slowdown in the rest of the eurozone has probably had a bigger impact on German activity but the tension between Moscow and Kiev has certainly not helped. Russia might be enough to tip Germany into recession, which in turn would be enough to ensure that the European Central Bank began a quantitative easing programme.

Fourth, nobody is quite sure how Vladimir Putin, pictured, would respond to the most challenging economic circumstances since 1998. Any confidence effects from an economic crisis would be exacerbated by the knowledge that Russia is controlled by a president able to make felt his country’s still considerable geo-political and military clout. Finally, the assumption is that financial market exposure to Russia is relatively limited given that overseas banks had $209bn (£134bn) of loans to Russia when sanctions were imposed in March. On the face of it, western investors do not look all that vulnerable and have had time to get their money out. But that was also the assumption in 1998, when Barclays had to set aside £250m to cover its Russian losses. Financial trades are now so complex and leveraged, it is impossible to know for sure how big losses might be this time.

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Is Greece set to explode again?

Clashes At Greek Protests To Mark Police Shooting (BBC)

Clashes have erupted in the capital of Greece during protests marking six years since police shot dead an unarmed teenager. At least 5,000 demonstrators marched in Athens on Saturday. Some attacked shops and hurled petrol bombs at riot police. Police officers used tear gas and a water cannon to disperse protesters. The demonstrators had been marking the anniversary of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos’ death. He was shot by an officer who has since been jailed. Mr Grigoropoulos’ killing on 6 December 2008 sparked violent riots across Greece, with cars being set alight and shops looted in a number of cities. Clashes have also broken out on previous anniversaries of his death. On Saturday, anti-establishment protesters attacked banks and damaged shops and bus stops.

At one point, demonstrators looted a clothes shop and set fire to the merchandise in the street, the Associated Press news agency reported. According to Reuters, police said they detained close to 100 protesters. Clashes primarily took place in Athen’s Exarchia neighbourhood, but violence was also reported in Thessaloniki, in northern Greece. No injuries were reported in either city. Protesters have also been expressing support for Nikos Romanos, a friend of Mr Grigoropoulos who witnessed his death. Romanos, 21, has been jailed for attempted bank robbery. He is currently on hunger strike, demanding study leave after he was accepted onto a university course.

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WHile the government can’t stop blabbing about respect for vistims and their families, the familes themselves say: “The Netherlands “has completely botched” the fact-finding investigation and the legal framework of the case..” “There is no coordination, there is no leadership whatsoever (by) Holland.”

Angry Families Of MH17 Crash Victims Seek UN Investigation (Reuters)

Relatives of MH17 crash victims, angered by what they see as Dutch mishandling of inquiries into the disaster, want a special U.N. envoy to launch an international investigation. A letter sent to Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Friday, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, said Dutch officials had failed to build a case. They asked that inquiries by the Safety Board and prosecution service be handed over to the United Nations. Rutte should “request the U.N. to appoint a special envoy to take over,” said the letter written by Van der Goen Attorneys. Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was downed on July 17 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew, two-thirds of them Dutch. Experts say the most likely cause was a ground-to-air missile fired from territory held by pro-Russian separatists. The Dutch launched the largest criminal investigation in their history after the crash. This week, trucks are carrying pieces of the plane home, but much of the wreckage still lies in Ukrainian fields.

Dutch investigators, leading a case involving 11 countries, have not concluded how the plane was shot down or identified suspects. The Netherlands “has completely botched” the fact-finding investigation and the legal framework of the case, said the letter, sent on behalf of 20 relatives from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States. Dutch prosecutors have been unable to access the crash site, in a war zone disputed by Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed rebels, or not met international requirements to secure evidence, the letter said. “Nobody knows who is doing what,” said Bob van der Goen, a spokesman for the law firm. “There is no coordination, there is no leadership whatsoever (by) Holland.” Rutte said on Friday the Dutch teams were returning to the Netherlands. “We have done everything we could. In view of the safety situation and the weather, we cannot do anything more right now,” he said. An international inquiry is the only way to identify who shot down the plane and ensure they are brought to court, the letter said.

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What a story, the recent – foreign – additions to the Kiev government.

Ukraine’s Made-in-USA Finance Minister (Robert Parry)

Ukraine’s new Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, a former U.S. State Department officer who was granted Ukrainian citizenship only this week, headed a U.S. government-funded investment project for Ukraine that involved substantial insider dealings, including $1 million-plus fees to a management company that she also controlled. Jaresko served as president and chief executive officer of Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), which was created by the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. AID) with $150 million to spur business activity in Ukraine. She also was cofounder and managing partner of Horizon Capital which managed WNISEF’s investments at a rate of 2 to 2.5% of committed capital, fees exceeding $1 million in recent years, according to WNISEF’s 2012 annual report.

The growth of that insider dealing at the U.S.-taxpayer-funded WNISEF is further underscored by the number of paragraphs committed to listing the “related party transactions,” i.e., potential conflicts of interest, between an early annual report from 2003 and the one a decade later. In the 2003 report, the “related party transactions” were summed up in two paragraphs, with the major item a $189,700 payment to a struggling computer management company where WNISEF had an investment. In the 2012 report, the section on “related party transactions” covered some two pages and included not only the management fees to Jaresko’s Horizon Capital ($1,037,603 in 2011 and $1,023,689 in 2012) but also WNISEF’s co-investments in projects with the Emerging Europe Growth Fund [EEGF], where Jaresko was founding partner and chief executive officer.

Jaresko’s Horizon Capital also managed EEGF. From 2007 to 2011, WNISEF co-invested $4.25 million with EEGF in Kerameya LLC, a Ukrainian brick manufacturer, and WNISEF sold EEGF 15.63% of Moldova’s Fincombank for $5 million, the report said. It also listed extensive exchanges of personnel and equipment between WNISEF and Horizon Capital. Though it’s difficult for an outsider to ascertain the relative merits of these insider deals, they could reflect negatively on Jaresko’s role as Ukraine’s new finance minister given the country’s reputation for corruption and cronyism, a principal argument for the U.S.-backed “regime change” that ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych last February.

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Small fish.

Prosecutor Freezes Accounts Of Former Vatican Bank Heads (Reuters)

The Vatican’s top prosecutor has frozen €16 million in bank accounts owned by two former Vatican bank managers and a lawyer as part of an investigation into the sale of Vatican-owned real estate in the 2000s, according to the freezing order and other legal documents. Prosecutor Gian Piero Milano said he suspected the three men, former bank president Angelo Caloia, ex-director general Lelio Scaletti, and lawyer Gabriele Liuzzo, of embezzling money while managing the sale of 29 buildings sold by the Vatican bank to mainly Italian buyers between 2001 and 2008, according to a copy of the freezing order reviewed by Reuters. The money in the three men’s bank accounts “stems from embezzlement they were engaged in,” Milano said in the October 27 sequester order.

Milano’s investigation follows an audit of the Vatican bank by non-Vatican financial consultants commissioned last year by the bank’s current management. The Vatican bank earlier this year also filed a legal complaint against the three men. The men have not been charged. The Vatican spokesman on Saturday issued a statement confirming the freezing but gave no names, amounts or other details. The Vatican bank said in a separate statement that it had pressed charges against the three as part of its “commitment to transparency and zero tolerance, including with regard to matters that relate to a more distant past”. The bank statement also gave no details, citing “the ongoing judicial enquiry”.

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For starters.

Australian Banks Seen Needing $25 Billion After Inquiry (Bloomberg)

Commonwealth Bank of Australia and its three main competitors may need as much as A$30 billion ($25 billion) after a government-commissioned inquiry called for “unquestionably strong” capital levels, analysts said. The shortfall is based on lenders needing to boost levels to within the top quartile of their global peers and set aside additional funds against potential losses on home mortgages, as recommended by the Financial Systems Inquiry report released today in Sydney by Treasurer Joe Hockey. Australia’s major lenders hold about 10% to 11.6% of their assets as Tier 1 capital compared with at least 12.2% at the world’s safest banks, the government’s first inquiry into the financial system since 1997 said. Given banks’ reliance on overseas investors for debt funding, the financial system must be robust, the report said,

“The onus on capital is in line with global changes and Australia has to fall in line,” John Buonaccorsi, a Sydney-based analyst at CIMB Group Holdings Bhd. said in a phone interview after the report was released. “I don’t expect a straight capital raising yet.” Australia’s largest banks are initially more likely to resort to dividend reinvestment plans, where investors swap all or part of their dividend for new shares, and limiting increases in payout ratios, he added. Buonaccorsi expects a shortfall between A$25 billion and A$30 billion. Omkar Joshi, who helps oversee A$1 billion as an investment analyst at Watermark Funds Management, estimated a A$15 billion to A$20 billion gap. Their predictions were based on an average mortgage risk weight of 25% to 30% and systemically important bank buffer of 2%.

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“.. if the progress of our lives starts looking too much like a random walk, then we tend to start asking ourselves difficult questions, like “What’s it all about?” and drinking too much. And that causes our walk to get even closer to random. ”

Minimum Viable Sociopathy (Dmitry Orlov)

If you simply wander aimlessly through life, breathing oxygen and eating and excreting organic matter, then you will still get somewhere. Statistically, a blind-drunk sailor who walks out of a bar will, on average, while stumbling along on his way to nowhere in particular, cover the distance of √n steps for every n steps he takes. This is known as a random walk, or Brownian motion, which is fine for molecules at anything above 0ºK, and perhaps for drunken sailors too, but most of us sentient beings want our lives to have a bit of meaning. And if the progress of our lives starts looking too much like a random walk, then we tend to start asking ourselves difficult questions, like “What’s it all about?” and drinking too much. And that causes our walk to get even closer to random. And therein lies a great danger, because this sort of downward spiral inevitably ends with somebody else telling you “What’s it all about” and what it is you have to do, supposedly for your own good, though it hardly ever is.

There is also the opposite danger. If you keep your eyes fixed on your goal and make a concerted effort to make n steps of progress in its direction for every n steps you take, then you will quickly happen upon a wall with a gate in it, and a guard at that gate will demand to see your permit, degree, qualification or certificate before letting you pass through that gate. And the process of you getting that permit, degree, qualification or certificate will end with somebody else telling you what your goal ought to be. The goal is, universally, to accumulate things: dollars or stripes on your uniform or publications and citations, or earwax. Details don’t matter, but what matters is that these things never have much of anything at all to do with your original goal.

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We need more people like Welby.

Archbishop Calls For £150 Million State-Backed Food Bank System (Daily Mail)

A new row over food banks erupted last night after a report backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury called for a £150 million state-backed system to combat hunger in Britain. The Most Reverend Justin Welby appeared to be on course for a clash with David Cameron after calling on the Prime Minister to reverse his decision not to take European funds to boost UK food banks. Writing in today’s Mail on Sunday, Archbishop Welby makes a powerful call for more help to prevent families going hungry. The Archbishop is to launch a Parliamentary report in Westminster tomorrow, and calls on the Government to take ‘quick action’ to implement its recommendations in full. Separately, this newspaper has obtained details of the report’s radical proposals, which call for:

  1. A new publicly funded body, Feeding Britain, involving eight Cabinet Ministers, to work towards a ‘hunger free Britain’.
  2. Bigger food banks, called Food Banks Plus, to distribute more free food and advise people how to claim benefits and make ends meet.
  3. A rise in the minimum wage and the provision free school meals during school holidays for children from poor families.
  4. New measures to make it harder to strip people of benefits for breaking welfare rules – including soccer style ‘yellow cards’ instead of instant bans.
  5. Action to make supermarkets give more food to the poor.

The report by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in Britain comes amid an intense debate over welfare and poverty. Experts claimed that Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement last week would mean massive cuts in welfare in the coming years. Praising food bank volunteers who have rescued the poor from hunger, the Welby-backed report says they have achieved the ‘equivalent to a social Dunkirk.’ Notably, it adds: ‘This extraordinary achievement has been done without the assistance of central government. If the Prime Minister wants to meet his Big Society it is here.’

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The growing poverty in Britain is indeed a disgrace.

Hunger in UK Shocks Me More Than Africa (Archbishop Of Canterbury)

In one corner of a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo was a large marquee. Inside were children, all ill. They had been separated from family, friends, those who looked after them. Perhaps, mostly having disabilities, they had been abandoned in the panic of the militia attack that drove them from their homes. Now they were hungry. It was deeply shocking but, tragically, expected. A few weeks later in England, I was talking to some people – a mum, dad and one child – in a food bank. They were ashamed to be there. The dad talked miserably. He said they had each been skipping a day’s meals once a week in order to have more for the child, but then they needed new tyres for the car so they could get to work at night, and just could not make ends meet. So they had to come to a food bank.They were treated with respect, love even, by the volunteers from local churches. But they were hungry, and ashamed to be hungry. I found their plight more shocking. It was less serious, but it was here.

And they weren’t careless with what they had – they were just up against it. It shocked me that being up against it at the wrong time brought them to this stage. There are many like them. But we can do something about it. Two weeks ago, people in churches up and down the land listened to the passage in St Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus describes who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. When Christ returns, He will say: ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom… for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.’ The good people are surprised, they don’t remember helping anyone so powerful, and think He has mixed them up with someone else. Jesus tells them: ‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these… you did it to me.’ Those who did not give food to the hungry or a drink to the thirsty find out God has taken their lack of kindness into account too.

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Art reflects society before society reflects upon itself.

Has Modern Art Exhausted Its Power To Shock? (BBC)

Modern art’s desire to shock and to defy cliche has become a cliche in itself, and spawned a culture of fakery, argues Roger Scruton. “To thine own self be true,” says Shakespeare’s Polonius, “and thou canst be false to no man.” Live in truth, urged Vaclav Havel. “Let the lie come into the world,” wrote Solzhenitsyn, “but not through me.” How seriously should we take these pronouncements, and how do we obey them? There are two kinds of untruth – lying and faking. The person who is lying says what he or she does not believe. The person who is faking says what he believes, though only for the time being and for the purpose in hand. Anyone can lie. It suffices to say something with the intention to deceive. Faking, however, is an achievement. To fake things you have to take people in, yourself included. The liar can pretend to be shocked when his lies are exposed, but his pretence is part of the lie. The fake really is shocked when he is exposed, since he has created around himself a community of trust, of which he himself is a member.

In all ages people have lied in order to escape the consequences of their actions, and the first step in moral education is to teach children not to tell fibs. But faking is a cultural phenomenon, more prominent in some periods than in others. There is very little faking in the society described by Homer, for example, or in that described by Chaucer. By the time of Shakespeare, however, poets and playwrights are beginning to take a strong interest in this new human type. In Shakespeare’s King Lear the wicked sisters Goneril and Regan belong to a world of fake emotion, persuading themselves and their father that they feel the deepest love, when in fact they are entirely heartless. But they don’t really know themselves to be heartless – if they did, they could not behave so brazenly. The tragedy of King Lear begins when the real people – Kent, Cordelia, Edgar, Gloucester – are driven out by the fakes.

The fake is a person who has rebuilt himself, with a view to occupying another social position than the one that would be natural to him. Such is Molière’s Tartuffe, the religious impostor who takes control of a household through a display of scheming piety. Like Shakespeare, Moliere perceives that faking goes to the very heart of the person engaged in it. Tartuffe is not simply a hypocrite, who pretends to ideals that he does not believe in. He is a fabricated person, who believes in his own ideals since he is just as illusory as they are. Tartuffe’s faking is a matter of sanctimonious religion. With the decline of religion during the 19th Century there came about a new kind of faking. The romantic poets and painters turned their backs on religion and sought salvation through art. They believed in the genius of the artist, endowed with a special capacity to transcend the human condition in creative ways, breaking all the rules in order to achieve a new order of experience. Art became an avenue to the transcendental, the gateway to a higher kind of knowledge.

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At least.

California’s ‘Hot Drought’ Ranks Worst in at Least 1,200 Years (Bloomberg)

Record rains fell in California this week. They’re not enough to change the course of what scientists are now calling the region’s worst drought in at least 1,200 years. Just how bad has California’s drought been? Modern measurements already showed it’s been drier than the 1930s dustbowl, worse than the historic droughts of the 1970s and 1980s. That’s not all. New research going back further than the Viking conquests in Europe still can’t find a drought as bad as this one. To go back that far, scientists consulted one of the longest records available: tree rings.

Tighter rings mean drier years, and by working with California’s exceptionally old trees, researchers from University of Minnesota and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute were able to reconstruct a chronology of drought in southern and central California. They identified 37 droughts that lasted three years or more, going back to the year 800. None were as extreme as the conditions we’re seeing now. One of the oddities of this drought is that conditions aren’t just driven by a lack of rainfall. There have been plenty of droughts in the past with less precipitation. (The drought of 1527 to 1529, for example, was killer.) What makes this drought exceptional is the heat. Extreme heat.

Higher temperatures increase evaporation and help deplete reservoirs and groundwater. The California heat this year is like nothing ever seen in modern temperature records. The chart above shows average year-to-date temperatures in the state from January through October for each year since 1895. California’s drought has withered pastures and forced farmers to uproot orchards and fallow farmland. It may cost the state $2.2 billion this year, with 17,100 jobs lost and 428,000 acres of land left unplanted. Tensions are still running high between farmers and salmon fishers, who rely on the same waters. Young salmon even qualified for migration assistance this year – via tanker truck – when river levels were too low to make the swim. The effects of prolonged drought are cumulative. Maps from the U.S. Drought Monitor below show the worsening of conditions over the last three years.

More than half of the state remains in “exceptional drought” (crimson). It’s a distinction marked by crop and pasture losses and water shortages that fall within the top two percentiles. Record rainfalls recorded across the state this week — including in San Francisco and Los Angeles — did little to overcome the state’s moisture deficit, the National Drought Mitigation Center reported yesterday.

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