Feb 032020
 


Harris&Ewing “Slaves reunion DC. Lewis Martin, age 100; Martha Elizabeth Banks, age 104; Amy Ware, age 103; Rev. Simon P. Drew, born free.” c1916

 

China Censors Top Media Outlet That Says It Underreports Cases, Deaths (ZH)
Virus Worries Wipe $420 Billion Off China’s Stock Market (R.)
Chinese Shares Drop 9% (G.)
China’s Sinopec Cuts Feb Daily Refinery Output By 12% As Virus Hits (R.)
Huawei, Chinese Chip Makers Keep Factories Humming Despite Coronavirus (R.)
China’s Reaction To The Coronavirus Outbreak Violates Human Rights (G.)
The Democrats’ New Online Troll Fighters Make 2020 Debut In Iowa (CNN)
Democrats Need to Break Their Cold War–Addled Impeachment Fever (Maté)
The Real John Bolton (CP)
Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Early Spring (Slate)

 

As the US and China accuse each other of, respectively, not accepting help and not offering it, numbers continue to rise. Just like doubts about the accuracy of the official numbers from Beijing do. Here are the official numbers:

• 17,480 cases (+2930 from yesterday’s 14,550)

• 362 deaths (+57 from yesterday’s 305)

• 11 U.S. confirmed infected

 

 

Also, the Lancet paper I’ve been citing a lot lately by Gabriel Leung and his team says “We estimated that if there was no reduction in transmissibility, the Wuhan epidemic would peak around April, 2020, and local epidemics across cities in mainland China would lag by 1–2 weeks.”

That would mean another 3 months. Mobility is a factor, mind you, as the graph shows, though a minor one. But imagine the Chinese economy being on lockdown for another 3 months. Where will OPEC sell their oil? Where will WalMart buy its supply? What will happen to the Chinese confined to their homes and/or cities? Will there be a global economy left?

 


Epidemic forecasts for Wuhan and five other Chinese cities under different scenarios of reduction in transmissibility and inter-city mobility

 

 

 

This is why I wrote yesterday’s The Party and the Virus. Question is when will the rest of the world increase pressure on China for real numbers? Will that first take multiple deaths in Europe or the US?

China Censors Top Media Outlet That Says It Underreports Cases, Deaths (ZH)

Let’s be honest, do you think China is reporting the actual coronavirus cases and deaths? After all, Beijing has been the master of falsifying its economic growth figures for years, what makes you think they’ll change in the reporting of the deadly virus outbreak? Balaji S. Srinivasan, angel investor and entrepreneur, also former CTO of Coinbase, tweeted Saturday that a top news organization in China, Caijing, had one of their articles banned by Beijing after it noted Chinese officials were significantly underreporting coronavirus confirmed cases and deaths, especially among the elderly. Srinivasan said, “If half the claims in this article are true, #nCoV2019 seems to have completely overloaded Wuhan’s healthcare system. It appears particularly deadly for the elderly. But this 45-year-old had to be anesthetized and intubated in order to breathe.”

“In the past two days, he had seen a 45-year-old patient, a family of five, his parents had died of the new coronavirus pneumonia, and his son was infected. The patient’s condition was very serious. She used high-flow oxygen inhalation and non-invasive mask ventilation, but her blood oxygen saturation was only 50%. Finally, she had to be anesthetized and intubated with ECMO. “Before intubation and anesthesia, she watched us prepare, tears kept flowing down, and that fear made people feel very distressed,” said Shen Jun. There are still many cases like this, “Our doctors have made a decision Determined to do everything possible to treat all patients,” Caijing wrote.

Srinivasan points out that the Chinese newspaper found hospitals in Wuhan and elsewhere were intentionally recording coronavirus deaths as “general pneumonia” to keep the death count low. The article also notes test kits for the virus were in low supply, which allowed those who were infected, to continue their daily lives during a 7-10-day incubation period, enabling the virus to spread even more. The healthcare system was so overloaded in Wuhan, which forced hospital officials to send the dying home; hospitals didn’t have enough beds to house the sick. “Caijing understands that at least five suspected deaths at the hospital have not been diagnosed, so it does not count towards the confirmed deaths. This means that the number of confirmed and fatal cases that people can see at present does not fully reflect the full picture of the epidemic,” the article noted.

And then there’s this, from SixthTone’s David Paulk: “The 8 people detained in Wuhan for “spreading rumors” — who we wrote about in a Jan. 2 article that was censored — were doctors trying to raise the alarm about a new SARS-like virus.” We leave the last word to Zeng Guang, the chief scientist of epidemiology at China’s CDC, who, on Jan. 29 made a rare candid admission about why Chinese officials cannot tell people the truth in an interview with the state-run tabloid Global Times: “The officials need to think about the political angle and social stability in order to keep their positions,” which is all one needs to know about any “facts” coming out of China.

Read more …

“More than 2,500 stocks fell by the daily limit of 10%.”

Virus Worries Wipe $420 Billion Off China’s Stock Market (R.)

Investors erased $420 billion from China’s benchmark stock index on Monday, sold the yuan and dumped commodities as fears about the spreading coronavirus and its economic impact drove selling on the first day of trade in China since the Lunar New Year. The market slide came even as the central bank poured cash in to the financial system – a show of support for the economy -and despite apparent regulatory moves to curb selling. The total number of deaths in China from the coronavirus rose to 361 as of Sunday. It had stood at 17 when Chinese markets last traded on Jan. 23. By lunchtime, the benchmark Shanghai Composite index sat 8% lower near an almost one-year trough and poised to post its worst day in more than four years.


The yuan opened at its weakest level in 2020 and slid almost 1.2%, past the symbolic 7-per-dollar level CNY=, as the falls soured the mood in markets throughout Asia. Shanghai-traded oil, iron ore, copper and soft commodities contracts all posted sharp drops, catching up with sliding global prices. The new virus has created alarm because it is spreading quickly, much about it is unknown, and authorities’ drastic response is likely to drag on economic growth. “This will last for some time,” said Iris Pang, Greater China economist at ING. “It’s uncertain whether factory workers, or how many of them, will return to their factories,” she said. “We haven’t yet seen corporate earnings since the (spread of the) coronavirus. Restaurants and retailers may have very little sales.” More than 2,500 stocks fell by the daily limit of 10%.

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Fluid, but 9% seems right.

Chinese Shares Drop 9% (G.)

Stock markets in China have seen the biggest daily fall for five years as traders rushed to sell amid continued fears about the impact on the global economy of the coronavirus epidemic. The benchmark Shanghai composite index fell 8.7% on Monday on a wave of negative sentiment that has built up for 10 days during the long market shutdown for the lunar new year. The Shenzhen composite was off 9.1% and dangerously close to the daily maximum permitted fall of 10% after which trading is suspended. The yuan fell through the seven-to-the-US-dollar mark for the first time since December. The losses were the worst on the Chinese markets since 2015 although they pared back slightly later in the day to 7.7%. [..]

Chinese authorities have reeled off a series of measures to tackle the market panic. On Sunday they announced they flood the financial system with 1.2 trillion yuan (US$170bn) in extra liquidity, a measure designed to buy up securities from investors seeking to sell. On Monday the People’s Bank of China – the country’s central bank – lowered the interest rate it charges banks for short-term funding upon which many banks rely to remain trading. Capital Economics said that while the move might take some pressure off the banks the rate cut was not enough to offset the drag on economic activity from the coronavirus outbreak and that more rate cuts were therefore on the way.

The growing fears about the Chinese economy also prompted the finance ministry to subsidies on interest payments for some companies hit by the coronavirus outbreak, state-run newspaper Guangming Daily said. [..] Many economists are predicting that the coronavirus will have a significant impact on the Chinese economy. Many businesses have been shut as part of the lockdown to contain the virus while most overseas airlines have suspended flights to the country and Chinese people are now banned from travelling overseas. Goldman Sachs has forecast that the virus could knock Chinese growth down to 5.5% for the year, from 6.1% in 2019, with knockon effects for the rest of the world economy. Economists at Citigroup said the steps taken by Chinese authorities were “unlikely” to be enough to prevent a sharp downturn in the first quarter.

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Bloomberg claims Chinese oil demand is down 20%.

China’s Sinopec Cuts Feb Daily Refinery Output By 12% As Virus Hits (R.)

China’s Sinopec Corp, Asia’s largest refiner, is cutting throughput this month by around 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) as the rapidly spreading coronavirus hits fuel demand, four people with knowledge of the matter said on Monday. The cut is equivalent to roughly 12% of the state refiner’s average daily throughput last year. Sinopec asked refineries last Friday to cut production and gave plants different reduction targets based on local fuel demand and logistics, the sources told Reuters. They declined to be named as they are not authorized to speak to media. Sinopec is closely monitoring the changing market situations and stands ready to ensure supplies, the refiner said in an email to Reuters.


“Company is closely monitoring the changing market situations, and will optimize operation rates and product mix based on market demand,” the company said, without commenting directly on the throughput cut rates. The four sources estimated cuts of about 2.5 million tonnes in total, equal to about 600,000 bpd on average, for February. One plant in eastern Jiangsu province is lowering runs by 10%, while a plant in Tianjin, near Beijing, is cutting throughput by 20%, two people with direct knowledge of the plants’ operations said. A plant manager with a central-China based Sinopec refinery said his plant has since Friday lowered processing rates to 60% of capacity. He said his plant was operating at near full rates before the cut.

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Total lockdown, except for…

Huawei, Chinese Chip Makers Keep Factories Humming Despite Coronavirus (R.)

Some Chinese technology firms are continuing to manufacture parts and products despite government calls across various cities and provinces for work to be halted as Being seeks to stop the spread of the coronavirus ravaging the country. Chinese telecom giant Huawei said on Monday it had resumed production of goods including consumer devices and carrier equipment, and operations are running normally. The company restarted manufacturing in line with a special exemption that allows certain critical industries to remain in operation, despite Beijing’s call to halt all work in some cities and provinces. The spokesman said most of the production was in Dongguan, a city in the southern Guangdong province.


Other companies have also kept production running, in some cases even through Chinese New Year, in a sign of the critical importance Beijing places on its domestic tech supply chain, a subject of friction with the United States Yangtze Memory Technologies, a state-backed maker of flash memory chips based in Wuhan – the city where the virus outbreak originated – confirmed on Monday that it has not yet ceased production. “At present, production and operations at YMTC are proceeding normally and in an orderly manner,” a company spokesman wrote in a statement on Monday. The spokesman added that no factory employees have been confirmed as infection cases, and that the company has enacted certain isolation measures and partitions to ensure the safety of employees. State media reported that the chip maker did not cease operations over the Lunar New Year holiday.

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Are we going to argue that keeping borders open does not violate human rights?

China’s Reaction To The Coronavirus Outbreak Violates Human Rights (G.)

When the World Health Organization declared the 2019nCoV coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency, it effusively praised China’s response to the outbreak. The WHO issued a statement welcoming the government’s “commitment to transparency”, and the WHO director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, tweeted: “China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response.” The WHO is ignoring Chinese government suppression of human rights regarding the outbreak, including severe restrictions on freedom of expression. In turn, Chinese state media are citing the WHO to defend its policies and try to silence criticism of its response to the outbreak, which has included rights violations that could make the situation worse.

China’s response to the outbreak included a month-long government cover-up in Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak, that led to the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Local authorities publicly announced that no new cases had been detected between 3-16 January in the lead up to a major Communist party meeting, likely to suppress “bad news”. Despite early evidence of human-to-human transmission when medical staff became infected, this information was not relayed to the public for weeks. Hardly a “commitment to transparency”. Chinese police punished frontline doctors for “spreading rumours” for trying to warn the public in late December. Police are still engaged in a campaign to detain Chinese netizens for spreading so-called “rumours”.

Rumours included reports of potential cases, including people turned away from hospitals or dying without ever being tested and quickly cremated, criticism of the government, the distribution of masks, or the criticism of the discrimination of people from Wuhan or others who may be infected. Activists have been threatened with jail if they share foreign news articles or post on social media about the coronavirus outbreak. That the Chinese government can lock millions of people into cities with almost no advance notice should not be considered anything other than terrifying. The residents of Wuhan had no time to buy food, medicine, or other essentials. Authorities hastily announced the lockdown in the middle of the night with an eight-hour gap before it went into effect, giving people time to flee and thus raising questions on the rationale for such extreme measures.

[..] The international community should support all efforts to end this outbreak, but human rights should not be a casualty to the coronavirus crisis. The WHO declares that core principles of human rights and health includes accountability, equality and non-discrimination and participation. It even acknowledges that “participation is important to accountability as it provides … checks and balances which do not allow unitary leadership to exercise power in an arbitrary manner”. The WHO’s admiration for the unitary actions of the Chinese dictator Xi Jinping exercising power in an arbitrary manner is a direct contradiction of its own human rights principles.

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DNC and CNN are even regurgitating Mueller.

Twitter comment: “Brace yourself, the DNC is launching its troll army (branded as “troll fighters”) headed by a former Hillary staffer to counter “disinformation”. If you use the word “rigged”, they will come after you. Get ready to be called a Russian all over again.”

The Democrats’ New Online Troll Fighters Make 2020 Debut In Iowa (CNN)

Days after the 2016 Iowa caucuses, the instructions were clear. “[U]se any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump — we support them),” they read. The guidance had been circulated among a group of Russians who were covertly running a vast network of social media accounts seeking to divide Democrats and push the candidacy of Donald Trump. (The instructions were later found during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.) Four years later, unhappy with Silicon Valley’s efforts to curb the manipulation of its platforms, the Democratic Party has developed capabilities of its own to monitor and tackle online disinformation.

The first-in-the-nation caucuses here Monday will be the Democrats’ first 2020 test of its new team on a day when voters have their say. The effort reflects Democrats’ growing discontent with Silicon Valley executives like Mark Zuckerberg and highlights concerns that viral disinformation could have an impact on this year’s election. “It’s like algorithmic wars here, it’s kind of crazy,” a Democratic National Committee staffer who works on the Democrats’ new counter disinformation team said on Saturday as preparations were underway in Des Moines. The staffer asked not to be identified due to the nature of their work and possibly being subjected to online harassment themselves.

“Both Republicans and foreign actors, like Russia, have an incentive to divide the American electorate and may try to use the Iowa Caucus to further that goal,” the DNC wrote in a “counter disinformation update” sent to campaigns on Thursday. Among the new weapons in the Democrats’ online arsenal is a monitoring tool called “Trendolizer.” When stories from websites known to peddle misinformation mention candidates and begin getting shares on social media, Trendolizer detects it and an alert is sent to the relevant campaigns. Another tool built in-house at the DNC monitors Twitter traffic. On Monday, it’ll watch for misinformation about how and where to caucus. Variations of the word “rigged” had been loaded into system when CNN was shown it Saturday — attempts to undermine legitimate vote results using disinformation is something Democrats are watching out for.

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Today is closing argumants in the Senate “trial”. One more chance for Schiff to take revenge on the entire world, including Jerry Nadler, and repeat the same old points another 20 times. And announce a “surprise” subpoena for John Bolton in the House.

Democrats Need to Break Their Cold War–Addled Impeachment Fever (Maté)

Sondland, according to Schiff’s account, told Yermak, “You ain’t getting the money until you do the investigations.” But both Sondland and Yermak offer a radically different account. According to Sondland, he told Yermak in “a very, very brief pull-aside conversation,” that he “didn’t know exactly why” the military funding was held up, and that its linkage to opening an investigation was only his “personal presumption” in the absence of an explanation from Trump. Yermak does not even recall the issue of the frozen aid being mentioned. To overcome that, Schiff has gone to the extraordinary step of arguing that it’s not just Sondland who is lying but the Ukrainians as well. “Like they’re going to admit they were being shaken down by the president of the United States,” Schiff told the proceedings.

Sure, that’s one possibility, but it is also wildly speculative. Ukrainian officials say they did not learn about the weapons freeze until it was publicly reported more than one month after the Trump-Zelensky call. And even after they did find out, and even voiced concerns to their US counterparts, there is no record of any complaints about the alleged linkage. As Democratic Senator Chris Murphy recalled of a meeting with Zelensky in early September—after the funding freeze became known—the Ukrainian president “did not make any connection between the aid that had been cut off and the requests that he was getting from [Trump attorney Rudy] Giuliani.”

House impeachment managers have not overcome this evidentiary flaw. They have tried to claim that the White House effectively admitted to their allegation in an October 2019 news conference by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. But as I detailed back when Mulvaney’s comments initially caused a stir, Democrats and media outlets pundits rendered them as damning by isolating one fragment and ignoring the bulk of what Mulvaney said.

The absence of concrete evidence explains the last-minute excitement over compelling the potential testimony of another Trump administration official, former national security adviser John Bolton. A New York Times report about Bolton’s forthcoming memoir led to declarations that Bolton confirmed the quid pro quo allegation at the heart of the impeachment trial. As in other cases, that is based on a mistaken and maximalist interpretation of the available facts. The Times did not quote from Bolton’s manuscript. In its characterization of what Bolton wrote, the Times reports that Bolton said Trump “preferred sending no assistance to Ukraine until officials had turned over all materials they had about the Russia investigation that related to Mr. Biden and supporters of Mrs. Clinton in Ukraine”.

If this account is accurate, then Bolton is not confirming that Trump conditioned military assistance to Ukraine’s announcement of an investigation into Joe Biden and his son. Instead, Bolton is relaying that Trump “preferred” that Ukraine assist efforts to uncover the extent of Ukrainian meddling to hurt Trump’s campaign and help Democrats in 2016—meddling that did in fact happen. Recall that Trump is not on trial for preferring that Ukraine hand “over all materials they had about the Russia investigation,” but for pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation of Trump’s political rival.

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Dems’ new favorite boy.

The Real John Bolton (CP)

It isn’t enough for the corporate media to praise John Bolton for his timely manuscript that confirms Donald Trump’s explicit linkage between military aid to Ukraine and investigations into his political foe Joe Biden. As a result, the media have made John Bolton a “man of principle,” according to the Washington Post, and a fearless infighter for the “sovereignty of the United States.” Writing in the Post, Kathleen Parker notes that Bolton isn’t motivated by the money he will earn from his book (in the neighborhood of $2 million), but that he is far more interested in “saving his legacy.” Perhaps this is a good time to examine that legacy. Bolton, who used student deferments and service in the Maryland National Guard to avoid serving in Vietnam, is a classic Chicken Hawk.

He supported the Vietnam War and continues to support the war in Iraq. Bolton endorsed preemptive military strikes in North Korea and Iran in recent years, and lobbied for regime change in Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. When George W. Bush declared an “axis of evil” in 2002 consisting of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, Bolton added an equally bizarre axis of Cuba, Libya, and Syria. When Bolton occupied official positions at the Department of State and the United Nations, he regularly ignored assessments of the intelligence community in order to make false arguments regarding weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Cuba and Syria in order to promote the use of force.

When serving as President Bush’s Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and Disarmament, Bolton ran his own intelligence program, issuing white papers on WMD that lacked support within the intelligence community. He used his own reports to testify to congressional committees in 2002 in effort to justify the use of military force against Iraq. Bolton presented misinformation to the Congress on a Cuban biological weapons program. When the CIA challenged the accuracy of Bolton’s information in 2003, he was forced to cancel a similar briefing on Syria. In a briefing to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2005, the former chief of intelligence at the Department of State, Carl Ford, referred to Bolton as a “serial abuser” in his efforts to pressure intelligence analysts. Ford testified that he had “never seen anybody quite like Secretary Bolton…in terms of the way he abuses his power and authority with little people.”

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Luckily there’s still important news going on.

Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Early Spring (Slate)

Across much of the United States, many have been enjoying a mild winter. And if the world’s most famous groundhog is to be believed, the trend will continue and there will be an early spring. In fact, on Sunday morning, Punxsutawney Phil declared that early spring “is a certainty.” Well, obviously the groundhog didn’t actually declare anything but that didn’t matter to the thousands of people who gathered at sunrise on Sunday to watch as Phil emerged from his den in Punxsutawney, Pa. The groundhog allegedly did not see his shadow, according to members of his “inner circle,” meaning there will be an early spring. According to legend, if he had seen his shadow it would have signified six more weeks of winter.


[..] Since Phil’s weather-predicting career began in 1887, he has seen his shadow 104 times and has failed to see it on a mere 20 instances (a few years are missing from the official record). That makes this year’s prediction relatively rare and marks the first time Phil hasn’t seen his shadow two years in a row. Phil’s forecast “seems fitting considering the lack of winter weather this winter so far,” notes the Washington Post. But truth be told, Phil doesn’t have the best track record. From 2010-2019, Phil predicted a longer winter seven times and an early spring three times. He was right only 40 percent of the time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He has been on a particularly poor streak lately as Phil got it wrong the past three years.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Jun 072017
 


Olivier Drot Morning in Downtown Athens June 7 2017

 

Spring Rally in Stocks, Bonds, Gold and Bitcoin Unnerves Investors (WSJ)
Trump’s America Is Facing a $13 Trillion Consumer Debt Hangover (BBG)
Bars Open Early Tomorrow So People Can Drink While Watching Comey Testify (BI)
Other Times Unemployment Has Been This Low, It Didn’t End Well (WSJ)
UK’s May Says She’d Rip Up Human Rights Law to Beat Terrorists (BBG)
Corbyn: UK Foreign Policy Increases Terrorism Risk. Most Britons Agree (Ind.)
Australia’s Economy Marks Record 26 Years Without Recession (AFP)
Australians Curb Spending As Household Debt Balloons (R.)
Is There A Magic Money Tree? Yes Children, But That’s The Wrong Question (G.)
Santander Buys Struggling Spanish Banco Popular For €1 (BBG)
Don’t Count on China as Next Climate Crusader (WSJ)
Gimme Shelter (Jim Kunstler)
98% Of Greeks Downbeat About Their Current Economic Situation (K.)

 

 

The inevitable result of no price discovery for years on end. Do note that no price discovery also means there are no investors.

Spring Rally in Stocks, Bonds, Gold and Bitcoin Unnerves Investors (WSJ)

Stocks, bonds, gold and bitcoin—assets that rarely move in unison—have all been surging this spring, an everything rally that leaves investors confounded about how to play the plodding U.S. expansion and vulnerable to sharp reversals in fortune. Major U.S. stock indexes have soared to records this month, reflecting some investors’ confidence in the continued U.S. economic recovery along with expectations that large technology firms will accrue further market-share gains. At the same time prices of bonds, which often decline when stocks are rising, have risen lately, as U.S. inflation readings cooled off alongside a slowdown in some key industries. Gold has gained following terror attacks in the U.K., and turmoil in U.S. politics centering on the administration’s legislative prospects and a key congressional hearing this week featuring former FBI director James Comey.

The simultaneous gains have begun to concern some investors. Many point to a wave of money that is driving up asset prices, tied in part to lower bond yields and a lower dollar—a confluence of events they say feels good while it lasts but can’t go on forever. “We do think there are distortions” in the markets, said Iman Brivanlou, who oversees high-income equities at asset manager TCW. The Dow Industrials this month have posted two record closes, their first since March, and the 30-stock index remains just 0.33% below its all-time high despite a decline Tuesday of 47.81 points to 21136.23. The Nasdaq Composite Index has hit more than three dozen new highs this year, reflecting the surge of red-hot tech stocks such as Alphabet and Amazon.com , both of which this month have surpassed $1,000 a share. Bitcoin has tripled this year, hitting a record high Tuesday.

At the same time, U.S. bond yields on Tuesday sank to their 2017 low at 2.147% and the price of gold, long viewed as a barometer of market concern about potential risks ahead, settled at $1,294.40, its highest in seven months. A Goldman Sachs Group index of financial conditions that takes into account credit spreads, equity prices and other market gauges, this month suggested the easiest conditions since early 2015, before the Federal Reserve began lifting rates. Another measure of stress in U.S. money markets fell to near its lowest in seven years, while measures of expected stock-market swings have been at the lowest in a decade.

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A global issue.

Trump’s America Is Facing a $13 Trillion Consumer Debt Hangover (BBG)

After bingeing on credit for a half decade, U.S. consumers may finally be feeling the hangover. Americans faced with lackluster income growth have been financing more of their spending with debt instead. There are early signs that loan burdens are growing unsustainably large for borrowers with lower incomes. Household borrowings have surged to a record $12.73 trillion, and the%age of debt that is overdue has risen for two consecutive quarters. And with economic optimism having lifted borrowing rates since the election and the Federal Reserve expected to hike further, it’s getting more expensive for borrowers to refinance. Some companies are growing worried about their customers. Public Storage said in April that more of its self-storage customers now seem to be under stress.

Credit card lenders including Synchrony Financial and Capital One Financial are setting aside more money to cover bad loans. Consumer product makers including Nestle posted slower sales growth last quarter, particularly in the U.S. Companies may have reason to be concerned. Consumer spending notched its weakest gain in the first quarter since the end of 2009, a problem in an economy where consumers account for 70% of spending, though analysts expect the dip to be transitory. And debt delinquencies are rising even as the job market shows signs of strength. “There are pockets of consumers that are going to be sorely tested,” said Christopher Low, chief economist at FTN Financial. “We’ve conditioned American consumers to use debt to close the gap between their wages and their spending. When the Fed hikes, riskier borrowers are going to get pinched first.”

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the Fed has kept rates low to encourage companies and consumers to borrow more and spur economic growth. Much of the gains in household debt since 2012 have come from student loans, auto debt and credit cards. Over that time, wage growth has averaged around 2.2% a year, and the pace has been slowing for much of this year. Even if economists forecast that income growth will accelerate, those pickups have remained elusive. Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election in part by convincing voters that he understood their economic pain. Keeping up with household debt payments is still broadly manageable for consumers. As of the end of last year, the ratio of principal and interest payments to disposable income for Americans was just shy of 10%, less than the average going back to 1980 of 11.33%.

And it’s too soon to say whether growing signs of pain among borrowers are just a return to more normal levels of delinquencies or evidence of a more serious credit downturn. Loan delinquencies are creeping higher after plunging from 2010 until the middle of 2016, but are still below historical averages.

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This can only disappoint. The echo chamber is overcrowded.

Bars Open Early Tomorrow So People Can Drink While Watching Comey Testify (BI)

If you want to have a drink while watching former FBI director James Comey testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, you’re in luck. Bars in Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Houston, Texas, are opening early on Thursday to screen Comey’s testimony, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. EST. “Come on… you know you want to watch the drama unfold this Thursday,” Shaw’s Tavern, which will be serving $5 Stoli vodka and “FBI” sandwiches, wrote on Facebook. “Grab your friends, grab a drink and let’s COVFEFE!”

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Oh boy, you can’t win, can you?

Other Times Unemployment Has Been This Low, It Didn’t End Well (WSJ)

There have been only three fleeting periods in the past half-century when the U.S. unemployment rate was as low as it is today. This would be cause for celebration but for one disturbing fact: in hindsight, each period was associated with boiling excesses that led to serious economic trouble. Low unemployment of the late 1960s preceded an inflation spiral in the 1970s. The late 1990s bred the Dot-com bubble and bust. The mid-2000s saw the buildup and collapse of U.S. housing. While there is reason to believe today’s economy isn’t boiling over as in the past, those episodes call for caution. “It’s not a matter of superstition, it’s a matter of being mindful of the history of what such a low unemployment rate usually is followed by,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist of J.P. Morgan Chase.

While initially a welcome development, low unemployment in the 1960s laid the groundwork for a buildup of wage and price pressures, spurred on by low interest rates and aggressive government spending programs. The unemployment rate dropped to 4.3% in September 1965 and then below 4%. Today’s unemployment rate, also at 4.3%, could drop below 4% in the next year if it maintains its present trajectory. Unemployment returned again to 4.3% in January 1999. This time the inflation rate remained below 2% and it seemed that, unlike the late 1960s, the economy wasn’t overheating. But asset prices—the stock market in particular—soared after what had already been a long climb. The DJIA shot above 10000 for the first time in March 1998. Highflying tech companies commanded billion-dollar valuations with no profits to report. In hindsight, an internet bubble grew out of control.

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Hoping to get the nazi vote?

UK’s May Says She’d Rip Up Human Rights Law to Beat Terrorists (BBG)

Prime Minister Theresa May said she’d be willing to tear up human rights legislation in the battle against terrorists, as security continued to dominate the final days of the U.K. election campaign. Speaking to supporters at a campaign event in Slough, west of London, the premier said she wanted to make it easier for the authorities to deport foreign terror suspects and to limit the freedoms of individuals who pose a threat but who can’t be prosecuted in court. “If our human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change the laws so we can do it,” May said. “If I am elected as prime minister on Thursday, that work begins on Friday.” May is facing criticism over her record overseeing U.K. homeland security in the wake of two terrorist attacks in two weeks ahead of Thursday’s national vote.

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Those arms sales will be under heavy pressure no matter who wins.

Corbyn: UK Foreign Policy Increases Terrorism Risk. Most Britons Agree (Ind.)

An overwhelming majority of people agree with Jeremy Corbyn that British involvement in foreign wars has put the public at greater risk of terrorism, according to a new poll. The exclusive ORB survey for The Independent found 75% of people believe interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have made atrocities on UK soil more likely. The poll – conducted before Saturday night’s devastating attack – comes after Mr Corbyn was lambasted for suggesting foreign policy decisions were linked to terrorism in the UK and that the “war on terror” had failed. The deadly strike at London Bridge and Borough Market, the third attack in Britain in as many months, has seen security dominate the final days of the election campaign, with cabinet ministers squabbling over whether it could have been stopped.

Theresa May’s record as Home Secretary has been questioned and she has faced a call to resign over the matter from Mr Corbyn, not to mention a former aide to ex-Prime Minister David Cameron. In the wake of the Manchester attack, which killed 22 people last month, the Labour leader highlighted the potential role foreign military interventions play in increasing the likelihood of atrocities in the UK. Despite experts like Baroness Eliza Manningham-Bullerformer, a former MI5 chief, and Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, ex-chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, expressing similar views, he was accused by Conservatives of making excuses for terrorism.

But the ORB survey for The Independent found three-quarters of people – taking in all age groups, political persuasions and social classes – agreed Britain’s military involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya had increased the risk of terrorist acts. Within that, some 68% of Tory voters agreed foreign wars have enhanced the risks of terrorism at home. So did 80% of Labour supporters and 79% of people that voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2015.

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This is hilarious in combination with the next article.

Australia’s Economy Marks Record 26 Years Without Recession (AFP)

Australia marked a world-record 26 years without a recession Wednesday, as the economy grew 0.3% in the first-quarter, official data showed. The Australian Bureau of Statistics put the annual rate of growth at 1.7%, down from 2.4% in the previous three months. The soft quarterly reading was widely expected by analysts amid the impact of category four Cyclone Debbie on eastern Australia in late March, weaker trade figures and tepid wages growth. “The results today demonstrate the continued resilience of the Australian economy,” Treasurer Scott Morrison told reporters. The Australian dollar rallied by a quarter of a US cent to 75.27 cents just after the data was released, as some analysts had predicted a negative first-quarter reading.

Australia last recorded two negative quarters of economic growth in March and June 1991, before enjoying 103 quarters without a recession to equal the record set by the Netherlands. Economists said the resources-rich nation’s long stretch of expansion was supported by economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, such as the floating of the local currency, a flexible labour market, financial sector and capital markets deregulation and lower tariffs. Australia has also benefited from China’s economic growth and hunger for natural resources, which led to an unprecedented mining investment boom and record commodity prices. But economists have warned that economic growth in the next few years may not be as rosy. “In the context of the past few years, it is still a fairly weak outcome,” JP Morgan economist Tom Kennedy told AFP of the latest figures.

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A record run without a recession entirly paid for with leveraged private debt: “They are all on a budget. Everyone’s got all their money in houses, that’s how it is.”

Australians Curb Spending As Household Debt Balloons (R.)

Australia’s economy may have achieved a remarkable winning streak, avoiding a recession for 25 years, but there are now clear signs that the consumers who have driven much of the growth are running out of puff. With cash interest rates at a record low and house prices near record highs, the nation’s household debt-to-income ratio has climbed to an all-time peak of 189%, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). That means there are an increasing number of people who have little cash for discretionary spending – on everything from cars to electrical appliances and new clothes – as their pay packets get consumed by large mortgages and high rental payments in the country’s red-hot property market.

And it’s not as if a sudden plunge in home prices would help – it might well expose and exacerbate the problem, at least in the short run, squeezing many who have bought into the frothy market with high mortgage repayments and little equity in their homes. “We are seeing a considerable spike in stress even in more affluent households. Large mortgages, big commitments but no income growth,” said Digital Finance Analytics (DFA) Principal Martin North. “Stressed households are less likely to spend at the shops, which acts as a drag anchor on future growth.” North estimates a record 52,000 households risk default in the next 12 months and that 23.4% of Australian families are under mortgage stress, meaning their income does not cover ongoing costs. That compares with about 19% a year ago.

“People are up to their ears in mortgages,” said Brad Smith, a car sales consultant at MotorPoint Sydney which has seen a stark slowdown in sales in the past six months. “They are all on a budget. Everyone’s got all their money in houses, that’s how it is.” Australians are also facing a cash crunch because price inflation in essential items such as food, electricity and insurance is accelerating at a 3.4% annual rate at a time when Australian wages are rising at their slowest pace on record, just 1.9% in the year to March. Meanwhile, growth in retail sales, personal loans and luxury car sales are all at multi-year lows, suggesting the household sector – nearly 60% of Australia’s A$1.7 trillion ($1.3 trillion) economy – is under severe strain.

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Steve Keen’s efforts are having an effect.

Is There A Magic Money Tree? Yes Children, But That’s The Wrong Question (G.)

Does anyone who has witnessed the pomp and circumstance of the Queen’s Jubilee, the funnelling of public money into Syrian airstrikes, or the systematic cutting of taxes for the rich really think we’re not paying nurses properly because we simply don’t have the money? Absolutely not: we don’t pay nurses properly because the government makes a choice not to. This fact calls to mind the words of the Texan minister Robert Fulghum: “It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and our air force has to have a bake-sale to buy a bomber”. But the magic money tree is not a just daft expression in terms of how governments spend public money, it’s also misleading in terms of how the economy works as a whole.

Since 2008, we’ve been encouraged to see the economy like a household budget: if households spend too much money, they need to cut down on living costs so they don’t get into too much debt. To that end, the magic money tree says that if we spend too much money, we can’t just simply grow more. But actually, a country’s whole economy can grow more money if it needs to. Since 2009 the Bank of England has created £453bn of new electronic money to buy debt from the private sector using a mechanism called quantitative easing. Yes, you read that right: the Bank of England has created £453,000,000,000 of new money in the last eight years. Turns out the magic money tree is pretty big. Growing money is possible because an economy is nothing like a household budget. In a household, money comes in via people’s wages and goes out via living costs.

But in an economy, we all pay each other’s wages. Money doesn’t just travel in one direction in the economy, it circulates around. It’s the difference between one car driving in one end of a tunnel and out of the other, and lots of cars zigzagging around Spaghetti Junction. The issue isn’t whether we can grow money or not (we can – that’s just a fact), it’s where the money goes once it’s been grown. And the problem is that it doesn’t go to nurses, teachers or the public services they work for. It goes to institutions such as banks. The nurse in the BBC debate was highlighting a problem that exists across the whole economy: real wages haven’t increased for more than a decade, and this has meant more people have been relying on credit cards, with personal debt now higher than it was before the 2008 crash.

In other words, the fact that the nurse hasn’t had a pay rise is not just bad for her, it’s bad for all of us – because if that nurse is not earning enough, she won’t be spending money. And if she does spend money, she’ll do it by getting into unsustainable debt – which is itself outrageous considering the important, skilled work nurses do.

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Raise €7 billion to buy a bank for €1.

Santander Buys Struggling Spanish Banco Popular For €1 (BBG)

Banco Popular Espanol has been taken over by Santander after European regulators deemed that the bank was likely to fail. Popular will continue to operate under “normal business conditions” after all the bank’s shares and capital instruments were transferred to Santander, said the EU’s Single Resolution Board. The purchase price was €1, according to a statement. Santander plans to raise about €7bn (£6.1bn) of capital as part of the transaction. Popular had been looking for a buyer or a possible share sale after its balance sheet was battered by soured real estate loans that eroded its capital.

Its shares have dropped 53pc since the beginning of last week. In a statement, the ECB, which oversees the largest banks in the eurozone, said: “The significant deterioration of the liquidity situation of the bank in recent days led to a determination that the entity would have, in the near future, been unable to pay its debts or other liabilities as they fell due. “Consequently, the ECB determined that the bank was failing or likely to fail and duly informed the Single Resolution Board (SRB), which adopted a resolution scheme entailing the sale of Banco Popular Espanol to Banco Santander.”

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That Paris accord is a hoax.

Don’t Count on China as Next Climate Crusader (WSJ)

For years, a wide spectrum of groups in the U.S. lectured, cajoled and entreated China to go green. Multinationals and nonprofits teamed up with Chinese environmental groups to promote eco-friendly causes; Coca-Cola restored forests in the upper Yangtze. U.S. labs offered scientific support. Academics collaborated on research. The former Treasury secretary, Hank Paulson, championed China’s disappearing wetlands, a haven for migratory birds. The well-funded effort amplified voices within China demanding the government take action. It was, says Orville Schell, a longtime China watcher and environmentalist, “the most effective missionary work in the past couple hundred years.” So it’s an irony of historic proportions how the roles have reversed: China, the world’s worst polluter by far, is now a convert on climate change while the White House under Donald Trump has turned apostate.

In pulling out of the 2015 Paris climate-change agreement, Mr. Trump has repudiated a signal accomplishment of the Obama presidency: persuading Beijing to become a partner in the effort to prevent the planet from heating up to the point of no return. Without China’s support, the Paris deal might have fallen apart. Mr. Paulson issued a statement saying he was dismayed and disappointed. “We have left a void for others to fill,” he said. When it comes to the environment, China is still torn by conflicting priorities. It has installed more solar and wind capacity than any other nation—and plans to invest another $360 billion in renewable energy between now and 2020. The economy is rebalancing away from heavy industry and manufacturing toward much cleaner services and consumption.

Coal consumption has declined for three straight years. On current trends, many scientists expect that China will reach peak carbon emissions well before its target date of 2030 under the Paris accord. Yet Beijing remains committed to rapid growth. And coal is still king. Just ask the residents of Beijing. Whenever economic policy makers set out to boost growth, spending flows to new real-estate and infrastructure projects, the steel mills around the capital fire up their coal furnaces—and commuters reach for their face masks. This winter was particularly hard on the lungs. A spending splurge meant that Beijing’s average pollution levels last year were double the national standard set by the State Council.

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“How could they fail to come up with a video of the Donald and Vladimir swatting each other playfully with birch switches in a Moscow banya?”

Gimme Shelter (Jim Kunstler)

“Have you all lost your mind?” Vladimir Putin replied to one of Megyn Kelly’s thrusts about alleged Russian perfidy toward the US in the gala interview that debuted her new Sunday Night star-chamber on NBC. Old Vlad put his finger on something there. His view of the late goings-on in America is like that of the proverbial detached Martian observer of strange Earthly doings, rattling his antennae and clicking his mouth-parts in mirth. To which retort, by the way, one would have to answer, ”Yes, absolutely.” The toils of slow economic collapse, accompanied by the ceaseless effort by various arms of the Deep State to spin “the narrative” around the voting public’s collective head, has driven the polity insane. And this, of course, is on view in the bedlam that US politics has become, Trump and all.

I’m waiting for The New York Times to run the three-column headline that says Russia Racist, Misogynist, and Islamophobic to finally bring together the programmed paranoia of NeoCon / DemProg alliance with the esprit de corp of the new collegiate Red Guard. Mr. Putin does not have to lift a finger to detonate the groaning garbage barge of US domestic affairs. It’s already ignited and is faring toward a very peculiar species of civil war. You can be sure that the NeoCon/DemProg axis is determined to get rid of Trump at all costs. Impeachment requires some sort of high crime or misdeamenor. So far, going on a year, they haven’t come up with any evidence that the Golden Golem of Greatness acted as a Russian agent in some fashion, and that itself has got to be a little suspicious, considering the thousands of clerks in the spinning mills of those legendary seventeen Intel outfits the government runs.

How could they fail to come up with a video of the Donald and Vladimir swatting each other playfully with birch switches in a Moscow banya? Five TV sitcom writers could surely come up with an angle — as long as it was a plausible entertainment. In the meantime, Trump prevails, the mad bull elephant of the Republican herd, majestically swinging his trunk against everything breakable in the political china shop while trumpeting “Covfefe! Covfefe!” Last week it was the Paris Climate Accords. The op-ed writers in the usual places bounced off the walls of their virtual rubber room in response. Paul Krugman had to be dragged down to hydrotherapy at the NYT after he set his hair on fire. And Rachel Maddow practically popped a carotid artery in her muscular neck from all that shrieking.

I’m a bit more sanguine about the US withdrawal. To me, the Paris Accords were just another feel-good PR stunt enabling politicians to pretend that they could control forces that are already way out-of-hand, an international vanity project of ass-covering. The coming economic collapse will depress global industrial activity whether anybody likes it or not, and despite anyone’s pretense of good intentions — and then we will have a range of much more practical problems of everyday life to contend with.

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It’s getting time to rise up.

98% Of Greeks Downbeat About Their Current Economic Situation (K.)

Greeks are among the most pessimistic people in the world, according to the findings of a survey by the Pew Research Center which found that many Europeans as well as Japanese and Americans feel better about their national economies now than before the global financial crisis nearly a decade ago. Questioned about their national economy, only 2% of Greeks were upbeat, the lowest rate among the 32 countries polled. The Dutch, Germans, Swedes and Indians see their national economies in the most positive light, with more than 80% expressing optimism. The Pew survey also detected widespread concern about the future. A median of just 41% said they believed that a child in their country today would grow up to be better off financially than their parents. The most pessimistic about prospects for the next generation are the French (9%), the Japanese (19%) and the Greeks (21%).

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Nov 022015
 
 November 2, 2015  Posted by at 10:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


RLOppenheimer New flag for EU 2015

To reiterate: People are genetically biased against change, because change means potential danger. People are also genetically biased against acknowledging this bias, because they wish to see themselves as being able to cope with both change and danger. Put together, this means that when changes come, people are largely unprepared or underprepared.

Take this beyond the bias of the individual, and apply it to that of the group (s)he belongs to, the vantage point of a society, and you find the bias multiplies and becomes self-confirming. That is, the members of the group reinforce each other’s bias. When change comes in small and gradual steps, as it mostly does, this can be said to work relatively well. When it comes in large and sudden steps, trouble ensues.

This little bit of psychology 101 may seem redundant, but it is indispensable if we wish it to recognize the implications of Europe -and the entire world with it, in its slipstream- having already entered a period of change so profound it is impossible to predict what the impact will be. We can do a lot better at this than we do today, where so far the drivers of change, and indeed the changes themselves, are ignored and/or denied.

This ignorance and denial threatens to lead to a needless increase in nationalism, fascism, violence, misery, death and warfare. If we were to acknowledge that the change is inevitable, and prepare ourselves accordingly, much of this could be avoided.

There are two main engines of change that have started to transform the Europe we think we know. First, a mass migration spearheaded by the flight of refugees from regions in the world which Europeans have actively helped descend into lethal chaos. Second, an economic downturn the likes of which hasn’t been seen in 80 years or so (think Kondratieff cycle).

Negative ideas about refugees are already shaping everyday opinion and politics in many places, and this will be greatly exacerbated by the enormous economic depression that for now remains largely hidden behind desperate sleight-of-hands enacted by central bankers, politicians and media.

People, first in Europe, then globally, will need to learn to share what they have, and do with much less. This is not optional. The refugees won’t stop coming, and neither will the depression. It would be much better if people were prepared for this by those same central bankers, politicians and media, but the opposite is happening.

It’s not only individual people who are biased against change, societies are too, and that means so are those who ‘lead’ these societies. They are all motivated, consciously or not, to resist change, because their positions and their powers depend on things remaining -largely- the same.

‘Leaders’ in Brussels and various European capitals still operate on the assumption that the refugee stream is a fleeting phenomenon they can and must stop. In a sort of positive feedback loop with their populations, this idea is continuously reinforced.

This leads to today’s reality in which at least one baby drowns every single day (and more in the past few days) off the shores of Greece, on Europe’s borders, and easily ten times as many members of their families. Moreover, the count is accelerating fast. Weather forecasts for the coming week call for Beaufort 7 winds.

There’s no society, no civilization that allows such atrocities to happen, and is not subsequently down for the count, and bound to dissolve, crumble and disappear. Societies all need common values, based on minimum levels of humanity and compassion, just to survive. And they need a whole lot more if they wish to flourish. No such values, as we see on a daily basis, exist in Europe today.

And that means it has no future – at least not in its present EU structure. It doesn’t get simpler than that. Denied and ignored as the simple fact may have been from the start, it was always clear that the European Union, if it failed to solidly unify the continent, risked becoming a force for division. And it looks as if the first real crisis the union faces will be enough to generate that division. There’s no union in sight other than in name.

Scores of people still hail Angela Merkel for her role in the refugee crisis, but they should think again. Merkel demanded the protagonist role for herself and Germany in setting if not dictating the conditions in the Greek debt negotiations over the first half of 2015, but she’s nowhere to be seen in a leading role now.

Merkel, true, has opened German doors to refugees, but she has utterly failed in expanding any such policy to the EU as a whole. And since she’s the only recognized leader in the entire union, leaving people like Hollande and Juncker far behind, she must acknowledge responsibility if things go wrong. Being a leader doesn’t mean you get to cherry-pick your challenges, it’s a package deal. Merkel cannot today act as German leader only.

But as fast increasing numbers of refugees and their children are drowning in the Aegean, in an act of supreme cynicism Merkel last week went to China to sell Volkswagens and weapons, as well to talk about… human rights. That is to say, the human rights of Chinese people. Not those of the refugees making their way to Europe, who apparently don’t even have the right to safe passage.

It’s that safe passage that must be Europe’s first and main concern right now, not how to stop people from coming. There are many voices clamoring for the ‘Evros fence’, built by Greece three years ago on a stretch of land on its border with Turkey, to be opened, so the drownings stop.

This would seem to be a good first step to halt would should by now be labeled a refugee disaster, rather than crisis. But it’s a step that could have been taken months ago, and the fact that it hasn’t even after Merkel visited Turkey recently, doesn’t bode well. Tsipras is set to visit Turkey this week in the wake of Erdogan’s election victory yesterday, but Tsipras may not get the green light from Berlin to tear down the fence.

The best thing would perhaps be for ordinary people to organize themselves into a large group, 10,000+, travel to Evros, and tear down the fence themselves, rather than wait for politicians to do it. Perhaps the time to rely on others, politicians or otherwise, to do things, has passed.

The world has seen mass migrations before, numerous times, and Europe sure has had its share. The manner is which these migrations take place typically depends to a large extent on people’s human values and their willingness to share their wealth. What’s happening with Syrian refugees today bears some eery resemblances to the boats carrying Jewish refugees prior to WWII that were refused in many ports. Let’s not go there again.

Refugees almost always make a positive contribution to the country they resettle in, both economically and in other ways. We know that, just like we know many other things. But that doesn’t lead our reactions, fear does. And the more wealth people have, the more they seem to fear losing it.

I’ve quoted before how the German federal police warned Merkel at least 8 months ago that a million refugees would be at the country’s doorstep. And that nothing was done with this knowledge for about half a year, leaving Germany woefully unprepared when the warning turned out to be correct.

UN Geneva Director General Michael Moller puts the warning even further into the past; he says EU leaders were told about it at least two years ago.

Refugee Crisis Was Not Unexpected, Top UN Official Says

Director-General of the United Nations office in Geneva, Denmark’s Michael Moller, expresses optimism that the agency’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) will help toward ending extreme poverty but he has no illusions about the refugee crisis[..]

“The crisis we have today, we knew it was going to happen. The leaders of Europe were told it was going to happen at least two years ago. So a little prevention and a little preparation in terms of the narrative to their voters would have gone a long way.”

“This very negative, xenophobic and frankly racist narrative that we’re seeing in many countries, including my own country – I don’t recognize my own country – is unacceptable [..] one of the things that I find very puzzling is that there’s some sort of global amnesia going on. In the early 80s we had pretty much the same problem in Southeast Asia, with much bigger numbers of boat people.

It took a while and then someone decided we must deal with it in a more rational way and they came up with a plan of action which was the product of an international conference where international solidarity kicked in in a much broader way than now. Then we put in place a whole series of measures in a way that minimized the pain and over seven years we resettled 2.5 million people. I don’t see why we can’t take a page or two or three out of that book. To me what’s happening isn’t a European problem, it’s an international problem.

[Washington] are evolving as well. First of all, the number [of refugees the US would accept] was 10,000 but now they’ve upped it to 100,000. I’ve talked to some of the politicians.

[..] looking at this crisis as an isolated incident doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. We are going to have more of these things and a lot worse. The moment climate refugee problems kick in we are going to be in real trouble, unless we sit down globally and figure out structures and ways to deal with this in the future. Not to reinvent the wheel every damn time that happens, but to rethink completely the humanitarian system, because I guarantee you that it will happen again.

The refugee disaster is only the first step in a long and multi-pronged process of profound change in the lives of all citizens of -formerly- rich countries. And if we collectively screw up step 1 as badly as we have and still do, what’s going to happen when our economies fall to pieces? When our alleged ‘financial security’ crumbles, our pensions, our benefits?

Are we going to blame it all on the refugees, and vote in right wing simpletons? Too many of us undoubtedly will. Whether there’s enough decency to counter that is a toss-up. What is not is that the numbers of refugees will keep rising at the same time that our economies keep sinking.

It’s up to us, wherever we live in the world, to find the best way to deal with it. We have a choice in how we react to these developments, not in whether they happen or not.