Mar 172017
 
 March 17, 2017  Posted by at 8:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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DPC Wall Street and Trinity Church, New York 1903

 


California Judge Seeks To Prevent Immigration Arrests Inside State Courts (R.)
Collapsing Pensions Will Fuel America’s Next Financial Crisis (MW)
Statoil CEO Warns of Globalization ‘In Reverse’ (BBG)
Treasury’s Mnuchin Says Trump Does Not Want Trade Wars (R.)
Would Trump Budget Cut Meals On Wheels Funding? (BI)
Dutch Election Puts Question Mark Over Eurogroup Chief Dijsselbloem (R.)
Congressman Huizenga Introduces Bill to Oppose IMF’s Third Greek Bailout (YV)
Senators Demand State Department Probe Into Soros Organizations (ZH)
Mounting Costs, Not PBOC, Could Slow China’s Bank Debt Binge (BBG)
Will Chrystia Freeland Finally Ruin Canadian-Russian Relations? (SCF)
The Energy Market Explained (Clarke and Dawe)
Greek Public Health System On Brink, Doctors Warn (K.)
First-Time Asylum Applicants In Greece Up 339% In 2016 (Amna)
Refugees In Greece Suffering After EU Deal With Turkey, Say NGOs (G.)
Child Refugees In Greece Self-Harming And Attempting Suicide (Ind.)
Ai Weiwei Slams ‘Shameful’ Politicians Ignoring Refugees (AFP)

 

 

One very big step over the decency line.

California Judge Seeks To Prevent Immigration Arrests Inside State Courts (R.)

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said she was gravely troubled by recent reports that federal agents were “stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests,” in a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. “Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration law,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote. Trump has vowed to increase deportations and has widened the net of illegal immigrants prioritized for detention and removal. “We will review the letter and have no further comment at this time,” Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said in an email.

Immigrant rights groups say federal agents have entered courthouses with increased frequency this year, including in California, Massachusetts, Maryland and Texas, said National Immigration Law Center staff attorney Melissa Keaney. “It’s definitely an issue we’re seeing a tremendous increase in under the new administration,” Keaney said by phone on Thursday. Cantil-Sakauye stopped short of questioning the legal right of federal agents to enter courthouses to locate and detain unauthorized immigrants. Her letter said the presence of immigration agents in California courthouses could undermine “public trust and confidence in our state court system,” which serves “millions of the most vulnerable Californians.”

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I don’t think pensions are in line to be the next crisis, but they will certainly cause one.

Collapsing Pensions Will Fuel America’s Next Financial Crisis (MW)

Washington has a knack for ignoring long-term financial shortfalls and painting overly rosy scenarios about the future to make their numbers work in the here and now. Case in point: Donald Trump’s unrealistic projection that the U.S. economy will grow at 3% this year, when the latest GDP forecasts have actually been reduced to 1.8% by a number of economists. Then there is Social Security. Many politicians are just too intimidated, uninformed or complacent to tackle the unsustainability of Social Security — which by the latest tally will see its trust fund go to zero just 17 years from now, in 2034. But while fudging GDP numbers is dangerous for America’s economic outlook and the demise of Social Security in two decades is a serious long-term concern, America faces a mathematical problem that dwarfs both of these items: A pending pension crisis that could leave millions of Americans high and dry in the very near future.

Sure, it would be difficult for many if the U.S. economy stumbles under misguided Trump policies. And yes, the idea of even modest cuts to Social Security in the coming decades could serious affect millions of seniors. But take a look South Carolina’s government pension plan, which covers roughly 550,000 people – one out of nine state residents – but is a staggering $24.1 billion in the red. This is not a distant concern, but a system already in crisis. Younger workers are being asked to do much more to support the pensions of retirees. An analysis by the The Post and Courier of Charleston noted recently that “Government workers and their employers have seen five hikes in their pension plan contributions since 2012, and there’s no end in sight.” (Most now contribute 8.66% of their pay, vs. 6.5% before the changes.) At the same time, the pension fund has been chasing more stocks and alternative investments instead of relying on stable investments like bonds that may be much less volatile but generate only meager returns.

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Of course Big Oil CEOs like globalization. But it’s still quite something to hear an oil exec claim: “Cross-border cooperation is also essential to solve climate change..”

Statoil CEO Warns of Globalization ‘In Reverse’ (BBG)

After the surprise election of Donald Trump, the head of Norway’s biggest oil company headed to Washington D.C. this month looking for reassurance. He came away as worried as ever. “I was looking for clarity, also some guidance, good advice, and also some people to talk to – new relationships within the administration,” Statoil CEO Eldar Saetre told a conference in Oslo on Thursday. “I have to be honest with you – I didn’t get much of any of it.” Saetre, whose company has stakes in three U.S. onshore areas and in the Gulf of Mexico, was concerned about the protectionist bent of the new president’s rhetoric. Combined with last year’s Brexit vote and looming elections in Europe where nationalists are gaining influence, he sees Trump’s victory as a threat to global free trade.

“From Brexit to Trump, we see warning signs that globalization could be going in reverse,” Saetre said at the annual Swedbank Energy Summit. “For our industry, I believe that would be very negative.” Trump’s energy policies could benefit oil producers in the U.S. by loosening regulations and freeing up more areas for drilling. However, his protectionist agenda could affect economic growth and trading relations with countries from neighboring Mexico to Asia. “Global collaboration and integrated markets have been and will remain key to make our industry prosper,” Saetre said. “Fair, open access to markets are keys to enable investments, value creation and jobs in our industry.” Cross-border cooperation is also essential to solve climate change, making it “more important than ever,” Saetre said.

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Schäuble and Mnuchin. Lovely pair.

Treasury’s Mnuchin Says Trump Does Not Want Trade Wars (R.)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday that the Trump administration has no desire to get into trade wars, but certain trade relationships need to be re-examined to make them fairer for U.S. workers. At a news conference with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, Mnuchin said that President Donald Trump views trade as important for economic growth. But when asked whether the Group of 20 finance ministers should explicitly reaffirm their past vow to resist protectionism, Mnuchin repeated his view that some U.S. trade relationships need to be re-examined to make them fairer and more reciprocal. “It is not our desire to get into trade wars,” Mnuchin said. “The president does believe in free trade but he wants free and fair trade.” Differences over trade could become a sticking point for G20 finance officials at a meeting in the spa town of Baden-Baden, Germany this weekend.

Schaeuble told Reuters in an interview that it was unclear whether the anti-protectionism language would remain in the G20 statement to be issued at the meeting’s close on Saturday. Given that Trump’s “America First” agenda, trade issues could be set aside for G20 leaders to tackle at a summit in July, Schaeuble said. But both Schaeuble and Mnuchin both said they had a constructive discussion ahead of the G20 meeting and pledged to work together through differences to promote growth. “It was a good start,” Schaeuble said of the meeting, adding that it was a positive sign for international cooperation and the G20 process. “We have found a good basis to talk openly about issues where we don’t have the same stance from the outset,” Schaeuble said. Mnuchin said the ministers agreed that they should fight currency manipulation.

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This viral story looks sensationalized. Meals on Wheels gets just part of its funding from the Community Development Block Grant program. I included the article anyway because we’re getting into Bizarro World territory here: “You’re only focusing on recipients of the money,” Mulvaney said. “We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place. I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard-earned money anymore.'”

Would Trump Budget Cut Meals On Wheels Funding? (BI)

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, unveiled on Thursday, would cut federal funding for Meals on Wheels, a program that provides daily meals to millions of low-income seniors across the country. White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters at a press conference Thursday that Meals on Wheels “sounds great.” But he said that along with other anti-poverty programs, it is “not showing any results.” “We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good,” Mulvaney told reporters. “We’re not going to spend money on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.”

Trump’s budget would strip $3 billion from the Community Development Block Grant program, which supports a variety of community-development and anti-poverty programs. Those include Meals on Wheels, which provided 219 million meals to 2.4 million seniors in 2016. CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked Mulvaney if the funding cuts were “hard-hearted.” Mulvaney responded that reducing government spending on ineffective programs is “probably one of the most compassionate things we can do.” “You’re only focusing on half of the equation, right? You’re only focusing on recipients of the money,” Mulvaney said. “We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place. I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard-earned money anymore.'”

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Get rid of him already. Right now. Then again, Kazimir is probably next in line, and he’s just as bad. Cooler heads should demand a more reasonable, not neo-liberal choice. Fat chance.

Dutch Election Puts Question Mark Over Eurogroup Chief Dijsselbloem (R.)

Jeroen Dijsselbloem may have to stand down as president of the Eurogroup which coordinates policy in the eurozone if he cannot retain his role as Dutch finance minister in a new coalition after his party was routed in Wednesday’s election. The Labor Party crashed from second to seventh place in preliminary results, losing more than three-quarters of its seats and making it hard for victorious liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte to retain Dijsselbloem in such a senior cabinet post, even though he has made clear his appreciation of his work. Neither man commented on the matter directly Thursday. Dijsselbloem is due to represent the Eurogroup at a G20 meeting in Germany Friday and to chair the monthly meeting of the 19 eurozone finance ministers in Brussels on Monday.

While other eurozone finance ministers may seek his role, there is a lack of obvious contenders, particularly given that many governments will resist appointing a politician from the right because conservatives hold most other top EU jobs. It is just possible Dijsselbloem might retain his Dutch portfolio. There has also been speculation that the Eurogroup could keep him on as chairman even if he loses his national job – although some senior officials say that is most unlikely. Dijsselbloem, whose second 30-month term ends in January, has been popular with fellow ministers, balancing a background on the left with support from conservative Wolfgang Schaeuble, who wields Germany’s power on the Eurogroup and insists on strict terms for Greece and other states awarded bailout loans.

The Dutchman will remain in office for weeks, and possibly months, as Rutte struggles to put together a new coalition after Wednesday’s election. Rutte’s own party lost seats and the anti-immigration party of Geert Wilders finished in second place. Eurogroup rules do not stipulate that its president must be a serving finance minister. But senior eurozone officials have said lately that they do not believe fellow ministers would keep Dijsselbloem on if he lost his main job in The Hague. In the longer term, there has been talk of making the position a full-time one, with its own staff. But that is not yet agreed.

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Dijsselbloem’s ‘friend’ Varoufakis found this.

Congressman Huizenga Introduces Bill to Oppose IMF’s Third Greek Bailout (YV)

Anyone who doubted that the IMF is in deep trouble over its inane involvement in the toxic Greek bailout, and Berlin’s policy of extending Greece’s insolvency ad infinitum while the country’s social economy shrinks, should now have no more doubts. Congressman Bill Huizenga (R-MI), a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, yesterday introduced the IMF Reform and Integrity Act, which would require the U.S. to oppose the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) co-financing of a third Greek bailout with the European Stability Mechanism. If such co-financing were to go forward, the bill would prohibit the U.S. from supporting an IMF quota increase until funds are repaid in full.

“The IMF is supposed to be a lender of last resort, not a fig leaf of first resort for Eurozone members,” said Congressman Huizenga. “The IMF isn’t a fund to rescue political parties in creditor nations, nor should it be a junior partner to outside organizations that lack the commitment to do their work. For seven years now, the IMF has been used to shield Eurozone officials from their voters, which has tarnished the Fund’s reputation, prolonged Greece’s misery, and put off hard choices about Europe’s future that must be made regardless. As the IMF’s largest shareholder, the U.S. should ensure that the Fund remains independent and free from politicization that could put taxpayer dollars at risk. This bill will help make that a reality.”

In addition, the IMF Reform and Integrity Act cancels supplementary IMF funds that have already been deactivated, rescinding them and sending those resources back to the U.S. Treasury. The bill also clarifies existing law to require the U.S. Executive Director of the Fund to oppose any loan to a country whose debt is unsustainable.

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Why Putin threw out Soros, and America should too.

Senators Demand State Department Probe Into Soros Organizations (ZH)

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and a group of his colleagues are calling on the newly appointed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to immediately investigate how US taxpayer funds are being used by the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to support Soros-backed, leftist political groups in several Eastern European countries including Macedonia and Albania. According to the letter, potentially millions of taxpayer dollars are being funneled through USAID to Soros’ Open Society Foundations with the explicit goal of pushing his progressive agenda. “Unfortunately, we have received a credible report that, over the past few years, the U.S. Mission there has actively intervened in the party politics of Macedonia, as well as in the shaping of its media environment and civil society, often favoring left-leaning political group over others. We find these reports discoraging and, if true, highly problematic.”

“Much of the concerning activity in Macedonia has been perpetuated through USAID funds awarded to implementing entities such as George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. As the recipient of multiple grant awards and serving as a USAID contractor implementing projects in this small nation of 2.1 million people, our taxpayer funded foreign aid goes far, allowing Foundation Open Society – Macedonia (FOSM) to push a progressive agenda and invigorate the political left. Our foreign aid should only be used to promote a political agenda if it is in the security or economic interests of our country to do so, and even at that, we must be cautious and respectful in such an endeavor. We should be especially wary of promoting policies that remain controversial even in our own country and that have the potential to harm our relationship with the citizens of recipient countries.”

As Fox News pointed out, USAID gave nearly $15 million to Soros’ Foundation Open Society – Macedonia, and other Soros-linked organizations in the region, in the last 4 years of Obama’s presidency alone. “The USAID website shows that between 2012 and 2016, USAID gave almost $5 million in taxpayer cash to FOSM for “The Civil Society Project,” which “aims to empower Macedonian citizens to hold government accountable.” USAID’s website links to www.soros.org.mk, and says the project trained hundreds of young Macedonians “in youth activism and the use of new media instruments.” The State Department told lawmakers that in addition to that project, USAID has recently funded a new Civic Engagement Project which partners with four organizations, including FOSM. The cost is believed to be around $9.5 million. A citizen’s initiative called “Stop Operation Soros” has also published a white paper alleging U.S. money has been funding violent riots in the streets [..]

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Can the shadow sector step in once again?

Mounting Costs, Not PBOC, Could Slow China’s Bank Debt Binge (BBG)

China may avoid having to pull out the big stick when it comes to reining in a record short-term borrowing spree by its smaller banks. The increased cost to lenders of issuing so-called negotiable certificates of deposit will naturally deflate a market that jumped by 90% in February from a year earlier, according to Ping An Securities. Demand is also waning for the securities, used by Chinese banks as a way of leveraging up investments and expanding their balance sheets, with mutual funds cutting their holdings to the lowest level in at least a year in January. “It’s unsustainable for commercial banks to take such high costs,” said Shi Lei at Ping An, a unit of China’s second-largest insurer. “NCDs are now even more expensive than short-term commercial paper. It will be corrected as lenders complete their adjustments in the term structure of the debt.”

Introduced by the People’s Bank of China in 2013 as a fresh source of money for smaller lenders which have difficulty competing for savings against big state banks, NCDs have morphed into a way for them to fund purchases of each other’s wealth-management products. That boosts refinancing risks in a banking system that will see a record 3.65 trillion yuan ($529 billion) of the notes maturing this quarter. This hasn’t escaped the attention of the authorities, with the PBOC looking at classifying NCDs as interbank liabilities, Caixin.com reported in January, a move that would quell growth in the market given limits on how much in interbank debt Chinese lenders are allowed to hold relative to their overall liabilities. The central bank has been ramping up its campaign to contain leverage since August, tightening money-market rates as a way of discouraging borrowing. The PBOC boosted borrowing costs for lenders Thursday, just hours after the Federal Reserve lifted benchmark interest rates.

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It’s remarkable that she still has her job. What a blemish on Canada she is.

Will Chrystia Freeland Finally Ruin Canadian-Russian Relations? (SCF)

On 10 January 2017 Canadian PM Justin Trudeau fired his minister of external affairs, Stéphane Dion, and replaced him with Chrystia Freeland, who was then minister of international trade. This cabinet shuffle might not have gotten much public notice except that Dion is a distinguished parliamentarian, former leader of the party and leader of the opposition, and a former key minister in the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien. Freeland, on the other hand, is a well-known Ukrainian ultra-nationalist and self-declared Russophobe and hater of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The sacking of Dion was also noteworthy because Trudeau had run on an electoral platform in 2015 promising, inter alia, to improve Canadian relations with Russia, spoilt by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. When Dion became minister of external affairs, he confirmed the Liberal commitment to re-establish more constructive Canadian-Russian relations.

[..] Why should Canadians care one way or another whether their government supports the Ukraine and sends arms and advisors there to strengthen Ukrainian military forces? Well, the most important reason is that the present government in Kiev is illegitimate in spite of democratic appearances. It is the spawn of a violent coup d’état in February 2014, brokered and supported by the United States and the European Union, which overthrew the democratically elected president Viktor Yanukovich. The vanguard of the Kiev coup d’état are neo-Nazi, fascist or ultra nationalist political and paramilitary organisations, notably the political party Svoboda, the paramilitary Pravyi sektor and various other paramilitary forces such as the so-called Azov and Aidar battalions. These paramilitary units were and are used to crush opposition in those parts of the Ukraine controlled by Kiev.

Neo-Nazi violence and intimidation worked in many places, but not in others. In the Crimea, the population united almost to the last man and woman, to toss out the putschist authorities and to vote for reunification with Russia. In the east, in the Donbass, the anti-fascist resistance repulsed Kiev punitive forces with heavy losses. These remarkable feats of arms, redolent of so many others in Russian history, were wasted by Moscow, which disregarded a first principle of war that one never lets an enemy withdraw to fight another day. «He who spares the aggressor», Stalin once remarked, «wants another war.» It may shock some people to hear Stalin quoted, but Plutarch, Sun Tzu, or Clausewitz might have said the same thing. Moscow supported the so-called Minsk peace accords which were never respected by the Kiev authorities. Ultra-nationalists even boasted that they had agreed to Minsk solely in order to rest and refit their beaten forces. It was only a ruse de guerre.

These are the forces which the Canadian government now supports with the enthusiastic backing of Minister Freeland. For her, it must be a lifelong dream-come-true. There has been much press comment during the last week or so about Freeland’s Ukrainian grandfather, Mykhailo Chomiak, a Nazi collaborator during World War II. Freeland claimed that he was only a refugee from Stalinist violence. He might have been, but he also collaborated with Nazi Germany. In many places in Europe, France and Italy, for example, collaborators were summarily shot or imprisoned after the war. In France, more than 5,000 were executed including Pierre Laval, a prominent French politician, who sided with Nazi Germany and vaunted collaboration to oppose the USSR. Another 38,000 French collaborators were jailed. Chomiak was lucky he was not hanged and that he ended up in northern Alberta, to die a well-to-do farmer.

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More brilliance. “We don’t have en energy system. We have an energy market.”

The Energy Market Explained (Clarke and Dawe)

“Wal Socket. Energy Consultant”

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A European crime. One of many perpetrated on Greece.

Greek Public Health System On Brink, Doctors Warn (K.)

The National Health System (ESY) is on the the brink of collapse, according to the Panhellenic Medical Association (PIS), which cited chronic shortages in staff and equipment at public hospitals around the country due to limited finances, and disruptions in the primary healthcare system. The association added that the only reason the health system is still running is due to the efforts of existing staff, whose endurance levels, however, are being put to the test. “The average age of ESY doctors is 60. And these people will be leaving in a few years,” said PIS president Michail Vlastarakos, adding that public hospitals need 6,500 additional permanent medical staff.

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And the EU still hasn’t supplied the promised help for dealing with the applications.

First-Time Asylum Applicants In Greece Up 339% In 2016 (Amna)

There was a 339% increase of in the number of first-time asylum applicants in Greece in 2016, which rose to 49,875 in 2016 from 11,370 in 2015, according to figures released by Eurostat on Thursday. On the basis of these figures, Greece ranks second among EU countries for the total number of asylum applications filed in relation to its population. Germany is first with 8,789 applications per million population, followed by Greece with 4,525 applications per million population. Third is Austria with 4,587, followed by Malta (3,989), Luxembourg (3,582) and Cyprus (3,350). The number of new asylum applicants on an EU level dropped to 1.204 million in 2016, for a percentage change of -4%, but were more than double the number of applicants in 2014. Most asylum applicants in EU member-states were Syrians (28%), Afghans (15%) and Iraqis (11%). In Greece, Syrians accounted for more than half of asylum applicants (53%), Iraqis for 10% and Pakistanis 9%.

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The NGOs themselves are part of the problem too.

Refugees In Greece Suffering After EU Deal With Turkey, Say NGOs (G.)

Greece is being used as a testing ground for degrading asylum policies that fall short of the democratic values Europe would normally uphold, say refugee groups marking the first anniversary of a deal designed to slow arrivals to the continent. The accord struck last year between Turkey and the EU has been praised in some quarters for having slowed arrivals into Europe and reduced deaths in the Aegean sea. But basic human rights were lost in the process, the organisations claim. “Greece has become a testing ground for policies that are eroding international protection standards,” said the Norwegian Refugee Council, International Rescue Committee and Oxfam, in a joint report based on extensive fieldwork on Aegean islands where more than 14,000 men, women and children are trapped in abysmal conditions.

“Over the course of the year, there have been deaths, suicide attempts, people engaging in self harm, and children, women and men exposed to abuse and sexual violence.” The withering assessment, coming almost 12 months to the day since the agreement was reached between Ankara and Brussels, is in stark contrast to the official view of an accord hailed by the EU, at the time, as a breakthrough in the migration crisis. Agreed in exchange for €6bn in refugee aid to Ankara, it was seen as a vital step in resolving a crisis that at its height threatened to tear the bloc apart. Since its implementation, the number of refugees and migrants going to Europe via Turkey has dropped dramatically.

Islands such as Lesbos, which is near Turkey, are reporting 100 arrivals or fewer a day, while in 2015, when more than 1 million people streamed into Europe, it received 10,000 men, women and children over one weekend. But NGOs say the reality on the ground is that the deal has prolonged and exacerbated human suffering. The report found that, incarcerated on Greek islands, asylum seekers had been made to live in substandard and overcrowded conditions for months on end. With limited access to fair and effective asylum procedures they were subject to “a convoluted and constantly changing process” that lacked oversights and checks and balances. Often legal experts were unable to keep track of a system that was impossible for people to navigate alone.

A separate report by Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières warned that there were worrying levels of mental health problems among migrants and refugees in the Greek camps. It said people including children as young as nine were cutting themselves, attempting suicide and using drugs to cope with the “endless misery”. Mental health was “rapidly deteriorating due to the conditions created as a result of this deal”, Save the Children said. [..] The report expressed the NGOs’ fears that the deal would become a blueprint for crises elsewhere. “Beyond the deeply concerning situation in Greece, the EU is looking to replicate this model elsewhere, and, in so doing, risks setting a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world,” said the report.

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Creating child zombies.

Child Refugees In Greece Self-Harming And Attempting Suicide (Ind.)

Desperate refugees trapped in Greece are self-harming and attempting suicide as a result of “disastrous” EU policies, aid agencies have warned. More refugees are dying than ever before while attempting to reach Europe, almost a year after a controversial deal was struck with Turkey in an effort to prevent boat crossings across the Aegean Sea. The agreement has stranded thousands of asylum seekers in Greece, where aid agencies say children are among rising numbers of migrants trying to kill themselves after months trapped in squalid camps. Research by Save the Children found more than 5,000 minors are living in “appalling conditions” that are driving a mounting mental health crisis. It has recorded children as young as nine self-harming and 12-year-olds attempting suicide, sometimes filming themselves in the act, as well as a spike in drug and alcohol abuse by teenagers who are exploited by dealers in camps.

Violent protests and deaths are traumatising the youngest and most vulnerable refugees, whose families say they are too scared to let their children play out of sight in case they are hurt or abused. Save the Children staff report that some unaccompanied children live in “24-hour survival mode” and sleep in shifts to try to stay safe, while others disappear or pay smugglers to leave the Greek islands. “The EU-Turkey deal was meant to end the flow of ‘irregular migrants’ to Greece, but at what cost?” said Andreas Ring, Save the Children’s humanitarian representative. “Many of these children have escaped war and conflict only to end up in camps many of them call ‘hell’ and where they say they are made to feel more like animals than humans.” Since 20 March 2016, all migrants arriving on Greek islands have been held, under threat of deportation to Turkey, while their asylum applications are processed, but legal blocks have slowed transfers and left refugees in overcrowded tent camps for up to a year.

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“..you cannot be so short-sighted, you cannot have no vision, you cannot sacrifice human dignity and human rights for political gain..”

Ai Weiwei Slams ‘Shameful’ Politicians Ignoring Refugees (AFP)

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei on Thursday slammed “shameful” politicians who ignore refugees as he launched a giant art installation centered on their fate at the National Gallery in Prague. Called “Law of the Journey”, the show features a 70-metre-long (230-foot-long) inflatable boat with 258 oversize refugee figures. A tribute to the thousands who have drowned crossing the Mediterranean, the piece is Ai’s biggest-ever installation. It will be on display until the end of the year. “My message is very clear: being a politician or a political group, you cannot be so short-sighted, you cannot have no vision, you cannot sacrifice human dignity and human rights for political gain,” Ai told AFP. “I think this is very, very shameful behaviour,” he added.

The Czech Republic and the other post-Communist central European members have rejected EU plans to allow Muslim refugees on their territories throughout the migrant crisis. Immigration from Muslim countries has become a hot political topic in these states, although most refugees have opted for wealthier western countries like Germany or Sweden. “If we see somebody who has been victimised by war or desperately trying to find a peaceful place, if we don’t accept those people, the real challenge and the real crisis is not of all the people who feel the pain but rather for the people who ignore to recognise it or pretend that it doesn’t exist,” said Ai. “That is both a tragedy and a crime,” said the 59-year-old painter, sculptor and photographer. Ai spent the last year visiting such migrant and refugee hotspots as the US-Mexican border badlands to the Turkish-Syrian frontier and crowded holding camps on Greek islands.

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Feb 252017
 
 February 25, 2017  Posted by at 9:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Saturday afternoon, Pittsboro, North Carolina 1939

 


Trump An ‘Idiot’ On China, ‘No Clue What Currency Manipulation Means’ (CNBC)
The Fiscal Horror Show Playing Soon in Washington (Stockman)
Homeland Security Report Disputes Threat From 7 Banned Nations (AP)
Multiple News Outlets Denied Access To White House Press Briefing (G.)
Tsipras Says The Era Of Austerity In Greece Is Over (AP)
Transcript Of IMF Press Briefing Thursday, February 23, 2017 (IMF)
Toronto Housing Market May Need Vancouver-Style Cooling (BBG)
Just As Neoliberalism Is Finally On Its Knees, So Too Is The Left (G.)
Documents Indicate Germany Spied on Foreign Journalists (Spiegel)
Surgeons Should Not Look Like Surgeons (NN Taleb)

 

 

From one of Reagan’s main economic advisers.

Trump An ‘Idiot’ On China, ‘No Clue What Currency Manipulation Means’ (CNBC)

President Donald Trump may think the Chinese are the “grand champions” of currency manipulation, but he’s wrong, expert John Rutledge told CNBC on Friday. “Trump is an idiot on this. He has no clue what currency manipulation means,” the chief investment officer of global investment firm Safanad said in an interview with “Closing Bell.” During the campaign, Trump accused China of keeping its yuan currency artificially low against the U.S. dollar to make Chinese exports cheaper, “stealing” American manufacturing jobs. On Thursday, the president told Reuters he has not “held back” in his assessment, despite not acting on a pledge to declare the country a currency manipulator on his first day in office. “Well they, I think they’re grand champions at manipulation of currency. So I haven’t held back,” Trump said. “We’ll see what happens.”

However, earlier Thursday Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told CNBC he wasn’t ready to pass judgment on China’s currency practices. “We have a process within Treasury where we go through and look at currency manipulation across the board. We’ll go through that process. We’ll do that as we have in the past. We’re not making any judgments until we continue that process,” he told “Squawk Box.” Rutledge, who was one of the principal architects of President Ronald Reagan’s economic plan, said China is actually trying to support its currency. “Chinese authorities have actually sold a trillion dollars’ worth of foreign reserves in the last year to support their currency that’s trying to fall because Chinese nationals are trying to get their money out of China,” he said. That is anti-manipulation.”

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It’s all about the debt ceiling.

The Fiscal Horror Show Playing Soon in Washington (Stockman)

The Deep State’s coup against Donald Trump is palpable. So count it as another element of reality to which Wall Street and its raging robo-machines and day traders are blind as bats. After all, they are essentially “pricing-in” the most successful presidency in modern times on the economic front. The Trump Stimulus was even supposed to be “in like Flynn” in time to boost corporate earnings materially in 2017. But it has already transpired that the Flynn in question was named Mike, not Errol; and the conquest was not that of a swashbuckling outsider who quickly had his way with the Imperial City, but the doings of resident swamp creatures bent on turning back the Donald’s unwelcome challenge.

So in a matter of weeks or months at most, Trump will be struggling to survive, while the giant fiscal stimulus that has Wall Street all bulled-up will amount to a heap of ruins scattered about a debilitating political war zone on Capitol Hill. I never thought the vaunted Trump tax cut and infrastructure boom would see the light of day in their own right, of course, because the Donald is caught in an inherited debt trap that he does not yet even dimly appreciate. Yet with each passing day, the magnitude of the trap materially enlarges. As of the Daily Treasury Statement for February 17, for example, the public debt was $19.895 trillion compared to $18.99 trillion on the same date a year ago. When you factor in a slight gain in the Treasury’s cash balance to $262 billion, the math speaks for itself.

During the past year Uncle Sam’s “cash burn rate” was nearly $75 billion per month. That means Washington actually consumed $885 billion of cash during the last 365 days — or far more than implied by the official budget deficit of $587 billion for the fiscal year just ended (FY 2016). It also means that once the tax collection season ends in April, it will be Katie-bar-the-door time on the debt ceiling front. When the latter becomes frozen into place on March 15 after the insidious Boehner-Obama debt ceiling “holiday” expires, there will not be enough cash to last the summer — even if the Treasury resorts to the usual gimmicks, such as temporarily divesting the trust funds. So let this part be crystal clear. What is coming down the track is the mother of all debt ceiling showdowns and the virtual certainty of government shutdowns and deferred payments to states, contractors and even some transfer payment beneficiaries.

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Funny, but not new. They can always deflect criticism be saying it was an Obama list.

Homeland Security Report Disputes Threat From 7 Banned Nations (AP)

Analysts at the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence arm found insufficient evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Donald Trump’s travel ban pose a terror threat to the United States. A draft document obtained by The Associated Press concludes that citizenship is an “unlikely indicator” of terrorism threats to the United States and that few people from the countries Trump listed in his travel ban have carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since Syria’s civil war started in 2011. Trump cited terrorism concerns as the primary reason he signed the sweeping temporary travel ban in late January, which also halted the U.S. refugee program. A federal judge in Washington state blocked the government from carrying out the order earlier this month.

Trump said Friday a new edict would be announced soon. The administration has been working on a new version that could withstand legal challenges. Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen on Friday did not dispute the report’s authenticity, but said it was not a final comprehensive review of the government’s intelligence. “While DHS was asked to draft a comprehensive report on this issue, the document you’re referencing was commentary from a single intelligence source versus an official, robust document with thorough interagency sourcing,” Christensen said. “The … report does not include data from other intelligence community sources. It is incomplete.”

The Homeland Security report is based on unclassified information from Justice Department press releases on terrorism-related convictions and attackers killed in the act, State Department visa statistics, the 2016 Worldwide Threat Assessment from the U.S. intelligence community and the State Department Country Reports on Terrorism 2015. The three-page report challenges Trump’s core claims. It said that of 82 people the government determined were inspired by a foreign terrorist group to carry out or try to carry out an attack in the United States, just over half were U.S. citizens born in the United States. The others were from 26 countries, led by Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iraq and Uzbekistan. Of these, only Somalia and Iraq were among the seven nations included in the ban.

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It’s one way to change the conversation. C’mon, guys, you’ll be let back in soon.

Multiple News Outlets Denied Access To White House Press Briefing (G.)

The White House barred several news organizations from an off-camera press briefing on Friday, handpicking a select group of reporters that included a number of conservative outlets friendly toward Donald Trump. The “gaggle” with Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, took place in lieu of his daily briefing and was originally scheduled as an on-camera event. But the White House press office announced later in the day that the Q&A session would take place off camera before only an “expanded pool” of journalists, and in Spicer’s West Wing office as opposed to the James S Brady press briefing room where it is typically held. Outlets seeking to gain entry whose requests were denied included the Guardian, the New York Times, Politico, CNN, BuzzFeed, the BBC, the Daily Mail and others.

Conservative publications such as Breitbart News, the One America News Network and the Washington Times were allowed into the meeting, as well as TV networks CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC. The Associated Press and Time were invited but boycotted the briefing. The decision to limit access to Spicer, hours after Trump once again declared that much of the media was “the enemy of the American people” while speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, marked a dramatic shift. While prior administrations have occasionally held background briefings with smaller groups of reporters, it is highly unusual for the White House to cherry-pick which media outlets can participate in what would have otherwise been the press secretary’s televised daily briefing.

The briefing has become indispensable viewing for journalists trying to interpret the often contradictory statements coming out of the Trump administration, and Spicer’s aggressive handling of the press and delivery of false or misleading statements have already been memorably mocked on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. “Gaggles” – more informal briefings – with the press secretary are traditionally only limited to the pool when they conflict with the president’s travel, in which case they often take place aboard Air Force One. At times, impromptu gaggles form with reporters who spend their days in the White House, but denying outlets wishing to participate is extremely uncommon.

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Don’t believe it for a second.

Tsipras Says The Era Of Austerity In Greece Is Over (AP)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says the era of austerity is over for his country, painting a positive picture Friday of reforms the country has agreed to take after its latest bailout program ends in 2018. Speaking in parliament, Tsipras described the deal reached Monday as an “exceptional success” and said it showed the country’s creditors accepted Greeces insistence that it could no longer bear any further budget austerity. “I am fully convinced we achieved an honorable compromise,” Tsipras said, adding that all sides at the eurozone finance ministers’ meeting in Brussels had agreed for the “first time after seven years … to leave the path of continued austerity behind us.”

On Monday, Greece agreed to legislate new reforms to come into effect in 2019, but said these will be fiscally neutral: for every euros worth of new burdens on the Greek taxpayer, an equal amount of relief will be granted. In return, Greeces creditors agreed to send their bailout inspectors back to Athens next week for further talks to complete a long overdue review of progress made in Greeces bailout. Tsipras said both creditor-requested new measures and government-proposed relief measures will be legislated at the same time, and that therefore there was no conditionality for the relief measures. The prime minister’s left-led coalition government, trailing in polls, has presented the deal as a decisive, positive step forward for austerity-weary Greeks hammered by seven years of a financial crisis that plunged the country into an economic depression.

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I found this very interesting. Looks like the IMF has never truly looked at whether being part of the euro is best for Greece. Why not? It’s not as if they only do what countries want. Whose interests is the IMF really defending here?

Part of transcript of a press briefing with Gerry Rice, IMF Director of Communications, and reporters.

Transcript Of IMF Press Briefing Thursday, February 23, 2017 (IMF)

QUESTIONER: Gerry, help me to understand how the IMF weighs a member country’s interests, economic interests when it is in a monetary union, when the interests may be that it be out of a monetary union. I haven’t seen any analysis by the IMF about the pros and cons, economic pros and cons of Greece exiting the euro. And it seems to me that Madame Lagarde has expressed herself as a pro euro and a pro EU advocate. So help me to understand, one, why we haven’t seen any economic analysis to defend the IMF’s position to not counsel Greece for exiting the euro or – and two, how it weighs this decision when obviously other member countries who are not in a program want Greece to stay in the euro. Do you understand where I’m getting at? I just haven’t seen any analysis from the IMF to defend or argue either case.

MR. RICE: You know, the amount of economic analysis that we’ve undertaken on Greece over the last seven years, you probably know as well as anyone, is voluminous. So, you know, I think there’s plenty out there to analyze and digest. [..] So, you know, on the question of Greece being a member of the eurozone and the monetary union, you know, it’s been Greece’s explicit objective to retain its membership of the eurozone. It’s been one of its priority objectives since the very beginning. It’s been also a priority objective of the other eurozone members. So, you know, in terms of how we weigh our service and support to a member country, you know, these are obviously important factors that we take into account, and we have taken those into account and are trying to support and service the member as best we can in that context.

QUESTIONER: But, if I may follow up, Gerry. There are cases in which a member country is explicitly – to use your language – has an explicit objective to do for economic policies that the IMF believes to not be in that member country’s economic interests or in the global economic interest. And it speaks truth to power, and yet there has been no analysis to argue why Greece should remain part of the euro or why it shouldn’t. And to me that’s a fundamental economic argument, since you’re talking about internal devaluation versus a nominal exchange rate devaluation. I mean, that’s at the heart of the problem. So can you tell me why the IMF hasn’t at least published its analysis or any analysis on why Greece should remain in the euro or should exit as a part of its truth-telling economic advice to a member country?

MR. RICE: Well, you know, again I think there’s been plenty of analysis of Greece’s economic situation and how the IMF assesses what is in Greece’s best interests. And, you know, I just think there’s voluminous information on that. And –

QUESTIONER: If you can point me to the – and respectfully, I appreciate your patience and me interrupting you – but if you can point me to the voluminous analysis of Greece – which I admit is voluminous, it will probably fill several volumes in fact, several history books, but I have seen in none of it that I am aware of any analysis of the pros and cons of Greece staying or exiting the eurozone.

MR. RICE: [..] I’ll come back to you, but I do believe there is actually a lot of analysis where you can clearly distill what the IMF’s view is as being in Greece’s best economic interest. I would include in that the many staff reports and, in particular, these ex post evaluation studies that we have done that, again, I can point you to some of this material afterwards. But I do think there’s plenty of material.

QUESTIONER: I just want to follow up on Ian’s question and maybe have another question if you don’t mind. Maybe you can clarify do you think – does the IMF think that it’s in Greece’s best interest to retain its membership in the eurozone? And the second question has to do with the timeline entry, because you mentioned the fact that the discussion on the debt will take place following the discussion on reforms. So should we assume that this discussion on the debt relief won’t start before the second review is completed?

MR. RICE: Yes, I don’t have the timing on the completion of the second review. Again, I want to revert to my formulation. Before we would be able – we, the IMF – would be able to, you know, make a commitment on our participation in the program, we would need to have the discussion of both policies and debt relief, and beyond the discussion, credible commitments in which we have confidence. So that’s the way I would like to formulate that.

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Been saying that forever. But as we saw last week, Toronto’s entire budget is based on high and rising house prices.

Toronto Housing Market May Need Vancouver-Style Cooling (BBG)

Toronto may require measures to cool its red-hot housing market similar to moves taken in Vancouver if interest rates don’t increase, said Royal Bank of Canada Chief Executive Officer David McKay. The head of Canada’s largest lender said Toronto housing is “running hot” and is fueled by a “concerning mix of drivers” that include lack of supply, continued low rates, rising foreign money and speculative activity. Similar circumstances in Vancouver prompted British Columbia’s government last year to impose a 15% tax on foreign buyers. “In the absence of being able to use higher rates to reduce that, I do think we’re going to at some point have to consider similar measures to slow down the housing price growth,” McKay said Friday in a telephone interview.

The comments from the bank CEO come as frustration grows over the unaffordability of properties in Canada’s biggest city. The average home price in Toronto jumped 22% in January from the previous year, the fifth straight month of gains topping 20%. Listings have dropped off, down by half from last year, squeezing prices further. The CEOs of Canada’s other big banks last year called on the government to increase housing regulation amid skyrocketing prices in Vancouver and Toronto. National Bank of Canada CEO Louis Vachon said that minimum downpayments should return to 10% from 5%, while Bank of Nova Scotia head Brian Porter suggested his company was pulling back on mortgage lending due to concern about high home prices in those two cities.

Vancouver, once Canada’s fastest-paced home market and now supplanted by Toronto, has seen slowing sales after several regulatory moves. In August, British Columbia added a 15% tax to home purchases by non-Canadians after they were found to have bought more than C$1 billion ($760 million) in property in a five-week period. The city of Vancouver in January began taxing empty homes and plans to further regulate short-term rentals. Since the tax was imposed in Vancouver, monthly transactions in the metro region fell on average by 36% compared to a year earlier, according to data from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. Prices for prized single-family detached homes had been rising in double digits last year. In the past six months, they’ve fallen 6.6% to an average C$1.47 million, according to board figures released earlier this month.

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The left largely has itself become part of neoliberalism. Ergo: there is no left, left, other than in name.

Just As Neoliberalism Is Finally On Its Knees, So Too Is The Left (G.)

The 10th anniversary of the global financial crisis looms this year, which means it’s almost a decade since neoliberal economics began to fall apart. The crisis spawned a global recession, the near collapse of global finance and the subsequent eurozone crisis as governments incurred huge debts amid efforts to rescue the hapless banking industry. The then Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, observed in the immediate aftermath: The current crisis is the culmination of a 30-year domination of economic policy by a free-market ideology that has been variously called neoliberalism, economic liberalism, economic fundamentalism, Thatcherism or the Washington consensus. The central thrust of this ideology has been that government activity should be constrained, and ultimately replaced, by market forces.

The global recession that followed was the worst in 70 years and its effects continue to be felt in many developed countries. Australia was one of the fortunate few to avoid a recession, thanks to enormous government-funded stimulus packages and the continuation of an unprecedented mining boom. Nevertheless, economic activity has been sluggish ever since, job growth has stalled, wage growth has collapsed and inequality is on the rise. And yet in 2017, just as neoliberalism is on its knees, so too is the left. It matters not whether we are describing social democrats, socialists, the hard left or the moderate left. A swath of populist extreme rightwing forces is sweeping through many developed countries. Europe now resembles a graveyard for social democracy. How did it come to this?

First and foremost, there is incompetence. Neoliberal economics, a creation of the right and embraced to varying degrees by social democrats, has dominated western politics for nigh on four decades. Its mantras of deregulation, privatisation and cutting tax for the wealthy and corporations have been exhausted, if not discredited. There are only so many assets that can be privatised and, as the head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Rod Sims, has noted, replacing a public-sector monopoly with a private-sector monopoly has simply driven up prices. The fetish for deregulation and tax cutting has caused immense harm – for consumers, for workers and for governments seeking to provide services demanded of them but hampered by inadequate revenue.

It is not just Pope Francis who has called for major reform of the economic system. The World Economic Forum, which met in January, advocated “fundamental reforms to market capitalism to tackle inequality”. In doing so, it echoed statements of the IMF and World Bank, formerly strong advocates of the neoliberal agenda.

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Legal schmegal. If they can do it, they will. All of them. Question: is this worse than banning them?

Documents Indicate Germany Spied on Foreign Journalists (Spiegel)

According to documents seen by SPIEGEL, the BND conducted surveillance on at least 50 additional telephone numbers, fax numbers and email addresses belonging to journalists or newsrooms around the world in the years following 1999. Included among them were more than a dozen connections belonging to the BBC, often to the offices of the international World Service. The documents indicate that the German intelligence agency didn’t just tap into the phones of BBC correspondents in Afghanistan, but also targeted telephone and fax numbers at BBC headquarters in London. A phone number belonging to the New York Times in Afghanistan was also on the BND list, as were several mobile and satellite numbers belonging to the news agency Reuters in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

The German spies also conducted surveillance on the independent Zimbabwean newspaper Daily News before dictator Robert Mugabe banned it for seven years in 2003. Other numbers on the list belonged to news agencies from Kuwait, Lebanon and India in addition to journalist associations in Nepal and Indonesia. Journalists in Germany enjoy far-reaching protection against state meddling. They enjoy similar legal protection to lawyers, doctors and priests: occupations that require secrecy. Journalists have the right to refuse to testify in court in order to protect their sources. German law forbids the country’s domestic intelligence agency from conducting surveillance on persons who have that right.

The German chapter of Reporters without Borders says that the BND’s systematic surveillance of journalists is an “egregious attack on press freedoms” and “a new dimension of constitutional violation.” Christian Mihr, head of the German chapter of Reporters without Borders, says that press freedom “is not a right granted by the graciousness of the German government, it is an inviolable human right that also applies to foreign journalists.” The allegations come as the German parliamentary investigative committee focusing on U.S. spying in Germany is completing its inquiry. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who appeared before the committee last Thursday, was the last witness called and now the committee members are working on their closing report. But even as the committee also addressed extensive BND spying, the surveillance of journalists was only a fringe issue.

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Things are not what they seem.

Surgeons Should Not Look Like Surgeons (NN Taleb)

Say you had the choice between two surgeons of similar rank in the same department in some hospital. The first is highly refined in appearance; he wears silver-rimmed glasses, has a thin built, delicate hands, a measured speech, and elegant gestures. His hair is silver and well combed. He is the person you would put in a movie if you needed to impersonate a surgeon. His office prominently boasts an Ivy League diploma, both for his undergraduate and medical schools. The second one looks like a butcher; he is overweight, with large hands, uncouth speech and an unkempt appearance. His shirt is dangling from the back. No known tailor in the East Coast of the U.S. is capable of making his shirt button at the neck. He speaks unapologetically with a strong New Yawk accent, as if he wasn’t aware of it. He even has a gold tooth showing when he opens his mouth.

The absence of diploma on the wall hints at the lack of pride in his education: he perhaps went to some local college. In a movie, you would expect him to impersonate a retired bodyguard for a junior congressman, or a third-generation cook in a New Jersey cafeteria. Now if I had to pick, I would overcome my suckerproneness and take the butcher any minute. Even more: I would seek the butcher as a third option if my choice was between two doctors who looked like doctors. Why? Simply the one who doesn’t look the part, conditional of having made a (sort of) successful career in his profession, had to have much to overcome in terms of perception. And if we are lucky enough to have people who do not look the part, it is thanks to the presence of some skin in the game, the contact with reality that filters out incompetence, as reality is blind to looks.

When the results come from dealing directly with reality rather than through the agency of commentators, image matters less, even if it correlates to skills. But image matters quite a bit when there is hierarchy and standardized “job evaluation”. Consider the chief executive officers of corporations: they not just look the part, but they even look the same. And, worse, when you listen to them talk, they will sound the same, down to the same vocabulary and metaphors. But that’s their jobs: as I keep reminding the reader, counter to the common belief, executives are different from entrepreneurs and are supposed to look like actors.

Now there may be some correlation between looks and skills; but conditional on having had some success in spite of not looking the part is potent, even crucial, information. So it becomes no wonder that the job of chief executive of the country, that is, the president, was once filled by a former actor, Ronald Reagan. Actually, the best actor is the one nobody realizes is an actor: a closer look at the record and the activity shows that Barack Obama was even more of an actor: a fancy Ivy-League education combined with a liberal reputation is compelling as an image builder. (In fact much as President Trump has going for him is that he doesn’t act as a president).

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Feb 222017
 
 February 22, 2017  Posted by at 9:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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DPC Launch of battleship Georgia, Bath, Maine, Oct 1904

 


Finance as Warfare: IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back (CP)
Will EU and IMF Finally Offer Light At The End Of The Greek Debt Tunnel? (G.)
France Exiting The Euro Would Be Largest Sovereign Default In History (CNBC)
EU Tax Chief Admits Le Pen Win Would Be The End Of The European Project (CNBC)
Marine Le Pen’s Party’s Headquarters Raided Over ‘Fake Jobs’ Scandal (AFP)
Revised Trump Travel Ban Will Face Legal Hurdles, Too (BBG)
The Cognitive Bias President Trump Understands Better Than You (Wired)
US Car Loans, Delinquencies Hit Record Levels (Q.)
‘Trapped Wealth’ Drives Toronto’s Speculative Real Estate Dilemma
China’s Central Bank To Shine Regulatory Light On Shadow Banking (SCMP)
Tech CEOs Back Call For Basic Income (CNBC)
Monsanto and Bayer’s Chemical Romance: Heroin, Nerve Gas and Agent Orange (AN)
Canada Will Not Halt Illegal Border Crossing Despite Opposition – Trudeau (R.)
Canada To Welcome 1,200 Yezidi Refugees From Iraq (AFP)
Europe Wrote The Book On Demonising Refugees, Long Before Trump Read It (G.)
Bodies Of At Least 74 Migrants Wash Ashore In Western Libya (G.)

 

 

Michael Hudson speaking. “..when Greece fails, that’s a success for the foreign investors that want to buy the Greek railroads. They want to take over the ports. They want to take over the land. They want the tourist sites.”

Finance as Warfare: IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back (CP)

I take issue with one thing that you said. You said the lenders expect Greece to grow. That is not so. There is no way in which the lenders expected Greece to grow. In fact, the IMF was the main lender. It said that Greece cannot grow, under the circumstances that it has now. What do you do in a case where you make a loan to a country, and the entire staff says that there is no way this country can repay the loan? That is what the IMF staff said in 2015. It made the loan anyway – not to Greece, but to pay French banks, German banks and a few other bondholders – not a penny actually went to Greece. The junk economics they used claimed to have a program to make sure the IMF would help manage the Greek economy to enable it to repay. Unfortunately, their secret ingredient was austerity.

Sharmini, for the last 50 years, every austerity program that the IMF has made has shrunk the victim economy. No austerity program has ever helped an economy grow. No budget surplus has ever helped an economy grow, because a budget surplus sucks money out of the economy. As for the conditionalities, the so-called reforms, they are an Orwellian term for anti-reform, for cutting back pensions and rolling back the progress that the labor movement has made in the last half century. So, the lenders knew very well that Greece would not grow, and that it would shrink. So, the question is, why does this junk economics continue, decade after decade? The reason is that the loans are made to Greece precisely because Greece couldn’t pay.

When a country can’t pay, the rules at the IMF and EU and the German bankers behind it say, don’t worry, we will simply insist that you sell off your public domain. Sell off your land, your transportation, your ports, your electric utilities. This is by now a program that has gone on and on, decade after decade. Now, surprisingly enough, America’s ambassador to the EU, Ted Malloch, has gone on Bloomberg and also on Greek TV telling the Greeks to leave the euro and go it alone. You have Trump’s nominee for the ambassador to the EU saying that the EU zone is dead zone. It’s going to shrink. If Greece continues to repay the loan, if it does not withdraw from the euro, then it is going to be in a permanent depression, as far as the eye can see. Greece is suffering the result of these bad loans. It is already in a longer depression today, a deeper depression, than it was in the 1930s.

[..] when Greece fails, that’s a success for the foreign investors that want to buy the Greek railroads. They want to take over the ports. They want to take over the land. They want the tourist sites. But most of all, they want to set an example of Greece, to show that France, the Netherlands or other countries that may think of withdrawing from the euro – withdraw and decide they would rather grow than be impoverished – that the IMF and EU will do to them just what they’re doing to Greece. So they’re making an example of Greece. They’re going to show that finance rules, and in fact that is why both Trump and Ted Malloch have come up in support of the separatist movement in France. They’re supporting Marine Le Pen, just as Putin is supporting Marine Le Pen. There’s a perception throughout the world that finance really is a mode of warfare.

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Suggestion: lock them up until they have an agreement. Then let Greeks vote on that.

Will EU and IMF Finally Offer Light At The End Of The Greek Debt Tunnel? (G.)

Simon Tilford, deputy director of the Centre for European Reform, a thinktank, said he believed the IMF and eurozone would find a compromise, whereby the fund signed up to the 3.5% target for a limited period of time, as the price of stabilising the eurozone in an election year. “My feeling is they will largely settle for a fig leaf. It will be made to look as if the pace of austerity has been eased, ie that the eurozone will agree that the size of the primary budget surplus will be reassessed at some specified point in the future.” “All we are going to see us another round of extend and pretend.” He added that this would not do anything “significant to alleviate the pressure we see on Greece”. He pointed out that even a primary budget surplus of 1.5% (favoured by the IMF) “would still mean ongoing austerity in Greece”. The IMF’s reforms may also prove politically difficult to sell to a population reeling from nearly eight years in the EU’s bailout regime.

One of the IMF’s key demands is an overhaul of the Greek tax system to ensure more middle-class professionals pay their dues. More than 50% of Greek wage earners do not pay income tax, compared with 8% in the rest of the eurozone. But the low tax take partly reflects the economic collapse that has pushed down wages and squeezed people out of regular work. Reforming pensions, another IMF priority, may also run into trouble. The fund wants to rein in “extremely generous” Greek pensions that absorb 11% of national income. But Greek pensions have already been slashed since 2010, with 43% of pensioners living on €660 a month, compared with an average annual income of €20,000 for over-65s in other eurozone countries, according to government figures. Many Greek pensioners are also supporting unemployed children and grandchildren, as other benefits have been cut. With these politically tough reforms ahead, the light at the end of tunnel looks dim and distant. “Greeks are facing ongoing austerity into the foreseeable future,” Tilford says.

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Sorry, but fearmongering no longer works.

France Exiting The Euro Would Be Largest Sovereign Default In History (CNBC)

A few days ago, David Rachline of the far-right National Front party in France said that “the debt of France is about €2 trillion, about €1.7 trillion are issued under French law, which means that it can be re-denominated.” The economic program of the National Front specifically calls for the exit of the euro and the creation of a new currency, the French franc, which would be “closely” linked to the euro while allowing the government to undertake “competitive devaluations” making the transition in an “orderly way”. There is only one problem. It does not work. There is no “orderly exit” from the euro. It is an oxymoron. This would be the largest credit event in history and would create a massive contagion effect throughout the euro zone. The euro, obviously, would suffer from the break-up risk, so the fallacy of the “closely linked” second currency is simply a joke.

Both would collapse in tandem. The risk is already evident. The French-German yield spread has reached the highest level since 2012 despite the ECB’s massive quantitative easing. The ECB has bought more than €255 billion of French bonds. This mirage of an “orderly exit” ignores that the French financial system, which carries assets more than three times the size of France´s GDP, would be severely damaged from the impact of the credit event. A financial system that already suffers from weak net income margins and more than 160 billion euros in non-performing loans, would collapse as these bad loans escalate and the losses in the banks’ bond portfolios eat away their core capital. This would inevitably lead to Greek-style capital controls and bank runs as the entities would lose liquidity support from the ECB.

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“I think the rise of Le Pen is a result of the disappointment in other candidates..” Eh, no, it’s disappointment in the EU.

EU Tax Chief Admits Le Pen Win Would Be The End Of The European Project (CNBC)

A win for far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen would spell the end of the EU – but the French are not crazy enough to let that happen, insists European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici. “I’m confident. I know my citizens and my compatriots well and know they are not going to elect a candidate who is proposing France exiting (Europe). That would be the end of the European project,” Moscovici, who is European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, told CNBC Monday. In a clear nod to the rising populist movements in Europe, the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and the U.K.’s EU referendum, Moscovici, said he believes common sense will prevail as France goes to the polls in the two-round election this year. “I cannot imagine 50% of the French are crazy enough to vote for her,” he said.

“I’m quite convinced that she cannot win … she never even ever won a regional election in France – never ever.” Moscovici appealed, however, to the other presidential candidates, who include Independent Emmanuel Macron and Republican Francois Fillon, to prove themselves to the electorate and, ultimately, make a stronger case for remaining in the EU. “The other candidates need to have a stronger campaign and show that they are credible to propose a future that is likeable for the French. “I think the rise of Le Pen is a result of the disappointment in other candidates, so I urge them to make a strong proposal for France, and as well for Europe, and for France in Europe.”

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It’s amazing that they haven’t tried more of these tactics to make her look bad (they will, though). “For the second time, a raid took place at the same offices, over the same allegations, which confirms that the first raid amounted to nothing..”

Marine Le Pen’s Party’s Headquarters Raided Over ‘Fake Jobs’ Scandal (AFP)

French investigators probing an alleged fake jobs scam by the far-right National Front (FN) raided the group’s headquarters outside Paris on Monday, the party said. The raid is the second in a year by investigators trying to determine whether the FN used European Parliament funds to pay for 20 assistants presented as parliamentary aides while continuing to work for the party elsewhere. “For the second time, a raid took place at the same offices, over the same allegations, which confirms that the first raid amounted to nothing,” the party said in a statement. The group accused investigators acting for the Paris prosecutor’s office of a “media operation” designed to disrupt the presidential campaign of FN leader Marine Le Pen. Le Pen, who has led the anti-EU party since 2011, is a member of the European Parliament which accuses her of defrauding it of nearly €340,000.

She is riding high in polls ahead of the two-stage presidential election on April 23 and May 7 election, and has denied the claims, describing the investigation as a vendetta against her. According to a report by the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF, leaked last week, the parliament paid out 41,554 euros towards a contract for Le Pen’s bodyguard Thierry Legier who was falsely presented as a parliamentary assistant. The allegations against Le Pen have been drowned out by a fake jobs scandal engulfing her conservative rival Francois Fillon. Fillon’s campaign has been adrift since it emerged that his wife netted at least 680,000 euros for a suspected fake job as a parliamentary assistant over a period spanning 15 years. He has denied the allegations. Polls currently show Le Pen winning the first round of the election, but failing to garner the more than 50% of voters needed for victory in the second round.

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I still think it’s a good thing the US is having this conversation. But the upcoming ugliness is terrible. You need to always take care of individual people first.

Revised Trump Travel Ban Will Face Legal Hurdles, Too (BBG)

President Donald Trump is poised to announce a redrafted executive order on immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries. Will it pass legal muster? Or will the courts once again thwart the president’s will? Early reports suggest that the new order will be drafted to avoid many of the legal problems that were posed by the earlier version, and to make judicial review harder to obtain. But the crucial question is whether the courts will consider the political context in which the order was drafted to conclude that it is still a Muslim ban under another name. Whether the court should do so turns out to be a close legal question. But Supreme Court precedent suggests that it should – in which case the new order could well be blocked like the original. The expected fixes in the new order would improve the administration’s legal position.

For one thing, the new order is expected to exclude legal permanent residents with green cards, who were included in the original order according to the administration’s early guidance, then excluded by a later interpretation. In its decision upholding a temporary restraining order by a federal judge in Seattle against enforcement of the first travel ban, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit treated the executive order as covering green card holders. That mattered because, as the court said, green card holders have a stronger constitutional claim to be covered by the due-process clause of the Constitution than do other visa holders. By excluding green card holders, the new order would force plaintiffs to identify different people who are harmed by the order.

Another smart revision would be to omit the provision that said religious minorities in the seven countries – which is to say, almost certainly Christians – would be given preferential treatment when refugees are once again let into the U.S. That provision was the only part of the text that could be used to suggest that the order unconstitutionally favored one religion, Christianity, over another, Islam. The Trump administration would also be smart to phase in the new order to avoid trapping visa holders who are in transit, which creates sympathetic plaintiffs detained at the airports. But that’s not the end of the game, constitutionally speaking. Even if due process is omitted from the case entirely, plaintiffs could still allege once more that the order discriminates on the basis of religion in violation of the free-exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment.

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Paint a strong picture of something that’s not the norm.

The Cognitive Bias President Trump Understands Better Than You (Wired)

Americans born in the United States are more murderous than undocumented immigrants. Fighting words, I know. But why? After all, that’s just what the numbers say. Still, be honest: you wouldn’t linger over a story with that headline. It’s “dog bites man.” It’s the norm. And norms aren’t news. Instead, you’ll see two dozen reporters flock to a single burning trash can during an Inauguration protest. The aberrant occurrence is the story you’ll read and the picture you’ll see. It’s news because it’s new. The problem here is not just that this singling out creates a distorted, fish-eye lens version of what’s really happening. It’s that the human psyche is predisposed to take an aberration—what linguist George Lakoff has called the “salient exemplar”—and conflate it with the norm.

This cognitive bias itself isn’t new. But in a media environment driven by clicks, where politicians can bypass journalistic filters entirely to deliver themselves straight to citizens, it’s newly exploitable. You know who else isn’t as likely to commit murders in the US as native-born citizens? Refugees. Or immigrants from the seven countries singled out in President Trump’s shot-down travel ban. Or for that matter, immigrants at all. According to numerous studies, increased immigration correlates with lower violent crime rates in a community. Yet next week, Trump is promising a revised travel ban in the name of safety. In the past, the president has also promised to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. What he hasn’t promised to publish is a list of crimes committed by Americans. That’s not news.

But his list is likely to create the false impression that undocumented immigrants are especially prone to commit violent crimes—an impression in which the human brain is complicit. Lakoff, a University of California, Berkeley linguist and well-known Democratic activist, cites Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” as the signature “salient exemplar.” Reagan’s straw woman—a minority mother who uses her government money on fancy bling rather than on food for her family—became an effective rhetorical bludgeon to curb public assistance programs even though the vast majority of recipients didn’t abuse the system in that way. The image became iconic, even though it was the exception rather than the rule. Psychologists call this bias the “availability heuristic,” an effect Trump has sought to exploit since the launch of his presidential campaign, when he referred to undocumented Mexican immigrants as rapists.

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Slaves.

US Car Loans, Delinquencies Hit Record Levels (Q.)

Last year, Americans bought more new cars than ever before. Given that auto sales make up around a fifth of all retail spending, 2016’s banner year is being hailed as a sign of burgeoning consumer confidence across the country. But something else is revving up, too: auto loans. The US closed out 2016 with just shy of $1.2 trillion in outstanding auto loan debt, a rise of 9% from the previous year and 13% above the pre-crisis peak in 2005, in inflation-adjusted terms. The number of cars and trucks on the road, meanwhile, rose by only 1.5% last year, and 9% since 2005, according to US transportation department data.

Total household debt levels are now a hair under their 2008 peak, with some of the fastest growth in recent years down to auto loans. If America’s car-buying bonanza is being fueled by cheap credit, is consumer sentiment really as robust as it might seem? And is it sustainable? There are reasons to wonder. While car purchases and financing have leapt since 2009, wages have picked up only slightly over the same period. Meanwhile, the average loan taken out to buy a new car has risen steadily.

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TO learned nothing from Vancouver.

‘Trapped Wealth’ Drives Toronto’s Speculative Real Estate Dilemma

Toronto’s housing boom is unrelenting. Prices in Canada’s largest city surged more than 20% over the past year, the fastest pace in three decades, data released last week show. Some of the city’s neighboring towns are posting even bigger gains. It’s become a matter of considerable alarm. Stability is one concern: if the market tumbles, so will Canada’s economy. Pricier real estate also drives away less-affluent, younger people and boosts the cost of doing business, eroding competitiveness. “I don’t think anybody is cheering,” said Doug Porter, the Toronto-based chief economist of Bank of Montreal, who used the dreaded “bubble” word last week to describe the market. “I don’t see who benefits other than real estate agents. It’s trapped wealth.”

So, what’s driving the boom? The housing industry – builders and brokers – claim lack of supply is the main culprit. Others, Porter included, see demand as the problem. Lately, evidence is mounting that speculation is behind the jump. Builders say they are being held back by everything from regulations to prohibitive taxes and land restrictions. Ontario’s greenbelt region around Toronto is one example. This is no doubt true for one segment of the market: single-detached homes. Just over one-quarter of the 176,000 homes built in Toronto over the past five years were single-detached. That’s well down from the 1990s, when they accounted for almost half of all construction. Supply constraints don’t explain the price gains for condominiums, which have seen a flood of new completions. The average sale price of a condo is up 15% year-over-year. That’s after builders completed more than 54,000 apartment units over the past two years, easily a record supply for Toronto.

Canada’s recent census results, released this month, also provide some evidence against the shortage argument. Occupied private dwellings have risen by 7.2% in Toronto over the past five years, faster than population growth. The census, however, doesn’t say what type of homes are being built. Plus, there is also the recent puzzle of disappearing listings. New listings in Toronto fell 17% in January from a month earlier, the biggest one-month decline since 2002. Sales as a share of new listings rose above 90%, smashing the record. Is this a sign of a bubble? Are sellers holding off putting their homes on the market to see where prices settle? Has supply become so tight that potential sellers are pulling out of the market altogether since they have nowhere to move to? “The market is thinning out basically, you know what that means,” said David Madani, an economist at Capital Economics in Toronto, said in a telephone interview.

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They keep on announcing this. And the shadow system keeps growing, rapidly.

China’s Central Bank To Shine Regulatory Light On Shadow Banking (SCMP)

China’s financial watchdogs are considering casting a huge new regulatory net over the country’s vast shadow banking sector. The central bank has spearheaded the drafting of new regulations to tame China’s 60 trillion yuan “asset management” industry. According to people who have seen the draft regulations, the rules would bring the various kinds of asset management products and investment schemes offered by all kinds of financial institutions under the one regulatory umbrella. Oversight for the flourishing sector is now split between the securities, banking and insurance regulators. China Minsheng Banking chief analyst Wen Bin said regulatory standards differed between watchdogs and a unified system would help regulators cut systemic risks and financial leverage.

“China’s financial innovation has grown quickly in the past few years and the blending of financial operations through asset management products has challenged the fragmented regulatory system,” Wen said. Mainland financial institutions, including banks, mutual fund firms, brokerages and insurance companies, have rushed to set up asset management schemes, raising funds from clients and then investing in a range of markets and projects. These schemes are usually beyond the watch of regulators and harbour growing risks for the country’s financial stability, something the leadership is determined to eliminate ahead of a big power reshuffle due late this year. If rolled out, the rules would ban financial institutions from promising clients a minimum or fixed return from their products. Institutions would have to contribute 10% of their management fees to a risk reserve fund, and funds in one “asset management product” could not be used in another, except in authorised cases.

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These people really think they will rule the world. But what happens when the economy collapses? When the S&P falls 50%+? Are robots going to grow your food?

Tech CEOs Back Call For Basic Income (CNBC)

It’s 2067 and robots have wiped out millions of jobs, AI is rampant, and unemployment is on the rise. Technology companies and CEOs have become public enemy number one. This portrayal of the future is one tech executives are keen to avoid and has driven a growing chorus to support the idea of a universal basic income (UBI). “There is going to be backlash when it comes to jobs,” Sayantan Ghosal, an economics professor at the University of Glasgow who has written about UBI, told CNBC by phone. U.S. technology firms have been investing heavily in research and development of AI. Tesla with driverless cars, Amazon with workerless shops, and the likes of Google developing smarter-than-human software. Even Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, recently stated that he was “surprised” by the pace of AI developments.

Over the past few months, major technology executives have come out in support of a UBI. In an interview with CNBC in November, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk backed the idea. “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” Musk said. He reiterated his thoughts last week at the World Government Summit in Dubai, in which he said a UBI would be “necessary”. Marc Benioff, chief executive of Salesforce, warned of AI creating “digital refugees”. At the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in January, Benioff said there was “no clear path forward” on how to deal with the job displacement that will occur. Other tech executives talked up the industry’s responsibility. “We should do our very best to train people for the jobs of the future,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at Davos.

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The dark side of the man.

Monsanto and Bayer’s Chemical Romance: Heroin, Nerve Gas and Agent Orange (AN)

Fifty years ago, the Monsanto and Bayer corporations were forced to separate in order to avoid violating basic antitrust regulations. U.S. courts declared that the two chemical giants, when operating together under the name Mobay, stymied market competition and comprised a monopoly that could not stand. But that was then. Today, under a much different regulatory climate that all but rubberstamps such corporate monopolies, the Germany-based Bayer’s $66 billion offer to purchase Monsanto is being fast-tracked by U.S. regulators. The proposed mega-merger, or re-marriage, will result in nearly 30% of all worldwide pesticide and seed sales being controlled by the new partnership. The merger faces federal antitrust scrutiny before it can be finalized, a process currently underway.

It already passed its first test in January when it got the blessings of President-elect Donald Trump, who held an exclusive meeting with the CEOs of both corporations and emerged—not surprisingly—with his thumbs up. Trump’s exclusive meeting with these corporate titans came well before he had even bothered to name his selection to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a not-so-subtle acknowledgement of where the true power lies when it comes to the politics of food. In addition to market control, Bayer’s proposed purchase is aimed at steadying a reeling Monsanto, which is mired in turmoil from a long list of objectionable activities involving toxic pesticides and its increasingly unpopular genetically-modified organisms.

Ironically, given its own sullied past that includes Nazi sympathizing and marketing heroin-laced cough syrup for children, Bayer is being portrayed as the one riding to the rescue of Monsanto’s poor public image. If anything, it’s a sign of just how low the Monsanto brand and reputation has plummeted, forcing it to try and improve its image by sidling up to Bayer, a participant in some of the cruelest crimes in human history. While these types of mergers are nothing new to the agribusiness sector, where consolidation has been king for decades, last year’s proposed mega-mergers shattered the record for such deals. There were $125 billion worth of proposed agri-chemical mergers in 2016, nearly doubling the previous record of $65 billion in 2010. In addition to the proposed Bayer/Monsanto deal, there are also pending mergers between Dow and DuPont as well as Syngenta and the Chinese National Chemical Corporation.

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Canada continues to set the standard. But protests begin.

Canada Will Not Halt Illegal Border Crossing Despite Opposition – Trudeau (R.)

Canada will continue to accept asylum seekers crossing illegally from the United States but will ensure security measures are taken to keep Canadians safe, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday. The number of would-be refugees crossing into Canada at isolated and unguarded border crossings has increased in recent weeks amid fears that U.S. President Donald Trump will crack down on illegal immigrants, and photos of smiling Canadian police greeting the migrants have gone viral. Opposition Conservatives want Trudeau’s center-left Liberal government to stem the flow of asylum seekers from the United States because of security fears and a lack of resources to deal with them.

“One of the reasons why Canada remains an open country is Canadians trust our immigration system and the integrity of our borders and the help we provide people who are looking for safety,” Trudeau told parliament. “We will continue to strike that balance between a rigorous system and accepting people who need help.” Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen also said Canada would continue to honor the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires it to turn back refugees if they make asylum claims at Canadian border crossings with the United States. Refugee advocates have argued this drives asylum seekers to cross illegally at isolated locations, risking their lives in frigid weather. Amnesty International and other groups are pressuring the Canadian government to abandon the agreement, arguing the United States is not safe for refugees.

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Very smart move. They will contribute a lot to the country. Stong, hardened, intelligent and grateful.

Canada To Welcome 1,200 Yezidi Refugees From Iraq (AFP)

Canada will resettle 1,200 Yezidi refugees who faced persecution by the Islamic State group, the immigration minister said Tuesday. Some 400 have already been airlifted to this country. “Our operation is under way and individual survivors of Daesh have been arriving in Canada for resettlement in the last number of months and this began on October 25, 2016,” Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, using an Arabic name for the Islamic State. “Our government will resettle approximately 1,200 highly vulnerable survivors of Daesh and their family members in Canada,” he added. The initiative follows Parliament’s resolution last fall to take in Yezidis facing “genocide” in Iraq at the hands of the Islamic extremist IS group.

The original aim was to bring over women and girls at risk, but Hussen told a news conference that Ottawa had learned that “Daesh has also deliberately targeted boys and as such we are helping to resettle all child survivors of Daesh.” Hussen said the migrants are arriving on commercial flights at a “controlled pace” to avoid overwhelming Canada’s refugee system. The operation is expected to cost Can$28 million (US$21 million). Since coming to power in late 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has resettled 40,000 Syrian refugees. The Yezidis taken in have been subjected to comprehensive security checks and medical examinations, Hussen said. Yezidis are a Kurdish-speaking minority with a pre-Islamic religion thought partly to have its origin in the Zoroastrianism of ancient Persia. They are neither Arab nor Muslim and IS considers them polytheistic heretics.

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And don’t you forget it.

Europe Wrote The Book On Demonising Refugees, Long Before Trump Read It (G.)

It has become an article of faith among liberals that Donald Trump is the world’s biggest enemy to refugees and Muslims, while the EU somehow offers them a safe harbour. After all, with the words “We can do it” Angela Merkel invited a million Syrian refugees into Germany, while Trump’s travel ban has slammed shut America’s door to some of the world’s most vulnerable displaced people. In today’s liberal mindset, it is Brexit that has stirred up hostility against migrants, while the EU is a bulwark of civilised values, protecting refugees from the threat of a resurgent far right. If you were a migrant in a leaking boat approaching Lesbos, however, the treatment you would receive from Frontex, the EU’s border patrol, would be no less hostile than anything Trump could inflict.

In Tunis last week a video showed Tunisian border police whipping cowering migrants from elsewhere in north Africa. This brutality was EU-sponsored. Like Libya, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt, Tunisia receives funding and training from Brussels through the European neighbourhood policy (ENP). Under a broader framework of “development” and “reforms”, these ENP countries serve as a buffer zone, making sure that refugees are intercepted and turned back – or, in Libya, locked up and tortured in refugees’ prisons – before these desperate people can reach the EU’s shores. The idea that the Europe of Merkel and Theresa May is more welcoming to refugees than Trump’s America simply isn’t borne out by the facts. The EU’s deal with Turkey, condemned by humanitarian agencies, ensures that refugees arriving in Greece – regardless of their point of departure – will be sent to Turkey.

Turkey now has the largest refugee population in the world, at about 3 million people. This month Britain reneged on its promise to admit 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees. Concerned that the Balkan route is a weak link into Europe, Austria has mobilised aspiring EU members including Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo into a Balkan frontier defence project to fortify the refugee entry points of the “Balkan corridor”. Last year Macedonian police used tear gas, grenades and stun guns against Iraqis and Syrians attempting to get through a razor-wire fence and into the country.

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“..traffickers came and removed the engine from the boat and left the craft adrift..”

Bodies Of At Least 74 Migrants Wash Ashore In Western Libya (G.)

The bodies of at least 74 people, believed to be migrants, have washed ashore on the Libyan coast in the latest tragedy at sea for people fleeing to Europe to escape war and poverty. The Libyan Red Crescent said on Tuesday the bodies had been found the previous morning on the coast of the city of Zawiya, and aid workers had spent six hours recovering them, with more dead believed to be in the vicinity. A spokesman for the organisation, Mohammed al-Misrati, told the Associated Press that a torn rubber boat was found nearby and it was likely that more migrants had drowned in the incident, as such vessels usually carry about 120 people.

The Zawiya coastguard later posted a video that showed the migrants’ boat with no engine. Joel Millman, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told Reuters a local staff member had reported that “traffickers came and removed the engine from the boat and left the craft adrift”. “This is not a only horrible number of deaths in one incident but it strikes us as something that we haven’t really seen much of, which is either deliberate punishment or murder of migrants,” Millman said.

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Feb 202017
 
 February 20, 2017  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Henri Cartier Bresson Moscow Metro 1954

 


Seven Years of Demanding The Impossible in Greece (MP)
Cost Of Greece, Troika Impasse Over Numbers Is Adding Up (K.)
Pre-Departure Migrant Camps Planned For Greek Islands (K.)
Democrats Suggest Invoking The 25th Amendment Unless Trump “Gets A Grip” (ZH)
Greenspan Blames Productivity Decline For Political, Economic Crises (BI)
S&P 500 Earnings Stuck at 2011 Levels, Stocks up 87% Since (WS)
The Nasty Little Secret About Housing Affordability (ABC.au)
The Unthinkable Just Happened in Spain (DQ)
Kim Dotcom Loses New Zealand Extradition Case But Claims Major Victory (NZH)
UK Vegetable Shortage A Sign Of Things To Come (G.)
Fukushima Aborts Latest Robot Mission Radiation At “Unimaginable” Levels (ZH)
Tulsi Gabbard vs. ‘Regime Change’ Wars (Wright)
UN Envoy Questions US Engagement On Syria (AFP)
Kaziranga: The Park That Shoots People To Protect Rhinos (BBC)

 

 

A glimpse of the madness bestowed upon Greece. You might think this settles it, that the IMF is going to back off. You would be wrong.

Seven Years of Demanding The Impossible in Greece (MP)

In a recent presentation of his book, Laid Low, which examines the IMF’s role in the eurozone crisis, author and journalist Paul Blustein disclosed a memo dated May 4, 2010, from the IMF’s then head of research Olivier Blanchard, to Poul Thomsen, who headed the Greek mission at the time. In his missive, Blanchard warned that the cumulative fiscal adjustment of 16 %age points being demanded of Greece in such a short period of time and with such a high level of frontloading had never been achieved before. According to Blanchard, not only was the task unprecedented, but Greece was being asked to achieve the impossible in unfavourable external circumstances, when everyone was barely recovering from the 2008 global financial crisis and without any other policy levers (low interest rates or exchange rate adjustment).

Blanchard foresaw what became a reality only about a year later: Even with “perfect policy implementation” the programme will be thrown off track rather quickly and the recession will be deeper and longer than expected, he warned. Blanchard’s scepticism and warnings were ignored. Instead, political limitations took hold of the decision-making process and domestic-focussed calculations pushed Greece into trying to achieve the impossible. This week, the former IMF chief economist admitted on Twitter that although he was not the one that leaked the memo he was not unhappy that the truth has been revealed because “it is seven years and still there is no clear/realistic plan” for Greece.

Athens is currently under pressure to adopt another 2% of GDP in new fiscal measures, which relate to the tax-free threshold and pension spending. Since 2010, Greece has adopted revenue-raising measures and spending cuts that are equivalent to more than a third of its economy and more than double what Blanchard had described as unprecedented almost seven years ago.

The Greek economy has been burdened with €35.6 billion in all sorts of taxes on income, consumption, duties, stamps, corporate taxation and increases in social security contributions. When totting all this up, it is remarkable that the economy still manages to function. During the same period, the state has also found savings of €37.4 billion from cutting salaries, pensions, benefits and operational expenses. Discretionary spending is now so lean that even the IMF argues that in certain areas it needs to increase if Greece is to meet the minimum requirements in the provision of public services. When this misery started, Greece had to correct a primary deficit of €24 billion. But the painful fiscal adjustment Greeks have had to endure had turned out to be three times as much. The IMF’s Thomsen, now the director of its European Department, recently argued that Greece doesn’t need any more austerity but brave policy implementation. Somehow, though, the discussion has ended up being about finding another €3.5 billion in taxes and cuts to pension spending. Bravery is nowhere to be seen.

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The cuts have hit Greek consumer spending so severely that a recovery is no longer possible. And without a recovery, the Troika demands will get more severe, rinse and repeat.

Cost Of Greece, Troika Impasse Over Numbers Is Adding Up (K.)

Another week of back-and-forth between Greece and its lenders seems to have brought us no closer to an agreement between all the parties involved in the country’s bailout. Monday’s Eurogroup meeting may produce some progress, but the complexity of the situation facing Athens, the eurozone and the IMF means it is likely that any forward movement will involve inching, rather than hurtling, towards an agreement. One of the key areas of disagreement is Greece’s fiscal performance. The government insists that the primary surplus for 2016 provides all the evidence needed that there should be no concerns about Greece meeting its fiscal targets in the coming years. Finance Ministry estimates put the primary surplus for 2016 at 2% of gross domestic product, against a target of 0.5%.

In an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper last week, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos suggested that last year’s primary surplus is actually 1.7 %age points above the target, ie 2.2% of GDP in total. On Friday, reports indicated that government officials believe the final figure, which is not due to be announced until April, will be around 3% of GDP. There is skepticism on the creditors’ side. Even before we get to debating how large last year’s primary surplus was, some of those who are lending Greece money are not convinced that enough of the overperformance is structural and that much of it may be driven by one-off occurrences. It will require further scrutiny of the final data to come up with a definitive answer to this question. The director of the IMF’s European Department, Poul Thomsen, told another German newspaper, Handelsblatt, last week that the Fund may revise its fiscal forecasts for Greece once it has last year’s statistics at its disposal.

This is crucial because the volume of measures being demanded of Greece by the institutions has been set at 3.6 billion euros largely due to the fact that the IMF believes Greece will fall short of the 3.5% of GDP primary surplus target it has been set for an, as yet, unspecified period after 2018. Athens hopes that if the IMF rethinks its figures, this may lead to a lower volume of measures being demanded and the first step in the grand bargain between the government and the institutions being taken. However, there are several added layers of complexity that have to be addressed. For example, the IMF does not only have doubts about the structural nature of Greece’s primary surplus, it also has lingering reservations about the reliability of the fiscal data coming out of Athens.

“Lack of fiscal transparency was clearly one of the factors that led to Greece finding itself in a difficult spot in 2010,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in response to a question when she spoke at the Atlantic Council on February 8. “A lot has been improved but I’m not sure that the job is entirely completed. We are still seeing frequent revisions of some of those numbers. Everybody revises, let’s face it… but it’s a fact that Greece revises quite often and with significant variations.”

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People or cattle?

Pre-Departure Migrant Camps Planned For Greek Islands (K.)

Greek authorities are planning the creation of pre-departure detention facilities on the eastern Aegean islands, where thousands of migrants and refugees remain stranded, so as to accelerate returns to Turkey. According to officials from the Citizens’ Protection Ministry, the biggest%age of new arrivals over the past few months are from countries without a refugee profile: Pakistan, Morocco, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Significant numbers also arrived from Egypt, the Dominican Republic, Tunisia, Nigeria and Libya. Officials say that the creation of closed-structure facilities, each with a capacity of 150-200 people, is key to taking some of the pressure off the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros, which have borne the brunt of the influx.

The mayors of these five islands are expected to travel to Brussels in early March to meet with Europe’s Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos to voice their concerns. During a tour of these islands last week, the EU’s special envoy on migration, Maarten Verwey, said that the aim was to cut current numbers by half by the end of April. According to official figures, some 14,600 migrants and refugees are currently accommodated at official facilities on the islands. In comments made during the visit, Verwey, who is also the coordinator for the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement to stem migrant flows, repeated that these detention facilities would be “temporary.”

Sources suggest that authorities have almost finalized plans for facilities on Samos, Lesvos and Kos, while looking for spaces on Leros and Chios. The plans have met with resistance from locals. Since the beginning of 2017, authorities have reportedly deported 160 individuals from Pakistan, 150 from Iraq, 70 from Algeria, 30 from Afghanistan, 25 from Morocco and 20 from Bangladesh. Police said 60 Syrians had left Greece voluntarily.

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Regime change. Who’s crazy now?

Democrats Suggest Invoking The 25th Amendment Unless Trump “Gets A Grip” (ZH)

After questioning President Trump’s sanity earlier in the week, it appears Democrats have found another narrative to cling to – invoke the 25th Amendment unless Trump “gets a grip.” With a growing number of Democrats openly questioning President Trump’s mental health. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) in a floor speech this week called for a review of the Constitution’s procedures for removing a president. He warned the 25th Amendment of the Constitution falls short when it comes to mental or emotional fitness for office. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) during a weekend interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” said that “a few” Republican colleagues have expressed concern to him about Trump’s mental health. And Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) plans to introduce legislation that would require the presence of a psychiatrist or psychologist in the White House.

[..] So, what’s Article 4 to the 25th Amendment? In the abstract, the amendment itself is about presidential succession, and includes language about the power of the office when a president is incapacitated. But Digby recently highlighted the specific text of growing relevance: “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

What does that mean exactly? Well, it means Congress isn’t the only institution that can remove a president from office between elections. Under the 25th Amendment, a sitting vice president and a majority of the executive branch’s cabinet could, on their own, agree to transfer power out of the hands of a sitting president. At that point, those officials would notify Congress, and the vice president would assume the office as the acting president. And what if the challenged president wasn’t on board with the plan to remove him/her from the office? According to a recent explainer, “If the president wants to dispute this move, he can, but then it would be up to Congress to settle the matter with a vote. A two-thirds majority in both houses would be necessary to keep the vice president in charge. If that threshold isn’t reached, the president would regain his powers.”

All of this comes up in fiction from time to time, and in all likelihood, Americans will probably never see this political crisis play out in real life. And that’s probably a good thing: by all appearances, the intended purpose of the constitutional provision was to address a president with a serious ailment – say, a stroke, for example – in which he or she is alive, but unable to fulfill the duties of the office. In other words, for the first time, the concept of a “soft palace coup” has been officially brought up on public media; we expect such speculation will only get louder. The ball is now in Trump’s court.

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“Populism is not a philosophy or a concept, like socialism or capitalism, for example. Rather it is a cry of pain, where people are saying: Do something. Help!”

Greenspan Blames Productivity Decline For Political, Economic Crises (BI)

Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve whose low-interest policies (some say) helped inflate the dot-com and mortgage bubbles of 2000 and 2008, did a fascinating interview with Gold Investor recently. In it, Greenspan produced an incredibly cogent explanation of the role that reduced long-term productivity has had in fuelling populism, Brexit and Trump. Before we deliver Greenspan’s quote, some background: “Productivity” is one of the least-sexy areas of macroeconomics, even though right now it is one of the biggest issues bedevilling it. Here’s a chart from the Resolution Foundation showing the phenomena:

The “productivity puzzle” is this: The amount investors get in return, in aggregate, for investing in new workers is in long-term decline. Productivity growth is in decline globally and heading toward zero. This is counterintuitive because new technology ought to make workers more productive and more efficient. A single employee with a laptop can do more today than a roomful of secretaries, mathematicians, and writers could in the 1960s. We ought to be getting more bang for our bucks. Fix productivity, and you fix everything, economists believe – including GDP growth, workers’ pay, investment returns, and so on. But instead we’ve got stagnating incomes, low growth, and low productivity for money invested. The productivity decline isn’t a complete mystery, of course. We know it is a mixture of deflationary forces, an aging population, excessive debt, and increased inequality. But putting that all together in a simple, elegant way is tough. That’s why this answer from Greenspan is so good. He was asked whether he was concerned about Stagflation.

“We have been through a protracted period of stagnant productivity growth, particularly in the developed world, driven largely by the aging of the ‘baby boom’ generation. Social benefits (entitlements in the US) are crowding out gross domestic savings, the primary source for funding investment, dollar for dollar. The decline in gross domestic savings as a share of GDP has suppressed gross non-residential capital investment. It is the lessened investment that has suppressed the growth in output per hour globally. Output per hour has been growing at approximately 0.5% annually in the US and other developed countries over the past five years, compared with an earlier growth rate closer to 2%.

That is a huge difference, which is reflected proportionately in GDP and in people’s standard of living. As productivity growth slows down, the whole economic system slows down. That has provoked despair and a consequent rise in economic populism from Brexit to Trump. Populism is not a philosophy or a concept, like socialism or capitalism, for example. Rather it is a cry of pain, where people are saying: Do something. Help!”

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Seek shelter.

S&P 500 Earnings Stuck at 2011 Levels, Stocks up 87% Since (WS)

The S&P 500 stock index edged up to an all-time high of 2,351 on Friday. Total market capitalization of the companies in the index exceeds $20 trillion. That’s 106% of US GDP, for just 500 companies! At the end of 2011, the S&P 500 index was at 1,257. Over the five-plus years since then, it has ballooned by 87%! These are superlative numbers, and you’d expect superlative earnings performance from these companies. Turns out, reality is not that cooperative. Instead, net income of the S&P 500 companies is now back where it first had been at the end of 2011. Hype, financial engineering, and central banks hell-bent on inflating asset prices make a powerful fuel for stock prices. And there has been plenty of all of it, including financial engineering.

Share buybacks, often funded with borrowed money, have soared in recent years. But even that is now on the decline. Share buybacks by the S&P 500 companies plunged 28% year-over-year to $115.6 billion in the three-month period from August through October, according to the Buyback Quarterly that FactSet just released. It was the second three-month period in a row of sharp year-over-year declines. And it was the smallest buyback total since Q1 2013. Apple with $7.2 billion in buybacks in the quarter, GE with $4.3 billion, and Microsoft with $3.6 billion topped the list again. Still, despite the plunge in buybacks, 119 companies spent more on buybacks than they’d earned in the quarter. On a trailing 12-month basis, 66% of net income was blown on buybacks.

Alas, net income has been a problem. By now, with 82% of the S&P 500 companies having reported their results for Q4 2016, earnings rose 4.6% year-over-year, according to FactSet. It’s the second quarter in a row of year-over-year earnings growth, after six quarters in a row of earnings declines. For the entire year 2016, earnings edged up 0.4% from 2015. And revenue inched up 2.4% – in a year when inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, rose 2.8%.

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“..Australians are in hock to the tune of more than $1.4 trillion on housing. That’s a hell of a lot of debt just to keep the wind and rain out.”

The Nasty Little Secret About Housing Affordability (ABC.au)

There’s a nasty little secret about housing affordability. For all the furrowed brows, the sombre looks and the public handwringing from policy makers, no-one is actually serious about fixing the problem because they all fear the potential fallout. The Government is running in circles on the issue while the Reserve Bank is praying the mess will slowly evaporate over time. It’s become a regular event; a politician conjures up an outlandish idea to again make housing affordable to the masses. If it’s not a cash splash to first home buyers, it’s a harebrained scheme to allow younger Australians to dip into their superannuation. Last week, it was a plan to force banks to lower lending standards. In each case, the net effect would be to lift demand and raise the cost of housing. Unfortunately, at this point in the economic cycle, there are only two mechanisms that could solve the social and political issue of our time.

The first is for housing prices to experience a dramatic fall. And the second is for wages to rise substantially. The first comes with a nasty side-effect: it would create economic chaos and send many of our banks to the wall. Achieving, or at least promising, the second might get you elected but ultimately would prove disastrous with spiralling inflation and, you guessed it, a probable spike in housing prices. Both are unthinkable. A crash could be catastrophic because our banks essentially have morphed into glorified building societies, with the bulk of their earnings geared towards residential mortgages. The two biggest lenders, Commonwealth and Westpac, have around 60% of their loan books devoted to housing.

Real estate is baked into the Australian psyche. We talk about it ad nauseam, owners obsess over upgrades and renovations and those outside the owners’ club fret about how to enter. All up, Australians are in hock to the tune of more than $1.4 trillion on housing. That’s a hell of a lot of debt just to keep the wind and rain out. Of that, more than half a trillion is on loan to property investors.

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Bankers going to court.

The Unthinkable Just Happened in Spain (DQ)

Untouchable. Inviolable. Immunity. Impunity. These are the sort of words and expressions that are often associated with senior central bankers, who are, by law, able to operate more or less above the law of the jurisdictions in which they operate. Rarely heard in association with senior central bankers are words or expressions like “accused”, “charged” or “under investigation.” But in Spain this week a court broke with that tradition, in emphatic style. As part of the epic, multi-year criminal investigation into the doomed IPO of Spain’s frankenbank Bankia – which had been assembled from the festering corpses of seven already defunct saving banks – Spain’s national court called to testify six current and former directors of the Bank of Spain, including its former governor, Miguel Ángel Fernández Ordóñez, and its former deputy governor (and current head of the Bank of International Settlements’ Financial Stability Institute), Fernando Restoy.

It also summoned for questioning Julio Segura, the former president of Spain’s financial markets regulator, the CNMV (the Spanish equivalent of the SEC in the US). The six central bankers and one financial regulator stand accused of authorizing the public launch of Bankia in 2011 despite repeated warnings from the Bank of Spain’s own team of inspectors that the banking group was “unviable.” Though they have so far only been called to testify, the evidence against the seven former public “servants” looks pretty conclusive. Testifying against them are two of Banco de España’s own inspectors who have spent the last two years investigating Bankia’s collapse on behalf of the trial’s presiding judge, Fernando Andreu.

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“We have won. We have won the major legal argument. This is the last five years of my life and it’s an embarrassment for New Zealand.”

Kim Dotcom Loses New Zealand Extradition Case But Claims Major Victory (NZH)

The evidence of the case has not been argued in New Zealand courts with the legal debate here being one of trying to match the crimes Dotcom and others are charged with to the crimes listed in the Extradition Act. In an interview with the Herald, Dotcom said the ruling was a “major victory” because it ruled that there was no New Zealand equivalent to the US criminal charges of copyright violation. “The major part of this litigation has been won by this judgment – that copyright is not extraditable. “They destroyed my family, destroyed my business, spied on me and raided my home and they did all of this on a civil copyright case. “We have won. We have won the major legal argument. This is the last five years of my life and it’s an embarrassment for New Zealand.”

He said it was effectively a statement from the court that neither he, his co-accused or Megaupload had broken any New Zealand laws. “Now they’re trying through the back door to say this was a fraud case. I’m confident going with this judgment to the Court of Appeal. The ruling today has created an unusual bureaucratic contradiction – the warrant which was served on Dotcom when he was arrested on January 20, 2012, stated he was being charged with “copyright” offences. Likewise, the charges Dotcom will face in the US are founded in an alleged act of criminal copyright violation. Dotcom said there were plans to take a separate court action over the arrest warrant, given it showed he had been arrested for a crime which effectively did not exist in New Zealand. “My arrest warrant, the document that kicked everything off in New Zealand, is not for fraud. In my arrest warrant, there is nothing about fraud.”

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Recognize this? “The shelves looked wonderful, perfect, almost clinical, as though invented in a lab in my absence; but there was no smell.”

UK Vegetable Shortage A Sign Of Things To Come (G.)

The UK’s clock has been set to Permanent Global Summer Time once more after a temporary blip. Courgettes, spinach and iceberg lettuce are back on the shelves, and the panic over the lack of imported fruit and vegetables has been contained. “As you were, everyone,” appears to be the message. But why would supermarkets – which are said to have lost sales worth as much as £8m in January thanks to record-breaking, crop-wrecking snow and rainfall in the usually mild winter regions of Spain and Italy – be so keen to fly in substitutes from the US at exorbitant cost? Why would they sell at a loss rather than let us go without, or put up prices to reflect the changing market? Why indeed would anyone air-freight watery lettuce across the whole of the American continent and the Atlantic when it takes 127 calories of fuel energy to fly just 1 food calorie of that lettuce to the UK from California?

The answer is that, in the past 40 years, a whole supermarket system has been built on the seductive illusion of this Permanent Global Summer Time. As a result, a cornucopia of perpetual harvest is one of the key selling points that big stores have over rival retailers. If the enticing fresh produce section placed near the front of each store to draw you in starts looking a bit empty, we might not bother to shop there at all. But when you take into account climate change, the shortages of early 2017 look more like a taste of things to come than just a blip, and that is almost impossible for supermarkets to admit. Add the impact of this winter’s weather on Mediterranean production, the inflationary pressures from a post-Brexit fall in the value of sterling against the euro, and the threat of tariffs as we exit the single market, and suddenly the model begins to look extraordinarily vulnerable.

I can remember the precise moment I first understood that we had been taken into this fantastical, nature-defying system without most of us really noticing. It was 1990 and I had been living and working with Afghan refugees in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier province for a long period. The bazaars where we bought our food were seasonal, and stocked from the immediate region. Back home on leave in the UK, I had that sense of dislocation that enables you to see your own culture as if from the outside. It was winter, but the supermarkets were full of fresh fruits and vegetables from around the world. The shelves looked wonderful, perfect, almost clinical, as though invented in a lab in my absence; but there was no smell. It was vaguely troubling in a way I couldn’t identify at the time.

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Excellent overview of the very scary latest on Fukushima from multiple sources at Zero Hedge.

Fukushima Aborts Latest Robot Mission Radiation At “Unimaginable” Levels (ZH)

Two years after sacrificing one robot, TEPCO officials have aborted their latest robot mission inside the Fukushima reactor after the ‘scorpion’ became unresponsive as it investigated the previously discovered hole where the core is believed to have melted. A “scorpion” robot sent into a Japanese nuclear reactor to learn about the damage suffered in a tsunami-induced meltdown had its mission aborted after the probe ran into trouble, Tokyo Electric Power company said Thursday. As Phys.org reports, TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, sent the remote-controlled device into the No. 2 reactor where radiation levels have recently hit record highs.

The “scorpion” robot, so-called because it can lift up its camera-mounted tail to achieve better viewing angles, is also designed to crawl over rubble inside the damaged facility. But it could not reach its target destination beneath a pressure vessel through which nuclear fuel is believed to have melted because the robot had difficulty moving, a company spokeswoman said. “It’s not immediately clear if that’s because of radiation or obstacles,” she said, adding that TEPCO is checking what data the robot was able to obtain, including images.

[..] The robot, 60 centimetres (24 inches) long, is made by Toshiba and equipped with two cameras and sensors to gauge radiation levels and temperatures. Scorpion’s mission is to take images of the situation and collect data inside the containment vessel,” TEPCO spokesman Shinichi Nakakuki said earlier. “Challenges include enduring high levels of radiation and moving on the rough surface,” he said. Radiation levels inside the reactor were estimated last week at 650 sieverts per hour at one spot, which can effectively shut down robots in hours.

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Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a colonel. She also was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war in Iraq. She has lived in Honolulu since 2003.

Tulsi Gabbard vs. ‘Regime Change’ Wars (Wright)

I support Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, going to Syria and meeting with President Bashar al-Assad because the congresswoman is a brave person willing to take criticism for challenging U.S. policies that she believes are wrong. It is important that we have representatives in our government who will go to countries where the United States is either killing citizens directly by U.S. intervention or indirectly by support of militia groups or by sanctions. We need representatives to sift through what the U.S. government says and what the media reports to find out for themselves the truth, the shades of truth and the untruths. We need representatives willing to take the heat from both their fellow members of Congress and from the media pundits who will not go to those areas and talk with those directly affected by U.S. actions.

We need representatives who will be our eyes and ears to go to places where most citizens cannot go. Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran who has seen first-hand the chaos that can come from misguided “regime change” projects, is not the first international observer to come back with an assessment about the tragic effects of U.S. support for lethal “regime change” in Syria. Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire began traveling to Syria three years ago and now having made three trips to Syria. She has come back hearing many of the same comments from Syrians that Rep. Gabbard heard — that U.S. support for “regime change” against the secular government of Syria is contributing to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and – if the “regime change” succeeded – might result in the takeover by armed religious-driven fanatics who would slaughter many more Syrians and cause a mass migration of millions fleeing the carnage.

[..] During the Obama administration, Rep. Gabbard spoke critically of the U.S. propensity to attempt “regime change” in countries and thus provoking chaos and loss of civilian life. On Dec. 8, 2016, she introduced a bill entitled the “Stop Arming Terrorists Act” which would prohibit the U.S. government from using U.S. funds to provide funding, weapons, training, and intelligence support to extremists groups, such as the ones fighting in Syria – or to countries that are providing direct or indirect support to those groups. In the first days of the Trump administration, Rep. Gabbard traveled to Syria to see the effects of the attempted “regime change” and to offer a solution to reduce the deaths of civilians and the end of the war in Syria. A national organization Veterans For Peace, to which I belong, has endorsed her trip as a step toward resolution to the Syrian conflict.

Not surprisingly, back in Washington, Rep. Gabbard came under attack for the trip and for her meeting with President Assad, similar to criticism that I have faced because of visits that I have made to countries where the U.S. government did not want me to go — to Cuba, Iran, Gaza, Yemen, Pakistan, North Korea, Russia and back to Afghanistan, where I was assigned as a U.S. diplomat.

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“How you square this circle, that I understand is what they are discussing in Washington..”

UN Envoy Questions US Engagement On Syria (AFP)

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura on Sunday questioned US President Donald Trump’s engagement in solving the Syrian war, just days ahead of a new round of peace talks in Geneva. “Where is the US in all this? I can’t tell you because I don’t know,” he said, adding that the new administration was still trying to work out its priorities on the conflict. The top three US priorities include fighting Islamic State jihadists, “how to limit the influence of some major regional players and how to not to damage one of their major allies in the region,” de Mistura told the Munich Security Conference. “How you square this circle, that I understand is what they are discussing in Washington,” he said. He did not say who the regional player or major ally were but the first reference appeared to be to Iran, with the second likely to be either Turkey or Saudi Arabia.

Mistura stressed that what was ultimately key was an inclusive political solution to end the six-year conflict. “Even a ceasefire with two guarantors can’t hold too long if there is no political horizon,” he said, referring to a fragile truce brokered by Russia and Turkey in December. Any political solution has to be inclusive to be credible, he said, stressing that peace talks in Astana last week organised by Russia, Turkey and Iran, and the ceasefire deal provided an opening that should be explored. The US envoy for the anti-IS coalition, Brett McGurk, acknowledged that Trump’s administration is “re-looking at everything, which is a very healthy process from top to bottom.” “We will be very selfish about protecting and advancing our interests,” he told the same forum.

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This will always remain controversial. But it’s the only way.

Kaziranga: The Park That Shoots People To Protect Rhinos (BBC)

Kaziranga National Park is an incredible story of conservation success. There were just a handful of Indian one-horned rhinoceros left when the park was set up a century ago in Assam, in India’s far east. Now there are more than 2,400 – two-thirds of the entire world population. This is where David Attenborough’s team came to film for Planet Earth II. William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, came here last year. But the way the park protects the animals is controversial. Its rangers have been given the kind of powers to shoot and kill normally only conferred on armed forces policing civil unrest. At one stage the park rangers were killing an average of two people every month – more than 20 people a year. Indeed, in 2015 more people were shot dead by park guards than rhinos were killed by poachers. Innocent villagers, mostly tribal people, have been caught up in the conflict.

Rhinos need protection. Rhino horn can fetch very high prices in Vietnam and China where it is sold as a miracle cure for everything from cancer to erectile dysfunction. Street vendors charge as much as $6,000 for 100g – making it considerably more expensive than gold. Indian rhinos have smaller horns than those of African rhinos, but reportedly they are marketed as being far more potent. But how far should we go to protect these endangered animals? I ask two guards what they were told to do if they encountered poachers in the park. “The instruction is whenever you see the poachers or hunters, we should start our guns and hunt them,” Avdesh explains without hesitation. “You shoot them?” I ask. “Yah, yah. Fully ordered to shoot them. Whenever you see the poachers or any people during night-time we are ordered to shoot them.” Avdesh says he has shot at people twice in the four years he has been a guard, but has never killed anybody. He knows, however, there are unlikely to be any consequences for him if he did.

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Feb 122017
 
 February 12, 2017  Posted by at 10:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Model wearing Dior on the banks of the Seine, Paris 1948

 


Does UK’s Lucrative Arms Trade Come At The Cost Of Political Repression? (G.)
UK Journalists Who Obtain Leaked Official Material Could Face Jail (Tel.)
Women And Children ‘Raped, Beaten And Abused’ In Dunkirk’s Refugee Camp (G.)
Bank For International Settlements Warns Of Looming Debt Bubble (F.)
Trump Regime Was Manufactured By A War Inside The Deep State (Nafeez Ahmed)
Banking, Credit & Norway (Steve Keen)
Greece Says Bailout Deal Close, But Will Not Accept ‘Illogical’ Demands (G.)
Greece 2017: Numbers And Facts About 8 Years Of Recession (AthensLive)
Tsipras Warns IMF, Germany To Stop ‘Playing With Fire’ Over Greek Debt (AFP)
Yanis Varoufakis: Grexit ‘Never Went Away’ (AlJ)
Why Falling Home Prices Could Be a Good Thing (NYT)
Army Veterans Return To Standing Rock To Form Human Shield Against Police (G.)
France’s Bumbling Search for a Candidate to Stop Le Pen (Spiegel)
A $500 Billion Plan To Refreeze The Arctic Before The Ice Melts (G.)

 

 

Look, Guardian, this is a good piece. But your editor destroys it by adding a headline with a question mark. Reality is, Britain is nothing but a front for a criminal racket. Its arms sales -both abroad and to its own forces- are responsible for the misery of countless deaths and maimed and refugees each and every year. Which your PM phrases as “..the UK will be at the forefront of a wider western effort to step up our defence and security partnership.” But you as a paper don’t have to play that game. Just tell your readers what is happening, and what has happened for decades. You live by blood and destruction.

Does UK’s Lucrative Arms Trade Come At The Cost Of Political Repression? (G.)

On 24 January 2015 a private jet touched down in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh. On board were a handful of Foreign Office officials, security personnel and the then prime minister, David Cameron, who was visiting the kingdom to pay his condolences following the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. The decision to charter the jet – at a cost to the taxpayer of £101,792 – raised eyebrows among Whitehall mandarins. But when it comes to Saudi Arabia, normal UK rules don’t seem to apply. For decades the two kingdoms have quietly enjoyed a symbiotic relationship centred on the exchange of oil for weapons. Analysis of HM Revenue and Customs figures by Greenpeace EnergyDesk shows that in 2015 83% of UK arms exports – almost £900m – went to Saudi Arabia. Over the same period, the UK imported £900m of oil from the kingdom.

Now this relationship has come under scrutiny as a result of a judicial review brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which has sent alarm bells ringing in Whitehall. The case follows concerns that a coalition of Saudi-led forces may have been using UK-manufactured weapons in violation of international humanitarian law during their ongoing bombardment of Yemen, targeting Iranian-backed Houthi forces loyal to the country’s former president. The legal challenge comes at a crucial time for the UK’s defence industry, which makes about 20% of arms exported globally. In recent years Ministry of Defence cutbacks have led to the sector looking abroad for new sales, and the government, with one eye on the post-Brexit landscape, is keen on the strategy. Last month Theresa May heralded a £100m deal involving the UK defence giant BAE and the Turkish military, and many defence experts see this as a sign of things to come.

But the policy – as the Saudi case makes clear – is controversial. Many of the UK’s biggest customers have questionable human rights records and there are concerns exported weapons are used for repression or against non-military targets. Thousands have died in the Yemen campaign, with the Saudis accused of targeting civilians. Four-fifths of the population is in need of aid, and famine is gripping the country. But despite this, and protests from human rights groups and the United Nations, the UK has continued to arm the Saudi regime, licensing about £3.3bn of weapons to the kingdom since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015.

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Orwell meets Samuel Beckett.

UK Journalists Who Obtain Leaked Official Material Could Face Jail (Tel.)

Campaigners have expressed outrage at new proposals that could lead to journalists being jailed for up to 14 years for obtaining leaked official documents. The major overhaul of the Official Secrets Act – to be replaced by an updated Espionage Act – would give courts the power to increase jail terms against journalists receiving official material. The new law, should it get approval, would see documents containing “sensitive information” about the economy fall foul of national security laws for the first time. In theory a journalist leaked Brexit documents deemed harmful to the UK economy could be jailed as a consequence. One legal expert said the new changes would see the maximum jail sentence increase from two years to 14 years; make it an offence to “obtain or gather” rather than simply share official secrets; and to extend the scope of the law to cover information that damages “economic well-being”.

John Cooper QC, a leading criminal and human rights barrister who has served on two law commission working parties, added: “These reforms would potentially undermine some of the most important principles of an open democracy.” Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said: “The proposed changes are frightening and have no place in a democracy, which relies on having mechanisms to hold the powerful to account. “It is unthinkable that whistle blowers and those to whom they reveal their information should face jail for leaking and receiving information that is in the public interest.” Her organisation has accused the Law Commission, the Government’s statutory legal advisers, of failing to consult fully with journalists before making its recommendations in a 326-page consultation published earlier this month. “It is shocking that so few organisations were consulted on these proposed changes given the huge implications for public interest journalism in this country,” said Ms Ginsberg.

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And this, too, is Britain, in 2017. And way before that too.

Women And Children ‘Raped, Beaten And Abused’ In Dunkirk’s Refugee Camp (G.)

Children and women are being raped by traffickers inside a refugee camp in northern France, according to detailed testimony gathered ahead of fresh legal action against the UK government’s approach to the welfare of unaccompanied minors. Corroborating accounts from volunteers, medics, refugees and security officials reveal that sexual abuse is common within the large camp at Dunkirk and that children and women are forced to have sex by traffickers in return for blankets or food or the offer of passage to the UK. Legal proceedings will be issued by London-based Bindmans against the Home Office, which is accused of acting unfairly and irrationally by electing to settle only minors from the vast Calais camp that closed last October, ignoring the child refugees gathered in Dunkirk, 40 miles away along the coast.

The legal action, brought on behalf of the Dunkirk Legal Support Team and funded by a crowd justice scheme, says the Home Office’s approach was arbitrary and mean-spirited. On Wednesday the government’s approach to child refugees provoked widespread indignation when the home secretary, Amber Rudd, announced the decision to end the “Dubs scheme”, having allowed just 350 children to enter the UK, 10% of the number most MPs and aid organisations had been led to believe could enter. [..] On Friday the archbishop of Canterbury said the government’s decision meant that child refugees would be at risk of being trafficked and even killed. Justin Welby’s warnings of what could happen if child refugees were denied the opportunity of safe passage are graphically articulated in the testimonies gathered over several months by the Observer.

Accounts from those at the camp, which currently holds up to 2,000 refugees, of whom an estimated 100 are unaccompanied minors, portray a squalid site with inadequate security and atrocious living conditions. The Dunkirk Legal Support Team says the failure of the authorities to guard the site has allowed the smugglers to take control. One volunteer coordinator, who has worked at the camp’s women’s centre since October 2016, said: “Sexual assault, violence and rape are all far too common. Minors are assaulted and women are raped and forced to pay for smuggling with their bodies.” Testifying on condition of anonymity, she added: “Although the showers are meant to be locked at night, particularly dangerous individuals in the camp have keys and are able to take the women to the showers in the night to force themselves on them. This has happened to women I know very well.”

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Looming, right?

Bank For International Settlements Warns Of Looming Debt Bubble (F.)

So you thought the world was deleveraging after the housing and derivatives bubble of 2008, hey? Well…fooled you! Global debt-to-GDP is now at a comfortable record high and the Bank for International Settlements, aka the central bank of central banks, noted on Friday that over the last 16 years, debts of governments, households and corporations has gone up…everywhere. In the U.S., debt is up 63%. The Eurozone, Japan, U.K., Canada and Australia average around 52%. And emerging markets, led by China, leverage is up 85%. In some important emerging economies like Brazil major cities are on the verge of bankruptcy. Rio is CCC credit thanks to mismanagement of a deep sea oil bonanza and over spending on the FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

“The next financial crisis is likely to revolve around how this debt burden is managed,” warns Neil MacKinnon, an economist with VTB Capital in London. “In the U.K., most crises are related to boom and busts in the housing market, where there is an approximate 18-year cycle suggesting that the next bust will be in 2025.” That’s quite a ways away. And for London real estate, they always have the Saudis, the Russians and the Chinese to save them. But further south, in countries like France and Italy, credit downgrades are expected. And guess which southern European country is back to give us all headaches again? Greece! Greece is making headlines once more for its inability to work out a debt deal with its lenders. There is now a rift between the EU and the IMF over Greek debt sustainability.

Most of the debt is with the European Commission itself, so German policy makers are basically the lenders and so far are not willing to take a haircut on bond prices. The IMF predicts that the Greek debt-GDP ratio, now at 180%, will soar to 275% all the while primary fiscal surplus is currently at zero. That means Greece’s debt to GDP is like Japan, only without the power of the Japanese economy to back it up. Greece is broke. “Greece is caught in a debt-trap which has shrunk the Greek economy by 25%,” notes MacKinnon. They owe Europe around €7 billion in July. Good luck with that. Jaime Caruana, General Manager for the Bank for International Settlements hinted in a speech in Brussels on Monday that the core central banks might not know what they’re in for.

“We need to escape the popular models that prevent us from recognizing the build-up of vulnerabilities,” Caruana said. “Getting all the right dots in front of you does not really help if you do not connect the dots. Right now, I worry that even though we have data on aggregate debt, we are not properly connecting the dots and we are underestimating the risks, particularly when the high levels of debt are aggravated by weak productivity growth in many countries. The standard of evidence for precautionary action has to be the preponderance of evidence, not evidence beyond a shadow of doubt. Waiting for fully compelling evidence is to act too late.”

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Long and deep from Nafeez.

Trump Regime Was Manufactured By A War Inside The Deep State (Nafeez Ahmed)

President Donald Trump is not fighting a war on the establishment: he’s fighting a war to protect the establishment from itself, and the rest of us. At first glance, this isn’t obvious. Among his first actions upon taking office, Trump vetoed the Trans Pacific Partnership, the controversial free trade agreement which critics rightly said would lead to US job losses while giving transnational corporations massive power over national state policies on health, education and other issues. Trump further plans to ditch the TTIP between the EU and US, which would have diluted key state regulations on the activities of transnational corporates on issues like food safety, the environment and banking; and to renegotiate NAFTA, potentially heightening tensions with Canada. Trump appears to be in conflict with the bulk of the US intelligence community, and is actively seeking to restructure the government to minimize checks and balances, and thus consolidate his executive power.

His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has completely restructured the National Security Council under unilateral presidential authority. While Bannon and his Chief of Staff Richard ‘Reince’ Priebus now have permanent seats on the NSC’s Principals’ Committee, the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are barred from meetings except when requested for their expertise. The Secretary of Energy and US ambassador to the UN have been expelled entirely. Trump’s White House has purged almost the entire senior staff of the State Department, and tested the loyalty of the Department of Homeland Security with its new ‘Muslim ban’ order. So what is going on? One approach to framing the Trump movement comes from Jordan Greenhall, who sees it as a conservative (“Red Religion”) Insurgency against the liberal (“Blue Church”) Globalist establishment (the “Deep State”).

Greenhall suggests, essentially, that Trump is leading a nationalist coup against corporate neoliberal globalization using new tactics of “collective intelligence” by which to outsmart and outspeed his liberal establishment opponents. But at best this is an extremely partial picture. In reality, Trump has ushered in something far more dangerous: The Trump regime is not operating outside the Deep State, but mobilizing elements within it to dominate and strengthen it for a new mission. The Trump regime is not acting to overturn the establishment, but to consolidate it against a perceived crisis of a wider transnational Deep System. The Trump regime is not a conservative insurgency against the liberal establishment, but an act of ideologically constructing the current crisis as a conservative-liberal battleground, led by a particularly radicalized white nationalist faction of a global elite.

The act is a direct product of a global systemic crisis, but is a short-sighted and ill-conceived reaction, pre-occupied with surface symptoms of that crisis. Unfortunately, those hoping to resist the Trump reaction also fail to understand the system dynamics of the crisis.

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If you want to know what ails us, it doesn’t get much clearer than this.

Banking, Credit & Norway (Steve Keen)

This was an invited talk during Oslo University’s “Week of Current Affairs”, so though my talk covered the global issues of credit and economic cycles, I paid particular attention to Norway, which is one of the 9 countries I have identified as very likely to experience a credit crunch in the next few years.

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But illogical demans are all there is.

Greece Says Bailout Deal Close, But Will Not Accept ‘Illogical’ Demands (G.)

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras said on Saturday he believed the country’s drawn-out bailout review would be completed positively but repeated that Athens would not accept “illogical” demands by its lenders. He warned all sides to “be more careful towards a country that has been pillaged and people who have made, and are continuing to make, so many sacrifices in the name of Europe”. Greece and its international lenders made clear progress on Friday toward bridging differences over its fiscal path in coming years, moving closer to a deal that would secure new loan disbursements and save the country from default. “(The review) will be completed, and it will be completed positively, without concessions in matters of principle,” Tsipras told a meeting of his leftist Syriza party. Reaching agreement would release another tranche of funds from it latest €86 billion bailout, and facilitate Greece making a major €7.2 billion debt repayment this summer.

European and IMF lenders want Greece to make €1.8 billion – or 1% of GDP – worth of new reforms by 2018 and another €1.8 billion after then and the measures would be focused on broadening the tax base and on pension cutbacks. But further cutbacks, particularly to pensions which have already gone through 11 cuts since the start of the crisis in 2010, are hard to sell to a public worn down after years of austerity. Representatives of Greece’s lenders are expected to return to Athens this week to report on whether Greece has complied with a second batch of reforms agreed under the current bailout, its third. “We are ready to discuss anything within the framework of the (bailout) agreement and within reason, but not things beyond the framework of the agreement and beyond reason,” Tsipras said. “We will not discuss demands which are not backed up by logic and by numbers,” he said.

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One minute of devastating numbers.

Greece 2017: Numbers And Facts About 8 Years Of Recession (AthensLive)

While Greece is back in the headlines, we got together some numbers and facts about eight years of economic recession.

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Well, they won’t stop.

Tsipras Warns IMF, Germany To Stop ‘Playing With Fire’ Over Greek Debt (AFP)

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras on Saturday warned the IMF and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble to “stop playing with fire” in the handling of his country’s debt. Opening a meeting of his Syriza party, Tsipras said he was confident a solution would be found, a day after talks between Greece and its creditors ended in Brussels with no breakthrough. He urged a change of course from the IMF. “We expect as soon as possible that the IMF revise its forecast.. so that discussions can continue at the technical level.” Referring to Schaeuble, Tsipras also called for German Chancellor Angela Merkel to “encourage her finance minister to end his permanent aggressiveness” towards Greece. Months of feuding with the IMF has raised fears of a new debt crisis.

Greece is embroiled in a row with its eurozone paymasters and the IMF over debt relief and budget targets that has rattled markets and revived talk of its place in the euro. Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said progress had been made in the Brussels talks with Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and other EU and IMF officials. But he provided few details. The Athens government faces debt repayments of €7.0 billion this summer that it cannot afford without defusing the feud that is holding up new loans from Greece’s €86 billion bailout. Breaking the stalemate in the coming weeks is seen as paramount with elections in the Netherlands on March 15 and France in April through June threatening to make a resolution even more difficult.

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Mostly rehashing Yanis’ time as FinMin. That’s a shame, because his views on today are much more interesting.

Yanis Varoufakis: Grexit ‘Never Went Away’ (AlJ)

With the UK on the cusp of leaving the European Union and Greece increasingly facing the same fate, is it over for the beleaguered body? An “epidemic” washing over other European countries may see the end of the EU, warns Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister. “The right question is: Is there going to be a eurozone and the European Union in one or two years’ time?” asks Varoufakis, who served as finance minister for five months under the Syriza government. Italy is already on the way out, Varoufakis tells UpFront. “When you allow an epidemic to start spreading from a place like Greece to Spain … to Ireland, then eventually it gets to a place like Italy,” says Varoufakis. “As we speak, only one political party in Italy wants to keep Italy in the eurozone.”

When asked about his failure to pull Greece out of its debt crisis during his tenure as finance minister, Varoufakis blamed the so-called troika – the IMF, the EU Commission and the European Central Bank – by intentionally sabotaging any debt-repayment agreement. “They were only interested in crushing our government, making sure that there would be no such mutually advantageous agreement,” says Varoufakis, who claims Greece was being used as a “morality tale” to scare voters in other European countries away from defying the troika. “The only reason why we keep talking about Greece … is because it is symptomatic of the architectural design faults and crisis of the eurozone.”

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To pop the bubble? To allow people to live where their families do?

Why Falling Home Prices Could Be a Good Thing (NYT)

Suppose there were a way to pump up the economy, reduce inequality and put an end to destructive housing bubbles like the one that contributed to the Great Recession. The idea would be simple, but not easy, requiring a wholesale reframing of the United States economy and housing market. The solution: Americans, together and all at once, would have to stop thinking about their homes as an investment. The virtues of homeownership are so ingrained in the American psyche that we often forget that housing is also a source of economic stress. Rising milk prices are regarded as a household tragedy for some, and spiking gas prices stoke national outrage. But whenever home prices go up, it’s “a recovery,” even though that recovery also means millions of people can no longer afford to buy.

Homes are the largest asset for all but the richest households, but shelter is also a basic necessity, like food. We have a variety of state and federal programs devised to make housing cheaper and more accessible, and a maze of local land-use laws that make housing scarcer and more expensive by doing things like prohibiting in-law units, regulating how small lots can be, and capping the number of unrelated people who can live together. Another big problem: High rent and home prices prevent Americans from moving to cities where jobs and wages are booming. That hampers economic growth, makes income inequality worse and keeps people from pursuing their dreams. So instead of looking at homes as investments, what if we regarded them like a TV or a car or any other consumer good? People might expect home prices to go down instead of up.

Homebuilders would probably spend more time talking about technology and design than financing options. Politicians might start talking about their plans to lower home prices further, as they often do with fuel prices. In this thought experiment, housing prices would probably adjust. They would be somewhat cheaper in most places, where population is growing slowly. But they would be profoundly cheaper in places like super-expensive San Francisco. That was the conclusion of a recent paper by the economists Ed Glaeser of Harvard and Joe Gyourko at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The paper uses construction industry data to determine how much a house should cost to build if land-use regulation were drastically cut back. Since the cost of erecting a home varies little from state to state — land is the main variable in housing costs — their measure is the closest thing we have to a national home price.

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Hope they get their media organized so news can get out. If it does it could be the worst PR disaster ever.

Army Veterans Return To Standing Rock To Form Human Shield Against Police (G.)

US veterans are returning to Standing Rock and pledging to shield indigenous activists from attacks by a militarized police force, another sign that the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline is far from over. Army veterans from across the country have arrived in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, or are currently en route after the news that Donald Trump’s administration has allowed the oil corporation to finish drilling across the Missouri river. The growing group of military veterans could make it harder for police and government officials to try to remove hundreds of activists who remain camped near the construction site and, some hope, could limit use of excessive force by law enforcement during demonstrations. “We are prepared to put our bodies between Native elders and a privatized military force,” said Elizabeth Williams, a 34-year-old Air Force veteran, who arrived at Standing Rock with a group of vets late Friday.

“We’ve stood in the face of fire before. We feel a responsibility to use the skills we have.” It is unclear how many vets may arrive to Standing Rock; some organizers estimate a few dozen are on their way, while other activists are pledging that hundreds could show up in the coming weeks. An estimated 1,000 veterans traveled to Standing Rock in December just as the Obama administration announced it was denying a key permit for the oil company, a huge victory for the tribe. The massive turnout – including a ceremony in which veterans apologized to indigenous people for the long history of US violence against Native Americans – served as a powerful symbol against the $3.7bn pipeline. Since last fall, police have made roughly 700 arrests, at times deploying water cannons, Mace, rubber bullets, teargas, pepper spray and other less-than-lethal weapons.

Private guards for the pipeline have also been accused of violent tactics. “We have the experience of standing in the face of adverse conditions – militarization, hostility, intimidation,” said Julius Page, a 61-year-old veteran staying at the vets camp. Dan Luker, a 66-year-old veteran who visited Standing Rock in December and returned this month, said that for many who fought in Vietnam or the Middle East it was “healing” to help water protectors.“This is the right war, right side,” said Luker, a Vietnam vet from Boston. “Finally, it’s the US military coming on to Sioux land to help, for the first time in history, instead of coming on to Sioux land to kill natives.” Luker said he was prepared to be hit by police ammunition if necessary: “I don’t want to see a 20-something, 30-something untrained person killed by the United States government.”

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Good overview of what is only 2 months away and could change Europe dramatically. Opinionated, but then that’s Der Spiegel.

France’s Bumbling Search for a Candidate to Stop Le Pen (Spiegel)

[..] even if Fillon survives as a candidate, he will be so damaged that he has virtually no chance of winning. Last week, in fact, his own party began discussing a “Plan B” so openly that it was almost disrespectful. Juppé is one possible replacement candidate being discussed, but the names of some young conservatives have also been circulating. Regardless, none of these alternatives would be as capable of taking voters away from Marine Le Pen and her project “Marine 2017” as the pre-scandal Fillon would have been. This, of course, is welcome news for Marine Le Pen, who transformed the fascist clique surrounding her father into a modern party, the right-wing populist Front National, with her at the center. Over the weekend, she introduced “140 proposals for France” as she launched the main segment of her campaign.

Yet even as she hits the stump, she is comfortably secure in the knowledge that she has the support of at least one-quarter of the country’s voters no matter what she says and no matter what others might say about her. She has been accused of having systematically misappropriated EU funds for party purposes in the European Parliament. She is no longer able to hide the fact that she is sparring over the direction of the party with her own niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. But it doesn’t matter: Her polling numbers have remained constant at 25%, indicating that it is very likely she will attract enough voters to make it into the second round of voting in the presidential election. The only question is who will be her challenger? Who will become the “lesser of two evils” of this campaign?

Will it be Socialist candidate Hamon, with his foolhardy plan of introducing an unconditional basic income for all French, starting at €600 and later rising to €750? The plan would likely lead to €380 billion in additional annual spending for the French government. Or will it be Emmanuel Macron? There is no doubt that he has the charisma of a leader, but he also has some weaknesses that make him prone to attack, including two that could become particularly dangerous. The first is a resume that is hardly consistent with the image of a young hero shaking up an ossified political system. Macron studied at France’s elite École nationale d’administration (ENA), he’s a wealthy former banker who worked at Rothschild before becoming an adviser to François Hollande. He has long been part of the elite on which he has declared war.

Then there’s Macron’s second problem: With the exception of a relatively refreshing and clear commitment to the EU, at least for a Frenchman, he doesn’t have much of a platform. He has said he will announce his plans in late February, once his movement’s hundreds of thousands of volunteers, organized in working groups across the country, assemble policy proposals on diverse issues. If this operation is successful and Macron does indeed produce a coherent political platform, it will represent yet another grassroots miracle for France. But is such a thing even possible? Can a new political course -neither left nor right, but simply correct and good- really be formulated by the masses? There is plenty of hope surrounding Macron, but mockery is never far away. A French comedian could be heard last week on the radio, still an important opinion-shaping media in France, saying that washing machines have more programs than Macron.

Recent polls showed him pulling in 23% of the vote. Leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a man who thinks quite highly of himself and his ideas, stands at around 10%. Mélenchon is promising to allow people to retire at the age of 60 and draw full pension benefits and is calling for a monthly minimum wage of 1,300 euros. He wants France and the European Union to recognize Palestine as a state, he is calling for France to withdraw from NATO and is demanding the renegotiation of the EU treaties. Next.

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Someday some fool will actually execute some of these schemes. Why stop the causes if you can play God?

A $500 Billion Plan To Refreeze The Arctic Before The Ice Melts (G.)

Physicist Steven Desch has come up with a novel solution to the problems that now beset the Arctic. He and a team of colleagues from Arizona State University want to replenish the region’s shrinking sea ice – by building 10 million wind-powered pumps over the Arctic ice cap. In winter, these would be used to pump water to the surface of the ice where it would freeze, thickening the cap. The pumps could add an extra metre of sea ice to the Arctic’s current layer, Desch argues. The current cap rarely exceeds 2-3 metres in thickness and is being eroded constantly as the planet succumbs to climate change. “Thicker ice would mean longer-lasting ice. In turn, that would mean the danger of all sea ice disappearing from the Arctic in summer would be reduced significantly,” Desch told the Observer.

Desch and his team have put forward the scheme in a paper that has just been published in Earth’s Future, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, and have worked out a price tag for the project: $500bn. It is an astonishing sum. However, it is the kind of outlay that may become necessary if we want to halt the calamity that faces the Arctic, says Desch, who, like many other scientists, has become alarmed at temperature change in the region. They say that it is now warming twice as fast as their climate models predicted only a few years ago and argue that the 2015 Paris agreement to limit global warming will be insufficient to prevent the region’s sea ice disappearing completely in summer, possibly by 2030. “Our only strategy at present seems to be to tell people to stop burning fossil fuels,” says Desch. “It’s a good idea but it is going to need a lot more than that to stop the Arctic’s sea ice from disappearing.”

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Dorothea Lange Play street for children. Sixth Street and Avenue C, NYC 1936

 


Trump ‘May’ Not Appeal Travel Ban Ruling To Supreme Court (ZH)
What’s Really Behind Trump’s Bungling Of The Immigration-Ban Order? (MW)
White House: Cohn-Led Tax Plan Is Real and It’s Phenomenal
Daniel Tarullo, Federal Reserve Regulatory Point Man, to Resign (WSJ)
Foreigners Dump Debt, Offering Up a Test for Rates (WSJ)
Russia’s Exile From World Markets May Soon Be Over (BBG)
EU Foreign Policy Chief Tells Trump Not To Interfere In Europe’s Politics (G.)
EU In Disintegration Mode (Martin Armstrong)
Eurozone, IMF Agree On A Common Stance On Greece (R.)
Greek Bailout Talks Set to Drag Past February Amid Standoff (BBG)
Universal Basic Income ‘Useless’, Says Finland’s Biggest Union (Ind.)
Snowden Claims Report Russia May ‘Gift’ Him To Trump Proves He’s No Spy (G.)
‘We Are Silently Dying’: Refugees In Greek Camp Slip Into Despair (MEE)

 

 

Keep ’em guessing.

Trump ‘May’ Not Appeal Travel Ban Ruling To Supreme Court (ZH)

Update: In the latest moment of confusion for the new administration, chief of staff Reince Priebus said the administration was still considering an appeal to the Supreme Court after a lower court soundly rejected its request to reinstate the order. Priebus’s statement came one hour after a White House official said it was not planning to challenge the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding a temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking the ban, while Trump himself has said a new order on security could come next week. Priebus told The Washington Post that “every single court option is on the table, including an appeal of the Ninth Circuit decision on the TRO to the Supreme Court. In short, the situation remains fluid.

What a difference a day makes. Less than 24 hours after an angry Trump tweeted “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” in the aftermath of yesterday’s adverse Appeals Court ruling… … the President has changed his mind and has decided not to see anyone in court – if only for the time being – because according to Reuters, his administration is not currently planning to appeal the temporary hold on his travel ban to the Supreme Court, a White House official said Friday according to multiple media sources. The official noted, however, that the White House said it will forge ahead on the broader battle against a lawsuit challenging the executive order, if out of court. Which means, that as per the steps we laid out last night, the administration will now prepare a brand new immigration order.

Trump hinted as much earlier in the day when during his press conference with Abe, he said: “We’ll be doing something very rapidly having to do with additional security for our country; you’ll be seeing that sometime next week,” Trump said with Abe by his side. He offered no specifics. He then added “we are going to keep our country safe,” he said on Friday. “We are going to do whatever’s necessary to keep our country safe.” He added he would continue to fight for the travel ban in courts, and that “ultimately, I have no doubt we will win that particular case.” Trump later told reporters aboard Air Force One that he would likely wait until next week to respond with legal action. “Perhaps Monday or Tuesday,” he said.

Trump earlier Friday hinted a new order could be in the works, but he declined to detail what it would look like. And so, while his travel ban is held up in court, Trump said he is considering ordering his staff to draft a new executive order that will have an easier time clearing legal hurdles. “We also have a lot of other options, including just filing a brand new order,” he told reporters on the presidential aircraft.

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“The justices were very unlikely to second-guess a president’s national security intelligence. They don’t consider that to be their job, they don’t want to do it, and they know how dangerous that could be – for the country and, indeed, for the standing of the courts. Legal precedent strongly suggests that they’d support the president so long as he could reassure them he had a rational basis for his action. But that’s not what Trump’s lawyer did.”

What’s Really Behind Trump’s Bungling Of The Immigration-Ban Order? (MW)

What on Earth is wrong with Donald Trump? Did he actually set out to lose his immigration ban in the appeals court deliberately, so that he could whip up his base into ever more fury at the “elites”? Contrary to what you may hear, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Thursday did not — repeat: did not — repudiate Trump’s legal right to suspend selective immigration. It just repudiated the bungling incompetence with which his administration made the case. Yes, the three justices ruled: “Courts owe substantial deference to the immigration and national security policy determinations” of the president and Congress. That is “an uncontroversial principle that is well-grounded in our jurisprudence.” Indeed, as I pointed out earlier this week, it is well established that the president has very broad discretion to suspend immigration where he deems it necessary.

But that was not what the Trump administration claimed. Instead, they argued that they were actually above the law, the Constitution or legal review. “The Government has taken the position that the President’s decisions about immigration policy, particularly when motivated by national security concerns, are unreviewable, even if those actions potentially contravene constitutional rights and protections,” the justices wrote with disbelief. They added: “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.” You couldn’t make this up. Trump is now raging at the judges. But the blame for this fiasco lies entirely with him, and no one else. All the administration had to tell the appeals court was that it had rational reasons for suspending immigration from the seven specific countries.

Even with national security details “redacted,” the president’s lawyer could have laid out a simple case. Call it Iraq War II. “Intelligence sources say .. intelligence sources warn .. We have received intelligence ..” And so on. He could have kept it vague and menacing. He could have made it up. So long as he offered something. All the courts needed was an excuse. Cue our old friend “Curveball.” The justices were very unlikely to second-guess a president’s national security intelligence. They don’t consider that to be their job, they don’t want to do it, and they know how dangerous that could be – for the country and, indeed, for the standing of the courts. Legal precedent strongly suggests that they’d support the president so long as he could reassure them he had a rational basis for his action. But that’s not what Trump’s lawyer did.

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Having Goldman do your tax policies can backfire in seconds.

White House: Cohn-Led Tax Plan Is Real and It’s Phenomenal

Former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn is leading the effort to craft President Donald Trump’s plan to overhaul taxes that will be released within weeks, a White House official said. Unnamed congressional leaders have been consulted on the blueprint, the official said. It’s separate from Trump’s proposed budget, the official said, requesting anonymity because the plan is still under development. During a meeting at the White House with U.S. airline executives Thursday, Trump said he had a “phenomenal” plan to revamp business taxes that would be revealed within the next two or three weeks, without offering details. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters later that day that specifics would emerge only in the coming weeks.

Still, he said the White House is at work on an outline of the most comprehensive business and individual tax overhaul since 1986. Cohn, 56, stepped down as Goldman’s president and COO in December after agreeing to lead Trump’s National Economic Council, an influential panel that helps coordinate and develop the president’s economic program. He was long seen as the heir apparent to the bank’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein. During a news conference Friday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump said he was working with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the tax measure, which would be guided by an “incentive-based policy” and released “over the next short period of time.”

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3 seats now, Yellen’s in a year. Politicians deciding where a by law independent central bank will turn.

Daniel Tarullo, Federal Reserve Regulatory Point Man, to Resign (WSJ)

The Federal Reserve’s lead architect of postcrisis financial regulations plans to resign this spring, giving President Donald Trump more freedom to remake the central bank and to accelerate a deregulatory agenda by putting his own appointees in charge of overseeing Wall Street. Daniel Tarullo, a 64-year-old Fed governor and the government’s most influential overseer of the American banking system, wrote to Mr. Trump on Friday saying he would resign “on or about” April 5. The move had been expected, and will remove from the policy-making debate one of the strongest voices for imposing safeguards on big banks and nonbanks to protect against another meltdown. Mr. Trump and many of his advisers have criticized those rules as hampering economic growth, and have suggested they will fill vacancies with officials who will handle banking policy with a lighter touch.

Stock prices for megabanks jumped on the news of Mr. Tarullo’s imminent departure, with shares in Bank of America and Citigroup rising almost 1% in the half-hour following the announcement. Mr. Tarullo’s resignation will also give the Trump administration broad discretion to put its own stamp on the central bank at a time when critics—including top Republicans in Congress—have accused the institution of lacking transparency and accountability. The departure could leave vacant three of the seven slots on the Fed’s board of governors. In addition, Janet Yellen’s term as chairwoman expires early next year. Filling those vacancies would also give the new president the chance to redirect the course of monetary policy, though it is unclear whether he would seek officials who would alter Ms. Yellen’s current course of cautious rate increases.

Mr. Tarullo’s announcement came exactly a week after Mr. Trump signed an executive order instructing regulators to review the rules implemented since the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, and as Republican lawmakers intensify their plans to rewrite that landmark law. But partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill makes it unlikely Congress can make big changes, leaving it to the regulators Mr. Trump nominates to change the way rules are written, implemented and enforced.

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I’m going with Tim Duy’s tweet on this one: “I would say “Foreigners back away from US Treasury, proving they aren’t necessary to finance deficits.”

Foreigners Dump Debt, Offering Up a Test for Rates (WSJ)

Foreign buyers, led by China, are taking a smaller slice of the debt issued by the U.S. and other major economies, a change that may test the long-held belief that overseas money has kept interest rates low in the developed world. For much of this century, the world’s money increasingly sought the harbors of the bond markets of big, Western nations, principally the U.S. but also Germany and Britain. During that period those countries, and their citizens and companies, borrowed money at remarkably low interest rates. The receding foreign tide comes amid other momentous changes for the global economy and interest rates, including a turn in many political corners away from the free-trading ethos that has defined modern capitalism and glimmers of inflation that are encouraging major central banks to pare back their unprecedented economic stimulus measures.

Foreigners are steadily pulling back: As of November, for the first time since 2009, less than 30% of the $20 trillion market for U.S. government debt was held overseas, according to the latest official data, released in January, from the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve. In the U.K., it is now 27%, compared with a record of 36% in 2008. In Germany, it is 49%, down from a peak of 57% in 2014. The consequences from this shift are uncertain. Strong demand helps push up prices, and lower yields, of government bonds, at least in the short term. And buyers such as the Chinese state have been ravenous sources of demand.

Between 2000 and 2014, Chinese authorities built up a $4 trillion currency reserve, mainly through buying Treasurys to keep the yuan weak and help the country’s exporters. In January, its reserves fell below $3 trillion, the lowest level in almost six years. China is now trying to boost its currency, and its Treasury holdings fell by about $200 billion between May and November. “You create an environment where yields are manipulated lower by captive investors,” said Paul Donovan, chief economist at UBS Wealth Management. “There is now a shift going on here, which is most significant for the U.S.”

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Russia did so well under the sanctions, perhaps it’s better for them to keep doing what they were.

Russia’s Exile From World Markets May Soon Be Over (BBG)

As Donald Trump edges the U.S. closer to a thaw in relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, commodity investors are already jumping in. A plan by United Co. Rusal, the biggest Russian aluminum maker, for a London sale of shares valued at about $1.7 billion is the latest sign that Russia’s exile from world markets is over for the nation’s metal and mining giants. It’s a turnaround from years in which slumping raw-materials prices, a weak economy and sanctions imposed by then-U.S. President Barack Obama over the annexation of Crimea punished valuations and drove away foreign investors. Share sales by Russian mining companies have been rare since 2010. Until two months ago, PhosAgro’s offering in April 2013 was the last major sale by a non-state Russian mining company.

The fertilizer miner and processor is among those that have returned since December. Offerings from Novolipetsk Steel and TMK bring the total raised by mining and metals producers since then to about $575 million. Others weighing offers include En+ Group and Polyus. Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel, also known as MMK, is also considering selling a small stake to the market, people familiar said on Friday. Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s Onexim may offer up to 5% of Rusal to investors soon, people said late Thursday. It’s not just plain equities. In a sign of investor appetite, steelmaker Severstal sold $250 million of convertible bonds on Thursday paying a zero coupon. “Investors see less risk in Russian companies now as the geopolitical situation has eased,” Rusal Deputy Chief Executive Officer Oleg Mukhamedshin said in an interview in Moscow last week following a company sale of eurobonds. “That affects demand for both bonds and equities.”

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Brussels trembles ahead of multiple national elections. But faking your great achievements and position of strength doesn’t actually make you look strong.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Tells Trump Not To Interfere In Europe’s Politics (G.)

The EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has warned the Trump administration not to interfere in European politics, advising it to “deal with America first”. Speaking during a two-day visit to Washington, Mogherini did not make specific accusations but said that she sometimes heard voices in the new administration “saying the European Union is not necessarily a good idea. Inviting us to dismantle what we have managed to build and which has brought us not only peace, but also economic strength.” “It’s not for me or another European to speak about domestic political choices or decisions in the US. The same goes with Europe – no interference,” Mogherini said, speaking at the Atlantic Council thinktank. “Maybe America first means also that you have to deal with America first.”

Mogherini’s tone echoed the increasing alarm in Brussels over the new administration’s attitudes. Donald Tusk, the head of the European Council, has listed the new US administration and its “worrying declarations” as one of the leading global threats to the EU. Trump has not missed a chance to deride the EU, going out of his way to praise Brexit, and in an interview just before taking office, he depicted the continent as being dominated by Germany and on the brink of collapse. “President Trump believes that dealing bilaterally with different European countries is in US interests, that we could have a stronger relationship with the countries individually,” said Ted Malloch, the man tipped to be Donald Trump’s nominee as ambassador to the EU. He also accused Europe of “blatant anti-Americanism”.

She also took the opportunity to remind the administration, which hosted the UK prime minister, Theresa May, as the president’s first foreign guest, and promised her a favourable trade deal, that Britain did not have the right to negotiate independently until it was outside the EU, which was two years away at least. “The strength of the EU and the unity of the EU I believe is more evident today than it was a few months ago. This has to be clearly understood here,” Mogherini said. “This also means respect for the EU not simply as an institution. It is a union of 28 member states.”

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“..the Trump Administration [..] fail to grasp that talking the dollar down will just not work if the political structure of the EU is breaking up.”

EU In Disintegration Mode (Martin Armstrong)

The EU leadership is really trying to make Great Britain pay dearly for voting to exit the Community. Like the socialists in America, it’s our way or no way. The left may call the right the “deplorables” but the left are the “intolerables” who refuse to ever consider they might be wrong. The EU thinks that if they can make it so bad for Britain, nobody else will leave. They refuse to examine why there is rising discontent within Europe. They refuse to let go of this dream of a federalized Europe to eradicate national identities along with sovereign rights. [..] Britain is not willing to surrender all domestic law to that of the EU. Indeed, EU law is no longer to be applied in Britain. Here we have the EU demanding Ireland retroactively charge Apple taxes simply because their tax rate is less that the highest EU member.

That is surrendering everything sovereign to Brussels. Laws are only to be decided by the British parliament – not Brussels. Jurisprudence is a matter for the British courts not the European Court. Britain is to leave the EU internal market and the EU Customs Union and seeks a free trade agreement to be concluded between the EU and Great Britain. The EU seeks to punish Britain for rejecting its dream. The EU forgets that Trump is now in and a trade deal with Britain will no longer be at the back of the queue as was the case under Obama. Free movement of people, together with the free movement of goods, free movement of services and the free movement of capital, are the four fundamental freedoms which are regarded as the foundation of the EU. The free movement of persons justifies the right of all EU citizens to settle in the Union and to accept work. However, this has not worked as smoothly as presumed.

The cost of living is significantly different throughout the EU. Eastern Europeans, mainly from Poland, have infiltrated Britain working for less money creating competition for domestic workers while foreign companies use cheaper labor in the East to undercut domestic companies on their home-turf. As the economy turns down and deflation prevails, the threat of foreign jobs is being addressed throughout Europe. Add to this the refugee crisis and you have a powder keg throughout Europe waiting to go off. In view of the high unemployment in almost all countries, domestic citizens have ALWAYS turned against foreign workers as the easy scapegoats for the economic decline. This only merges with the high taxes reducing disposable income.

The EU leaders [..] have no clear statement to challenge what is going on. The regulatory nightmare and outright rage that is rising among the people is simply ignored by Brussels. The legal uncertainty with the British exit on the banking system is something nobody even wants to speculate about. How do bail-ins work in Europe if abandoned in Britain? So while the EU thinks by punishing Britain they will discourage others from leaving, they are seriously mistaken. The dream of the EU is dead. It should have remained just a trade union – that was it. What the Trump Administration is clueless about is the ability of the EU to hold it together, they fail to grasp that talking the dollar down will just not work if the political structure of the EU is breaking up.

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All that’s left is emptiness.

Eurozone, IMF Agree On A Common Stance On Greece (R.)

Euro zone lenders and the International Monetary Fund have reached agreed between themselves to present a common stance to Greece later on Friday in talks on reforms and the fiscal path Athens must take, euro zone officials said. Such a united stance would be a breakthrough because the two groups have differed for months on the size of the primary surplus Greece should reach in 2018 and maintain for years later as well as the issue of debt relief. Those differences have hindered efforts to unlock further funding for Greece under its latest euro zone bailout program. “There is agreement to present a united front to the Greeks,” a senior euro zone official said, adding that the outcome of Friday’s meeting with the Greeks was still unclear and it was unclear if Athens would accept the proposals. “What comes out of it, we will see,” the official said. Financial markets took heart from the news, however.

Greece’s two-year bond yield fell almost 50 basis points to 9.55%. It hit the 10% mark on Thursday as worries about the bailout drove away buyers. The chairman of euro zone finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said in The Hague that Friday’s meeting, in which Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos will take part, was to discuss the size of Greece’s primary surplus. The euro zone wants Greece to reach a primary surplus – which excludes interest repayments on debt – of 3.5% of GDP and keep it there for many years. But the IMF believes that with reforms in place now Greece will reach only 1.5% next year and in the following years and has therefore been pushing for Athens to legislate new measures that would safeguard the agreed euro zone targets. Officials said the lenders would ask Greece to take €1.8 billion worth of new measures until 2018 and another €1.8 billion after 2018, focused on broadening the tax base and on pension cutbacks.

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What a surprise.

Greek Bailout Talks Set to Drag Past February Amid Standoff (BBG)

Greece probably won’t complete its bailout review by the time the euro area’s finance ministers next meet, on Feb. 20, setting the stage for potentially thorny negotiations in the midst of next month’s bitter electoral campaign in the Netherlands. “We will take stock of the further progress of the second review during the next Eurogroup,” Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said in a statement after a meeting with his Greek counterpart, Euclid Tsakalotos, in Brussels on Friday. “There is a clear understanding that a timely finalization of the second review is in everybody’s interest,” Dijsselbloem said after the meeting, in which representatives of creditor institutions also participated.

Greece is locked in talks with the European Commission, the ECB, the European Stability Mechanism and the IMF over the conditions attached to its latest bailout. During Friday’s meeting, bailout auditors asked the government to legislate additional fiscal cuts equal to about 2% of GDP if the country fails to meet certain budget targets, a person familiar with the matter said after the talks. These contingent measures are the basis for further discussions, the person said, asking not to be named as the matter is sensitive. While progress was made in the meeting, unreasonable demands from the IMF make a resumption of staff-level talks difficult, a Greek government official said in a text message, asking not to be named in line with policy.

The Greek government has been resisting calls to preemptively legislate contingent belt-tightening for 2018 and beyond, arguing that measures already in place should suffice to meet an agreed goal for a budget surplus – before interest payments – equal to 3.5% of GDP. Among the measures the IMF is demanding is pension cuts and a lowering of the threshold at which income tax is paid. Both are red lines the government says it’s not willing to cross. “Although we expect that the Greek government will implement the required measures, the risk of early elections is increasing given the rising political cost to the government and its slim majority in the parliament,” Moody’s analyst Kathrin Muehlbronner said. “Early elections might bring a new and more reform-minded conservative government, but Greece’s economy would be hit again by prolonged uncertainty, after having just started to record positive growth.”

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This must be the dumbest thing I’ve heard in a long time. And that’s saying something these days. The UBI trial started just weeks ago, and they already know it will fail?

Universal Basic Income ‘Useless’, Says Finland’s Biggest Union (Ind.)

Finland’s basic income experiment is unworkable, uneconomical and ultimately useless. Plus, it will only encourage some people to work less. That’s not the view of a hard core Thatcherite, but of the country’s biggest trade union. The labour group says the results of the two-year pilot program will fail to sway its opposition to a welfare-policy idea that’s gaining traction among those looking for an alternative in the post-industrial age. “We think it takes social policy in the wrong direction,” said Ilkka Kaukoranta, chief economist of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), which has nearly 1 million members. Since January, a group of unemployed Finns aged between 25 and 58 have been receiving a stipend of €560 per month. The amount isn’t means-tested and is paid regardless of whether the recipient finds a job, starts a business or returns to school.

Popular in the 1960s, the idea of a guaranteed minimum income for everyone is gaining more proponents again amid resurgent populism. French Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon has made it a policy platform in his presidential campaign. A universal — or unconditional — basic income (UBI), which would replace means-tested welfare payments, has its share of supporters on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Advocates say it eliminates poverty traps and redistributes income while empowering the individual and reducing paperwork. In Finland, which like other Nordic nations is seen as a trendsetter when it comes to the welfare state, the idea is being explored by a center-right government headed by a former businessman and self-made millionaire.

While limited in scope (it’s conditional on the beneficiary having received some form of unemployment support in November 2016) and size (it’s based on a randomly-selected sample of 2,000 jobless people), the Finnish trial may help answer questions like: “Does it work”? “Is it worth it”? And the most fundamental of all: “Does it incite laboriousness or laziness?”

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“Speak not because it is safe, but because it is right.”

Snowden Claims Report Russia May ‘Gift’ Him To Trump Proves He’s No Spy (G.)

Whistleblower Edward Snowden has seized on a report that Russia is considering sending him back to the US as a “gift” to Donald Trump, saying that the story vindicates him of charges that he is a spy. “Finally: irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel,” he said on Twitter. “No country trades away spies, as the rest would fear they’re next.” Snowden was responding to a report by NBC which stated that US intelligence had collected information that Russia wanted to hand Snowden over in order to “curry favor” with Trump, who has said that the former NSA contractor is a “traitor” and a “spy” who deserves to be executed. The report – based on two sources in the intelligence community – said the intelligence had been gathered since Trump’s inauguration.

Snowden’s ACLU lawyer, Ben Wizner, told NBC News he was unaware of any plan to return his client to the US. “Team Snowden has received no such signals and has no new reason for concern,” Wizner said. Russia granted Snowden asylum in 2013 and a three-year residency in 2014. Snowden has been living in exile in Moscow, facing charges in the US including violations of the US Espionage Act for leaking documents about secret mass surveillance programs. Speaking at a GOP candidate debate in March 2016, Trump said of Snowden: “I said he was a spy and we should get him back. And if Russia respected our country, they would have sent him back immediately, but he was a spy. It didn’t take me a long time to figure that one out.” The Kremlin publicly dismissed these claims.

Snowden offered a longer explanation of his feelings of vindication when he was interviewed by Katie Couric in December 2016, when rumours of a Russian handover first started circulating. He described the suggestion as vindication that he was“independent”. He added: “The fact that I’ve always worked on behalf of the United States and the fact that Russia doesn’t own me. In fact the Russian government may see me as a sort of liability.” Snowden suggested that a reason why Russia might want to return him was his recent criticism of the Kremlin’s human rights record and his suggestions that its officials had hacked US security networks. Previously Snowden has said that Moscow had “gone very far, in ways that are completely unnecessary, costly and corrosive to individual and collective rights” in monitoring citizens online.

When Couric asked if Snowden would mind being extradited, he replied: “That would obviously be something that would be a threat to my liberty and to my life. “But what I’m saying here is you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say this guy’s a bad guy – a Russian tool or something like that – at the same time you say he’s going to be traded away.” After reiterating his sense of vindication on Friday, Snowden posted again to Twitter: “Speak not because it is safe, but because it is right.”

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Incredible.

‘We Are Silently Dying’: Refugees In Greek Camp Slip Into Despair (MEE)

Poor living conditions, a sudden spate of deaths and a “complete loss of hope” are exacerbating mental health issues and leading to suicide attempts and self-harm in the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos, NGOs and refugees have warned. “More and more what we are seeing is people with severe depression linked to the conditions in which they are in and to the complete loss of hope,” said Louise Roland-Gosselin, an advocacy manager for the medical NGO, Doctors Without Borders (MSF). “[Refugees] in Moria are absolutely crushed and we hear more and more about how people are self-mutilating, how they want to commit suicide and we are aware of cases of suicide and attempted suicide, not only on Lesbos but also on other islands,” she added.

[..] For many of the camp’s residents the long and backlogged process of applying for asylum and the lack of activities in the camp has heightened their despair. “It’s still quite a depressing sight,” explained Roland-Gosselin. “You still have hundreds of people who are sleeping in tents, there is little access to water, hygiene conditions are not acceptable, there’s still hundreds of people without heating and they have absolutely no activity, they have nothing to do all day. So it’s an incredibly depressing place.” Some are turning to self-harm as a result of the situation. Cutting is common in the camp according to refugees MEE spoke to. “People here die inside, so when they die inside they either hurt someone else or they hurt themselves, that’s why they do it, to get the pain out. So they cut themselves. I’ve seen it happen to my friend. He’d cut himself, we’d bandage his arm and then he’d do it again the second day,” explained al-Anny.

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Feb 082017
 
 February 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Rear window tenement dwelling, 133 Avenue D, NYC 1936


This Is How Out-Of-Whack US Trade Relationships Really Are (WS)
John Kelly, Homeland Security Chief, Says Travel Ban Rolled Out Too Quickly (WSJ)
Trump Travel Ban: Judges Skeptical About Arguments On Executive Order (G.)
‘Trump Makes Sense To A Grocery Store Owner’ – Taleb (Hindu)
Do Not Let Elliott Abrams Anywhere Near The State Department (Rand Paul)
EU Faces Crisis As IMF Warns Greek Debts Are On ‘Explosive’ Path (Tel.)
Greece’s Debt Costs Rise Sharply As Worries Grow Over IMF Role (G.)
Don’t Sell the Euro Short. It’s Here to Stay. (Eichengreen)
Money Is Pouring Out Of China, And The Government Can’t Stop It (R.)
China’s Reserves Approach Breaking Point As Another Devaluation Looms (BBG)
Russia Shows Why China Should Just Stop Burning Up Its Reserves (BBG)
Cracks Are Appearing In Australia’s Trillion-Dollar Property Debt Pile (BBG)
Putin Orders Russian Air Force To Prepare For ‘Time Of War’ (Ind.)
Controversial Dakota Pipeline To Go Ahead After Army Approval (R.)
Why Should A Libertarian Take Universal Basic Income Seriously? (Dolan)

 

 

“It never was a big deal because growing imports were portrayed as healthy demand in the US. The world loved it.”

This Is How Out-Of-Whack US Trade Relationships Really Are (WS)

2016 marked another banner year for US trade, a banner year largely for other countries that at the initiative of Corporate America, whose supply chains weave all over the world, managed to load the US up with their merchandise. According to the Commerce Department’s report today, the US trade deficit in goods and services rose to $502.3 billion in 2016, the highest in four years. Exports of goods and services fell $52 billion in 2016 year-over-year to $2.21 trillion, and imports fell $50 billion to $2.71 trillion. That both exports and imports fell is a sign of weakening world trade, lackluster demand globally, and lousy economic growth in the US, where GDP in 2016 inched up by a miserable 1.6%, matching the growth rate of 2011, both having been the lowest growth rates since 2009.

Exports add to the economy and to GDP; imports subtract from GDP. And it’s a big number: the trade deficit in 2016 amounted to 2.7% of GDP. In overly simplified, scribbled-on-a-napkin-after-the-third-beer math: had trade been balanced, with imports about equal to exports, GDP growth would have been 2.7 percentage points higher in 2016. So 4.3%! OK, we’re dreaming. But that’s how a massive trade deficit whacks the economy. The overall trade balance is composed of trade in goods and services. It used to be years ago when the trade deficit in goods began to balloon that it was no big deal because America was exporting innovative services, such as complex financial services, and they would make up for the deficit in old-fashioned goods.

They did lessen the pain for a little while, and then they didn’t. And soon, even the overall US trade deficit ballooned, but it was no big deal because soaring imports showed that the US economy was healthy and brimming with consumer demand. Year after year, we heard this from economists and politicians. Beyond that, apathy was palpable. No one cared. It’s just the way it is. Dreaming of balanced trade was like so 1980s or whatever. Meanwhile, Corporate America was fine-tuning its game of offshoring production and importing from cheaper countries. The entire business model of Wal-Mart depends on it. US supply chains wind all over the globe, in search of the lowest production costs, whether it’s consumer gadgets or automotive components. It never was a big deal because growing imports were portrayed as healthy demand in the US. The world loved it.

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Kelly’s a straight shooter. Wonder how long he can last.

John Kelly, Homeland Security Chief, Says Travel Ban Rolled Out Too Quickly (WSJ)

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told Congress the Trump administration should have taken more time to inform Congress before implementing its controversial executive order temporarily blocking entry of people from seven nations. “The thinking was to get it out quick so potentially people coming here to harm us would not take advantage” of a delay, Mr. Kelly told the House Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday. In his first congressional appearance as a cabinet member, Mr. Kelly offered a forceful defense of the order, saying it wasn’t a ban on Muslims as critics have charged, but a “temporary pause” on immigrants and visitors from countries about whose residents the U.S. can’t access solid information. He sought to take responsibility for the chaotic rollout, saying the confusion was “all on me.”

“Going forward, I would have certainly taken some time to inform the Congress and certainly that’s something I’ll do in the future,” he said. The Wall Street Journal and others have reported that Mr. Kelly had little input in the order or its rollout, which was directed by the White House. The order, issued on the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 27, resulted in initial confusion and confrontation at airports around the country, as some travelers were detained for hours or sent away and protesters gathered at terminals to denounce the new rules. A federal court in Seattle temporarily put the order on hold on Friday, citing potential legal concerns. That action prompted President Donald Trump to question the judge’s credentials and say he could be to blame in the event of a terrorist attack. Mr. Kelly waded into that debate on Tuesday, likening judges to academics removed from on-the-ground realities.

“I have nothing but respect for judges, but in their world it’s a very academic, very almost in-a-vacuum discussion, and of course, in their courtrooms, they are protected by people like me, so they can have those discussions,” he said. “They live in a different world than I do. I’m paid to worst-case it, he’s paid to, in a very academic environment, make a call.” [..] Committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas) said he backed the executive order, which a court order has put on hold. But he said it was poorly implemented. He said some U.S. permanent residents who are citizens of the targeted countries were initially not allowed to return to the country, while foreigners who aided the U.S. military and students attending American schools were “trapped overseas.”

“I applaud you for quickly correcting what I consider errors,” Mr. McCaul said. The congressman said he had suggested the approach President Donald Trump took when Mr. Trump was a candidate. His goal, Mr. McCaul said, was to help reframe the proposal from what Mr. Trump initially described as a Muslim ban, an approach he thought would have been unconstitutional.

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It’s great to have the courts discuss this. That’s where it belongs. If Trump can win, we will know just how broad US presidents’ power had become, before Trump. And we can judge whether we like things that way. He either has the authority, or he doesn’t. That should be clear from the law, not a matter of taste or preference.

Trump Travel Ban: Judges Skeptical About Arguments On Executive Order (G.)

A lawyer seeking to reinstate Donald Trump’s travel ban was grilled by a panel of three judges on Tuesday, facing questions over the president’s inflammatory campaign promise to close America’s borders to Muslims. August Flentje, of the Department of Justice, was put on the spot over why seven Muslim-majority countries had been targeted in Trump’s executive order, as well as past statements made by the president and his ally Rudy Giuliani. The hour-long hearing before the San Francisco-based ninth circuit court of appeals was the most significant legal battle yet over the ban. The judges said they would try to deliver a ruling as soon as possible but gave no indication of when. Flentje, reportedly called up for the hearing at short notice, asked the judges for a stay on the temporary restraining order placed on Trump’s travel ban by district court judge James Robart last week.

[..] During a hearing conducted by telephone between various locations, Flentje described the ban as putting a “temporary pause” on travelers from countries that “pose special risk”. He said the seven countries targeted had “significant terrorist presence” or were “safe havens for terrorism”. Trump’s actions were “plainly constitutional”, Flentje argued, as the president sought to strike a balance between welcoming visitors and securing the nation of the risk of terrorism. “The president has struck that balance,” he said. “The district court order upset that balance.” Flentje argued that the district court restraining order was too broad, giving rights to people “who have never been to the United States” and “really needs to be narrowed”. Judge Michelle Friedland asked: “Are you arguing then that the president’s decision in the regard is unreviewable?”

Flentje replied: “Yes, there are obviously constitutional limitations.” But Judge William Canby pointed out that people from the seven countries already could not come into the country without a visa and were subject to “the usual investigations”. How many of these people had committed terrorist attacks in the US, he wondered, before pointing out it was none. Flentje pointed to Congress’s determination that they were countries of concern, an argument that Judge Richard Clifton dismissed as “pretty abstract”. Trying to regain ground, the lawyer said: “Well, I was just about to at least mention a few examples. There have been a number of people from Somalia connected to al-Shabaab [an Islamist militant group] who have been convicted in the United States.” Friedland, who was appointed by Barack Obama, interjected: “Is that in the record? Can you point us to what, where in the record you are referring?” Flentje admitted: “It is not in the record.”

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“..if you went to the local souk [bazaar] in Aleppo and brought one of the retail shop owners, he would do the same thing Trump is doing. Like making a call to Boeing and asking why are we paying so much..”

‘Trump Makes Sense To A Grocery Store Owner’ – Taleb (Hindu)

In Skin in the Game, you seem to build on theories from The Black Swan that give a sense of foreboding about the world economy. Do you see another crisis coming? Oh, absolutely! The last crisis [2008] hasn’t ended yet because they just delayed it. [Barack] Obama is an actor. He looks good, he raises good children, he is respectable. But he didn’t fix the economic system, he put novocaine [local anaesthetic] in the system. He delayed the problem by working with the bankers whom he should have prosecuted. And now we have double the deficit, adjusted for GDP, to create six million jobs, with a massive debt and the system isn’t cured. We retained zero interest rates, and that hasn’t helped. Basically we shifted the problem from the private corporates to the government in the U.S. So, the system remains very fragile.

You say Obama put novocaine in the system. How will the Trump administration be able to address this? Of course. The whole mandate he got was because he understood the economic problems. People don’t realise that Obama created inequalities when he distorted the system. You can only get rich if you have assets. What Trump is doing is put some kind of business sense in the system. You don’t have to be a genius to see what’s wrong. Instead of Trump being elected, if you went to the local souk [bazaar] in Aleppo and brought one of the retail shop owners, he would do the same thing Trump is doing. Like making a call to Boeing and asking why are we paying so much.

You’re seen as something of an oracle, given that you saw the 2008 economic crash coming, you predicted the Brexit vote, the outcome of the Syrian crisis. You said the Islamic State would benefit if Bashar al-Assad was pushed out and you predicted Trump’s win. How do you explain it? Not the Islamic State, but al-Qaeda at the time, and I said the U.S. administration was helping fund them. See, you have to have courage to say things others don’t. I was lucky financially in life, that I didn’t need to work for a living and can spend all my time thinking. When Trump was running for election, I said what he says makes sense to a grocery store owner. Because the grocery guy can say Trump is wrong because he can see where he is wrong. But with Obama, he can’t understand what he’s saying, so the grocery man doesn’t know where he is wrong.

Is it a choice between dumbing down versus over-intellectualisation, then? Exactly. Trump never ran for archbishop, so you never saw anything in his behaviour that was saintly, and that was fine. Whereas Obama behaved like the Archbishop of Canterbury, and was going to do good but people didn’t feel their lives were better. As I said, if it was a shopkeeper from Aleppo, or a grocery store owner in Mumbai, people would have liked them as much as Trump. What he says makes common sense, asking why are we paying so much for this rubbish or why do we need these complex taxes, or why do we want lobbyists. You can call Trump’s plain-speaking what you like. But the way intellectuals treat people who don’t agree with them isn’t good either. I remember I had an academic friend who supported Brexit, and he said he knew what it meant to be a leper in the U.K. It was the same with supporting Trump in the U.S.

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Amen to that.

Do Not Let Elliott Abrams Anywhere Near The State Department (Rand Paul)

I hope against hope that the rumors are wrong and that President Donald Trump will not open the State Department door to the neocons. Crack the door to admit Elliott Abrams and the neocons will scurry in by the hundreds. Neoconservative interventionists have had us at perpetual war for 25 years. While President Trump has repeatedly stated his belief that the Iraq War was a mistake, the neocons (all of them Never-Trumpers) continue to maintain that the Iraq and Libyan Wars were brilliant ideas. These are the same people who think we must blow up half the Middle East, then rebuild it and police it for decades. They’re wrong and they should not be given a voice in this administration.

One of the things I like most about President Trump is his acknowledgement that nation building does not work and actually works against the nation building we need to do here at home. With a $20 trillion debt, we don’t have the money to do both. I urge him to keep that in mind this week when he meets with Elliott Abrams, the rumored pick for second in command to the Secretary of State. Abrams would be a terrible appointment for countless reasons. He doesn’t agree with the president in so many areas of foreign policy and he has said so repeatedly; he is a loud voice for nation building and when asked about the president’s opposition to nation building, Abrams said that Trump was absolutely wrong; and during the election he was unequivocal in his opposition to Donald Trump, going so far as to say, “the chair in which Washington and Lincoln sat, he is not fit to sit.”

Why then would the president trust him with the second most powerful position in the State Department? Abrams was equally dismissive throughout Trump’s entire candidacy. As a Never-Trumper, he repeatedly said he would neither vote for Clinton nor Trump. He likened the choice to the one the nation faced of McGovern vs. Nixon. I voted for Rex Tillerson for secretary of state because I believe him to have a balanced approach to foreign policy. My hope is that he will put forward a realist approach. I don’t see Abrams as part of any type of foreign policy realism. Elliott Abrams is a neoconservative too long in the tooth to change his spots, and the president should have no reason to trust that he would carry out a Trump agenda rather than a neocon agenda. But just as importantly, Congress has good reason not to trust him – he was convicted of lying to Congress in his previous job.

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It’s not only a broken record, it’s a really bad song too.

EU Faces Crisis As IMF Warns Greek Debts Are On ‘Explosive’ Path (Tel.)

The EU faces a looming crisis which could threaten the sustainability of the eurozone as the IMF has warned Greece’s debts are on an “explosive” path despite years of attempted austerity and economic reforms. Global financiers at the IMF are increasingly unwilling to fund endless bailouts for the eurozone’s most troubled country, passing more of the burden onto the EU – at a time when Germany does not want to keep sending cash to Athens. The assessment opens up a fresh split with Europe over how to handle Greece’s massive public debts, as the IMF called on Europe to provide “significant debt relief” to Greece – despite Greece’s EU creditors ruling out any further relief before the current rescue programme expires in 2018. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Eurogroup President repeated that position last night, saying there would be no Greek debt forgiveness and dismissing the IMF assessment of Greece’s growth prospects as overly pessimistic.

“It’s surprising because Greece is already doing better than that report describes,” said Mr Dijsselbloem, who chairs meetings of eurozone finance ministers, adding that Greece was on track for a “pretty good recovery at the moment”. The renewed divisions over how to handle the Greek debt crisis has raised fresh questions over whether the IMF will be a full participant in the next phase of the Greek rescue – a key condition for backing from the German and Dutch parliaments. As Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, fights a tough reelection battle, Germany is particularly reluctant to send funds directly to Greece, with populist parties in Germany arguing that the payments amount to an unfair bailout from hard-working Germans to less deserving Greeks.

The IMF split came as Mrs May last night comfortably defeated a Brexit rebellion in the Commons as MPs rejected Labour plans to give Parliament a “meaningful” vote on the terms of a final deal. Despite suggestions that up to 30 Tory MPs could defy their party whip and back the Labour amendment just seven chose to do so. Mrs May stemmed the rebellion after the Government pledged to hold a vote in Parliament on the deal before it is sent to the European Parliament. However ministers said that MPs would have to “take or leave it”, meaning that Mrs May is prepared to walk away from Europe without a deal if Parliament rejects it. A fresh crisis over Greek debt could be triggered as soon as in July when Greece is due to repay some €7bn to its creditors – money the country cannot pay without a fresh injection of bailout cash.

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As they do the same thing again and again, things only get worse. And then they have to do it again.

Greece’s Debt Costs Rise Sharply As Worries Grow Over IMF Role (G.)

Fresh worries over Greece’s debts have pushed the country’s borrowing costs sharply higher amid renewed insistence from Athens it will not swallow further austerity demands from international lenders. The yields on two-year government bonds jumped to their highest level since last June and went above 10% to reflect growing anxiety on financial markets over Greece’s ability to keep up to date with debt repayments. Yields on 10-year government bonds were also higher at above 7.8%, the highest close since November. The renewed focus on Greece’s debts came as the International Monetary Fund revealed its board was split over how far spending cuts in the country should go, raising fresh doubts over its participation in rescue plans for the struggling Greek economy.

The fund has made repeated warnings that Greece’s debt burden of about €330bn is unsustainable despite the government pushing through spending cuts and tax increases that have badly hit popularity ratings for the government of prime minister Alexis Tsipras. The IMF declined to join other international lenders – the ECB and the EU – in funding the country’s third bailout, agreed in August 2015, and it is currently deciding whether to take part in a new chunk of rescue funds needed by mid-2018. Germany has warned the IMF’s involvement is crucial if support for Greece is to continue. News of a split on the IMF board raised new questions over whether Germany will see its wish granted for the fund joining the next rescue. In its latest annual review of the Greek economy, the IMF revealed that its board members were in disagreement over whether Athens should enforce even more austerity to satisfy its lenders.

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Barry Eichengreen basically says the euro will stay because of fear (of the consequences of leaving). That doesn’t seem a very stable foundation.

Don’t Sell the Euro Short. It’s Here to Stay. (Eichengreen)

Two forms of glue hold the euro together. First, the economic costs of break-up would be great. The minute investors heard that Greece was seriously contemplating reintroducing the drachma with the purpose of depreciating it against the euro, or against a “new Deutsche mark,” they would wire all their money to Frankfurt. Greece would experience the mother of all banking crises. The “new Deutsche mark” would then shoot through the roof, destroying Germany’s export industry. More generally, those predicting, or advocating, the euro’s demise tend to underestimate the technical difficulties of reintroducing national currencies. They suggest briefly imposing capital controls to prevent holders of euros from fleeing while the new money, electronic or other, is quickly put in place.

This ignores the complexity of actually removing controls once they are adopted. Recall the experiences of Iceland and Cyprus, which required years, not days, to completely remove their “temporary” controls. The proponents advocate quickly restructuring the debts of banks, firms and households with euro-denominated liabilities, without realizing that one person’s debt is another’s asset. Moreover, because borrowing and lending occurs across borders, agreement on debt restructuring will require lengthy negotiation between countries if the country abandoning the euro is to avoid harsh retaliatory measures. This process would make the U.K.’s Brexit negotiations look like a stroll in the park.

For southern European countries, there is an additional complication. They would have a massive bill to the ECB, and by implication to the other member states that are shareholders in the ECB, in settlement of their so-called Target2 balances, liabilities incurred as a result of cross-border payments in central bank money. ECB President Mario Draghi recently made clear that countries abandoning the euro would be presented with this bill. For Italy, to pick a case not entirely at random, those balances currently stand at €360 billion ($383 billion), or approximately €6,000 for every man, woman and child. That’s about 10 times on a per capita basis what the U.K. likely owes the EU as alimony for its divorce. And if a country like Italy chooses to default on its Target2 obligations, it will be unceremoniously kicked out of the EU.

This brings us to the second form of glue: namely that European countries, Britain aside, still attach very considerable value to EU membership. That membership matters even more now that that President Trump has cast NATO into doubt and the United States is no longer seen as a reliable ally. The example of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, reduced to cozying up to Mr. Trump and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is not one that many other European politicians care to follow. In a 2007 article, I too made a bet — namely that the euro, while flawed, wasn’t going away. I argued that it is the roach motel of currencies. Like the Hotel California of the song: you can check in, but you can’t check out. For 10 years I’ve been right. To be sure, past performance is no guarantee of future returns, as any prudent investor knows. Even so, unlike ambassador-in-waiting Malloch, I continue to think that shorting the euro is bad advice.

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And this is before Trump.

Money Is Pouring Out Of China, And The Government Can’t Stop It (R.)

China’s foreign exchange reserves unexpectedly fell below the closely watched $3 trillion level in January for the first time in nearly six years, even as authorities tried to curb outflows by tightening capital controls. Reserves fell by $12.3 billion in January to $2.998 trillion, compared with a drop of $41 billion drop in December. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast forex reserves would fall by about $10.5 billion to $3 trillion. While the $3 trillion mark is not seen as a firm “line in the sand” for Beijing, concerns are swirling in global financial markets over the speed at which the country is depleting its ammunition to defend the currency and staunch capital outflows.

Some analysts fear a heavy and sustained drain on reserves could prompt Beijing to devalue the currency. The yuan fell 6.6% against the rising dollar in 2016, its biggest annual drop since 1994. For 2016 as a whole, China burned through nearly $320 billion of reserves, on top of a record drop of $513 billion in 2015. The yuan has found some respite in recent weeks as the dollar retreated, helped also by recent steps to curb capital outflows. But analysts expect downward pressure on the yuan to resume, especially if the U.S. continues to raise interest rates, which would likely trigger fresh capital outflows from emerging economies such as China and test its enhanced capital controls.

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“What was presented as a gradual depreciation of the yuan last year was in reality a significant 6% weakening of the currency versus the dollar as China’s domestic woes mounted. A collapse of the crawling peg could lead to yuan depreciation that is three times as large.”

China’s Reserves Approach Breaking Point As Another Devaluation Looms (BBG)

In his first few weeks in office, President Donald Trump has ordered the U.S. to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and confirmed his intention to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. The consensus is that it won’t be long before he turns his focus to China, which he calls a currency manipulator. China can weather such criticism, for now. But if Trump’s threats of trade sanctions and 45% tariffs become real, the economic impact for the world’s second-biggest economy would be meaningful and could upend financial markets, potentially leading to a global recession. With economic growth already slowing and capital fleeing the nation, China’s $11 trillion economy is operating from a position of weakness.

Here’s how it plays out: As the world’s dominant reserve currency, the dollar has no peer. IMF data show that the greenback accounts for 63.3% of global foreign-exchange reserves, with the euro next at 20.3%, followed by the British pound and Japanese yen, both at 4.5%. That means that in times of crisis, the dollar benefits from global investors seeking a haven, even if the strife and the the uncertainty emanates from the U.S. It’s possible that a trade war would drive flows into the dollar, putting upward pressure on the currency at the expense of other exchange rates. That would be on top of the natural demand for the greenback created by the anticipation of significant fiscal stimulus floated by the Trump administration and a faster pace of interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve.

In terms of China, it’s important to remember that the yuan’s external value is managed by authorities in a way that isn’t compatible with a sharp appreciation pressure of the dollar vis-à-vis all other currencies. The currency is managed to achieve a stable, effective, trade-weighted exchange rate and to foster a gently crawling peg relative to the dollar. That peg would be threatened if a trade war weakened China’s economy at a faster rate than forecast. What was presented as a gradual depreciation of the yuan last year was in reality a significant 6% weakening of the currency versus the dollar as China’s domestic woes mounted. A collapse of the crawling peg could lead to yuan depreciation that is three times as large.

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The ruble lost 50% vs the USD. A similar path for the yuan would be catastrophic.

Russia Shows Why China Should Just Stop Burning Up Its Reserves (BBG)

China has wiped out about a quarter of the world’s heftiest foreign-currency stockpile over the past 18 months in its quest to keep the yuan stable. According to Commerzbank, such intervention is futile. Data Tuesday showed China’s foreign reserves slipped below $3 trillion in January, the first time they’ve breached that psychologically potent level in almost six years. Yet the experiences of some fellow BRICs show that drawing down the stockpile will probably have little effect on the currency’s long-term fate, Hao Zhou, Commerzbank’s Singapore-based senior emerging-markets economist, wrote in a research note late Tuesday.

While efforts by Russia and Brazil in recent years might have cushioned the blow of currency declines, they couldn’t change the market’s dynamics. In Russia’s case, a collapse in oil prices and the imposition of economic sanctions over the Crimea crisis proved more powerful drivers than the sale of a third of the country’s foreign-currency hoard between April 2013 and March 2015. The ruble fell more than 50% versus the dollar in the period.

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Get out while you can.

Cracks Are Appearing In Australia’s Trillion-Dollar Property Debt Pile (BBG)

The Reserve Bank of Australia frequently seeks feedback on the health of the economy. It might want to call the debt counsellors soon. Homeowners, consumers and property investors around Australia are making more calls to financial helplines as three warning signs back up the spike in demand: mortgage arrears are creeping up, lenders’ bad debt provisions have increased and personal insolvencies are near an all-time high. “It’s steadily out of control – I don’t know of too many financial counselling services where demand doesn’t exceed supply,” said Fiona Guthrie, chief executive officer of Financial Counselling Australia, who says the biggest increase in calls is from people suffering mortgage stress. “There are more people who have got mortgages that they can’t afford to pay.”

Australia’s households are among the world’s most-indebted after bingeing on more than $1 trillion of mortgages amid a housing boom that’s fizzled out in parts of the country, but still roaring in Sydney and Melbourne. While most are capably servicing their debts, a worsening of credit metrics has seen executives and analysts take a more cautious tone. It’s also a key factor in the central bank’s rate decisions this year, as RBA governor Philip Lowe places financial stability at the forefront of monetary policy. The concerns are understandable. Australians’ private debt has soared to 187% of their income, from about 70% in the early 1990s, encouraged by low interest rates. In a November speech, Lowe said that while most households are managing these levels of debt, many feel they are closer to their borrowing capacity than they once were.

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Odd that this reaches the press.

Putin Orders Russian Air Force To Prepare For ‘Time Of War’ (Ind.)

Russia’s air force has been ordered to prepare for a “time of war”. President Vladimir Putin has ordered a “snap check” of the country’s armed forces, accoording to defense minister Sergey Shoigu. As well as checking whether agencies and troops are ready for battle, the same order will ensure that systems are ready to fight, according to state news agency TASS. Those preparations have already begun, according to Russian ministers. “In accordance with the decision by the Armed Forces Supreme Commander, a snap check of the Aerospace Forces began to evaluate readiness of the control agencies and troops to carry out combat training tasks,” he said, according to TASS.

“Special attention should be paid to combat alert, deployment of air defense systems for a time of war and air groupings’ readiness to repel the aggression,” Shoigu added. The preparations come amid increasing concern about tensions between Russia and many of the world’s largest superpowers. Donald Trump has both condemned Russia’s military campaigns and been criticised for being too close to the country’s leaders, and Russia itself is standing in an increasingly tense relationship with some Nato countries. The country has been increasing movement of its military including the launch of the biggest Arctic military push since the fall of the Soviet Union, last month. It has also revealed plans to expand its military over 2017, including a huge boost in the number of tanks, armoured vehicles and aircraft controlled by the company.

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Really? Trump is willing to strongarm veterans and Native Americans? Bad PR.

Controversial Dakota Pipeline To Go Ahead After Army Approval (R.)

The U.S. Army will grant the final permit for the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline after an order from President Donald Trump to expedite the project despite opposition from Native American tribes and climate activists. In a court filing on Tuesday, the Army said that it would allow the final section of the line to tunnel under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River system. This could enable the $3.8 billion pipeline to begin operation as soon as June. Energy Transfer Partners is building the 1,170-mile (1,885 km) line to help move crude from the shale oilfields of North Dakota to Illinois en route to the Gulf of Mexico, where many U.S. refineries are located. Protests against the project last year drew drew thousands of people to the North Dakota plains including Native American tribes and environmental activists, and protest camps sprung up.

The movement attracted high-profile political and celebrity supporters. The permit was the last bureaucratic hurdle to the pipeline’s completion, and Tuesday’s decision drew praise from supporters of the project and outrage from activists, including promises of a legal challenge from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. “It’s great to see this new administration following through on their promises and letting projects go forward to the benefit of American consumers and workers,” said John Stoody, spokesman for the Association of Oil Pipe Lines. The Standing Rock Sioux, which contends the pipeline would desecrate sacred sites and potentially pollute its water source, vowed to shut pipeline operations down if construction is completed, without elaborating how it would do so.

The tribe called on its supporters to protest in Washington on March 10 rather than return to North Dakota. “As Native peoples, we have been knocked down again, but we will get back up,” the tribe said in the statement. “We will rise above the greed and corruption that has plagued our peoples since first contact. We call on the Native Nations of the United States to stand together, unite and fight back.” Less than two weeks after Trump ordered a review of the permit request, the Army said in a filing in District Court in Washington D.C. it would cancel that study. The final permit, known as an easement, could come in as little as a day, according to the filing. There was no need for the environmental study as there was already enough information on the potential impact of the pipeline to grant the permit, Robert Speer, acting secretary of the U.S. Army, said in a statement.

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The case is not that hard to make. You just need to erase the ideological resistance.

Why Should A Libertarian Take Universal Basic Income Seriously? (Dolan)

In a recent post on EconLog, Bryan Caplan writes, “I’m baffled that anyone with libertarian sympathies takes the UBI [universal basic income] seriously.” I love a challenge. Let me try to un-baffle you, Bryan, and the many others who might be as puzzled as you are. Here are three kinds of libertarians who might take a UBI very seriously indeed. Philosophical issues aside, what galls many libertarians most about government is the failure of many policies to produce their intended results. Poverty policy is Exhibit A. By some calculations, the government already spends enough on poverty programs to raise all low-income families to the official poverty level, even though the poverty rate barely budges from year to year. Wouldn’t it be better to spend that money in a way that helps poor people more effectively?

A UBI would help by ending the way benefit reductions and “welfare cliffs” in current programs undermine work incentives. When you add together the effects of SNAP, TANF, CHIP, EITC and the rest of the alphabet soup, and account for work-related expenses like transportation and child care, a worker from a poor household can end up taking home nothing, even from a full-time job. A UBI has no benefit reductions. You get it whether you work or not, so you keep every added dollar you earn (income and payroll taxes excepted, and these are low for the poor). But, wait, you might say. Why would I work at all if you gave me a UBI? That might be a problem if you got your UBI on top of existing programs, but if it replaced those programs, work incentives would be strengthened, not weakened.

In which situation would you be more likely to take a job: one where you get $800 a month as a UBI plus a chance to earn another $800 from a job, all of which you can keep, or one where your get $800 a month in food stamps and housing vouchers, and anything extra you earn is taken away in benefit reductions? Or, you might say, a UBI might be fine for the poor, but wouldn’t it be unaffordable to give it to the middle class and the rich as well? Yes, if you added it on top of all the middle-class welfare and tax loopholes for the rich that we have now. No, if the UBI replaced existing tax preferences and other programs that we now lavish on middle- and upper-income households. Done properly, a UBI would streamline the entire system of federal taxes and transfers without any aggregate impact on the federal budget.

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Feb 072017
 
 February 7, 2017  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Russell Lee Sharecropper mother teaching children in home, Transylvania, LA. 1939


Trump To Be Barred From UK Parliament Over ‘Racism and Sexism’ (BBG)
Trump’s Wall Street Deregulation ‘The Last Thing We Need’ – Draghi (Ind.)
Meet The Men Who Could Topple Donald Trump (G.)
California Is Not ‘Out Of Control,’ Leaders Tell Trump (R.)
Our Part In The Darkness (Alameddine)
The New York Times Just Doesn’t Understand This Economics Stuff (Worstall)
The Fed’s Mortage-Bond Whale (BBG)
When The Money Supply Dries Up (IM)
Army Corps Of Engineers May Decide On DAPL By Week’s End (BBG)
New Bill Would Block EPA From Regulating Greenhouse Gases
Too Late For Couples Therapy? (DiEM25)
Varoufakis: Tsipras Should Prepare To Break Deal With Greece’s Creditors (FR)
Rare Split On IMF Board Puts Greek Bailout At Risk (MW)
Greece Won’t Meet Fiscal Surplus Targets Set By Europe, IMF Says (BBG)
Third Quake Over 5-Richter Magnitude Rattles Lesbos (K.)

 

 

Really dumb stuff. If only because Trump loves it.

Trump To Be Barred From UK Parliament Over ‘Racism and Sexism’ (BBG)

U.S. President Donald Trump must not be allowed to address the U.K. Parliament during a state visit to Britain, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said. Prime Minister Theresa May invited Trump to visit the U.K., but there have been calls by lawmakers not to give the president the honor of addressing both houses of Parliament after he introduced a ban on people from some majority-Muslim countries traveling to the U.S. “Before the imposition of the migrant ban I would myself have been strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall; after the imposition of the migrant ban by President Trump I’m even more strongly opposed,” Bercow told lawmakers on Monday.

He added, “I feel very strongly our opposition to racism and to sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons.” Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and world leaders including Nelson Mandela, Angela Merkel and Pope Benedict XVI have all been invited to speak to members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. [..] The announcement was greeted with cheers and – a rare event in the House of Commons – applause from the opposition benches. A motion arguing that Trump shouldn’t be invited to speak has been signed by 163 out of Parliament’s 650 members.

Bercow said he has a veto over a speech in Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament, and would block one. It would also be a breach with tradition if Trump spoke in the Royal Gallery behind the Lords without his name on the invitation, he said. “An address by a foreign leader to both houses of Parliament is not an automatic right, it is an earned honor,” Bercow said. “There are many precedents for state visits to take place to our country that do not include an address to both houses of Parliament.”

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Meet Mario the kettle.

Trump’s Wall Street Deregulation ‘The Last Thing We Need’ – Draghi (Ind.)

Donald Trump’s roll-back of Wall Street regulation is “very worrisome” and “the last thing we need” the President of the ECB, Mario Draghi, has warned. Giving evidence to the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs on Monday, Mr Draghi was asked about the American President’s assault on the US post-crisis Dodd-Frank legislation, which had curbed the risk-taking of US banks, raised their capital requirements and introduced more safeguards for consumers. “The last thing we need is a relaxation of regulation,” Mr Draghi said. “The fact that we are not seeing….significant financial stability risk is the reward of the action of supervisors…. Nowadays financial intermediaries are strong. The idea of repeating the conditions of before the crisis is very worrisome.”

Mr Draghi added: “If we were to look at historical experience and ask what are the main reasons for the financial crisis starting in 2007 onwards, well, one can disagree [over] whether it was too expansive monetary policy or the dismantling of financial regulation in previous years – but surely we can agree it was a combination”. Last week President Trump signed an executive order to relax Dodd-Frank, prompting warnings that he is preparing the ground for another financial crisis. Phil Angelides, who served as chair of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, branded President Trump’s decision “insane”. “In the wake of the financial crisis, millions of families lost their homes. Millions of people lost their jobs. The economy was wrecked and communities across the country were devastated. Big Wall Street banks admitted wrongdoing and paid tens of billions of dollars in fines. And now, with bankers at his side, President Trump begins to rip apart protections put in place to protect America’s families and our economy,” he said.

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As I said a few dats ago: “More interesting right now is how strongly this is dividing the White House team. Kelly refused to enact some of Bannon’s demands. Tillerson and Mattis are not sitting comfortable either.”

Meet The Men Who Could Topple Donald Trump (G.)

When Trump began putting together his cabinet, liberals and some in the media expressed concern over the number of retired generals he was appointing to top positions. “Trump hires third general, raising concerns about heavy military influence,” blared a headline in the Washington Post during the presidential transition. “I am concerned that so many of the president-elect’s nominees thus far come from the ranks of recently retired military officers,” the Democratic representative Steny Hoyer told the Washington Examiner in December. The fretting over Trump’s generals was always misplaced, not least because the number of retired generals Trump has appointed to top positions in his administration is hardly unprecedented.

Trump nominated the retired Marine generals James Mattis and John Kelly to lead the Department of Defense and Homeland Security, respectively, and tapped the retired army general Mike Flynn to be his national security adviser. When entering office after winning the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama also appointed three retired generals to top positions and few batted an eyelid. But those concerned about Trump’s presidency should be thankful that the generals are there, particularly Mattis and Kelly. By all accounts, they are men of great honor and courage with strong backbones. Kelly led men into battle and lost a son fighting in Afghanistan. Mattis may be the most distinguished and respected Marine officer of his generation, revered for his dedication to his troops and his intellect. I had the honor of spending an hour with him one-on-one last May when he was a fellow at the Hoover Institution. Our conversation was off the record, but make no mistake, this is not a man to be trifled with.

Trump may have actually boxed himself in by picking highly respected generals such as Kelly and Mattis to helm top posts in his administration. Even conservatives who publicly stand by the president latch on to the appointments of Mattis and Kelly as their best evidence that Trump’s presidency will not be as problematic as his temperament and actions sometimes suggest, or some of his more troubling White House advisers portend. But if Mattis or Kelly were to resign in protest, that might change everything. There have already been reports that Mattis and Kelly are less than happy with some of what has gone on in the White House. During the transition, Mattis reportedly clashed with the Trump transition team over key appointments to the defense department. Tensions boiled over when Mattis and Kelly weren’t given sufficient consultation over the recent immigration executive order.

The Democratic representative Seth Moulton, a retired Marine who served under Mattis during the Iraq war, says insiders have informed him that after the executive order fiasco, some top appointments like Mattis began thinking about what would make them leave the administration. “What I’ve heard from behind the scenes,’’ Moulton told the Boston Globe: “What will make you resign? What’s your red line?”

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This is the kind of confrontation the country badly needs. Where everyone has to argue and define their viewpoints.

California Is Not ‘Out Of Control,’ Leaders Tell Trump (R.)

California leaders pushed back on Monday against President Donald Trump’s claim that the state is “out of control,” pointing to its balanced budget and high jobs numbers in the latest dustup between the populist Republican and the progressive state. The state’s top Democrats called Trump cruel and his proposals unconstitutional after the businessman-turned-politician threatened to withhold federal funding from the most populous U.S. state if lawmakers passed a so-called sanctuary bill aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants. “President Trump’s threat to weaponize federal funding is not only unconstitutional but emblematic of the cruelty he seeks to impose on our most vulnerable communities,” state Senate Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Democrat from Los Angeles, said in a statement on Monday.

State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, an L.A.-area Democrat, said the state has the most manufacturing jobs in the nation, and produces a quarter of the country’s food. “If this is what Donald Trump thinks is ‘out of control,’ I’d suggest other states should be more like us,” Rendon said. The latest war of words between Trump and Democratic leaders in California, where voters chose his opponent, Hillary Clinton, two-to-one in November’s election, began Sunday, in an interview between Trump and Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. During the interview, O’Reilly asked Trump about a bill in the state legislature, authored by de Leon, to ban law enforcement agencies in the state from cooperating with immigration officials in most circumstances. Cities who have enacted similar bans are known as sanctuary cities, and de Leon’s bill, if passed and signed into law by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, would effectively extend such rules to the entire state.

Trump disparaged the bill as ridiculous, saying that sanctuary cities “breed crime.” “We’ll have to, well, de-fund,” Trump said. “We give tremendous amounts of money to California.” Trump went on to say he viewed funding as a weapon. “California in many ways is out of control,” Trump said to O’Reilly. “Obviously the voters agree or otherwise they wouldn’t have voted for me.” Last week, Trump threatened to withhold federal funding from the University of California at Berkeley, where violent protests led to the cancellation of a speech by an editor for the right-wing Breitbart News. But experts said it would be difficult for the President to withhold funds from either the university or the state. Court rulings have limited the power of the president to punish states by withholding funds, and most appropriations come from the Congress and not the executive branch.

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Really excellent. Don’t miss.

Our Part In The Darkness (Alameddine)

Right after the election, my Twitter feed exploded with shock and moans. It seemed that everyone’s favorite phrase was “We are better than this.” I considered the statement so obviously wrong. I understood the convoluted logic of it, the jolt and hurt that would lead someone to type this, but it was not true. We are not better than this. We are this. The man was elected President. Ipso facto, America is this, we are this. I say this not to suggest that we must be blamed, or that someone who did not vote for Donald Trump is just as culpable as one who did. What I keep trying to point out, to friends, to anyone who will listen, is that too few of us are willing to acknowledge responsibility—not necessarily to accept blame, but to stand up and say, “This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine.”

I remember when the photographs of torture at Abu Ghraib came to light. The response was similar. This is not us. Those soldiers were rotten. It began at the top, with George W. Bush, and it filtered down. But we would never do such a thing. Of course, we did do those things, and we kept on doing them over and over, and doing worse. Some objected, but most of us simply moved on, chose to forget. “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible,” the Polish poet Stanislaw Jerzy Lec once wrote. Trump bans Muslims and we claim that this is un-American, that we are not this. I don’t have to talk up “ancient” history to show that we are. I won’t bring up settler colonialism, genocide, and land theft, or harp on slavery, or internment camps for Japanese-Americans.

I won’t refer to the Page Act banning those deemed “undesirable,” the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, or the Emergency Quota Act. I don’t have to mention the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans deported in the nineteen-thirties, or the thousands of Jews escaping Nazi violence who were turned away. It was F.D.R., not Trump, who claimed that Jewish immigrants could threaten national security. I won’t mention any of this, because this happened so long ago. We can always delude ourselves by saying that America was this but now we are better. Let me just say that in 2010 and 2011, state legislatures passed a hundred and sixty-four anti-immigration laws.

Many were upset when Trump campaigned on a Muslim registry, but I was surprised to find out how few knew that we’d already had one: the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or nseers, implemented on September 11, 2002. From the Atlantic: “It consisted of two ‘special registration’ programs: one that required foreign nationals from certain countries to check in with the government before entering and leaving the country, and another that obliged some foreigners living in the United States to report regularly to immigration officials.” Obama did not suspend the program until 2011. He dismantled it right before he left office.

[..] I was in Lesbos a year ago, helping Syrian refugees. At Moria, the biggest camp on the island, thousands of refugees were being processed every day. The crisis had been ongoing for more than six months. I’d heard that every big N.G.O. had taken a turn at leading the camp, but each one failed because of mismanagement, backstabbing, interagency bickering, governmental interference, what have you. But, as horrid as the situation was in the camp, I thought that it was being well managed, as well as it could be with so many people in and out. I met this unassuming man, a retired Mormon from Utah, who had been volunteering at the camp since the first boats arrived. He spoke no Arabic or Farsi, had no medical training of any kind, none of the identifiable skills, yet both volunteers and refugees sought him out with every conceivable question about what to do. It seems that he had arrived to offer whatever help he could. He slowly began to fill in wherever he was needed. As the N.G.O.s began to wash their hands of the camp, he was needed more and more. When I was there, he was running the damn place. We are this. We can be better.

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“That is just a howling error, to talk about the number of jobs and wages as if they are different things.”

The New York Times Just Doesn’t Understand This Economics Stuff (Worstall)

The Editorial Board of the New York Times tells us all that repealing parts of or all of Dodd Frank will damage the economic recovery. It’s possible to see the glimmerings of a point there, no one does think that if half the banks fall over again then all will be toodle dandy. However, they do manage to betray a terrible ignorance of the basics of economics and wages in the same editorial. Really, this is such a basic point that even Karl Marx was able to understand it: Mr. Trump may believe that ending Dodd-Frank will lead to more jobs by making it easier for businesses to get loans. But even if looser credit would help hiring — a very big if — the main problem in the job market today is not too few jobs, but wages that have been too low for too long. A rollback of Dodd Frank will not help that, and will hurt by forfeiting the stability that has helped the economy come this far.

That is just a howling error, to talk about the number of jobs and wages as if they are different things. They are the same thing–it is full employment which lifts the workers’ wages, nothing more and nothing less. As I say this is such a fundamental concept that even Karl Marx was able to get it right. If we have unemployment, that reserve army of the unemployed, then a capitalist can increase his labour force just by hiring some more of those unemployed. He doesn’t have to tempt anyone in with higher wages, he doesn’t need to pay his own workforce more as profits rise. For anyone gets bolshie he can just hire more of those unemployed people. However, the moment that reserve army is exhausted, the moment that there are no unemployed to hire it all changes. Suddenly, to gain access to more labour temptation must be employed.

It is necessary to tempt labour away from the jobs they are already doing. The capitalists, therefore, are in competition with each other for the profits that can be made by employment. At which point of course wages have to rise. To tempt labour into factory B away from factory A then B must pay more than A (in some form, could be shorter hours, better scheduling, more pay, whatever).And factory B had better raise its own wages for the extant workforce to stop A tempting it away. This is how wages rise over time. The capitalists compete for the profits that can be made by employing labour. And in the absence of unemployment they can only do this by raising wages as productivity rises. This process has been going on some 200 years by now, ever since productivity rises became a general feature of the economy.

And there’s no reason to think that it has stopped nor that it will. That is, contrary to the editorial board f the New York Times, it’s not that wages and jobs are different issues. It’s that wages haven’t risen because there haven’t been enough jobs. And seriously, if your understanding of capitalist and market economics is behind even that of Karl Marx are we sure that you should be writing newspaper articles on the subject of economics?

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If you create an artificial recovery, there will be a price to be eventually.

The Fed’s Mortage-Bond Whale (BBG)

Almost a decade after it all began, the Federal Reserve is finally talking about unwinding its grand experiment in monetary policy. And when it happens, the knock-on effects in the bond market could pose a threat to the U.S. housing recovery. Just how big is hard to quantify. But over the past month, a number of Fed officials have openly discussed the need for the central bank to reduce its bond holdings, which it amassed as part of its unprecedented quantitative easing during and after the financial crisis. The talk has prompted some on Wall Street to suggest the Fed will start its drawdown as soon as this year, which has refocused attention on its $1.75 trillion stash of mortgage-backed securities.

While the Fed also owns Treasuries as part of its $4.45 trillion of assets, its MBS holdings have long been a contentious issue, with some lawmakers criticizing the investments as beyond what’s needed to achieve the central bank’s mandate. Yet because the Fed is now the biggest source of demand for U.S. government-backed mortgage debt and owns a third of the market, any move is likely to boost costs for home buyers. In the past year alone, the Fed bought $387 billion of mortgage bonds just to maintain its holdings. Getting out of the bond-buying business as the economy strengthens could help lift 30-year mortgage rates past 6% within three years, according to Moody’s. Unwinding QE “will be a massive and long-lasting hit” for the mortgage market, said Michael Cloherty at RBC Capital Markets. He expects the Fed to start paring its investments in the fourth quarter and ultimately dispose of all its MBS holdings.

Unlike Treasuries, the Fed rarely owned mortgage-backed securities before the financial crisis. Over the years, its purchases have been key in getting the housing market back on its feet. Along with near-zero interest rates, the demand from the Fed reduced the cost of mortgage debt relative to Treasuries and encouraged banks to extend more loans to consumers. In a roughly two-year span that ended in 2014, the Fed increased its MBS holdings by about $1 trillion, which it has maintained by reinvesting its maturing debt. Since then, 30-year bonds composed of Fannie Mae-backed mortgages have only been about a percentage point higher than the average yield for five- and 10-year Treasuries, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s less than the spread during housing boom in 2005 and 2006.

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Don’t know if it’s money supply drying up or debts becoming overwhelming. Not the same thing. But the last paragraphs of the piece are interesting:

When The Money Supply Dries Up (IM)

Whenever the ability to enforce draconian legislation goes into decline, the people of a nation suddenly realise that they’ve been living in fear of a paper tiger. It doesn’t take long before some people choose to defy the system. When they’re seen to succeed, others follow in droves. So, what does this say of the US and its power? Well, as Doug Casey has been known to say, “Countries fall from grace with remarkable speed.” Quite so. On an international level, this means that international leaders will be watching the economic decline of the US closely. Countries such as China and Russia have been loading up on precious metals in preparation for a collapse in fiat currency. In addition, they’ve created their own version of the World Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and have been hard at work inking deals with other nations for international settlement in currencies other than the dollar.

Most people in the world today cannot remember a time before Bretton Woods, yet they may soon witness the Bretton Woods agreement becoming a dead duck. But, if we extend this premise, we also should be questioning the other constructs of the postwar period that have become dinosaurs. What of the United Nations? This organisation was once meant to be a body for arbitration and world planning, but has in latter decades become a quagmire of bickering and gainsaying—with its decisions rarely being adopted by the nations in question. And yet the US alone pays some $8 billion annually to keep the UN afloat. Surely, when the world at large ceases its willingness to carry further US debt, the US government will jettison the expense for the UN before it cuts either its military spending or its entitlement programmes.

Similarly, NATO, which requires $2.8 billion annually (with only five of its 28 members currently meeting the recommended payments) would experience a similar fate. With the above entities heading south, the Wolfowitz Doctrine, which has since 1992 been the basis of US aggression policy, would become unachievable. In addition to the decline or cessation of the above international adventurism, enforcement of revenue pursuit in the guise of FATCA and OECD schemes would equally suffer from a loss of funding. It would not be a question of whether the empire still wished to squeeze the lemon more than ever before—it would. But once the funds to do so dried up, the US and EU would find themselves in the situation that we currently observe in Venezuela: The money to pay for the enforcement is simply not there anymore.

The decline would begin with bounced cheques, followed by massive layoffs in the enforcement departments, followed by a decline in receipts, necessitating further layoffs, and continuing in a downward spiral. At present, countless people live in fear of the present empires and their ever-increasing efforts at usurpation. However, as history shows, once debt has reached its nadir and begins its rapid fall, so does the empire’s ability to enforce draconian confiscations.

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Army vs veterans?!

Army Corps Of Engineers May Decide On DAPL By Week’s End (BBG)

The U.S. Army may decide by week’s end whether to approve construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline across North Dakota’s Lake Oahe and lands claimed sacred by Sioux Indian tribes. Justice Department lawyer Matthew Marinelli outlined the planned timeline for the Army’s decision to a federal judge in Washington hearing a three-way dispute over the planned path of the Energy Transfer Partners LP-led project. Marinelli didn’t say which way the decision might go. President Donald Trump last month issued a memorandum urging the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite its review of the conduit’s path after the federal agency put the brakes on ETP’s nearly complete $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile conduit for shunting crude from northwestern North Dakota to a Patoka, Illinois, distribution center last year amid protests raised by environmental groups and the Sioux.

[..] While U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, and then a federal appeals court, declined to grant the tribes’ request for an order halting the project, the corps stopped construction anyway, stating it was reconsidering whether to issue easements required for tunneling under the lake bed. Jan Hasselman, lead lawyer for the suing Sioux tribes, told the judge that because the Army Corps had already committed to an environmental impact review of the lake crossing, any easement granted before that analysis is complete “would be unlawful.” The Corps turned the decision to the U.S. Army. The tribes will likely file a second bid to halt the project, citing environmental impact concerns, if the pipeline project gets a U.S. government go-ahead, Hasselman said.

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Now use that to get a deal that actually achieves something.

New Bill Would Block EPA From Regulating Greenhouse Gases (EW)

Republican lawmakers have proposed a bill to curtail the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to address climate change. The “Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2017” (HR637) would amend the Clean Air Act so that: “The term ‘air pollutant’ does not include carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, or sulfur hexafluoride.” The bill was introduced by Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) and has already racked up 114 Republican co-sponsors. Palmer is a climate denier who once said that temperature data used to measure global climate change have been “falsified” and manipulated.

Palmer’s latest proposal would nullify the EPA’s regulation of carbon pollution, stating that “no federal agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under current law” and “no attempt to regulate greenhouse gases should be undertaken without further Congressional action.” Liz Perera, climate policy director at the Sierra Club, told Huffington Post that the resolution would make it nearly impossible for the federal government to fight climate change. “This is the legislative equivalent of trying to ban fire trucks while your house is burning,” she said, adding its sponsors “should be embarrassed for so blatantly ignoring reality and ashamed of themselves for so recklessly endangering our communities.”

[..] Fortunately, the bill does not seem to have any legs. David Doniger, a senior attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean air program told The Guardian that HR637 does not have much of a chance breaking through a Senate filibuster as Democrats would have near-universal opposition to it and even some moderate Republican Senators would vote against it as well.

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Yes. Annul the wedding. Before someone gets hurt.

Too Late For Couples Therapy? (DiEM25)

For the past seven years, Greece has been stuck in an abusive marriage with its European partners. Of course, she has not been the perfect partner, but who has? No one deserves violence. No one deserves abuse. Everyone deserves hope, and not the delusional “you will be done by 2060, if you can maintain the hilariously unsustainable 3.5% primary budget surplus” kind of hope offered by Mr Schäuble. The hypocrisy and pseudo-morality of European lenders and the IMF is painful. Germany’s “no debt-reduction” stance is particularly exasperating, when that very same country has experienced both the economic, social and political disaster that vindictive, self-righteous hardheadedness can lead to after the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, as well as the miraculous quality of debt-reduction when its own debt was cut by half (!) at the London Debt Agreement of 1953.

The more years pass, the closer Greece and the rest of Europe edge from a post-modern 1919 to a post-modern 1933. And now, with news of Greece’s three-week window to resolve its next instalment before economically imploding – a piece of news which some media outlets appeared surprised about, bless them – many of us cannot help but wonder: when will we get serious about resolving this? The obvious answer is: when there is political will for a resolution. The only place where this seems to be the case is the nation-patient itself. Two summers ago, under remarkable socio-economic pressure, amid capital-controls and an overwhelmingly pro-EU media landscape, 62% of Greeks came out and refused the terms of a third bailout. Anyone with half-an-understanding of economics and finance seems to agree that the current approach to Greek debt is unsustainable economically, socially and politically: all in all, a disaster.

Even the master chef of the entire travesty, the IMF, has come out and admitted that neo-liberalism and austerity simply do not work. So what are we waiting for? Why are millions of Europeans still suffering under utterly misguided political and economic dogmas? Quite simply because to admit defeat at this point would mark the end of a number of powerful careers. Having poisoned European voters against the lazy PIIGS, it would be nothing short of political suicide to turn around and give in to Greek demands. When would be the next electoral victory in Europe for austerity’s architects if it was revealed that the years of financial and social suffering was a pointless self-inflicted wound with only negative economic results?

So it is becoming increasingly obvious that Greece has to work its own way out of this mess. At this stage, that means an immediate halt of repayments to lenders; a stance that will either force its partners to a vital debt-reduction, or will lead the country to an exit from the Euro. With Germany (in clear breach of EU rules) stubbornly maintaining its 9% budget surplus and refusing to increase imports, Europe is at an impasse, and no one is hurt more by this than Greece. Although the former outcome would be preferred – avoiding to rock the European boat at a time of major global instability is a major plus – the latter is still preferable to the status quo.

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Translation of Greek article by Varoufakis I posted about earlier.

Varoufakis: Tsipras Should Prepare To Break Deal With Greece’s Creditors (FR)

Through a recent article at the Efimerida ton Syntakton (Newspaper of Editors), the former Minister of Finance of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, referred to Tsipras retreat against Greece’s creditors and called him to prepare seriously this time, to break the destructive continuous agreements. As Varoufakis wrote among other things: The night of the Greek referendum, I tried hard to explain to the Greek PM that the submission of Greece to the third memorandum was Schäuble’s real plan (not Grexit). In reality, there was no hope that the 3rd toxic “program” for Greece would be rationalized progressively through the support of the European Commission to Athens. Meaning, there was no hope that IMF’s austerity and anti-social measures could be softened.

The fact that Moscovici, Juncker, Sapin and others made such promises, is no excuse because the Greek government knew since May 2015 that these people know how to tell lies, or, they are unable to keep their promises when they don’t lie. Suddenly, the Schäuble-IMF-ECB attacked on Greece, demanding exhausting measures, while Merkel-Hollande-Commission didn’t do anything. Tsipras then retreated for one more time in order to “save” Greece. This was Schäuble’s plan. With his stance, Tsipras sank Podemos, made an approach with the collapsing (ethically and politically) Social Democracy, disappointed the progressive Europeans. And all these happened at the same time where nationalism triumphs everywhere.

Tsipras promises, one more time, that he will not retreat (this time!) by legislating new austerity even after 2018. If he means it, I remind him what we had agreed that is necessary and which – even today – is the only thing that may prevent the worst things to come. Prepare for unilateral restructuring of Greek bonds held by the ECB, which must be repaid in July (and after). Prepare the electronic system of transactions through Taxisnet which I had designed, I had started building it and even announced it to the new Minister of Finance, Euclid Tsakalotos, when I delivered the Ministry. Therefore, if indeed the Greek PM means it this time that he will not retreat, he should prepare for breaking the deal with the creditors, so that to prevent it. The design of a parallel system for payments is ready since 2014, as he knows.

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Make it stop!

Rare Split On IMF Board Puts Greek Bailout At Risk (MW)

Some members of the IMF are growing concerned with the terms of Greece’s bailout program, fueling fears the fund might pull out of the much-needed rescue plan for the country. The IMF’s annual review of the Greek economy published on Tuesday revealed a rare split among its board members, showing they are in disagreement over the austerity measures imposed on Athens and over the country’s huge debt burden. The report said that “most” of the 24 IMF executive directors agreed Greece is on track to reach a fiscal surplus of 1.5% of GDP. It said Athens does “not require further fiscal consolidation at this time, given the impressive adjustment to date.” However, some of the board members argued that Greece still needs to bring the surplus up to 3.5%, as agreed in the last bailout in 2015.

“Most Executive Directors agreed with the thrust of the staff appraisal, while some Directors had different views on the fiscal path and debt sustainability,” the IMF said in the assessment. The IMF usually keeps its deliberations confidential, so any differences on the board are rarely exposed to the public. The yield on 10-year Greek government debt surged 26 basis points after the report on Tuesday to 7.925%, according to electronic trading platform Tradeweb. Economists consider borrowing costs above 7% unsustainable in the long term.

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This is getting sadistic.

Greece Won’t Meet Fiscal Surplus Targets Set By Europe, IMF Says (BBG)

Greece is on track to fall short of budget-surplus targets set under a bailout by the nation’s euro-zone creditors, the IMF said. Greece’s primary budget surplus will rise to 1.5% over the long run from about 1% last year, amid a modest recovery, the IMF said Monday after executive directors met to discuss the fund’s annual assessment of the nation’s economy. Still, the projected surplus falls short of the 3.1% forecast by the country’s European creditors. The fund reiterated its view that Greece’s debt is unsustainable. Most of the executive directors don’t believe the economy needs more fiscal consolidation, the IMF said. The IMF has said it would consider giving Greece a new loan to supplement the 86 billion euros ($92 billion) it’s receiving from euro-area countries, but only if the nation’s debt-reduction plans are credible.

Greece’s European creditors also want the IMF to sign off before disbursing the next tranche of the euro-zone bailout. Greece’s government debt will reach 275% of its gross domestic product by 2060, when its financing needs will represent 62% of GDP, the IMF said in a draft staff report obtained by Bloomberg last month. Public debt will reach 181% of GDP this year, the IMF projected Monday. Greece’s economy is expected to grow 2.7% this year, up from 0.4% in 2016, the fund said. However, long-run growth is expected to slip to about 1%, the IMF predicts. The IMF’s assumptions aren’t based in reality and don’t take into account the reform of Greece’s public finances, according to a European Union official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions are sensitive.

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Yeah, sure, add some more crap. For some reason this makes me think of George Clinton: “Do Fries Come With That Shake?”

Third Quake Over 5-Richter Magnitude Rattles Lesbos (K.)

Seismologists in Greece are keeping a close eye on activity in the eastern Aegean, as a third quake in 24 hours measuring above 5 Richter rattled the area in the early hours of Tuesday. The tremor hit at 4.24 a.m. and measured 5.3 on the Richter scale, according to the Geodynamic Institute in Athens, with the epicenter located 15 kilometers north of Lesvos. With a depth of just 10 kilometers, the quake was felt quite strongly on the Greek islands of Lesvos and Chios. Seismologist Efthimios Lekkas on Monday said two tremors – with a magnitude of 5.1 and 5.3 respectively – were not linked to the North Anatolian Fault Line, the source of powerful quakes in the past.

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Feb 032017
 
 February 3, 2017  Posted by at 11:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Pierre-Auguste Renoir The Return of the Boating Party 1862


Trump’s Economic Policy Makes Perfect Sense: Albert Edwards (CNBC)
Big Clash Looming (Kath.)
The IMF Should Get Out of Greece (Ashoka Mody)
Italians Are Outright Economic Losers in the Era of the Euro (BBG)
China Net 2016 Outflows At Record $725 Billion (R.)
Reality Vs. The “Recovery” Narrative (Mises)
Markets Are Experiencing Cognitive Dissonance (Rickards)
Scots to Vote on Tuesday on May’s Draft Law to Trigger Brexit (BBG)
America’s Student Loans Problem Is Much Bigger Than Anybody Realized (TAM)
Originalism: Neil Gorsuch’s Constitutional Philosophy (G.)
Angela Merkel Lectures Turkish President Erdogan On Upholding Freedoms (SMH)
Turkey Refugee Deal With EU at Risk, Erdogan Adviser Warns (BBG)
Small Steps Taken To Improve Conditions At Lesvos Migrant Camp (K.)

 

 

“The only things where the US excels are the ability of companies to get credit and resolving insolvency. So US companies excel at leveraging up and going bust – great!”

Trump’s Economic Policy Makes Perfect Sense: Albert Edwards (CNBC)

As the early days of the Donald Trump administration draw global opprobrium, Societe Generale’s famously bearish strategist Albert Edwards is offering unlikely support. “A lot of what he says on the economic front makes perfect sense to me.” Edwards claimed in his latest note published Thursday. Edwards said the new administration might be a “neo-liberal nightmare” but when the controversial topic of immigration was removed, there was clarity in Trump’s thinking. “We have long written on these pages that Germany is one of the biggest currency manipulators in the world. Germany aggressively refutes any criticism, let alone does anything about it (unlike China),” penned Edwards.

Trump’s team has attacked Germany for using the “grossly undervalued” euro to gain unfair trade advantages with the U.S. as well as trading partners within the European Union. The comments, published Tuesday, sent the euro to an eight-week high against the dollar. Edwards wrote that unless Germany changes its current position it “will have huge implications for both financial markets and the sustainability of the euro zone.” He said while the U.S. Treasury and the European Commission appeared unwilling to take on Berlin, it looked like the Trump administration would act assertively. Edwards, a self-described socialist, also said Trump’s plan to strip back regulation affecting U.S. corporates “rings true”.

“US corporate competitiveness is poor and deteriorating. The World Bank, for example, ranks the US a derisory 51st on how easy it is to start a business,” he wrote. “The only things where the US excels are the ability of companies to get credit and resolving insolvency. So US companies excel at leveraging up and going bust – great!” Edwards described America as a low tax and spend nation that has strangled its corporate sector. He said small business, traditionally the growth engine for jobs, is particularly burdened by regulation and concluded “There is much work indeed for The Donald.”

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Can Greece break from the EU and rebuild its “traditional alliances with the US and the UK”?

Big Clash Looming (Kath.)

The United States and Germany are gearing up for a serious clash. Washington’s aim this time is not Germany’s military defeat, as was the case twice last century, but curbing its economic hegemony. Before being sworn in as US president, Donald Trump said that he believed Berlin was using the European Union as a vehicle for its further economic expansion, and the tycoon was right on the money. Speaking to the BBC a few days ago, the man tipped as America’s new ambassador to the European Union, Ted Malloch, expressed his belief that the euro could collapse within the next 18 months. It was a risky prediction, but suggestive of the views prevailing in Washington right now.

The third worrying statement came from the head of the US president’s National Trade Council, Peter Navarro, who told the Financial Times that the euro is a German currency in disguise – an apt observation – that is “grossly undervalued” so that Germany can retain a competitive edge over the United States. His comment is nothing short of a direct challenge and a sign of a more serious confrontation waiting to happen. What is extremely interesting is that Wolfgang Schaeuble, the most fervent of champions of monetary stability and the euro, has so far avoided making a response. Maybe he is aware that when it comes to the US, his firepower is somewhat limited, so he contains his barbs to judgmental comments against Greece and terrorizing Europe’s south.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel muttered something about the European Central Bank’s independence and European Council President Donald Tusk said Trump is a threat to the EU – this is Europe; these are its political leaders, people waiting in fear for America to unfold its policy. This would all be a matter of academic interest were it not for the fact that the looming clash between a US-British alliance and the European establishment poses a major threat to regional stability, and of course to Greece. Bad luck and political imprudence have resulted in Greece being cut off from its own traditional alliances with the US and the UK, now especially so. Given the recent tension with Turkey and the fact that in previous difficult periods Europe stood by as conflict was avoided only thanks to the US’s intervention, it is evident that there are more important issues than the pending bailout review that Athens should be focusing on.

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Germany should get out of Greece too. And Brussels. Take a hike and get paid back in drachma. Or better yet, pay back your own gambling banks instead of letting Greeks do it.

The IMF Should Get Out of Greece (Ashoka Mody)

The IMF’s involvement in Greece has been an unmitigated disaster: Time and again, its failure to heed crucial lessons has visited suffering upon the Greek people. When the fund’s directors meet on Monday, they should agree to forgive the country’s debts and get out. The IMF should never have gotten into Greece in the first place. As late as March 2010, with concerns about the Greek government’s ability to pay its debts roiling markets, Europe’s leaders wanted the IMF to stay away. Europeans feared that the fund’s financial assistance to one of their own would signal broader weakness in the currency union. As Jean-Claude Juncker famously put it: “If California had a refinancing problem, the United States wouldn’t go to the IMF.”

Nonetheless, German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided that the IMF’s presence was the signal needed to persuade German citizens that Greece needed urgent financial support and that strict discipline in the use of those funds would be enforced. Merkel’s political priorities coincided with the interests of Managing Director Dominique Strauss Kahn, who was desperate to pull the IMF out of irrelevance. From that moment on, the IMF became Europe’s – mainly Germany’s – instrument in Greece. Then came the cardinal error: At the IMF’s Board, over the fierce opposition of several executive directors, the Europeans and Americans pushed through a bailout program that, contrary to the fund’s rules, did not impose losses on Greece’s private creditors. The decision was based on a spurious claim that “restructuring” private debt would trigger a global financial meltdown.

Thus, European governments and the IMF lent Greece a vast sum to repay its existing creditors. Greece’s debt burden remained unchanged and onerous, and the most vulnerable Greeks were forced to accept crippling austerity to repay the country’s new official creditors. The economy quickly and predictably went into a tailspin. Even when the IMF recognized the error of its ways, it didn’t change course. An internal “strictly confidential” report, later made public, acknowledged that the program was riddled with “notable failures,” including the lack of private debt restructuring and excessive austerity. But the IMF never took responsibility. Instead, it demanded even more austerity throughout 2014.

In December, the public rebelled and brought the opposition Syriza party to power, which only made the IMF’s demands more insistent. At this point, the evidence that the strategy was pushing Greece to economic and financial collapse was overwhelming. It was like requiring a trauma patient to run around the block before being admitted to intensive care. Yet as usual, the inevitable suffering was blamed on Greece’s unwillingness to cooperate.

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“[Italy] GDP per capita in real terms shrank 0.4% in the last 18 years..” “In Germany, the euro region’s largest economy, per-capita output rose by 26.1% since 1998.”

Italians Are Outright Economic Losers in the Era of the Euro (BBG)

Almost two decades after the creation of the euro single currency, Italians are proving to be the big losers among the 19 member countries. GDP per capita in real terms shrank 0.4% in the last 18 years, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data from the European Union statistics office up to 2015 and estimates for 2016. While Italy’s economy expanded 6.2% since 1998, its population increased by 6.6% over the period – thus accounting for the per-head drop. “The comparison with other countries clearly shows that the Italian economy has expanded at too-slow a pace over the period,” said Loredana Federico, an economist at UniCredit Bank AG in Milan. “It will be very difficult for Italy to close, in the years to come, the gap with other economies that already returned to the pre-crisis level or even surpassed it.”

Eleven members of the EU introduced the euro as an accounting currency in January 1999; they were later joined by Greece. The actual notes and coins were introduced in January 2002, and expansion of the zone has since continued, with Lithuania becoming the 19th member in 2015. Italy’s per-capita GDP has fared even worse than Greece, which was severely hit by the financial crisis. The value of all goods and services produced in that country rose in the last 18 years by 4% on an individual basis, Bloomberg calculations show. In Germany, the euro region’s largest economy, per-capita output rose by 26.1% since 1998. That makes the citizens of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s nation the winners among all of the bloc’s main economies.

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“If U.S.-based multinational corporates start to repatriate their profits from China, outflows could worsen further in 2017..”

China Net 2016 Outflows At Record $725 Billion (R.)

Capital outflows from China surged last year to a record $725 billion and could pick up further if U.S. firms face political pressure to repatriate profits, the Institute of International Finance said on Thursday. The Washington DC-based group, one of the most authoritative trackers of capital movements in and out of the developing world, estimates net Chinese outflows last year were $50 billion higher than in 2015, dwarfing the inflows other emerging economies received. Net outflows in 2014 had been just $160 billion from China, which has seen capital flight pick up in the past couple of years from local businesses and households, partly on expectations that the yuan would weaken against the dollar.

The outflows, which caused a $320 billion decline last year in Chinese foreign exchange reserves, have prompted authorities to strengthen capital curbs. The yuan fell 6.5% against the dollar last year, the biggest ever yearly fall. The IIF estimated China outflows at a heavy $95 billion in December and noted that a rise in protectionism, especially in the United States after the election of President Donald Trump, could exacerbate the situation. Trump and his top trade adviser this week criticised Germany, Japan and China, saying the three key U.S. trading partners were devaluing their currencies to the detriment of U.S. companies and consumers. “If U.S.-based multinational corporates start to repatriate their profits from China, outflows could worsen further in 2017,” the IIF said, referring to pledges of tax breaks to U.S. firms that bring overseas profits back to the country.

But excluding China, the picture for emerging markets appeared brighter, the IIF said, noting net capital inflows last year had amounted to $192 billion, versus $123 billion in 2015. In January, inflows into the stocks and bonds of a group of big emerging economies stood at a five-month high of $12.3 billion, the group added. “January was a much better month for emerging markets but it is too early to tell if this reflects hope for a better outlook – or this is just the eye of the storm,” the IIF note added. The capital exodus from China, however, dominates the picture – the IIF last November forecast the developing world would suffer net capital outflows of $206 billion in 2017, with the vast majority accounted for by China.

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“Needless to say, Yellen’s credibility, to use a word of the mainstream, should be absolutely shattered.”

Reality Vs. The “Recovery” Narrative (Mises)

As Jeffrey Lacker leads the pack on the Fed’s “concern of overheating” front, last Friday’s 2016 fourth quarter GDP numbers completely contradict the narrative. Coming in at a paltry 1.85% growth rate, the Fed was handed yet another excuse to push off the so-called “normalization of interest rates” further into the future. The Fed’s FOMC again confirmed as much at its February meeting. The Fed has stated for years – since 2008 – that it needed to keep interest rates low in order to support a sustainable recovery. The Fed was allegedly paying close attention to it’s Congressionally-sourced dual mandate to determine when it could start allowing rates to rise. But now it is 2017 and the Fed’s bureaucratic statistics relating to unemployment and price inflation say things are just dandy.

But the GDP numbers, which purport to measure growth, scream the opposite. This is the Fed’s predicament. They’ve held that the dual mandate was their only guide, but it’s becoming quickly evident how irrelevant those numbers are. As it turns out, the third quarter’s 3.5% GDP number was not a sign of coming paradise, but was rather a mocking anomaly. In the past six quarters, only once (third quarter 2016) did the GDP growth rate come in above 2%. Moreover, things are getting worse, not better. 2016’s average growth rate was worse than both 2014 and 2015. Needless to say, Yellen’s credibility, to use a word of the mainstream, should be absolutely shattered. Stimulus and quantitative solutions have been an epic failure.

In light of this, the Fed’s decision to raise the target Federal Funds rate over the coming months is especially painful. Should they choose to do so, they do it in the face of a growth rate that is barely treading water. But if they choose to prolong these target rate hikes, they do so as their own dual mandate components tell them they should be normalizing monetary policy by now.

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“The problem with a financial panic is that panicked investors don’t care if the president is a Democrat or a Republican; they just want their money back.”

Markets Are Experiencing Cognitive Dissonance (Rickards)

Despite Trump’s best efforts and positive policies, a collapse could happen any day unless radical steps are taken to prevent it — such as breaking up big banks and banning derivatives. I’ve been warning about this for a while, but now mainstream economists see the danger too. Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller, for example, sees a stock market crash coming that could be worse than 1929 or 2000. I hope he’s wrong. The problem with a financial panic is that panicked investors don’t care if the president is a Democrat or a Republican; they just want their money back. The same dynamic applies to natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes. Once the disaster starts, the dynamics have a life of their own and don’t care if the victims are liberals or conservatives.

Everyone gets hurt just the same. I’m not hoping for it, but this is a lesson Trump may learn the hard way. Above I said collapse means a violent stock market correction, a falling dollar and major rallies in bonds and gold. I expect the latter. The long-term trends favor gold if U.S. growth continues disappoint. The strong dollar story can’t last, so it won’t. The Trump administration has clearly signaled that the day of the strong dollar is over. When you see a coordinated attack on the dollar from the White House, the Treasury and the Fed, you can bet the dollar will weaken. That means a higher dollar price for gold. The dollar may get one last boost from a Fed rate hike in March, but after that, even the Fed will acknowledge that they got it wrong again and start another easing cycle with happy talk and forward guidance.

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Starting to look like a run-up to a Mexican stand-off.

Scots to Vote on Tuesday on May’s Draft Law to Trigger Brexit (BBG)

The Scottish Parliament will vote Tuesday on U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s draft law to formally trigger Brexit, a signal that the Scots want their views to be considered as the premier prepares to embark on two years of talks to leave the EU. May’s bill, which would allow her to invoke Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, the formal trigger for exit discussions, passed its first vote in Parliament in London on Wednesday. The draft law will now undergo three days of line-by-line debate in a so-called Committee Stage starting on Monday. Members of Parliament have so far filled a 128-page document with scores of proposed amendments to the 137-word bill, which will then be put to its final vote in the lower chamber, the House of Commons, before being sent up to the House of Lords.

“It is now essential that the Scottish Parliament’s views are heard prior to the end of the committee stage of the Article 50 bill in the House of Commons, so we will lodge a motion to allow Parliament to express its view,” Scottish Minister for U.K. Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe Michael Russell said on Thursday in an e-mailed statement. “I believe that Parliament will send a resounding message that Scotland’s future is in Europe.” The plan by Russell’s Scottish National Party amounts to a political warning to May to heed its concerns as she prepares to negotiate a so-called “hard” Brexit, pulling Britain out of the EU’s single market and customs union, which allow free trade within the bloc. The Scottish vote has no power to affect whether May triggers Brexit because the Supreme Court ruled last month that the semi-autonomous legislature doesn’t get to vote on the process.

The SNP produced a detailed plan for Brexit before Christmas that seeks to force May to negotiate to keep Scotland in the single market, even if the rest of the country pulls out. SNP leaders have repeatedly said that Brexit may lead to another independence referendum in Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. May had aimed to trigger Brexit by the end of March without consulting with the central Parliament in London, but was forced to do so after losing a court ruling and subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court. She still aims to stick to her timetable, and is fast-tracking the Article 50 bill through Parliament, aiming to complete its passage through the Lords in early March.

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Institutionalization: The idea that success comes exclusively through attending a university has created a stigma against some of the most valuable occupations.

America’s Student Loans Problem Is Much Bigger Than Anybody Realized (TAM)

The Department of Education recently released a memo admitting that repayment rates on student loans have been grossly exaggerated. Data from 99.8% of schools across the country has been manipulated to cover up growing problems with the $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loans. New calculations show that more than half of all borrowers from 1,000 different institutions have defaulted on or not paid back a single dollar of their loans over the last seven years. This comes in stark contrast to previous claims and should call into question any statistics provided by government agencies. The American people haven’t fully grasped the long-term implications of loaning a trillion dollars to young people who have no credit or assets.

Increases in tuition seen over the past two decades have become a point of controversy and angst for those who don’t fully understand the contributing factors. Between 1995 and 2015, the average cost of a public, four-year university skyrocketed by well over 200%. Although federal student aid programs are often championed as a necessity, they have been instrumental in making higher education unaffordable. The opportunity to pay for college by working a part-time job evaporated as soon as huge sums of money were handed out to anyone with a pulse. Since students no longer pay their tuition upfront, colleges are able to raise prices in perpetuity, knowing the government will step in and make credit easier and easier to obtain. As an added bonus, outstanding student loans account for 45% of the government’s financial assets.

Subsidizing the lives of an entire generation has turned personal growth and advancement into a choice instead of a necessity. After all, why take risks or work your way up from the bottom when with just a signature, the life you’ve always wanted could be laid at your feet? It’s not hard to figure out why so many people are tempted to take advantage of the instant gratification that comes from student loans, but like everything else in life, they have a price. The same safety net that delays the anxiety of the future also ensures that monthly payments will be owed for decades to come. Procrastinating when faced with pivotal life decisions is an instinct that used to be overcome as a teenager, but today it is worn like a badge of honor well into adulthood.

The policies of intervention haven’t stopped at federal aid, and loan forgiveness is now being offered to those willing to work in the public sector or at a non-profit for ten years. This perverse incentive only serves to drive those desperately in debt further towards government dependence. Productive jobs are created when the needs of others are met in the free market, not by joining the ranks of the state for self-preservation. The idea that success comes exclusively through attending a university has created a stigma against some of the most valuable occupations. The lack of real skill sets has lead to a shortage of welders, electricians, carpenters, and other trade workers. Instead of learning through experience with apprenticeships, many students have embraced four years of sleeping in, drinking heavily, and getting an increasingly useless degree.

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Makes law look like religion.

Originalism: Neil Gorsuch’s Constitutional Philosophy (G.)

At his unveiling on Tuesday night as Donald Trump’s choice to fill the US supreme court vacancy, Neil Gorsuch paid homage not to the man standing beside him, who had just nominated him to one of the most powerful judicial positions in the country, but to a document written 230 years ago. Gorsuch, a federal appellate judge based in Denver, promised that should he get through the confirmation process he would act as a “faithful servant” to what he called “the greatest charter of human liberty the world has ever known”. He was referring to the US constitution, the supreme law of the land drafted in 1787. He was not being rhetorical. Gorsuch describes himself as an “originalist”, indicating that he places overwhelming importance on the original meaning of the constitution as it was understood by “we the people” at the time it was written.

That puts him in a very select group of judges – maybe no more than 30 – who identify themselves as “originalists”. What unites them is that they put as much emphasis on the original understanding of the US constitution as Christian fundamentalists say they put on the original wording of the Bible. Until his death last year, one of the most prominent members of the group was Antonin Scalia, the supreme court justice whom Gorsuch is now lined up to replace. Scalia helped spread the word of originalism among conservative judges in the 1980s as a way of pushing back on what he considered to be the increasingly outlandish opinions of his progressive peers. Judges were there, Scalia argued, not to make up their own laws or politically motivated judgments, but to cleave faithfully to the meaning of the framers’ writings as they were understood back in the 18th century by the American people.

“Originalists ask what the constitution meant at the time it was written, and then argue that the meaning is fixed – it doesn’t change because the world has changed and we now have new problems to deal with,” said Lawrence Solum, a professor at Georgetown Law who is a leading theorist of constitutional originalism. David Feder, a Los Angeles-based lawyer, had first-hand experience of what that meant to Gorsuch in practice when he worked as his law clerk on the federal 10th circuit court of appeals. “Whenever a constitutional issue came up in our cases, [Gorsuch] sent one of his clerks on a deep dive through the historical sources. ‘We need to get this right,’ was the motto – and right meant ‘as originally understood’,” Feder recalled recently in the Yale Journal of Regulation.

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Yeah, Erdogan really strikes me as a guy who would take kindly to being lectured by a woman.

And if the US are actually going to extradite Gulen, they will lose a lot of support in the region.

Angela Merkel Lectures Turkish President Erdogan On Upholding Freedoms (SMH)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the importance of freedom of opinion in talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during a visit meant to help improve frayed ties between the two NATO allies. In her first trip to Ankara since a failed military coup in Turkey last year, Dr Merkel said she had agreed with Mr Erdogan on the need for closer cooperation in the fight against terrorism, including against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Germany and Turkey have been at odds over Ankara’s crackdown on dissidents since the abortive July 15 coup, as well as its allegations – rejected by Berlin – that Germany is harbouring Kurdish and far-left militants.

“With the [attempted] putsch, we saw how the Turkish people stood up for democracy and for the rules of democracy,” Dr Merkel told a news conference on Thursday, when asked about concern over proposed constitutional changes that would strengthen Mr Erdogan’s powers. “In such a time of profound political upheaval, everything must be done to continue to protect the separation of powers and above all freedom of opinion and the diversity of society,” she said, adding she had also raised the issue of press freedom. “Opposition is part of democracy,” Dr Merkel said.

[..] Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said on Wednesday that Berlin was sheltering members of what Ankara calls the “Gulenist Terrorist Organisation” (FETO), referring to the network of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the coup bid. “If the Gulenists involved in the coup are fleeing to Germany, the Justice Ministry may send information and documents,” Mr Erdogan said, adding that the United States should take quicker action on an extradition request for Mr Gulen. US President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser,Michael Flynn, has in recent months suggested that Mr Gulen might be extradited as a show of Washington’s support for its Middle Eastern NATO ally. Turkey’s defence minister has urged Berlin to reject the asylum applications and warned that a failure to do so could damage relations. Berlin has said the applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

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Nothing good will come on continuing Europe’s current ‘policy’ with regards to Turkey. It will take Trump or Putin to tell Erdogan to shut up.

Turkey Refugee Deal With EU at Risk, Erdogan Adviser Warns (BBG)

An accord meant to stem the flow of refugees into Europe could collapse if Greece and Germany don’t extradite fugitive Turkish military officers involved in the botched July coup, a chief adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to throw open Turkey’s borders, accusing the European Union of failing to keep its side of the deal, which has run into turbulence following the Turkish government’s crackdown over the coup. Under the agreement, Turkey agreed to block the flow of refugees across its border into Europe in exchange for cash assistance and eased visa requirements for Turkish citizens.

“If Greece and Germany continue their negative attitude toward Turkey, then Turkey has no other option but to relax its hold on migrants,” Erdogan aide Ilnur Cevik said in an interview shortly before Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel sat down with Erdogan in Ankara, in part to discuss the accord. “Turkey has nothing to lose because Turkey has not gained anything” from the agreement, Cevik said. Greece has refused to extradite eight fugitive Turkish officers while about 40 others Turkey accuses of involvement in July’s failed coup sought asylum in Germany. “Merkel is coming to explain the unexplainable,” Cevik said. “We see that Germany continues to harbor those who have staged a coup in Turkey, he said.

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There are 57(!) NGOs ‘active’ on Lesbos.

Small Steps Taken To Improve Conditions At Lesvos Migrant Camp (K.)

Following the deaths of three migrants in less than a week and criticism from humanitarian groups, the government has started making progress in improving conditions at the Moria processing center on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos. Steps have included moving 300 people, mostly families, to another facility at Kara Tepe and providing winter tents to 700 camp residents who were staying in shelters designed for summer despite the cold weather. Plans are also under way to develop a plot right beside the Moria center that has been leased by the Danish Red Cross but left unutilized because of reactions by locals against any initiatives to expand the camp. Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders has accused the government of failing to provide migrants and refugees with basic necessities. The Moria camp is a “death camp for refugees and migrants,” the NGO said in an announcement on Thursday.

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Jan 282017
 
 January 28, 2017  Posted by at 10:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Wassily Kandinsky Autumn Landscape with Boats 1908


US Economy Back Below “Stall Speed” (WS)
Dow Hits 20,000 As US National Debt Reaches $20 Trillion (Snyder)
US Auto Industry In Crisis Amid “Inventory Bubble” (ZH)
Trump’s Crusade on Drug Pricing Puts Both Parties on the Spot (BBG)
Trump Bars Door To Refugees, Visitors From Seven Nations (R.)
EU Lacks Leadership to Tackle Global Crises – Czech Minister (BBG)
‘It Looks as if the World Is Preparing for War’ – Gorbachev (Time)
Congresswoman Returns From Syria With ‘Proof’ Obama Funded ISIS (YNW)
UN Agency Cuts Food Aid To 1.4 Million Displaced Iraqis (AlJ)
The Media Is Now The Political Opposition (Paul Craig Roberts)
Lifting of Sanctions Could Be Costly To Russia (Paul Craig Roberts)
Want To Know How Society’s Doing? Forget GDP – Try These Alternatives (G.)
Canada May Contribute To Dutch-Led International Abortion Fund (AFP)
IMF Says Greece Debt ‘Explosive’ In Long Term (AFP)
Greece: The Game Is On Again (Coppola)

 

 

Nothing is real. And nothing to get hung about. Strawberry Fields forever.

US Economy Back Below “Stall Speed” (WS)

The consensus forecast by economists predicted that the US economy would grow at an rate of 2.2% in the fourth quarter, as measured by inflation-adjusted GDP. The forecasts ranged from 1.5% to 2.8%. The New York Fed’s “Nowcast” pegged it at 2.1%, and the Atlanta Fed’s “GDPNow” at 2.9%. And today, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that growth in the fourth quarter was a measly 1.9%. That was down from 3.5% in the third quarter, a spurt that had once again given rise to the now gutted hopes that the US economy would finally emerge from its stall speed. But instead it has slowed down. For the year 2016, the growth rate dropped to 1.6%. It was worse even than 2013, when GDP growth tottered along at 1.7%. And it matched the growth rate in 2011. Both 2016 and 2011 were the worst since 2009 when the US was in the middle of the Great Recession:

In fact, over the past 50 years, anytime the economy grew less than 2% in a year, it was either already in a recession for part of the year, or there’d be a recession the following year. Hence “stall speed” – a speed that is too slow to keep the economy from stalling altogether. [..] So stall speed for the year. But this time it’s different. This is the third year since the Great Recession when GDP growth dropped below 2%. The Fed’s policies of eight years of cheap credit have entailed soaring debt levels among companies, governments, and consumers – money borrowed from tomorrow that was spent today. Borrowing for productive investment is one thing. Borrowing for consumption is another: it boosts GDP but creates a debt overhang with no productive assets that generate income to service that debt in the future; that debt service for prior consumption then acts as a burden on future consumption.

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You can’t buy growth. You can just fake it for a while.

Dow Hits 20,000 As US National Debt Reaches $20 Trillion (Snyder)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average provides us with some pretty strong evidence that our “stock market boom” has been fueled by debt.  On Wednesday, the Dow crossed the 20,000 mark for the first time ever, and this comes at a time when the U.S. national debt is right on the verge of hitting 20 trillion dollars

 

Is this just a coincidence?  As you will see, there has been a very close correlation between the national debt and the Dow Jones Industrial Average for a very long time.

 

For example, when Ronald Reagan took office in 1991, the U.S. national debt had just hit 994 billion dollars and the Dow was sitting at 951.  And as you can see from this chart by Matterhorn.gold via David Stockman, roughly that same ratio has held true throughout subsequent presidential administrations…

During the Clinton years the Dow raced out ahead of the national debt, but an “adjustment” during the Bush years brought things back into line. The cold hard truth is that we have been living way above our means for decades.  Our “prosperity” has been fueled by the greatest debt binge in the history of the world, and we are greatly fooling ourselves if we think otherwise.We would never have gotten to 20,000 on the Dow if Barack Obama and Congress had not gotten us into an extra 9.3 trillion dollars of debt over the past eight years. Unfortunately, most people do not understand this, and the mainstream media is treating “Dow 20,000″ as if it is some sort of great historical achievement

“The average began tracking the most powerful corporate stocks in 1896, and has served as a broad measure of the market’s health through 22 presidents, 22 recessions, a Great Depression, at least two crashes and innumerable rallies, corrections, bull and bear markets. The blue chip reading finally cracked the 20,000 benchmark for the first time early Wednesday. During the current bull market, the second longest in history, the Dow has more than tripled since March 2009.”

Since Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, the Dow has now climbed by approximately 2150 points. And it took just 64 calendar days for the Dow to go from 19,000 to 20,000.  That is an astounding pace, and financial markets around the rest of the planet are doing very well right now too. In fact, global stocks rose to a 19 month high on Wednesday. So where do we go from here? Well, if Donald Trump wants to see Dow 30,000 during his presidency, then history tells us that he needs to take us to 30 trillion dollars in debt.

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“The last thing the auto industry needs is more capacity.”

US Auto Industry In Crisis Amid “Inventory Bubble” (ZH)

Despite record U.S. auto sales last year, the number of vehicles on car-dealer lots remains near record highs, and, as J.D.Power analyst Thomas King warned this week, 2016 ended with an inventory “bubble” that will require less production or more incentives to clear. With near record high inventories of 3.9 million vehicles… U.S. auto inventory finished 2016 at about 66 days supply, up from 60 days a year earlier. Inventory would last 2.23 months at the November sales pace, according to the latest available data from the Census Bureau. The stock-to-sales ratio in 2016 is extremely elevated compared to historical norms…

More problematically, King warns, about one-third of inventory were older model-year vehicles, rather than more typical level of less than a quarter. Of course this massive stockpile hits just as President Trump pressures the auto-industry to onshore more jobs and more production… But as the industry automates, factories don’t create jobs like they used to, said Marina Whitman, a professor of business administration and public policy at the University of Michigan. “The American auto industry last year produced more cars than it ever had before, but they did it with somewhere between one-third and one-half the number of workers that they had decades ago,” said Whitman, who was an adviser to President Richard Nixon and GM’s chief economist from 1978 to 1992. “The last thing the auto industry needs is more capacity,” she said.

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Hilarious to see how much money all these people get from the industry. And insane.

Trump’s Crusade on Drug Pricing Puts Both Parties on the Spot (BBG)

Donald Trump has a chance to rally his core supporters as well as left-wing Democrats, wrapping himself in the populist flag to take on the politically powerful drug industry. He is vowing to keep a campaign pledge to push legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, a practice currently prohibited by law. Proponents say this would reduce drug prices and Medicare costs for the federal government. Medicare pays for about 29% of prescription drugs in the U.S. and would have considerable leverage. Trump would be taking on the leaders of his own party, starting with House Speaker Paul Ryan. Most Republicans have long argued that giving Medicare such power is tantamount to government price-setting, which ideologically they oppose and which they say would stifle innovation and research in the drug industry.

Many of them receive huge campaign contributions from the industry’s sizable political war chest. There are arguments over the merits and effects, but the politics are clear cut. In a Kaiser Foundation poll last autumn, the public, by 82% to 17%, favored allowing the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices. Huge majorities say costly drug prices – in recent years they have risen about four times the rate of inflation – are a major concern. These costs are felt by some of Trump’s strongest supporters, non-college educated whites. And liberals, led by politicians like Bernie Sanders, champion a robust government role to keep drug prices down.

[..] There was an instructive vote in the Senate this month on a closely related issue, allowing the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada. It failed 52 to 46. But it garnered the support of 10 Republicans, including deficit hawks like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Utah’s Mike Lee. However, 13 Democrats, most of them beneficiaries of industry political contributions, voted against the measure. Subsequently, they have gotten a lot of flak from liberal groups, which especially have targeted Cory Booker of New Jersey. He received $49,830 from the industry in the last election. If Trump goes all out on this issue, it will be near impossible for most of these Democrats to side with the industry over a Republican president whom they accuse of representing the interests of the rich. And, knowledgeable Congress watchers say, a number of Republicans, in the face of White House pressure and public opinion, would cave, too.

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This is a bump the entire west must go through.

Trump Bars Door To Refugees, Visitors From Seven Nations (R.)

President Donald Trump on Friday put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barred travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries, saying the moves would help protect Americans from terrorist attacks. In the most sweeping use of his presidential powers since taking office a week ago, Trump paused the entry of travelers from Syria and the six other nations for at least 90 days, saying his administration needed time to develop more stringent screening processes for refugees, immigrants and visitors. “I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. Don’t want them here,” Trump said earlier on Friday at the Pentagon. “We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people,” he said.

The order seeks to prioritize refugees fleeing religious persecution, a move Trump separately said was aimed at helping Christians in Syria. That led some legal experts to question whether the order was constitutional. One group said it would announce a court challenge on Monday. The Council on American-Islamic Relations said the order targets Muslims because of their faith, contravening the U.S. Constitutional right to freedom of religion. “President Trump has cloaked what is a discriminatory ban against nationals of Muslim countries under the banner of national security,” said Greg Chen of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The bans, though temporary, took effect immediately, causing havoc and confusion for would-be travelers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Trump has long pledged to take this kind of action, making it a prominent feature of his campaign for the Nov. 8 election, but people who work with Muslim immigrants and refugees were scrambling on Friday night to determine the scope of the order. [..] Trump’s order also suspends the Syrian refugee program until further notice, and will eventually give priority to minority religious groups fleeing persecution. Trump said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network that the exception would help Syrian Christians fleeing the civil war there. Legal experts were divided on whether this order would be constitutional. “If they are thinking about an exception for Christians, in almost any other legal context discriminating in favor of one religion and against another religion could violate the constitution,” said Stephen Legomsky, a former chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration.

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But apparently he thinks this can change. Shame he doesn’t say how.

EU Lacks Leadership to Tackle Global Crises – Czech Minister (BBG)

The EU is unable to work with global superpowers in addressing conflicts and crises because it lacks leadership, Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis said. “Europe is very slow, very bureaucratic,” Babis said. “The problem is who will sit together at the table” with leaders of the U.S., U.K., Russia “to solve the problem in the Middle East, North Africa, the migration. Europe is always waiting for elections” in countries including Germany and France, he said. The Czech billionaire, whose party leads polls ahead of the fall general elections, has been critical of the bloc his country joined in 2004 and the way it tackled a series of issues, including the migration crisis. He rejected a call from his fellow Czech interior minister to lead separate talks with the U.K. on Brexit, saying the EU needs to stay united in the negotiations. Babis said he was surprised by the announced “hard Brexit,” and urged Britain to activate Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty quickly to speed up the negotiations.

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He’s been here before.

‘It Looks as if the World Is Preparing for War’ (Gorbachev)

The world today is overwhelmed with problems. Policymakers seem to be confused and at a loss. But no problem is more urgent today than the militarization of politics and the new arms race. Stopping and reversing this ruinous race must be our top priority. The current situation is too dangerous. More troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers are being brought to Europe. NATO and Russian forces and weapons that used to be deployed at a distance are now placed closer to each other, as if to shoot point-blank. While state budgets are struggling to fund people’s essential social needs, military spending is growing. Money is easily found for sophisticated weapons whose destructive power is comparable to that of the weapons of mass destruction; for submarines whose single salvo is capable of devastating half a continent; for missile defense systems that undermine strategic stability.

Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous. Commentators and TV personalities are joining the bellicose chorus. It all looks as if the world is preparing for war. In the second half of the 1980s, together with the U.S., we launched a process of reducing nuclear weapons and lowering the nuclear threat. By now, as Russia and the U.S. reported to the Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference, 80% of the nuclear weapons accumulated during the years of the Cold War have been decommissioned and destroyed. No one’s security has been diminished, and the danger of nuclear war starting as a result of technical failure or accident has been reduced. This was made possible, above all, by the awareness of the leaders of major nuclear powers that nuclear war is unacceptable.

I urge the members of the U.N. Security Council — the body that bears primary responsibility for international peace and security — to take the first step. Specifically, I propose that a Security Council meeting at the level of heads of state adopt a resolution stating that nuclear war is unacceptable and must never be fought. I think the initiative to adopt such a resolution should come from Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin — the Presidents of two nations that hold over 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenals and therefore bear a special responsibility.

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Tulsi Gabbard is a Democrat. Can we now please finally have a serious conversation about what the US has done to the Middle East/Northern Africa region? How are we ever going to atone for this if we don’t? Or would we rather continue in denial?

Congresswoman Returns From Syria With ‘Proof’ Obama Funded ISIS (YNW)

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard told CNN that she has proof the Obama administration was funding ISIS and Al-Qaeda.Hawaii Rep. Gabbard went to Syria on a secret fact-finding mission to wade through the lies and propaganda and find out what is really happening on the ground. Immediately on her return CNN booked her for an “exclusive” interview – and Gabbard told them exactly what they didn’t want to hear: she has proof the Obama administration was funding ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Explaining to Jake Tapper that she met people from all walks of life in Aleppo and Damascus, Gabbard said that Syrians “expressed happiness and joy at seeing an American walking their streets.” But they also wanted to know “why is it that the United States, its allies and other countries, are providing support, are providing arms, to terrorist groups like Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, who are on the ground there, raping, kidnapping, torturing, and killing the Syrian people?

“They asked me why is the United States supporting these terrorist groups who are destroying Syria – when it was Al-Qaeda who attacked the United States on 9/11, not Syria. “I didn’t have an answer for that.“ That was more than Jake Tapper, who was hostile from the beginning of the interview, could handle. His face screwed up, he lashed out, saying, “Obviously the United States government denies providing any sort of help to the terrorist groups you are talking about, they say they provide help for the rebel groups.“ If that was supposed to Tapper’s knockout blow, Gabbard saw it coming a mile away. Without missing a beat, she calmly deconstructed his ideological, and savagely wrong, talking points.

“The reality is, Jake – and I’m glad you bought up that point – every place that I went, every person I spoke to, I asked this question to them. And without hesitation, they said ‘there are no moderate rebels, who are these moderate rebels that people keep speaking of?’ “Regardless of the name of these groups, the strongest fighting force on the ground in Syria is Al-Nusra or Al-Qaeda and ISIS. That is a fact. There are a number of different other groups, all of them are fighting alongside, with or under the command of the strongest group on the ground that is trying to overthrow Assad.”

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We have so much to answer for.

UN Agency Cuts Food Aid To 1.4 Million Displaced Iraqis (AlJ)

The World Food Programme (WFP) has slashed food rations distributed to 1.4 million displaced Iraqis by 50% because of delays in payments from donor states. The sharp cutbacks come at a time when a growing number of Iraqis flee the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group. At least 160,000 people have been displaced since October when the Iraqi military, backed by Kurdish forces and Shia militias. launched a military campaign to recapture Mosul from the armed group. WFP spokeswoman Inger Marie Vennize said the UN agency was talking to the United States – its biggest donor, Germany, Japan and others to secure funds to restore full rations.

“We have had to reduce [the rations] as of this month,” she was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying. “The 50% cuts in monthly rations affect over 1.4 million people across Iraq,” she added. The effect is already being felt in camps east of Mosul, ISIL’s last major bastion in northern Iraq. “They are giving an entire family the food supply of one person … we want to go back home,” said Omar Shukri Mahmoud at the Hassan Sham camp. Safa Shaker, who fled with her extended family, said: “We are a big family and this ration is not going to be enough. “We escaped from [ISIL] in order to have a chance to live and now they have cut the aid. How are we supposed to live?” she added.

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I wouldn’t shoot from the hip as much as PCR does, but in essence he’s right. Old media, CNN, WaPo, NYT, have wasted so much of their credibility. And they’re not taking any step back from that. it’s till all just echo-chambering.

The Media Is Now The Political Opposition (Paul Craig Roberts)

Stephen Bannon is correct that the US media—indeed, the entire Western print and TV media—is nothing but a propaganda machine for the ruling elite. The presstitutes are devoid of integrity, moral conscience, and respect for truth. Who else but the despicable Western media justified the enormous war crimes committed against millions of peoples by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama regimes in nine countries—Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Palestine, and the Russian areas of Ukraine? Who else but the despicable Western media justified the domestic police states that have been erected in the Western world in the name of the “war on terror”? Along with the war criminals that comprised the Clinton, Bush, and Obama regimes, the Western media should be tried for their complicity in the massive crimes against humanity.

The Western media’s effort to sustain the high level of tension between the West and Russia is a danger to all mankind, a direct threat to life on earth. Gorbachev’s warnings are correct. Yet presstitutes declare that if Trump lifts the sanctions it proves that Trump is a Russian agent. It is paradoxical that the Democrats and the liberal-progressive-left are mobilizing the anti-war movement to oppose Trump’s anti-war policy! By refusing to acknowledge and to apologize for its lies, euphemistically called “fake news,” the Western media has failed humanity in a number of other ways. For example, by consciously telling lies, the media has legitimized the suborning of perjury and false testimony used to convict innocent defendants in America’s “justice” system, which has about the same relation to justice as genocide has to mercy.

If the media can lie about world events, police and prosecutors can lie about crimes. By taking the role of the political opposition to Trump, the media has discredited itself as an honest critic on topics where Trump needs criticism, such as the environment and his tolerance of oppressive methods used by police. The presstitutes have ended all chance of improving Trump’s performance with reports and criticism. Trump needs moderating on the environment, on the police, and on the war on terror. Trump needs to understand that “the Muslim threat” is a hoax created by the neoconservatives and the military/security complex with the complicity of the presstitutes to serve the hegemony agenda and the budget and power of the CIA, Pentagon, and military industries.

If the US stops bombing and slaughtering Muslims and training and equiping forces to overthrow non-compliant Muslim governments such as Syria, Iraq, and Libya, “the Muslim threat” will disappear. Maybe Trump will add to his agenda breaking into hundreds of pieces the six mega-media companies that own 90% of the US media and selling the pieces to seperate independent owners who have no connection to the ruling elites. Then America would again have a media that can constrain the government with truth rather than use lies to act for or against the government.

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Russia knows.

Lifting of Sanctions Could Be Costly To Russia (Paul Craig Roberts)

Tweets on social media say Trump is about to lift the sanctions placed on Russia by the Obama regime. Being a showman, Trump would want to make this announcement himself, not have it made for him by someone outside his administration. Nevertheless, the social media tweets are a good guess. Reports are that Trump and Putin will speak tomorrow. The conversation cannot avoid the issue of sanctions. Trump during his first week has moved rapidly with his agenda. He is unlikely to delay lifting the sanctions. Moreover, there is no cost to Trump of lifting them. The sanctions have no support in the US and Western business communities. The only constituency for the sanctions were the neoconservatives who are not included in the Trump administration.

Victoria Nuland, Susan Rice, Samantha Power are gone along with much of the State Department. So there is nothing in Trump’s way. President Putin is correct that the sanctions helped Russia by pushing Russia to be more economically independent and by pushing Russia toward developing economic relationships with Asia. Lifting the sanctions could actually hurt Russia by integrating Russia into the West. The Russian government should take note that the only sovereign country in the West is the United States. All the rest are US vassals. Could Russia escape the same fate? Anyone integrated into the West is subject to Washington’s pressure. The problem with the sanctions is that they are an insult to Russia. The sanctions are based on lies that the Obama regime told.

The real purpose of the sanctions was not economic. The purpose was to embarrass Russia as an outlaw state and to isolate the outlaw. Trump cannot normalize relations with Russia if he lets this insult stand. Therefore, the social media tweets are likely to be correct that Trump is about to lift the sanctions. This will be good for US-Russian relations, but perhaps not so good for the Russian economy and Russian sovereignty. The Western capitalists would love to get Russia deep in debt and to buy up Russia’s industries and raw materials. The sanctions were a partial protection against foreign influence over the Russian economy, and so the removal of the sanctions is like removing a shield as well as removing an insult.

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I like measuring well-being through grain prices, but at the same time I don’t think basic needs should be subject to the same ‘market forces’ as cellphones etc. As growth and globalism vanish, we should all produce out own basics.

Want To Know How Society’s Doing? Forget GDP – Try These Alternatives (G.)

Here are the week’s leading indicators. The Dow Jones industrial average topped 20,000 points for the first time. British GDP grew 0.6% in the final quarter of 2016. The FTSE 100 and Germany’s DAX 30 persisted close to record highs, while US GDP softened slightly. Bored yet? I am. As a former financial journalist, I’m well acquainted with the merry-go-round of indicators that blip in and out of our lives like digital dopamine, telling us how well we’re doing. As a human being, I’m increasingly alarmed that these are just irrelevant numbers that have little or no bearing on how well we are really doing. [..] I’d rather suggest a series of other metrics that give a clearer indication of where humanity is at. Perhaps these are the key performance indicators we should hardwire into our reporting calendar:

Inequality ratios One of the lessons of the 20th century was that inequality breeds revolt and revolutions never end well. One of the lessons of the 21st century is that people seem to be determined not to learn the lessons of the 20th century. The Gini coefficient is a crude measure of how unequal societies are becoming. Some economists have been toying with another measure, the Palma ratio, which is better at discerning how much richer the richest cohort are getting, compared with the poorest. Both tell us much about our direction of travel.

Grain prices If we must focus on financial instruments, edible commodities are surely more interesting than stock and bond prices. You can’t eat a three-month Treasury bill, after all. In 2007/08, a wave of riots swept the developing world as the cost of basic foodstuffs soared. Governments fell. A dotted line joined that manifestation of unrest with the Arab spring four years later. Food matters. We routinely write that as many as a billion people on the planet are hungry, malnourished. That’s far more than the number with Dow Jones tracker funds.

Carbon dioxide, parts per million, in the atmosphere The most scary dataset of all. It goes up every year. And so do global temperatures. If this carries on for another couple of decades, people won’t be inspecting their portfolios – they’ll be foraging in the woods. Has anyone read The Road?

Antidepressant prescriptions A veritable bellwether for so much – from the wretched state we’re in psychologically to the inadequacies of our healthcare systems. Prescriptions have doubled in England in the past decade. An interest to declare: I take them, and believe they work for me. But I also firmly believe they are prescribed far too readily, by overstretched GPs who have only six minutes to speak to patients and little recourse to anything other than pills. Personally, I’d be willing to shave a couple of points off GDP in return for a more comprehensive programme to address this 21st-century epidemic.

Homelessness Not just in the UK, where it’s risen for six years in a row, but in California, Paris, Moscow. Surely, one of the first questions a newly arrived alien might ask upon landing in Britain would be “why do so many of you earthlings live outside?”, and not “how are my BT shares doing?”

Dependency ratio Admittedly, this is not a thrilling one to monitor as it doesn’t move much. But it is moving – and in the wrong direction for lots of developed countries. The dependency ratio is the number of working-age people compared with the number of children and those over retirement age. According to the Resolution foundation, there are currently seven dependants for every 10 working-age Britons, but this will increase to eight in the 2020s and nine by 2050.

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It’s not an abortion fund, it’s much wider than that: “sexual reproductive rights, including abortion”.

Canada May Contribute To Dutch-Led International Abortion Fund (AFP)

Canada is considering contributing to a Dutch-led international fund to support abortion services in developing countries, set up in response to Donald Trump’s order to halt financing of NGOs that support the practice. A spokesman for Canada’s international development minister, Marie-Claude Bibeau, told AFP the minister had spoken with her Dutch counterpart about the fund, and was considering donating an unspecified sum to it or a similar measure that would support “sexual reproductive rights, including abortion” abroad. “Sexual health and reproductive rights will be at the heart of Canada’s new international assistance policy,” spokesman Louis Belanger said in an email.

“We will continue to explore opportunities to work together to advance women’s empowerment by expanding access to sexual and reproductive health services including abortion,” he said. Canada is set to unveil its new foreign aid strategy in the coming weeks. A decision on the fund would either be included or follow soon after that announcement. Trump on Monday signed a decree barring US government funding for foreign NGOs that support abortion. The restrictions prohibit them from also providing abortion information, counseling or referrals, or engaging in advocacy to promote abortion. Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch minister for foreign trade and development cooperation, said when she announced the new fund that the Netherlands must do everything in its power to offset the US ban so that “women can remain in control of their own bodies”.

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Broken record.

IMF Says Greece Debt ‘Explosive’ In Long Term (AFP)

Greece’s government debt remains “highly unsustainable,” and will be “explosive” in the longer run, requiring a more credible debt relief plan from Europe, the International Monetary Fund said in a report obtained by AFP. Addressing the debt burden of the beleaguered nation will require “significant debt relief” from European institutions, including dramatically extending the grace periods and maturities of the loans, the IMF said in it’s annual report on the Greek economy, which includes a debt sustainability analysis. The IMF board is due to discuss the report February 6. Even with full implementation of the economic reforms the country has agreed to, “Greece’s debt is highly unsustainable” and “will become explosive in the long run,” as the government will have to replace highly-subsidized official financing with market financing at much higher rates, the IMF said.

The pessimistic report, though in keeping with the fund’s repeated statements on the topic, makes it more unlikely the IMF stays on the sidelines of any new European loan deal for Greece. Months of bickering have delayed progress of Greece’s 86-billion-euro ($92.4 billion) bailout program agreed in 2015 and officials increasingly are worried that elections this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany could further poison any progress. The IMF report says that in order to “provide more credibility to the debt strategy for Greece, further specificity will be needed regarding the type and scope of debt relief to be expected” from Europe. This must include “ambitious extensions of grace and maturity periods, a full deferral of interest on European loans, as well as a locking in of the interest rate on a significant amount of European loans … to put debt on a sustained downward path.”

The IMF calls for extending the grace period until 2040, during which time no debt payments would be required, and extending the maturity of the loans to 30 years in some cases to 2070, dramatically longer than what Europe agreed to in 2012. At the heart of the dispute over the new loan program is a demand by the eurozone that Greece deliver a primary balance, or surplus on public spending before debt repayments, of 3.5% of GDP, far in excess of the 1.5% the IMF says is feasible. The target is very high – and most countries do not even come close – but Germany and other eurozone hardliners are insistent that Greece reach it for several years after its current program concludes in 2018. Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem insisted on Thursday that the IMF remained committed to the Greek bailout program, despite repeated calls by the IMF for more realistic targets and more debt relief.

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1) The IMF is to a large extent playing a double role, and is comfortable in that role.

2) Yes, ‘pensions-to-GDP’ is very high in Greece, but that is only because other benefits simply don’t exist. Pensions can only be cut further if an unemployment benefits program is initiated. Everyone involved knows this, it’s just that some (IMF) prefer to act as if they don’t. Because such a program would cost money.

3) The demise of Greece as a nation is as much the shame of the IMF as that of Germany and the EU. The consequences of the demise will be too.

Greece: The Game Is On Again (Coppola)

In 2015, Yanis Varoufakis tried to renegotiate the terms of the Greek bailout. He expected his peers in the Eurogroup to treat him as an equal. But they were expecting a repentant supplicant. Greece had sinned, it was receiving just punishment for its sins, and who did Varoufakis think he was, coming along and telling them that the treatment Greece was receiving was unjust and counterproductive? This misunderstanding made a bad situation far worse. It led eventually to Greece’s near-expulsion from the Euro and the breaking of Alexis Tsipras. And, of course, to Varoufakis’s resignation. Now it is the IMF’s turn to misread the psychological framing. This is not a four-handed poker game, it is a duel to the death. And it is not really about Greece. The surface conflict is between Greece and its creditors, but the underlying power struggle is between the German-led creditor bloc and the European Commission.

The eventual outcome will determine the shape of the Eurozone, and indeed the whole EU, in the future. Neither the Greek government nor the European Commission want the IMF involved. The only reason the IMF is still involved is that the creditors want it to be. And the reason the creditors want the IMF involved is that they do not trust the Commission to deliver the harsh penance they have prescribed for Greece. The IMF has been cast in the role of creditors’ second. Unfortunately, this is not how the IMF sees itself. It is still trying to act as a neutral broker, crafting a deal acceptable to both sides. It has repeatedly called for substantial debt relief, and has also demanded deep reforms to the Greek economy. But because it is no longer perceived as neutral, its call for debt relief is ignored while its reform initiative is inevitably seen as a disguised demand for more austerity.

[..] Greece’s pension expenditure as a proportion of GDP is the highest in the EU, even though payments are only about 70% of the EU average. That’s the problem with quoting fixed payments like pensions (and debt service) in relation to GDP: as GDP falls, the cost rises. The Greek economy is now about 27% smaller than it was in 2008, and still shrinking. The IMF’s case is that pension cost as a proportion of GDP is now unsustainable, and further, that the creditors are not going to agree to debt relief while pension cost remains so high. It is probably right on both counts. But once again, what really matters is the psychological framing.

[..] the IMF’s position is untenable. Since it can no longer credibly claim to be neutral, it must explicitly back one side or the other. If it backs neither, it will de facto be seen as supporting the creditors – and that is not consistent with its international mandate, since it effectively means giving up its quest for substantial debt relief (since the creditors have no desire to agree to this). But coming out in support of Greece probably means abandoning its long-standing commitment to ensuring fiscal sustainability through pension and tax reforms. It appears an impossible choice. If the IMF can concede neither of these, then it must do what it should have done long ago. Walk.

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