Rembrandt van Rijn Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem 1630
Watching Day 1 yesterday of the impeachment inquiry that isn’t one, I was thinking about an old children’s game, which is just as useful for adults, in which, in a wide circle of persons, no. 1 tells no. 2 a story, no. 2 tells no. 3, and so forth. If the total numbers of persons in the circle is large enough, it’s certain that the story, if it has enough details, will have changed unrecognizably by, say, no. 20.
That little game is a nice illustration of why you’ve all heard the words “Hearsay, Your Honor” spoken by some lawyer or another in 1000+ movies and TV series. And hearsay was all there was yesterday from “witnesses” Bill Taylor and George Kent. They are both “witnesses” who didn’t witness anything related to the hearing in course and neither ever met or spoke to President Trump, but both claim to know exactly what he was thinking, why he did what he did, and said what he said, based on things they heard from third parties, quite a few of whom remain anonymous.
Little of what they said would therefore be ruled admissible in a court of law. But the House inquiry is not a court of law. It can probably best be compared to a grand jury, a very one-sided format designed to let a prosecutor find and present enough evidence to let a case go to court. If Taylor and Kent had been in a court room, you would have heard “Hearsay, Your Honor” about once in every ten seconds. That gets old fast.
So why do we have this circus going on when it is obvious that round 2 (or 3, if you think the basement hearings were round 1), the Senate trial which must follow if the Dems decide to impeach Trump, has to acquit him because the House based its entire case on hearsay? I don’t know, but perhaps we see some of it in Democrat Rep. Mike Quigley (IL)’s statement: “Hearsay can be much better evidence than direct … and it’s certainly valid in this instance”
Democrat Rep. Mike Quigley (IL) on evidence: “Hearsay can be much better evidence than direct … and it’s certainly valid in this instance” pic.twitter.com/JD0Ui6acxD
Note that Quigley in that little video got shut down very rapidly in his enthusiasm for using hearsay by someone (I can’t see who) saying none of the exceptions he seemed to refer to applied to “this testimony”. And that’s the crux here: courts may have in the past, after much deliberation, allowed hearsay in specific cases, but Quigley tries to make it look as if that is now some general rule, and that is certainly not true.
Before I forget, something that struck me at the start yesterday was how both Adam Schiff and Bill Taylor in their openings emphasized their focus on Russia, while this case is not about that, but about Ukraine. And Russia Russia Russia has been shot down along with Robert Muller in his memorably awful “defense” of his failed report a few months ago.
Schiff’s opening words:
In 2014, Russia invaded a United States ally, Ukraine, to reverse that nation’s embrace of the West, and to fulfill Vladimir Putin’s desire to rebuild a Russian empire. In the following years, thirteen thousand Ukrainians died as they battled superior Russian forces.
There is so much wrong and debatable and leading and what not in just those few words, I don’t even know where to start. I guess perhaps I should be shouting out “Hearsay, Your Honor” at the top of my lungs. Then there’s Taylor:
After his opening statement, Taylor answers questions. He tells committee members: “If we withdraw or suspend or threaten to withdraw our security assistance” to Ukraine, it sends a “message to Ukrainians, but its just as important to the Russians who are looking for any sign of weakness”. “That affects us” he adds. It affects the world that we live in; that our children and grandchildren will grow up in,” he adds, appearing to become emotional. “Ukraine is on the front line of that conflict,” he concludes.
These statements are important because they tell us that Schiff and Taylor both see the world through the same glasses. The Russians are looking for signs of US weakness that they can use to advance their grand plan to (re) build a grand empire. That comes with the idea that the US didn’t cause the mayhem in Ukraine in 2014 with their coup, no, it was Russia which reacted so it wouldn’t lose its only warm water port.
Back to the hearing. Taylor said it was his “clear understanding” that President Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine until the Bidens and other matters were investigated. At the very least there is no proof of that. It’s much more likely from what we know today that Ukraine didn’t know Trump withheld the aid until after the July 25 phone call this whole thing rests on. It was suggested yesterday that they didn’t know until the end of August, but I’ve seen people claim that they knew a few weeks earlier. But Zelensky didn’t know on July 25, that we can agree on.
And anyway, this is merely Taylor’s opinion. Based on hearsay. Based on what some guy told him some other guy told him etc etc. And though Taylor never met Trump, the very idea of withholding aid to one of the most corrupt nations on the planet scares the heebees out of him because Russia Russia Russia.
Taylor is a career diplomat who has bought hook line and sinker into established US policy in the region, and who will defend it until his dying breath. And if that means going against the president of the country he allegedly serves, who has every right to rebalance that policy, Taylor will do it. That is what he was saying.
Taylor came close to matching Mueller’s uber-bumbling performance the other day, though he didn’t quite get there. Kent was not quite that bad, but he’s in the same camp, the same career field, and the same deep state, FBI-CIA controlled policy-making no matter who gets elected president. And looking at Bill Taylor, how can one not question the wisdom of people like him making decisions on matters such as that?
Republican counsel Steve Castor started off strong, at least from what I saw, but seemed to fizzle out a little because he became lost in his own one question every five seconds model. Perhaps it was the format, maximum time limits etc., which you don’t have in a courtroom. Jim Jordan did well, he just got named to the committee, but he could have been more effective as well. Still, this part was strong:
You didn’t listen in on President Trump & Zelensky’s call?
Taylor: I did not.
Jordan: You’ve never talked with Chief of Staff Mulvaney?
Taylor: I never did.
Jordan: You’ve never met the President?
Taylor: That’s correct.
Jordan: And you’re their star witness.
All in all, if you thought yesterday was a good day for the Democrats, for the inquiry, or for Adam Schiff, you really need to check a few fundamental issues. All Schiff managed to bring to the table was hearsay. And it’s only because of the grand jury-like format that he even gets to start day 2. No judge would have let him. But there is no judge, and there is no jury. There’s only an executioner.
PS I found this thing from the BBC intriguing and illustrative:
Bill Taylor, the acting US ambassador to Ukraine, said a member of his staff was told Mr Trump was preoccupied with pushing for a probe into Mr Biden. He was speaking at the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry.
[..] During a detailed opening statement, Mr Taylor said a member of his staff had overheard a telephone call in which the president inquired about “the investigations” into Mr Biden. The call was with Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, who reportedly told the president over the phone from a restaurant in Kyiv that “the Ukrainians were ready to move forward”. After the call, the staff member “asked ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine”, Mr Taylor said. Mr Taylor said: “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.”
First, it argues that a member of Taylor’s staff was told something by a third party, but later it changes to him/her hearing the president “live”. Albeit through an allegedly private phone call in which Trump may have sounded a bit loud. You want to impeach your president on the basis of a maybe overheard phone call that someone told you someone told someone else about?
By the way, that phone call allegedly was between Trump and Gordon Sondland, hotelier cum US ambassador to the EU, the same person who testified in the famous Schiff basement and whose laywer at some point contested Taylor’s statements about what Sondland told him, after which the latter went back to the basement to change his testimony. He said she said but then he said and then she said and so on.
What’s on the schedule for the circus today, is it the clowns or the elephants? I may take a day off. We have weeks more of this. And already I have no idea left of who told whom what.
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It took just 4 months after the deplorably failed Mueller probe of alleged Trump links to Russia, for the Democrats to raise the next -faded- red flag, Ukraine. And they do so in a manner that reminds me, personally, a lot of what happens in the UK. That is, the process has now moved on to what is legal or not and who decides what is or not.
Nancy Pelosi apparently has been told by her legal advice that it’s okay for her to move ahead with an inquiry, that she can even label an Impeachment Inquiry, without following established Capitol Hill procedure. Needless to say, them slopes are mighty slippery. Because if true, it would mean she can call the ‘other side’ offside for as long as she wishes.
She would, in effect, prorogate the US House the same way Boris Johnson tried to do Parliament in Britain. And not by shutting it down from the outside (Boris as PM) but from the inside (using her powers as Speaker). It would appear it’s time for every American to pay attention, because this could have grave consequences far into the future.
Pelosi’s plan is to not have a House vote on initiating the inquiry, but to just go ahead and have one, and stealing the name Impeachment Inquiry for it. Why? Because she thinks that way she can have only Democrats ask questions, issue subpoenas etc., while House Republicans could only sit and watch the spectacle (not what they were elected for).
I am not a lawyer, let alone a constitutional scholar, but when I read these things there are a million red hot five-alarms going off in my head. Because this is not about enacting the law, it’s about circumventing it. Just because you have a House majority cannot mean you can simply ignore the minority, or procedure. That would turn democracy into a proxy dictatorship. You don’t want to go there, not even if you’re a desperate Democrat.
But she seems to have made up her mind. So now we face Trump not being allowed to investigate what Joe Biden was up to in the run-up to the 2016 election though Joe’s party could turn that same run-up into a 3-year Special Counsel probe, which turned up less than .. well, you fill it in. It is something to behold.
At the same time, though, there is no Impeachment Inquiry, even if Pelosi calls it that. The White House today will send a letter to a judge contesting exactly that. A House Impeachment Inquiry has a procedure, and if she doesn’t follow that, the White House will deny it’s actually happening, and not respond.
Now, if you follow the headlines this week, you wouldn’t know this. Because they all talk of an impeachment inquiry going on. But you can’t get impeachment without following the official procedure, and Pelosi doesn’t follow it. And the media just go along for the ride without caring about procedure.
And obviously you can’t watch this theater and not think that Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff et al have not thought about stretching out this whole tragedy for another year, right on the eve of the 2020 election, or even beyond. That they think allegations about Russia, Ukraine and China will help them win.
Because it’s clear that flouting procedure the way they try to do in the House will inevitably have to lead to court decisions, and eventually to the Supreme Court. They’re counting on the damage they can do to Trump while the courts decide. But it won’t just be damage to Trump, however it turns out, it will be damage to the entire country.
And you would think both sides of the aisle recognize that (after all, we do), but there are very few if any signs of that. Everyone’s gearing up for a very big fight because everyone else in their echo chamber is. The problem is, whatever happens, and whoever becomes president, the dividing lines will only become deeper and darker.
AG Bill Barr, along with the State Department and DOJ, and whoever else is involved, will release multiple reports from investigations conducted by US Attorney John Durham, DOJ IG Michael Horowitz and potentially others. The Dems and MSM viewpoint appears to be that is was fine to appoint a Special Counsel to investigate Trump’s links to Russia, but not Democrats’ links to, well, anyone at all.
And yeah, I know that’s Fox, and I know I’ve on occasion had to turn to right wing media for news because the MSM have closed ranks and ‘report’ only on one side of the story. Sue me for wanting actual news.
None of this negates the fact that we’re in for ever bitter fights, up to and including at the US Supreme Court, ever more, to decide who rules the country. Just like in Britain.
I don’t think this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind. At least, unlike Britain, they cared enough to write a Constitution. A lot of good that did.
Australia is doomed to become a third-world country unless its government starts “something like the Apollo program” to inspire its citizens into becoming a technology economy, Freelancer.com chief executive Matt Barrie told the AFR Innovation Summit 2017. “Australia is basically a property bubble floating inside a mining bubble inside a commodities bubble inside a China bubble, and that lucky free ride is about to go pop,” he said. The government was focused on “new ways to tax things” in reaction to its looming revenue problem, while neglecting education with proposed cuts to university funding of $1.2 billion, the biggest in 20 years. “Why not try and grow the biggest line of tax, income tax, by encouraging people to study in the right areas like science and engineering, instead of making these cuts which will push the cost of an electrical engineering degree at UNSW above $34,000, while slashing the HECS repayment threshold at the same time,” Mr Barrie said.
…Where is the growth come from? Mr Barrie asks. Governments have achieved growth from a property bubble “like no other”, says Mr Barrie. To paint this picture he says there are cranes in Sydney right now than in most American states combined and that being in postcodes with restricted lending. He is trawling fast through a broad range of figures that highlight Australia’s “basket case” economy including figures around low wage growth, unaffordable housing, manufacturing losses. Mr Barrie [says] we are “delusional” after 26 years of growth based on bubbles: mining, commodities and now property. Mr Barrie is slamming the economy’s structure (it’s hard to keep up, he’s moving fast). “Our economy is completely stuffed. We can’t rely on property to make us…we need serious structural change.”
We’re finally here. About nine years after quantitative easing (QE) began, quantitative tightening (QT) is about to start. On Wednesday, after the Federal Open Market Committee releases its statement, Janet Yellen will follow with a press conference that she will do her best to make as boring as possible. Every Fed member I suppose is praying for boring because of the epic bubbles that QE and seven years of zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) has created in just about everything. They want this to unfold as orderly and as quietly as possible. Wishful thinking I believe. I also expect the FOMC to lay the groundwork for a December rate hike with the market currently 50/50 on that. If one believes that the stock market still is a discounting mechanism, then there’s nothing to fear with QT and maybe it will actually be like “watching paint dry” as Fed members so desperately want it to be. After all, the S&P 500 is at an all time high.
If you think, like me, that the stock market is not the same discounting tool as it once was because of the major distortion and manipulation of markets via central market involvement and the dominance of machines that are reactive instead of proactive in response to news, then we must review the previous experiences when major Fed changes took place. After all, they were all well telegraphed as this week’s likely news has been. I expect no different an outcome this time and I believe the market – with the S&P at an all-time high – is headed for a brick wall the deeper QT gets. Before I get to that, let me remind everyone that the third mandate of QE was higher stock prices. Ben Bernanke in rationalizing the initiation of QE2 in a Washington Post editorial back in November 2010 said in regards to QE1 and the verbal preparation for QE2, “this approach eased financial conditions in the past and, so far, looks to be effective again.
Stock prices rose and long term interest rates fell when investors began to anticipate the most recent action.” He then went on to say “higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth and help increase confidence, which can also spur spending. Increased spending will lead to higher incomes and profits that, in a virtuous circle, will further support economic expansion.” Well, the belief in the wealth effect hasn’t worked in this expansion. Hence, the record high in stocks last week and the 2.9% year over year rise in core August retail sales, both below the 5 year average and well less than the average seen in the prior two expansions.
After QE1 ended when we knew exactly the full size and expiration date (March 31st, 2010), the market topped out three weeks after and then fell 17%. After QE2 ended when we also knew the exact amount and deadline (June 30th, 2011), the market peaked one week later and then fell about 20%. Around the time QE3 ended with the lead up being a very methodical process of tapering, stocks had a hissy fit of about 10% only saved by James Bullard who hinted that maybe they won’t end QE.
The Great Central Bank Unwind Central banks including the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank and Bank of England are embarking on what has been called the “Great Unwind” – the winding-down of quantitative easing programs which included trillions of dollars’ worth of asset purchases and record low interest rates that have bolstered economies, financial markets and banking systems. Calling the “Great Unwind” a “journey into the unknown,” the strategists warned that “history would suggest there will be substantial consequences of the move especially given the elevated level of many global asset prices” adding that “even if the unwind stalls as either central banks get cold feet or if the economy unexpectedly weakens, we will still be left with an unprecedented global situation and one which makes finance inherently unstable.”
Out of ammunition? The strategists said there was a danger that central banks and governments could find themselves without ammunition to tackle a recession should one occur, given their already near zero interest rates, creaking balance sheets, and a backdrop of high levels of government debt. “Could the next recession be the one where policy makers are the most impotent they’ve been for 45 years or will they simply go for even more extreme tactics and resort to full on monetization to pay for a fiscal splurge? It does feel that we’re at a crossroads and the next downturn could be marked by extreme events given the policy cul-de-sac we seem to be nearing the end of,” Reid et al warned.
More QE if inflation disappoints? Since the financial crisis of ten years ago, persistently low inflation has been a constant headache for central banks, the Deutsche Bank strategists noted, a situation they found “fairly incredible” given the phenomenal level of central bank and government stimulus. “Although not our base case, given the recent inflation and Trump’s fiscal challenges, it’s not infeasible that markets could be blindsided by a return to more QE rather than less…If central banks do end up conducting increased QE again, the risk is we again go back to negative rates and worries about the banking system and the plumbing of the financial system.”
Italy – Crisis ‘waiting to happen?’ Turning to the euro zone’s third largest economy, Deutsche Bank’s strategists warned of more political and economic uncertainty from Italy. “A country nearing an election and with high populist party support, with a generationally underperforming economy, a comparatively huge debt burden, and a fragile banking system which continues to have to deal with legacy toxic debt holdings ticks a number of boxes to us for the ingredients of a potential next financial crisis.”
A China crisis?Conceding that China’s economy had so far avoided a hard landing predicted by many economists, Deutsche Bank warned that China still needed to transition its economy “from manufacturing to services and investment to consumption,” a process with Deutsche Bank said “needs to take place in the context of also containing the rapid growth of credit in our view.” “Rapid credit expansion due to an insatiable demand for debt fuelled growth, compounded by a hugely active shadow banking system, as well as an ever expanding property bubble fuelled fears for economists that China could inevitably make a hard landing and send shockwaves through the world’s financial markets. However, the economy has seemingly defied the odds.” “However, future growth cannot forever rely on debt and investment alone…The warning signs are there and the fundamental vulnerabilities remain. The greater issue might be ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ the credit bubble pops.”
Bitcoin has been making a lot of news lately. The cryptocurrency shot up in value by over 200% in 2017, making many people fear that the market is in a bubble. Last week, China decided to close its bitcoin exchanges, which caused investors around the world to panic about the currency’s long-term viability. But HowMuch.net asks, how many people own bitcoin, and how is the currency distributed around the world? Check out our new visualization. Our graph represents the entire bitcoin market, which has a value of around $60 billion. For comparison, that’s bigger than several well-known companies, like Fed-Ex and General Motors. We then divided the value of the bitcoin market by address. As you can see, over 95% of all bitcoins in circulation are owned by about 4% of the market. In fact, 1% of the addresses control half the entire market.
There are a couple limitations in our data. Most importantly, each address can represent more than one individual person. An obvious example would be a bitcoin exchange or wallet, which hold the currency for a lot of different people. Another limitation has to do with anonymity. If you want to remain completely anonymous, you can use something called CoinJoin, a process that allows users to group similar transactions together. This makes it seem like two people are using the same address, when in reality they are not. So it’s a complex situation. but let’s try to break bitcoin down as simple as possible. Bitcoin is just a type of money, like dollars and euros. The main difference is that there isn’t a sovereign government backing the currency, and it instead lives online. This is possible thanks to something called the blockchain.
Banks and companies must keep detailed records of where they send money, marking it possible to detect fraud and criminal activity. The blockchain works differently because it breaks each transaction into tiny components, routes the pieces through a computer network, and directs them to a recipient who can then re-assemble the code together. If you don’t have the right key, you can’t own a bitcoin. And if you aren’t at the right digital address (think your home network’s IP address), then you can’t receive bitcoin. The technology is hard to understand, and it presents challenges for companies and people who want to use it. That’s why folks typically turn to a vendor like Coinbase to handle their transactions. You know how you carry physical money in your personal wallet? Think of Coinbase as a digital wallet.
You use it to buy stuff and pay for services. But be careful—people can steal your digital wallet, and the thieves can be untraceable. And that’s the issue. There’s only a very limited number of bitcoin wallet providers out there. It’s not like you can just go to your local bank and buy some bitcoin. The big takeaway from all this is that if you are considering purchasing some bitcoin, you have very limited options. There are only a few key players in the game where you can park your investment. And if you do make that purchase, understand that it is highly speculative and unregulated, so prepare for a bumpy ride.
The chairs of two powerful parliamentary committees have urged the government to set up an independent public inquiry into the £200bn of debt amassed by households. The call by Rachel Reeves, the Labour chair of the business select committee, and Frank Field, the Labour head of the work and pensions select committee, comes as the Conservative-led Treasury select committee plans to hold meetings around the country to examine the impact of debt on individuals and households. “Debt is a huge emotional burden for people,” said Nicky Morgan, the Conservative MP who chairs the Treasury select committee. She added that “unstable personal finances” often emerged as problems raised by her constituents in Loughborough.
The £200bn of debt amassed on credit cards, personal loans and car deals is now at the same level it reached before the 2008 financial crisis and there are fears that rises in interest rates could put more households under pressure. Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, warned on Monday that interest rates were likely to rise in response to rising inflation and skills shortages brought on by Brexit that will increase pressure on wages. Field said people in his Birkenhead constituency on the Wirral were being pushed into destitution by the actions of loan sharks and finance companies that heaped extra pain on low income households with sky-high interest charges. He said: “We need a commission to assess the current situation. There are so many moving parts that a proper investigation goes beyond the remit of any single committee.”
Millennials are spending three times more of their income on housing than their grandparents yet are often living in worse accommodation, says a study launched by former Conservative minister David Willetts that warns of a “housing catastrophe”. The generation currently aged 18-36 are typically spending over a third of their post-tax income on rent or about 12% on mortgages, compared with 5%-10% of income spent by their grandparents in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite spending more, young people today are more likely to live in overcrowded and smaller spaces, and face longer journeys to work – commuting for the equivalent of three days a year more than their parents. The research by Willetts’ intergenerational commission at the Resolution Foundation thinktank also reveals that today’s 30-year-olds are only half as likely to own their own home as their baby boomer parents.
They are four times as likely to rent privately than two generations ago, a sector which has the worst record for housing quality, the report claims. The report’s authors argue that the housing crisis is a huge part of public anxiety about the country’s direction, a factor in the result of the EU referendum last year and in the general election in June. A young family today has to save for 19 years on average to afford a typical deposit compared with three years for the previous generation, the report states. “This is the biggest problem facing the younger generation,” said Willetts. “It depresses their living standards and quality of life. It is very important for the Tory party to open up the route to home ownership again. A lot of twentysomethings also have horror stories of bad landlords and we need to help them as well.”
New Zealand’s jet fuel crisis is worsening by the day with airlines restricting ticket sales, politicians limiting travel to essential flights only on some routes in the final days of the election campaign and all but the most critical exports halted. Rationing is set to continue for another week after a digger on Thursday struck the sole jet fuel, diesel and petrol supply pipe to Auckland, the country’s biggest city and major transport hub for international visitors. Three thousand people a day are being affected by cancelled domestic and international flights. Another 6,000 people will be impacted by delays or disruptions to normal service, Air New Zealand said, and it had taken the “unusual” step of restricting ticket sales to all but essential or compassionate travel to try and manage the shortage.
As a result of the tightening fuel shortage, all airlines stopping in Auckland are only able to upload 30% of their normal capacity of jet fuel and the government has instructed its employees to cancel all non-essential travel. Export goods are being off-loaded from domestic and international flights unless they are at risk of rotting to lighten the load. Some international routes have been cancelled altogether or diverted to Australia and Fiji until the crisis is resolved.
Although the jet fuel supply pipe is privately owned and operated, opposition Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has criticized the government’s lack of investment in vital infrastructure in Auckland, as the ruling National party instructed its staffers and candidates around the country to restrict campaigning in the final days of the general election to save on jet fuel. “One pipeline and one digger and New Zealand grinds to a halt,” said Ardern on Tuesday. [..] Petrol and diesel supplies have also been affected by the damaged pipe, with both fuels being driven overland to Auckland from other supply points in the North Island, and the defence force called in to assist with transportation and logistics, including the naval tanker HMNZS Endeavour.
Bain Capital, KKR and Vornado Realty Trust stand to have their Toys “R” Us Inc. investment erased as the retailer they bought in 2005 for $7.5 billion seeks bankruptcy protection. The three firms and their co-investors sank $1.3 billion of equity into the takeover of the Wayne, New Jersey-based toy company, financing the rest with debt, according to company filings. The debt included senior loans in which they held a stake. Partly offsetting the loss is more than $470 million in fees and interest payments that Toys “R” Us awarded the firms over time. Toys “R” Us, which has 1,600 stores in 38 countries, filed for bankruptcy late Monday. The filing in Richmond, Virginia, estimated that the company has more than $5 billion in debt, which costs about $400 million a year to service.
The buyout was part of a vast wave of debt-enabled takeovers by private equity firms from 2005 to 2007 that saw deal prices soar to tens of billions of dollars. The wave crashed at the onset of the financial crisis in 2009. The biggest of that era’s private equity deals was the $48 billion buyout of Texas utility TXU, now called Energy Future Holdings Corp. The company went belly-up in 2014, obliterating $8.3 billion of equity put in by KKR, TPG Capital, Goldman Sachs and co-investors.
Toys “R” Us appeared stable out of the gate. The $7.5 billion price worked out to about 7.5 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization – not outlandish by today’s standards. With about $1 billion a year in Ebitda, the company was able to cover the interest on its $5.5 billion of debt and fund store improvements with more than $200 million to spare. But the ravages of the financial crisis, competition from online rivals and price wars blew up that safety cushion. KKR and Vornado, which are publicly traded, had previously written their investments in the company down to zero. As a result, the bankruptcy won’t affect their earnings going forward.
Less than 24 hours after CNN triggered the latest outbreak of ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ by relaying information from anonymous sources that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manfort has been under surveillance by the FBI since 2014, Manafort has fired back by calling on the Department of Justice to release all transcripts of his tapped phone calls so that the American public “can come to the same conclusion as the DOJ — there is nothing there.” Per the Daily Caller: “Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is calling on the Justice Department to release transcripts of any intercepted communications he may have had with foreigners. Manafort, a longtime Republican political consultant, also called on the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate the leak of details of secret surveillance warrants obtained by U.S. investigators.
“Mr. Manafort requests that the Department of Justice release any intercepts involving him and any non-Americans so interested parties can come to the same conclusion as the DOJ — there is nothing there,” Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said in a statement. Manafort’s spokesman goes on to demand that the DOJ launch an immediate investigation into who continues to commit federal felonies with reckless abandon by leaking details of confidential FISA warrants to the media. Whether or not Manafort committed a crime — and he has not been charged with anything — the leak of information about FISA warrants is a federal crime, Maloni noted in his statement.
“If true, it is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged,” Maloni said. Information about FISA warrants is classified and tightly held by government officials and the federal judges that approve them. Unauthorized disclosures of FISA information is also a felony. At a House Intelligence Committee hearing in March, then-FBI Director James Comey testified that the leak of FISA information is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. In his statement, Maloni called on the Justice Department’s watchdog to “immediately” open an investigation into the leak and to “examine the motivations behind the previous Administration’s effort to surveil a political opponent.”
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates considered military action in the early stages of their ongoing dispute with Qatar before Donald Trump called leaders of both countries and warned them to back off, according to two people familiar with the U.S. president’s discussions. The Saudis and Emiratis were looking at ways to remove the Qatari regime, which they accused of sponsoring terrorism and cozying up to Iran, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were confidential. Trump told Saudi and U.A.E. leaders that any military action would trigger a crisis across the Middle East that would only benefit Iran, one of the people said. More recently, the Trump administration has quietly sent high-level messages to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. to try to defuse the quarrel.
Trump, who initially sided with the Saudi-led bloc, had a change of heart because of evidence that a prolonged dispute with Qatar will serve as an advantage to Iran, according to a U.S. official familiar with his thinking. Trump met with Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. Asked by a reporter if he had warned Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. against military action in the country, Trump responded, “No.” At the same meeting, Trump confronted the Qatari leader with what one U.S. official said is evidence that Qatar is still engaged in terrorism-related activity and told him it has to stop.
[..] Trump said on Tuesday that the U.S. is pushing for an end to the Gulf dispute. “We are right now in a situation where we’re trying to solve a problem in the Middle East,” he said. “I have a very strong feeling that it will be solved, and pretty quickly.” Those comments reflected how Trump has changed his thinking on the Qatar dispute in the past 10 days or so, becoming more sympathetic with the Qataris after previously backing the Saudi-led bloc and saying his priority is to clamp down on terror financing, according to the U.S. official familiar with his thinking.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has instructed the government to approve legislation making the ruble the main currency of exchange at all Russian seaports by next year, according to the Kremlin website. To protect the interests of stevedoring companies with foreign currency obligations, the government was instructed to set a transition period before switching to ruble settlements. According to the head of Russian antitrust watchdog FAS Igor Artemyev, many services in Russian seaports are still priced in US dollars, even though such ports are state-owned. The proposal to switch port tariffs to rubles was first proposed by the president a year and a half ago.
The idea was not embraced by large transport companies, which would like to keep revenues in dollars and other foreign currencies because of fluctuations in the ruble. Artemyev said the decision will force foreigners to buy Russian currency, which is good for the ruble. In 2016, his agency filed several lawsuits against the largest Russian port group NMTP. According to FAS, the group of companies set tariffs for transshipment in dollars and raised tariffs from January 2015 “without objective grounds.” The watchdog ruled that NMTP abused its dominant position in the market and imposed a 9.74 billion rubles fine, or about $165 million at the current exchange rate. The decision was overturned by a court in Moscow in July this year.
EU citizens living under squeezed financial circumstances could be forgiven for wondering whether European Commission President Juncker was having a joke at their expense when he spoke recently about how Europe’s economy is finally bouncing back. After a tumultuous decade triggered by the global financial crisis in 2007, the Eurozone’s growth figures are being compared favourably to America’s, with production up 3.2% against last year. However, evidence points to a wide chasm between people’s lived experiences and Juncker’s message of triumph. It is doubtful that the citizens of Spain and Greece, for example, would agree with his assessment. According to the Commission, 30% of Spaniards are at risk of social exclusion due to poverty and income inequality.
The proportion of children in Spain living below the poverty line increased by 9% between 2008 and 2014, to 30.5%, and Spain is in 7th place on the OECD list of countries where inequality has risen the most since 2010. Greece, meanwhile, is at top of this ranking. Now, ‘growth’ may be used to express the success of a country’s economic performance. But how impressive is it really, when the Troika’s austerity-driven politics is causing so much human suffering in countries like Greece and Spain? According to the OECD, countries have continued the trend towards implementing tax policy reforms to boost growth. French President Macron is proposing to cut corporation tax from 33.3% to 25% by 2022. Yet the use of tax levers, primarily cuts to corporation tax, as a means to draw inward investment has been disputed by top economists.
“The way you get a productive economy is changing the fundamentals, says John Van Reenen of the LSE. “You get your people to be more skilled, or you have your infrastructure working efficiently. You’re never really going to get there just by reducing corporate tax.” So what’s the alternative? It is possible to pursue a successful strategy without crucifying ordinary people in the process, and Portugal is leading the way. The country adopted left wing alternatives to austerity policies in 2015 and is now reporting an impressive recovery. It is a model from which governments can learn.
Greece faces two possible outcomes. Officials from both the government and creditors say the aim is to finish the third bailout review by the end of the year, giving the country time to raise more funds in the market and paving the way for its successful program exit. Concluding the review by the end of the year, or even in the early months of next year, would help Greece gain much-needed investor confidence. Prolonged negotiations, on the other hand, could weigh on investor sentiment and hamper the country’s effort to exit its bailout next summer and finance itself. “Investments are at a very low level and, as a result, Greece is growing much slower than it should and, in fact, slower than many of its eurozone partners,” Vettas said.
Greek investment was stagnant in 2016 and fell during the first two quarters of this year. If Greece’s bailout runs out before the country completes all the reforms it has agreed to, it could put at risk any plans for debt relief from the euro area, something the government has sought for years. Greece’s partners agreed to ease the country’s debt at the end of its bailout, provided agreed reforms are successfully concluded. Key sticking points in the review include Greece’s budget for 2018, and whether the country is taking sufficient measures to hit bailout-prescribed targets. Greece is expected to have a primary surplus, which excludes interest payments, of 3.5% of GDP next year, a target that seems more difficult as tax receipts have failed to yield expected revenue, Greek and EU officials say.
Meanwhile, politically contentious issues such as privatizations, the reform of public administration as well as an overhaul of the labor market may be raised in the upcoming talks. Greek banks’ handling of nonperforming loans is also expected to come under fire as is a restructuring of social benefits. Tsipras’s administration has yet to find resources in the budget to avoid cutting some popular benefits. The IMF’s demand for a new asset-quality review for Greek banks may be another bone of contention, this time between the Fund and the ECB. The Greek government and Frankfurt say that such a review will harm the nation’s lenders because they need to focus on addressing the NPL issue. A solution, they say, may be to wait for the results of the banks’ regular stress tests, which are expected before the end of the bailout program, without a new asset-quality review.
European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis has told Kathimerini in an exclusive interview that a successful conclusion to the third review of Greece’s third international bailout by the end of the year would send money markets a convincing message that the program is on track and close to its end – although it’s still rather early to discuss a so-called “clean exit,” he said. The Latvian politician also explained it was the government’s decision to raise taxes instead of cutting public spending, and income tax has now failed to meet revenue expectations.
Regarding talk about a “clean exit” from Greece’s third bailout at the end of next summer, Dombrovskis indicated that such a discussion was “premature” and that the priority now is to focus on completing the third bailout review by the end of the year. He said 95 prior actions, some of which have been legislated, must still be implemented. The EU official underlined the importance of Greece meeting a primary surplus target of 3.5% next year and creating a more beneficial environment for potential investors as part of efforts to boost much-needed growth.
Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos has written to the government and the European Commission asking that immediate action be taken to reduce the number of refugees on the island. In the letter sent to European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos and Greek Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas, Galinos says there are now more than 6,000 refugees and migrants on the island, which is far more than existing facilities can cope with. The Lesvos mayor attributed this to a steady rise in arrivals and insufficient efforts to reduce the numbers at hotspots. Galinos claimed the island is being “held hostage” and called for immediate action by authorities. He ruled out the possibility of more temporary facilities being built on the island. “Lesvos’s ability to offer hospitality is limited to its current infrastructure,” the mayor wrote.
This is a few days old (Mey 31). Think it’ll get more attention after last night’s attacks? A report, supposed to be out in early 2016, commissioned by Cameron while May was Home Secretary, is ‘disappeared’ now she is PM.
An investigation into the foreign funding of extremist Islamist groups may never be published, the Home Office has admitted. The inquiry commissioned by David Cameron, was launched as part of a deal with the Liberal Democrats in December 2015, in exchange for the party supporting the extension of British airstrikes against Isis into Syria. But although it was due to be published in the spring of 2016, it has not been completed and may never be made public due to its “sensitive” contents. It is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia, which the UK recently approved £3.5bn worth of arms export licences to. A spokesperson from the Home Office told The Independent a decision on the publication of the report would be taken “after the election by the next government”.
But in a separate interview with The Guardian, a spokesperson said the report may never be published, describing its contents were “very sensitive”. Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, has written a letter to the Prime Minister pressing her on when the report will be published and what steps she proposes to take to address “one of the root causes of violent extremism in the UK”. “You will agree with me that the protection of our country, of the British people, is the most important job of any government,” he wrote. “Certainly, more important than potential trade deals with questionable regimes, which appear to be the only explanation for your reticence. “When will this report be finished and published? And what steps do you propose to take to address one of the root causes of violent extremism in the UK?”
An investigation into the foreign funding and support of jihadi groups that was authorised by David Cameron may never be published, the Home Office has admitted. The inquiry into revenue streams for extremist groups operating in the UK was commissioned by the former prime minister and is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia, which has repeatedly been highlighted by European leaders as a funding source for Islamist jihadis. The investigation was launched as part of a deal with the Liberal Democrats in exchange for the party supporting the extension of British airstrikes against Islamic State into Syria in December 2015. Tom Brake, the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman, has written to the prime minister asking her to confirm that the investigation will not be shelved.
The Observer reported in January last year that the Home Office’s extremism analysis unit had been directed by Downing Street to investigate overseas funding of extremist groups in the UK, with findings to be shown to Theresa May, then home secretary, and Cameron. However, 18 months later, the Home Office confirmed the report had not yet been completed and said it would not necessarily be published, calling the contents “very sensitive”. A decision would be taken “after the election by the next government” about the future of the investigation, a Home Office spokesman said. In his letter to May, Brake wrote: “As home secretary at the time, your department was one of those leading on the report. Eighteen months later, and following two horrific terrorist attacks by British-born citizens, that report still remains incomplete and unpublished.
“It is no secret that Saudi Arabia in particular provides funding to hundreds of mosques in the UK, espousing a very hardline Wahhabist interpretation of Islam. It is often in these institutions that British extremism takes root.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s gamble on a June 8 snap election was thrust into doubt after a Survation poll showed her Conservative Party’s lead had dropped to a new low of just one percentage point. While British pollsters all predict May will win the most seats in Thursday’s election, they have given an array of different numbers for how big her win will be, ranging from a landslide victory to a much more slender win without a majority. Some of the polls indicate the election could be on a knife edge that would throw Britain into political deadlock just days before formal Brexit talks with the European Union are due to begin on June 19.
In a sign of how much her campaign has soured just five days before voting begins, May’s personal rating turned negative for the first time in one of ComRes’s polls since she won the top job in the turmoil following the June 23 Brexit referendum. Survation said the Conservatives were on 40% and Labour on 39%, indicating May’s lead has collapsed by 11 percentage points over two weeks and that her majority was now in doubt. “Prime Minister May’s overall majority now hangs in the balance based on our most recent data,” Survation founder Damian Lyons Lowe told Reuters. “The risk of May not having an overall majority has increased significantly based on our data.”
Nearly two-thirds of young people say that they are certain to vote in Thursday’s General Election, which, if it happens, could see them play a decisive role in many marginal seats and thus, in the final outcome. Of those who are registered and say they are certain to vote, two-thirds (68%) plan to back Labour. That’s according to an exclusive ICM poll commissioned by Hope Not Hate and supported by the National Union of Teachers (NUT). If the turnout is anywhere near the 63% of young people who said that they were “certain” to vote, then this represents a major increase on the 43% who voted in the 2015 General Election.
Living in a key battleground seat could be an important factor in youth turnout, with four out of ten (39%) of 18-24 year-olds saying that living in a marginal constituency would make them more likely to vote. With the latest Lord Ashcroft polling, out yesterday, suggesting that there are 70 constituencies where the two leading parties’ estimated vote shares are within 5% of each other, the turn out rate amongst young people could define the outcome. Among the marginal seats where the youth vote could decide the outcome are Leeds North West, Norwich South, Cambridge, and Cardiff Central. But it is not just the big University seats where the youth vote could make the difference. In Harrow West, for example, Ashcroft’s polling predicts there is only 2% between Labour and Conservatives and according to the 2011 census, there are 9,500 18-24 years in the constituency.
Even if only two-thirds of them are registered, a turnout of 60% could have a major influence on the result. Our poll found huge support for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, with two-thirds of those who were registered and certain to vote saying they supported Labour (68%), with half (50%) saying Jeremy Corbyn had the right qualities to be Prime Minister (vs 28% for Theresa May).
Trust, or more precisely the lack of it, remains a major issue for young people. Most of them also felt that tabloid newspapers and wealthy individual donors had an unhealthy influence on British politics. The BBC came out as a trusted source of information for 49% of young people, making it the single most trusted news platform. This compares to just 22% who trust newspapers (and 42% distrusted) and 18% social media (and 45% distrusted). Family and friends were trusted by 46%.
One month ago, we said that “the Vancouver housing bubble Is back, and it’s (almost) bigger than ever.” Fast forward to today, when we can scrap the almost part: according to the latest data from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, nearly a year after British Columbia implemented a 15% property tax targeting foreign buyers, in May the biggest real estate bubble of all time did the impossible and in a testament to the persistence of Chinese oligarchs, criminals, money launderers and pretty much anyone who is desperate to park their cash as far away as possible, after a modest drop following last summer’s tax the Vancouver housing bubble has bounced right back to new all time highs, as prices of detached, attached houses and apartment all surged to new record highs.
The only thing that did fall in May was the number of actual transactions, as residential property sales in the region totaled 4,364 in May 2017, a decrease of 8.5% from the 4,769 sales in May 2016, an all-time record. In other words, all that the 15% surtax achieved was to drastically slowdown the rate of transactions (or perhaps home flipping). Meanwhile, as sellers held out to find more aggressive buyers, they were in luck as the new wave of buyers has emerged, and undeterred by the 15% premium, they have been slowly but surely lifting all available offers. While there is little we can add to this month’s update that we didn’t already say a month ago, below we again put Canada’s housing market, and bubble, in perspective with some of our favorite charts, first showing total Canadian household debt compared to the US. Most of this is in the form of mortgages.
[..] the punchline: indexed home prices in Canada compared to the US. This needs to commentary.
Australia is on the brink of hitting a technical recession just as it breaks the record for the longest run of uninterrupted economic growth in the developed world. While Treasurer Scott Morrison has insisted there are “better days ahead,” consumers are suffering from a dual frustration of weak wages and underemployment hitting household budgets, fuelling low levels of growth and restricting how much they are willing to spend. Three of Australia’s major financial institutions are forecasting a “paltry” growth of 0.1% or less, with the National Australia Bank the first to tip negative growth for the three months to March when National Accounts figures are released on Wednesday. Morgan Stanley has predicted negative growth of 0.3%. If it were to happen, it would only be the fourth time since the recession of the early 1990s that Australia had endured a quarter of negative territory.
The sluggish outcomes offer some good news for home owners, with many tipping the Reserve Bank will keep interest rates on hold for the forseeable future, and, when they do move, it will be a cut. The prediction comes after house prices Australia wide fell for the first time in 18 months, also giving some hope to aspiring home owners struggling to get into the market. If Wednesday’s gross domestic product figures reveal a contraction, it would be the second in three quarters, narrowly avoiding the technical recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Analysts say there is a “small possibility of a negative GDP” in the next quarter, due to the impact of Cyclone Debbie, which would take Australia “into technical, but not real, recession”, according to the National Australia Bank. “While some of the contraction has undoubtedly been driven by the weather and other one-offs, the question for next week will be whether the slowdown includes signal as well as noise, and implies a more fundamental economic slowdown,” said NAB Chief Economist Alan Oster.
There’s one thing missing from here: You have to take into account how much of what’s for sale in a society is produced within it. If too much of it is imported, no minimum wage can save anything, the money will just vanish.
When higher income households see wage gains, some of it goes to savings. Additional consumption also often flows to vacations and luxury goods, often imported. In other words a non-trivial part leaks out of the local economy. When lower income households see a sustained rise in incomes, they spend virtually all of it. Most goes to food (more nutritious food or eating out), better health care and more education. Sometimes it also goes to rent (moving to a better neighbourhood). Almost all of this spending stays in the local economy. So boost the minimum wage and you boost the economy from the bottom up.
You may be surprised to learn nearly 30% of Ontario’s labour market earned less than $15 an hour in 2016. The nation’s biggest labour market has more people working at low wages than any other big economic engine of Canada (Quebec, B.C., Alberta) While some workers may lose their job after the minimum wage increase (more on that in a minute), a very large number of workers will see an important pay hike, and that will loop back into the economy. Increased consumer spending will grow the top line of businesses, and increase the need for more workers to meet the higher demand for goods and services…and earning better pay. Rising costs will also raise productivity, something virtually every business and economist says we want and need. That’s harder to do if you’re doing things the way you’ve always done them.
Canada has been running a low-wage economy for decades, relatively speaking, according to Statistics Canada. In fact, at last count Canada outpaced the U.S. in the reliance on low-wage work. Within Canada, Ontario has the highest reliance on low-wage work. Boosting wages may knock out some jobs and some marginal businesses. The remaining enterprises that rely on low-wage work will see improved productivity, less absenteeism and turnover, reducing recruitment and training costs. We shouldn’t rue the loss of a few poorly paid jobs, particularly when rising minimum wages also help meet the twin challenges of the early 21st century: constrained revenue growth and higher service needs due to population aging. We’ve got to spur change, and a substantially higher minimum wage will surely spur change.
I think is if you take a look at recent history since the Second World War, something really remarkable has happened. First, human intelligence created two huge sledgehammers capable of terminating our existence—or at least organized existence—both from the Second World War. One of them is familiar. In fact, both are by now familiar. The Second World War ended with the use of nuclear weapons. It was immediately obvious on August 6, 1945, a day that I remember very well. It was obvious that soon technology would develop to the point where it would lead to terminal disaster. Scientists certainly understood this. In 1947 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists inaugurated its famous Doomsday Clock. You know, how close the minute hand was to midnight? And it started seven minutes to midnight. By 1953 it had moved to two minutes to midnight.
That was the year when the United States and Soviet Union exploded hydrogen bombs. But it turns out we now understand that at the end of the Second World War the world also entered into a new geological epic. It’s called the Anthropocene, the epic in which humans have a severe, in fact maybe disastrous impact on the environment. It moved again in 2015, again in 2016. Immediately after the Trump election late January this year, the clock was moved again to two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest it’s been since ’53. So there’s the two existential threats that we’ve created—which might in the case of nuclear war maybe wipe us out; in the case of environmental catastrophe, create a severe impact—and then some. A third thing happened. Beginning around the ’70s, human intelligence dedicated itself to eliminating, or at least weakening, the main barrier against these threats. It’s called neoliberalism.
There was a transition at that time from the period of what some people call “regimented capitalism,” the ’50s and ’60s, the great growth period, egalitarian growth, a lot of advances in social justice and so on— Social democracy, yeah. That’s sometimes called “the golden age of modern capitalism.” That changed in the ’70s with the onset of the neoliberal era that we’ve been living in since. And if you ask yourself what this era is, it’s crucial principle is undermining mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy. It’s not called that. What it’s called is “freedom,” but “freedom” means a subordination to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power. That’s what it means. The institutions of governance—or other kinds of association that could allow people to participate in decision making—those are systematically weakened. Margaret Thatcher said it rather nicely in her aphorism about “there is no society, only individuals.”
The former US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper thinks Russians have some sort of biological predilection to be an untrustworthy bunch. I wish I was making that up, but sadly, I’m not. Clapper said it during last Sunday’s episode of Meet The Press on NBC, during a response to a question about Jared Kushner’s ties to Moscow. The Russians are “typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever” — was the exact quote.There’s great irony in that comment by Clapper, with his own record of perjury, implying that an entire ethnicity can’t be trusted. So, of course, widespread outrage followed the blatantly xenophobic comment. Nah, I’m only joking. No one actually noticed or cared.
Chuck Todd, the interviewer, let the comment slide without even acknowledging that Clapper had said something untoward. If there was a debate about Clapper’s comment and it was deemed somehow acceptable, that would be bad enough — but it’s actually worse than that, because anti-Russian sentiment is so deeply ingrained in the American psyche, that no one even notices when a high profile figure like Clapper makes a comment about the “genetics” of Russians in an effort to brand them as inherently devious and conniving. But it shouldn’t be surprising. Unlike any other group of people, it’s been well-established that you can say pretty much whatever you like about Russians with no repercussions or backlash of any kind, particularly if you pass it off as comedy.
With Donald Trump elected to the office of president of the United States, developments are following their predetermined course, with the relationship between Washington and Berlin being sorely tested. Some had maintained hope that the new president of the US would adjust to the reality that’s been established for years. Trump, however, is battling and trying to overthrow this reality, treating it as something that’s against American interests. The informal NATO summit in Brussels and the G7 have dashed the optimists’ expectations. Trump strongly criticized his European partners, including Germany, for being inconsistent with their financial obligations toward NATO. Germany’s disappointment with this was to be expected, but less so was the audacity that followed.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s strong remarks at a Munich beer tent, that Europe cannot rely on its American and British partners and that it should take its fate into its own hands, were the product of arrogance. They represent the beginning of a rupture, even if some attempt to attribute a “strategic depth” to the whole issue – something like an emancipation for the European Union and a fresh impetus for the completion of the EU project. Except that the introduction of the common currency, rather than make Europe more united, has created a two-tiered Europe, divided between north and south, and Chancellor Merkel’s immigration policies have accelerated centrifugal trends. It doesn’t require much intelligence for one to realize the likely outcome of another amateur initiative like a “common European defense” structure without the active participation of the US and the UK.
This would be opportunism with disastrous consequences. It goes without saying that Greece outside the UK/US defense system puts us in grave danger. We haven’t, of course, reached that point just yet. We’ve simply reached a period of typical European babble and confusion. The hope is that it doesn’t last too long. Nevertheless, the cries of German politicians must stop. Of course, Pax Americana has been violently disputed from time to time. We have already had a taste of Germany in a dominant economic role, as implemented by Wolfgang Schaeuble. Let us consider the remarks by Chancellor Merkel as a moment of intoxication at the beer tent. We want a peaceful Europe, not one where Germany puts itself above all.
A Greek debt relief scenario that put back interest payments until 2048 would mean the nation’s eurozone creditors deferring receipt of up to €123 billion, according to a forecast by Germany’s Finance Ministry. The ministry’s calculations, which were contained in a letter to a member of parliament seen by Reuters on Friday, contemplated the various restructuring scenarios laid out by the eurozone bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). “With such an interest deferral, it would de facto be a new loan with a volume that depends on the development of interest rates,” the document said. “The estimated volume of the deferred interest up until 2048 would be around €118-123 billion.”
The IMF says it cannot contribute loans to Greece’s current bailout unless it gets assurances that its debt will be sustainable. The Fund has estimated that the Greek economy will only grew by 1% per year on average and that Greece will return to a primary surplus of 1.5% from 2023 after five years at 3.5%. Greece needs about €7 billion in loans from its €86 billion rescue package to repay debt maturing in July, but the disbursement hinges on its lenders’ assessment of its bailout progress, the conclusion of the so-called second review.
In the wake of last week’s Eurogroup impasse, European officials are mulling a plan B for Greece that would sideline the IMF, curb debt relief and reduce the need for austerity after 2019, Kathimerini understands. According to sources, European officials have already started discussing an alternative plan that could be put into effect in the fall, after September elections in Germany, which have made Berlin cautious of any politically contentious moves. The plan being considered would ensure that the IMF is no longer in the “driving seat of the Greek bailout program,” the sources said, adding that it would offer Greece less debt relief than it had hoped for but also less austerity in 2019 onward, after the current bailout has expired.
That would mean Athens could revoke some of the tough austerity measures it pushed through Parliament last month. The pension cuts and tax increases are due to come into effect in 2019 and 2020 respectively. However, a worse deal for Greece as regards debt relief would be a hard sell for the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who has basically reneged on all pre-election promises and is keen to deliver something concrete with respect to the country’s debt. His government has already started shifting its narrative away from an insistence on a “comprehensive solution on the debt” to a “solution that will pave the way for accessing the markets.” Athens is still expected to make one last push for a deal at a Eurogroup summit on June 15.
According to sources, Tsipras will aim to broach the issue at a subsequent summit of EU leaders on June 22 if no solution transpires at the Eurogroup, as is expected. The Greek leader has already secured the support of French President Emmanual Macron for such a discussion to take place, sources say. Earlier this week German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble hit out at Tsipras, claiming the leftist premier has not shifted the burden of austerity away from poorer Greeks as he had pledged and that party influence in the public administration has increased, not decreased, during his time in government. Tsipras did not respond in person but a government source issued a terse response. “The responsibility of Schaeuble in managing the Greek crisis has been recorded historically,” the source said. “There is no point in his ascribing it to others.”
The death rate among migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to enter Europe has almost doubled over the past year. Comparing the first five months of this year with the same period last year, UN agency data reveals that the mortality rate grew from 1.2% to 2.3%. The death rate during all of 2015 was 0.37% – a sixth of its current level. Details of the drownings came as it emerged that far-right activists are planning to send boats to the Mediterranean this summer to disrupt search-and-rescue vessels that are attempting to save the lives of refugees. The new figures prompted calls for the international community to stop turning a blind eye to the unfolding crisis. Aid agencies said the rising death rate was caused by a shortage of search-and-rescue vessels and the increasingly unsafe boats being provided by smugglers and traffickers in Libya.
Last week a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) vessel rescued 1,500 people in 10 hours, more than double the boat’s capacity. Vickie Hawkins, executive director of MSF UK, accused world leaders of turning their backs on refugees and choosing to focus on border security instead of adopting a humanitarian approach that would lower the Med’s death toll. “The deterrence policies implemented to keep people away from Europe have little regard for the human consequences. As a result, the Mediterranean has turned into a giant cemetery with over 1,500 missing or dead so far this year and tens of thousands of people detained inside Libya.” Leonard Doyle, chief spokesman for the UN migration agency, the IOM, said it had detected a hardening of attitude towards economic migrants from Africa, who were looking for work as they moved north towards Europe.
“These are impoverished, black, sub-saharan Africans and there’s definitely less interest in them and less warmth towards them than there was towards the refugees coming in from Syria last year, there’s no question about that,” said Doyle. He added: “The rate of deaths has gone sky high. People looking for work are being told to get into a dinghy and they’ll get a job. These are very vulnerable people ending up in exploitative situations.” During the first five months of last year the IOM recorded 205,858 migrants reaching Europe via the Mediterranean with 2,512 deaths. So far this year a far smaller amount – 71,029 – of migrants and refugees have crossed the Med to enter Europe yet the number of deaths stands at 1,650.
Research by the University of Warwick published last week – the first large-scale comparative study of the backgrounds and aspirations of refugees and migrants heading for Europe – challenged the prevailing view that they pick Europe as their destination of choice. Instead, researchers found that many did not even know anything about the EU prior to their arrival and had in fact been manipulated by traffickers who promised them work.
Far-right activists are planning a sea campaign this summer to disrupt vessels saving refugees in the Mediterranean, after successfully intercepting a rescue mission last month. Members of the anti-Islam and anti-immigrant “Identitarian” movement – largely twentysomethings often described as Europe’s answer to the American alt-right – have raised £56,489 in less than three weeks to enable them to target boats run by aid charities helping to rescue refugees. The money was raised through an anonymous crowdfunding campaign with an initial goal of €50,000 to pay for ships, travel costs and film equipment. On Saturday the group confirmed they had reached their target but were still accepting donations. A French far-right group hired a boat for a trial run last month, disrupting a search-and-rescue vessel as it left the Sicilian port of Catania. They claimed they had slowed the NGO ship until the Italian coastguard intervened.
Figures from the UN’s migration agency, the IOM, reveal that 1,650 refugees have died crossing the Mediterranean so far this year with a further 6,453 migrants rescued off Libya and 228 bodies pulled from the waters. Humanitarian charities operating in the Mediterranean have helped save the lives of thousands of refugees, with women and children making up almost half of those making the crossing. The threat from the far right infuriates charities operating in the Mediterranean. One senior official, who requested anonymity, said politicians had helped create a climate where supporters of the far right felt emboldened to act in such a way. “When the British government and its European counterparts talk about ‘swarms’ of migrants, or perpetuate the myth that rescue operations are a ‘pull factor’ or a ‘taxi service’, that gives fuel to extreme groups such as this. The simple reality is that without rescue operations many more would drown, but people would still attempt the crossing,” the official said.
[..] During the first five months of 2015, no European or NGO search-and-rescue operations took place with 1,800 people drowning trying to make the crossing. In April alone 1,000 lives were lost. All search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean are coordinated by the official Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome in accordance with international maritime law. Yet the European far-right groups have accused NGOs of working with traffickers to bring migrants to Europe and claim that search-and-rescue boats are not carrying out a humanitarian intervention. The central aim of the new wave of far-right groups is preserving national differences in the belief that white Europeans will be replaced by immigrants, a stance that is articulated with anti-migrant, anti-Muslim, anti-media sentiments but repackaged for a younger audience.
The number of far-right groups is difficult to establish, but Génération Identitaire has held demonstrations in France that drew around 500 people, while its Facebook page has 122,662 likes. Its Austrian counterpart, Identitäre Bewegung Österreich, has 37,628 likes on Facebook, although critics warn of increasing links with the US alt-right which helped to propel Donald Trump to the White House. Also on the boat that attempted to obstruct SOS Méditerranée’s vessel last month was the Canadian alt-right journalist Lauren Southern, who has 278,000 Twitter followers and whose presence confirms a transatlantic convergence.