Sep 082018
 
 September 8, 2018  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Rispal Restaurant at Asnieres 1887

 

Obama Claims Ownership Of US Economic Recovery (MW)
Trump Has Set Economic Growth On Fire. Here Is How He Did It (CNBC)
May Urged To Ignore ‘Three Stooges’ In Brexit Negotiations (G.)
Cohen Seeks To Vacate Hush-Money Deal With Stormy Daniels (Hill)
Papadopoulos Sentenced To 14 Days In Prison For Lying To FBI (ES)
Secret Grand Jury Proceedings Underway Against Andrew McCabe (ZH)
Apple Bans Alex Jones App For ‘Objectionable Content’ (R.)
Erdogan Legacy Construction Projects Stall In Turkish Financial Crisis (Ind.)
Slouching Toward Okeefenoke (Kunstler)
Russia Asks Britain For Help In Identifying Novichok Suspects (G.)
Nike Online Sales Jump 31% After Company Unveiled Kaepernick Campaign (MW)

 

 

I’d say be careful what you claim ownership of. Because you break it, you own it

Obama Claims Ownership Of US Economic Recovery (MW)

Former President Barack Obama on Friday used a speech at the University of Illinois to sharply criticize his successor as well as claim ownership of the U.S. economic recovery. Speaking in Urbana, Ill., where he received an award for ethics in government, Obama recalled that the U.S. economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month when he entered office. “We worked hard to end that crisis but also break some of these longer-term trends,” said Obama, who is planning a series of campaign trips ahead of the midterm elections in November. “By the time I left office, household income was near its all-time high, and the uninsured rate had hit an all-time low and wages were rising,” he said. “I mention all this so when you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let’s just remember when this recovery started.

“I’m glad it’s continued, but when you hear about this economic miracle that’s been going on … I have to kind of remind them, actually those job numbers are kind of the same as they were in 2015 and 2016.” On that, Obama is correct. U.S. job growth averaged 226,000 per month in 2015, 195,000 in 2016, 182,000 in 2017 and, so far this year, 207,000. Data also show a pickup in business and consumer confidence after Trump’s election. The U.S. is on track to grow more than 3% in 2018, a rate of economic expansion not recorded over the course of a full calendar year since the second term of the George W. Bush administration. At a North Dakota event, Trump responded. “Obama was trying to take credit for this incredible thing that’s happening,” Trump said.

“I have to say this to President Obama – if the Dems got in with their agenda in November of almost 2 years ago, instead of having 4.2 up, I believe honestly we’d have 4.2 down,” he said, referring to GDP growth of 4.2% in the second quarter. Obama meanwhile had a broader attack on Trump than just the economy. Mentioning Trump by name, Obama said political division is more manufactured than real. “Sometimes the backlash comes from people who are genuinely, if wrongly, fearful of change. More often it’s manufactured by the powerful and privileged who want to keep us divided and keep us angry and keep up cynical because it helps them maintain the status quo and keep their power and keep their privilege,” he said. “And you happen to be coming of age during one of those moments. It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause,” Obama said to applause.

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And these ownership claims are easy to argue.

Trump Has Set Economic Growth On Fire. Here Is How He Did It (CNBC)

President Donald Trump is more than 19 months into an administration engulfed in so much controversy that it may overshadow a tremendous achievement, namely an economic boom uniquely his. During his time in office, the economy has achieved feats most experts thought impossible. GDP is growing at a 3 percent-plus rate. The unemployment rate is near a 50-year low. Meanwhile, the stock market has jumped 27 percent amid a surge in corporate profits. Friday brought another round of good news: Nonfarm payrolls rose by a better-than-expected 201,000 and wages, the last missing piece of the economic recovery, increased by 2.9 percent year over year to the highest level since April 2009.

That made it the best gain since the recession ended in June 2009. His critics, a group that includes a legion of Wall Street economists, most Democrats and even some in his own Republican Party, don’t believe it will last. They figure the current boom will begin petering out as soon as mid-2019 and possibly end in recession in 2020. But even they acknowledge that the current numbers are a uniquely Trumpian achievement and not owed to policies already set in motion when he took office. “I still believe the big story this year is an economic boom that most folks thought impossible,” Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council and a chief advisor to Trump, said in a recent interview with CNBC.com. “I understand that he’s been in for a year and a half, but when you look at those numbers, this is not going away.”

Indeed, the economy does seem to be on fire, and it’s fairly easy to draw a straight line from Trump’s policies to the current trends. Business confidence is soaring, in part thanks to a softer regulatory environment. Consumer sentiment by one measure is at its highest level in 18 years. Corporate profits, owed in good part to last year’s tax cuts, are coming close to setting records.

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May will have to bend a lot.

May Urged To Ignore ‘Three Stooges’ In Brexit Negotiations (G.)

An EU commissioner has likened Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage to the “Three Stooges” and issued a stern warning to Theresa May that there would be no Brexit deal next March if she insisted on sticking to her Chequers proposal. In a speech in Ireland on Friday, Phil Hogan said the EU would fight to the end to preserve the union of nations that has stood for the past 60 years. He said Brussels would not allow the bloc to be damaged just to save the UK “from its own silliness” and reiterated the EU position that the four freedoms forming the bedrock of the union were not negotiable. He said the only room for a special deal on deviating from the four freedoms would be in relation to Northern Ireland.

“The EU’s first offer, reflexively rejected, was a significant departure from our internal market policy. And it was meant for Northern Ireland only. It was that Northern Ireland could remain in the single market with the EU27,” he said. Instead of accepting that offer, the UK’s reply, he said, was “‘Let’s restrict the single market to goods and generalise it for the whole UK.’ The EU’s answer has already been given: no. “If the UK attitude is Chequers and only Chequers, there will be no agreement before March next year on the future trade relationship,” he said. He said that if May could not progress the UK’s position then the EU’s offer on a future trade deal would be the one it put forward months ago, “essentially a Canada-type trade arrangement”. He added: “There is nothing new in this. Each time she is asked about her red lines, the prime minister repeats them, making a Canada-type trade deal more likely.

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Curious development. Trying to make it look like it never happened?

Cohen Seeks To Vacate Hush-Money Deal With Stormy Daniels (Hill)

Michael Cohen’s shell company has reportedly moved to vacate a 2016 nondisclosure agreement with adult-film star Stormy Daniels, requesting that she return the $130,000 she received as part of the deal. Cohen’s lawyer Brent Blakely said Friday that California law requires Daniels to return the money that Cohen paid her in 2016 to stay quiet about her alleged affair with President Trump in 2006, CNN reports. “Today, Essential Consultants LLC and Michael Cohen have effectively put an end to the lawsuits filed against them by Stephanie Clifford aka Stormy Daniels,” Blakely told CNN.

“The rescission of the Confidential Settlement Agreement will result in Ms. Clifford returning to Essential Consultants the $130,000 she received in consideration, as required by California law,” he added. A source familiar with Cohen’s thinking told the network that Cohen no longer benefits from Daniels’s promise to keep quiet about the affair. The existence of the deal, and Daniels’s alleged affair, were reported by The Wall Street Journal originally in January, while Daniels has been outspoken about her allegations since then. Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing Daniels in her defamation case against Cohen and Trump over their denials of the alleged affair, told CNN that the move was likely made in an attempt to protect Trump from being deposed.

“I haven’t had a chance to digest it, I just saw it on my email literally right before I came on,” Avenatti told CNN. “What they’re trying to do is they don’t want me to get a chance to depose Michael Cohen and Donald Trump,” he added. “This is a hail mary to try and avoid that, that’s my first guess.” Avenatti added in a tweet Friday night that Cohen “is back to playing games and trying to protect Donald Trump.” “He is now pulling a legal stunt to try and ‘fix it’ so that we can’t depose Trump and present evidence to the American people about what happened. He is not a hero nor a patriot. He deserves what he gets,” the attorney added.

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If Mueller et al had a sense of decency, they’d have let him go on “Time Served”. All they’ve proven is that Papadopoulos is indeed a nobody. BTW, rumor has it that Joseph Mifsud is dead.

Papadopoulos Sentenced To 14 Days In Prison For Lying To FBI (ES)

President Trump’s former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos has been sentenced to 14 days in prison for lying to the FBI. He is the first former campaign aide to be sentenced in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation. In October 2017, he pled guilty to one count of lying to FBI agents about the nature of his interactions with “foreign nationals” who he thought had close connections to senior government officials. Mr Papadopoulos was a member of the campaign’s foreign policy team, but Trump aides have said he played a limited role in the campaign and had no access to the candidate.

Court papers revealed that Mr Papadopoulos was told about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails” on April 26 2016, well before it became public that the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails had been hacked. The interactions at the centre of the case included speaking with Russian intermediaries who were attempting to line up a meeting between Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and offering “dirt” on Mrs Clinton. During the trial, Mr Papadopoulos apologised for his actions, telling a judge that he had made a “dreadful mistake” and was eager for redemption.

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See, Papadopoulos gets jailed for lying to the FBI (about nothing). Now, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe lied 4x, twide under oath, about leaking FBI info to the press. Which is worse? And if this concerns the FBI so much, how come Mueller, ex-FBI head, conducts the investigation?

Secret Grand Jury Proceedings Underway Against Andrew McCabe (ZH)

Federal prosecutors have been using a grand jury over the last several months to investigate former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, reports the Washington Post, citing two people familiar with the matter. What’s more, the grand jury has summoned at least two witnesses, and the case is ongoing according to WaPo’s sources. “The presence of the grand jury shows prosecutors are treating the matter seriously, locking in the accounts of witnesses who might later have to testify at a trial. But such panels are sometimes used only as investigative tools, and it remains unclear if McCabe will ultimately be charged.” -Washington Post

McCabe was fired on March 16 after Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued a criminal referral following a months-long probe, which found that McCabe lied four times, including twice under oath, about authorizing a self-serving leak to the press. Horowitz found that McCabe “had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor – including under oath – on multiple occasions.” Specifically, McCabe was fired for lying about authorizing an F.B.I. spokesman and attorney to tell Devlin Barrett of the Wall St. Journal – just days before the 2016 election, that the FBI had not put the brakes on a separate investigation into the Clinton Foundation, at a time in which McCabe was coming under fire for his wife taking a $467,500 campaign contribution from Clinton proxy pal, Terry McAuliffe.

In order to deal with his legal woes, McCabe set up a GoFundMe “legal defense fund” which stopped accepting donations, after support for the fired bureaucrat took in over half a million dollars – roughly $100,000 more than his wife’s campaign took from McAuliffe as McCabe’s office was investigating Clinton and her infamous charities.

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Let’s go through all the apps. And through all Twitter accounts. I understand Hamas and Ahmadinejad still operate.

Apple Bans Alex Jones App For ‘Objectionable Content’ (R.)

Apple said on Friday that it had banned from its App Store the Infowars app belonging to popular U.S. conspiracy theorist Alex Jones after finding that it had violated the company’s rules against “objectionable content”. The move makes Apple the latest tech company or social media platform to take action against Jones, a deeply controversial right-wing radio talk-show host who has suggested that the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax, among other sensational claims. Apple said the guidelines Jones violated bar “defamatory, discriminatory, or mean-spirited content, including references or commentary about religion, race, sexual orientation, gender, national/ethnic origin, or other targeted groups, particularly if the app is likely to humiliate, intimidate, or place a targeted individual or group in harm’s way.”

Representatives for Jones could not immediately be reached for comment by Reuters on Friday evening. On Thursday, Twitter Inc permanently banned Jones and his website from its platform and Periscope, saying in a tweet that the accounts had violated its behavior policies. In a video posted on the Infowars website on Thursday, Jones said in response: “I was taken down not because we lied but because we tell the truth and because we were popular.” Last month, Twitter banned Jones and Infowars for seven days, citing tweets that it said violated the company’s rules against abusive behavior, which state that a user may not engage in targeted harassment of someone or incite other people to do so.

Apple said at the time that the Infowars app remained in its store because it had not been found to be in violation of any content policies, although it had removed access to some podcasts by Jones. The podcasts differ from the Infowars app by allowing access to an extensive list of previous episodes, subjecting all of those past episodes to Apple’s content rules.

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Oh well, just blame America.

Erdogan Legacy Construction Projects Stall In Turkish Financial Crisis (Ind.)

Turkey’s financial meltdown has brought the country’s years-long construction boom screeching to a halt, with even some of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s favourite projects being suspended or scaled back amid a cash crunch and debt woes. In recent weeks, worried murmurs about stalled projects among developers and ordinary Turks about dormant construction sites and half-finished buildings left untouched for months have reached a crescendo. This week local news outlets reported that a key transport project in Istanbul, the Kabatas ferry terminal connecting the city’s European and Asian sides of Turkey’s commercial capital, would be scaled back.

Across the country, experts say construction sites have gone dormant, projects suspended or delayed. The construction cranes remain in place, but the work has stopped. “The huge companies that do fancy infrastructure projects – they don’t have any money,” said one developer who is well-connected to official circles. “The government has a spending freeze. They’re going to reconsider all the projects and reprioritise.” Mr Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, built his reputation and electoral popularity on undertaking gigantic public works projects like mosques, airports, and bridges, as well as facilitating big private sector projects that included showy housing complexes, glittery office towers, and shopping malls packed with Turkish and international retail brands.

But the miracle was built on cheap credit from abroad, which has now dried up in a climate of rising US interest rates and doubts about Turkey’s economic health. And financial experts, developers, and bankers say many of Turkey’s projects – including the 45km Istanbul canal connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara that even Mr Erdogan himself called “crazy” – are now in doubt. “The Istanbul Canal is almost impossible,” said Atilla Yesilada, an economist and consultant. “Because no one wants to lend to Turkey now.”

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A caravan of grand jury’s.

Slouching Toward Okeefenoke (Kunstler)

There is now a clear evidence trail about eight-lanes wide detailing Russian collusion of the Democratic Party, the Hillary Campaign, the FBI / DOJ, plus a caravan of Robert Mueller aides, adjuncts, colleagues and former trainees. They are all mixed up with a cavalcade of events weaving through more than one Clinton investigation (and its damage control operations), and they need to appear before grand juries too. Many, I suspect are criminally culpable and will end up in the slammer. Perhaps even ole Horse-face himself, grave and aseptic as he may seem.

I’ve caught two of Trump’s rallies the past week or so. His freestyling babble at the podium makes me wish I could wave a magic wand and just make him vanish in a cloud of orange vapor, or perhaps turn him into Richard Nixon. (Doesn’t all this make you nostalgic for ole Nixie?) He can’t shut up about the economic miracles that he has wrought with his mighty “stable genius” brain. Perhaps he has not noticed that the money system is crumbling all around the world at the margins. If he does not understand that this rot eventually must reach the center, then he has washed down too many cheeseburgers with his own Kool Aid.

Having taken ownership of all this lock, stock, and barrel, then he is perfectly situated to be blamed when the honey-wagon of algo trading robots turns south and whatever remains of the world’s hot money, including the US dollar, goes up in smoke. If it coincides even bluntly with the mid-term election, then we will find ourselves living through Civil War Two.

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2 Russian secret agents who make sure they get photographed by 5-6 different camera’s. Yeah.

Russia Asks Britain For Help In Identifying Novichok Suspects (G.)

Moscow has claimed it wants to ascertain as soon as possible the identities of the two men named by Britain as suspects in the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Salisbury, and has asked London to help. “We need to establish who these people are, if these are [Russian] citizens or not,” said Maria Zakharova, the foreign ministry spokeswoman on Friday. “We want to do this with maximum haste and effectiveness, and so we are again appealing to Britain for help in ascertaining the identities of these people.” Britain announced charges in absentia on Wednesday against two men believed to be officers with Russia’s military intelligence service, known as the GRU.

Theresa May said the men flew into Britain in March to try to murder Sergei Skripal, a former GRU officer who sold secrets to MI6, and accused the Russian government of orchestrating the operation. Scotland Yard said the alleged secret agents travelled to Britain under the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, which were probably aliases. The Kremlin has described the allegations as unacceptable and denies that any Russian officials were involved. Zakharova also accused May of a “frank lie” over her claims that Russia had not offered Britain information after the nerve agent attack, and suggested that May had “selective access” to Russian media reports. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Vladimir Putin, said on Thursday that Russia would not investigate the two suspects because it had not received a formal request for legal assistance from Britain.

Zakharova’s comments came as a purported ex-GRU officer claimed the attempted murder was too amateurish to have been the work of professional secret service agents. If GRU agents had wanted to target Skripal, they would have done it “quietly, without fuss, and brought him [to Russia] in a mail bag, and no one would have known where he had gone,” Ivan Tarasov told Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. Tarasov also claimed the Skripals could have been targeted by a Russian crime gang, possibly over unpaid debts, and mocked reports that the suspects stayed in the same room in a cheap hotel near Salisbury. “That’s how bandits act, not professional secret service officers. GRU officers don’t stay in London hotels,” he said.

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I don’t care about Nike. But I do care about Kaepernick. See, if there’s one thing wrong here that proves him right, it’s that only black people come out in support of him. Where are his white colleagues, white athletes in general? Why only Tiger, Serena and LeBron?

The world he’s protesting is the one that is killing black kids. His protest started under the first black US president. So did Black Lives matter. So where is Obama on the issue? Why doesn’t he stand with Kaepernick?

Nike Online Sales Jump 31% After Company Unveiled Kaepernick Campaign (MW)

Talk of Nike Inc. sales taking a hit from the company’s decision to put ex–NFL player Colin Kaepernick at the center of its latest “Just Do It” campaign is looking overblown, based on data from a Silicon Valley digital commerce research company. After an initial dip immediately after the news broke, Nike’s online sales actually grew 31% from the Sunday of Labor Day weekend through Tuesday, as compared with a 17% gain recorded for the same period of 2017, according to San Francisco–based Edison Trends. “There was speculation that the Nike/Kaepernick campaign would lead to a drop in sales, but our data over the last week does not support that theory,” said Hetal Pandya, co-founder of Edison Trends.

Nike’s stock has also held up after its initial slump. The stock was up 1% on Friday and remains in the black for the month. It has gained 29% in 2018, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, which since 2013 has counted Nike as a member, has gained 5%, as the S&P 500 index has risen about 8%. The news generated plenty of online buzz, with social engagement around Nike and Kaepernick rising sharply this week, according to 4C Insights, a marketing technology company. Mentions of and comments about Nike on social-media platforms rose 1,678% on Sunday and Monday, according to 4C data. Mentions of Kaepernick spiked 362,280%, the data showed.

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Sep 252017
 
 September 25, 2017  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Portrait of the artist’s mother 1896

 

Colin Kaepernick Has Won: He Wanted A Conversation And Trump Started It (G.)
The World Can’t Stop Borrowing Dollars (BBG)
What’s Around The Corner For The Hottest Emerging Markets (BBG)
China Plans Closer Oversight of $304 Billion in State Company Funds (BBG)
China’s Yuan Is Anything But Stable as Party Congress Approaches (BBG)
US Households Are Loaded Up With Stocks (Lyons)
Merkel Lands Fourth Term, But at What Cost? (Spiegel)
Angela’s Ashes: 5 Takeaways From The German Election (Pol.)
German Vote Could Doom Merkel-Macron Deal On Europe (R.)
German FinMin Wolfgang Schaeuble May Soon Be Losing His Job (CNBC)
Luxury Properties On Greek Islands Attract Ever More Foreign Buyers (K.)
There Never Was a Real Tulip Fever (Smithsonian)

 

 

Apparently, players never stood for the anthem until 2009. Then the Defense Department started paying teams to get them out of the dressing room and onto the field when the anthem was played. A recruiting tool.

But Kaepernick is a brave man no matter what. Trump should invite him to the White House and talk.

Colin Kaepernick Has Won: He Wanted A Conversation And Trump Started It (G.)

All Colin Kaepernick ever asked was for his country to have a conversation about race. This, he warned, would not be easy. Such talks are awkward and often end in a flurry of spittle, pointed fingers and bruised feelings. But from the moment the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback first spoke about his decision to kneel or sit during the national anthem, he said was willing to give up his career to make the nation talk. In one speech on Friday night, Donald Trump gave Kaepernick exactly what he wanted. With a fiery blast at protesting NFL players that seemingly came from nowhere, the president bonded black and white football players with wealthy white owners in a way nobody could have imagined. By saying any player who didn’t stand for the anthem was a “son of a bitch” and should be fired by his team’s owner, Trump crossed a line from which no one could look away.

Come Sunday afternoon, players who wanted nothing of a racial dialogue stood before giant flags, linking arms in protest. Owners who once wished their kneeling players would just stop offending fans fired off statements in their support. Networks who have avoided showing the raised fists of dissent had no choice but show the rows of players standing strong against Trump’s rage. Whether anyone wanted it or not, Trump has forced the US to have the conversation Kaepernick has been requesting. [..] “I think this is something that can unify this country,” Kaepernick said in the summer of 2016, at his first press conference about his protest. “If we can have the real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people – if we can have this conversation there’s a better understanding where both sides are coming from. (And) if we can reach common ground and can understand what everyone’s going through, we can really affect change.”

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Why the dollar’s demise is greatly exaggerated.

The World Can’t Stop Borrowing Dollars (BBG)

Companies and governments around the world can’t seem to stop borrowing U.S. dollars. This could be a problem, both for them and for the Federal Reserve. Not long ago, it seemed as though a global boom in dollar borrowing had to be reaching its limit. Encouraged by near-zero interest rates, non-U.S. borrowers had binged on trillions in new dollar-denominated debt. With the central bank aiming to increase rates and the U.S. currency rising, strains were beginning to show, as companies struggled to pay back the dollars with devalued local-currency earnings. Yet the party keeps going, perhaps thanks to the Fed’s extremely gradual pace of rate increases and a related decline in the dollar’s exchange rate. According to the Bank for International Settlements, total dollar borrowing outside the U.S. reached $10.7 trillion in the first quarter of 2017, up about 6% from a year earlier and up 83% from 2009. Here’s how that looks as a%age of non-U.S. GDP:

About a third of the debt is owed by companies and governments in emerging markets, where the relatively high volatility of earnings and exchange rates can make dollar borrowing particularly risky. Here’s the dollar-denominated debt of the countries that the BIS tracks, as a%age of their GDP:

To be sure, some of the debt might not be too burdensome if borrowers have a lot of dollar revenue from, say, oil exports (think Russia and Saudi Arabia). But to the extent that the obligations aren’t hedged, they will make the world more sensitive to the Fed’s interest-rate moves. And if future rate increases trigger belt-tightening and defaults abroad, the malaise could easily spread back to the U.S., complicating the Fed’s efforts to keep growth on track. So the world is becoming increasingly exposed to the Fed, which leaves the Fed increasingly exposed to the world.

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What’s around the corner is more debt. Dollar-denominated debt.

What’s Around The Corner For The Hottest Emerging Markets (BBG)

Nothing has been able to silence the roar of emerging markets this year, be it Kim Jong-Un’s missiles, President Donald Trump’s protectionist rhetoric or a host of domestic political ructions from Brazil to South Africa and Turkey. Instead, investors have focused on economies supported by slowing inflation, a recent recovery in commodity prices and the comfort of watching central banks conducting policy by more conventional methods than their developed-nation counterparts. The MSCI EM Currency Index and the Bloomberg Barclays index of emerging-market local-currency government bonds both reached three-year highs this month, while a gauge of developing-nation equities is close to its highest since 2011. And now that the Federal Reserve has laid out a tapering game plan likely to drive down longer-maturity U.S. Treasuries, the bulls are taking new heart, betting the rally’s just getting started.

For others, it’s getting perilously near to closing time. “We all enjoyed the party, but this may be its last leg and there maybe more volatility in the year-end,” said Peter Schottmueller, the head of asset allocation at Deka Investment GmbH in Frankfurt, who helps manage the equivalent of $7.8 billion. “The market is very myopic and very short-term focused.’’ Corporate borrowing has outstripped economic growth over the five years through 2016, according to the Bank for International Settlements. That’s raised questions about how long it can continue as central banks in developed nations prepare to pare back quantitative easing, according to Toru Nishihama, at Tokyo-based Dai-ichi Life Research.

Emerging economies expanded 4.4% in 2016, almost half of the rate of a decade ago, when the Fed was in its last year of a cycle of interest-rate increases. “There remains a gap between the growth rate of emerging economies and developed countries as well as returns from investment, and investors will continue to pour funds into emerging markets,” Dai-ichi’s Nishihama said. “However, from here, not all emerging-market investments are rosy, and investors may become more selective in which country or countries to invest.”

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“China will create a centralized financing company..” Yes, but to oversee assets, or to oversee debt, liabilities?

China Plans Closer Oversight of $304 Billion in State Company Funds (BBG)

China will create a centralized financing company to oversee some $304 billion of funds held by the country’s state-owned enterprises’ finance units, people familiar with the matter said, allowing the government closer supervision of SOEs’ borrowing and investments. The plan, approved by the State Council or Cabinet, will increase the government’s ability to supervise the non-financial central SOE finance companies’ investments, giving the entity a fuller picture of how these companies are using funds, according to the people, who asked not to be named because the plans have not been made public. Non-financial, central SOEs have their own finance units that currently offer various products and services such as deposits and loans, and the new entity could facilitate those efforts.

The plan would assist regulators by directing some 2 trillion yuan of funds held by the non-financial SOEs through the new company, meaning they could monitor the flow through only one financing company rather than dozens. Many details about the new entity were not immediately clear, such as who would control it, how much regulatory and oversight authority it would have, and how it might conduct external financing on behalf of the SOEs. The aim is to boost efficiency in the $20 trillion state sector in line with a government campaign to reduce the companies’ debt, according to the people. While the centralized finance company would have a regulatory oversight role, the SOEs would retain control over the funds, the people said.

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Not the plan.

China’s Yuan Is Anything But Stable as Party Congress Approaches (BBG)

China’s currency has swung from hot to cold in a matter of weeks, thwarting expectations that policy makers would keep the yuan stable before a crucial Communist Party Congress next month. The yuan fell 0.3% to 6.6075 per greenback at 2:29 p.m. in Shanghai, taking its decline from a Sept. 8 peak to 2.6%. That’s a sharp reversal from earlier this month, when the currency surged 1.5% in just six days. The stunning shift has propelled a gauge of 50-day price swings on the yuan to a six-month high. With China’s financial markets closed for the whole of next week due to National Day holidays, there are effectively just over two weeks of trading to go before the congress begins Oct. 18.

The turning point for the currency came when the PBOC eased a forwards trading rule that made betting against the currency more expensive – a clear signal that the surge had gone far enough. A mild recovery in the greenback thanks to a more hawkish Federal Reserve – the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index is up 1.2% since Sept. 8. – has hastened the yuan’s decline. “Investors were too optimistic earlier, and they are now pushing the yuan lower because they figured the policy makers believed the currency was too strong,” said Eddie Cheung at Standard Chartered in Hong Kong. “There’s still room for the dollar to rise in the short term if the market becomes more confident on U.S. rate hikes. That said, the yuan could weaken further this year, though the PBOC wouldn’t allow any sharp declines.”

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Hmm, really? With so many people living paycheck to paycheck?

US Households Are Loaded Up With Stocks (Lyons)

From the Federal Reserve’s latest Z.1 Release (formerly, Flow Of Funds), we learn that in the 2nd quarter, household and nonprofit’s stock holdings amounted to 35.7% of their total financial assets. This is the highest%age since 2000. In fact, the blow-off phase from 1998 to 2000 leading up to the dotcom bubble burst was the only time in the history of the data (since 1945) that saw higher stock investment than now. You might say that everyone is in the pool. We’ve talked about this data series many times. It is certainly not a timing tool. Rather, it is what we call a “background” indicator, representative of the longer-term backdrop — and potential — of the stock market.

It also serves as an instructional lens into investor psychology. For these reasons, it is one of our favorite metrics pertaining to the stock market, as we wrote in a September 2014 post: “This is one of our favorite data series because it reveals a lot about not only investment levels but investor psychology as well. When investors have had positive recent experiences in the stock market, i.e., a bull market, they have been happy to pour money into stocks. It is consistent with all of the evidence of performance-chasing pointed out by many. Note how stock investment peaked with major tops in 1966, 1968, 1972, 2000 and 2007. Of course, investment will rise merely with the appreciation of the market; however, we also observe disproportionate jumps in investment levels near tops as well.

Note the spikes at the 1968 and 1972 tops and, most egregiously, at the 2000 top. On the flip side, when investors have bad recent experiences with stocks, it negatively effects investment flows, and in a more profound way than the positive effect. This is consistent with the scientifically proven notion we’ve discussed before that feelings of fear or loss are much stronger than those of greed or gain. Stock investment during he 1966-82 secular bear market provides a good example of this. After stock investment peaked at 31% in 1968 (by the way, after many of the indexes had topped in 1966 – investors were still buying the dip), it embarked on steady decline over the next 14 years. This, despite the fact the stock market drifted sideways during that time. By the beginning of the secular bull market in 1982, the S&P 500 was right where it was in 1968. However, household stock investment was at an all-time low of 10.9%.

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She won but lost. What happens here is the future of Europe is decided by German voters alone. That is the core of the European problem.

Merkel Lands Fourth Term, But at What Cost? (Spiegel)

Angela Merkel’s election result four years ago was, to be sure, extraordinary. It was clear from the surveys that her conservatives wouldn’t be able to repeat it. But a fall like this? Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) saw their joint result fall by more than eight%age points – their worst showing since 1949. During her first appearance after the election at her party’s headquarters, the chancellor said she had, in fact, hoped for a somewhat better result. Those gathered at the headquarters dutifully chanted, “Angie, Angie.” Then things grew quiet again. Nobody waved the German flag. It was a far cry from 2013, when CDU politicians broke out into a spontaneous karaoke session after the results were announced. This time, the prominent members of Merkel’s party who had gathered behind her on the stage seemed sobered by the tepid showing.

Merkel can keep her job as chancellor, the “strategic goal” has been achieved, as Merkel refers to it. But it comes at a high price. Voters have severely punished the parties of the current governing coalition, with Merkel’s conservatives losing dozens of seats in parliament. The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) will now enter parliament with a strong, double-digit result. And it will be extremely difficult for Merkel to build a government coalition that will be stable for the next four years. There won’t just be a sprinkling of renegades representing the AfD in parliament. The right-wing populists will be the third-largest party in the Bundestag and they have announced their intention to “chase down” the chancellor as one of the party’s two leading candidates expressed it on Sunday.

The election campaign already gave a taste of what might be coming, with AfD supporters loudly venting their hatred and anger at events held by Merkel’s CDU. Merkel, who isn’t known for being the world’s best public speaker, will now be confronted by them on a daily basis. And the conservatives will also have to ask themselves what share of the responsibility they carry for the AfD’s success. What can they do to win back disappointed voters? More than a million voters are believed to have flocked from the CDU and the CSU to the AfD. And most of them say that it was the chancellor’s refugee policies that led them to vote for the right-wing competition. It’s little wonder, then, that Merkel has identified the enduring regulation of refugee flows and domestic security as the key topics for the coming years.

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I went for the headline. But good insights too.

Angela’s Ashes: 5 Takeaways From The German Election (Pol.)

1. Merkel’s twilight has begun SPD leader Martin Schulz told Merkel on live television she was the election’s “biggest loser.” A bit harsh perhaps (especially coming from a candidate who just recorded his party’s worst-ever result), but there’s some truth to it. Instead of addressing tough questions such as migration head-on, Merkel ran a vague, feel-good campaign, promising a “Germany in which we live well and happily,” while offering few specifics about how she wanted to get there.

2. Germany’s consensus-driven political model is shattered The next parliament will include seven parties (eight, if you count the CSU, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s CDU), representing a much more diverse cross-section of the country’s body politic than its predecessor. Sparks will fly. The inclusion of the far right in parliament will make German politics louder and nastier. AfD leader Jörg Meuthen made it clear Sunday that confrontation and “provocation” were central to the party’s strategy. If other European countries where populists have a strong foothold are any indication, that no-holds-barred spirit will infect the political mainstream, creating a decidedly more raucous political climate.

3. Forget about meaningful eurozone reforms Merkel’s conservatives were skeptical of French President Emmanuel Macron’s reform proposals even before Sunday. A grand coalition represented the French president’s best chance for realizing his vision. With that option now off the table, a weakened Merkel is unlikely to be able win over the Free Democrats and skeptics in her own party, even if she wanted to. France and Germany may agree to establish some form of budget and an oversight position for the eurozone with the title of finance minister, but neither will have the scope the French, not to mention many economists, had been hoping for.

4. Berlin will play hardball with Europe on refugees German patience over Europe’s lack of solidarity on the refugee front was already wearing thin. After Sunday’s result, look for outright confrontation with countries like Poland and Hungary. In the view of many Christian Democrats, the AfD would have never gotten this far if other European countries had taken in their fair share of refugees instead of letting Germany bear the burden. It’s payback time.

5. This isn’t Weimar For all the breathless historical comparisons, it’s worth taking a deep breath and remembering Germany is a stable democracy. The vast majority of Germans didn’t vote for the AfD and most of those who did, did so in protest. The coming years won’t be pretty, but Germany’s democratic foundations are robust enough to withstand the populist onslaught.

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Not could, will. Already has.

German Vote Could Doom Merkel-Macron Deal On Europe (R.)

Weakened by the worst result for her party since 1949 and facing a more fractious political landscape at home, Germany’s Angela Merkel could be forced to rein in plans to re-shape Europe together with France’s Emmanuel Macron. Merkel’s conservatives garnered more support than any other party in the German election on Sunday, projections showed, ensuring that she will return for a fourth term as chancellor. But her party appeared on track for its poorest performance since the first German election after World War Two and its only path to power may be through an unwieldy, untested three-way coalition with the ecologist Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP), fierce critics of Macron’s ideas for Europe.

Over the next four years, Merkel will also have to cope with a more confrontational opposition force in the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a eurosceptic, anti-immigration party that rode a wave of public anger after her decision to open Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants in 2015.[..] This will be a new world for Merkel, who has grown accustomed to cozy coalitions and toothless Bundestag opposition during her 12 years in power. “In my mind, reform of the euro zone is the single most important foreign policy issue that the new government has in front of it,” said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, who runs the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund. But he predicted a so-called “Jamaica” coalition between Merkel’s conservatives, the FDP and the Greens – whose combined party colors of black, yellow and green are like those the Jamaican national flag – would struggle to deliver.

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Party in the streets of Athens.

German FinMin Wolfgang Schaeuble May Soon Be Losing His Job (CNBC)

In the aftermath of the German election, there could be one important casualty for markets. Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German Finance minister, could soon lose his influence on Germany and the euro zone if coalition talks remove him from his key ministry. Schaeuble became the face of austerity and had a determinant role in bailout programs across the euro zone, namely Greece, and is often described as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s co-chancellor, given his importance to the German government. However, given the tough political horse-trading that lies ahead, Merkel might not manage to keep her close ally. “Coalition building will be extremely difficult,” Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING, told CNBC Monday via email.

“If Schauble would really no longer be Finance minister it would be a watershed for the entire euro zone. An exit of one of the main characters of the entire euro zone crisis clearly marks the end of a historical chapter,” he said. Merkel’s center-right CDU and its Bavarian sister-party the CSU won 33% of the vote, provisional votes showed, down from 41.5% in the previous election. The pro-business FDP party, which placed fourth with 10.7% of the votes, has said it is open for coalition talks with Merkel’s CDU. The Greens are set to join coalition talks too, which could ultimately form Germany’s first four-party government in decades. In German politics, it’s usually the case that the largest party chooses the chancellor, and the second largest group picks the next post.

As such, the FDP could opt for the Finance Ministry and put an end to Schaeuble’s eight-year reign. The future for Schaeuble is “the question” from a market perspective, Carsten Nickel, managing director at Teneo Intelligence, told CNBC Monday. “In the end, I think there is probably very little alternative to Schaeuble, right now, at least in terms of individual politicians. There’s nobody who really comes to mind as the key person who would challenge him for that role. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays on in the end,” he said. f Germany were to lose Schaeuble as Finance minister, the current momentum for further euro zone integration could also be damaged.

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The firesale continues unabated. Prices were cut in half over the last decade, even in the high end. Greeks won’t own anything in their own country anymore.

Luxury Properties On Greek Islands Attract Ever More Foreign Buyers (K.)

The rise of tourism and the popularity of certain destinations such as Myconos and Santorini have sent demand for and purchases of luxury holidays homes soaring. The first half of the year saw a 63.5% annual increase in the inflow of capital for property buys in Greece, following a 45.3% rise in the entire 2016 year-on-year to reach 270 million euros. Another factor boosting investments in holiday homes grow is the considerable decline in prices – averaging at 50% – compared to the period before the financial crisis, around 2008. The drop mainly took place from 2009 to 2013, as this section of the property market has become stable since then with some growth signs mainly regarding properties that have unique features and are regarded as emblematic.

Several foreigner buyers are scrambling to complete their acquisitions within the year, sensing that the window of opportunity may shut in the coming months, as there already are cases of owners who are raising their asking prices in view of the spike in demand. Franceska Kalamara, the head of the Franceska Properties estate agency that is active in the Myconos market, tells Kathimerini that “the buyers from abroad are interested in sizable and luxurious properties, from 400 square meters upward, and at very favorable locations, as close to the sea as possible. These are mostly individuals from Egypt, Lebanon and Israel, but also from the US, while there has recently been particular activity by Cypriot buyers.”

Among the recent well-known buyers of luxurious homes on Greek islands are Israeli entrepreneur Teddy Sagi (owner of Camden Market in London) who bought a series of properties on Myconos, according to estate agency sources, and Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris, buyer of two villas on the same island costing a total of some 11 million euros. It should be noted that the actual volume of the funds invested in the Greek holiday home market is far greater than reported by the Bank of Greece, as the majority of sellers ask buyers to deposit the money in bank accounts abroad. This trend has grown considerably since the imposition of capital controls two years ago.

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But we like the story! Don’t take our modern mythology away.

There Never Was a Real Tulip Fever (Smithsonian)

According to popular legend, the tulip craze took hold of all levels of Dutch society in the 1630s. “The rage among the Dutch to possess them was so great that the ordinary industry of the country was neglected, and the population, even to its lowest dregs, embarked in the tulip trade,” wrote Scottish journalist Charles Mackay in his popular 1841 work Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. According to this narrative, everyone from the wealthiest merchants to the poorest chimney sweeps jumped into the tulip fray, buying bulbs at high prices and selling them for even more. Companies formed just to deal with the tulip trade, which reached a fever pitch in late 1636. But by February 1637, the bottom fell out of the market.

More and more people defaulted on their agreement to buy the tulips at the prices they’d promised, and the traders who had already made their payments were left in debt or bankrupted. At least that’s what has always been claimed. In fact, “There weren’t that many people involved and the economic repercussions were pretty minor,” Goldgar says. “I couldn’t find anybody that went bankrupt. If there had been really a wholesale destruction of the economy as the myth suggests, that would’ve been a much harder thing to face.” That’s not to say that everything about the story is wrong; merchants really did engage in a frantic tulip trade, and they paid incredibly high prices for some bulbs. And when a number of buyers announced they couldn’t pay the high price previously agreed upon, the market did fall apart and cause a small crisis—but only because it undermined social expectations.

“In this case it was very difficult to deal with the fact that almost all of your relationships are based on trust, and people said, ‘I don’t care that I said I’m going to buy this thing, I don’t want it anymore and I’m not going to pay for it.’ There was really no mechanism to make people pay because the courts were unwilling to get involved,” Goldgar says. But the trade didn’t affect all levels of society, and it didn’t cause the collapse of industry in Amsterdam and elsewhere. As Garber, the economist, writes, “While the lack of data precludes a solid conclusion, the results of the study indicate that the bulb speculation was not obvious madness.” [..] All the outlandish stories of economic ruin, of an innocent sailor thrown in prison for eating a tulip bulb, of chimney sweeps wading into the market in hopes of striking it rich—those come from propaganda pamphlets published by Dutch Calvinists worried that the tulip-propelled consumerism boom would lead to societal decay.

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Sep 242017
 
 September 24, 2017  Posted by at 6:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Robert Frank London 1952-53

 

‘Tis the jolly time of elections, referendums, flags and other democracy-related issues. They are all linked in some way or another, even if that’s not always obvious. Elections, in New Zealand and Germany this weekend, referendums in Catalonia and Kurdistan the coming week, a looming Party Congress in China, quarrels about a flag in the US and then there’s always Brexit.

About China: the Congress is only in October, Xi Jinping looks sure to broaden his powers even more, and it ain’t all that democratic, but we should still follow it, if only because party officials will be either demoted or promoted, and some of them govern more people than most kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers. They say everything’s bigger in Texas, but in China everything really is. Including debt.

New Zealand: the election very early this morning didn’t bring a much hoped for win for Labour, or any clear winner at all, so don’t expect any grand changes in policy. New Zealand won’t wake up till its economy dives and the housing bubble pops.

Germany: Angela Merkel has set up today’s election so that she has no competition. Though she will see the ultra-right AfD enter parliament. Still, her main ‘rival’, alleged left wing Martin Schulz, is a carbon copy of Merkel when it comes to the main issues, i.e. immigration and the EU. An election that is as dull as Angela herself, even though she’ll lose 10% or so. The next one won’t be, guaranteed.

As for the US, no elections there, but another round of big words about nationalism, patriotism and the flag. Donald Trump is well aware that 75% or so of Americans say the flag must be respected, so criticizing people for kneeling instead of standing when the anthem gets played is an easy win for him. No amount of famous athletes is going to change that.

It all doesn’t seem very smart or sophisticated. But then, the US is the only western country I know of that plays the anthem at domestic sports games and has children vow a Pledge of Allegiance to it every single day. Other countries can’t even imagine doing that. They keep their anthems for special occasions. And even then only a few people stand up when it’s played. For most, it’s much ado about nothing but a strip of cotton.

What is perhaps interesting is that a whole list of NFL team owners donated a million dollars to Trump, and now speak out against him and ‘side with their players’, even though not one of them has offered Colin Kaepernick a job since he got fired for going down on one knee. Should I add ‘allegedly’? The only right way to handle the issue would seem to be to talk about why Kaepernick and others do what they do, not that they do it. There’s more than enough division in the country to warrant such talks.

Let Trump invite Kaepernick and Stephen Curry, maybe even Lebron and Stevie Wonder, to the White House with the very intention to talk about that. In the current hostile climate that is not going to happen though, even if Da Donald might want to. There’s a group of people who after 30 years of a deteriorating economy said ‘this is not my country anymore’, and voted for the only -apparent- alternative available, Trump, and another group who then said ‘this is not my president’.

And never the twain shall have a conversation. Somebody better find a way to get them to talk about it, or worse is to come. Far too many Americans identify themselves solely as not being someone else. Yeah, Trump too, but he’s been under constant siege from all sides, and of course he’ll fight back. No, that does not make me a Trump cheerleader, as some have suggested, but what’s happening today threatens to blow up the entire nation, after first having eroded the whole political system. This is a serious risk.

Now spymaster James Clapper is saying again that the whole Russia thing, for which there still is zero proof, could make the election invalid. Well, not without proof, Jimbo. And until you do have that proof, shut up, it’s poisonous (he knows). Instead, go help the 3.5 million literally powerless Americans in Puerto Rico. There are plenty issues to deal with that don’t involve bashing your president. Keep that for later.

 

(Proposed) referendums (referenda?) in Catalunya and ‘Kurdistan’ raise interesting questions about sovereignty and self determination. We’ll see a lot more of that going forward. I’ve repeatedly mentioned the issue of sovereignty when it comes to Greece, which cannot really be called sovereign anymore because others, foreigners, make all main decisions about its economy.

There may be plenty different definitions of sovereignty, but there can be no doubt it means that a domestic authority has control over a country. That also means that possible changes to that authority can only be made domestically. To come back to Greece briefly, I’m surprised that no constitutional lawyers or scholars have questioned respective governments handing de facto control to ‘outsiders’.

But that can be both deepened and broadened to the decision to join both first the EU, and later the euro. Have all 27 EU countries run these decisions by their constitutional lawyers and highest courts? I’ve never seen an opinion like that from any country. Does a country’s ruling authority have the power to sign away its sovereignty? I would bet in most cases it does not, or the constitution involved was/is either shoddily written or not worth much to begin with.

That any elected US president -or Congress, Senate- would have the power to sell the country to the highest bidder -or any part of it- sounds preposterous, even if I’m no constitutional lawyer or scholar. What countries CAN do, of course, is sign treaties and other agreements concerning defence or trade, among others. But any possible sovereignty violations would always need to be scrutinized at the highest domestically available level of judicial power.

Moreover, I would argue that sovereignty is not something that can be divided, split up or broken into separate parts. You’re either sovereign or you’re not. One country, indivisible, as the US Pledge of Allegiance states (but that doesn’t mean a group of people inside a country can’t seek its own sovereignty).

 

The ‘composition’ of the EU raises a lot of questions. Many countries have given up their rights to control over their currencies, and therefore their entire economic policies, and though the euro is undoubtedly beneficial in some areas, it has turned out to be a straight-jacket in others, when less sunny economic times arrived.

So what happens if those less sunny times are here to stay? Will countries like Greece continue to bend over for Germany, and for the ECB it controls, or will some of these countries (re-)examine their rights to sovereignty? How is this defined in the EU charter anyway? It has to be there, or many constitutions were violated to begin with when countries signed up. Sovereignty that is not properly defined is meaningless.

Another, non-economic, example concerns the Visegrad countries, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. It’s wonderfully ironic that Wikipedia says the Visegrad alliance (est. in 1991) was formed “for the purposes of furthering their European integration”, ironic because one might be tempted to think it does the opposite. The Visegrad countries refuse to be part of the EU’s scheme to resettle refugees.

And Brussels tries to force them to comply with that scheme, with threat after threat. But that too, no matter how one views the issue or where one’s sympathies lie, is in the end a sovereignty issue. And what use is it to force refugees upon a country that doesn’t want them? The bigger question is of course: why were they ever invited into the EU when they think that way, and that way is fundamentally different from that prevalent in Brussels and other member countries?

Or perhaps the even bigger question should be: how do you combine a country’s sovereignty with a political and economic union of nations that must sign away parts of their sovereignty -and therefore all of it, as argued before-. If you ask me, it’s not nearly as easy -let alone legal- as they try to make it look.

 

Catalunya and ‘Kurdistan’ are good examples – albeit from a different angle- of that same conundrum. A topic closely linked to sovereignty is self-determination. Wikipedia:

The right of people to self-determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law (commonly regarded as a jus cogens rule), binding, as such, on the United Nations as authoritative interpretation of the {UN] Charter’s norms. It states that a people, based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity, have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no interference.

[..] on 11 February 1918 US President Woodrow Wilson stated: “National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent.

‘Self determination’ is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.

The Kurds have been denied that right for a very long time. For reasons related to divide and rule policies in a whole slew of different global powers both in the region and outside of it, and reasons related to oil. After being a major force in the fight against ISIS, and after seeing Turkey get ever more agressive against them -again-, the Kurds have -not for the first time- planned a referendum for a sovereign state. As the UN charter unequivocally says is their right.

The problem is, they want to establish their state on land that other countries claim is theirs. Even if the Kurds have lived there for a long time. And that’s a common theme in most of these ‘events’. Catalunya, Palestina, ‘Kurdistan’, they’re told they can perhaps have independence and sovereignty, but not on land where their people have lived for 1000s of years, because that land ‘belongs to us’.

And holding a referendum is therefore unconstitutional, says Spain, or whatever legal term is thrown out. But if the UN charter makes the international community’s position as clear as it does, how can it contradict a member nation’s constitution? Was that member not paying attention when it signed up to the Charter, or did the UN itself let that one slip?

 

 

Catalunya (Catalonia) is the northeast tip of Spain. Its people have long wanted independence and never gotten it. When present day Spain was formed, it was made part of Spain. And now the people want their own nation. It is not hard. But then again it is. We are now one week before October 1, the date the referendum was planned, and the Spanish government has done everything it could and then some to frustrate the referendum, and therefore the will of the people of Catalunya.

As the politicians who inhabit the EU and UN sit by idly, scared silly of burning their fingers. After arresting Catalan politicians and confiscating anything that could be used to hold the referendum, Spain has sent cruise ships full of police to Catalan harbors, and tried to take over control of the Catalan police force. But Catalan politicians and harbor crew have refused to let the ships dock, and Catalan police won’t obey Spanish orders.

It’s starting to look like Spain PM Rajoy wants to provoke a violent Catalan reaction, so he can send in his army and blame Barcelona and environs. What he doesn’t want to understand is that this will be the end of his government, his career, and of any chance Catalunya will remain part of Spain other than in the short term. It feels like Franco’s military, who, don’t forget, only relinquished control some 40 years ago, are still there in spirit if not physically.

For everybody’s sake, we can only hope someone does something to stop Rajoy and whoever’s behind his decisions, because if anyone ever wondered why the Catalans wanted to be independent, after those decisions there can be no question anymore. If he sends in the army, Spain as a whole will be something of the past. But first the referendum result, which was very doubtful all along, has now been settled: nearly all Catalans stand united against Rajoy today.

And Catalans are a mixed people. Many do not have their roots there, or even speak the language. But they will not turn on their friends and neighbors.

 

Kurdistan’s situation is even a lot more convoluted than Catalunya’s. Borders in the Middle East were drawn more or less at random by the French and British after the fall of the Ottoman Empire nearly 100 years ago. And the Kurds never got their independence, or their country. But now they want it. However, they live spread over 4 different countries, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. And some of the land they live on has oil. Lots of it. And the cradle of civilization, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

 

 

Just about everyone, including the US, all countries in the region, and the old colonial powers, have declared their resistance to the Kurdish referendum. Getting back to the UN charter et al, isn’t that a curious position? Politicians sign lofty declarations, but when their successors are called upon to uphold them, nobody’s home. And it’s not as if self-determination is such a difficult topic to understand.

The referendum will be held on September 25 in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, so not in other Kurdish regions. Therefore only 900,000 people, out of some 35 million Kurds, get to vote. But the question on the ballot will be:

“Do you want the Kurdistan region and the Kurdistani areas outside the region’s administration to become an independent state?”

And that of course means something much more, and much bigger. There’s a ‘Kurdistan’ in Iran, Syria and Turkey as well. Kurds there don’t get to vote, though.

Quoting Bloomberg: “The vote will be held in the three governorates officially ruled by the KRG, as well as in disputed areas currently controlled by Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga. The Kurds expanded their domain in 2014 when, faced with Islamic State attacks, the Iraqi army deserted the oil-rich city Kirkuk.”

Here’s where the Kurds were living according to the 2014 CIA World Factbook:

 

 

As is the case in Catalunya, Iraq’s parliament and top court have declared the vote unconstitutional. That again raises the question: how can a vote violate a country’s constitution if and when that country has signed the UN charter which explicitly defines every people’s right to self-determination? Who’s been asleep when both documents were signed?

How could the UN let countries sign its charter whose constitutions violated that same charter? Have we all just been playing fast and loose all along? Or, more interestingly, what are we all going to do now that we know about this? Are we going to take self-determination away from people, and sign that into a whole new UN charter? Or are we going to make sure the charter is upheld and make countries change their constitutions to comply with it?

 

There is a third option (very much in favor): to not do anything. But that gets more dangerous all the time. The days that people could just be ignored are gone. Social media have probably played a large role in that. And so have changing power relationships.

The EU is blowing itself up through increasing calls for more Europe just as people want less. I’ve said it often before: centralization stops when and where economic growth does. And despite all the creative accounting we see, economic growth is definitely gone in Europe. Just ask Greece, Spain. Ask the people, not the politicians. People will only accept their decisions being made by far away ‘leaders’ if they perceive them as beneficial to their lives, the lives of their children.

Those days are gone, no matter the propaganda. That’s true all over Europe, and it’s true all across the US. The refusal by incumbent powers to recognize this, admit to it, is what gives us the likes of Trump and Brexit and countless other challengers. That Marine Le Pen and others have failed to date doesn’t mean the status quo wins; others will follow. In that vein I was surprised to see Yanis Varoufakis, whom I hold in very great esteem, declare in name of his DiEM 25 movement that:

“I am not taking sides on whether Catalonia should be independent or not” and “What we’re promoting in DiEM25 would solve the problem. We want a real European Union that becomes a single jurisdiction, a country if you want to call it that. In that scenario, it doesn’t matter if Catalonia is part of Spain!”

Europe will not be one country. Nor should it want to be. Europe has 1000 different ways to work together, and the EU has been an utter failure at that. While it has done a ton of good, it is being -predictably- destroyed by the power politics at its top levels. Nobody ever told Europeans that they would wind up living as German provinces. But that is what they are.

As Varoufakis himself makes abundantly clear is his book Adults in the Room. That’s why Germans have no real choice in today’s election: they have such utter control of the EU they would be crazy to vote against it. But at the same time, the rest of the ‘Union’ would be crazy to let them hold that power.

And I know that DiEM25 wants to change and reform the EU, but how will they do that knowing they need Germany, more than all other countries, to accomplish it, as Germany is sitting so pretty? Calls for a one-country Europe seem at the very least irresponsibly premature. That’s very far from reality. First things first. No cheating. You can’t say it doesn’t matter what happen to the Catalans today because ‘we’ have bigger plans for tomorrow. That means abandoning them. That’s not a new Europe: that’s what they already have today.

 

As for ‘Kurdistan’, what can we do but hope and pray? Hope that the old European colonial powers, as well as Turkey, Iraq and Iran, plus Russia and China, live up to the UN Charter they signed, and let the Kurds show they can be a force for peace in the region, which needs one so badly?! They have shown in no uncertain terms they can defend themselves, and their land, against anyone who threatens them. The Kurdish women army, YPJ, is all you need to know when it comes to that. They are the bravest amongst us.

If they had their own country, they would continue to do just that, and better. Which just goes to show that nationalism and patriotism are not of necessity negative emotions. It gives people an identity. Which is exactly why brighter heads than the present ones put the right to self-determination in the UN Charter, at a time, 1945, when the world had seen indescribable destruction.

There’s a lesson there. That we seem to have forgotten already. And now have to learn all over again. Through Colin Kaepernick, through the unbelievable Kurdish women’s YPG army, though the streets of Barcelona. Our world is screwed up, and we need to unscrew it.