Oct 092017
 
 October 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Joan Miro The tilled field 1924

 

CEO Stock Buybacks Parasitize the Economy (Ralph Nader)
The Economy Is Humming. Bankers Are Cheering. What Could Go Wrong? (NYT)
Flatliners (NT)
Schäuble: Another Financial Crisis Is Coming Due To Spiraling Global Debt (ZH)
EU Plan To Prevent Bank Runs Could Backfire, Create Panic (BBG)
Hackers And Fraudsters Are Causing Cryptocurrency Chaos (Ind.)
Is This The Geopolitical Shift Of The Century? (OP)
Tensions Rise As US, Turkey Halt Visitor Visas, Send Lira Tumbling (BBG)
Sanctions Against Russia Have Cost European Union €30 Billion (RT)
Spain is the Blueprint for How All Governments Will Act (Martin Armstrong)
Catalans Call for Talks as Spain Enters Crunch Week (BBG)
Greece Foreclosures Target Seems Unattainable (K.)
Nearly There, But Never Further Away (FP)

 

 

And the parasite is killing its host.

CEO Stock Buybacks Parasitize the Economy (Ralph Nader)

The monster of economic waste—over $7 trillion of dictated stock buybacks since 2003 by the self-enriching CEOs of large corporations—started with a little noticed change in 1982 by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) under President Ronald Reagan. That was when SEC Chairman John Shad, a former Wall Street CEO, redefined unlawful ‘stock manipulation’ to exclude stock buybacks. Then after Clinton pushed through congress a $1 million cap on CEO pay that could be deductible, CEO compensation consultants wanted much of CEO pay to reflect the price of the company’s stock. The stock buyback mania was unleashed. Its core was not to benefit shareholders (other than perhaps hedge fund speculators) by improving the earnings per share ratio. Its real motivation was to increase CEO pay no matter how badly such burning out of shareholder dollars hurt the company, its workers and the overall pace of economic growth.

In a massive conflict of interest between greedy top corporate executives and their own company, CEO-driven stock buybacks extract capital from corporations instead of contributing capital for corporate needs, as the capitalist theory would dictate. Yes, due to the malicious, toady SEC “business judgement” rule, CEOs can take trillions of dollars away from productive pursuits without even having to ask the companies’ owners—the shareholders—for approval. What could competent management have done with this treasure trove of shareholder money which came originally from consumer purchases? They could have invested more in research and development, in productive plant and equipment, in raising worker pay (and thereby consumer demand), in shoring up shaky pension fund reserves, or increasing dividends to shareholders.

The leading expert on this subject—economics professor William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts—wrote a widely read article in 2013 in the Harvard Business Review titled “Profits Without Prosperity” documenting the intricate ways CEOs use buybacks to escalate their pay up to 300 to 500 times (averaging over $10,000 an hour plus lavish benefits) the average pay of their workers. This compared to only 30 times the average pay gap in 1978. This has led to increasing inequality and stagnant middle class wages. [..] In a review of 64 companies, including major retailers such as JC Penny and Macy’s, these firms spent more dollars in stock buybacks “than their businesses are currently worth in market value”! [..] The scholars concluded that “Buybacks are a way of disinvesting – we call it ‘committing corporate suicide’..

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How much time do I have?

The Economy Is Humming. Bankers Are Cheering. What Could Go Wrong? (NYT)

For decades, the global economy has been defined by dissonance. There has been the Japanese recession. The financial crises in the United States and Europe. And drama in emerging markets throughout. But as central bankers, finance ministers and money managers descend on Washington this week for the fall meetings of the IMF, they will confront an unusual reality: global markets and economies rising in unison. Never mind political turmoil, populist uprisings and threats of nuclear war. From Wall Street to Washington, economists have been upgrading their forecasts for the global economy this year, with the consensus now pointing to an expansion of more than 3% — up noticeably from 2.6% in 2016. Economists from the IMF are likely to follow suit when the fund releases its biannual report on the global economy on Tuesday.

The rosy numbers are noteworthy. But what’s more startling is that virtually every major developed and emerging economy is growing simultaneously, the first time this has happened in 10 years. “In terms of positive cycles, it is difficult to find very many precedents here,” said Brian Coulton, the chief economist at Fitch, the debt ratings agency. “It is the strongest growth we have seen since 2010.” In Japan, a reform-minded government and aggressive action by the central bank have pushed growth to 1.5% — up from 0.3% three years ago. In Europe, strong domestic demand in Germany and robust recoveries in countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy are expected to spur 2.2% growth in the eurozone. That would be more than double its average annual growth in the previous five years.

Aggressive infrastructure spending by China; bold economic reforms by countries including Brazil, Indonesia and India; and rising commodities prices (helping countries such as Russia) have spurred growth in emerging markets. And in the United States, despite doubts about President Trump’s ability to pass a major tax bill, the economy and financial markets chug along. In fact, one of the few large economies not following an upward path is Britain, whose pending exit from the European Union is taking a toll. Having grown at an average annual pace of just over 2% from 2012 to 2016, the British economy is expanding just 1.5% this year. [..] “We are in a boom today, but we should not forget that the financial system is still relatively unstable,” said Jim Reid, a credit strategist at Deutsche Bank.

Mr. Reid, who spices up his market analyses by regaling clients with pop songs on the piano, recently published a detailed study on what he expects will be the causes of the next global financial crisis. Pick your poison: an abrupt slowdown in China, the rise of populism, debt problems in Japan or an ugly outcome to Britain’s move to leave the European Union. His overriding worry, though, is that investors and policy makers aren’t prepared for what will happen when global central banks put a halt to their easy-money policies. Since the 2008 crisis, Mr. Reid noted, central banks have accumulated more than $14 trillion in assets — an amount that exceeds the annual output of China by $3 trillion. What happens when the central banks all start to sell? “This is unprecedented,” Mr. Reid said. “And no one knows what the outcome will be.”

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Compressed volatility.

Flatliners (NT)

We find ourselves in a very unique point in history and in a world dominated by false narratives. It is a challenge to keep an analytical grip on reality, but I’ll try to tie a few threads together here to put everything in a macro context. Firstly the underlying base reality: Free money, easy money, whatever you want to call it, permeates everything we see in financial markets. Indeed I would argue price appreciation has been paid for with unprecedented and, in my view, unsustainable volatility compression. A couple of charts really highlight this. Most clearly perhaps is the precise trend line tagging we can observe in the correlated picture of price appreciation and volatility compression since the February 2016 lows:

The $VIX’s corollary, the inverse $XIV, embarked on an explosive near one way journey since the US election coinciding with over $2 trillion central bank intervention in just the first 9 months of 2017:

And it has continued to this day and just made another all time high this past week on a massive negative divergence. It is the magnitude of this volatility compression that explains the current trading environment we find ourselves in. Aside from the obvious artificial liquidity avalanche we’ve had speculated about the driver of all this and the answer may simply be the promise of even more free money, specifically tax cuts. As some of you may recall from my analysis over the past year I’ve been very clear that math ultimately will bring out truth in any narrative. In this case that notion that tax cuts pay for themselves is a fantasy. It always has been. Can it result in a short term bump in spending or even growth? Yes it is possible, especially if structured right.

But any historical analysis will show you that tax cuts, especially already coming from a relatively low base, will just add to debt via larger deficits. Recently the White House budget director finally acknowledged this very reality: “a tax plan that doesn’t add to the deficit won’t spur growth” My criticism has been that all this marketing talk is simply a lie and will structurally put the country further at risk of trillion dollar deficits and a massive debt explosion that is already baked in even without tax cuts.

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But he makes no attempt to apologize?!

Schäuble: Another Financial Crisis Is Coming Due To Spiraling Global Debt (ZH)

Schauble warned that the world was in danger of “encouraging new bubbles to form”. “Economists all over the world are concerned about the increased risks arising from the accumulation of more and more liquidity and the growth of public and private debt. I myself am concerned about this, too,” he said echoing the concern voiced just one day earlier by IMF head Christine Lagarde, said the world was enjoying its best growth spurt since the start of the decade, but warned of “threats on the horizon” from “high levels of debt in many countries to rapid credit expansion in China, to excessive risk-taking in financial markets”. Schäuble also echoed the latest warning from the BIS, which last month said that the world had become so used to cheap credit that higher interest rates could derail the global economic recovery.

Meanwhile, Schäuble defended austerity, saying the word was, “strictly speaking, an Anglo-Saxon way of describing a solid financial policy which doesn’t necessarily see more, or higher deficits as a good thing.” The soon to be former finance minister also took a pot shot at the UK: “The UK always made fun of Rhineland capitalism,” he said, contrasting Germany’s consensus-driven, social market model with Anglo-American free markets and deregulation. “[But] we have seen that the tools of the social market economy were more effective at dealing with the [financial] crisis…than in the places where the crisis arose.”

Of course, Germany’s success – almost entirely a function of the common currency which has effectively kept the Deutsche Mark from soaring – has come at the expense of crisis after crisis among Europe’s southern states. Unfortunately it has resulted in an entire generation of unemployed youth in countries like Greece, Italy and Spain. Still, in keeping with his dour image, Schäuble’s last words were pessimistic: “We have to ensure that we will be resilient enough if we ever face a new economic crisis,” he added. “We won’t always have such positive economic times as we have now” concluded the jolly 75-year-old. Perhaps Wolfi is worrying too much: after all, according to Janet Yellen, “we will not see another crisis in our lifetime.” And if we do, well central banks are primed and ready to injects trillions more to keep the artificial “recovery” and market “all time highs” can kicked just a little bit further.

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They’ll screw this one up, too.

EU Plan To Prevent Bank Runs Could Backfire, Create Panic (BBG)

Three years since their banking union began to take shape, European Union regulators are seeking fresh powers to deal with lenders in trouble. Their plan would let them stop withdrawals from a failing bank for a few days while they address the problem, with the aim of preventing a run. But this approach could easily have the opposite effect, spreading panic to the whole financial system. There’s a better way. Instead of freezing bank accounts, EU governments should enable regulators to keep a bank going while they restructure it and search for a new owner. This will require EU governments to commit additional resources for the task. The ECB and the euro zone’s Single Resolution Board have been calling for the power to freeze bank accounts – a so-called moratorium – since the swift resolution of Banco Popular in June.

They succeeded in winding down the troubled Spanish lender by selling it to rival Banco Santander, but had to do it on a weekday night with a run on deposits in progress. The regulators say that next time it might be impossible to find a buyer overnight. A moratorium would relieve that pressure and perhaps allow them to sell the bank at a better price. This approach would mirror an arrangement which is currently in place in Germany, and it’s superficially appealing: Closing a bank would certainly stop a run. But it could also have unintended consequences. Depositors may run from a bank in trouble sooner — fearing that if they wait too long they may not be able to withdraw their money. It could also lead depositors to empty their accounts as soon as the bank re-opens. Most dangerous of all, freezing accounts in one bank could spread panic to the rest of the system, as other depositors fear the same will happen to them.

The idea also puts international cooperation on bank resolution at risk. The EU regulators’ plan threatens to disrupt measures put in place after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Bank of England economists recently warned in a working paper that adopting the new moratorium might prompt banks to back out of the existing arrangements for handling financial emergencies.

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An extensive look at crypto. Much better than the headline makes you think.

Hackers And Fraudsters Are Causing Cryptocurrency Chaos (Ind.)

Cryptocurrencies were supposed to offer a secure, digital way to conduct financial transactions but they have been dogged by doubts. Concerns have largely focused on their astronomical gains in value and the likelihood of painful price crashes. Equally perilous, though, are the exchanges where virtual currencies are bought, sold and stored. These exchanges, which match buyers and sellers and sometimes hold traders’ funds, have become magnets for fraud and mires of technological dysfunction, posing an underappreciated risk to anyone who trades digital coins. Huge sums are at stake. As the prices of bitcoin and other virtual currencies have soared this year – bitcoin has quadrupled – legions of investors and speculators have turned to online exchanges.

Billions of dollars’ worth of bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies, which aren’t backed by any governments or central banks, are now traded on exchanges every day. “These are new assets. No one really knows what to make of them,” said David L Yermack, chairman of the finance department at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “If you’re a consumer, there’s nothing to protect you.” Regulators and governments are still debating how to handle cryptocurrencies, and Mr Yermack says the US Congress will ultimately have to take action. Some of the freewheeling exchanges are plagued with poor security and lack investor protections common in more regulated financial markets. Some Chinese exchanges have falsely inflated their trading volume to lure new customers, according to former employees.

There have been at least three dozen heists of cryptocurrency exchanges since 2011; many of the hacked exchanges later shut down. More than 980,000 bitcoins have been stolen, which today would be worth about $4bn. Few have been recovered. Burned investors have been left at the mercy of exchanges as to whether they will receive any compensation. Nearly 25,000 customers of Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, are still waiting for compensation more than three years after its collapse into bankruptcy in Japan. The exchange said it lost about 650,000 bitcoins. Claims approved by the bankruptcy trustee total more than $400m.

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Not without China, no.

Is This The Geopolitical Shift Of The Century? (OP)

The geopolitical reality in the Middle East is changing dramatically. The impact of the Arab Spring, the retraction of the U.S. military, and diminishing economic influence on the Arab world – as displayed during the Obama Administration – are facts. The emergence of a Russian-Iranian-Turkish triangle is the new reality. The Western hegemony in the MENA region has ended, and not in a shy way, but with a long list of military conflicts and destabilization. The first visit of a Saudi king to Russia shows the growing power of Russia in the Middle East. It also shows that not only Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but also Egypt and Libya, are more likely to consider Moscow as a strategic ally.

King Salman’s visit to Moscow could herald not only several multibillion business deals, but could be the first real step towards a new regional geopolitical and military alliance between OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and Russia. This cooperation will not only have severe consequences for Western interests but also could partly undermine or reshape the position of OPEC at the same time. Russian president Vladimir Putin is currently hosting a large Saudi delegation, led by King Salman and supported by Saudi minister of energy Khalid Al Falih. Moscow’s open attitude to Saudi Arabia—a lifetime Washington ally and strong opponent of the growing Iran power projections in the Arab world—show that Putin understands the current pivotal changes in the Middle East.

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Direct result of Turkey’s deal with Russia on Syria.

Tensions Rise As US, Turkey Halt Visitor Visas, Send Lira Tumbling (BBG)

The U.S. and Turkey each suspended visa services for citizens looking to visit the other country, a sharp escalation of a diplomatic spat that sent the lira down more than 6% against the U.S. dollar. The moves followed the Oct. 4 arrest of a Turkish national who works at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul for alleged involvement in the July 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Hours after the Trump administration halted visa services in Turkey on Sunday, Erdogan’s government responded in kind, even repeating verbatim much of the U.S. statement. Both sides said “recent events” had forced them to “reassess the commitment” of the other to the security of mission facilities and personnel.

Only two weeks ago, U.S. President Donald Trump had heaped praise on Erdogan when they met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, saying the Turkish leader “is becoming a friend of mine” and “frankly, he’s getting high marks.” The U.S. on Thursday called charges against the man “wholly without merit,” saying it was “deeply disturbed” by the arrest and “by leaks from Turkish government sources seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law.” Turkey responded by saying the arrested Turkish citizen wasn’t part of the U.S. Consulate’s staff but a “local employee.” The lira was at 3.7323 per dollar as of 10:37 a.m. in Singapore on Monday, down more than 3% from Friday’s close, and touched as low as 3.8533. The currency is heading for a seventh day of declines, the longest stretch since May 2016.

Relations between Turkey, a NATO member, and some Western countries soured after the failed 2016 coup. Erdogan has accused U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen of organizing the attempted overthrow, and has become increasingly impatient with the U.S. for not turning him over. “I would expect that there will be some sort of de-escalation at the leadership level – Trump and Erdogan will speak or meet,” said Murat Yurtbilir, who specializes in Turkish affairs at the Australian National University. “But the underlying problems won’t go away: the Gulen issue, Turkey’s slow switch toward Russia’s policy in Syria and the economy. ”

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But but but….

Sanctions Against Russia Have Cost European Union €30 Billion (RT)

New research by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO) suggests the EU’s economic sanctions against Russia introduced three years ago have cost European countries billions of euro. The survey, which was conducted at the request of the European Parliament and published on Friday, showed EU exports to Russia declining annually by 15.7% since 2014. Up to 40% of that decrease was due to sanctions, it said. As a result of the penalties, Russia has lost its place as EU’s fourth largest trading partner and currently ranks fifth behind the US, Switzerland, China, and Turkey. WIFO calculated EU exports to Russia nosedived from €120 billion four years ago to €72 billion in 2016. According to the research, Cyprus was hit most as exports to Russia plunged 34.5% over the past two years. Greece suffered a 23.2% fall; Croatia’s exports were down 21%.

Austrian exports to Russia dropped by almost ten% or by €1 billion, WIFO said. Poland and the UK have lost €3 billion each. The researchers said the impact of sanctions was most damaging during the first year, as “not much progress has been made in switching trade flows to other countries.” EU sanctions against Russia were introduced in 2014 over the country’s alleged involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The penalties targeted Russia’s financial, energy, and defense sectors, along with some government officials, businessmen, and public figures. Moscow responded by imposing an embargo on agricultural produce and food and raw materials on countries that joined the anti-Russian sanctions. Since then the sides have repeatedly broadened and extended the restrictive measures.

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“You can always write a law and claim it is unconstitutional to separate. That does not make it legal, moral, or ethical.”

Moreover, it contradicts the UN Charter.

Spain is the Blueprint for How All Governments Will Act (Martin Armstrong)

What is going on in Spain is the blueprint what what other governments will do. The Spanish people themselves outside of Catalonia are deeply divided. Many see this as offensive and others see the government as offensive. We are looking at the breakup of the USA as well and do not forget the civil war to prevent separatists in America. The real issue is that people ban together for creating society and civilization and then government abuses its power and the process of decline begins. This is throughout history and it really does not matter what culture or country. It is all the same. Spain’s Constitutional Court, the puppet of Rajoy, on Thursday ordered the suspension of Monday’s session of the regional Catalan parliament. Rajoy is demonstrating that government will not tolerate losing power.

You can always write a law and claim it is unconstitutional to separate. That does not make it legal, moral, or ethical. Reuters reported: “The suspension order further aggravated one of the biggest crises to hit Spain since the establishment of democracy on the 1975 death of General Francisco Franco. But Spanish markets rose on perceptions the order might ward off, at least for now, an outright independence declaration.” The structure of the EU in attempting to federalize Europe required a single federal debt. That is what they failed to do so you ended up with a half-baked cake. This is why we have the problems in Europe as we do. But make no mistake about it, this is a political problem and what happens in Europe will be a contagion as it was in 1931. This will eventually cause major problems politically in the States as well.

Justice Scalia I greatly admired. However, his letter on the separatist movement in the USA said that the civil war decided there was no right to separate. I disagree with that opinion, but that is my opinion. There are those who object to my writing about Catalonia from the Madrid side. They create a list of hateful names directed at me personally and then say I know nothing of Spain. They are making the same mistake as government. They assume that government and Rajoy is Spain. The people are the sovereign of Spain – not Rajoy nor his Constitutional Court. If you cannot see that government is supposed to be “elected” by the people, they are not to be the ruler of the people as some monarch, they you have missed the entire point of history. You can hate me all you want, but it is your life you are surrendering to government and that of your posterity. We have a choice. We either understand that government when unchecked will go too far and surrender as sheep, or we stand up and try to make the future better for our posterity.

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Someone better intervene.

Catalans Call for Talks as Spain Enters Crunch Week (BBG)

A senior member of the Catalan administration called for dialogue with Spain, warning that all of Europe faces economic damage unless a resolution is found to his region’s standoff with the central government in Madrid. After a weekend of mass demonstrations in favor of Spanish unity, Raul Romeva, foreign affairs chief for the separatist government in Barcelona, insisted that the door was open for talks if Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would grasp the chance of dialogue. “We need two to tango, we need the other side to be at the table,” Romeva said in an interview in Barcelona on Sunday. “We’re always going to be at the negotiation table, but to start negotiations we need the other party to negotiate with.”

The hint of an olive branch came as both sides hurtle toward crunch time in a dispute that threatens the breakup of Spain. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has vowed to press ahead with his independence drive in a declaration due as soon as Tuesday, while Rajoy pledged that “national unity will be maintained” by using all instruments available to him. “The risk of this getting a lot worse, with correspondingly bad market development for Spanish assets, is still too great for my risk appetite,” said Erik Nielsen, chief economist at UniCredit. He predicted at least another week of pressure on Spanish and Catalan debt and assets before “things will eventually normalize.”

[..] Romeva invoked the crisis in the euro area that sent yields soaring on Spanish government debt and curbed access to finance, warning that the economic fallout of any worsening of the situation won’t be limited to Catalonia. “This simply won’t affect the Catalan economy, it’s going to affect the Spanish economy, it’s going to affect the European economy,” Romeva said. He blamed Madrid for causing the political uncertainty that’s prompted a stampede for the exit. “What causes uncertainty is the incapability of the political central state – or the Spanish state – to provide a political solution,” he said.

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Since Greece entered the bailout mechanism, foreclosures are down by 89%. Good.

Greece Foreclosures Target Seems Unattainable (K.)

Foreclosures, which have been practically frozen for the last eight years, represent the credit system’s Achilles’ heel. The impact from the paralysis of the auction system is already obvious in banks’ financial results on the reduction of nonperforming loans and threatens to undermine the target set for containing nonperforming exposures (NPEs). The ECB’s Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) has asked Greek lenders to bring down their NPEs by €11.5 billion through liquidations (property auctions) up to 2019. Meeting this target requires foreclosures worth €5.5 billion per year while takings from auctions have been poor.

The foreclosures scheduled for this year only concern 5,600 properties, worth €1.1 billion. This is the smallest number of auctions in recent years, given that 2016 (when auctions were held for 4,800 properties) was practically wasted due to protracted strikes by Greece’s lawyers and notaries. This year’s figures actually concern mostly auctions demanded by the state or private lenders, while banks have only instigated few auctions, mainly concerning commercial or industrial properties. For comparison purposes, one has to see the statistics from 2009, before Greece entered the bailout mechanism, when foreclosures numbered 52,000 and their value reached €4.2 billion. This means an 89% drop since then.

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I’ve said it before: the EU is the mafia.

Nearly There, But Never Further Away (FP)

The guard forced the migrants to kneel and began barking orders in Arabic, a language that few of the once-hopeful souls who had traveled to Libya from sub-Saharan Africa spoke. A gaunt, elderly man in ripped jeans and a tattered T-shirt failed to comply. The guard, wearing a crisp new uniform emblazoned with the insignia of Libya’s anti-illegal immigration police division, raised his wooden club and brought it down hard on the man’s back, driving him face down into the ground with the first blow. It was early May, three weeks after the staff at the Triq al-Sikka migrant detention center in the Libyan capital of Tripoli had received human rights training from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The guard struck the elderly man again on the back and clubbed the back of his legs.

Then he moved methodically down the line of kneeling migrants, beating each man as if he were responsible for his fellow prisoner’s infraction. Cries of pain echoed through the barren, warehouse-like facility, where more than 100 half-starved migrants were locked away in crowded cells. Some had been there for months, enduring regular beatings and surviving on a few handfuls of macaroni and a single packet of juice each day. Others had recently been rounded up off the streets in raids targeting black African migrants. Soon after the beatings began, other guards at the facility noticed my presence and quickly ushered me into a waiting area outside the well-appointed office of Col. Mohamed Beshr, the urbane head of Libya’s anti-illegal immigration police.

Beshr is a key player in recent joint EU-Libyan efforts to halt migration to Europe, including intercepting migrants at sea and detaining them on land. He has welcomed high-level European diplomats and U.N. representatives to the Triq al-Sikka facility, and his office is filled with certificates from workshops run by IOM, the European Union, and Britain’s development agency. Yet Beshr seemed frustrated by my questions about the abuses openly taking place at the detention center he oversaw. To hear him tell it, his European partners cared about only one thing, even if they wouldn’t say it: preventing migrants from showing up on Italy’s shores. “Are they looking for a real solution to this humanitarian crisis?” Beshr asked, smirking and raising his eyebrows. “Or do they just want us to be the place where migrants are stopped?”

Eighteen months after the EU unveiled its controversial plan to curb illegal migration through Libya — now the primary point of departure for sub-Saharan Africans crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe — migrants have become a commodity to be captured, sold, traded, and leveraged. Regardless of their immigration status, they are hunted down by militias loyal to Libya’s U.N.-backed government, caged in overcrowded prisons, and sold on open markets that human rights advocates have likened to slave auctions. They have been tortured, raped, and killed — abuses that are sometimes broadcast online by the abusers themselves as they attempt to extract ransoms from migrants’ families.

The detention-industrial complex that has taken hold in war-torn Libya is not purely the result of a breakdown in order or the work of militias run amok in a state of anarchy. Visits to five different detention centers and interviews with dozens of Libyan militia leaders, government officials, migrants, and local NGO officials indicate that it is the consequence of hundreds of millions of dollars in pledged and anticipated support from European nations as they try to stem the flow of unwanted migrants toward their shores.

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Jul 282017
 
 July 28, 2017  Posted by at 8:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Gordon Burt Bond Street, Wellington, New Zealand c1957

 

Senate Blocks ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal Bill In Dramatic Late-Night Vote (CNBC)
Russia Promises Retaliation As Senate Passes Sanctions Bill (G.)
US Housing Bubble 2.0 (Mark Hanson)
Is This The Bubble? (Lance Roberts)
Japan Defense Minister Quits Amid Plunging Support For PM Abe (R.)
Libor, The Scandal-Ridden Financial Benchmark, Doesn’t Have Long To Live (Qz)
Shell’s Profits Treble As Cost Cuts Take Effect (PA)
Oil Companies Trim Drilling Budgets in Sign of Rising Caution (BBG)
US Indicts Russian Suspected of $4 Billion Bitcoin Laundering Scheme (R.)
The Syrian Army Were Standing Up To Isis Long Before The Americans (Fisk)
France Plans Asylum ‘Hotspots’ In Libya (BBC)
Italy Loses Patience With France’s Macron Over Migrants, Libya (VoA)
EU Announces New Emergency Support For Greek Refugee Crisis (AP)

 

 

Three things:

1) Boy, was I right to say US politics should be observed through the eyes of Shakespeare.

2) Playing with people’s health care, let alone for petty political reasons, is not forgiveable.

3) What a bunch of has-beens these people are. Limit their terms, close the revolving doors, and let the future be decided by people young enough to actually have a future. Oh, and get money out of politics.

Senate Blocks ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal Bill In Dramatic Late-Night Vote (CNBC)

The Senate blocked the latest Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare in a dramatic floor vote early Friday morning, yet again stalling — for now — the key campaign goal that eludes the GOP six months into the Trump administration. Three GOP defections — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona — sank the measure in a 49-51 vote. McCain, who recently returned to the Senate after getting diagnosed with brain cancer, cast his “no” vote to audible gasps on the chamber’s floor, according to reporters there. Senate Republicans released the plan late Thursday just hours before voting on an amendment to take up the bill. The GOP could only afford to lose two votes on the proposal, which many senators suggested they would not even want to see become law.

The measure came after separate pushes to immediately replace the Affordable Care Act or repeal it with a two-year transition period failed amid GOP divisions. Several Republican senators slammed the plan and appeared to not even want it to become law. It marks another blow to the sprawling agenda that Republicans hoped to accomplish when President Donald Trump won the White House and the GOP held both chambers of Congress in November. After the vote, a visibly frustrated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “clearly a disappointing moment.” “So yes, this is a disappointment, a disappointment indeed … I regret that our efforts were simply not enough this time,” McConnell said.

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But this they do agree on. More reasons to get rid of the old order in Washington.

Russia Promises Retaliation As Senate Passes Sanctions Bill (G.)

Vladimir Putin has accused US lawmakers of “insolence”, and promised Russia will retaliate if the latest round of US sanctions against Russia are signed into law. The House of Representatives voted by 419 votes to three on Tuesday to pass the new sanctions bill, which targets Russia as well as North Korea and Iran. The US legislation was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate on Thursday, and will now go to Donald Trump for his signature. Trump, who enjoyed two warm conversations with Putin at the G20 summit earlier this month, is likely to face a major backlash if he attempts to veto the legislation, with his administration already embroiled in a Russia scandal. “We are behaving in a very restrained and patient way, but at some moment we will need to respond,” said Putin at a press conference with his Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinistö.

“It’s impossible to endlessly tolerate this kind of insolence towards our country,” Putin said, referring to the sanctions. “This practice is unacceptable – it destroys international relations and international law.” Putin was vague on exactly how Russia might respond. The newspaper Kommersant quoted two unnamed sources saying a range of potential responses was under consideration in Moscow, including expelling US diplomats, seizing diplomatic properties, increasing restrictions on US companies working in Russia and halting enriched uranium shipments to US power plants. [..] Putin and other Russian officials have repeatedly denied any meddling in the US election, while US intelligence agencies say they have overwhelming evidence of a coordinated Russian campaign. Putin on Thursday described the allegations as “hysteria”, and said: “It’s a great pity that Russian-US relations are being sacrificed to resolve questions of domestic politics.”

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And you thought the US housing bubble was over?

US Housing Bubble 2.0 (Mark Hanson)

The striking Case-Shiller regional charts shown below, courtesy of MHanson.com, make Mark Hanson angry: “so, 2006/2007 was the largest house price bubble ever, but there is nothing to see here in 2017?” and sarcastically points out that “if this isn’t a house price bubble, I would hate to see one.” His bottom line: “If 2006/07 was the peak of the largest housing bubble in history with affordability never better vis a’ vis exotic loans; easy availability of credit; unemployment in the 4%’s; the total workforce at record highs; and growing wages, then what do you call “now” with house prices at or above 2006 levels; worse affordability; tighter credit; higher unemployment; a weakening total workforce; and shrinking wages? Whatever you call it, it’s a greater thing than the Bubble 1.0 peak.”

[..] Income required to buy the avg priced builder house is at historical highs and has completely diverged from the multi-decade trend line. Historically low growth & rebound relative to resales suggest “lack of supply” meme in the Existing Sales market is over-stated.

“Peak builder is here.”
1) New Home Sales “up to” 1995 levels after $15 TRILLION in debt and Fed liquidity aimed largely at the sector.
2) Builder pricing power largely flat for 2-years.
3) Income required to buy the average priced builder house has completely diverged from the multi-decade trend line. This obviously explains why sales are only at 600k SAAR now vs 1.2 million in Bubble 1.0. Reversion to this mean will occur…either thru a sharp rise in income; new exotic loan programs, which make payment less; or house prices dropping.

4) Last time builders were this euphoric was the peak of the biggest credit bubble in history.

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Rinse, forget and repeat.

Is This The Bubble? (Lance Roberts)

Every major market peak, and subsequent devastating mean reverting correction, has ever been the result of the exact ingredients seen previously. Only the ignorance of its existence has been a common theme. The reason that investors ALWAYS fail to recognize the major turning points in the markets is because they allow emotional “greed” to keep them looking backward rather than forward. Of course, the media foster’s much of this “willful” blindness by dismissing, and chastising, opposing views generally until it is too late for their acknowledgement to be of any real use. The next chart shows every major bubble and bust in the U.S. financial markets since 1871 (Source: Robert Shiller)

At the peak of each one of these markets, there was no one claiming that a crash was imminent. It was always the contrary with market pundits waging war against those nagging naysayers of the bullish mantra that “stocks have reached a permanently high plateau” or “this is a new secular bull market.” Yet, in the end, it was something that was unexpected, unknown or simply dismissed that yanked the proverbial rug from beneath investors. What will spark the next mean reverting event? No one knows for sure, but the catalysts are present from: • Excess leverage (Margin debt at new record levels) •IPO’s of negligible companies (Blue Apron, Snap Chat) • Companies using cheap debt to complete stock buybacks and pay dividends, and; • High levels of investor complacency.

Either individually, or in combination, these issues are all inert. Much like pouring gasoline on a pile of wood, the fire will not start without a proper catalyst. What we do know is that an event WILL occur, it is only a function of “when.” The discussion of why “this time is not like the last time” is largely irrelevant. Whatever gains that investors garner in the between now and the next correction by chasing the “bullish thesis” will be wiped away in a swift and brutal downdraft.

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Abe should just go. But before he does, he’ll throw Kuroda under the bus first, if he has the time.

Japan Defense Minister Quits Amid Plunging Support For PM Abe (R.)

Embattled Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada on Friday said she was resigning, after a series of gaffes, missteps and a cover-up at her ministry that have contributed to a sharp plunge in public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Inada, 58, an Abe protege who shares his conservative views and had been suggested as a possible future premier, had already expected to be replaced in a likely cabinet reshuffle next week that Abe hopes will help rebuild his ratings. Support for the prime minister has sunk below 30% in some polls, due to scandals over suspected cronyism and a view among many voters that he and his aides took them for granted.

Abe apologized “to the people from my heart”, in comments to reporters carried live on national television after Inada announced her resignation. He said Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida would add the defense portfolio to his duties, to eliminate any gap at a time when Japan faces tough security challenges, such as from a volatile North Korea. “I want to make every effort to maintain a high degree of vigilance and protect the security of the people,” Abe said. Abe had drawn fire from both ruling and opposition party lawmakers for retaining Inada despite her perceived incompetence. “He should have thrown Inada under the bus long ago … doing so on the eve of a cabinet reshuffle only looks like desperation,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan.

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Taking it out before the real big scandals come up?

Libor, The Scandal-Ridden Financial Benchmark, Doesn’t Have Long To Live (Qz)

A global borrowing benchmark that became synonymous with rigged financial markets, and cost banks some $9 billion in fines, is going away. Andrew Bailey, the head of Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority, said in a speech today that the regulator will phase out the indicator, Libor, by the end of 2021. Bailey said the reason the London interbank offered rate is being scrapped is because the market underpinning the benchmark—unsecured bank lending—has dried up. For one particular Libor benchmark—there are many rates for various durations and currencies—there were only 15 transactions last year, he said. Such benchmarks have long been problematic and susceptible to manipulation. Libor, for example, is based on an estimate of what supposed experts at banks think a borrowing rate would be.

Bloomberg describes the process like this: “The benchmark is the average rate a group of 20 banks estimate they’d be able to borrow funds from each other in five different currencies across seven time periods, submitted by a panel of lenders every morning. Its administration was overhauled in the wake of the scandal, with Intercontinental Exchange Inc. taking over from the then-named British Bankers’ Association.” Before the financial crisis, banks submitted daily estimates of borrowing rates to the BBA, which then averaged them to calculate that day’s Libor rate. Via allegedly colluding, the banks submitting rates could nudge the average up or down, depending on what was needed to increase a profit or reduce a loss in their portfolios.

Libor is of global importance because it’s used to help determine borrowing costs for more than $300 trillion in securities, for things like student loans and mortgages. But as a trader once said in a transcript uncovered by regulators, it’s “just amazing how libor fixing can make you that much money.” The Libor scandal was also part of an era in which recorded electronic communications—chat messages—became evidence and got a lot of people in a lot of trouble. Similar market manipulation was discovered in things like foreign-currency exchange rates and commodity prices. And now Libor is being scrapped. Banks didn’t really want to participate in the rate-setting process anymore anyway, Bailey said, given the market had shrank by so much. (Their recent history of being fined billions for their role in daily rate submissions probably didn’t help.) Some new indicator will have to be agreed on.

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When I saw the headline, I thought they must either have been real inefficient before, or they’re selling teh kitchen sink and not investing a penny. And whaddaya know?

Shell’s Profits Treble As Cost Cuts Take Effect (PA)

Royal Dutch Shell has reported a large rise in second quarter profits after the energy giant was boosted by higher oil and gas prices. The firm said adjusted earnings rose from £800m to £2.7bn, an increase of 245 per cent, as chief executive Ben van Beurden said he is making progress on “reshaping the company”. He said: “Cash generation has been resilient over four consecutive quarters, at an average oil price of just under $50 per barrel. “The external price environment and energy sector developments mean we will remain very disciplined, with an absolute focus on the four levers within our control, namely capital efficiency, costs, new project delivery, and divestments.

“I am confident that we are on track to deliver a world-class investment to our shareholders.” The figures were flattered by a disastrous second quarter in 2016, when it was stung by dilapidated crude prices and costs linked to its takeover of BG Group. This time last year Brent Crude was trading at round 45 US dollars a barrel compared to circa 50 US dollars today. Shell is also embarking on an ambitious cost-cutting drive and a £24.6bn divestment initiative. To this end, the oil major has sold off more than £16bn of assets since the BG takeover. Shell this year announced it will sell off a package of North Sea assets for up to £3bn to smaller rival Chrysaor, and recently agreed to sell its stake in Irish gas project Corrib in a deal worth up to £956 million.

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Everybody does it.

Oil Companies Trim Drilling Budgets in Sign of Rising Caution (BBG)

Caution lights are flashing for the oil industry. Facing lower-than-expected commodity prices, drillers from ConocoPhillips to Hess to Statoil have slashed their capital spending plans in recent days, as companies lay out their plans to cope with oil prices stuck below $50 a barrel. The budget cuts won’t necessarily mean less oil or natural gas on the market, with some of the companies saying they can now do more with less and expect to produce just as much oil and gas in 2017. But they speak to an investor community that’s grown anxious as a global rally in crude prices has stalled out this year.

“The expectation was that oil would be at least above $50 by this time,” said Brian Youngberg, an energy analyst with Edward Jones & Co. in St. Louis. “Right now, the market wants you to spend within your cash flow, no exceptions allowed. It’s just a response to that.” The “modest tweaks” in this week’s second-quarter earnings reports will probably continue in the coming days, Youngberg said, as drillers focused on U.S. shale plays take center stage. “Companies are going to be cautious,” he said. “No one wants to be the outlier.”

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The Mt. Gox link is interesting. Will BTC-e also close?

US Indicts Russian Suspected of $4 Billion Bitcoin Laundering Scheme (R.)

A US jury indicted a Russian man on Wednesday as the operator of a digital currency exchange he allegedly used to launder more than $4 billion for people involved in crimes ranging from computer hacking to drug trafficking. Alexander Vinnik was arrested in a small beachside village in northern Greece on Tuesday, according to local authorities, following an investigation led by the US Justice Department along with several other federal agencies and task forces. US officials described Vinnik in a Justice Department statement as the operator of BTC-e, an exchange used to trade the digital currency bitcoin since 2011.

They alleged Vinnik and his firm “received” more than $4 billion in bitcoin and did substantial business in the United States without following appropriate protocols to protect against money laundering and other crimes. US authorities also linked him to the failure of Mt. Gox, a Japan-based bitcoin exchange that collapsed in 2014 after being hacked. Vinnik “obtained” funds from the hack of Mt. Gox and laundered them through BTC-e and Tradehill, another San Francisco-based exchange he owned, they said in the statement.

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Robert Fisk is part of our conscience.

The Syrian Army Were Standing Up To Isis Long Before The Americans (Fisk)

I don’t like armies. They are dangerous institutions. Soldiers are not heroes just because they fight. And I’ve grown tired of saying that those who live by the sword sometimes die by the sword. But in an age when the Americans and the Iraqis and Isis can account for 40,000 civilian deaths in Mosul in the past twelve months, compared to 50,000 civilians slaughtered by the Mongols in 13th-century Aleppo – a human rights improvement of US aircrews, Iraqi brutality and Isis sadism over the Mongol hordes by a mere 10,000 souls – death sometimes seems to have lost its meaning. Unless you know the victims or their families. I have a friend whose mother was murdered in the Damascus suburb of Harasta near the start of the Syrian war, another whose brother-in-law was kidnapped east of the city and never seen again.

I met a little girl whose mother and small brother were shot down by al-Nusrah killers in the town of Jisr al-Shughour, and a Lebanese who believes his nephew was hanged in a Syrian jail. And then, this month, in the eastern Syrian desert, near the dust-swept shack village of al-Arak, a Syrian soldier I’d come to know was killed by Isis. He was, of course, a soldier in the army of the Syrian regime. He was a general in an army constantly accused of war crimes by the same nation – the United States – whose air strikes contributed so generously to the obscene massacre in Mosul. But General Fouad Khadour was a professional soldier and he was defending the oil fields of eastern Syria – the crown jewels of Syria’s economy, which was why Isis tried to occupy them all and why they killed Khadour – and the war in the desert is not a dirty war like so many of the conflicts perpetrated in Syria.

When I met him west of Palmyra, Isis had just conquered the ancient Roman city and publicly chopped or blown off the heads of the civilians and soldiers and civil servants who did not manage to flee. Just a year before, the general’s son, also a soldier, had been shot dead in battle in Homs. Fouad Khadour merely nodded when I mentioned this. He wanted to talk about the war in the hot, brown mountains south of Palmyra, where he was teaching his soldiers to fight back against the Isis suicide attackers, to defend their isolated positions around the oil pumping and electricity transmission station where he was based, and to save the T4 pipelines on the road to Homs. The Americans, who proclaimed Isis to be an “apocalyptic” force, sneered that the Syrian army did not fight Isis. But Khadour and his men were standing up to Isis before the Americans ever fired a missile, and learning the only lesson that soldiers can understand when confronted by a horrific enemy: not to be afraid.

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The idea is not exactly new. But Macron wants to go it alone.

France Plans Asylum ‘Hotspots’ In Libya (BBC)

France says it plans to set up “hotspots” in Libya to process asylum seekers, in a bid to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. President Emmanuel Macron said the move would stop people not eligible for asylum from “taking crazy risks”. The centres would be ready “this summer”. He said that between 800,000 and a million people were currently in camps in Libya hoping to get into Europe. But many of them did not have a right to asylum, Mr Macron said. The French leader said that migrants were destabilising Libya and Europe by fuelling people-smuggling, which in turn funded terrorism. “The idea is to create hotspots to avoid people taking crazy risks when they are not all eligible for asylum. We’ll go to them,” he said on Thursday at a naturalisation ceremony in the central city of Orléans.

On Tuesday, Mr Macron mediated talks in Paris between Libya’s opposing governments. UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar, the rival military commander who controls the east, committed to a conditional ceasefire after the meeting. They are aiming to end the conflict which has engulfed the country since Col Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in 2011. Mr Macron and other EU leaders had been hoping for some sort of agreement, as Libya has become a key route for migrants making their way to Europe. The French leader said he hoped the deal would be a blow to the human traffickers who work in the region.

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This is not over. Macron wants to show he’s a tough guy, but pushing aside Italy is bad theater.

Italy Loses Patience With France’s Macron Over Migrants, Libya (VoA)

Macron’s Libya diplomacy is just one irritant in increasingly tension-filled Franco-Italian relations. In May, after meeting Gentiloni in Paris, Macron announced: “We have not listened enough to Italy’s cry for help on the migration crisis.” But Macron’s position since hasn’t changed much from Francois Hollande, his predecessor in the Elysee Palace, to the Italian government’s rising anger. “Italian pleas for more burden-sharing by other EU countries have, so far, fallen on deaf ears. Italy’s refugee centers and shelters have reached their capacity of 200,000. So far this year nearly 100,000 asylum seekers have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya — a 17% increase over the same period last year — and with months more of good weather, another 100,000 asylum seekers are likely to land at Italian ports.

This month, Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Mario Giro, complained, “it doesn’t seem like France wants to help us concretely.” French police are blocking hundreds of migrants on the Italian side of the border at Ventimiglia from entering France; the French government is refusing to allow asylum seekers rescued in the Mediterranean from landing at French ports and, like nearly every other EU country, France hasn’t come anywhere near meeting its quota of migrants as agreed to under a 2015 EU refugee relocation scheme. Macron this month talked of distinguishing between war refugees and economic migrants, indicating that France won’t admit any asylum-seekers who are just escaping poverty and hunger. But that doesn’t help Italy as it tries to cope with a mounting influx of mainly economic migrants, who, under EU rule, it has little alternative but to admit, at least for processing and to save lives.

Paris has also scorned an Italian proposal for an EU military mission to monitor and interdict migrants along Libya’s southern border. Italians question why a large French military mission in Niger isn’t being used to disrupt migrant trafficking when it is right by the main route being used by smugglers and would-be asylum seekers traveling north. Last month, the European Parliament’s most senior left-wing politician, Italian Gianni Pittella, launched a scathing attack on Macron after French police frogmarched back into Italy more than 100 migrants who’d crossed into France. “The situation is shameful. Italy and the Italians are being abandoned, they’re being expected to deal with all these migrants on their own with no support,” he said.

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I’ve said it before: help for refugees in fine, even though its distribution through NGOs is a colossal mess. But renting homes for refugees, and supplying them with money to live, is a huge blow in the face of the Greeks devastated by EU-induced austerity, who get nothing.

EU Announces New Emergency Support For Greek Refugee Crisis (AP)

The European Commission announced a new emergency support package for Greece Thursday to help it deal with the refugee crisis that has seen tens of thousands of migrants and refugees stuck in the country. The €209 million ($243 million) package includes a €151 million program to help refugee families rent accommodation in Greek cities and provide them with money in an effort to help them move out of refugee camps, EU officials said during a visit to Athens. The Commission said the new funding more than doubles the emergency support extended to Greece for the refugee crisis, bringing it to a total of €401 million.

The rental project is in cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and will provide 22,000 rental places with the aim of increasing the number of refugees living in rented apartments to 30,000 by the end of the year, including 2,000 places on Greek islands. A parallel scheme worth €57.6 million will provide refugees and asylum seekers with monthly cash stipends distributed through cash-cards for expenses such as transport, food and medication. “The projects launched today are one part of our wider support to the country but also to those in need of our protection,” said Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. “Around €1.3 billion of EU funds are at the disposal of Greece for the management of the migration crisis.”

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May 272017
 
 May 27, 2017  Posted by at 5:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »
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Herbert Draper Lament for Icarus 1898

 

There are times when you have to talk about things when it appears most inopportune to do so, because they’re the only times people might listen. Times when people will argue that ‘this is not the right moment’, while in reality it’s the only moment.

A solid 99% of people will have been filled, and rightly so of course, with a mixture of disgust, disbelief and infinite sadness when hearing of yet another attack on civilians in Europe, this one in Manchester. An equally solid 99% will have failed to recognize that while the event was unique for the city of Manchester, it was by no means unique for the world, not even at the time it happened.

Though the footage of parents desperately trying to find their children, and the news that one of the dead was just 8 years old, touches everyone in more or less the same place in our hearts, by far most of us miss out on the next logical step. In a wider perspective, it is easy to see that parents crying for missing children, and children killed in infancy, is what connects Manchester, and the UK, and Europe, to parents in Syria, Libya, Iraq.

What’s different between these places is not the suffering or the outrage, the mourning or the despair, what’s different is only the location on the map. That and the frequency with which terror is unleashed upon a given population. But just because it happens all the time in other places doesn’t make it more normal or acceptable.

It’s the exact same thing, the exact same experience, and still a vast majority of people don’t, choose not to, feel it as such. Which is curious when you think about it. In the aftermath of a terror attack, the mother of a missing, maimed or murdered child undergoes the same heartbreak no matter where they are in the world (“I hope the Russians love their children too”). But the empathy, the compassion, is hardly acknowledged in Britain at all, let alone shared.

Not that it couldn’t be. Imagine that our papers and TV channels would tell us, preferably repeatedly, in their reports in the wake of an attack like the one in Manchester how eerily similar the emotions must be to those felt in Aleppo, Homs and many other cities. That would change our perception enormously. But the media choose not to make the connection, and the people apparently are not capable of doing it themselves.

None of that changes the fact, however, that British lives are not more valuable than Syrian and Libyan ones. Not even when we’ve gotten used to ‘news’ about bombings and drone attacks executed for years now by US-led coalitions, or the images of children drowning when they flee the area because of these attacks.

The overall theme here is that 99.9% of people everywhere in the world are innocent, especially when they are children, but their governments and their societies are not. That doesn’t justify the Manchester attack in any shape or form, it simply lays equal blame and condemnation for western terror attacks in the Middle East and North Africa, perpetrated by the people we elect into power.

This is something people in the west pay no attention to. It’s easier that way, and besides our media with great enthusiasm pave the way for our collective ignorance, by calling some other group of people ‘terrorists’, which while they’re at it is supposed to justify killing some other mother’s child.

There’s another thing that is also different: they didn’t start. We did. The British and French terrorized the region for many decades, since the 19th century, even way before the Americans joined in. The presence of oil, and its rising role in our economies, caused them to double down on that terror.

Yes, it’s awkward to talk about this on the eve of a deadly attack, and it’s easy to find arguments and rhetoric that appear to deflect responsibility. But at the same time this truly is the only moment we can hope that anyone will listen. And lest we forget, the UK carries an outsized share of the responsibility in this tragedy, both historically and in the present.

You can say things about the city coming together, or the country coming together, or “not allowing terrorists to affect our way of life”, but perhaps it should instead really be all the mothers who have children missing or dying, wherever they live, coming together. They all see their ways of life affected, and many on a daily basis.

Those mothers in Syria and Libya, who have been through the same hellhole as those in Manchester, are a lot closer to you than the politicians who send out jet fighters to bomb cities in the desert, or sell arms to individuals and organizations to control these cities for their own narrow personal gain, such as the governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The traumatized mothers in the desert are not your enemies; your enemies are much closer to home. Still, most of you will tend to react to fear and panic by looking for protection in exactly those circles that are least likely to provide it. The UK government under Theresa May, like those of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron before, is as cynically eager as their predecessors to send bombers into the desert, and sell arms to those living there.

We can illustrate all this with a few bits of news. First, the US-led coalotion, of which the UK is a substantial part, killed more civilians in Syria than at any time since they started bombing the country almost 3 years ago. They keep saying they don’t target civilians, but to put it mildly they don’t appear to go out of their way not to hit them. For instance, a single attack on Mosul, Iraq in March killed over 105 civilians. ‘Collateral damage’ in these cases, and there are hundreds by now, is a very disrespectful term. Moreover, the files released by Chelsea Manning show US soldiers killing people ‘with impunity’.

Deadliest Month For Syria Civilians In US-Led Strikes

US-led air strikes on Syria killed a total of 225 civilians over the past month, a monitor said on Tuesday, the highest 30-day toll since the campaign began in 2014. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the civilian dead between April 23 and May 23 included 44 children and 36 women. The US-led air campaign against the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria began on September 23, 2014. “The past month of operations is the highest civilian toll since the coalition began bombing Syria,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. “There has been a very big escalation.” The previous deadliest 30-day period was between February 23 and March 23 this year, when 220 civilians were killed, Abdel Rahman said.

And it’s not as if the British didn’t or couldn’t know what was going on. That was clear as early as 2003, when Tony Blair couldn’t wait to join the Bush coalition to invade Iraq on the false premise of weapons of mass destruction. Before Libya was invaded, which led to Hillary’s disgusting ‘we came we saw he died’, Gaddafi, the one who did die, warned Blair about what would happen. It indeed did, which makes Blair a guilty man.

Gaddafi Warned Blair His Ousting Would ‘Open Door’ To Jihadis

Muammar Gaddafi warned Tony Blair in two fraught phone conversations in 2011 that his removal from the Libyan leadership would open a space for al-Qaida to seize control of the country and even launch an invasion of Europe. The transcripts of the conversations have been published with Blair’s agreement by the UK foreign affairs select committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the western air campaign that led to the ousting and killing of Gaddafi in October 2011. In the two calls the former British prime minister pleaded with Gaddafi to stand aside or end the violence. The transcripts reveal the gulf in understanding between Gaddafi and the west over what was occurring in his country and the nature of the threat he was facing.

In the first call, at 11.15am on 25 February 2011, Gaddafi gave a warning in part borne out by future events: “They [jihadis] want to control the Mediterranean and then they will attack Europe.” In the second call, at 3.25pm the same day, the Libyan leader said: “We are not fighting them, they are attacking us. I want to tell you the truth. It is not a difficult situation at all. The story is simply this: an organisation has laid down sleeping cells in north Africa. Called the al-Qaida organisation in north Africa … The sleeping cells in Libya are similar to dormant cells in America before 9/11.”

Gaddafi added: “I will have to arm the people and get ready for a fight. Libyan people will die, damage will be on the Med, Europe and the whole world. These armed groups are using the situation [in Libya] as a justification – and we shall fight them.” Three weeks after the calls, a Nato-led coalition that included Britain began bombing raids that led to the overthrow of Gaddafi. He was finally deposed in August and murdered by opponents of his regime in October.

What they are guilty of is no more and no less than Manchester. No hyperbole, but a warning from Blair’s own intelligence services back in 2003. The real weapons of mass destruction were not in Iraq, but in the White House and Downing Street no. 10. The CIA issued warnings similar to this.

British Intelligence Warned Tony Blair Of Manchester-Like Terrorism If The West Invaded Iraq

Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq led by the U.S. and U.K., he was forcefully and repeatedly warned by Britain’s intelligence services that it would lead to exactly this type of terrorist attack — and he concealed these warnings from the British people, instead claiming the war would reduce the risk of terrorism. We know this because of the Chilcot Report, the seven-year-long British investigation of the Iraq War released in 2016. The report declassifies numerous internal government documents that illustrate the yawning chasm between what Blair was being told in private and his claims in public as he pushed for war.

On February 10, 2003, one month before the war began, the U.K.’s Joint Intelligence Committee — the key advisory body for the British Prime Minister on intelligence matters — issued a white paper titled “International Terrorism: War With Iraq.” It began: “The threat from Al Qaida will increase at the onset of any military action against Iraq. They will target Coalition forces and other Western interests in the Middle East. Attacks against Western interests elsewhere are also likely, especially in the US and UK, for maximum impact. The worldwide threat from other Islamist terrorist groups and individuals will increase significantly.”

And it concluded much the same way: “Al Qaida and associated groups will continue to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat will be heightened by military action against Iraq. The broader threat from Islamist terrorists will also increase in the event of war, reflecting intensified anti-US/anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim world, including among Muslim communities in the West.”

Not long behind Blair came David Cameron, a man after Tony’s heart:

Cameron Brags Of ‘Brilliant’ UK Arms Trade As EU Embargoes Saudi Arabia

European ministers have embarrassed David Cameron by voting to impose an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia on the same day the British prime minister praised the UK for selling “brilliant” arms to the country. Speaking at a BAE Systems factory in Preston, the prime minister said the UK had pushed the sale of Eurofighter Typhoons to countries in the Middle East, including Oman and Saudi Arabia. [..] Cameron’s speech in Preston came at the same time the European Parliament voted to impose an EU-wide ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia, citing criticism from the UN of its bombing in Yemen.

Asked at the talks how he was helping to export the planes, Cameron said: “With the Typhoon there is an alliance of countries: the Italians, Germans and ourselves. We spend a lot of time trying to work out who is best placed to win these export orders. We’ve got hopefully good news coming from Kuwait. The Italians have been doing a lot of work there. The British have been working very hard in Oman.” The vote will not force EU members to comply with the ban, but will force the government to examine its relationship with Saudi Arabia.

In the last year the British government has sold £3 billion (US$4.18 billion) worth of arms and military kit to the Gulf state, as well as providing training to Saudi forces. A report released by Amnesty International on Friday called the ongoing trade with Saudi Arabia “truly sickening,” and urged governments to attend meetings in Geneva on Monday to discuss the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The report names the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the US as having issued licenses for arms to Saudi Arabia worth more than £18 billion in 2015.

The arms sold include drones, bombs, torpedoes, rockets and missiles, which have been used by Saudi Arabia and its allies for gross violations of human rights and possible war crimes during aerial and ground attacks in Yemen, the campaign group said. Control Arms Director Anna Macdonald said: “Governments such as the UK and France were leaders in seeking to secure an ATT – and now they are undermining the commitments they made to reduce human suffering by supplying Saudi Arabia with some of the deadliest weapons in the world. It’s truly sickening.”

British MPs from Cameron’s own party didn’t like it either, but what meaning does that have if it takes 5 years to issue a report, and moreover he can simply refuse to give evidence?

MPs Deliver Damning Verdict On David Cameron’s Libya Intervention

David Cameron’s intervention in Libya was carried out with no proper intelligence analysis, drifted into an unannounced goal of regime change and shirked its moral responsibility to help reconstruct the country following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, according to a scathing report by the foreign affairs select committee. The failures led to the country becoming a failed a state on the verge of all-out civil war, the report adds. The report, the product of a parliamentary equivalent of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, closely echoes the criticisms widely made of Tony Blair’s intervention in Iraq, and may yet come to be as damaging to Cameron’s foreign policy legacy.

It concurs with Barack Obama’s assessment that the intervention was “a shitshow”, and repeats the US president’s claim that France and Britain lost interest in Libya after Gaddafi was overthrown. Cameron has refused to give evidence to the select committee. In one of his few reflections on his major military intervention, he blamed the Libyan people for failing to take their chance of democracy.

The committee, which has a majority of Conservative members, did not have Chilcot-style access to internal papers, but took voluminous evidence from senior ministers at the time, and other key players such as Blair, the chief of the defence staff, Lord Richards, and leading diplomats. The result of the French, British and US intervention, the report finds, “was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of Isil [Islamic State] in north Africa”.

It seems obvious that if there were an impartial international body with the power to prosecute, Bush, Cheney, Blair, Cameron, Hillary etc. etc. (don’t forget France) would be charged with war crimes. And Obama too: his ‘shitshow’ comment must be seen in light of the ‘we came we saw he died’ comment by Hillary Clinton, his Secretary of State. Think he didn’t know what was happening?

Another person who should be charged is Theresa May, Cameron’s Home Secretary from May 2010 till July 2016, and of course Britain’s present PM, who sells as much weaponry to Saudi Arabia as she possibly can while the Saudi’s are shoving the few Yemeni’s they leave alive back beyond the Stone Age. And then May has the gall to talk about humanitarian aid.

Theresa May Defends UK Ties With Saudi Arabia

Theresa May has defended her trip to Saudi Arabia, saying its ties with the UK are important for security and prosperity. The prime minister is facing questions about the UK’s support for the Saudi-led coalition which is fighting rebels in neighbouring Yemen. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said UK-made weapons were contributing to a “humanitarian catastrophe”. [..] Mrs May said humanitarian aid was one of the issues she would be discussing on her trip. “We are concerned about the humanitarian situation – that’s why the UK last year was the fourth largest donor to the Yemen in terms of humanitarian aid – £103m. We will be continuing with that,” she told the BBC.

[..] Mr Corbyn called for the immediate suspension of UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia. He criticised the “dictatorial Saudi monarchy’s shocking human rights record” and said the PM should focus on human rights and international law at the centre of her talks. “The Saudi-led coalition bombing in Yemen, backed by the British government, has left thousands dead, 21 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and three million refugees uprooted from their homes,” he said. “Yemen urgently needs a ceasefire, a political settlement, and food aid, not more bombing. “British-made weapons are being used in a war which has caused a humanitarian catastrophe.”

The one person who would probably not be in front of such a court is Jeremy Corbyn, opponent of May’s in the June 8 elections. Though there is the issue that he never protested in much stronger terms as an MP. Still, if you have to pick one of the two, what is not obvious?

Theresa May Claims Selling Arms To Saudi Arabia Helps ‘Keep People On The Streets Of Britain Safe’

Theresa May has staunchly defended selling arms to Saudi Arabia despite the country facing accusations of war crimes, insisting close ties “keep people on the streets of Britain safe”. Jeremy Corbyn called on the Prime Minister to halt those sales because of the “humanitarian devastation” caused by a Saudi-led coalition waging war against rebels in Yemen. The Labour leader spoke out after the Parliamentary committee charged with scrutinising arms exports said it was likely that British weapons had been used to violate international law.

The Saudis stand accused of bombing multiple international hospitals run by the charity Médecins Sans Frontières, as well as schools, wedding parties and food factories. In the Commons, Mr Corbyn linked weapons sales to the ongoing refugee crisis, which he said should be Britain’s “number one concern and our number one humanitarian response”. He added: “That is why I remain concerned that at the heart of this Government’s security strategy is apparently increased arms exports to the very part of the world that most immediately threatens our security.

The British Government continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia that are being used to commit crimes against humanity in Yemen , as has been clearly detailed by the UN and other independent agencies.”

But, in response, Ms May pointed out she had called on Saudi Arabia to investigate the allegations about Yemen when she met with the kingdom’s deputy crown prince at the recent G20 summit in China. The Prime Minister dismissed Mr Corbyn’s suggestion that “what happened in Saudi Arabia was a threat to the safety of people here in the UK”. Instead, she said: “Actually, what matters is the strength of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. When it comes to counter-terrorism and dealing with terrorism, it is that relationship that has helped to keep people on the streets of Britain safe.”

May’s, and Britain’s, utterly mad stance in this is perhaps best exemplified, in one sentence, by her comments during the speedy trip she made to Turkey, again to sell more arms to an at best highly questionable regime. Why do it, why drag your entire nation through the moral gutter for $100 million or a few billion? The military industrial complex.

Theresa May Signs £100m Fighter Jet Deal With Turkey’s Erdogan

Theresa May issued a stern warning to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan about respecting human rights yesterday as she prepared to sign a £100m fighter jet deal that Downing Street hopes will lead to Britain becoming Turkey’s main defence partner.

And once again, no, none of this justifies the Manchester bombing. Neither a government nor an extremist movement has any right to kill innocent people. But let’s make sure we know that neither does.

There’s another aspect to the story. MI6 had close links to the Libyan community in Manchester.

‘Sorted’ by MI5: How UK Government Sent British-Libyans To Fight Gaddafi

The British government operated an “open door” policy that allowed Libyan exiles and British-Libyan citizens to join the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi even though some had been subject to counter-terrorism control orders, Middle East Eye can reveal. Several former rebel fighters now back in the UK told MEE that they had been able to travel to Libya with “no questions asked” as authorities continued to investigate the background of a British-Libyan suicide bomber who killed 22 people in Monday’s attack in Manchester.

Salman Abedi, 22, the British-born son of exiled dissidents who returned to Libya as the revolution against Gaddafi gathered momentum, is also understood to have spent time in the North African country in 2011 and to have returned there on several subsequent occasions. Sources spoken to by MEE suggest that the government facilitated the travel of Libyan exiles and British-Libyan residents and citizens keen to fight against Gaddafi including some who it deemed to pose a potential security threat.

One British citizen with a Libyan background who was placed on a control order – effectively house arrest – because of fears that he would join militant groups in Iraq said he was “shocked” that he was able to travel to Libya in 2011 shortly after his control order was lifted. “I was allowed to go, no questions asked,” said the source. He said he had met several other British-Libyans in London who also had control orders lifted in 2011 as the war against Gaddafi intensified, with the UK, France and the US carrying out air strikes and deploying special forces soldiers in support of the rebels.

“They didn’t have passports, they were looking for fakes or a way to smuggle themselves across,” said the source. But within days of their control orders being lifted, British authorities returned their passports, he said. Many Libyan exiles in the UK with links to the LIFG [Libyan Islamic Fighting Group ] were placed on control orders and subjected to surveillance and monitoring following the rapprochement between the British and Libyan governments sealed by the so-called “Deal in the Desert” between then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Gaddafi in 2004.

According to documents retrieved from the ransacked offices of the Libyan intelligence agency following Gaddafi’s fall from power in 2011, British security services cracked down on Libyan dissidents in the UK as part of the deal, as well as assisting in the rendition of two senior LIFG leaders, Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi, to Tripoli where they allege they were tortured.

Torture one day, passports the other. Lovely. And it still gets better: MI6 didn’t just have close contacts with Libyans in Manchester, it knew the alleged perpetrator’s family, and used his father multiple times as on operative:

Manchester Attack as MI6 Blowback

According to Scotland Yard, the attack on the crowd leaving the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena, 22 May, has been perpetrated by Salman Abedi. A bankcard has been conveniently found in the pocket of the mutilated corpse of the ‘terrorist’. This attack is generally interpreted as proof that the United Kingdom is not implicated in international terrorism and that, on the contrary, it is a victim of it.

[..] In 1992, Ramadan Abedi [Salman’s father] was sent back to Libya by Britain’s MI6 and was involved in a British-devised plot to assassinate Muammar Gaddafi. The operation having been readily exposed, he was exfiltrated by MI6 and transferred back to the UK where he obtained political asylum. He moved in 1999 to Whalley Range (south of Manchester) where there was already resident a small Libyan Islamist community. In 1994, Ramadan Abedi returned again to Libya under MI6’s direction. In late 1995 he is involved in the creation of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a local branch of Al-Qaeda, in conjunction with Abdelhakim Belhadj.

The LIFG was then employed by MI6 again to assassinate Gaddafi, for a payoff of £100,000. This operation, which also failed, provoked heated exchanges within British Intelligence, leading to the resignation of one David Shayler. Other former members of the LIFG have also lived at Whalley Range, including Abedi’s friend Abd al-Baset-Azzouz. In 2009, this last joined Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and became a close associate of its chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In 2011, al-Baset-Azzouz is active on the ground with the NATO operation against Libya.

On 11 September 2012, he directs the operation against the US Ambassador in Libya, Christopher Stevens, assassinated at Benghazi. He is arrested in Turkey and extradited to the US in December 2014, his trial still pending. Nobody pays attention to the fact that Ramadan Abedi has linked LIFG members to the formation of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and, in 2011, he takes part in MI6’s ‘Arab Spring’ operations, and in LIFG’s role on the ground in support of NATO. In any event, Abedi returned to Libya after the fall of Gaddafi and moves his family there, leaving his older children in the family home at Whalley Range.

According to the former Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar, Abdelhakim Belhadj was involved in the assassinations in Madrid of 11 March 2004. Later, he is secretly arrested in Malaysia by the CIA and transferred to Libya where he is tortured not by Libyan or American functionaries but by MI6 agents. He is finally freed after the accord between Saif al-Islam Gaddafi [Gaddafi’s son] and the jihadists.

Luckily, perhaps the Brits are not that stupid:

Half of Britons Blame UK’s Foreign Wars for Terror Attacks at Home

Slightly over a half of people in the UK agree that the nation’s involvement in wars abroad has increased the terror threat to the country, a poll out Friday has showed. The survey found that 53% of 7,134 UK adults sampled by YouGov said they believed wars the UK supported or fought were in part responsible for terror attacks at home. [..] Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who made a speech earlier in the day to mark his return to general election campaigning, said UK’s war on terror had not worked. He cited intelligence experts who said foreign wars, including in Libya, threatened the country’s security.

If that is true, Theresa May obviously should have no chance of winning. May can and will try to use the horror of Manchester, and the subsequent pause in the campaign, to strengthen her position in the upcoming election, by playing on people’s fear and making them believe she’s in control. Even if the very attack itself makes clear that she’s not. The Tories have already attacked Corbyn for saying their policies have failed; it was the wrong time to say that, according to them.

But it’s not. It’s the very best time. This is when people pay attention. And having this discussion doesn’t disrespect the victims of Manchester. If anything, it shows more respect than not having the discussion. Because you want to make sure this doesn’t happen again, neither here nor there. And to achieve that, you have to look at why these things happen.

An 8-year old child in Manchester, just like one in Mosul or Aleppo, is innocent. Yourself, perhaps not so much. The politicians you vote into power, and the media you read and watch to inform you, not a chance. Guilty as hell.

 

 

Feb 062017
 
 February 6, 2017  Posted by at 10:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Steve Schapiro Robert Kennedy US Presidential Campaign 1968

 

Trump Travel Ban- What Happens Now (BBC)
Trump Faces Uphill Battle To Overcome Court’s Hold On Travel Ban (R.)
President Trump’s Major Asian Breakthrough (CNBC)
Believe It Or Not, Deluded Republicans Have Got It Right On Tax Reform (Chu)
Is America in a Bubble & Will America Ever Return to “Normal” (CH)
Trump Is No Fascist. He Is A Champion For The Forgotten Millions (G.)
India Weighs Up The Return On Basic Income For The Poorest (G.)
Scotland Needs Publicly Funded Bank, Says Thinktank (G.)
Greek Debt Crisis: An Existentialist Drama With No Good End In Sight (G.)
Testing Europe’s Values (NYT)
EU Leaders Back Libyans To Curb New Migrant Wave (R.)
Hunger Strikers At Greek Refugee Camp Keep Minister, Police Out (K.)

 

 

It’ll be hard for any court to claim the ban is legal. The fact that is was obviously hastily slapped together doesn’t help Trump’s case. And there are a variety of additional cases pending.

Trump Travel Ban- What Happens Now (BBC)

The next step is for briefs to be filed by both sides for a formal review of Judge Robart’s suspension on Monday. The Justice Department could have appealed directly to the Supreme Court on an emergency basis, but it chose not to since the appeal court is moving fairly quickly. If the appeals court decides the stay is valid – perhaps as early as next week – then a Supreme Court appeal is almost certain. In the meantime, everything is on hold. US immigration processes continue as they did before Mr Trump issued his executive order. If it looks like this is bogging down, the president might eventually decide to modify the order rather than try to defend its legality. That’s probably the most prudent course, but he’s a stubborn man.

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“I think the court’s going to feel every reason to stay on the sidelines as long as possible..” If there is no swift decision, and it doesn’t look that way, the order will have to be significantly changed, perhaps so much it largely becomes moot.

Trump Faces Uphill Battle To Overcome Court’s Hold On Travel Ban (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump faces an uphill battle to overcome a federal judge’s temporary hold on his travel ban on seven mainly Muslim countries, but the outcome of a ruling on the executive order’s ultimate legality is less certain. Any appeals of decisions by U.S. District Court Judge James Robart in Seattle face a regional court dominated by liberal-leaning judges who might not be sympathetic to Trump’s rationale for the ban, and a currently shorthanded Supreme Court split 4-4 between liberals and conservatives. The temporary restraining order Robart issued on Friday in Seattle, which applies nationwide, gives him time to consider the case in more detail, but also sends a signal that he is likely to impose a more permanent injunction.

The Trump administration has appealed that order. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said late on Saturday that it would not decide whether to lift the judge’s ruling, as requested by the U.S. government, until it receives briefs from both sides, with the administration’s filing due on Monday. Appeals courts are generally leery of upending the status quo, which in this case – for now – is the suspension of the ban. The upheaval prompted by the new Republican administration’s initial announcement of the ban on Jan. 27, with travelers detained at airports upon entering the country, would potentially be kickstarted again if Robart’s stay was lifted. The appeals court might also take into account the fact that there are several other cases around the country challenging the ban.

If it were to overturn the district court’s decision, another judge somewhere else in the United States could impose a new order, setting off a new cascade of court filings. If the appeals court upholds the order, the administration could immediately ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. But the high court is generally reluctant to get involved in cases at a preliminary stage, legal experts said. The high court is short one justice, as it has been for a year, leaving it split between liberals and conservatives. Any emergency request by the administration would need five votes to be granted, meaning at least one of the liberals would have to vote in favor. “I think the court’s going to feel every reason to stay on the sidelines as long as possible,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

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Interesting take on power politics.

President Trump’s Major Asian Breakthrough (CNBC)

On a visit to Tokyo and Seoul last week, the U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (a) reaffirmed security guarantees to Japan and South Korea, (b) set the stage for an integrated American, Japanese and South Korean political, economic and military alliance, (c) opened the way for President Trump to knock heads together in Tokyo and Seoul to set aside their divisive historical grievances if they wanted Washington’s umbrella and (d) told Pyongyang that our nuke operators knew the return address for a swift and devastating response if they ever saw a wrong move on their X-band radar. That is a major breakthrough because no previous administration succeeded in binding these three countries in such a strong and integrated alliance. Japan was repeatedly blamed for scuttling these efforts by its allegedly defiant attitude toward Korean grievances.

Japan also wanted to make money in China while leveraging American protection in its territorial disputes with Beijing. As recently as 2014, a quarter of Japan’s exports and a third of its foreign direct investments were going to the Middle Kingdom. But Tokyo would run for cover in Washington whenever the Chinese navy and air force would challenge Japan’s presence on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. At the same time, Japan was enjoying annual trade surpluses with the U.S. of $67-$70 billion. And just a week ago, the Japanese were telling Washington that they could not buy American cars because the steering wheel was on the wrong side. [..] That has to stop. And it, apparently, will stop. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is coming to Washington next Friday (Feb. 10) with trade and investment initiatives.

But, true to form, whatever that is will probably fall far short of a trade deal Washington needs to address its excessive and structural trade imbalances with Japan. We have an even worse trade record with South Korea. Since the free-trade agreement became effective in early 2012, our trade deficit with Seoul has nearly doubled to an estimated $30 billion in 2016. Maybe we have to take a look at that, too. Building on last week’s accords, Washington has an opportunity to conclude an appropriate trade arrangement with Japan and South Korea. That would cover nearly 25% of the global economy and would represent by far the world’s largest free-trade area. Such an agreement would attract other Asia-Pacific countries to permanently anchor a decisive American political, economic and security presence in that part of the world. Washington’s bargaining power with China would be greatly strengthened by these events in a negotiating process that is apparently already under way.

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“..the great advantage of this reform is that it would eliminate the incentive for multinational firms to dodge their US corporate taxes through accounting tricks..”

Believe It Or Not, Deluded Republicans Have Got It Right On Tax Reform (Chu)

[..] we find ourselves in the paradoxical situation where a reform being presented by deluded right-wing American politicians as a way of sticking it to cheating foreigners actually represents the world’s best chance for lancing the boil of rampant tax evasion by multinational companies. It is the right thing being pushed for the wrong reasons. To understand why, we need to look at the plan in more detail. The Republican plan would replace the US corporation tax, an annual levy on a firm’s reported profits, with a new levy on a company’s domestic cash flow. It means taxing a company’s domestic sales at a certain rate, probably 20%, after it has subtracted its domestic costs such as workers’ wages and the amount the firm has spent on investment in new factories and equipment.

The objective would be to tax a company’s economic activity in America, which means that it would be able to reduce its tax bill by the value of its exports, while imports would be part of its taxable liability via a “border adjustment tax”. That probably sounds mind-numbingly complicated, but the principle is actually quite simple: it means taxing the firm’s value-adding and substantive economic activity in the country where that activity actually takes place. This is most people’s idea of what a tax on corporate income is supposed to do. Many have objected that US firms that import heavily will be placed at a major tax disadvantage. Yet this impact would be entirely offset by a rise in value of the US dollar, which would follow the implementation of the reform, and which would increase the purchasing power of importers proportionately.

And for all Brady’s rhetoric and the protectionist-sounding border tax, the effect of the reform would actually be neutral on America’s terms of trade with the rest of the world. But the great advantage of this reform is that it would eliminate the incentive for multinational firms to dodge their US corporate taxes through accounting tricks, such as registering profits at subsidiaries abroad and relocating their corporate headquarters to tax havens. No matter where they based their headquarters, multinationals would be liable for a hefty US tax bill if they sold plenty of products and services in America. And if America, the world’s largest economy, were to institute this reform, there would be a powerful incentive for other countries – including Britain – to implement a similar reform.

Read more …

Bubbles everywhere.

Is America in a Bubble & Will America Ever Return to “Normal” (CH)

Analysts and talking heads have an awful lot of opinions. Are we in a bubble or aren’t we? Rather than offer another opinion, I’ll offer the relationship of US economic activity (GDP) against the Wilshire 5000 (representing US equities) and the Federal Reserves gauge of American wealth, Z1 Household Net Worth series. These are the preferred establishment gauges, so take a look and then you decide. GDP is a monetary measure of the market value of all final goods and services produced annually in the US. The chart below shows the annual real GDP growth decelerating since 1950.

GDP vs. US Household Net Worth Given the sharp rise in asset values, I thought it worthwhile to view the total increase, as shown by the Fed’s US Household Net Worth data, versus the growth in GDP. The chart below shows US household net worth (all inclusive with real estate, equities, and all asset classes) is fast approaching $92 trillion against US GDP of $18.6 trillion. A simple division of GDP as a % of HHNW (maroon line in the chart below) shows household net worth (asset values) is growing significantly faster than economic activity supporting those valuations.

[..] from 1950–>2000, the average GDP to HHNW ratio was somewhat consistent around 28%…if the HHNW and GDP ratio are to come back to their 50 year norm (before they were warped by long periods of near Zero Interest Rate Policy and actual ZIRP)…there are two basic options: Either, GDP rapidly rises $7 trillion (a 38% increase)… Or, the other option is a 28% decline in HHNW, or a contraction of $25 trillion. A $25 trillion decline in HHNW would equate to an average $200,000 decline in net worth for every household in America.

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Provocative headline for a useful reminder.

Trump Is No Fascist. He Is A Champion For The Forgotten Millions (G.)

For many Americans, Hillary Clinton personified the corruption and self-dealing of the elites. But Trump’s election wasn’t just a rejection of Clinton, it was a rejection of politics as usual. If the media and political establishment see Trump’s first couple of weeks in office as a whirlwind of chaos and incompetence, his supporters see an outsider taking on a sclerotic system that needs to be dismantled. That’s precisely what many Americans thought they were doing eight years ago, when they put a freshman senator from Illinois in the White House. Obama promised a new way of governing – he would be a “post-partisan” president, he would “fundamentally transform” the country, he would look out for the middle class. In the throes of the great recession, that resonated.

Something was clearly wrong with our political system and the American people wanted someone to fix it. After all, the Tea Party didn’t begin as a reaction against Obama’s presidency but that of George W Bush. As far as most Americans were concerned, the financial crisis was brought on by the excesses of Wall Street bankers and the incompetency of our political leaders. Before the Tea Party coalesced into a political movement, the protesters weren’t just traditional conservatives who cared about limited government and the constitution. They were, for the most part, ordinary Americans who felt the system was rigged against them and they wanted change.

But change didn’t come. What they got was more of the same. Obama offered a series of massive government programmes, from an $830bn financial stimulus, to the Affordable Care Act, to Dodd-Frank, none of which did much to assuage the economic anxieties of the middle class. Americans watched as the federal government bailed out the banks, then the auto industry and then passed healthcare reform that transferred billions of taxpayer dollars to major health insurance companies. Meanwhile, premiums went up, economic recovery remained sluggish and millions dropped out of the workforce and turned to food stamps and welfare programmes just to get by. Americans asked themselves: “Where’s my bailout?”

At the same time, they saw the world becoming more unstable. Part of Obama’s appeal was that he promised to end the unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, restore America’s standing in the international community and pursue multilateral agreements that would bring stability. Instead, Americans watched Isis step into the vacuum created by the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. They watched the Syrian civil war trigger a migrant crisis in Europe that many Americans now view as a cautionary tale. At home, Isis-inspired terrorist attacks took their toll, as they did in Europe. And all the while Obama’s White House insisted that everything was going well.

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A basic income where dozens of millions have no access to bank accounts. Curious.

India Weighs Up The Return On Basic Income For The Poorest (G.)

[..] the transformative potential championed by UBI advocates has particular appeal in a country such as India, where one in five people lives below the $1.90 (£1.51) poverty line, 1 million join the workforce each month, and a clunky, corrupt bureaucracy oversees nearly 1,000 separate welfare schemes. There have already been Indian trials. Three years ago, in nine villages in Madhya Pradesh state, 6,000 people were each given a monthly payment of up to 300 rupees an adult, and half that much for every child, over a period of 18 months. Every six months, the impact of the payments was assessed against 12 villages that received no income, just the usual government welfare. “What we saw were huge improvements in nutrition, health, schooling and sanitation,” said Guy Standing, a British economist who helped run the trials.

Results published afterwards showed the consumption of lentils, chickpeas and other pulses increased tenfold. Villagers ate six times more meat and the uptake of fresh vegetables grew 888%. That meant residents of the village were healthier, worked harder and attended school more often. Equity between more socially dominant members of the community – traditionally the gatekeepers to resources – and the less powerful also improved, Standing said. “Women benefited more than men, the disabled benefited more, and scheduled [lowest] castes benefited more than others.” India’s government is clearly enamoured by the idea. Subramanian suggested even Gandhi would approve. He praised the basic income’s potential to reduce poverty “in one fell swoop”, to relieve the grinding stress of hunger, and empower Indians to make their own life choices.

Criticisms – such as the idea people would fritter the money on alcohol or drugs, or drop out of the workforce – he dismissed based on past research. On paper, the sums also add up. Subramanian calculates that the annual income required to enable all but the very poorest Indians to escape penury is about 7,620 rupees (£90) a year. If that sum were given to 75% of India’s billion-plus population, it would cost about 5% of GDP. India’s vast welfare schemes and subsidies for food, petrol and fertilisers are notoriously wasteful and poorly targeted. Cutting them entirely would save about 2% of GDP. Reducing “middle class” subsidies on things such as railway tickets and gold would save another 1%. The rest of the savings might be found in scrapping other government schemes, which altogether cost 3.7% of GDP.

It would be even cheaper if the basic income were targeted at women, for example, or if the wealthy – those who own cars or air conditioners – were excluded, or asked to opt out. Giving Indian women a minimal basic income would cost just over 1% of GDP, but have “large multiplier effects” on the entire society, Subramanian said.

Read more …

Good topic to discuss. Get big banks out of your lives. It’s a Wonderful Life.

Scotland Needs Publicly Funded Bank, Says Thinktank (G.)

The Scottish government is under growing pressure to replace its private finance programme with a publicly funded bank to build new schools, roads and hospitals. The Common Weal, a pro-independence thinktank, said it should also replace the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT), the government agency that champions private financing projects such as a new Aberdeen bypass contract, which is worth £1.5bn to the private consortium building it. Common Weal said there was an urgent requirement to set up a Scottish national investment bank that would use £1.35bn in public funding for construction projects and another £2bn from investors to replace more expensive private financing.

The SFT would be replaced by a new publicly owned investment company and the two bodies would fund national infrastructure projects, new low-carbon energy schemes and local council programmes, as well as offering low-cost loans to small businesses, it said. The thinktank’s campaign to push for the changes has the backing of the Unison and Unite unions, the thinktank New Economics Foundation and the London-based campaign Debt Resistance UK. It has won support from Labour MSPs as well as Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader told an audience in Glasgow last month that his party would set up a national investment bank at UK level and regional banks for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They would focus on “fast tracking infrastructure spending to building essential transport and digital links to realise our potential”, he said.

Common Weal’s call for a Scottish national investment bank is to be debated at the SNP’s spring conference in March, an indication of growing unease within the the party about the private finance model being used by Nicola Sturgeon’s government. The motion from an SNP branch in Angus near Dundee says leaving economic growth and environmental protection “solely in the hands of our private banking and financial sector will be detrimental to present and future living standards of our citizens”.

Read more …

“The euro’s recent weakness has nothing to do with a deliberate attempt by the Germans to reduce its value..” Wrong. All Germany has to do to keep the euro low is to strangle southern Europe.

Greek Debt Crisis: An Existentialist Drama With No Good End In Sight (G.)

Put three people in a room who can’t get on with each other. Condemn them to stay there for all eternity while they torture each other. Sit and watch as the gruesome story plays out. And what do you have? One answer is the 1944 existentialist play by Jean-Paul Sartre, Huis Clos. Another is the story of the neverending Greek debt crisis in which the three main characters are Alexis Tsipras, Wolfgang Schäuble and Christine Lagarde. [..] Tsipras plays one of the three lead parts in the play. Elected as a leftwing firebrand two years ago, Tsipras has had a rapid fall from grace. He caved in when pressure was put on him by the Europeans in the summer of 2015 and having run for office on an anti-austerity programme eventually agreed to even more draconian bailout terms than the previous centrist governments.

For an increasing number of Greeks, Tsipras is no longer an iconoclast; he is just another man in a suit. With public support waning, Tsipras is once again hanging tough. He aroused the ire of the Europeans by giving a Christmas bonus to pensioners and free school meals to poverty-stricken families. Europe responded by suspending the limited debt relief it has previously granted. Tsipras says Greece has already done enough and will suffer no more. Europe is played by Schäuble, the German finance minister. He too is facing political pressures. The German public thinks enough aid has already been given to Greece, a country it considers is not doing enough to help itself. Opposition to further debt relief is strong and a general election is looming. The third cast member is Lagarde, a former French finance minister and now managing director of the IMF. Under its own rules, the IMF is forbidden from putting money into a bailout if it thinks debt is unsustainable.

There have been reports coming out of Washington that the Fund believes Greece’s debt will rise to 275% of national income by 2060, which would undoubtedly put it into the “unsustainable” category. The latest act in this play takes place in Washington this week when the IMF’s governing executive board discusses Greece. One factor complicating the issue is that time is running out to get matters sorted before the first in a series of European elections kicks off in in the Netherlands in March. A second is that the drama has a new character in the form of Donald Trump. There is little evidence that the US president gives a fig about whether Greece gets debt relief but he may have more than a walk-on role because the US is the biggest shareholder at the Fund and has the power to veto any decision it doesn’t like.

Trump has expressed strong – and not exactly positive – views about the European Union in general and Germany in particular. Causing consternation in Brussels, the new American president has said the EU has become a vehicle for German interests. His trade adviser Peter Navarro has accused Germany of being a currency manipulator, using a ”grossly undervalued” euro to run up a massive current account surplus. Navarro’s specific criticism about currency manipulation is wide of the mark. Germany is part of the eurozone and doesn’t always agree with the monetary policy decisions taken by the ECB. The euro’s recent weakness has nothing to do with a deliberate attempt by the Germans to reduce its value and everything to do with the fact that Europe has been loosening monetary policy at a time when the US has started to raise interest rates.

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Europe has long lost whatever -humanitarian- values it had.

Testing Europe’s Values (NYT)

When the European Union and Turkey reached a deal last year to lessen the flow of refugees into Greece, the priority was on defending borders, not the humanitarian crisis. Sadly, that remains Europe’s priority as it turns its attention to halting the flow of people from Libya to Italy. More than 180,000 people crossed the Mediterranean to arrive in Italy last year, and more than 5,000 died on the journey. The European Council met in Malta on Friday with the urgent task of preventing large numbers of people from setting out from Libya for Italy as soon as the weather improves this spring. The problem is twofold: Thousands risk drowning in rickety smugglers’ boats and another wave of migrants risks putting even more pressure on Italy and other European Union members where anti-immigrant populism is on the rise.

While the European Union is assisting in rescuing migrants at sea and in training the Libyan Coast Guard, its priority remains to “ensure effective control of our external border and stem illegal flows into the E.U.” That effectively means leaving people stranded in Libya, where migrants are subject to rape, beatings and torture in overcrowded camps. Europe hopes to enlist the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations’ refugee agency to ensure that migrants in Libya are detained in humane conditions. But these organizations in a joint statement warned that, given the situation in Libya, “it is not appropriate to consider Libya a safe third country, nor to establish extraterritorial processing of asylum seekers in North Africa.” Europe is also investing in improving conditions in Africa that compel people to flee, but that is a long-term solution that does little to address the immediate crisis.

On Wednesday, Libya’s United Nations-backed prime minister, Fayez Serraj, offered to allow NATO or European Union ships to pursue smugglers in Libyan waters. Putting smugglers out of business is important. But if NATO or the European Union sends migrants back to Libya, it “would violate the law, not to mention basic decency, and betray the values on which the E.U. and its member states were built,” said Judith Sunderland, the associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Ahead of the Malta meeting, the European Council president, Donald Tusk, and Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, warned that, with populism on the rise, the “E.U.’s key values are in danger, if we don’t act now.” But counting on Libya to keep migrants from leaving for Europe also puts those values in danger. The obvious immediate answer to the plight of African migrants is to open more legal channels for people to reach Europe, and to ensure that every member country assumes its fair share of new arrivals so that Italy is not overwhelmed.

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Completely lost.

EU Leaders Back Libyans To Curb New Migrant Wave (R.)

European Union leaders placed a bet on Libya’s fragile government to help them prevent a new wave of African migrants this spring, offering Tripoli more money and other assistance to beef up its frontier controls. Meeting in Malta – in the sea lane to Italy where more than 4,500 people drowned last year – the leaders addressed legal and moral concerns about having Libyan coastguards force people ashore by pledging to improve conditions in migrant camps there. “If the situation stays as is now, in a few weeks we will have a humanitarian crisis and people will start pointing fingers, saying Europe has done nothing,” said Joseph Muscat, the prime minister of Malta, which currently holds the presidency of the bloc. “With this agreement… there is one first decent shot in trying to get a proper management of migration flows across the central Mediterranean.”

Aid groups, however, accused the EU, of abandoning humanitarian values and misrepresenting conditions in Libya, where the U.N.-backed government of Fayez al-Seraj has only a shaky and partial hold on the sprawling desert nation. Medecins Sans Frontieres, which works on the ground, said the summit proved EU leaders were “delusional” about Libya. “Today was not about saving lives; it’s clear that the EU is ready to sacrifice thousands of vulnerable men, women and children in order to stop them reaching European shores.” The chaos in Libya has thwarted any hope of a quick fix in the way that a controversial EU deal with Turkey a year ago led to a virtual halt to a migrant route to Germany via Greece along which more than a million asylum-seekers traveled in 2015.

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How much further must this sink before we call it enough?

Hunger Strikers At Greek Refugee Camp Keep Minister, Police Out (K.)

Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas on Monday visited the state-run reception facility for migrants at Elliniko, south of Athens, amid reports that some of the residents have started a hunger strike against substandard conditions but was prevented from entering the site by protests. Dozens of protesting migrants formed a human chain at the entrance to the site, keeping out police and the minister, as child refugees sat on top of a barbed wire fence, shouting at the officers. The minister, who initially arrived at the site alone, was subsequently allowed to enter by migrants keen to discuss their demands. Migrants launched their hunger strike on Monday morning, calling for improved conditions at the site which authorities have pledged to clear soon to allow for a planned real estate project.

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Aug 072016
 
 August 7, 2016  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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NPC KKK services, Capital Horse Show grounds, Arlington 1938

Globalization and its New Discontents (Stiglitz)
Brexit: This Backlash Has Been A Long Time Coming (O’Rourke)
The US LOST 1,030 Million Jobs in July -Teachers’ Summer Break- (Sanders)
China’s July Forex Reserves Fall To $3.20 Trillion (R.)
Bitcoin’s Latest Economic Problem – (Worstall)
Theft And Mayhem In The Bitcoin World (Coppola)
Over 100 Americans Are Rich Enough to Buy the Election Outright (I’Cept)
Frozen Loans Trigger Australian Property Funding Crisis (AFR)
First Sept 11, Now Saudi Arabia Linked To German Terrorist Attacks (ZH)
Obama Expands ISIS Bombing to 4th Country, the Media Barely Notice (Nation)
Behold, a Pale Horse and its Rider’s Name Was Death (PCR)

 

 

How obvious does it have to get?

Globalization and its New Discontents (Stiglitz)

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a little book, entitled Globalization and its Discontents, describing growing opposition in the developing world to globalizing reforms. It seemed a mystery: people in developing countries had been told that globalization would increase overall wellbeing. So why had so many people become so hostile to it? Now, globalization’s opponents in the emerging markets and developing countries have been joined by tens of millions in the advanced countries. Opinion polls, including a careful study by Stanley Greenberg and his associates for the Roosevelt Institute, show that trade is among the major sources of discontent for a large share of Americans. Similar views are apparent in Europe.

How can something that our political leaders – and many an economist – said would make everyone better off be so reviled? One answer occasionally heard from the neoliberal economists who advocated for these policies is that people are better off. They just don’t know it. Their discontent is a matter for psychiatrists, not economists. But income data suggest that it is the neoliberals who may benefit from therapy. Large segments of the population in advanced countries have not been doing well: in the US, the bottom 90% has endured income stagnation for a third of a century. Median income for full-time male workers is actually lower in real (inflation-adjusted) terms than it was 42 years ago. At the bottom, real wages are comparable to their level 60 years ago.

The effects of the economic pain and dislocation that many Americans are experiencing are even showing up in health statistics. For example, the economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, this year’s Nobel laureate, have shown that life expectancy among segments of white Americans is declining. Things are a little better in Europe – but only a little better. [..] .. if globalization is to benefit most members of society, strong social-protection measures must be in place. The Scandinavians figured this out long ago; it was part of the social contract that maintained an open society – open to globalization and changes in technology. Neoliberals elsewhere have not – and now, in elections in the US and Europe, they are having their comeuppance.

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And everyone was busy doing something else. They still are by the looks of it.

Brexit: This Backlash Has Been A Long Time Coming (O’Rourke)

The main point of my 1999 book with Jeff Williamson was that globalisation produces both winners and losers, and that this can lead to an anti-globalisation backlash. We argued this based on late-19th century evidence. Then, the main losers from trade were European landowners, who found themselves competing with an elastic supply of cheap New World land. The result was that in Germany and France, Italy and Sweden, the move towards ever-freer trade that had been ongoing for several years was halted, and replaced by a shift towards protection that benefited not only agricultural interests, but industrial ones as well. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, immigration restrictions were gradually tightened, as workers found themselves competing with European migrants coming from ever-poorer source countries.

While Jeff and I were firmly focused on economic history, we were writing with an eye on the ‘trade and wages’ debate that was raging during the 1990s. There was an obvious potential parallel between 19th-century European landowners, newly exposed to competition with elastic supplies of New World land, and late 20th-century OECD unskilled workers, newly exposed to competition with elastic supplies of Asian, and especially Chinese, labour. In our concluding chapter, we noted that economists who base their views of globalisation, convergence, inequality, and policy solely on the years since 1970 are making a great mistake. The globalisation experience of the Atlantic economy prior to the Great War speaks directly and eloquently to globalisation debates today – and the political lessons from this are sobering.

“Politicians, journalists, and market analysts have a tendency to extrapolate the immediate past into the indefinite future, and such thinking suggests that the world is irreversibly headed toward ever greater levels of economic integration. The historical record suggests the contrary.” “Unless politicians worry about who gains and who loses,î we continued, ìthey may be forced by the electorate to stop efforts to strengthen global economy links, and perhaps even to dismantle them … We hope that this book will help them to avoid that mistake – or remedy it.”

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Yup, it’s seasonal adjustments again.

The US LOST 1,030 Million Jobs in July -Teachers’ Summer Break- (Sanders)

To better understand the July Jobs report, one has to understand the seasonal adjustments that the Bureau of Labor Statistics employs. Nonfarm payroll jobs added in July on a seasonally adjusted basis were +255,000 in July. But the raw or NON seasonally adjusted numbers were -1,030,000 jobs. Or 1.03 million jobs lost.

Notice in the above chart that you get big downward dips in the nonfarm payroll numbers in January and July. And it repeats every year. For January, this is the release of seasonal employment for the holidays. For July, this is the transformation to summertime employment, mostly for teachers. Local government education NSA fell by -1,093,000 in July. Total PRIVATE jobs added amounted to +85,000. So, the BLS smoothes the data using Seasonal Adjustments since January temporary workers being terminated or teachers not working during the summer is hardly newsworthy or surprising. Food and drinking services actually fell by -35,000 jobs added. Bartender blues. The bottom line is that the July jobs report was all about teachers going on summer break and low wage jobs being added.

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The real interesting question is what channels are now used to get money out.

China’s July Forex Reserves Fall To $3.20 Trillion (R.)

China’s foreign exchange reserves fell to $3.20 trillion in July, central bank data showed on Sunday, in line with analyst expectations. Economists polled by Reuters had predicted reserves would fall to $3.20 trillion from $3.21 trillion at the end of June. China’s reserves, the largest in the world, fell by $4.10 billion in July. The reserves rose $13.4 billion in June, rebounding from a 5-year low in May. China’s gold reserves rose to $78.89 billion at the end of July, up from $77.43 billion at end-June, data published on the People’s Bank of China website showed. Net foreign exchange sales by the People’s Bank of China in June jumped to their highest in three months, as the central bank sought to shield the yuan from market volatility caused by Brexit.

China’s foreign exchange regulator recently said China would be able to keep cross-border capital flows steady given its relatively sound economic fundamentals, solid current account surplus and ample foreign exchange reserves. China’s foreign reserves fell by a record $513 billion last year after it devalued the yuan currency in August, sparking a flood of capital outflows that alarmed global markets. The yuan has eased another 2% this year and is hovering near six-year lows, but official data suggests speculative capital flight is under control for now, thanks to tighter capital controls and currency trading regulations. However, economists are divided over how much money is still flowing out of the country via other channels, with opaque policymaking and some inconsistency in the data raising suspicions that the fall in the yuan may be masking capital outflow pressure.

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When will the whole thing be declared a failure?

Bitcoin’s Latest Economic Problem – (Worstall)

[..] And that’s where Bitcoin has the problem, in that very existence of the blockchain: The first relates to the ongoing legal recourse rights of Bitfinex victims. Even though they may have lost their right to pursue Bitfinex for compensation, they are still going to be entitled to track the funds across the blockchain to seek recourse from whomsoever receives the bitcoins in their accounts. That’s good news for victims, but mostly likely very bad news for bitcoin’s fungible state and thus its status as a medium of exchange.

Just one successful claim by a victim who tracks his funds to an identifiable third party, and the precedent is set. Any exchanges dealing with bitcoin in a legitimate capacity would from then on be inclined to do much stronger due diligence on whether the bitcoins being deposited in their system were connected to ill-gotten gains. This in turn would open the door to the black-listing of funds that can not prove they were originated honestly via legitimate earnings. Of course, people should not steal things. And yet for a currency to work it has to be possible to take the currency at its face value. Thus it may well be that the bank robber paid you for his beer with stolen money but you got it fair and square and thus the bank doesn’t get it back as an when they find out.

Another way to put this is that the crime dies with the criminal. And yet the blockchain upends all of that. Because every transaction which any one bitcoin has been involved in is traceable. I’ve said before that bitcoin has significant economic problems associated with it. The most important being that it is a deliberately deflationary currency which is a really, really, terrible idea. But the more we wander through the actual use in the real world of this idea the more we find other problems with it. As here, that blockchain, the basic defining point of bitcoin in the first place, making it something which isn’t going to work well as a currency over time. Because that very blockchain means that we’ll not be able to make the necessary compromises about justice in favour of efficiency in the event of crime.

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Will a bunch of unknowns, likely Bitfinex insiders, get away with stealing $60 million?

Theft And Mayhem In The Bitcoin World (Coppola)

The schadenfreude of Bitcoin enthusiasts over Ethereum’s recent troubles ended abruptly last week. A major Bitcoin exchange, Bitfinex, was hacked and nearly 120,000 BTC (around $60m) was stolen. The price of Bitcoin promptly crashed, and Bitfinex was forced to suspend trading. Suddenly, Ethereum was not the only basket case cryptocurrency around. It appears that Bitfinex’s security was seriously compromised. Customer coins were held in individual wallets secured with a 2 of 3 multisig arrangement: keys were held by Bitfinex itself and Bitgo, a professional custodian and signatory, with a third (backup) key held in secure offline storage. Customers could not withdraw funds from the wallets until any borrowings had been cleared. It was, if you like, a form of escrow. And it should have been secure.

But it wasn’t. Somehow, the hacker managed to gain access to hundreds of customer wallets. Not only did the hacker gain access to the wallets, he/she also overrode Bitgo’s withdrawal limits. It was a well-planned and comprehensive security breach by someone who knew exactly what they were doing. Funds were moved to thousands of addresses over a short period of time. Bitfinex, it seems, was powerless to stop it. This is one of the largest Bitcoin heists ever, dwarfed only by Mt. Gox in 2014. It is comparable in size to Ethereum’s DAO theft only a couple of weeks ago. And it is going to result in a lot of people losing a lot of money. All of Bitfinex’s customers, in fact. The company has announced a haircut of 36.067% across the board:

“After much thought, analysis, and consultation, we have arrived at the conclusion that losses must be generalized across all accounts and assets. This is the closest approximation to what would happen in a liquidation context. Upon logging into the platform, customers will see that they have experienced a generalized loss percentage of 36.067%. In a later announcement we will explain in full detail the methodology used to compute these losses.” Although the loss is estimated as the amount the customers would receive if the company were liquidated, this is a bail-in. Bitfinex has no plans to cease trading: “We intend to come online within 24-48 hours with limited platform functionality. Additional announcements will be made as we progressively enable more platform features and return to full operations.”

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Club 106.

Over 100 Americans Are Rich Enough to Buy the Election Outright (I’Cept)

Two billion dollars, the estimated cost of this year’s presidential election, is big money, but it is not huge money. Two billion is one-tenth of NASA’s annual budget, one-twentieth of the Harvard endowment, one-thirtieth of the personal wealth of Warren Buffett. Buffett is number two on the 2015 Forbes list of 106 Americans who hold personal fortunes of $5 billion or more, the Club of 106. These billionaires are rich enough to pay for the campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and still have $3 billion left over. A lot of the money in Club 106 is family money. The Club includes two Kochs, four Waltons, three Marses, two Newhouses, and three Ziffs. Donald Trump was also born into big money. With a supposed net worth of $4.5 billion, he is brushing up against the velvet rope outside of Club 106.

The Clintons, both born to families with ordinary incomes, are now worth around $110 million, which puts them way off from Club 106 and pretty far from you and me as well. In the political off-season the Clintons have borrowed private jets from friends and relied on book advances and speaking fees to maintain two residences, to summer in East Hampton, and reportedly to help their daughter and son-in-law purchase a $10 million Manhattan apartment. The Obamas will soon be devising their own approach to making their way in a billionaire’s world with a mere $20 million. At least four of the members of Club 106 (Buffett, the Kochs, Bloomberg) have openly voiced their thoughts on who should be president.

Five members (Soros, Simons, Cohen, Ellison, Bloomberg) are among the top 25 donors to the outside groups that have poured tens of millions of dollars into the campaign. Seven members (Bezos, Zuckerberg, Page, Brin, Murdoch, the Newhouses, Bloomberg) own large media and internet companies — Amazon, the Washington Post, Facebook, Google, Fox News, the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal, Condé Nast, Bloomberg — with the power to shape public opinion. (By way of disclosure, an eighth member, Pierre Omidyar, founded The Intercept’s parent company, First Look Media.)

For the Club of 106, elections are a game they can easily afford to play.

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From July 25, but interesting enough.

Frozen Loans Trigger Australian Property Funding Crisis (AFR)

Off-the-plan buyers of Australian apartments are in crisis as tough new borrowing rules mean thousands of investors who have paid a deposit are struggling to complete their purchases, according to local and overseas mortgage brokers and financiers. Shanghai-based financiers claim their Chinese clients’ funding from Australian banks has been frozen and they face foreclosure – or usurious interest rates – from private financiers. Australian financiers claim their local clients, many of them Asian, have had their settlements deferred by three months to find alternative funding. “All the deals have been frozen,” said Mark Yin, an agent with Shanghai-based Home Tree Group, about his Shanghai clients’ funding with Australian banks. “We are now looking for finance all over the world.”

Mr Yin said this represented nearly 100 per cent of his clients who were waiting for properties to be completed in Australia and that most of the apartments were in the Melbourne CBD. Melbourne-based Marshall Condon, CEO of mortgage broker Neue Black and who also has off-shore and local Asian investors, added: “In the next three to 12 months, many investors will be applying for funding to complete their deals, however, they will be become increasingly concerned as they discover funding is limited.” Billions of dollars has been invested in tens-of-thousands of high-rise apartments that are reshaping the skylines of the nation’s major capitals, particularly Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Most have been sold off-the-plan, which means purchasers buy off the blueprint with a deposit and complete when it is built, which requires a second valuation and financing commitment by the lender.

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“..both men were not only influenced by but also took instructions from people, as yet unidentified, up until the attacks..”

First Sept 11, Now Saudi Arabia Linked To German Terrorist Attacks (ZH)

Several weeks after the US government finally released a redacted version of the secret “28 pages”, which confirmed Saudi Arabia’s key role behind the September 11 attack, even as both the Obama administration and Saudi Arabia claimed no such connection exists (when it clearly did for anyone who actually read the disclosure), a trail has now emerged linking the recent surge in deadly terrorist attacks in Germany to Saudi Arabia. According to Der Spiegel, both the terrorist from the Wurzburg train axe attack, and the Ansbach suicide bomber who blew up an explosive-filled backpack, had multiple chat contacts with persons in Saudi Arabia.

As a result, Reuters adds, Saudi authorities are now in contact with their German colleagues, responding to these potentially explosive new findings which once again implicate the Saudi state with more state-sponsored terrirms, and show at least two attackers were in close contact via a chat conversation with possible Islamic State backers from Saudi Arabia. Traces of the chat, which investigators have been able to reconstruct, indicate that both men were not only influenced by but also took instructions from people, as yet unidentified, up until the attacks, the report said. It may not come as a surprise that the state exposed as facilitating and coordinating the September 11 terrorist attack, and which admitted to have created the Islamic States (with US knowledge), is now trying to provoke a terrorist backlash in Europe too.

Recall that after the Iraqi city of Mosul fell to a lightning Isis offensive in 2014, the late Prince Saud al-Faisal, then the Saudi foreign minister when speaking to John Kerry admitted that “Daesh [Isis] is our [Sunni] response to your support for the Da’wa” — the Tehran-aligned Shia Islamist ruling party of Iraq. One can only speculate what Saudi Arabia is “responding” to with the recent surge in European terrorist attacks. For now, however, the all too “generous” Saudi government has “offered to help German investigators find those behind Islamist bomb and ax attacks in July”, Spiegel adds. We can only imagine how accurate Saudi “findings” will be, especially if – like in the case of Sept 11 – those involved include members from the very top of Saudi power echelons.

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“A campaign that began two years ago this Sunday has now, 50,000 bombs and 25,000 dead ISIS fighters later, expanded to a whole new continent.”

Obama Expands ISIS Bombing to 4th Country, the Media Barely Notice (Nation)

The Obama administration announced on Monday the beginning of US air strikes in Libya against ISIS targets, marking the fourth country the United States is currently bombing with the goal of “degrading and destroying” the terror group. A campaign that began two years ago this Sunday has now, 50,000 bombs and 25,000 dead ISIS fighters later, expanded to a whole new continent. You’d hardly notice, however, if you followed US media. While the air strikes themselves were reported by most major outlets, they were done so in a matter-of-fact way, and only graced the front pages of major American newspapers for one day.

[..] The question pundits should be asking themselves is this: Had Obama announced on August 7, 2014, that he planned on bombing four countries and deploying troops to two of them to fight a war with “no end point,” would the American public have gone along with it? Probably not. To authorize his perma-campaign, Obama’s administration has dubiously invoked the 15-year-old, one-page Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed three days after 9/11. The president has to do this, the White House and friendly media claim, because Congress “refuses” to act to authorize the war (notice that’s a rubber-stamp question of when, not if). But such apologism largely rests on a tautology: Congress doesn’t have a sense of urgency to authorize the war because the public doesn’t, and the public doesn’t because the media have yawned with each new iteration.

What’s lacking is what screenwriters call “an inciting incident.” There’s no clear-cut moment the war is launched, it just gradually expands, and because media are driven by Hollywood narratives, they are victims to the absence of a clear first act. This was, to a lesser extent, the problem with the last bombing of Libya, in 2011. What was pitched to the American public then was a limited, UN-mandated no-fly zone to protect civilians (that even the likes of Noam Chomsky backed), which quickly morphed, unceremoniously, into all-out, NATO-led regime change three weeks later. Then, as now, there was no public debate, no media coming-to-Jesus moment. Obama just asserted the escalation as the obvious next step, and almost everyone just sort of went along—an ethos summed up in Eric Posner’s hot take at Slate the day after Obama expanded the ISIS war to Syria: “Obama Can Bomb Pretty Much Anything He Wants To.”

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“Is it possible that Washington did not want to clear ISIL out of Iraq because Washington intended to use ISIL to clear Assad out of Syria?”

Behold, a Pale Horse and its Rider’s Name Was Death (PCR)

I just listened to Obama give Washington’s account of the situation with ISIL in Iraq and Syria. In Obama’s account, Washington is defeating ISIL in Iraq, but Russia and Assad are defeating the Syrian people in Syria. Obama denounced Russia and the Syrian government—but not ISIL—as barbaric. The message was clear: Washington still intends to overthrow Assad and turn Syria into another Libya and another Iraq, formerly stable and prosperous countries where war now rages continually. It sickens me to hear the President of the United States lie and construct a false reality, so I turned off the broadcast. I believe it was a press conference, and I am confident that no meaningful questions were asked.

If Helen Thomas were still there, she would ask the Liar-in-Chief what went wrong with Washington’s policy in Iraq. We were promised that a low-cost “cakewalk” war of three or six weeks duration would bring “freedom and democracy” to Iraq. Why is it that 13 years later Iraq is a hellhole of war and destruction? What happened to the “freedom and democracy?” And the “Cakewalk”? You can bet your life that no presstitute asked Obama this question. No one asked the Liar-in-Chief why the Russians and Syrians could clear ISIL out of most of Syria in a couple of months, but Washington has been struggling for several years to clear ISIL out of Iraq. Is it possible that Washington did not want to clear ISIL out of Iraq because Washington intended to use ISIL to clear Assad out of Syria?

No one asked the Liar-in-Chief why Washington sent ISIL to Syria and Iraq in the first place, or why the Syrians and Russians keep finding US weapons In ISIL’s military depots, or why Washington’s allies were funding ISIL by purchasing the oil ISIL is stealing from Iraq. It seems to be the case that ISIL originated in the mercenaries that Washington organized to overthrow Gaddafi in Libya and were sent to Syria to overthrow Assad when the UK Parliament refused to participate in Washington’s invasion of Syria and the Russians put a stop to it.

Read more …

 

 

Jul 312016
 
 July 31, 2016  Posted by at 10:13 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Vincent van Gogh Branches Of An Almond Tree In Blossom in Red 1890

Think about it for a second: If America -and UK, France- were to announce today that they would immediately cease bombing Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, would the US be any less safe? Would Europe?

How about if we’d promise to spend all the billions saved by not throwing bombs on them, to help rebuild these countries? Would that make us less safe, from terrorists, from anyone at all? Do you think ‘they’ would ‘hate’ us for that?

It becomes a pretty stupid non-discussion pretty fast, doesn’t it?

 

 

Mar 282016
 
 March 28, 2016  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Albert Freeman Mrs. Alice White at the War Fund Victory Store, Hardwick, VT 1942

The Seven Countries Most Vulnerable To A Debt Crisis (Steve Keen)
Capital and Credit (Mr. Practical)
Japan’s Negative Rates A Looming Headache For Central Bank (Reuters)
Japan Seen Stuck With Negative Yields on 70% of Bonds for 2016 (BBG)
China’s Pension Fund To Flow Into Stock Market This Year (CD)
China Hunts Source of Letter Urging Xi to Quit (WSJ)
US Energy Companies Pay Up to Raise Cash (WSJ)
Negative Gearing Has Created Empty Houses And Artificial Scarcity (SMH)
Has The Brics Bubble Burst? (Guardian)
In Yahoo, Another Example of the Buyback Mirage (NY Times)
Wealthier Countries Have More Leisure Time – With One Big Exception (Wef)
Is Monsanto Losing Its Grip? (WS)
Pentagon, CIA-Armed Militias Fight Each Other In Syria (LA Times)
Saudi Arabia Campaign Leaves 80% Of Yemen Population Needing Aid (G.)
Smugglers Prepare New Human Trafficking Route To Italy (DW)
EU Prepares For Massive Migration Flows From Libya (EurActiv)

It’s Steve’s birthday today!

The Seven Countries Most Vulnerable To A Debt Crisis (Steve Keen)

For decades, some of the most important data about market economies was simply unavailable: the level of private debt. You could get government debt data easily, but (with the outstanding exception of the USA—and also Australia) it was hard to come by. That has been remedied by the Bank of International Settlements, which now publishes a quarterly series on debt—government & private—for over 40 countries. This data lets me identify the seven countries that, on my analysis, are most likely to suffer a debt crisis in the next 1-3 years. They are, in order of likely severity: China, Australia, Sweden, Hong Kong (though it might deserve first billing), Korea, Canada, and Norway. I’ve detailed the logic behind my argument too many times to count, and I won’t repeat it here.

The bottom line is that private sector expenditure in an economy can be measured as the sum of GDP plus the change in credit, and crises occur when (a) the ratio of private debt to GDP is large; (b) growing quickly compared to GDP. When the growth of credit falls—as it eventually must, as growing debt servicing exhausts the funds available to finance it, new borrowers baulk at entry costs to house purchases, and numerous euphoric and Ponzi-based debt-financed schemes fail—then the change in credit falls, and can go negative, thus reducing demand rather than adding to it.

This is what caused the Global Financial Crisis, and the simplest way to simply substantiate my argument—which virtually every other economist on the planet will advise you is crazy (except Michael Hudson, Dirk Bezemer and a few others)—is to show you this data for the USA. The crisis began as the rate of growth of credit began to fall, and the Great Recession was dated as starting in 2008 and ending in 2010. As you can see from Figure 1, the sum of GDP plus credit growth peaked in 2008, and fell till 2010—at which point the recovery began.


Figure 1: America’s crisis began when the rate of growth of credit began to fall

The BIS database lets me identify other countries—several of which managed to avoid a serious downturn during the GFC—which fill these two pre-requisites: a high level of private debt to GDP, and a rapid growth of that ratio in the last few years. The American ex-banker turned philanthropist and debt reformer Richard Vague, in his excellent empirical study of crises over the last 150 years, concluded that crises occur when (a) private debt exceeds 1.5 times GDP and (b) the level grows by about 20% (say from 140% to 160%) over a 5 year period.

America fitted those gloves in 2008, as did many other countries—all of which are either still in a crisis (especially in the Eurozone), or are suffering “inexplicably” low growth after an apparent recovery (as is the case in the USA, the UK, and so on). Using the BIS database, I can identify 21 countries that meet Richard’s first criteria, but to “go for broke” on this forecast, I restricted myself to the 16 countries that had a private debt to GDP ratio exceeding 175% of GDP. To simplify my analysis, I then limited the second criteria to countries where the increase in private debt last year exceeded 10% of GDP. That combination gave me my list.


Figure 2: Countries with private debt/GDP > 175% & debt growth in 2015 > 10% of GDP, ranked by debt growth

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“If all the savings are chased out of banks, what is left for investment for the future?”

Capital and Credit (Mr. Practical)

Central banks have altered the definition of debt. Debt was once created by banks when they lent out deposits, transferring the liquid capital of the depositor to the debtor; the bank, acting as a clearing house, guaranteed the deposit. The Federal Reserve allows banks to lever that functionality by requiring banks to keep just 10% of the deposit as collateral; ergo, a bank could lend ten times its deposit base. That was the first step in levering capital up in the economy. It was and is called fractional banking. Over the last 30 years, central banks, regulators, and Wall Street have created various methods to increase that leverage even more; in other words, they have taken a modicum of capital and created mountains of debt with it. In other words, financial engineering creates new and different ways to increase leverage.

Most of those vehicles are disguised as derivatives. For example, some stocks allow investors to buy them on margin of 50%: they put up half of the cost and a broker lends them the other half so the investor’s capital is levered two-to-one. Alternatively, through derivatives, they can buy an SP500 futures contract and only put up 5% in capital and the broker will lend them the other 95%, so the investor’s capital is levered twenty to one! The derivatives market has a notional value of ~$1 quadrillion (one thousand trillions; pause to let the enormity of that number sink in); this provides a glimmer of the risk and leverage embedded in the derivatives markets, and by extension the stock and commodity markets. The system imploded under this debt in 2008 because there was not enough income being generated to pay back interest and principal.

Central banks and governments responded by adding $60 trillion of fresh global debt to reflate the bubble. How is that working? Well, we’re now seeing negative interest rates (NIRP) in Europe and Asia and many think they are coming to the U.S. Negative interest rates mean savers are now being charged to keep their money at the bank; there now is a cost to holding cash in a savings account. This is not natural and has revolting consequences. If you buy an Italian government bond you actually have to pay them interest to lend them money. This is ridiculous on its face but especially since Italy is bankrupt. The only reason it is possible is that the central bank of Europe is buying them up to that price. And why is this happening? The bubble is fraying. It is about to pop again for all of the new debt created since 2008; that debt is even less productive than the previous debt and generates even less income to pay it back.

Bureaucrats can either lever capital or re-distribute it. t seems they are having trouble levering it any further so negative rates are an attempt to re-distribute capital. All of the savings in liquid capital within the banks must be chased out to buy increasingly risky assets like stocks and houses to stimulate the economy. This is like Dr. Frankenstein raising the dead. If all the savings are chased out of banks, what is left for investment for the future?

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“The JGB market is really in a bubble, when you think about it as an investment vehicle..”

Japan’s Negative Rates A Looming Headache For Central Bank (Reuters)

Driving interest rates below zero, the Bank of Japan has turned a comatose government bond market into an enormous free-for-all, complicating the central bank’s own efforts to kick-start growth and end deflation. The $9 trillion market for Japanese government bonds had been all but paralyzed since the BOJ began a massive monetary easing three years ago that made the bank the dominant buyer. But in the two months since the BOJ announced it was imposing a negative interest rate, JGBs have become a volatile commodity, with prices swinging wildly as below-zero yields confound investors’ attempts to find fair market value. “The JGB market is really in a bubble, when you think about it as an investment vehicle,” said Takuji Okubo at Japan Macro Advisors. “Their prices have moved away from fundamentals, and people don’t have a traditional way to measure their value.”

As the BOJ’s dominance distorts bond market functions and dries up liquidity, the central bank could have a hard time tapering its buying binge when it eventually chooses to exit its “quantitative and qualitative easing” program. The bank theoretically could just sit on its enormous holdings until the bonds mature, but policymakers are unlikely to want those assets to remain on the balance sheet for decades. On the other hand, it might be difficult to smoothly taper off its asset purchases, much less sell its holdings. So far, the BOJ’s money printing has kept the cost for financing the government’s massive public debt very low. A spike in that cost could stoke market fears Japan may be losing control of its finances, potentially triggering a damaging bond sell-off, some analysts say. “It would be quite tough for the BOJ to taper such an enormous balance sheet without disrupting markets,” said a person familiar with the BOJ’s thinking.

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Abe to call snap elections, the opposition melting into blocks to prevent a 2/3 majority.

Japan Seen Stuck With Negative Yields on 70% of Bonds for 2016 (BBG)

Japanese primary dealers say negative bond yields are here to stay in 2016, and room for capital gains has run out. [..] Three years after the start of the Bank of Japan’s unprecedented quantitative and qualitative easing, or QQE, and two months since the surprise announcement of negative interest rates, bond investors are still trying to adjust to the conditions that have turned yields on 70% of the market negative. Even amid such extreme measures, the central bank has failed to prevent inflation from flatlining for more than a year. Most of the dealers surveyed expect a further expansion of stimulus. “The BOJ has dominated the bond market,” said Takafumi Yamawaki at JPMorgan, who sees the 10-year note yielding minus 0.15% at year-end. “Yields will remain deeply depressed.” An investor would just about break even if the 10-year JGB yield ended the year at minus 0.1%, after accounting for reinvested interest.

The 10-year yield was at minus 0.095% on Friday, the lowest globally after Switzerland’s minus 0.35%. The equivalent U.S. Treasury note yielded 1.9%. JGBs have returned 5.3% over the past six months, the most of 26 sovereign debt markets tracked by Bloomberg, as yields pushed ever lower amid pressure from BOJ easing. “We expect an expansion of stimulus, and if the market happens to rule out any additional boost in stimulus, that would create an opportunity to go long,” said Takeki Fukushima at Citigroup in Tokyo, who predicts the 10-year note will yield about minus 0.15% at year-end. The BOJ owns an unprecedented one-third of outstanding JGBs, more than any other class of investor, as it snaps up as much as 12 trillion yen ($106 billion) of the debt each month. The result has been a loss of liquidity that has heightened volatility and hurt market functionality.

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There goes the kitchen sink.

China’s Pension Fund To Flow Into Stock Market This Year (CD)

China’s massive pension fund may begin investing in the nation’s A-share markets this year, an anticipated move that will channel approximately 600 billion yuan ($92.28 billion) into the equity market and likely improve its liquidity. The target date comes several months after China’s State Council published an investment guideline that would allow the country’s pension fund to invest in more diversified and risker products, with the maximum proportion of investments in stocks and equities set at 30% of total net assets. As of last Friday, the nation’s A-share markets’ combined value totaled about 44 trillion yuan. China’s pension fund, which accounts for approximately 90% of the country’s total social security fund pool, had net assets of 3.98 trillion yuan by the end of 2015.

By the end of last year, total investible pension fund nationwide reached approximately 2 trillion yuan, according to data from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. Yin Weimin, the minister of Human Resources and Social Security, said last week: “Detailed guidelines about how the investments will be conducted are expected shortly and the investments will be made through commissioned institutional investors.” According to a survey by the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, which polled 3,874 small investors from 219 cities around China, more than 77.5% of respondents said they had been anticipating the pension fund investments and that the move will bring a wave of liquidity.

The move is expected to not only benefit the equity market but also the pension fund itself, because yields from investing in equities are normally higher than that from treasury bonds or interest rates from bank accounts. Critics have said that the low yields earned from bank accounts or bonds will not meet the increasing demands of a rapidly growing elderly population. Researchers said it will take time for all of the investible portion of the pension fund to become fully injected into the equity market. Provinces that have already piloted their local pension funds to be invested in the equity market have reported positive yields. South China’s Guangdong province reportedly accrued a combined yield of 17.34 billion yuan from a 100-billion-yuan investment.

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China, Turkey, Saudi: what’s the difference? And they’re all our friends…

China Hunts Source of Letter Urging Xi to Quit (WSJ)

A Chinese news portal’s publication of a mysterious letter calling for President Xi Jinping’s resignation appears to have triggered a hunt for those responsible, in a sign of Beijing’s anxiety over bubbling dissent within the Communist Party. The letter, whose authorship remains unclear, appeared on the eve of China’s legislative session in early March, the most public political event of the year. Since then, at least four managers and editors with Wujie Media—whose news website published the missive—and about 10 people from a related company providing technical support have gone missing, according to their friends and associates, who say the disappearances are linked to a government probe into the letter.

A U.S.-based dissident author said authorities have also taken away his family in southern China over claims that he had helped disseminate the letter – an allegation he denies. The editor of an overseas Chinese website that also published the letter said he has received harassing phone calls and anonymous death threats. Wujie Media -which is based in Beijing and partly owned by the government of China’s far western Xinjiang region- hasn’t published any original news content since mid-March, while its social-media accounts have also gone silent. Many among its more than 100 employees worry that the company may soon be shut down, according to a Wujie employee and two people familiar with the situation.

[..] Analysts said the incident highlights the party’s concerns over the letter and a broader pushback against Mr. Xi’s domineering style of leadership. The response “shows a real brittleness of power and of high levels of nervousness,” said Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese studies at King’s College London. “If this sort of complaint spreads, then there could be real problems,” he said. [..] “The concentration of power in Xi’s hands, as well as the budding personality cult, have come to arouse dissent among party circles,” said Daniel Leese, a professor of Chinese history and politics at Germany’s University of Freiburg. Over the past two months, divisions between the disgruntled party members and Mr. Xi’s camp have spilled out into the open. After prominent real-estate tycoon and party member Ren Zhiqiang questioned Mr. Xi’s demands for loyalty from the media, party news outlets savaged the retired businessman.

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“These firms have come to rely on selling new shares to pay down debt and keep rigs drilling..”

US Energy Companies Pay Up to Raise Cash (WSJ)

Energy companies tapping the stock market to fill their coffers are deepening the pain for shareholders. These firms have come to rely on selling new shares to pay down debt and keep rigs drilling since oil and gas prices began tumbling in late 2014. The further commodity prices and energy stocks slid, the more shares that companies have had to sell at ever lower prices to raise the desired proceeds. This has further diluted the stakes held by existing shareholders, who are already suffering from falling share prices. North American oil and gas producers have raised more than $10 billion selling new shares this year. That’s in line with the amount raised over the same period last year, which went on to be a record year for so-called follow-on stock offerings with about $18 billion raised.

The cash injections haven’t guaranteed stability for the companies selling shares, though. Emerald Oil, which sold $27.5 million of new shares last year, filed Tuesday for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Wunderlich Securities estimates that a prearranged sale of Emerald’s North Dakota drilling fields will yield roughly enough to pay back its bank lenders, leaving little for other creditors and nothing for shareholders. Those who bought roughly $50 million of stock that Goodrich Petroleum sold last March have been basically wiped out. The Houston company’s stock, which ended the week trading at 8 cents, was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange earlier this year. Earlier this month Goodrich said that when it discloses its 2015 financial results, its auditors are likely to express “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay in business.

Much of the money raised by oil and gas producers this year has been through deals that involve banks putting up their own capital to buy a chunk of the company’s stock—below the market rate because of the risk they are taking on—before selling it to investors. A bigger discount in these so-called block, or bought, deals reflects the risk perceived by banks when it comes to energy companies at a time when the price of oil has been fluctuating and large U.S. banks have said they are seeing more energy loans go bad. Last June, Energen raised about a net $400 million in a sale of 5.7 million shares, according to Dealogic. Following the offering, shares declined by nearly 70% by Feb. 16, more than the nearly 60% decline of the SIG Oil Exploration and Production stock index, an industry benchmark, in the same period.

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Australia is belatedly waking up. It won’t stop the pain.

Negative Gearing Has Created Empty Houses And Artificial Scarcity (SMH)

A major myth that permeates the recent debate on housing affordability is that the present level of housing supply is not meeting demand. Scarcity of housing, we are repeatedly told, is driving up prices. The same voices simplistically suggest, reduce the barriers caused by planners and housing supply will respond, bringing affordability back into the market. But more reasoned voices can be heard above the clamour, focussing on the perverse effects of our highly skewed housing taxation and subsidy system, as well as a complete lack of a national housing policy framework to support affordable housing. Nevertheless, throughout this debate there is little recognition of the broader shifts in housing stock, tenure and housing opportunity that these policies have created.

At the last census there were nearly 120,000 empty dwelling in the greater Sydney region alone, representing nearly one fifth of the projected new housing demand to be met by 2031, or equivalent to nearly five years of projected dwelling need. When this is combined with under-utilised dwellings, such as those let out as short-term accommodation, the total number of dwellings reaches 230,000 in Sydney, and 238,000 in Melbourne. There is a possibility that these aggregate figures could be accounted for by a spatial mismatch between supply and demand. That is, they are in places that people simply don’t want to live. But this isn’t the case. When these numbers are mapped there is a clear concentration of unoccupied dwellings in central parts of all our metropolitan areas. In Sydney there is a clear bias towards inner, eastern suburb and north shore locations.

This aligns with established areas of highest rents and prices. This picture is repeated in the other cities. If you chose to accept that there is a housing shortage in Sydney, then the sheer scale and location of these figures strongly suggest that this is an artificially produced scarcity. The number of empty dwellings could more than account for the notional supply shortfalls. Why, then, are these homes left vacant when they could command the highest prices or rents? To answer this, we mapped rental yields for the same period. What it reveals is that rental yields tend to be highest in the outer suburbs, where residential property is cheaper to purchase. Where rental yields are lowest is in the inner city and eastern and north shore suburbs, where capital values (and therefore gains) are highest. And this is where we also see higher rates of vacant properties. This is not a coincidence.

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There’s a lot more bursting in the offing.

Has The Brics Bubble Burst? (Guardian)

The political crisis in Brazil over economic mismanagement and high-level corruption, likely to come to a head next week, has reinforced the fashionable view, popular among western governments and businesses, that the Brics bubble has burst. Members of the exclusive Brics club of leading developing countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – are failing to justify predictions that, separately and together, they will dominate the 21st century world, or so the argument goes. The Brics concept, plus acronym, was dreamed up in 2001 by Jim O’Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management. He highlighted the combined potential of non-western powers controlling one quarter of the world’s land mass and accounting for more than 40% of its population. O’Neill’s idea morphed into a formal association, with South Africa joining the original Bric group in 2011.

The five nations, with a joint estimated GDP of $16tn, set up their own development bank in parallel to the US-dominated IMF and World Bank and hold summits rivalling the G7 forum. Their next meeting will be in Goa, India, in October. But ambitious plans to create an alternative reserve currency to the US dollar and challenge American dominance in IT and global security surveillance have come to little. Meanwhile, adverse economic conditions compounded by falling global demand and lower oil and commodity prices are taking their toll. Last November, Goldman Sachs, where the idea originated, closed its Bric investment fund after assets reportedly declined in value by 88% from a 2010 peak. The bank told the SEC it did not expect “significant asset growth in the foreseeable future”. “The promise of Bric’s rapid and sustainable growth has been challenged very much for the last five years or so,” Jorge Mariscal at UBS told Bloomberg Business. “The Bric concept was popular. But nothing is eternal.”

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“..Yahoo, if it had invested that same amount of money in its operations, would have had to generate only a 3.2% after-tax return to produce overall net profit growth of 16% annually over those years.”

In Yahoo, Another Example of the Buyback Mirage (NY Times)

It is one of the great investment conundrums of our time: Why do so many stockholders cheer when a company announces that it’s buying back shares? Stated simply, repurchase programs can be hazardous to a company’s long-term financial health and often signal a management that has run out of better ways to invest in the business. And yet investors love them. Not all stock repurchases are bad, of course. But given the enormous popularity of buybacks nowadays, those that are harmful probably outnumber the beneficial. Those who run companies like buybacks because they make their earnings look better on a per-share basis. When fewer shares are outstanding, each one technically earns more. But a company’s overall profit growth is unaffected by share buybacks.

And comparing increases in earnings per share with real profit growth reveals the impact that buybacks have on that particular measure. Call it the buyback mirage. Consider Yahoo. The company bought back shares worth $6.6 billion from 2008 to 2014, according to Robert L. Colby, a retired investment professional and developer of Corequity, an equity valuation service used by institutional investors. These purchases helped increase Yahoo’s earnings per share about 16% annually, on average. But a good bit of that performance was the buyback mirage. Growth in Yahoo’s overall net profits came in at about 11% annually. Given these figures, Mr. Colby reckoned that Yahoo, if it had invested that same amount of money in its operations, would have had to generate only a 3.2% after-tax return to produce overall net profit growth of 16% annually over those years.

Some companies argue that the money they spend repurchasing stock is a shrewd use of their capital. And given Yahoo’s track record in recent years, its management team seems to have had a hard time identifying profitable investments. But Mr. Colby pointed out that buybacks provide only a one-time benefit, while smart investments in a company’s operations can generate years of gains. This analysis may be of interest to Starboard Value, an activist investor that is a large and unhappy Yahoo shareholder. On Thursday, Starboard nominated nine directors to replace the company’s entire board, saying its current members lack “the leadership, objectivity and perspective needed to make decisions that are in the best interests of shareholders.”

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“Sure, the French may have day care and five-week vacations and 35-hour work weeks,” we’ve argued. “But we’ve got flat-screen TVs, $5 footlongs and big cars.”

Wealthier Countries Have More Leisure Time – With One Big Exception (Wef)

The American work ethic can basically be boiled down to one well-worn phrase: “Work hard, play hard.” But new research from a pair of Stanford University economists suggests we are failing, miserably, at the latter half of that maxim. Take a look at the chart below. It’s a plot of hours worked per capita versus GDP, and one country really stands out. As countries get wealthier, their annual hours worked per capita tend to decrease, at least in the sample examined here by economists Charles Jones and Peter Klenow. They measure GDP in fractions of U.S. GDP, because they’re most interested in how other countries stack up to the United States in terms of economic well-being. For instance, Russia’s GDP per capita is less than half of that in the United States, so it lands halfway down the chart’s X axis.

The relationship between GDP and working hours harkens back to economist John Maynard Keynes’ famous prediction that his grandchildren would be working 15-hour work weeks – thanks, in part, to increased productivity from new machines and technology. Since you’re probably reading this story at your office or on your commute, you’re well aware that things didn’t exactly work out this way. We didn’t trade our productivity gains for more time, we traded them instead for more stuff. But the extent of that trade-off -time versus stuff- hasn’t been the same in all countries, as the chart above illustrates. “Average annual hours worked per capita in the U.S. are 877 versus only 535 in France: the average person in France works less than two-thirds as much as the average person in the U.S.,” Jones and Klenow write. You see similar numbers in Spain, Italy and the UK.

For a long time we’ve used our stuff to justify our workaholism. “Sure, the French may have day care and five-week vacations and 35-hour work weeks,” we’ve argued. “But we’ve got flat-screen TVs, $5 footlongs and big cars.” Or, in strictly economic terms: “France’s per capita GDP is only 67% of ours. Who’s living the good life now?” But in their new research, forthcoming in the American Economic Review, Jones and Klenow attempt to devise a “a summary statistic for the economic well-being” that goes beyond GDP. Economists have proposed alternative measures incorporating everything from “greenness” to “gross national happiness.” The Stanford economists make the latest contribution to the genre with their measure that “combines data on consumption, leisure, inequality, and mortality.”

They find that when you throw these other qualities into the mix, the economic well-being gap between the United States and other wealthy countries shrinks – but it doesn’t disappear completely. “Living standards in Western Europe are much closer to those in the United States than it would appear from GDP per capita,” Jones and Klenow conclude. “Longer lives with more leisure time and more equal consumption in Western Europe largely offset their lower average consumption vis a visthe United States.” So, even when you factor in our ridiculously long work weeks, the things we miss out on when we work long hours, and the myriad ways that overwork iskilling us, the United States is still No. 1! Which is irksome, I’m sure, to the millions of French workers who spend literally the entire month of August at the beach.

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Monsanto counts on the TPP and TTiP.

Is Monsanto Losing Its Grip? (WS)

Monsanto is not having a good year. The company recently slashed its 2016 earnings forecast from the $5.10-$5.60 per share it had forecast in December to $4.40-$5.10, claiming that about 25-30 cents of the reduction was due to the stronger dollar. But judging by recent trends, a strong dollar could soon be the least of its concerns. Across a number of key markets, the company is facing growing resistance, not only from farmers and consumers but also, amazingly, governments. In India, the world’s biggest cotton producer, the Ministry of Agriculture accuses Monsanto of price gouging. It even imposed a 70% cut in the royalties that the firm’s Indian subsidiary could charge farmers for their crop genes, prompting Monsanto to threaten that it would withdraw its biotech crop genes from the country. If Monsanto’s threat was a bluff, it’s just been called.

According to Mandava Prabhakara Rao, the president of the National Seed Association of India (NSAI), Monsanto’s threat came as a big relief: All these years, the company has restrained us from using technologies other than the one developed by it. It forced the seed firms to sign the licence agreements that barred them from using other technologies. India’s government also seems unconcerned by the prospect of Monsanto’s withdrawal.“It’s now up to Monsanto to decide whether they want to accept this rate or not,” said Minister of state for agriculture and food processing, Sanjeev Balyan. “We’re not scared if Monsanto leaves the country, because our team of scientists are working to develop (an) indigenous variety of (GM) seeds.” India’s pushback against Monsanto is part of a gathering global backlash against Monsanto and the GMO industry as a whole.

Even in the U.S., where GMOs are estimated to represent more than 90% of corn, soybean, and cotton acres, the trend is no longer Monsanto’s friend. Earlier this year the company filed a lawsuit against the state of California for its intent to label glyphosate, the main chemical used in Monsanto’s flagship Roundup herbicide, as a probable carcinogen, in accordance with the World Health Organization’s recent findings. There’s also growing pressure on major food outlets to stop using GMO ingredients. After the USDA’s 2015 approval of genetically modified apples and potatoes, companies including McDonald’s and Wendy’s claimed they didn’t plan to use them, saying they were happy with non-GMO suppliers. Even more importantly, the Orwellian-titled Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) act, aimed at prohibiting mandatory GMO labelling, was defeated in the Senate last week.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, Monsanto’s fourth biggest market after the U.S., Brazil, and Argentina, a moratorium remains in place on the granting of licenses for GMO seed manufacturers like Monsanto, Dow, and Du Pont. In the face of growing public and judicial opposition, Monsanto & Friends have pinned their hopes on the Peña Nieto government’s upcoming agrarian reform act. Manuel Bravo, Monsanto’s director for Latin America, recently told El País that he is confident that once the legal problems in the courts are “resolved,” the issue will become a central plank in the current administration’s agenda. “The Government has been very clear about the importance of these technologies,” he said. Across the Atlantic, Monsanto’s problems are somewhat more intractable. Already more than half of EU countries have moved to bar GMO cultivation, while a last-minute mutiny by four EU states (France, Sweden, Italy, and the Netherlands) recently forced the postponement of a vote in Brussels on re-licensing glyphosate.

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“This is a complicated, multi-sided war where our options are severely limited..”

Pentagon, CIA-Armed Militias Fight Each Other In Syria (LA Times)

Syrian militias armed by different parts of the U.S. war machine have begun to fight each other on the plains between the besieged city of Aleppo and the Turkish border, highlighting how little control U.S. intelligence officers and military planners have over the groups they have financed and trained in the bitter five-year-old civil war. The fighting has intensified over the last two months, as CIA-armed units and Pentagon-armed ones have repeatedly shot at each other while maneuvering through contested territory on the northern outskirts of Aleppo, U.S. officials and rebel leaders have confirmed. In mid-February, a CIA-armed militia called Fursan al Haq, or Knights of Righteousness, was run out of the town of Marea, about 20 miles north of Aleppo, by Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces moving in from Kurdish-controlled areas to the east.

“Any faction that attacks us, regardless from where it gets its support, we will fight it,” Maj. Fares Bayoush, a leader of Fursan al Haq, said in an interview. Rebel fighters described similar clashes in the town of Azaz, a key transit point for fighters and supplies between Aleppo and the Turkish border, and on March 3 in the Aleppo neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsud. The attacks by one U.S.-backed group against another come amid continued heavy fighting in Syria and illustrate the difficulty facing U.S. efforts to coordinate among dozens of armed groups that are trying to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad, fight the Islamic State militant group and battle one another all at the same time. “It is an enormous challenge,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who described the clashes between U.S.-supported groups as “a fairly new phenomenon.”

“It is part of the three-dimensional chess that is the Syrian battlefield,” he said. The area in northern Syria around Aleppo, the country’s second-largest city, features not only a war between the Assad government and its opponents, but also periodic battles against Islamic State militants, who control much of eastern Syria and also some territory to the northwest of the city, and long-standing tensions among the ethnic groups that inhabit the area, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. “This is a complicated, multi-sided war where our options are severely limited,” said a U.S. official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter. “We know we need a partner on the ground. We can’t defeat ISIL without that part of the equation, so we keep trying to forge those relationships.”

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More refugees.

Saudi Arabia Campaign Leaves 80% Of Yemen Population Needing Aid (G.)

It is difficult to view Saudi Arabia’s relentless war of attrition in Yemen as anything other than a destructive failure. The military intervention that began one year ago has killed an estimated 6,400 people, half of them civilians, injured 30,000 more and displaced 2.5 million, according to the UN. Eighty per cent of the population, about 20 million people, are now in need of some form of aid. The Saudis’ principal aim – to restore Yemen’s deposed president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi – has not been achieved. If they hoped to contain spreading Iranian regional influence, that has not worked, either. If the US-backed coalition’s campaign was intended to combat terrorism, that too has flopped. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), in particular, and Islamic State (Isis) have profited from the continuing anarchy.

The conflict pits Aden-based Hadi government forces and their Sunni Arab allies against Houthi Shia militias, backed by Tehran, who control the capital, Sana’a, and much of central and northern Yemen. Already one of the world’s poorest countries before fighting escalated last year, Yemen now faces widespread famine. Food shortages are being exacerbated by a growing bank and credit crisis, Oxfam warned this week. “The destruction of farms and markets, a de facto blockade on commercial imports, and a long-running fuel crisis have caused a drop in agricultural production, a scarcity of supplies and exorbitant food prices,” Oxfam said. Sajjad Mohamed Sajid, Oxfam’s country director, said: “A brutal conflict on top of an existing crisis … has created one of the biggest humanitarian emergencies in the world today – yet most people are unaware of it. Close to 14.4 million people are hungry and the majority will not be able to withstand the rising prices.”

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Inevitable. Refugee streams flow like water. Impossible to stop.

Smugglers Prepare New Human Trafficking Route To Italy (DW)

Trafficking gangs are arranging a new way to ship migrants from Turkey to the EU by sailing to Italy, a leading German newspaper reports. Demand for alternative routes has been rising for weeks, according to the article. The smugglers intended to start transporting refugees via the new Italian route in the first week of April, according to the Sunday edition of the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” newspaper. They would reportedly use small cargo vessels and fishing ships to ferry their customers from the seaside resort Antalya in Turkey, the Turkish city of Mersin near the Syrian border, and the Greek capital Athens. According to the paper, the price for such trip is between 3,000 and 5,000 euros ($3,400 -$5,600), which is much more expensive than traveling the usual route from Turkish shores to one of the Greek islands.

However, refugees face growing obstacles attempting to reach Western Europe through Greece, with several countries along the Balkan route closing their borders to migrants. Last week, the EU also forged an agreement with Ankara about shipping migrants back to Turkey, slowing the influx to a trickle. The traffickers responded to growing demand for alternative routes in recent weeks by preparing their new venture, according to the Sunday article. Some of the smugglers aimed to offer two trips per week, and at least one claimed he could fit 200 people on a boat. They also advised migrants to stay below deck until the vessels reached international waters. In addition to migrants in Turkey and Greece, hundreds of thousands of people were waiting to cross to Italy from Libya, EU officials said. The Italian interior ministry has registered almost 14,000 arrivals this year.

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“..In August [2015], we had 40-50 Moroccans, and in November, their number was over 7,000.”

EU Prepares For Massive Migration Flows From Libya (EurActiv)

EU leaders will discuss the critical situation in Libya and potential waves of immigrants trying to reach Europe on 18 April, EurActiv Greece has been informed. The discussion will take place following the regular Foreign Affairs Council meeting and ahead of Foreign Affairs Council Defence on 19 April, in Luxembourg. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said yesterday (24 March) that some 800,000 migrants are in Libya hoping to cross to Europe. Le Drian told Europe 1 radio that “hundreds of thousands” of migrants were in Libya, having fled conflict and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere, adding that the figure of 800,000 was “about right”. In an interview with EurActiv in December, Greece’s Alternate Foreign Minister for European Affairs, Nikos Xydakis, noted that new routes and new compositions [in migration flows] were found.

“The people who now come from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands are from the Maghreb. Let me give you an example. In August [2015], we had 40-50 Moroccans, and in November, their number was over 7,000.” “The route we have identified is the following: Moroccans and Algerians can travel without a visa from Maghreb countries, with a very cheap ticket with Turkish Airlines, directly to Constantinople [Istanbul], and then they easily reach the coast and go to the other side [Greece],” Xydakis said. But the presence of NATO in the Aegean Sea combined with a possible “isolation” in Greece due to the closed borders on the north might have discouraged migrants and re-directed the routes.

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Sep 022015
 
 September 2, 2015  Posted by at 2:56 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Russell Lee Migrant family in trailer home near Edinburg, Texas Feb 1939

A few days ago, I joked to Nicole that Paddypower should by now have a bet open on how much longer the Schengen open border treaty will be valid in Europe. Didn’t check if they actually had one, mind you.

But it can’t be long anymore, so it wouldn’t be a big money maker even if it existed. I give it a few days at most. Italy just announced it wants guards at Brennero, one of its main border posts with Austria. One down, a few hundred to go, and they may go at a rapid clip.

Europe’s countries are not each other’s enemies yet, but they will shut borders. Germany pulled a fast one yesterday by telling Hungary to stop the trains from rolling west, but now Budapest has a big problem. They should have just allowed the refugees to board the trains and leave. Put them on a train, give them food and drink and make them first Austria’s and then Germany’s problem.

And Germany’s a fine place for the refugees to go, since Berlin is sort of the de facto capital of the EU, at least when that seems a profitable position to be in, but it’s not the perfect place to go, because Merkel and her ilk will denounce their leadership claims whenever that looks more beneficial in the polls.

Merkel and Schäuble can screw over Greece three ways to Sunday, but they’re like this Bill Pesek headline on Bloomberg two weeks ago about the Chinese leadership that said something to the effect that they like the power but not the responsibility. That’s at least as true for Europe as it is for Beijing.

And that makes it hard to call any supposed leaders on any of their responsibilities. It’s also why thousands of refugees have drowned and not one of the ‘leaders’ have lifted a finger. They’re there for the power, not the other stuff.

And that, as I’ve said a hundred times before, is embedded in the EU model, in its design, its regulations, its laws, the whole shebang. When I read that Yanis Varoufakis wants a pan-European anti-austerity movement, I’m thinking he doesn’t understand how it’s set up. The whole bureaucracy was made to resist change, democracy, and any challenges to its ‘belief’ system.

It’s no use saying the EU should do something or another in the refugee crisis, because it won’t. And what it may do will always be way too late and way too little. It’s how it was structured. The EU is geared towards accumulating more power, not solving its own problems.

But at the same time, Brussels is still the only capital the EU has. And that’s why all refugees, wherever they are at the moment, Hungary, Greece, Italy, Serbia, Macedonia, should be allowed to board trains, with enough humane facilities and provisions, bound for Brussels.

They should all be directed towards the European Parliament and/or other posh buildings – they recently opened a €1.2 billion one, that should facilitate a few refugees -, and stay there until the EU is forced to solve the issue.

And every single cameraman on the planet should be there to register what happens. How long they will be allowed to go without food, water and shelter. How long they will go without proper medical treatment.

Let’s see how Brussels deals with 50,000 -100,000 people in its streets and parks, with more coming every day, while the whole world is watching live on a hundred news channels.

And I know Strasbourg will want to dispute the claim that Brussels is the capital, and you know what?, I’m willing to send half of the refugees there too. Just so the French don’t feel left out or insultée or have their pride hurt.

And something tells me that the citizens of Belgium and France, like their Greek peers, will have the decency to feed and shelter the Syrian and Libyan mothers and children on their doorsteps while the ivory towers diddle.

It looks to me to be the only way to expose the EU for what it is, and then put an end to the macabre monstrosity it has become.

We would need to convince the refugees that by doing things this way, they would open the way for those who come after them, of which there will undoubtedly be many.

The Italian, Hungarian, Greek etc. governments should issue rail tickets from their countries to Brussels and tell the refugees that that’s where the European capital is, and to apply there for visas, asylum, and everything else.

Brussels lives by the adage of divide and rule. And that serves only the bureaucrats that inhabit the institution. Not the refugees, and not the people of Europe.