Dec 232018
 
 December 23, 2018  Posted by at 10:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Caravaggio Adoration of the Shepherds 1609

 

Krakatau-Triggered Tsunami Kills At Least 168 In Indonesia (R.)
David Collum’s 2018 Year In Review: “The Year Everything Changed”
Corbyn Faces Furious Labour Backlash Over Backing Brexit (G.)
UK To Tackle Loneliness Crisis With £11.5m Cash Injection (G.)
If Truth Cannot Prevail Over Material Agendas We Are Doomed (PCR)
Mnuchin Refutes Report That Trump Wants Powell Fired (MW)
Trump’s Political Viagra (Jatras)
We Know How Trump’s War Game Ends (Taibbi)
Send the Mad Dog to the Corporate Kennel (McGovern)
Is China Getting Too Close To Israel? (ATimes)

 

 

Krakatau in 1883 is the stuff of legend. It affected climate all over the world.

“When the Krakatoa volcano in Indonesia erupted in 1883, the resulting debris caused vibrant red sunsets around the world for up to three years afterward.”

It also killed 30,000+. But it was still much weaker than Tambora in 1811, also Indonesia, which killed over 70,000.

Krakatau-Triggered Tsunami Kills At Least 168 In Indonesia (R.)

A tsunami killed at least 168 people and injured hundreds on the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra following an underwater landslide believed caused by the erupting Anak Krakatau volcano, officials and media said on Sunday. Hundreds of homes and other buildings were “heavily damaged” when the tsunami struck along the rim of the Sunda Strait late on Saturday, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the disaster mitigation agency, said. Thousands of residents were forced to evacuate to higher ground. There was no estimate on the number of missing. TV images showed the seconds when the tsunami hit the beach and residential areas in Pandeglang on Java island, dragging with it victims, debris, and large chunks of wood and metal.

The eruption of Krakatau in 1883 killed more than 36,000 people in a series of tsunamis. Anak Krakatau is the island that emerged from the area once occupied by Krakatau, which was destroyed in 1883. It first appeared in 1927 and has been growing ever since. Saturday’s tsunami was the latest in a series of tragedies that have struck Indonesia, a vast archipelago, this year. Successive earthquakes flattened parts of the tourist island of Lombok, and a double quake-and-tsunami killed thousands on Sulawesi island. Nearly 200 people died when a Lion Air passenger plane crashed into the Java Sea in October.

Authorities warned residents and tourists in coastal areas around the Sunda Strait to stay away from beaches and a high-tide warning remained in place through till Dec. 25. “Those who have evacuated, please do not return yet,” said Rahmat Triyono, an official at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG). President Joko Widodo, who is running for re-election in April, said on Twitter that he had “ordered all relevant government agencies to immediately take emergency response steps, find victims and care for the injured”.

Read more …

Dave Collum still produces his endless end of the year reviews, and he’s still a good friend and avid reader of the Automatic Earth. Even though Twitter sort of shadow banned him from my feed.

David Collum’s 2018 Year In Review: “The Year Everything Changed”

Sources I sit in front of a computer 16 hours a day gerrymandering my brain, at least three of which are dedicated to non-chemistry pursuits. I’m a huge fan of Adam Taggart and Chris Martenson (Peak Prosperity), Tony Greer (TG Macro), Doug Noland (Credit Bubble Bulletin), The Automatic Earth, Grant Williams (Real Vision and Things That Make You Go Hmmm), Raoul Pal (Real Vision), Bill Fleckenstein (Fleckenstein Capital), Mike Krieger (Liberty Blitzkrieg), Demetri Kofinas (Hidden Forces), James Grant (Grant’s Interest Rate Observer), Campus Reform, and any nonsense spewed by Twitter legend @RudyHavenstein.

There are so many others, many of whom I consider friends that I am simply waiting to meet. ZeroHedge is by far my preferred consolidator of news; it’s an acquired taste and requires a filter, but I think those rogues are great. Twitter is a window to the world if managed correctly—especially for a chemist attempting to connect with the finance world. Warning: the Holy Grail of maximizing follower counts is an illusion; it produces a counterproductive hyperconnectivity that makes extracting signal from noise difficult. So much flow, so little time.

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The half of British who don’t want Brexit have no-one to speak for them. That is a volatile situation. And potentially explosive.

Corbyn Faces Furious Labour Backlash Over Backing Brexit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn is facing a storm of criticism from Labour activists and MPs after suggesting he would press ahead with Brexit if the party won a snap general election. In a sign that he is losing backing among overwhelmingly pro-Remain Labour supporters, Corbyn was also accused of betraying the party membership by appearing reluctant to back the idea of supporting Remain in a second referendum. The first signs of a serious internal revolt from party members on the left, who helped propel him to the leadership, came after Corbyn gave an interview to the Guardian in which he suggested he thought Brexit should go ahead and said EU state-aid rules would prevent a Labour government intervening to support UK industries.

His anti-EU tone drew immediate criticism from party supporters and members who had successfully persuaded the leadership to back the possibility of a second referendum at Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool in September. Richard Brooks, a Labour member, activist and co-founder of For our Future’s Sake (FFS), a pro-Remain youth and student-led organisation, said Corbyn risked losing the backing of young people as well as the mass Labour membership he had promised to empower. “Jeremy Corbyn is in danger of betraying and losing the support of millions of young people and students who very nearly propelled him to Downing Street last year, and whose support he needs if he is to ever to become prime minister.

“Students and young people will not forget or forgive politicians who sell them down the river by backing a Brexit that limits our life opportunities and makes us poorer,” he said.

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Because there’s nothing that cannot be bought.

UK To Tackle Loneliness Crisis With £11.5m Cash Injection (G.)

A coffee caravan in rural Suffolk, furniture restoration projects for men and organised rambles for the recently bereaved are among more than a hundred initiatives being backed with a £11.5m fund to tackle Britain’s epidemic of loneliness. One hundred and twenty-six projects have been chosen to receive up to £100,000 each in the first ever government-backed fund to tackle a problem that the prime minister, Theresa May, described as “incredibly damaging to our humanity” when she launched a national loneliness strategy in October. The projects will target a wide range of groups from isolated Pakistani women in Bradford to young LGBTQ+ in Bristol and lonely elderly men in Cornwall.

The government believes the health impact of loneliness is on a par with obesity and smoking. It says loneliness is associated with a greater risk of smoking, coronary heart disease and stroke as well as an increased risk of depression, low self-esteem, sleep problems and Alzheimer’s disease. Mims Davies, the minister for loneliness, said: “I am committed to encouraging open conversations around this sensitive topic to reduce the stigma and create an environment where everyone is better connected.”

Rural Coffee Caravan in Suffolk will buy a new camper van that will travel to quiet villages in the East Anglian countryside and set up temporary cafes. It is also using the money to extend an initiative that involves pubs giving out free coffee on Monday mornings. “Loneliness is just so damaging,” said Ann Osborn, its director. “Lonely people are more likely to have problems with obesity, have heart disease and suffer from depression. But also they cut themselves off and so the community suffers.

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Well, truth is gone from the media already…

If Truth Cannot Prevail Over Material Agendas We Are Doomed (PCR)

Throughout the long Cold War Stephen Cohen, professor of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University was a voice of reason. He refused to allow his patriotism to blind him to Washington’s contribution to the confict and to criticize only the Soviet contribution. Cohen’s interest was not to blame the enemy but to work toward a mutual understanding that would remove the threat of nuclear war. Although a Democrat and left-leaning, Cohen would have been at home in the Reagan administration, as Reagan’s first priority was to end the Cold War. I know this because I was part of the effort. Pat Buchanan will tell you the same thing.

[..] Today Cohen is stressed that it is the United States that thinks it can win a nuclear war. Washington speaks openly of using “low yield” nuclear weapons, and intentionally forecloses any peace negotiations with Russia with a propaganda campaign against Russia of demonization, villification, and transparant lies, while installing missile bases on Russia’s borders and while talking of incorporating former parts of Russia into NATO. In his just published book, War With Russia?, which I highly recommend, Cohen makes a convincing case that Washington is asking for war.

I agree with Cohen that if Russia is a threat it is only because the US is threatening Russia. The stupidity of the policy toward Russia is creating a Russian threat. Putin keeps emphasizing this. To paraphrase Putin: “You are making Russia a threat by declaring us to be one, by discarding facts and substituting orchestrated opinions that your propagandistic media establish as fact via endless repetition.” Cohen is correct that during the Cold War every US president worked to defuse tensions, especially Republican ones. Since the Clinton regime every US president has worked to create tensions. What explains this dangerous change in approach?

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One little rumor can last an entire Christmas season.

Mnuchin Refutes Report That Trump Wants Powell Fired (MW)

President Donald Trump, reportedly angry over the U.S. central bank’s decision to raise interest rates last week, has talked about ousting Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, according to Bloomberg News. The report, based on “four people familiar with the matter,” said they were not convinced Trump would move against Powell, but that the president’s ire remained elevated over rising interest rates. Rates are climbing at the same time that the stock market has wiped out 2018 gains. In a Saturday evening tweet, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he has spoken with the president and Trump said, “I totally disagree with Fed policy. I think the increasing of interest rates and the shrinking of the Fed portfolio is an absolute terrible thing to do at this time especially in light of my major trade negotiations which are ongoing, but I never suggested firing Chairman Jay Powell, nor do I believe I have the right to do so.”

On Friday, Trump’s economic team split publicly over the Fed. Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro told a Japanese newspaper that “we” — presumably meaning the White House — didn’t want to see any more interest-rate hikes from the central bank. The Fed has penciled in two rate hikes for 2019. Navarro said that would be “two too many.” “We don’t understand why the Fed is acting so contractionary at a time when there’s no inflation to worry about,” he said. White House chief economist Kevin Hassett said he disagreed with Navarro. “That’s Peter speaking for himself,” Hassett insisted. “I think the appropriate position for an economist in the White House is to respect the independence of the Fed and not comment on their policies,” Hassett said.

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Is Trump finally getting the chutzpah to implement his promises?

Trump’s Political Viagra (Jatras)

After two years of getting rolled by the Washington establishment, it seems that President Donald Trump woke up and suddenly realized, “Hey – I’m the president! I have the legal authority to do stuff!” • He has announced his order to withdraw US troops from Syria. • His Defense Secretary James Mattis has resigned. There are rumors National Security Adviser John Bolton may go too. (Please take Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with you!) • He announced a start to withdrawing from Afghanistan. • He now says he will veto a government funding bill unless he gets $5 billion for his Wall, and as of 12:01 AM Washington time December 22 the federal government is officially under partial shutdown.

All of this should be taken with a big grain of salt. While this week’s assertiveness perhaps provides further proof that Trump’s impulses are right, it doesn’t mean he can implement them. The Syria withdrawal will be difficult. The entire establishment, including the otherwise pro-Trump talking heads on Fox News, are dead set against him – except for Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. Senator Lindsey Graham is demanding hearings on how to block the Syria pullout. Congress hardly ever quibbles with a president’s putting troops into a country, where the Legislative Branch has legitimate Constitutional power. But if a president under his absolute command authority wants to pull them out – even someplace where they’re deployed illegally, as in Syria – well hold on just a minute!

We are being told our getting out of Syria and Afghanistan will be a huge “gift” to Russia and Iran. Worse, it is being compared to Barack Obama’s “premature” withdrawal from Iraq (falsely pointed to as the cause of the rise of ISIS) and will set the stage for “chaos.” By that standard, we can never leave anywhere. This will be a critical time for the Trump presidency. (And if God is really on his side, he soon might get another Supreme Court pick.) If he can get the machinery of the Executive Branch to implement his decision to withdraw from Syria, and if he can pick a replacement to General Mattis who actually agrees with Trump’s views, we might start getting the America First policy Trump ran on in 2016.

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Wait, we do? Matt sounds a bit confused here.

We Know How Trump’s War Game Ends (Taibbi)

So we’re withdrawing troops from the Middle East. GOOD! What’s the War on Terror death count by now, a half-million? How much have we spent, $5 trillion? Five-and-a-half? For that cost, we’ve destabilized the region to the point of abject chaos, inspired millions of Muslims to hate us, and torn up the Geneva Convention and half the Constitution in pursuit of policies like torture, kidnapping, assassination-by-robot and warrantless detention. It will be difficult for each of us to even begin to part with our share of honor in those achievements. This must be why all those talking heads on TV are going crazy.

Unless Donald Trump decides to reverse his decision to begin withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan, cable news for the next few weeks is going to be one long Scanners marathon of exploding heads. “Today’s decision would cheer Moscow, ISIS, and Iran!” yelped Nicole Wallace, former George W. Bush communications director. “Maybe Trump will bring Republicans and Democrats together,” said Bill Kristol, on MSNBC, that “liberal” channel that somehow seems to be populated round the clock by ex-neocons and Pentagon dropouts. Kristol, who has rarely ever been in the ballpark of right about anything — he once told us Iraq was going to be a “two month war” — might actually be correct.

Trump’s decisions on Syria and Afghanistan will lay bare the real distinctions in American politics. Political power in this country is not divided between right and left, and not even between rich and poor. The real line is between a war party, and everyone else. This is why Kristol is probably right. The Democrats’ plan until now was probably to impeach Trump in the House using at minimum some material from the Michael Cohen case involving campaign-finance violations.

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“Like all members of the military profession I never had an original thought until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation..”

Send the Mad Dog to the Corporate Kennel (McGovern)

Outgoing Defense Secretary Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis was famous for quipping, “It’s fun to shoot some people.” It remains a supreme irony that Mattis was widely considered the only “adult in the room” in the Trump administration. Compared to whom? John Bolton, the rabid neocon serving as national security adviser? That would be the epitome of “condemning with faint praise.” [..] Mattis was simply incapable of acknowledging the self-destructive, mindless nature of U.S. “endless war” in the Middle East, which candidate-Trump had correctly called “stupid.” In his resignation letter, Mattis also peddled the usual cant about the indispensable nation’s aggression being good for the world.

Mattis was an obstacle to Trump’s desire to pull troops out of Syria and Afghanistan (and remains in position to spike Trump’s orders). Granted, the abrupt way Trump announced his apparently one-man decision was equally stupid. But withdrawal of ground troops is supremely sane, and Mattis was and is a large problem. And, for good or ill, Trump — not Mattis — was elected president. Historically, Marines are the last place to turn for sound advice. Marine Gen. Smedley Butler (1881-1940), twice winner of the Medal of Honor, was brutally candid about this, after he paused long enough to realize, and write, “War is a Racket”: “I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all members of the military profession I never had an original thought until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of the higher- ups. …”

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Next up are ports in Chesapeake Bay?

Is China Getting Too Close To Israel? (ATimes)

China is constructing seaports at two sites where the US 6th Fleet deploys, in Haifa next to Israel’s main naval base and Ashdod near Tel Aviv, prompting concerns about China’s military potential in the Mediterranean Sea and Middle East. “The civilian [Chinese] port in Haifa abuts the exit route from the adjacent [Israeli] navy base, where the Israeli submarine fleet is stationed and which, according to foreign media reports, maintains a second-strike capability to launch nuclear missiles,” Israel’s Haaretz media reported. “No one in Israel thought about the strategic ramifications,” Haaretz said in September. The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke visited Haifa on October 25 in support of the 6th Fleet which is headquartered in Naples, Italy.

Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) signed the Haifa contract in 2015, began construction in June, and is to operate the Bayport Terminal for 25 years starting from 2021. SIPG signed memorandums of understanding with U.S. ports in Seattle, Washington in 2006 and Georgia Ports Authority in 2004, plus Barcelona, Spain, in 2006. SIPG also works with European ports in Rotterdam, Hamburg and London, and two ports in Japan, its website said. China Harbor Engineering, one of China’s biggest government-owned enterprises, is meanwhile constructing a port at Ashdod, 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Tel Aviv.

“At $3 billion, this is one of the biggest overseas investment projects in Israel, ever, and also one of the biggest for the Chinese company, China Harbor Engineering,” wrote Arthur Herman, senior fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute think tank in November. “Ashdod on the Mediterranean coast is the destination of fully 90 percent of Israel’s international maritime traffic,” Herman said.

Read more …

Mar 212017
 
 March 21, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Fred Stein Streetcrossing, Paris 1935

 

To Make America Great Again, Trump Will Have To Make the Dollar Weak Again (MW)
The Fed Gave Trump Just Enough Rope To Hang Himself With – Deutsche (ZH)
S&P 500 Companies Blow $1.7 Trillion On Making Earnings Look Less Bad (WS)
US “Too Big To Fail” Banks Top $1 Trillion – What Happens Next? (ZH)
Australia’s Central Bank Warns Of Growing Risks In Housing, Debt (CNBC)
Australia Bank Regulators To Unleash New Crackdown On Lenders (AFR)
Toronto Home Prices May Jump 25% This Year – TD (BBG)
Canada Real Estate: This Is Going To Blow Sky High (Bergin)
British Banks Handled Vast Sums Of Laundered Russian Money (G.)
What Central Banks Get Wrong About Economic Equilibrium (BBG)
Full Speed Ahead for Murphy’s Law (Jim Kunstler)
Earth Is A Planet In Upheaval Breaking Into ‘Uncharted Territory’ (G.)
Three-Quarters Of Older People In The UK Are Lonely (G.)
Greek Public Hospitals Stretched Further As Access Granted To Uninsured (K.)
Sharp Increase In Refugees Reaching Aegean Islands From Turkey (K.)

 

 

Currency manipulation?

To Make America Great Again, Trump Will Have To Make the Dollar Weak Again (MW)

If Donald Trump really wants to Make America Great Again, he’s going to have to Make the Dollar Weak Again first. So argued hedge fund manager Mathew Klody of MCN Capital Management at this week’s Grant’s investment conference in New York. He made an intriguing case. If Klody’s right, Trump may just be blowing smoke when he talks about tariffs and border-adjustment taxes. And, most importantly, if Klody is right, we should also buy foreign currencies, especially those issued by emerging markets. Sooner or later, the president will need to drive down the dollar, and for those based in the U.S. that will drive up foreign currencies. Mexican pesos, anyone? This is not far-fetched. Research Affiliates, the smart investment advisers in Newport Beach, Calif., argue that emerging market currencies are among the most attractive asset classes available to investors.

They’re expecting those currencies to produce returns in U.S. dollars of inflation plus about 3.5% a year over the next decade, with far less volatility than stocks. Incidentally, if Klody’s analysis is right, Trump should also, logically, be good for gold. The collapse of American manufacturing towns, and the old industrial middle class, has gone hand in hand with a staggering 40-year rise in the dollar, Klody observed. It is standard economics that as your currency rises, your exports become more expensive and less competitive in foreign markets. Meanwhile, the reverse happens at home: Imports from overseas get cheaper and cheaper compared with domestic production. Klody noted that since the mid-1970s, the U.S. dollar has quadrupled in price — yes, really — when measured against the Federal Reserve’s broad basket of foreign currencies.

It may be mere coincidence that during that same period, imports have surged, and the U.S. has lost its global dominance in many areas of manufacturing. MCN Capital’s Klody notes that during the period that the dollar soared, workers’ share of domestic income has plummeted.From the 1940s through the early 1970s, the working man and woman got a pretty consistent 50% of national domestic income.Since the mid-1970s, it’s collapsed to around 43%. And, yes, that’s happened under most political regimes (the Clinton-Gingrich-dot-com years in the 1990s being an exception).That, of course, is a big reason why Trump won. Klody himself came from a small town in Pennsylvania that used to be a classic American industrial boomtown. And now, according to the town’s mayor, it looks like a deserted bomb site.

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Tyler: “The above, simply summarized: the Fed has given Trump just enough rope to hang himself with; and since all that matters now is how effective the President will be in passing his political agenda – which is not looking good- should Trump fails, the one of two possible outcomes that is most likely is the one where the “curve bear flattens or inverts”, prompting the next, long overdue, recession. “

The Fed Gave Trump Just Enough Rope To Hang Himself With – Deutsche (ZH)

Aleksandar Kocic: “The subtext of the last week’s Fed “package” is a compromise motivated by a desire to extend the comfort zone and to hedge their position against possible fiscal irresponsibility, while, at the same time, not stand in the way to any possible fiscal stimulus (or its absence) by hiking too aggressively…. Depending on the interplay between degree of political resolve and the Fed actions we could see two distinct paths of resolution of the existing tensions in the mid- or long-run. Last week, the Fed delivered what appears as a dovish hike, in all likelihood to be followed with two hikes more in 2017 and three in 2018. Such a choice of the Fed action was a compromise driven by the developments in the labor market and the key events in Europe, on one side, combined with the risk associated with the approval of the fiscal stimulus, on the other.

The subtext of this compromise can be interpreted as being motivated by the Fed’s desire to extend the comfort zone and to hedge their position against possible fiscal irresponsibility, while, at the same time, not stand in the way to any possible fiscal stimulus by hiking too aggressively. Despite all the efforts not to create more uncertainty, this is likely to create at least mild ambiguity regarding the long-run. A Fed which is not in a standby position waiting for the fiscal package to arrive and kick in is going to be supportive for USD and higher real rates. The March FOMC “package” (in terms of rate hike, dots, rhetoric and Q&E) implies effectively a real rate rise and is most likely bearish for breakevens, which could diminish the effect of the border tax on the trade deficit and, as such, reduce the impact on growth potential.

In addition, having higher real rates increases the costs of borrowing and possibly creates political resistance against deficit expansions and structural steepening of the curve. On top of that, given what we saw in the last weeks, this suggests that the political process around the budget plan and the Legislative package already expected by the market is going to be anything but smooth, which is adding further doubts about its success and timing. Depending on the interplay of politics and policy – degree of political resolve and the Fed actions – we could see two distinct paths of resolution of the existing tensions in the mid- or long-run.

On one hand, it appears that the Fed is removing uncertainty around the terminal rate, while on the other, politics is creating a binary outcomes which could have a dramatically different effect on long rates. In that context, we are facing a future with bifurcating back end of the curve. Either political bottlenecks clear and the stimulus gets approved and goes full force leading to higher growth potential with subsequent rise in price levels and structural steepening of the curve, or political tensions effectively sabotage either its arrival or content (or both), and the curve initially bear flattens or even twists with rate shorts capitulation accelerating the rally of the back end.”

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Find a -nearly- deserted island to live on.

S&P 500 Companies Blow $1.7 Trillion On Making Earnings Look Less Bad (WS)

The S&P 500 index, closing today at 2,373, hovers near its all-time high. Total market capitalization of the 500 companies in the index exceeds $20 trillion, or 106% of US GDP. In the three-plus years since the end of January 2014, the index has soared 33%. And yet, over these three-plus years, even with financial engineering driven to the utmost state of perfection, including $1.7 trillion in share buybacks and despite “ex-bad-items” accounting schemes that are giving even the SEC goosebumps – despite all these efforts, the crucial and beautifully doctored “adjusted” earnings-per-share, perhaps the single most manipulated metric out there, has gone nowhere. “Adjusted” earnings per share are back where they’d been at the end of January 2014. It’s a sad sign when not even financial engineering can conjure up the appearance of earnings growth.

Companies report earnings in two ways: 1) All companies report as required under GAAP (our slightly inconvenient Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). These earnings are often a loss or way too small and shrinking, instead of growing, and hence not very palatable. 2) So most companies also report pro-forma, ex-bad-items, “adjusted” earnings, based on the companies’ own notions of what matters. Analysts and the media hype that metric. This is just a method of reporting the same results in a more glamorous manner. Then there’s financial engineering. Companies borrowed heavily over the past few years and used those funds to purchase their own shares. This hollowed out equity and left companies with piles of debt.

Over the past three years, companies blew $1.7 trillion on share buybacks. This money was not invested in productive activities that would have expanded the company and the economy, and generated cash flow to service this debt. All it did was reduce the number of shares outstanding. This has the effect of increasing earnings per share (EPS) though the company didn’t actually make more money. Add this system of share buybacks to the system of “adjusting” earnings per share via reporting schemes, and the result should be a miracle of soaring “adjusted” EPS. But no.

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“..surged 30% since Donald Trump was elected president..”

US “Too Big To Fail” Banks Top $1 Trillion – What Happens Next? (ZH)

For the first time ever, the market cap of America’s “Big Four” banks topped $1 trillion having surged 30% since Donald Trump was elected president. While to some this is cause for celebration, we note that the last time a nation’s “big four” banks topped $1 trillion in market cap did not end well… As Bloomberg notes, the four biggest U.S. banks were worth the most on record versus China’s “Big Four” this month, as JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup were worth over $250 billion more than Industrial & Commercial Bank, China Construction Bank, Bank of China, and Agricultural Bank of China combined. The four Chinese banks, the world’s most profitable, were worth about the same as the U.S. foursome as recently as June. However, as the chart shows, while the American quartet’s combined market value closed above $1 trillion for the first time last month, China achieved that goals in June 2015… and it did not end well.

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Too late now.

Australia’s Central Bank Warns Of Growing Risks In Housing, Debt (CNBC)

Australia’s central bank saw growing risks in the nation’s hot housing market when it left rates steady earlier this month, underlining the case against further easing in policy. Minutes of its March meeting showed the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) was generally optimistic about the economy as it transitioned away from a decade long boom in mining investment. However, board members felt there had been a “build-up of risks” in the housing market as borrowing for investment fueled brisk price rises in Sydney and Melbourne. Home prices accelerated at an annual pace of 11.7% in February, with Sydney running red-hot at 18.4%, data from property consultant CoreLogic showed. Governor Philip Lowe has repeatedly argued that cutting rates further could encourage a renewed borrowing binge by households who are already heavily indebted, outweighing any economic benefits.

With wages growing at record lows, debt was outpacing incomes and threatening to weigh on consumer spending. Data out recently showed retail sales grew at a tepid pace for a third straight month while the outlook for capital expenditure remained uninspiring. The RBA noted tighter supervision had contributed to “some” strengthening in lending standard by the banks, which has also been raising rates on some mortgage products recently. Analysts suspect even stricter standards are likely to be imposed by regulators in coming weeks. Housing affordability, or the lack of it, has become a hot-button issue for the conservative government of Malcolm Turnbull which has promised measures to ease the problem in its May budget. The RBA’s angst over housing has convinced financial markets there will be no more cuts in interest rates, already at all time lows of 1.5%.

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They’re too scared too crack down on anything. Housing can bring down the entire Oz economy by now.

“I don’t use the B-word. I refuse to use the B-word..”

Australia Bank Regulators To Unleash New Crackdown On Lenders (AFR)

Regulators are preparing to impose a fresh wave of constraints on the banks to slow investor lending growth, crack down on interest-only loans, and force buyers to stump up more equity on purchases as they scramble to manage a rampant property boom. Warning that financial and economic risks have grown in recent months, particularly across east coast property markets, the nation’s top financial regulators and Treasurer Scott Morrison unleashed co-ordinated calls for fresh restraint from banks. “Watch this space,” declared Australian Prudential Regulation Authority chairman Wayne Byres on Monday, speaking just hours after Mr Morrison urged APRA and the Australian Securities and Investments commission to use “the levers that they have”. Leaping house price growth over recent months in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as a tsunami of new apartment stock due to hit the market in coming months are creating a wall of uncertainty over the financial stability of the housing market.

That’s being exacerbated by concerns over heavily indebted households’ ability to withstand a rising global interest rate environment at a time of record-low wages growth. In a sign of growing tensions between members of the Council of Financial Regulators – which includes APRA, ASIC, Treasury and chaired by the Reserve Bank – Mr Byres pointedly refused to describe the property market as being in a “bubble”, saying use of the term was “superficial” and “binary”. “I don’t use the B-word. I refuse to use the B-word,” Mr Byres said. “We are in it – we are not in it. If we are in it we’re all going to be ruined – if we are not in it we’re going to be right. It’s too simplistic.” By contrast, Greg Medcraft, ASIC’s chairman, bluntly repeated his view that the market was in a bubble. “I have been saying for a while that I thought it was a bubble and other people are catching up now. “Clearly the issue is if you raise interest rates that’s a big tool but then you affect the whole economy.”

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Hike rates into this.

Toronto Home Prices May Jump 25% This Year – TD (BBG)

Toronto’s housing market is likely to stay strong for the rest of the year, with home prices jumping as much as 25%, amid hints that speculators are fueling demand and posing a potential risk to the economy, TD Economics Chief Economist Beata Caranci said. A “strong Toronto home-price forecast is not a vote of confidence in market fundamentals,” Caranci wrote Monday in a note to clients. “It’s getting harder to ignore warning signs that market demand pressures are increasingly reflecting speculative forces.” Residential prices in Canada’s largest metropolitan region are forecast to grow 20 to 25% this year, up from a previous estimate of 10 to 15%, according to the report by TD Economics, part of Toronto-Dominion Bank.

Toronto-area prices have climbed 19% in the past 12 months, the fastest clip since the 1980s, when a frenzied housing market resulted in year-over-year increases of 55%, Caranci said. “Evidence is building that speculative forces are growing deeper roots, which raises the risk that prices will move closer to the top end of that forecast in the absence of policy measures,” Caranci wrote. As for next year, higher mortgage rates and fewer affordable properties will likely cut the growth rate to 3 to 5%, though a lack of clarity on housing speculation makes predictions difficult, Caranci said. A housing market driven by speculators seeking a quick profit boosts the risk of rapidly unwinding price gains at the same time homebuyers are contending with larger debt burdens, she said.

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Seen this movie so many times before.

Canada Real Estate: This Is Going To Blow Sky High (Bergin)

Originally, I thought this would be a bit of a joke. There were billboards in all the Toronto subway cars advertising the Canadian Real Estate Wealth Expo – learn how to become a millionaire. I thought this was so ridiculous, it may be fun. What better way to experience the top of the housing market than watching Tony Robbins and Pitbull along with a bunch of US real estate professionals explain how Toronto real estate is the path to riches. Prices were originally $150 per ticket, but I was able to buy for $50. While it deeply bothers me that I paid $50 to these shameless (amoral) self-promoters, I thought it would be worth it to witness, in person, the top of the housing market. I had thought, there can’t be that many people stupid enough to attend this, but I was very wrong – 15,000 people were there! I was blown away. Bubbles are largely psychological. This crowd was tangible proof of that.

15k people in one spot listening to Americans explain why real estate in Toronto is an exceptional investment. The whole experience was horrifying. The crowd was very well-dressed, middle- to upper-middle class (from appearances), and super excited to hear how much money could be made if you just buy real estate (most of them clearly already owned). The first real segment of the expo was a panel of Canadian developers and real estate agents giving their views on the market. It actually started off a touch bearish, which surprised me. Two of the panelists were saying that prices are exceptionally high and no market goes up forever. With that slight bit of caution thrown out there, it became a real estate FOMO-building talk.

There are, apparently, two very important things to know when dealing with real estate. First, you have to face your fear; this fear is to be ignored and then you should ‘just do it’ and ‘buy now’. The next step is find what you can afford and then buy it. Ignore all ‘non-doers’, don’t overanalyze or focus on the numbers, just fucking buy. To allay fears the speakers are actually quite clever as they shift between a long to short term focus when it suits. For example, now is a great time to buy because short-term the market is on fire. If, however, markets cool then you just hold because it always goes up long-term – and you are a savvy long-term buyer, aren’t you? By showing no scenario where you can lose I can see how this pitch works on the susceptible.

The second important factor in real estate is financing. Not everyone has money, so what can they do? The answers were shocking. Be ‘creative’ was the first response. Pool your money, borrow from friends and family, own just 5% of a house, get the money however you can and just do it – remember, it only goes up. Other financing suggestions were get cozy with a lender and they will ‘bend the rules’ for you! The fact that the biggest condo developer in Canada (Brad Lamb) said lenders will bend (but not break, apparently) rules to get you financing in front of 15k people with most people smiling and nodding was shocking. So there you go – when it comes to Toronto real estate, just do it (using borrowed money any way you can get it).

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Well, actually, it’s HSBC again. And a few minor conspirators.

British Banks Handled Vast Sums Of Laundered Russian Money (G.)

Britain’s high street banks processed nearly $740m from a vast money-laundering operation run by Russian criminals with links to the Russian government and the KGB, the Guardian can reveal. HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, Barclays and Coutts are among 17 banks based in the UK, or with branches here, that are facing questions over what they knew about the international scheme and why they did not turn away suspicious money transfers. Documents seen by the Guardian show that at least $20bn appears to have been moved out of Russia during a four-year period between 2010 and 2014. The true figure could be $80bn, detectives believe. One senior figure involved in the inquiry said the money from Russia was “obviously either stolen or with criminal origin”.

Investigators are still trying to identify some of the wealthy and politically influential Russians behind the operation, known as “the Global Laundromat”. They estimate a group of about 500 people were involved. These include oligarchs, Moscow bankers, and figures working for or connected to the FSB, the successor spy agency to the KGB. Igor Putin, the cousin of Russia’s president, Vladimir, sat on the board of a Moscow bank which held accounts involved in the fraud. British-registered companies played a prominent role in this extensive money-laundering network. The real owners of most of the firms used in the scheme remain secret, however, because of the anonymity provided by controversial offshore laws.

The Global Laundromat banking records were obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Novaya Gazeta from sources who wish to remain anonymous. OCCRP shared the data with the Guardian and media partners in 32 countries. The documents include details of about 70,000 banking transactions, including 1,920 that went through UK banks and 373 via US banks.

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More of this interview with Steve in a few days, hopefully.

What Central Banks Get Wrong About Economic Equilibrium (BBG)

In today’s “Morning Must Read,” Bloomberg’s Tom Keene highlights comments on economic equilibrium models. He speaks with Kingston University Economics Professor Steve Keen on “Bloomberg Surveillance.”

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“What can go wrong awaits in markets, banks, currencies, and the immense dark pools of counterparty obligations that amount to black holes where notions of value are sucked out of the universe.”

Full Speed Ahead for Murphy’s Law (Jim Kunstler)

In the 1950s, finance made up about 5% of the economy. It’s mission then was pretty simple and straightforward: to manage the accumulated wealth of the nation (capital) and then allocate it to those who proposed to generate greater wealth via new productive activities, mostly industrial, ad infinitum. It turned out that ad infinitum doesn’t work in a world of finite resources — but the ride had been so intoxicating that we couldn’t bring ourselves to believe it, and still can’t. With industry expiring, or moving elsewhere (also temporarily), we inflated finance to nearly 40% of the economy. The new financialization was, in effect, setting a matrix of rackets in motion.

What had worked as capital management before was allowed to mutate into various forms of swindling and fraud — such as the bundling of dishonestly acquired mortgages into giant bonds and then selling them to pension funds desperate for “yield,” or the orgy of merger and acquisition in health care that turned hospitals into cash registers, or the revenue streams on derivative “plays” that amounted to bets with no possibility of ever being paid off, or the three-card-monte games of interest rate arbitrage played by central banks and their “primary dealer” concubines. Some of what I’ve listed above may be incomprehensible to the blog reader, and that is because these rackets were crafted to be opaque and recondite.

The rackets continue without regulation or prosecution because there is an unstated appreciation in government, and in the corporate board rooms, that it’s all we’ve got left. What remains of the accustomed standard of living in America is supported by wishing and fakery and all that is now coming to a climax as we steam full speed ahead into Murphy’s law: if something can go wrong, it will. When all of America comes to realize that President Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing, it will make last November’s national nervous breakdown look like a momentary case of the vapors. What can go wrong awaits in markets, banks, currencies, and the immense dark pools of counterparty obligations that amount to black holes where notions of value are sucked out of the universe. There is so much that can go wrong. And then it will. And then maybe that will prompt us back to consider being a nation again.

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Sometimes I think we’re going to live to see Noah’s next ark.

Earth Is A Planet In Upheaval Breaking Into ‘Uncharted Territory’ (G.)

The record-breaking heat that made 2016 the hottest year ever recorded has continued into 2017, pushing the world into “truly uncharted territory”, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. The WMO’s assessment of the climate in 2016, published on Tuesday, reports unprecedented heat across the globe, exceptionally low ice at both poles and surging sea-level rise. Global warming is largely being driven by emissions from human activities, but a strong El Niño – a natural climate cycle – added to the heat in 2016. The El Niño is now waning, but the extremes continue to be seen, with temperature records tumbling in the US in February and polar heatwaves pushing ice cover to new lows.

“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said David Carlson, director of the WMO’s world climate research programme. “Earth is a planet in upheaval due to human-caused changes in the atmosphere,” said Jeffrey Kargel, a glaciologist at the University of Arizona in the US. “In general, drastically changing conditions do not help civilisation, which thrives on stability.” The WMO report was “startling”, said Prof David Reay, an emissions expert at the University of Edinburgh: “The need for concerted action on climate change has never been so stark nor the stakes so high.”

[..] 2016 saw the hottest global average among thermometer measurements stretching back to 1880. But scientific research indicates the world was last this warm about 115,000 years ago and that the planet has not experienced such high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for 4m years. 2017 has seen temperature records continue to tumble, in the US where February was exceptionally warm, and in Australia, where prolonged and extreme heat struck many states. The consequences have been particularly stark at the poles. “Arctic ice conditions have been tracking at record low conditions since October, persisting for six consecutive months, something not seen before in the [four-decade] satellite data record,” said Prof Julienne Stroeve, at University College London in the UK. “Over in the southern hemisphere, the sea ice also broke new record lows in the seasonal maximum and minimum extents, leading to the least amount of global sea ice ever recorded.”

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Ah, look at all the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Three-Quarters Of Older People In The UK Are Lonely (G.)

Almost three-quarters of older people in the UK are lonely and more than half of those have never spoken to anyone about how they feel, according to a survey carried out for the Jo Cox commision on loneliness. The poll by Gransnet, the over-50s social networking site, also found that about seven in 10 (71%) respondents – average age 63 – said their close friends and family would be surprised or astonished to hear that they felt lonely. Gransnet is one of nine organisations – including Age UK, the Alzheimer’s Society and the Silver Line helpline for older people – working to address the issue of loneliness in older people, which is the current focus of the commission, set up by Cox before her murder last June. They are urging individuals and businesses to look for signs of loneliness and refer people to organisations that can help.

But they also want people to take time to speak to neighbours, family, old friends or those they encounter randomly. The chairs of the cross-party commission, the Labour MP Rachel Reeves and Conservative MP Seema Kennedy, said there was a stigma around loneliness that must be tackled. “We all need to act and encourage older people to freely talk about their loneliness,” they said. “Everyone can play a part in ending loneliness among older people in their communities by simply starting a conversation with those around you. “How we care and act for those around us could mean the difference between an older person just coping, to them loving and enjoying later life.” Almost half (49%) of the 73% who described themselves as lonely in the online poll said they had been so for years, 11% said they had always felt lonely and 56% said they had never spoken about their loneliness to anyone.

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Pure Greek tragedy. But you can’t leave 2.5 million people untreated.

Greek Public Hospitals Stretched Further As Access Granted To Uninsured (K.)

A change in legislation last April has given access to the public health system to some 2.5 million Greeks who did not have social insurance but has also put a financial strain on hospitals, whose funding has not increased. Treating uninsured patients cost public hospitals in Athens €57.2 million last year. Across Greece, €23.5 million was spent on providing free lab tests to about 204,000 people. “Our experience shows that the number of uninsured people coming to the hospitals is increasing,” the vice president of the Athens-Piraeus Hospital Doctors’ Association, Ilias Sioras, told Kathimerini. “But the hospitals do not have adequate funds.” State funding is at €1.1 billion this year, the same as in 2016.

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If Erdogan gets desperate enough he’ll pull the plug and turn this into a Europe supports terrorism narrative. Woe Greece.

Sharp Increase In Refugees Reaching Aegean Islands From Turkey (K.)

New arrivals to the eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos have raised the number of migrants landing in Greece from neighboring Turkey since last Thursday to 566, government figures showed on Monday. The figure represents a significant increase compared to arrivals in the rest of March and for the whole of February. In the past four days, 195 migrants landed on Lesvos, 341 on Chios and 30 on Samos. More than 14,000 migrants remain stuck on the islands of the eastern Aegean awaiting the outcome of their applications for asylum or deportation. The majority are living in overcrowded reception facilities where conditions have been described as “unacceptable” and “inhumane” by human rights groups.

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Oct 192014
 
 October 19, 2014  Posted by at 9:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , ,  


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

George Monbiot has written a bunch of whoppers in the recent past, his pleas for more nuclear plants as the only way to save mankind in particular raised far more questions than they provided answers. But not everything he’s written since is as nonsensical as those pieces. This week he came with one that I think everyone should read and think about.

In it, he tries to tackle the topic of loneliness among us ‘modern people’. Not an easy topic to address, because there are just so many different sides and approaches to it. I sure don’t have the answers. I do have the questions, though. For starters, when does someone count as lonely? While there are people who feel lonely in the crowdiest of places, others may feel quite content and fulfilled in solitude.

We can all sense there’s something wrong, but it’s very hard even just to simply tell cause from effect. And claiming that our present social lives, and/or the lack thereof, are nothing but some kind of next phase, some development, is something that rings empty in the realization that during our 1 million year (or so) history, we’ve always been very social creatures.

The human being who interacts more with the world outside, and with fellow humans, through screens and phones and other gadgets, does not represent a form of progress. The happiest people in the world, if you discard the myriad of heavily biased surveys based on wealth levels as happiness indicators, live in societies where grandchildren are close to grandparents, and where families are close to their neighbors. It’s simply where we come from, and who we are.

But if you would go stand on some street corner and ask strangers if they are lonely, most would not admit to that. It’s only in other settings, in which people feel more at ease, that they will label themselves lonely. Interestingly, the loneliest among us are the young and the old. Poverty by itself does not cause loneliness, and neither does wealth; but lonely people can be found in all wealth levels. Age, however, does play a role.

We stopped communicating the moment we didn’t depend on each other for bare survival anymore. Resistance to social control is probably a major factor in that. Resistance to churches and other forces that force their opinions about right and wrong on societies and the people that live in them are undoubtedly a huge reason to turn one’s back on that society.

Still, to a large extent we haven’t just changed the way we interact with the societies we were born into, we have withdrawn from them to a very large degree. The nuclear family is a man, a woman, 2-3 kids and the curtains closed at night. Not in the same house as the grandparents, who may live 1000 miles away, and not with anything more than shallow relationships with neighbors.

The nuclear family gave us a lot of lonely housewives. Women then were encouraged to get jobs, and then the kids would find themselves home alone all the time. Everyone’s activities were taking place ever further away, and separate from each other, adults in different workplaces, kids in schools the size of small towns where loneliness reigns like nowhere else, and retired grandparents feeling useless, 1000 miles away.

That is how a lot of us grew up. With societies torn apart, or at least torn from the way they used to be organized. Like lions were forced to turn into tigers. And no electronic or digital inventions can bridge the divide it has ripped through our lives, and our minds. Perhaps at some point far into the future we can grow into the ultimate couch potato, but that is, if we ever ‘achieve’ it, a long time away. In the meantime, there’s a lot of misery. Monbiot:

The Age Of Loneliness Is Killing Us

What do we call this time? It’s not the information age: the collapse of popular education movements left a void filled by marketing and conspiracy theories. Like the stone age, iron age and space age, the digital age says plenty about our artefacts but little about society. The anthropocene, in which humans exert a major impact on the biosphere, fails to distinguish this century from the previous 20. What clear social change marks out our time from those that precede it? To me it’s obvious. This is the Age of Loneliness.

When Thomas Hobbes claimed that in the state of nature, before authority arose to keep us in check, we were engaged in a war “of every man against every man”, he could not have been more wrong. We were social creatures from the start, mammalian bees, who depended entirely on each other. The hominins of east Africa could not have survived one night alone. We are shaped, to a greater extent than almost any other species, by contact with others.

The age we are entering, in which we exist apart, is unlike any that has gone before. Three months ago we read that loneliness has become an epidemic among young adults. Now we learn that it is just as great an affliction of older people. A study by Independent Age shows that severe loneliness in England blights the lives of 700,000 men and 1.1m women over 50, and is rising with astonishing speed.

A good way to lay the foundation of the argument, I’d say.

Ebola is unlikely ever to kill as many people as this disease strikes down. Social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; loneliness, research suggests, is twice as deadly as obesity. Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism and accidents – all these, like depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide, become more prevalent when connections are cut. We cannot cope alone.

Yes, factories have closed, people travel by car instead of buses, use YouTube rather than the cinema. But these shifts alone fail to explain the speed of our social collapse. These structural changes have been accompanied by a life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation.

Loneliness doesn’t just make us lonely and miserable, it makes us sick and shortens our lives. And why would we want to live those lives to begin with, when they’re miserable anyway? But now Monbiot moves into a next, entirely different part of his thesis: what happened to make us what we are, to turn out back on what we once were?

The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism, in other words – is the religion of our time, justified by a mythology of lone rangers, sole traders, self-starters, self-made men and women, going it alone. For the most social of creatures, who cannot prosper without love, there is no such thing as society, only heroic individualism. What counts is to win. The rest is collateral damage. British children no longer aspire to be train drivers or nurses – more than a fifth say they “just want to be rich”: wealth and fame are the sole ambitions of 40% of those surveyed.

That last part reminded me right away of something Lou Reed said 25 years ago in ‘Dirty Boulevard’, from his ‘New York’ album (New York was not a particularly nice place at the time).

No one dreams of being a doctor or a lawyer or anything
They dream of dealing on the Dirty Boulevard

Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor, I’ll piss on them
That’s what the statue of bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses lets club ’em to death
Get it over with and just dump ’em on The Boulevard

Back to Monbiot:

A government study in June revealed that Britain is the loneliness capital of Europe. We are less likely than other Europeans to have close friends or to know our neighbours. Who can be surprised, when everywhere we are urged to fight like stray dogs over a dustbin?

We have changed our language to reflect this shift. Our most cutting insult is loser. We no longer talk about people. Now we call them individuals. So pervasive has this alienating, atomising term become that even the charities fighting loneliness use it to describe the bipedal entities formerly known as human beings.

What I think is worse is that we have taken to calling our fellow (wo)men ‘consumers’, even if we would never think of ourselves that way. We don’t do so ourselves perhaps, but the media that provide our ‘news’ do. And we accept it for something entirely normal. Why do we do that, accept that others are called consumers while we don’t see ourselves that way? Monbiot gives a hint:

One of the tragic outcomes of loneliness is that people turn to their televisions for consolation: two-fifths of older people report that the one-eyed god is their principal company. This self-medication aggravates the disease.

I think we may all of us agree that for far too many older people, TV has become their version of a window to the world. Because the world itself leaves them alone and lonely. Kids and grandkids live far away and have lives too busy with reaching for success to leave time for their (grand)parents. Partners die, so do friends and neighbors. And then they get slotted into highrises with a view of the river. And a TV set.

Almost makes you wonder what older people did before TV, doesn’t it? Sure, people live longer now on average, the prize of progress, but how much of a blessing is that when all you can do is wait for the end while watching, instead of your families, pre-chewed entertainment beamed in from outer space? How do we define progress, again? But George has more intriguing notions:

Research by economists at the University of Milan suggests that television helps to drive competitive aspiration. It strongly reinforces the income-happiness paradox: the fact that, as national incomes rise, happiness does not rise with them. Aspiration, which increases with income, ensures that the point of arrival, of sustained satisfaction, retreats before us.

TV doesn’t just numb or ‘entertain’ us, it evokes tendencies we would never have if we were living in the same arrangements our ancestors did. Who fought rival tribes over land and riches, but not their neighbors; that would have weakened their own position. We now fight each other, mano a mano, ‘educated’ by weird kinds of ideas quiz shows and reality TV bestow upon us. Can it be any wonder that we’re lost and lonely?

The researchers found that those who watch a lot of TV derive less satisfaction from a given level of income than those who watch only a little. TV speeds up the hedonic treadmill, forcing us to strive even harder to sustain the same level of satisfaction.

I’m pretty sure that’s not just TV, it’s the whole set of models of our world we are fed by the whole set of media we ‘are granted’ access to. And yes, that includes the media you use to read this on. No media are bad in and of themselves, but they can certainly be put to bad use. Simply because they’re not in our ‘genetic consciousness’.

So what’s the point? What do we gain from this war of all against all? Competition drives growth, but growth no longer makes us wealthier. Figures published this week show that, while the income of company directors has risen by more than a fifth, wages for the workforce as a whole have fallen in real terms over the past year. [..] And even if competition did make us richer, it would make us no happier, as the satisfaction derived from a rise in income would be undermined by the aspirational impacts of competition.

The entire idea of growth has proven to be nothing but a cancer growth for us. It’s all been one step up and two steps back. Not because new inventions and gadgets are bad in themselves, but because we are lost when it comes to using them in our lives. We let them change the very principles by which we live. Like our compassion for each other, and our care for the planet we live on. And we justify this by claiming and believing that is someone can invent an iPhone, he will surely also be able to undo any and all damage that iPhone may do to us. Progress is a religion, and what use is it to question a religion?

The top 1% own 48% of global wealth, but even they aren’t happy. A survey by Boston College of people with an average net worth of $78m found that they too were assailed by anxiety, dissatisfaction and loneliness. Many of them reported feeling financially insecure: to reach safe ground, they believed, they would need, on average, about 25% more money. (And if they got it? They’d doubtless need another 25%). One respondent said he wouldn’t get there until he had $1bn in the bank.

Yeah, it never stops, does it? Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and a king ain’t satisfied till he rules everything. But most of us do not have psychopathic tendencies, we’re just stuck in a system than makes those who do, end up in charge. And nothing serves their purposes better than for us to compete with each and everyone of us. Including ourselves: who does not feel inadequate after watching a few hours of popular TV replete with commercials?

For this, we have ripped the natural world apart, degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomising, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this, we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness.

Yes, we have done all this. And we will continue on that path to gain possession of the next gadget, the next empty sign of superiority over all, including those closest to us, over whom we have no need to feel superior. But we no longer realize that: we are all, if not enemies, then surely competitors. Not for happiness, we lost that along the way, and besides we would need each other to achieve it, but for anything that can serve as a placebo for what it is we lost.

[..] … if we are to break this cycle and come together once more, we must confront the world-eating, flesh-eating system into which we have been forced. Hobbes’s pre-social condition was a myth. But we are entering a post-social condition our ancestors would have believed impossible.

Our lives are becoming nasty, brutish and long.

I love that last line. And I think Monbiot is dead on with it. I also fear that it will take a deep dark fall for mankind to ever bring us back, if it is possible at all, to what we are, to where we come from, to what connects our past to our present. For now, we’re stuck in a propaganda machine that we don’t have a way out of, so we’ll have to see everything break down that we see as communication in order to find back what communicating is.

We’ve come a long way, but somewhere along the road ‘we took a wrong turn and we just kept going’. People are not born to be lonely, and if they become it, and in great numbers, it’s time to be afraid for all of us.

Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing
we took a wrong turn and we just kept going [..]

Everybody needs a place to rest
Everybody wants to have a home
Don’t make no difference what nobody says
Ain’t nobody like to be alone

Oct 192014
 
 October 19, 2014  Posted by at 10:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edwin Rosskam Service station, Connecticut Ave., Washington, DC Sep 1940

Low Oil Price Means High Anxiety For OPEC As US Flexes Its Muscles (Observer)
Germany’s Tough Medicine Risks Killing Off The European Project (Observer)
Why The Eurozone’s Woes Have Become The World’s Problem (Observer)
Under-30s Being Priced Out Of The UK (Observer)
Britain’s Five Richest Families Worth More Than Poorest 20% (Guardian)
UK Mortgage Battle Hots Up As Banks Prepare To Slash Rates (Guardian)
Why Abenomics Failed: There Was A “Blind Spot From The Outset” (Zero Hedge)
Richard Feynman On The Social Sciences (Tavares)
Orwell Was Only Wrong About The Date (Scott Stantis)
Struggle Against Extinction: The Pictures That Capture The Story (Observer)
The Age Of Loneliness Is Killing Us (Monbiot)
Human Extinction? Not So Much (Ecoshock)
White Rhino Dies In Kenya: Only Six Animals Left Alive In The World (Observer)
Radiation Levels At Fukushima Rise To Record Highs After Typhoon (RT)
Oxfam Calls For Troops In Africa As Ebola Response Is Criticized (Observer)
Ebola Deaths In Liberia ‘Far Higher Than Reported’ (Observer)

Saudi Arabia vs its former partners, but still with the US, in a long established protection racket.

Low Oil Price Means High Anxiety For OPEC As US Flexes Its Muscles (Observer)

During a week of turmoil on the global stock markets, the energy sector played out a drama that could have even bigger consequences: a standoff between the US and the Opec oil-producing nations. While pension holders and investors watched aghast as billions of pounds were lost to market gyrations, a fossil-fuel glut and a slowing global economy have driven the oil price down to a level that could save the world $1.8bn a day on fuel costs. If this is some consolation for households everywhere after last week’s hit on stock market wealth, it means pain for the Opec cartel, composed mainly of Middle East producers. Opec’s 12-member group has largely controlled the global price of crude oil for the past 40 years, but the US’s discovery of shale oil and gas has dramatically shifted the balance of power, to the apparent benefit of consumers and the discomfort of petrostates from Venezuela to Russia.

The price of oil has plummeted by more than a quarter since June but will Opec, which holds 60% of the world’s reserves and 30% of supplies, cut its own production to try to lift prices? Or will the cartel allow a further slide from the current price – in the mid-$80s per barrel – in the hope of making it impossible for US drillers to make a profit from their wells, and so driving them out of business? Saudi Arabia – Opec powerhouse and traditional ally of Washington – and other rich Gulf nations have been building up their cash reserves and have shown themselves willing to slash prices in a bid to retain market share in China and the rest of Asia. The US, the world’s biggest oil consumer, has relied in the past on Saudi to keep Opec price rises relatively low. But now it has the complicating factor of protecting its own huge shale industry.

Even US oil producers see the political benefits of abundant shale resources and the resultant downward pressure on prices. Rex Tillerson, chief executive of Exxon Mobil, the biggest US oil company, said recently that his country had now entered a “new era of energy abundance” – meaning it is no longer dependent on the politically unstable Middle East. So there will be understandable tension next month when the ruling Opec body meets in Vienna and its member states fight over what to do. The cartel would like to reassert its authority over oil prices but some producing countries, such as Saudi, can withstand lower crude values for much longer than others, and the relative costs of production vary wildly between nations.

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That’s what I’m hoping for.

Germany’s Tough Medicine Risks Killing Off The European Project (Observer)

Beppe Grillo, the comedian-turned-rebel leader of Italian politics, must have laughed heartily. No sooner had he announced to supporters that the euro was “a total disaster” than the currency union was driven to the brink of catastrophe once again. Grillo launched a campaign in Rome last weekend for a 1 million-strong petition against the euro, saying: “We have to leave the euro as soon as possible and defend the sovereignty of the Italian people from the European Central Bank.” Hours later markets slumped on news that the 18-member eurozone was probably heading for recession. And there was worse to come. Greece, the trigger for the 2010 euro crisis, saw its borrowing rates soar, putting it back on the “at-risk register”. Investors, already digesting reports of slowing global growth, were also spooked by reports that a row in Brussels over spending caps on France and Italy had turned nasty.

With China’s growth rate continuing to slow, and US data showing the world’s largest economy was not as immune to the turmoil as many believed, it was time to head for the hills. Wall Street slumped and a month of falls saw the FTSE 100 lose 11% of its value. In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, voters backed austerity and the euro in expectation of a debt-reducing recovery. But as many Keynesian economists warned, this has proved impossible. More than five years later, there are now plenty of voters willing to call time on the experiment, Grillo among them. And there seems to be no end to austerity-driven low growth in sight. The increasingly hard line taken by Berlin over the need for further reforms in debtor nations such as Greece and Italy – by which it means wage cuts – has worked to turn a recovery into a near recession.

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Given Europe’s size, they always were.

Why The Eurozone’s Woes Have Become The World’s Problem (Observer)

Forget the economic threat posed by Ebola. Pay scant heed to the risk that the Chinese property bubble is about to be pricked. Take with a pinch of salt the risk that an imminent rise in US interest rates will trigger a wave of disruption across the fragile markets of the emerging world. In the end, the explanation for last week’s plunge on global financial markets comes down to one word: Europe. That’s not to say none of the other factors matter. Global pandemics, all the way back to the Black Death in the 14th century, have always been economically catastrophic. The knock-on effects of America starting to jack up the cost of borrowing are uncertain, but potentially problematical. The dangers facing policymakers in China as they seek to move the economy towards lower but better balanced growth are obvious. But it is the worsening condition of the eurozone that has spooked markets in the past couple of weeks.

The problem can be broken down into a number of parts. The first problem is that recovery in Europe appears to have been aborted. A tentative recovery began in the middle of 2013, but appears to have run into the sand. Technically, the eurozone has been in and out of recession since 2008. In reality, the story of the past six years has been of a deep slump followed by half a decade of flatlining. Until now, markets have been able to comfort themselves with the fact that the core of the eurozone – Germany – has been doing fine. Recent evidence has shown that the slow growth elsewhere in Europe, in countries such as France and Italy, is now having an effect on Germany. Exports and manufacturing output are suffering, not helped by the blow to confidence caused by the tension in Ukraine. That’s problem number two.

Until now, opposition from Berlin and the still influential Bundesbank in Frankfurt has made it impossible for the European Central Bank to fire its last big weapon: quantitative easing. The slowdown in Germany should make it easier for the ECB’s president, Mario Draghi, to begin cranking up the electronic printing presses, but are markets impressed? Not really. They are coming to the view that monetary policy – using interest rates and QE to regulate the price and quantity of money – is maxed out. The third facet of the problem is concern that Draghi’s intervention will be too little, too late, and that Europe is condemned to years of nugatory growth.

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This is as crazy and disgraceful as the over 50% youth unemployment in southern Europe.

Under-30s Being Priced Out Of The UK (Observer)

Britain is on the verge of becoming permanently divided between tribes of haves and have-nots as the young increasingly miss out on the opportunities enjoyed by their parents’ generation, the government’s social mobility tsar claim. The under-30s in particular are being priced out of owning their own homes, paid lower wages and left with diminishing job prospects, despite a strong economic recovery being enjoyed by some. Those without the benefits of wealthy parents are condemned to languish on “the wrong side of the divide that is opening up in British society”, according to Alan Milburn, the former Labour cabinet minister who chairs the government’s Commission on Social Mobility. In an illustration of how the less affluent young have been abandoned, Milburn notes that even the Saturday job has become a thing of the past. The proportion of 16- to 17-year-olds in full-time education who also work has fallen from 37% to 18% in a decade.

Milburn spoke out in an interview with the Observer as tens of thousands of people, including public sector workers such as teachers and nurses opposed to a below-inflation 1% pay offer from the government, protested in London, Glasgow and Belfast about pay and austerity on Saturday. The TUC, which organised the protests under the slogan “Britain Needs a Pay Rise”, said that between 80,000 and 90,000 people took part in the London march. Speaking on the eve of the publication of his final annual report on social mobility to ministers before the general election, Milburn demanded urgent action by the state and a change in direction by businesses. He said that only a radical change would save a generation of Britons buffeted by an economic downturn and condemned by a fundamental change in the labour market that left them without hope of better lives.

In a strikingly downbeat intervention, Milburn said: “It is depressing. The current generation of young people are educated better and for longer than any previous one. But young people are losing out on jobs, earnings and housing. “This recession has been particularly hard on young people. The ratio of youth to adult unemployment rates was just over two to one in 1996, compared to just under three to one today. On any definition we are nowhere near the chancellor’s objective of “full employment” for young people. Young people are the losers in the recovery to date.”

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Britain as a mirror to the world.

Britain’s Five Richest Families Worth More Than Poorest 20% (Guardian)

The scale of Britain’s growing inequality is revealed by a report from a leading charity showing that the country’s five richest families now own more wealth than the poorest 20% of the population. Oxfam urged the chancellor George Osborne to use Wednesday’s budget to make a fresh assault on tax avoidance and introduce a living wage in a report highlighting how a handful of the super-rich, headed by the Duke of Westminster, have more money and financial assets than 12.6 million Britons put together. The development charity, which has opened UK programmes to tackle poverty, said the government should explore the possibility of a wealth tax after revealing how income gains and the benefits of rising asset prices had disproportionately helped those at the top. Although Labour is seeking to make living standards central to the political debate in the run-up to next year’s general election, Osborne is determined not to abandon the deficit-reduction strategy that has been in place since 2010.

But he is likely to announce a fresh crackdown on tax avoidance and measures aimed at overseas owners of high-value London property in order to pay for modest tax cuts for working families. The early stages of the UK’s most severe post-war recession saw a fall in inequality as the least well-off were shielded by tax credits and benefits. But the trend has been reversed in recent years as a result of falling real wages, the rising cost of food and fuel, and by the exclusion of most poor families from home and share ownership. In a report, a Tale of Two Britains, Oxfam said the poorest 20% in the UK had wealth totalling £28.1bn – an average of £2,230 each. The latest rich list from Forbes magazine showed that the five top UK entries – the family of the Duke of Westminster, David and Simon Reuben, the Hinduja brothers, the Cadogan family, and Sports Direct retail boss Mike Ashley – between them had property, savings and other assets worth £28.2bn.

The most affluent family in Britain, headed by Major General Gerald Grosvenor, owns 77 hectares (190 acres) of prime real estate in Belgravia, London, and has been a beneficiary of the foreign money flooding in to the capital’s soaring property market in recent years. Oxfam said Grosvenor and his family had more wealth (£7.9bn) than the poorest 10% of the UK population (£7.8bn). Oxfam’s director of campaigns and policy, Ben Phillips, said: “Britain is becoming a deeply divided nation, with a wealthy elite who are seeing their incomes spiral up, while millions of families are struggling to make ends meet. “It’s deeply worrying that these extreme levels of wealth inequality exist in Britain today, where just a handful of people have more money than millions struggling to survive on the breadline.”

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Chasing the last few suckers left.

UK Mortgage Battle Hots Up As Banks Prepare To Slash Rates (Guardian)

The battle to tempt mortgage customers with attractive deals is heating up again as major lenders put more rate cuts into action. Barclays is preparing to offer what it said are some of its lowest ever rates, including a three-year fixed rate at 2.29%, a five-year fix at 2.85% and a 10-year fix at 3.49%. All of these deals are aimed at people with 40% deposits and come with a £999 fee. Barclays is also cutting the rate on its innovative family springboard mortgage, which helps people with only a 5% deposit get on the property ladder by allowing their parents to put some money into a savings account which is then linked to the mortgage. The savings money is later released back to their parents with interest, provided that the mortgage payments are kept up to date. The rate on a three-year fixed family springboard deal, which has no application fee, is to be slashed from 3.79% to 2.99%.

The bank is also cutting rates on deals aimed at people with deposits of 10%, 15%, 20% and 30% in what will be the seventh consecutive round of reductions to its range. Barclays said its “never seen before” rate cuts will come into place early this week and they are likely to be around for only a limited period. Meanwhile, a new 0.99% deal from HSBC will be launched on Monday. HSBC has said the product, which is available for borrowers with a 40% deposit, has the lowest rate it has ever offered. The 0.99% deal is in effect a 2.95% discount off HSBC’s 3.94% standard variable rate (SVR), which lasts for two years. In theory, HSBC could decide to increase its SVR within the two-year discount period, which would mean the rate would move above 0.99% but the borrower would still get a rate of 2.95% below whatever the new SVR rate was for the two years after initially taking out the deal.

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Exactly what I’ve always said all the time about Abenomics. It should be held up as an example for all of our stimulus measures.

Why Abenomics Failed: There Was A “Blind Spot From The Outset” (Zero Hedge)

Ever since Abenomics was announced in late 2012, we have explained very clearly that the whole “shock and awe” approach to stimulating the economy by sending inflation into borderline “hyper” mode in a country whose main problem has to do with an aging population demographic cliff and a global market that no longer thinks Walkmen and Sony Trinitrons are cool and instead can find all of Japan’s replacement products for cheaper and at a higher quality out of South Korea, was doomed to failure. Very serious sellsiders, economists and pundits disagreed and commended Abe on his second attempt at fixing the country by doing more of what has not only failed to work for 30 years, but made the problem worse and worse.

Well, nearly two years later, or roughly the usual delay before the rest of the world catches up to this website’s “conspiratorial ramblings”, the leader of the very serious economist crew, none other than Goldman Sachs, formally admits that Abenomics was a failure, and two weeks after Goldman also admitted that now Japan is informally (and soon officially) in a triple-drip recession, begins the scapegoating process when in a note by its Naohiko Baba, it says that Abenomics failed because all along it was based on two faulty “misconceptions and miscalculations.” Ironically, the same “misconceptions and miscalculations” that frame the Keynesian “recovery” debate in every insolvent developed world country which is devaluing its currency to boost its exports and economy, when in reality all it is doing is propping up its stock market, allowing the 1% of the population to cash out and leaving the 99% with the economic collapse that inevitably follows.

So what happened with Abenomics, and why did Goldman, initially a fervent supporter and huge fan – and beneficiary because those trillions in fungible BOJ liquidity injections made their way first and foremost into Goldman year end bonuses – change its tune so dramatically?

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Bit of a loose argument, since Feynman never specifically talked about economics, but point taken.

Richard Feynman On The Social Sciences (Tavares)

Looking back at his own experience, Feynman was keenly aware of how easy our experiments can deceive us and thus of the need to employ a rigorous scientific approach in order to find the truth. Because of this, he was highly critical of other sciences which did not adhere to the same principles. The social sciences are a broad group of academic disciplines concerned with the study of the social life of human groups and individuals, including anthropology, geography, political science, psychology and several others. Here is what he had to say about them in a BBC interview in 1981:

“Because of the success of science, there is a kind of a pseudo-science. Social science is an example of a science which is not a science. They follow the forms. You gather data, you do so and so and so forth, but they don’t get any laws, they haven’t found out anything. They haven’t got anywhere – yet. Maybe someday they will, but it’s not very well developed. “But what happens is, at an even more mundane level, we get experts on everything that sound like they are sort of scientific, expert. They are not scientists. They sit at a typewriter and they make up something like ‘a food grown with a fertilizer that’s organic is better for you than food grown with a fertilizer that is inorganic’. Maybe true, may not be true. But it hasn’t been demonstrated one way or the other. But they’ll sit there on the typewriter and make up all this stuff as if it’s science and then become experts on foods, organic foods and so on. There’s all kinds of myths and pseudo-science all over the place.

“Now, I might be quite wrong. Maybe they do know all these things. But I don’t think I’m wrong. See, I have the advantage of having found out how hard it is to get to really know something, how careful you have about checking your experiments, how easy it is to make mistakes and fool yourself. I know what it means to know something. “And therefore, I see how they get their information. And I can’t believe that they know when they haven’t done the work necessary, they haven’t done the checks necessary, they haven’t done the care necessary. I have a great suspicion that they don’t know and that they are intimidating people by it. I think so. I don’t know the world very well but that’s what I think.”

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Amen. Word.

Orwell Was Only Wrong About The Date (Scott Stantis)

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Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.

Struggle Against Extinction: The Pictures That Capture The Story (Observer)

Toshiji Fukuda went to extraordinary lengths to photograph an Amur tiger, one of the world’s rarest mammals, in 2011. He built a tiny wooden hut overlooking a beach in Russia’s remote Lazovsky nature reserve, on the Sea of Japan, and spent the winter there. Fukuda was 63 at the time. “Older people have one advantage: time passes more quickly for us than the young,” he said later. Possession of such resilience was fortunate because Fukuda had to wait seven weeks for his only glimpse of an Amur tiger, which resulted in a single stunning image of the animal strolling imperiously along the beach below his hide. “It was as if the goddess of the Taiga had appeared before me,” he recalled.

In recognition of the photographer’s efforts, Fukuda was given a key award at the 2013 Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, an annual event that has showcased the best images taken of the planet’s rarest animals and habitats and which has taken on an increasingly important role in recording their fates. This year’s exhibition, which opens on Friday, is the 50th such exhibition – to be held, as usual, at the Natural History Museum – and a recent study of past winning images has revealed the unexpected twists of fortune that have affected the world’s wildlife. Some animals, which appeared to be doing well, have plummeted towards extinction. Others, which seemed to be doomed, have bounced back. “It still seems to be very much a matter of hit or miss whether a threatened species recovers or instead continues to dwindle towards extinction,” said the museum’s curator of mammals, Roberto Portela Miguez.

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” … a life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation. The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism, in other words – is the religion of our time…”

The Age Of Loneliness Is Killing Us (Monbiot)

What do we call this time? It’s not the information age: the collapse of popular education movements left a void filled by marketing and conspiracy theories. Like the stone age, iron age and space age, the digital age says plenty about our artefacts but little about society. The anthropocene, in which humans exert a major impact on the biosphere, fails to distinguish this century from the previous 20. What clear social change marks out our time from those that precede it? To me it’s obvious. This is the Age of Loneliness. When Thomas Hobbes claimed that in the state of nature, before authority arose to keep us in check, we were engaged in a war “of every man against every man”, he could not have been more wrong. We were social creatures from the start, mammalian bees, who depended entirely on each other. The hominins of east Africa could not have survived one night alone. We are shaped, to a greater extent than almost any other species, by contact with others. The age we are entering, in which we exist apart, is unlike any that has gone before.

Three months ago we read that loneliness has become an epidemic among young adults. Now we learn that it is just as great an affliction of older people. A study by Independent Age shows that severe loneliness in England blights the lives of 700,000 men and 1.1m women over 50, and is rising with astonishing speed. Ebola is unlikely ever to kill as many people as this disease strikes down. Social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; loneliness, research suggests, is twice as deadly as obesity. Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism and accidents – all these, like depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide, become more prevalent when connections are cut. We cannot cope alone.

Yes, factories have closed, people travel by car instead of buses, use YouTube rather than the cinema. But these shifts alone fail to explain the speed of our social collapse. These structural changes have been accompanied by a life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation. The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism, in other words – is the religion of our time, justified by a mythology of lone rangers, sole traders, self-starters, self-made men and women, going it alone. For the most social of creatures, who cannot prosper without love, there is no such thing as society, only heroic individualism. What counts is to win. The rest is collateral damage. British children no longer aspire to be train drivers or nurses – more than a fifth say they “just want to be rich”: wealth and fame are the sole ambitions of 40% of those surveyed.

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Why anyone would want to do Guy McPherson the honor of talking about his loony tunes is beyond me, but here goes. Nicole gets mentioned.

Human Extinction? Not So Much (Ecoshock)

The case against going extinct soon due to extreme climate change & human impacts.

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The sadness is unspeakably deep.

White Rhino Dies In Kenya: Only Six Animals Left Alive In The World (Observer)

An endangered northern white rhino has died in Kenya, a wildlife conservancy has said, meaning only six of the animals are left alive in the world. Suni, a 34-year-old northern white, and the first of his species to be born in captivity, was found dead on Friday by rangers at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy near Nairobi. While there are thousands of southern white rhinos in the plains of sub-Saharan Africa, decades of rampant poaching has meant the northern white rhino is close to extinction. Suni was one of the last two breeding males in the world as no northern white rhinos are believed to have survived in the wild. Though the conservancy said Suni was not poached, the cause of his death is currently unclear. Suni was born at the Dvur Kralove Zoo in Czech Republic in 1980. He was one of the four northern white rhinos brought from that zoo to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in 2009 to take part in a breeding programme.

Wildlife experts had hoped the 90,000-acre private wildlife conservancy, framed on the equator and nestled between the snow capped Mount Kenya and the Aberdare mountain range, would offer a more favourable climate for breeding. The conservancy said in a statement: “The species now stands at the brink of complete extinction, a sorry testament to the greed of the human race. “We will continue to do what we can to work with the remaining three animals on Ol Pejeta in the hope that our efforts will one day result in the successful birth of a northern white rhino calf.” Suni’s father, Suit, died in 2006 of natural causes, also aged 34.

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” … levels of the radioactive isotope cesium are now at 251,000 becquerels per liter, three times higher than previously-recorded levels.”

Radiation Levels At Fukushima Rise To Record Highs After Typhoon (RT)

The amount of radioactive water near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has risen to record levels after a typhoon passed through Japan last week, state media outlet NHK reported on Wednesday. Specifically, levels of the radioactive isotope cesium are now at 251,000 becquerels per liter, three times higher than previously-recorded levels. Cesium, which is highly soluble and can spread easily, is known to be capable of causing cancer. Meanwhile, other measurements also show remarkably high levels of tritium – another radioactive isotope of hydrogen. Samples from October 9 indicate that there are 150,000 becquerels of tritium per liter in the groundwater near Fukushima, according to Japan’s JIJI agency. Compared to levels recorded last week, that’s an increase of more than 10 times.

Additionally, “materials that emit beta rays, such as strontium-90, which causes bone cancer, also shattered records with a reading of 1.2 million becquerels, the utility said of the sample,” JIJI reported. Officials blamed these increases on the recent typhoon, which resulted in large amounts of rainfall and injured dozens of people on Okinawa and Kyushu before moving westward towards Tokyo and Fukushima. While cesium is considered to be more dangerous than tritium, both are radioactive substances that authorities would like to keep from being discharged into the Pacific Ocean in high quantities. For now, extra measures to contain the issue are not on the table, since “additional measures have been ruled out since the depth and scope of the contaminated water leaks are unknown, and TEPCO already has in place several measures to control the problem, such as the pumping of groundwater or walls to retain underground water,” according to the IANS news service.

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A shocking number: “There are some 3,700 Ebola orphans.”

Oxfam Calls For Troops In Africa As Ebola Response Is Criticized (Observer)

Anger is growing over the “inadequate” response to the Ebola epidemic this weekend with the World Health Organisation’s Africa office accused of incompetence and world governments of having failed. Aid charities and the president of the World Bank are among the critics, declaring that the fight against the virus is in danger of being lost. On Saturday Oxfam took the unusual step of calling for troops to be sent to west Africa, along with funding and medical staff, to prevent the Ebola outbreak becoming the “definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation”. It accused countries that did not commit military personnel of “costing lives”. The charity said that there was less than a two-month window to curb the spread of the virus but there remained a crippling shortfall in logistical support. Several African countries have for the last decade been suffering severe shortages of homegrown medics thanks to a “brain drain” to countries such as Britain, which rely on foreign workers.

The executive director of frontline medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières, Vickie Hawkins, said national and global health systems had failed. “We are angry that the global response to this outbreak has been so slow and inadequate. “We have been amazed that for months the burden of the response could be carried by one single, private medical organisation, while pleading for more help and watching the situation get worse and worse. When the outbreak is under control, we must reflect on how health systems can have failed quite so badly. But the priority for now must remain the urgent fight against Ebola – we simply cannot afford to fail.” The worst outbreak on record has claimed 4,500 lives, out of 8,914 recorded cases since the start of the year, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The true number is agreed to be higher. There are some 3,700 Ebola orphans.

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There should be no doubt about this. Too many reasons for too many people to play it down.

Ebola Deaths In Liberia ‘Far Higher Than Reported’ (Observer)

The true death toll from the Ebola epidemic is being masked by chaotic data collection and people’s reluctance to admit that their loved ones had the virus, according to one of west Africa’s most celebrated film-makers. Sorious Samura, who has just returned from making a documentary on the crisis in Liberia, said it is very clear on the ground that the true number of dead is far higher than the official figures being reported by the World Health Organisation. Liberia accounts for more than half of all the official Ebola deaths, with a total of 2,458. Overall, the number of dead across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has exceeded 4,500. Samura, a television journalist originally from Sierra Leone, said the Liberian authorities appeared to be deliberately downplaying the true number of cases, for fear of increasing alarm in the west African country.

“People are dying in greater numbers than we know, according to MSF [Médecins sans Frontières] and WHO officials. Certain departments are refusing to give them the figures – because the lower it is, the more peace of mind they can give people. The truth is that it is still not under control.” WHO has admitted that problems with data-gathering make it hard to track the evolution of the epidemic, with the number of cases in the capital, Monrovia, going under-reported. Efforts to count freshly dug graves had been abandoned. Local culture is also distorting the figures. Traditional burial rites involve relatives touching the body – a practice that can spread Ebola – so the Liberian government has ruled that Ebola victims must be cremated. “They don’t like this burning of bodies,” said Samura, whose programme will air on 12 November on Al Jazeera English. “Before the government gets there they will have buried their loved ones and broken all the rules.”

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