Jul 302018
 
 July 30, 2018  Posted by at 9:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali Meditative rose 1958

 

Julian Assange’s Fate Is Being Decided At The Moment (ZH)
The Dollar Will Continue To Surge, Crush Emerging Markets Stocks (F.)
China’s Yuan Hits 13-Month Low On Weaker Fixing And Depreciation Bets (R.)
The Chinese Economy Is Held Together By Capital Controls (Peters)
Beijing To Shut 1,000 Manufacturing Firms By 2020 (R.)
Hedge Fund Manager Steve Eisman Bets Against Tesla (MW)
This Is What A No-Deal Brexit Actually Looks Like (Dunt)
As US Pushes For Mideast Peace, Saudi King Reassures Allies (R.)
Support For Macron & Merkel’s Coalitions Plunges To Record New Lows (RT)
IMF Reiterates Call For Greece To Meet Pledges (K.)
Number Of Migrants Prevented By Turkey To Reach Europe Increases 60% (An.)
Worms Frozen In Permafrost For Up To 42,000 Years Come Back To Life (ST)
Greece Fire Death Toll At 91, 25 Remain Missing (K.)

 

 

Ecuador refusing to meet Assange’s lawyers is not a good sign.

Julian Assange’s Fate Is Being Decided At The Moment (ZH)

Ecuador is holding high level discussions with Britain over the fate of Julian Assange, who has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 after being granted political asylum, according to comments made by President Lenin Moreno to Spain’s El Pais daily newspaper. “The issue of Mr. Assange is being treated with the British government and I understand that we have already established contact with Mr. Assange’s lawyers so we can find a way out.” Not true, says Assange’s Attorney Carlos Poveda in a Sunday LaJournada article retweeted by the official WikiLeaks Twitter account. “The defense of Julian Assange is concerned about the contradictions of the government of Ecuador, which claims to be seeking a solution to the asylum of the founder of Wikileaks through dialogue, with all parties, but refuses to meet with their lawyers, said Carlos Poveda, one of the activist’s lawyers.” -LaJournada (translated)

“We have followed very closely the statements of President Lenin Moreno both in the United Kingdom and Spain,” said Poveda. “And I must warn that even the legal team that presides (the former judge of the Spanish Supreme Court) Baltasar Garzón requested a hearing to meet in London or Madrid, but they told him that Moreno’s schedule was full during the whole tour.” In other words – Moreno is talking out of both sides of his mouth while feigning a new found concern for Assange’s fate (after referring to the WikiLeaks founder as a “hacker”, “an inherited problem” and a “stone in the shoe”). “We know how (Moreno) addresses the issue , said Poveda, who said that the president’s statements leave us confused. In relation to the recent declarations of the Ecuadorian agent chief executive, of which his government is in “permanent” communication with London and with the legal team of Assange, Poveda maintained that that does not happen.” -LaJournada (translated)

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It’s much worse for Brazil and Turkey than it is for China.

The Dollar Will Continue To Surge, Crush Emerging Markets Stocks (F.)

A robust greenback is excellent for the U.S. economy because it attracts capital into the economy. More capital will result in yet more growth. But at the same time, the strong dollar is a nightmare for emerging markets because investors take their capital away and send it to the U.S. Emerging markets include lesser developed economies such as China, Russia, Brazil, and India. The result of this change in the value of the dollar has been falling values for stocks in emerging markets. The Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (VWO), which tracks a basket of emerging markets stocks, has lost more than 6% this year while the S&P 500 gained more than 5%, according to data from Yahoo Finance. The figures do not include dividends.

Unfortunately, for those invested in emerging markets the rally of the greenback is probably not over yet. Friday morning we learned that U.S. growth in the second quarter hit 4.1%, according to the government’s first estimate. Meanwhile, growth in the single currency area of Europe, the so-called eurozone, has limped along at less than 1% for the last decade. The latest reading was a paltry 0.4%, according to data from Tradingeconomics.com that you can see here. Japan’s economy, the third largest in the world, is contracting, according to the latest reading. That differential in growth, between the U.S. and other developed economies, should be enough to keep cash flowing into the U.S. and away from other economies.

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Mixed blessings. A weaker yuan has benefits, too.

China’s Yuan Hits 13-Month Low On Weaker Fixing And Depreciation Bets (R.)

China’s yuan fell to a fresh 13-month low against the dollar on Monday, weighed by a much weaker central bank fixing and expectations the Chinese currency has further to fall as U.S. trade tensions worsen. In addition to developments in the global trade environment, investors are focusing on the amount of liquidity policy makers have injected into the financial system. “Together with announcements by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) that will ease credit conditions, and a more gradual shift in the monetary stance over the last two months, this represents a significant change towards more accommodative policy,” analysts at Moody’s said in a note.

Prior to market opening, the PBOC lowered the midpoint rate to 6.8131 per dollar, largely matching market forecasts, 189 pips or 0.28 percent weaker than the previous fix of 6.7942 last Friday. In the spot market, the onshore yuan opened at 6.8159 per dollar and eased to a low of 6.8401 before changing hands at 6.8353 at midday, 213 pips weaker than the previous late session close and 0.33 percent softer than the midpoint. The onshore spot yuan hit its lowest intraday level since June 27, 2017. The offshore yuan was trading 0.10 percent weaker than its onshore counterpart at 6.8422 per dollar as of midday.

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“The Chinese are dying to get their money out.”

The Chinese Economy Is Held Together By Capital Controls (Peters)

“Russia at its very worst is a moderate threat to the US,” said the investor. “They have modest regional ambitions. They’re mischievous. But plenty of countries don’t do what we want.” If they wanted to nuke us, they would’ve during the Cold War. “China is the real strategic threat. They’ve coopted much of the US political and financial system,” he said. “Wall Street makes a ton of money from China.” No one that matters makes money from Russia. “It’s so telling that everyone is in hysterics over Russia. It’s a distraction that makes you wonder if the Chinese aren’t enabling or pushing the narrative.”

“The best way to bring Beijing to its knees is by running a tight monetary policy in the US,” continued the same investor. “China has the world’s most overleveraged, fragile financial system.” In 2008, China’s total debt-to-GDP was 140%. It is now roughly 300%, while GDP is slowing. “The economy is held together by capital controls. If those fail, the whole system fails.” The capital flight in 2015/16 cost the government $1trln in reserves, and that was with ultra-dove Yellen in charge. Imagine what would have happened with Volcker at the helm. “The Chinese are dying to get their money out.”

“Engineering a decade of rolling Chinese financial crises would be the most effective foreign policy the US could run,” continued the same investor. Forget about the South China Sea, don’t bother with more aircraft carriers, just let Beijing try to cope with their financial system. “And we’re 80% of the way there – we instigated a trade war, implemented a massive fiscal stimulus, which created the room to raise interest rates,” he said. “The combined policy mix makes capital want to leave at the same time it makes the dollar more attractive and effectively shuts down new investment inflows to China.”

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That’s just the city itself.

Beijing To Shut 1,000 Manufacturing Firms By 2020 (R.)

China’s capital Beijing will shut around 1,000 manufacturing firms by 2020 as part of a program aimed at curbing smog and boosting income in neighboring regions, state media said on Monday. Beijing will focus on dynamic, high-tech industries and withdraw from “ordinary” manufacturing, the Communist Party paper People’s Daily reported, citing a recent policy document published by the Beijing municipal government. The city has already rejected registration applications from 19,500 firms, and shut down or relocated 2,465 “ordinary” manufacturers, the paper said.

China launched a plan to improve coordination in the smog-prone Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region in 2014 amid concerns that competition between the three jurisdictions was wasting resources and creating overcapacity and pollution. It plans to strip Beijing of manufacturing and heavy industry, as well as relocating universities and some government departments into Hebei’s new economic zone of Xiongan. The government also wants to create an integrated transport network and unify standards in areas such as welfare and education to make Hebei, known for its heavy industry, more attractive for investors. An official with Hebei province earlier this year said the plan has helped drive average incomes in Hebei up 41 percent since 2013, although they are still only half the level in Beijing.

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‘..being smart’s not enough you gotta execute and he’s got execution problems.’

Hedge Fund Manager Steve Eisman Bets Against Tesla (MW)

‘Look, Elon Musk is a very, very smart man but there are a lot of smart people in this world, and being smart’s not enough you gotta execute and he’s got execution problems.’ That is the view of Steve Eisman, the hedge-fund manager and investor who garnered prominence on Wall Street for his bets against dicey mortgage products engineered by some of the world’s biggest banks. Now Eisman is betting against Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc. because, as he put it during a Friday interview on Bloomberg TV, he doesn’t see value in the company and doesn’t believe Tesla is doing enough in autonomous driving. “I don’t see the value in Tesla,” Eisman said. “We’re short Tesla,” meaning he is betting that the price of the company’s shares will fall over time.

Eisman said Tesla’s quarterly results could be pivotal for the electric-car manufacturer whose polarizing founder has been ensnared in a series of controversies in recent weeks and has been described by critics as a distraction for Tesla. [..] For his part, Eisman finds more appeal in betting on General Motors, which he says would benefit if autonomous driving takes off and has emerged as a well-run institution after the 2007-09 financial crisis. “The one stock in my portfolio which I say hasn’t worked yet but has the potential for a big home run is General Motors.” Eisman garnered fame after his story of subprime mortgage glory was told in Michael Lewis’s “The Big Short,” where he wagered correctly that arcane mortgage securities would eventually rock the financial system to its very core.

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Sometimes one thinks they do it on purpose.

This Is What A No-Deal Brexit Actually Looks Like (Dunt)

March 30th 2019 becomes Year Zero. Overnight, British meat products cannot be imported into the EU. To bring these types of goods in, they have to come from a country with an approved national body whose facilities have been certified by the EU. But there has been no deal, so there’s no approval. This sounds insane. After all, British food was OK to enter Europe with minimal checks on March 29th, so why not on March 30? Nothing has changed. The reason is that food is potentially very dangerous, so we have strict systems in place for it. Imagine that right now someone is eating a burger made from the meat of a cow with a neurodegenerative disease, like BSE. This is what happened in Britain in the late-80s and led to the deaths of 177 people.

Tomorrow’s tabloid front pages will ask certain very important questions. Where did the meat come from? Was it produced domestically or imported? Who was responsible for its production, transport and storage? The people responsible will be hauled in front of cameras and Commons select committees. Ministers will have to give statements to parliament. The press will demand that heads roll. The BSE outbreak almost brought down the government. That’s how severe these threats are. And there are plenty more around, including foot and mouth, avian flu, and African swine fever, plus those that do not exist yet. This is why the certification system for food coming into Europe is so stringent and detailed.

After Brexit, we will fall out of the eco-system of EU rules, agencies and courts and become an external country. That means certification requirements will apply to us too. Certificates are approval stamps, designed per product and country, documenting the fact that it meets the various standards for human health and animal welfare. Say a container full of pork loins is sent from Leeds to Amsterdam after Brexit day. It will need to be signed off by a vet to say that the meat was slaughtered, stored, quality assured, sealed and despatched in a certain manner, with appropriate documentation proving compliance. This will be a cold splash of water to the face for Britain.

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A preposterous headline of course. But interesting that the king whistles MBS back.

As US Pushes For Mideast Peace, Saudi King Reassures Allies (R.)

Saudi Arabia has reassured Arab allies it will not endorse any Middle East peace plan that fails to address Jerusalem’s status or refugees’ right of return, easing their concerns that the kingdom might back a nascent U.S. deal which aligns with Israel on key issues. King Salman’s private guarantees to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his public defense of long-standing Arab positions in recent months have helped reverse perceptions that Saudi Arabia’s stance was changing under his powerful young son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, diplomats and analysts said. This in turn has called into question whether Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam and site of its holiest shrines, can rally Arab support for a new push to end the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, with an eye to closing ranks against mutual enemy Iran.

“In Saudi Arabia, the king is the one who decides on this issue now, not the crown prince,” said a senior Arab diplomat in Riyadh. “The U.S. mistake was they thought one country could pressure the rest to give in, but it’s not about pressure. No Arab leader can concede on Jerusalem or Palestine.” Palestinian officials told Reuters in December that Prince Mohammed, known as MbS, had pressed Abbas to support the U.S. plan despite concerns it offered the Palestinians limited self-government inside disconnected patches of the occupied West Bank, with no right of return for refugees displaced by the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967. Such a plan would diverge from the Arab Peace Initiative drawn up by Saudi Arabia in 2002 in which Arab nations offered Israel normal ties in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in 1967.

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Shaky grounds.

Support For Macron & Merkel’s Coalitions Plunges To Record New Lows (RT)

The people’s dissatisfaction with the leading EU governments appears to be rising, as fresh polls show a record decline in the ratings of French President Emmanuel Macron and of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalitions. Support for Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party, Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), has gone down to its lowest level since 2006, an Emnid poll, published by Bild am Sonntag, has revealed. The CDU/CSU are currently polling at 29 percent, their lowest result in 12 years. Merkel’s party came out tops in the country’s federal election in September 2017 with 33 percent of the vote. Such a situation is worrying for CSU, which seems to be at risk of losing its absolute majority in Germanys’ largest state of Bavaria after the regional election in October.

The survey provided no explanation for the results, but Merkel’s coalition nearly fell apart in June over a rift caused by the migrant crisis. [..] Meanwhile, in France, Macron also “has beaten his own anti-record,” the Journal du Dimanche wrote, commenting on the results of the survey, carried out for the outlet by Ifop. Support for the French President has fallen from 41 to 37 percent in the period between July 18 and 27, the research revealed. It’s the worst ratings the 40-year-old has had since he became French president in May 2017, claiming 66.1% percent of the vote in a run-off against Marine Le Pen. Macron’s previous worst result was recoded in August 2016, when he was backed by 40 percent of the French population.

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This devolves into Beckett and Ionesco. Meaningless.

IMF Reiterates Call For Greece To Meet Pledges (K.)

The IMF is due to publish its Article IV Report on the course of the Greek economy on Tuesday. This will include the much anticipated Debt Sustainability Analysis, which was carefully examined at a meeting last Friday, with the board confirming the medium-term sustainability of the Greek debt as well as the need for the government to remain committed to reforms. The IMF’s executive board spent about an hour pouring over the contents of the report and the reform course that Greece needs to pursue in the post-program period. Fund sources told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency on Friday that the Article IV Report’s timing is important – even if it is a routine process – as it comes a few days before the completion of the European Stability Mechanism’s program next month.

ANA-MPA added that the board acknowledged the achievement of significant results by Greece, but also stressed there should be no complacency and that it is necessary for the country to implement its pledges so that the sacrifices already made do not go to waste. Another issue addressed at the meeting was that of bad loans in Greece, with several IMF board members expressing doubts over the high targets set for the reduction of nonperforming exposures.

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But arrivals are also up vs last year.

Number Of Migrants Prevented By Turkey To Reach Europe Increases 60% (An.)

The number of migrants held trying to reach Europe from Turkey using illegal routes has increased by 60 percent this year, according to data from the Coast Guard Command. A total of 14,470 migrants were held in the first seven months of this year, especially in the Aegean Sea, as well as in Turkey’s southern Mediterranean Sea and the northern Black Sea, the data revealed. This figure was 9,152 during the same period in 2017. According to the data, most migrants prefer to use the illegal routes in Aegean Sea to cross into Europe as a number of Greek islands are located close to Turkish coasts. A total of 13,336 irregular migrants used the Aegean Sea to cross into Greece this year, the data revealed.

Among the irregular migrants intercepted by Turkey so far this year, 1,640 were held in January, 1,363 in February, 1,849 in March, 2,534 in April, 3,398 in May, 1,925 in June, and 1761 in first 29 days of July. Coast Guard data shows 54 irregular migrants lost their lives this year while the figure was 20 during the same period in 2017. In March 2016, the EU and Turkey reached an agreement to stop irregular migration through the Aegean Sea, and improve the conditions of more than 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Turkey hosts some 3.5 million Syrians – more than any other country in the world.

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Hope?!

Worms Frozen In Permafrost For Up To 42,000 Years Come Back To Life (ST)

Nematodes moving and eating again for the first time since the Pleistocene age in major scientific breakthrough, say experts. The roundworms from two areas of Siberia came back to life in Petri dishes, says a new scientific study. ‘We have obtained the first data demonstrating the capability of multicellular organisms for longterm cryobiosis in permafrost deposits of the Arctic,’ states a report from Russian scientists from four institutions in collaboration with Princetown University. Some 300 prehistoric worms were analysed – and two ‘were shown to contain viable nematodes’. ‘After being defrosted, the nematodes showed signs of life,’ said a report today from Yakutia, the area where the worms were found.

‘They started moving and eating.’ One worm came from an ancient squirrel burrow in a permafrost wall of the Duvanny Yar outcrop in the lower reaches of the Kolyma River – close to the site of Pleistocene Park which is seeking to recreate the Arctic habitat of the extinct woolly mammoth, according to the scientific article published in Doklady Biological Sciences this week. This is around 32,000 years old. Another was found in permafrost near Alazeya River in 2015, and is around 41,700 years old. Currently the nematodes are the oldest living animals on the planet. They are both believed to be female.

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It has taken PM Tsipras a full week to visit the area today, only some 25km from his office.

Greece Fire Death Toll At 91, 25 Remain Missing (K.)

Fire officials in Greece have raised the death toll from a wildfire that raged through a coastal area east of Athens to 91 and reported that 25 people are missing six days after blaze. Before the national fire service updated the official number of fatalities Sunday night, it had stood at 86. Greek officials previously had not provided a tally of the people reported missing. The fire sped flames through the village without warning on July 23. A database maintained by the Center for the Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in Brussels shows it as the deadliest wildfire in Europe since 1900. The vast majority of victims died in the fire itself, though a number drowned in the sea while fleeing the flames. Dozens of volunteer divers, some of them retired Navy Seals, kept searching the sea on Sunday looking for the bodies of more possible victims.

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Jul 252018
 
 July 25, 2018  Posted by at 12:59 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Empire of light 1950

 

There’s not a shade of a doubt that I’m not an expert on tariffs, trade barriers and subsidies, and I’d be the last to suggest any such thing. But I can read. Still, do correct me if I’m wrong anywhere. The whole field is so complicated -no doubt often on purpose- that there’s always the possibility that there are side issues involved for which one would need to actually be an expert.

But still. Now that EU chief Jean-Claude -‘When it becomes serious, you have to lie’- Juncker is due to arrive at the White House soon, I looked at some of the items involved. Last night Trump said that all tariffs, barriers and subsidies should be dropped between the EU and US. Why the TTiP doesn’t come anywhere close to that is anyone’s guess. Too complicated for the boys and girls?

In at least some major fields, Trump does seem to have a point or two. The US has a 2.5% tariff on European cars, while the EU slaps a 10% tariff on American cars. That’s 4x as much, or a 300% difference. Whoever said yes to that? Sure, the US has a 25% tariff on EU pickups, but nobody in Europe drives pickups, hence they don’t produce them, so that’s not consequential.

So what had Trump done? He’s threatened a 20% tariff on Beemers and Mercs, and added -for entertainment value only- that he doesn’t want to see any of them in on Fifth Avenue anymore. Cue EU carmakers warning about the cost to American customers.

That’s all fine and well, but those tariffs on personal cars are still 300% higher. So push your European government to make them equal. Easy as -American- pie. How about zero? I can see where Trump’s coming from. Issuing warnings to the American public about BMW’s getting more expensive doesn’t look entirely on the up and up.

 

Also, I was looking at agriculture. Now, I grew up in Europe, and I do have an idea about EU farm subsidies (they’re notorious even inside the EU, going all the way back to the 1950s-60s). There was a point where they were over 70% of the total EU budget. They’re 30% or even somewhat below that now, but that’s not because subsidies have gone down, it’s because the EU budget has grown exponentially.

US farm subsidies were some $23 billion last year, and a year ago the Trump administration proposed a $4.8 billion cut to that. Now that Trump has initiated a one-time $12 billion for farmers to make up for the effects of his tariff proposals, one half of America -Conservatives- cry foul because: “that’s Soviet-style politics”, and no doubt the EU will cry right with them.

But look: under the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), EU farm subsidies for the 2021-2027 period will fall a whole 5% to ‘only’ $420 billion. And that’s just a proposal, and already France, the main beneficiary of the subsidies, has declared that such a cut is unacceptable. Soviet style?

The meeting of tee-totaller Trump and wine-totaller Juncker is interesting enough in and of itself, and you bet the Donald knows what and who Juncker is, but unless Jean-Claude comes with something very substantial, the numbers I cited above would seem to be very clear. And that’s without steel, aluminum etc etc.

If your side gives its farmers almost 20 times as much as the other side, what are you going to say? You may ask for some time to adapt, but that would seem to be it. However, Juncker could never sell egalization of subsidies ‘at home’. France and others would shave his head and ass and apply tar and feathers. And Macron would fear the same fate if he gives in. As Merkel would on the car issue.

Juncker has no room to wiggle on the whole shebang. All he can do is damage control and a good glass of wine (wonder if Trump instructed his staff not to give him any, or merely cut him off after the first bottle). It’s just that Trump has noticed the policy damage, and doesn‘t like it. And you have to wonder, who ever accepted those terms, and signed treaties like that TTiP that they are engraved in?

 

If you ask me, communities and countries should always make sure they remain in control of all their basic necessities. And food is certainly one of them. Also. if any politician near you ever proposes selling the rights to your drinking water to some foreign party, tar and feathers is your reply. Let Americans make their own cars, And German and French theirs. It’s not of the same importance as food, water, shelter and clothing, but you get the drift.

Schlepping food halfway across the planet is a dangerous thing once you become dependent on it to feed your children and your community (schlepping it halfway through Europe is as well). Selling your local water rights is even worse. That’s downright insane.

But if you’re going to trade, and once you’ve excluded basic necessities, zero tariffs or at least equal tariffs seems the way to go. Just wait till Trump starts that discussion with China for real. That conversation is largely about barriers, it’s different from Europe, though -hidden- subsidies feature ‘bigly’ as well.

 

Still, summarized, though I’m far from a Trumponado, I can see his point(s). I find it much harder to see what earlier US administrations were thinking when they agreed to all this stuff. And sure, his approach is brusque and perhaps brutal, but the country he’s, for better or for worse, president of, does seem to have gotten the short end of an very extensive array of sticks.

But by all means, don’t listen to me, listen to the experts. Then again, also look at the numbers.

 

 

Jun 262018
 
 June 26, 2018  Posted by at 8:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Juan de la Corte (1597–1660) Lot And His Daughters Escaping From The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah

 

There is no migration crisis, said an article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail a few days ago. French President Emmanuel Macron followed up over the weekend with “there is no migrant crisis”. Really? If this is not a crisis, what is? Yes, numbers of refugees landing in Europe are down from 2015. But it’s not a numbers game. It’s about people.

If Angela Merkel’s political career is forced to a close next week because the EU cannot agree on a unified refugee policy, will they call it a crisis then? Oh wait, both Macron and the G&M agree that there is a crisis, just not a migration one. No, “the crisis is political opportunism”.

But can the crisis be placed squarely on Trump and Italy’s Salvini, or is perhaps what led to their popularity partly to blame for that popularity? Salvini didn’t bomb Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, nor did Trump cause the mayhem in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, which is where most migrants come from. That was Bush, Obama, Billary, Blair, Cameron and their ilk. And before them Kissinger etc.

So who are the political opportunists exactly? “We” have exploited all of Africa, the Middle East and South and Central America for so long and so disgustingly thoroughly that it’s today the zenith of misleading arrogance to blame the consequences on Salvini, Trump and other right wingers.

You could see them coming from miles away. You created them. You literally built the space they occupy. What is happening is that the chaos we created in all these places is now boomeranging right back at us, on our own borders. And we’re not getting out of that chaos until we stop creating it in places where we don’t live. Until we allow people a future where they are born.

No, you’re right, Trump is not going to do that. His role is to disrupt the existing system that has relied on creating chaos for decades (or even longer, if you will). Salvini will play that part in Europe, by blowing up the EU. And after they’ve gone, we must find better people than them, but also better than all the rest that today fill our political classes, if we’re to turn chaos into order.

We have gathered our wealth through theft and murder. Untold millions have died and suffered for our riches. It’s time we acknowledge that. Just like it’s time that we acknowledge just how we choose our political “leaders”. Who all come from a tested model that relies on chaos and obfuscation. Because if we don’t, the chaos will continue and intensify.

Angela Merkel has created a problem for which she now has no possible solution anymore. She’s even allegedly trying to reach quid pro quo deals with Albania, Serbia and Skopje: take 100,000 or so refugees and you can become an EU member. The last gasps of Mutti. Merkel will leave behind a union about to implode. From a refugee crisis as well as a financial crisis. Thanks, Angela.

She should never have left Greece in its own double financial and refugee crisis; she should have helped to make it strong. That’s the de facto task of Europe’s leadership, even as it’s crazy that one country gets to call all the important shots for 27 others.

Too late now. Italy is very aware of how Greece has been treated, and very aware it could be next. What does Rome have to lose? They can afford to be fearless. Why not confront Brussels and Berlin? The union’s in tatters anyway.

As for Trump, he doesn’t have anyone to fear either. The Democrats, just like virtually all left wing parties in Europe, have lost their identity and therefore their voters because of Tony Blair, the Clintons stage act and Obama. The US media have become a lousy tired comedy routine, unable to see that a constant barrage of empty attacks on Trump could only ever make them irrelevant.

The New York Times, WaPo, CNN have created the space that Trump operates in. They might as well be working for him. And meanwhile the folks who actually constructed the multiple crises remain out of sight. And have their minions declare that there is no crisis. Or that it’s just a political one, brought on by opportunists.

Salvini and Trump are not the greatest specimens of the human race, but they are not to blame for what’s going on. Salvini will force Europe to either redo its Dublin accord or redo the EU altogether. Trump will water down his border policies. But the driving force behind all of it, hiding in the shadows, still remains.

And that force controls, as it has for many many years, your parliaments and governments. Want to be angry, want to be outraged? Yeah, right there. It’s not about how Trump treats the children, it’s about why they are there in the first place.

And yes, ICE and Homeland Security should be eliminated, they’re insults to America and to the Founding Fathers. But they’re not Trump’s creations. They were there for him to use. And so he did and does. But c’mon guys, take the blinders off. You can’t see a thing with them on. There is a bigger picture.

 

 

Jun 242018
 
 June 24, 2018  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Ivan Aivazovsky The Ninth Wave 1849

 

Mueller’s Fruit of the Poisonous Tree (WSJ)
Refugees Now Make Up 1% Of The World’s Population (Wef)
There’s No Migration Crisis – The Crisis Is Political Opportunism (G&M)
Divided EU Leaders Convene For Emergency Talks On Migration (R.)
Italy Says ‘Arrogant’ France Could Become Main Enemy On Migration (R.)
Xi Says China Must Lead Way In Reform Of Global Governance (R.)
Turkey’s Erdogan Faces Resurgent Opposition In Twin Election Test (AFP)
Huge Anti-Brexit Demonstration Throngs Central London (G.)
Airbus Warns Of Harsh Brexit Reality With 100,000 Jobs Under Threat (Ind.)
Bitcoin Drops to $5,860, Lowest since October 2017 (WS)
The Eurozone Isn’t Ready For The Next Big Shock (Pol.eu)
Shooting The Messenger: Criminalising Journalism (G.)

 

 

Two lawyers in the WSJ warning that the FBI had so tainted the process, Mueller should at a minimum pause his investigation.

Mueller’s Fruit of the Poisonous Tree (WSJ)

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation may face a serious legal obstacle: It is tainted by antecedent political bias. The June 14 report from Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, unearthed a pattern of anti-Trump bias by high-ranking officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Some of their communications, the report says, were “not only indicative of a biased state of mind but imply a willingness to take action to impact a presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.” Although Mr. Horowitz could not definitively ascertain whether this bias “directly affected” specific FBI actions in the Hillary Clinton email investigation, it nonetheless affects the legality of the Trump-Russia collusion inquiry, code-named Crossfire Hurricane.

Crossfire was launched only months before the 2016 election. Its FBI progenitors—the same ones who had investigated Mrs. Clinton—deployed at least one informant to probe Trump campaign advisers, obtained Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court wiretap warrants, issued national security letters to gather records, and unmasked the identities of campaign officials who were surveilled. They also repeatedly leaked investigative information.

Mr. Horowitz is separately scrutinizing Crossfire and isn’t expected to finish for months. But the current report reveals that FBI officials displayed not merely an appearance of bias against Donald Trump, but animus bordering on hatred. Peter Strzok, who led both the Clinton and Trump investigations, confidently assuaged a colleague’s fear that Mr. Trump would become president: “No he won’t. We’ll stop it.” An unnamed FBI lawyer assigned to Crossfire told a colleague he was “devastated” and “numb” after Mr. Trump won, while declaring to another FBI attorney: “Viva le resistance.”

[..] The totality of the circumstances creates the appearance that Crossfire was politically motivated. Since an attempt by federal law enforcement to influence a presidential election “shocks the conscience,” any prosecutorial effort derived from such an outrageous abuse of power must be suppressed. The public will learn more once the inspector general finishes his investigation into Crossfire’s genesis. But given what is now known, due process demands, at a minimum, that the special counsel’s activity be paused. Those affected by Mr. Mueller’s investigation could litigate such an argument in court. One would hope, however, that given the facts either Mr. Mueller himself or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would do it first.

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War and peace.

Refugees Now Make Up 1% Of The World’s Population (Wef)

If all the world’s refugees came together as a single nation they would collectively create one of the largest countries on Earth. According to the UNHCR, there are now almost 70 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, around 1% of the world’s population – the highest number in modern history. The number of refugees has steadily increased since 1951 but has jumped dramatically in the last 10 years. That’s mostly because of the Syrian civil war which began in 2011 and has since forced millions to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighbouring countries and in Europe. The most recent Global Peace Index, an annual report produced by Australian think tank the Institute for Economics and Peace, has found that for the fourth year in a row, overall levels of peace around the world have deteriorated.

92 countries have seen declining peace, while 71 countries have improved. Increased terrorist activity, conflicts in the Middle East and rising tensions in Eastern Europe and north-east Asia have all contributed to declining levels of peace. Even the most peaceful regions in the world according to the index – Europe, North America, Asia-Pacific, and South America – have all recorded declines. The rising number of refugees and heightened political tensions in Europe and the US have meant that even stable countries have seen their scores lowered. For instance, 23 out of 36 countries in Europe deteriorated last year. Now in its seventh year of civil war, Syria is the least peaceful country in the world, along with Afghanistan, South Sudan, Iraq and Somalia.

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But the article above talks about the highest number of refugees in history.

There’s No Migration Crisis – The Crisis Is Political Opportunism (G&M)

“Desperate times at our southern border call for desperate measures on the other side:” That was the very loud message from right-wing leaders in the United States and Europe this week. Their desperate measures shocked the world. The Trump administration’s policy requiring thousands of infants and children to be seized from their parents and held in detention left leaders and citizens aghast (and its most inhumane elements remain in place). On the other side of the Atlantic, we watched the new Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini order boatloads of migrant families turned back into the sea, following his call last year to deal with immigration with a “mass cleansing, street by street, quarter by quarter.”

Most reasonable people agree that these are not humane ways to deal with what these politicians call a “migration emergency.” But too many people take their word that there actually is some sort of a migration emergency. To be clear: There is no immigration crisis in 2018. Not in the United States, not in Europe, not in Canada. “It is not a migration emergency – it’s a political emergency,” William Lacy Swing, the American director-general of the International Organization for Migration, said this week. The IOM’s 8,400 staff monitor the movement of people around the world, and while they’ve identified plenty of challenges, there aren’t any overwhelming or unmanageable movements of people this year. “The overwhelming majority of migration is taking place in a regular, safe and orderly fashion,” he said.

“There is a very serious problem of communication, but what we’re seeing is that the numbers are pretty modest,” said Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD, which advises 34 countries (including the United States and Canada) on immigration policy, this week released its annual report on migration levels in OECD countries. It showed a fall in numbers to ordinary, non-crisis levels. The United States has always had movement, some of it undocumented, across its southern border. The 2018 numbers are somewhat higher than the 2017 numbers – but they’re a small fraction, less than a third, of the rate experienced in the 2000s under George W. Bush, or in the 1990s under Bill Clinton, or in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan. Since 2008, illegal crossings have fallen to lows not seen since the early 1970s.

What has risen, since 2014, has been the far smaller fraction of people on the Mexican border who are refugee claimants from Guatemala, Honduras and especially El Salvador. Those countries are experiencing crises of political and civic violence, and those fleeing have legitimate claims for asylum under the Refugee Convention, to which Washington subscribes. They are not illegal and they’re certainly not dangerous.

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No agreement seems possible anymore.

Divided EU Leaders Convene For Emergency Talks On Migration (R.)

European Union leaders gather in Brussels on Sunday in an attempt to bridge their deep divisions over migration, an issue that has been splitting them for years and now poses a fresh threat to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Though arrivals across the Mediterranean are only a fraction of what they were in 2015, when more than a million people reached Europe, a recent opinion poll showed migration was the top concern for the EU’s 500 million citizens. Under heavy pressure from voters at home, EU leaders have been fighting bitter battles over how to share out asylum seekers in the bloc. Unable to agree, they have become more restrictive on asylum and tightened their external borders to let fewer people in.

They have given money and aid to countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East to keep people from heading for Europe. Only 41,000 refugees and migrants have made it to the EU across the sea so far this year, U.N. figures show. But the issue has in the meantime won and lost elections for politicians across the bloc from Italy to Hungary, with voters favoring those advocating a tougher stance on migration. On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron said France favored financial sanctions for EU countries that refuse migrants with proven asylum status. Merkel is under pressure because her longtime conservative allies, Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), have threatened to start turning away at the German border all asylum seekers already registered elsewhere in the EU unless the bloc reaches an agreement on distributing them more evenly.

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Not smart Macron.

Italy Says ‘Arrogant’ France Could Become Main Enemy On Migration (R.)

Italy on Saturday said “arrogant” France risked becoming its “No.1 enemy” on migration issues, a day before European leaders convene in Brussels for a hastily arranged meeting on the divisive topic. In answer to comments by French President Emmanuel Macron, who said migration flows toward Europe had reduced compared with a few years ago, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said Macron’s words showed he was out of touch. “Italy indeed faces a migration emergency and it’s partly because France keeps pushing back people at the border. Macron risks making his country Italy’s No.1 enemy on this emergency,” Di Maio wrote on his Facebook page.

Macron said European cooperation had managed to cut migration flows by close to 80 percent and problems stemmed from “secondary” movements of migrants within Europe. “The reality is that Europe is not experiencing a migration crisis of the same magnitude as the one it experienced in 2015,” the French president said. “A country like Italy has not at all the same migratory pressure as last year. … The crisis we are experiencing today in Europe is a political crisis.” But Italy’s Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said his country had faced 650,000 arrivals by sea over the past four years, 430,000 asylum requests and the hosting of 170,000 “alleged refugees” for an overall cost of more than 5 billion euros ($5.8 billion).

“If for the arrogant President Macron this is not a problem, we invite him to stop insulting and to show instead some concrete generosity by opening up France’s many ports and letting children, men and women through at Ventimiglia,” he said in a statement, referring to the northwestern Italian town at the border with France.

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Filling a void.

Xi Says China Must Lead Way In Reform Of Global Governance (R.)

China must lead the way in reforming global governance, the foreign ministry on Saturday cited President Xi Jinping as saying, as Beijing looks to increase its world influence. China has sought a greater say in global organizations such as the World Bank, the IMF and UN, in line with its growing economic and diplomatic clout. Since taking office in late 2012, Xi has taken a more muscular approach, setting up China’s own global bodies like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and launching his landmark Belt and Road project to build a new Silk Road. Beijing has cast itself a responsible member of the international community, especially as President Donald Trump withdraws the United States from agreements on climate change and Iran, and as Europe wrestles with Brexit and other issues.

China must “uphold the protection of the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests, proactively participate in and show the way in reform of the global governance system, creating an even better web of global partnership relationships”, Xi said in comments reported at the end of a two-day high-level Communist Party meeting. This would help create conditions for building a modern, strong socialist country, the ministry cited him as saying at the meeting attended by officials from the foreign and commerce ministries, the military, the propaganda department and the Chinese embassy in the United States.

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Blocking the opposition from TV.

Turkey’s Erdogan Faces Resurgent Opposition In Twin Election Test (AFP)

Turks began voting Sunday in dual parliamentary and presidential polls seen as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s toughest election test, with the opposition revitalised and his popularity at risk from growing economic troubles. Erdogan has overseen historic change in Turkey since his Islamic-rooted ruling party first came to power in 2002 after years of secular domination. But critics accuse the Turkish strongman, 64, of trampling on civil liberties and displaying autocratic behaviour. Polling stations opened at 0500 GMT and were due to close at 1400 GMT, with the first results expected late in the evening.

Over 56 million eligible voters can for the first time cast ballots simultaneously in the parliamentary and presidential elections, with Erdogan looking for a first round knockout and an overall majority for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). But both these goals are in doubt in the face of an energetic campaign by his rival from the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), Muharrem Ince, who has mobilised hundreds of thousands in mega rallies, and a strong opposition alliance in the legislative polls. Erdogan remains the favourite to hold on to the presidency – even if he needs a second round on July 8 – but the outcome is likely to be much tighter than he expected when calling the snap polls one-and-a-half years ahead of schedule.

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It’s going to take demos ten times that size. You need millions on the streets.

Huge Anti-Brexit Demonstration Throngs Central London (G.)

At least 100,000 people took to the streets yesterday as part of the largest ever demonstration of support for a new referendum over Britain’s final Brexit deal. With more businesses poised to issue dire Brexit warnings this week and senior Tories already drawing up plans to soften Theresa May’s exit proposals, organisers of the march on Sunday said it showed Britain’s departure from the European Union was not a “done deal”. A former aide to Margaret Thatcher, several Labour MPs and pro-EU campaigners from across Britain took part in the demonstration, marking two years since the Brexit vote. Organisers said that people from every region and walk of life were among those who took part in the march down Whitehall.

Conservative supporters marched alongside Labour voters and Liberal Democrats during the protest, which saw angry denunciations of the chaos that has ensued inside government since the Brexit vote. Labour’s leadership also came under pressure at the march for refusing to back a second public vote. There were chants of “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn” from the crowd. The Labour leader was on a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp. Anger on the streets at the prime minister’s handling of the Brexit negotiations is being accompanied by a renewed push from industry to ensure that trade with Europe is not disrupted as a result of leaving. More prominent manufacturing firms are set to issue warnings about Britain’s Brexit negotiations within days, after Airbus and BMW broke cover to say they could reconsider their UK investment plans unless a Brexit deal was reached keeping Britain closely aligned with Europe.

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Reality should dawn on the British people.

Airbus Warns Of Harsh Brexit Reality With 100,000 Jobs Under Threat (Ind.)

“The dawning of reality,” is how Tom Williams, the chief operating officer of Airbus, described it, after warning that Airbus is seriously considering pulling out of the UK in the event of a no deal Brexit. It’s worth taking a moment to consider what that would mean. The firm employs 14,000 people directly in this country. It has provided 4,000 high quality apprentices over the last decade, thus supporting a flagship policy of the Government. It contributed £1.7bn to the UK exchequer in tax last year, before you consider the economic contributions of its employees, who are in well paid, unionised jobs. It is estimated that Airbus supports another 86,000 people through its supply chain, bringing the total number of jobs at risk to 100,000.

The companies in that supply chain, and their employees, further add to the tax take, and contribute to the economy. If, when, Airbus does go, if it seeks alternatives when it comes to the production of its wings, those jobs will not be replaced. Once they are gone, they are gone. Perhaps the Brextremists expect the people who held them to pick the fruit that the soft fruit industry has been warning about rotting in the fields for months? It once again puts the shockingly mendacious talk by ministers of a “Brexit dividend” to fund the NHS – even Chancellor Philip Hammond has now descended into that pit – into context. The economic damage if Airbus goes, and if other companies; car makers, and their suppliers, for example, do the same, no one will be talking about dividends. Quite the reverse.

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Wolf Richter is no fan.

Bitcoin Drops to $5,860, Lowest since October 2017 (WS)

Bitcoin dropped to $5,860 at the moment, below $6,000 for the first time since October 29, 2017. It has plummeted 70% in six months from the peak of $19,982 on December 17. There have been many ups on the way down, repeatedly dishing out fakes hopes, based on the ancient theory that nothing goes to hell in a straight line (chart via CoinMarketCap): If you’re a True Believer and you just know that bitcoin will go to $1 million by the end of 2020, as promised by a whole slew of gurus, including John McAfee – “I will still eat my dick if wrong,” he offered helpfully on November 29 – well you probably don’t need this sort of punishment. You’re suffering enough already. And I apologize. I feel your pain.

I was a true believer too a few times, and every single time it was a huge amount of fun, and I felt invincible and indestructible until I got run over by events. With 17.11 million bitcoins circulating today, if bitcoin were at $1 million today, it would amount to a market cap of $17 trillion. But new bitcoins are constantly being created out of nothing (“mined”) by computers that suck up enormous amounts of electricity. And by the end of 2020, there will be many more bitcoins, and if the price were $1 million each, the total would amount to about the size of US GDP. This doesn’t even count all the other cryptos that would presumably boom in a similar manner, amounting perhaps to half of global GDP, or something.

People who promote this brainless crap are either totally nuts or the worst scam artists. But I feel sorry for the True Believers whose fiat money got transferred and will continue to get transferred from them to others. So OK, there’s still some time left. It’s not the end of 2020 yet. And True Believers still have room for the fake hope of a $1-million bitcoin. But at the moment, bitcoin is even worse – incredibly – than one of the worst fiat currencies in the world, the Argentine peso, which has plunged “only” 35% over the period during which bitcoin plunged 70%. That takes some doing!

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France and Germany should stop trying to dictate the future. It will backfire.

The Eurozone Isn’t Ready For The Next Big Shock (Pol.eu)

The return to economic growth in the eurozone has produced a dangerous sense of complacency on the Old Continent, especially in the richer countries of the north. But Italy’s flirtation with an exit from the euro under a populist government is a stark reminder that, if left unaddressed, the deep structural weaknesses that plague the single currency could trigger an existential crisis across the EU. It would be a mistake, therefore, to believe we can drive along in business-as-usual mode, or just take a few small steps toward more European integration. This week’s Meseberg Declaration signed by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, although a step in the right direction, is part of a collective denial about what needs to be done.

You don’t need to be a populist to recognize that Europe’s monetary union is dysfunctional and in dire need of more substantial reforms than those proposed by Germany and France. To keep the single currency alive, it needs two major structural improvements. First, it needs to reduce the fragmentation in Europe’s banking system that has caused the Continent to experience more severe crises than other parts of the world — most notably in comparison to the U.S. Second, it has to develop a streamlined and legitimate decision-making process to respond quickly and boldly to the next major recession.

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Amen.

Shooting The Messenger: Criminalising Journalism (G.)

The fact that during the 10 years he was in office, the US president, Barack Obama, prosecuted more whistleblowers than all the presidents in US history combined is an indication of the increasing threat to journalism. In 2017 the head of the CIA questioned the first amendment rights which protect free speech, and the US attorney-general threatened that the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, would be prosecuted (for what he was not clear). Both are acts of intimidation designed to silence. It has been argued that governments are not that concerned about most of the work that journalists do so, for most, concerns about surveillance are unnecessary. But the problem there is that, generally speaking, if governments are not worried about what journalists are doing, the journalists are not doing their jobs.

Reporting local news may be a useful social function, but the issues that arise where nations go to war, or where countries are involved in breaking the law, or plundering the treasure of other nations, are of great importance and need investigating. It is in these significant areas that journalists must be protected from the vested interests of the executive state; where the very people who make the decisions, as in the Iraq war, need to be exposed and held to account before the event, not after it. What is so disturbing is that the media has often aided and abetted governments and the intelligence agencies – who always want more access to information – as they invoked the fear of terrorism as grounds for introducing tougher surveillance laws.

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Jun 172018
 
 June 17, 2018  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


George Grosz Apocalyptic landscape 1936

 

Is Merkel’s Reign Nearing A Frustrated End? (G.)
Merkel Wants to Hold Urgent Summit With EU States on Migration Issues (Sp.)
Italy Bars Two More Refugee Ships From Ports (G.)
Spain Rescues More Than 900 Boat Migrants, Finds Four Bodies (R.)
First Migrants From Aquarius Rescue Ship Arrive At Spanish Port (Sky)
Spain Says France To Take In Aquarius Ship Migrants (AFP)
Trump Keeps His Promises On Trade (AFP)
China Tariffs On US Soybeans Could Cost Iowa Farmers Up To $624 Million (DMR)
Mattis: Putin Is Trying To “Undermine America’s Moral Authority” (CJ)
Consumers Stubbornly Cling to Cash (DQ)
May To Unveil £20 Billion A Year Boost To NHS Spending (G.)
Greece, FYROM To Sign Name Change Accord Sunday (K.)

 

 

This morning Merkel’s coalition partner, Horst Seehofer, said ‘I can not work with this woman anymore’. Looks like game could be over.

Is Merkel’s Reign Nearing A Frustrated End? (G.)

For nearly 14 years as Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel has defined and personified Europe’s middle ground: pragmatic, consensual, mercantilist, petit-bourgeois, above all stable. It is little wonder the leader of Mitteleuropa’s major economic power has dominated the political centre for so long. But what if Merkel falls? Can the centre hold? These are increasingly urgent questions as the once unassailable “Mutti” struggles to hold together a fractious coalition. The immediate issue, which is likely to come to a head on Monday, is a furious row over EU immigration policy. But other problems are piling up, with unpredictable consequences for Europe’s future cohesion.

Merkel’s political obituary has been written many times, but now the final draft is nearing completion. She is under fire from the hard-right, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which stormed into the Bundestag last autumn. She has problems with the failing, unpopular Social Democrats on her left, on whom she depends for support. More seriously, though, Merkel is being challenged from within by her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, former chairman of Bavaria’s rightwing CSU, which is allied to Merkel’s Christian Democrats. In sum, Seehofer is demanding Germany no longer admit migrants who have first entered the EU via other member states – which is nearly all of them.

In Merkel’s view, such a bar would be illegal and would wreck her efforts – ongoing since the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, when Germany accepted 1 million migrants – to create a balanced, EU-wide policy of voluntary migrant quotas. She says Seehofer should wait for this month’s EU summit to come up with a joint plan. The problem with that approach is twofold. Seehofer’s CSU, which faces a critical electoral clash with the AfD in October, complains that the EU has been trying and failing to agree this for years. Another objection, as her critics see it, is that most Germans, recalling her 2015 “open door” policy, do not trust Merkel on this issue. Polls indicate 65% back tighter border controls.

Last week’s row between France and Italy, sparked by Rome’s decision to refuse entry to a ship, the Aquarius, carrying 629 migrants rescued off Libya, showed how improbable is the prospect of agreement at the Brussels summit. Italy’s new populist leadership, in common with an emerging axis of nationalist-minded governments in Austria, Hungary and Poland, believes it has a mandate to halt the migrant flow. Meanwhile, so-called “frontline states” such as Greece, Spain and Italy accuse “destination states” such as Germany, France and the UK of failing to accept a fair share of migrants. Divisions have been exacerbated by the failure, so far, of a key Merkel-backed initiative, the multibillion-euro EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, to reduce migration by addressing “root causes” in places such as Nigeria, Eritrea and Somalia.

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And this is of course far too late. This summit should have been held 3 years ago. And it should be a UN summit, not some talks with Greece and Italy. Give Africa a voice. And Central America. Stop inviting xenophobia.

Merkel Wants to Hold Urgent Summit With EU States on Migration Issues (Sp.)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to hold an urgent summit dedicated to the migration crisis and to discuss this issue with a group of the EU member states, local media reported. The Bild newspaper reported Saturday citing own sources in the leadership of several EU countries that Merkel would like to discuss migration-related issues with leadership of Austria, Greece, and Italy. According to the media outlet, a final decision about the date of the summit has not been made yet, however it could take place later in the month. Earlier, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, called for reforms of EU asylum rules, proposing that the EU set up centers to process asylum claims in migrants’ countries of origin. France’s President Emanuel Macron also stressed the need to modify current migration rules and criticizing the European Union for not sharing the burden with Rome over the migrant crisis.

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This comes at a bad time given Merkel’s problems.

Italy Bars Two More Refugee Ships From Ports (G.)

Italy’s interior minister has sparked a new migration crisis in the Mediterranean by barring two rescue boats from bringing refugees to shore, a week after the Auarius was prevented from docking. “Two other ships with the flag of Netherlands, Lifeline and Seefuchs, have arrived off the coast of Libya, waiting for their load of human beings abandoned by the smugglers,” Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant party the League, wrote on his Facebook page. “These gentlemen know that Italy no longer wants to be complicit in the business of illegal immigration, and therefore will have to look for other ports [not Italian] where to go.”

Italy’s closure of its ports to the migrant rescue ship Aquarius, which was carrying 620 people, triggered warnings from aid agencies of a deadly summer at sea for people trying to cross the Mediterranean. Axel Steier, the co-founder of Mission Lifeline which operates the Lifeline ship, said his crew had rescued more than 100 migrants off Libya on Friday in an operation with a US warship, and transferred them to a Turkish merchant vessel. He said his ship was too small to make the journey from Libya to Italian ports and that he always transferred migrants to other ships, but insisted those craft should have the right to land in Italy.

“I am sure there is an obligation for Italy to take them because its closest safe harbour is Lampedusa. We hand over migrants to Europe because of the Geneva convention,” he said. Vessels chartered by an assortment of European NGOs have plied the waters off Libya for three years, rescuing migrants from leaking boats and transporting them to Sicily.

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Greece, Italy and now Spain.

Spain Rescues More Than 900 Boat Migrants, Finds Four Bodies (R.)

Spain’s coast guard rescued 933 migrants and found four dead bodies in the Mediterranean Friday and Saturday, as the country prepared for the arrival of a charity rescue ship that was denied a port by Italy and Malta. The number of people fleeing poverty and conflict by boat to Spain doubled last year and is likely to rise again in 2018, according to the EU border agency, potentially pushing migration up the national political agenda. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has already made migrant-friendly moves in his first two weeks in the job, offering to take in the rescue ship Aquarius with 629 people on board and pledging free healthcare to undocumented migrants. The coast guard said on Twitter it had rescued 507 people from 59 small dinghies in the Gibraltar strait, where it also found the four bodies.

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Kudos to Sanchez. But what comes next?

First Migrants From Aquarius Rescue Ship Arrive At Spanish Port (Sky)

The first boat of the Aquarius convoy carrying 630 people, who have become the focus of a pan-European disagreement over migration, has docked in Valencia. The Italian coast guard vessel Dattilo arrived in the Spanish port just before 7am local time on Sunday, and will be followed by the Aquarius and another Italian navy ship, the Orione. The migrants were rescued a week ago off the coast of Libya and have been at sea ever since after the Italian government refused to allow the vessel they were aboard to dock in Italy. Among those rescued are seven children aged under five, 32 children aged between five and 15 years, 61 young people aged from 15 to 17 and 80 women, seven of whom are pregnant.

They were rescued in several different operations last weekend after Italian coastguard vessels reported a group of small rubber dinghies off the coast of Libya. The Aquarius, a charity rescue vessel operated by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), picked up more than a hundred people in a complex night-time rescue before being asked by the Italian authorities to take on board hundreds more people they had recovered. However the Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, then refused to allow the Aquarius to dock at Italian ports, fulfilling an election pledge to stop the arrival of migrants from Africa. Malta also refused to allow them to dock there, arguing that the Italians had assumed responsibility for the rescue operations.

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More kudos for Sanchez. France is moving.

Spain Says France To Take In Aquarius Ship Migrants (AFP)

Madrid said Saturday it had accepted an offer from France to take in migrants from the Aquarius rescue ship, currently en route to Spain with more than 600 people on board. “The French government will work together with the Spanish government to handle the arrival of the migrants” scheduled for Sunday, Spain’s deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo said in a statement. “France will accept migrants who express the wish to go there” once they have been processed in Valencia, the statement said. The vessel is at the heart of a major migration row between European Union member states.

Chartered by a French aid group, the vessel rescued 629 migrants including many children and pregnant women off Libya’s cost last weekend. Italy’s new populist government and Malta refused to let it dock in their ports, accusing each other of failing to meet their humanitarian and EU commitments. Spain eventually stepped in and agreed to receive the refugees. France – who had angered Rome by branding it irresponsible over the vessel rejection – offered Thursday to welcome Aquarius migrants who “meet the criteria for asylum”.

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Still negotiating.

Trump Keeps His Promises On Trade (AFP)

By inflicting tariffs on the steel and aluminum of his allies, and then on tens of billions of dollars in goods from China, US President Donald Trump has quickly moved to fulfill the tough campaign pledges he made on trade. During his first year in office, Trump and his top economic aides made repeated threats and warned that preliminary investigations were launched into whether certain imports were being unjustly subsidized. But no concrete steps were taken. That all changed in March, when the “America First” president went on the offensive. “What happened for a period of time is the president was constrained by different members” of his administration, said Edward Alden, a specialist on US economic competitiveness at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“But the president has become increasingly confident in his own judgment on these issues… He is willing to do radical things he promised during his campaign and for many years before that.” In its latest move, the White House on Friday announced stiff 25 percent tariffs on Chinese imports, sparking immediate retaliation from Beijing. The move, which Trump justified as payback for the theft of American intellectual property and technology, reignited a trade spat between the world’s two largest economies, spooking markets and worrying business leaders.

It came on top of the tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum that went into effect in late March – measures that prompted Beijing to slap punitive duties on 128 US goods, including pork, wine and certain pipes. Since June 1, steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico have been hit with tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Trump has seemingly opted to go with his gut, sometimes over the protestations of his closest aides.

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Since there is no glut of soybeans globally, this looks improbable.

China Tariffs On US Soybeans Could Cost Iowa Farmers Up To $624 Million (DMR)

Perhaps Iowa farmers’ biggest fear is becoming a harsh reality: The escalating U.S.-China trade dispute erupted Friday, with each country vowing to levy 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in goods. U.S. and Iowa agriculture is caught in the crossfire, with farmers selling $14 billion in soybeans to China last year, its top export market. Soybeans are among hundreds of U.S. products China has singled out for tariffs. The U.S. has an equally long list that includes taxing X-ray machines and other Chinese goods. Iowa farmers could lose up to $624 million, depending on how long the tariffs are in place and the speed producers can find new markets for their soybeans, said Chad Hart, an Iowa State University economist.

U.S. soybean prices have fallen about 12 percent since March, when the U.S.-China trade dispute began. “Any tariff or tax put in place will have a significant impact, not only to the U.S. soybean market but to Iowa’s, because we’re such a large producer,” Hart said Friday. Iowa is the nation’s second-largest soybean grower, producing 562 million bushels last year worth $5.2 billion. “It will slow down the market. Even with the tariffs in place, we will ship a lot of soybeans to China,” Hart said. “It just won’t be nearly the amount we did before. “It’s likely to still be our largest market even with these tariffs in place.”

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Word.

Mattis: Putin Is Trying To “Undermine America’s Moral Authority” (CJ)

At a graduation ceremony for the US Naval War College (barf), US Secretary of Defense James Mattis asserted that Russian President Vladimir Putin “aims to diminish the appeal of the western democratic model and attempts to undermine America’s moral authority,” and that “his actions are designed not to challenge our arms at this point but to undercut and compromise our belief in our ideals.” This would be the same James Mattis who’s been overseeing the war crimes committed by America’s armed forces during their illegal occupation of Syria.

This would be the same United States of America that was born of the genocide of indigenous tribes and the labor of African slaves, which slaughtered millions in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, Libya and Syria for no legitimate reason, which is partnered with Ukrainian Nazis, jihadist factions in Syria and Iranian terror cultists, which supports 73 percent of the world’s dictators, which interferes constantly in the electoral processes of other countries as a matter of policy, which stages coups around the world, which has encircled the globe with military bases, whose FBI still targets black civil rights activists for persecution to this very day, which routinely enters into undeclared wars of aggression against noncompliant governments to advance plutocratic interests, which remains the only country ever to use nuclear weapons on human beings after doing so completely needlessly in Japan, and which is functionally a corporatist oligarchy with no meaningful “democratic model” in place at all.

A casual glance at facts and history makes it instantly clear that the United States has no “moral authority” of any kind whatsoever, and is arguably the hub of the most pernicious and dangerous force ever assembled in human history. But the establishment Russia narrative really is that cartoonishly ridiculous: you really do have to believe that the US government is 100 percent pure good and the Russian government is 100 percent pure evil to prevent the whole narrative from falling to pieces. If you accept the idea that the exchange is anything close to 50/50, with Russia giving back more or less what it’s getting and simply protecting its own interests from the interests of geopolitical rivals, it no longer makes any sense to view Putin as a leader who poses a unique threat to the world. If you accept the idea that the west is actually being far more aggressive and antagonistic toward Russia than Russia is being toward the west, it gets even more laughable.

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“Currency in Circulation vs. GDP is increasing on all continents..”

Consumers Stubbornly Cling to Cash (DQ)

The last month has been an unhappy time for daydreamers of a cashless nirvana. Following weeks of disruptive tech failures, payment outages, and escalating cyber fraud scams, much of it taking place in Britain, consumers have been reminded of one of the great benefits of physical cash: it is accepted just about everywhere and does not suddenly fail on you. The findings of a new study by UK-based online payments company Paysafe, partly owned by US private equity giant Blackstone, confirm that consumers on both sides of the Atlantic continue to cling to physical lucre. For its Lost in Transaction report, Paysafe surveyed over 5,000 consumers in the UK, Canada, the US, Germany, and Austria on their payment habits.

One of its main findings is that 87% of consumers used cash to make purchases in the last month, while 83% visited ATMs, and 41% are not interested in even hearing about cash alternatives. “Despite the apparent benefits of low-friction payment technologies, these findings suggest many consumers aren’t ready to lose visibility of the payment process,” says Paysafe Group Chief Marketing Officer Oscar Nieboer. “It’s clear that the benefits are not unilaterally agreed upon, with cultural and infrastructure trends at play, and it may be some time before adoption is widespread.” Although consumers continue to cling to cash, they appear to be carrying less of it: 49% overall in the survey and 55% of U.S. respondents said they carry less cash now than they did a year ago.

The average American consumer carries $42 today — that’s $8 less than in 2017. In the UK the average amount carried in 2017 was £33; that has now fallen to £21. But that does not mean that the amount of cash in circulation is dwindling. On the contrary, according to this year’s G4S cash report, the world average ratio of currency vs GDP continues to rise, reaching 9.6% in 2018. “Currency in Circulation vs. GDP is increasing on all continents, indicating a consistent, growing demand for cash across the world,” says the report. South America has by far the highest cash dependency relative to its GDP, with an average ratio of over 16%.

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First you kill it, then it needs to be revived. How much of the £20 billion goes to repairing the damage already done?

May To Unveil £20 Billion A Year Boost To NHS Spending (G.)

Taxpayers are to be asked to help fund a £20bn a year injection of extra cash into the National Health Service by 2023-24 that will pay for thousands more doctors and nurses, while cutting cancer deaths and improving mental health services, Theresa May will say today. The announcement, before the NHS’s 70th birthday next month, will represent the biggest funding boost since Gordon Brown imposed a one percentage point rise in National Insurance to pay for more NHS spending in his 2002 budget, in the face of Tory claims that Labour was slapping a “tax on ordinary families”.

Government sources said the increases, which would be paid for in part by a “Brexit dividend”, would amount to around £600m a week extra for the NHS in cash terms within six years. Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt said last night that the government wanted to “show the world what a cutting-edge 21st-century healthcare system can look like”. He added: “This long-term plan and historic funding boost is a fitting birthday present for our most loved institution. Like no other organisation could ever hope to be, the NHS is there for every family at the best and worst of times, from the wonder of birth to the devastation of death, living and breathing those very British values of decency, fairness and compassion.

He said the extra cash “recognises the superhuman efforts made by staff over the last few years to maintain services in the face of rapidly growing demand. But it also presents a big opportunity for the NHS to write an entirely new chapter in its history”. Details of how the public will be required to pay through tax rises, and the proportion of the funding increases they will pay for, will not be spelled out until the budget, because of ongoing arguments involving the chancellor Philip Hammond, Hunt, and No 10.

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70% of Greeks is against the deal, protests are everywhere. But he pushed it through. In Foreign Policy, someone suggested giving him a Nobal Peace Prize for it. But, but, democracy…

Greece, FYROM To Sign Name Change Accord Sunday (K.)

Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are set to sign a historic accord to modify the latter’s name after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament Saturday. The accord is to be signed in the Prespes region, a lake district which borders Greece, FYROM and Albania, by the two countries’ foreign ministers Sunday. Tsipras and his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev will both attend the ceremony, along with UN mediator Matthew Nimetz and other European officials – including the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

Following the ceremony, members of the two delegations will hold a working lunch in the town of Otesevo, in FYROM. Security at the event is expected to be ultra-tight. A protest against the deal will be held in the nearby village of Pisoderi. On Saturday, after more than two days of vehement debate in Parliament, Greece’s SYRIZA-led government survived a no-confidence vote brought against it by the main opposition New Democracy party, but with one less MP. The motion garnered 127 votes with 153 against. The junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL) backed the government despite its opposition to the name deal with FYROM that Tsipras announced last week, bar one MP, Dimitris Kammenos, who backed the motion. He was subsequently expelled from the party, reducing the government’s majority to 153.

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Jun 102018
 
 June 10, 2018  Posted by at 7:33 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  


Edouard Manet A Bar at the Folies-Bergère 1882

 

Something curious happened during the Trump love fest at the G7 over the weekend. And I don’t think many people would have got it. In fact the entire western press, far as I could see, were blaming Trump for the dissolution of the treaties and whatall that the political class had worked so hard on for 50+ years.

But when you look at the whole thing from an energy level, Trump obviously won hands down. Merkel, Macron and Trudeau had no idea what to do with such a disruptive figure -though it could hardly have been a surprise to them- and so they sort of cowered back into a defensive posture as a group, saying Trump shouldn’t rock their boat. But that’s what he came there to do.

Now, these are all people who count as leaders in their own territories. They’ve won elections, they’re presidents and prime ministers. Not the kind of folk who like to see their authority questioned. But at the G7 they feel forced to move as a group. Which is not their thing, they’re very much individuals. That’s how they won their positions.

Still, the only way they see as viable to counter Trump is as a group. Big Mistake. That’s not their natural environment. Now they’re out of their comfort zone, and Trump is still very much in his. Even more so as they’re ganging up on him.

 

At this point, it no longer matters what he says or does. Or what they do. It’s all against one. And he’s already won. But they don’t know that game. They’re used to being the one, not the all. They’re doomed to lose this, because it’s Trump’s game, not theirs.

Trump wants tariffs, they do not, but at this point, it’s hardly relevant anymore. It’s a power game, pure and simply, they’ve all played it to get where they are, but by retreating into their group hug positions -they don’t know where else to go-, they’ve already lost this one.

This is not my endorsement of Trump, I’ve said enough times by now that he is a poor choice for president of the US, but nobody managed to come up with a better one. No, this is about how the mechanics work in -international- politics, and about how anyone who is not Trump seems to come up a mile and a half short when it comes to showing your true colors.

All these dynamics, all of it, were already obvious just from a bunch of headlines in the western press, even if the content of their articles were heavily leaning towards blaming Trump for whatever didn’t work at the G7. The objective news cycle about Trump was replaced long ago with an echo chamber. And those things deafen their own proprietors.

But let’s leave that alone as well for a moment. Though I still despise the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC for making it impossible for me to criticize Trump, because they monopolized that field with fake and made-up so-called news. Jim Kunstler actually thanked me for saying that. He feels the same way, and I’m sure many others do.

 

But then, after I had already contemplated all of this, the German government released a photo that I guess they wanted to present as Angela Merkel looking strong vs Donald Trump. Boy, did they misfire. Germans, I would think, would know some math, and some art history. But look:

 


Jesco Denzel/AFP/Getty Images

 

That, and I saw it in 0.1 seconds, is classic Fibonacci. This is where fractals come from. I don’t know how much of this requires explaining but let’s do a minmum. A Fibonacci sequence is when every number after the first two is the sum of the two preceding ones. So 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377 etc. So you get this:

 

 

And then:

 

 

Most people who saw the Merkel/Trump et al photo above as a ‘classic’ picture (and many did), though, didn’t recognize the Fibonacci. They saw Merkel dominating Trump. But who’s the center of attention in that picture? Not Merkel, says Fibonacci. This is what Fibonacci looks like. Lay that over the photo:

 

 

It doesn’t get more classic. Fibonacci was an Italian born in the 12th century. And yet the Berlin government insisted on releasing the photo as some kind of statement that Merkel was giving Donald Trump a hard time. But the photo says the opposite (if you look close, you see he’s not even looking at Merkel, but at Macron).

I’m not saying that’s necessarily or particularly bad or not, but a lot of voters in many countries have expressed their concern with business as usual, in Washington, Brussels, Rome etc.. That’s why we have Trump and Brexit and 5-Stars.

What the G7 showed more than anything is that things can’t go on the way the establishment planned it. Blaming it all on Trump, as the G6 and their media try to do, is not going to work anymore, and besides now there’s Kim-Jong-un coming up, a potentially huge victory for Trump.

But then, there’s always religion to provide comfort:

 

 

 

May 192018
 
 May 19, 2018  Posted by at 8:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Landscape with Couple Walking and Crescent Moon 1890

 

Train Crash Preview (Mauldin)
Bear Market Repo’s (Roberts)
Mushrooming Matrix of Scandals (Jim Kunstler)
Italy’s New Parallel Currency Plan (ZH)
Italy’s Populist Coalition Government Poses New Threat To Eurozone (Ind.)
Trump Drives Wedge Between Germany and France (Spiegel)
Putin Seeks Common Cause With Merkel Over Trump (R.)
EU Considers Iran Central Bank Transfers To Beat US Sanctions (R.)
Common Fungal Infections Becoming Incurable (Ind.)

 

 

Mauldin sees a Jubilee in your future.

Train Crash Preview (Mauldin)

Unemployment may approach the high teens by the end of the decade and GDP growth will be minimal at best. What do you call that condition? Certainly not business as usual. Long before that happens, the Federal Reserve will have engaged in massive quantitative easing. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about QE, so let me clarify something important. Quantitative easing is not about “printing money.” It is buying debt with excess bank reserves and keeping that debt on the Fed’s balance sheet as an asset. The Bank of Japan is an example. They did not put currency (yen) into the market. That’s how Japan still flirts with deflation and its currency has gotten stronger. QE is the opposite of printing money, though there is a relationship. That’s one reason central bankers like it.

As this recession unfolds, we will see the Fed and other developed world central banks abandon their plans to reverse QE programs. I think the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet assets could approach $20 trillion later in the next decade. Not a typo—I really mean $20 trillion, roughly quintuple what they did after 2008. They won’t need to worry about the deflation that usually accompanies such deep recessions (dare we say depression?) because the Treasury will be injecting lots of high-powered money into the economy via deficit spending. But since we have never been in this territory before, I must say this is only my guess.

If that’s what they do, will it work? No. The world simply has too much debt, much of it (perhaps most) unpayable. At some point, the major central banks of the world and their governments will do the unthinkable and agree to “reset” the debt. How? It doesn’t matter how, they just will. They’ll make the debt disappear via something like an Old Testament Jubilee. I know that’s stunning, but it’s really the only possible solution to the global debt problem. Pundits and economists will insist “it can’t be done” right up to the moment it happens—probably planned in secret and announced suddenly. Jaws will drop, and net lenders will lose.

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“A 50% decline wipes out 100% of the previous gain. ”

Bear Market Repo’s (Roberts)

An interesting email hit my desk this morning: “The stock market goes up 80% of the time, so why worry about the declines?” Like a “bull” – rising markets tend to be steady, strong and durable. Conversely, “bear” markets are fast “mauling”events that leave you deeply wounded at best and dead at worst. Yes, the majority of the time the markets are “bullish.” It’s the “math” that ultimately gets you during a “bear” market. The real devastation caused by “bear market” declines are generally misunderstood because they tend to be related in terms of percentages. For example: “Over the last 36-months, the market rose by 100%, but has recently dropped by 50%.”

See, nothing to worry as an investor would still be ahead by 50%, right? Nope. A 50% decline wipes out 100% of the previous gain. This is why looking at things in terms of percentages is so misleading. A better way to examine bull and bear markets is in terms of points gained or lost. Notice that in many cases going back to 1900, a large chunk of the previous gains were wiped out by the subsequent decline. (A function of valuations and mean reversions.) Recently Upfina posted a great chart on “Bear Market Repo’s” which illustrates this point very well. To wit:

“Many confuse bear markets with being black swan events that cannot be predicted, however, this is a faulty approach to investing. The economy, market, and nature itself move in cycles. Neither a bear market nor a bull market last forever and are actually the result of one another. That is to say, a bear market is the author of a bull market and a bull market is an author of a bear market. Low valuations lead to increased demand, and high valuations lead to less demand.”

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“I won’t be completely satisfied until the editors of The New York Times have to answer to charges of sedition in a court of law.”

Mushrooming Matrix of Scandals (Jim Kunstler)

[..] a great deal is already known about the misdeeds surrounding Hillary and her supporters, including Mr. Obama and his inner circle, and some of those incriminating particulars have been officially certified — for example, the firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on recommendations of the Agency’s own ethics committee, with overtones of criminal culpability. There is also little ambiguity left about the origin of the infamous Steele Dossier. It’s an established fact that it was bought-and-paid-for by the Democratic National Committee, which is to say the Hillary campaign, and that many of the dramatis personae involved lied about it under oath.

Many other suspicious loose ends remain to be tied. Those not driven insane by Trumpophobia are probably unsatisfied with the story of what Attorney General Loretta Lynch was doing, exactly, with former President Bill Clinton during that Phoenix airport tête-à-tête a few days before FBI Director Jim Comey exonerated Mr. Clinton’s wife in the email server “matter.” One can see where this tangled tale is tending: to the sacred chamber known as the grand jury. Probably several grand juries. That will lead to years of entertaining courtroom antics at the same time that the USA’s financial condition fatefully unravels.

That event might finally produce the effect that all the exertions of the so-called Deep State have failed to achieve so far: the discrediting of Donald Trump. Alas, the literal discrediting of the USA and its hallowed institutions — including the US dollar — may be a much more momentous thing than the fall of Trump. Personally, I won’t be completely satisfied until the editors of The New York Times have to answer to charges of sedition in a court of law.

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The EU will not like this.

Italy’s New Parallel Currency Plan (ZH)

In 2009/10, squeezed by insolvency, a lack of liquidity, and Federal limitations, the California government began to issue a ‘parallel currency’ in IOUs in lieu of payment on everything from supplies to contracted services and health-care costs, so it can actually preserve cash to make payments to its generous debtors. Now, eight years later, despite all the talk of ‘recovery’ and ‘global synchronous growth’ and ‘normalization’, Italy’s newly-formed coalition of The League and Five Star (which some have likened to Trumpian ‘nationalist’ Republicans merging with Bernie leftists) have put forward a plan that, among other things, includes the introduction of a parallel currency for Italy – ‘mini-BOTs’. The chart below, created by analysts at Nomura, shows where both stand on key policy issues, highlighting both their similarities and their differences as they prepare to govern together.

It is the Italian euroskepticism that dominates market concerns. Investors were initially spooked by a section where the nascent coalition floated plans to ask for €250 billion in debt forgiveness for the country. But, as Credit Suisse argued, “A markedly Eurosceptic prime minister… as well as concrete support for the introduction of a parallel currency (so-called Mini-BOTs’), would be major negatives, in our view.” So what are ‘Mini-BOTs’? In order to settle bills with suppliers or creditors the state might consider “instruments such as mini-government notes” which may also be used in turn to repay tax arrears, says the government program agreed by the two parties’ representatives and leaders. Earlier this year, outgoing Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan described the proposal as “a plan to circulate a disguised parallel currency”.

It is this section of the Five Star-League Accord that raised eyebrows… “Something must be done to resolve the problem of the public administration debts to taxpayers.” Claudio Borghi, the League’s economic chief who helped write the government plan, told la Verita newspaper that the new securities “could be spent anywhere, to buy anything”. Mike Shedlock previously noted that ‘Mini-Bots’ are a parallel currency based on future tax receipts, similar to the plans proposed by Yanis Varoufakis in Greece. The minibot was in the Lega’s election manifesto. Five Star is far less radical on the eurozone, having dropped the idea of a referendum, but also seeks changes that are incompatible with the the EU fiscal rules. A parallel currency stands a much greater chance of success in Italy, and it would go some way to solving the government’s fiscal dilemmas. The open question is whether it would constitute a slippery slope towards euro exit.

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Hard to find a headline on this, let alone an article, that does not mention ‘populist’.

Italy’s Populist Coalition Government Poses New Threat To Eurozone (Ind.)

Two Italian, populist, eurosceptic parties have reached an agreement to form a government of the eurozone’s third largest economy, setting up the single currency bloc for a possible new crisis. March’s national elections in Italy delivered a hung parliament, but also left the virulently anti-immigrant Lega Nord and the radical anti-establishment Five Star Movement as the two parties with the most seats. After a week of intense wrangling, the leaders of the two parties – which have sharply divergent outlooks in a host of areas – announced on Friday that they had agreed upon a common programme.

“This government contract binds two political forces that are and remain alternative, to respect and achieve what they promised to citizens,” said the Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio. Both parties ran on electoral platforms that threatened conflict with the eurozone and the EU, in areas ranging from busting national budget deficit rules, to clamping down on immigration to lifting sanctions on Russia. The two parties will stage informal ballots of their supporters on the programme over the next three days, meaning the coalition could take office early next week. Italian 10-year borrowing costs spiked above 7% in 2011 and 2012, threatening a fiscal crisis for Rome, as traders panicked that the the single currency could be on the verge of splitting apart.

They have since come down dramatically as the European Central Bank has been heavily buying up the country’s sovereign bonds as part of its money printing programme, with the country’s borrowing costs hitting a low of 1.051% in 2016. On Friday 10-year bond yields, which move in the opposite direction to prices, on Friday rose to 2.2%, the highest since October 2017, although the markets still seem generally unperturbed by the prospect of a Five Star-Lega Nord coalition. The common programme, published online on Friday, promises a universal basic income of €780 per person per month, which it says should be part funded by the EU. It wants “limited deficit spending” to boost GDP growth and a review of the EU’s fiscal rules. Sanctions on Russia should be lifted immediately, its says.

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Macron as Napoleon.

Trump Drives Wedge Between Germany and France (Spiegel)

The French president has recognized the opportunity that opposition to the U.S. sanctions presents. It provides him with a perfect chance to prove to the French people why they really need Europe. He believes that only Europe can stand up to the deal-breaking Americans. In Berlin, meanwhile, the focus is on “realpolitik” — the notion that there isn’t much Europe can do to oppose Trump. Officials in the German capital believe that the U.S. president will play hardball when it comes to Iran. What really appears to be the problem, however, is a lack of political will. When push comes to shove, the Iran deal is likely less important to Altmaier than the dispute over the Trump administration’s threat of punitive tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe.

He wants to prevent the dispute from boiling into a full-fledged trade war that would spread to the heart of the German economy — the automobile industry. As a major exporter, America’s punitive tariffs would hit Germany much harder than they would France. “The U.S. can’t be the world’s economic police,” French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said earlier this month. Le Maire and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called a demonstrative joint press conference inside the monumental Finance and Economics Ministry in Paris looking like they were ready go toe-to-toe with Washington. Le Drian spoke of “our determination to fight to ensure that the decisions taken by the United States don’t have any repercussions on French businesses.” Le Maire added: “All of Europe is faced with the challenge of asserting its economic sovereignty.”

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My guess is the pipeline will be built.

Putin Seeks Common Cause With Merkel Over Trump (R.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday that he would stand up to any attempts by U.S. President Donald Trump to block a Russian-German gas pipeline project. Berlin and Moscow have been at loggerheads since Russia’s annexation of Crimea four years ago, but they share a common interest in the Nordstream 2 pipeline project, which will allow Russia to export more natural gas to northern Europe. A U.S. government official this week said Washington had concerns about the project, and that companies involved in Russian pipeline projects faced a higher risk of being hit with U.S. sanctions.

“Donald is not just the U.S. president, he’s also a good, tough entrepreneur,” Putin said at a news conference, alongside Merkel, after the two leaders had talks in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. “He’s promoting the interests of his business, to ensure the sales of liquefied natural gas on the European market,” Putin said. “I understand the U.S. president. He’s defending the interests of his business, he wants to push his product on the European market. But it depends on us, how we build our relations with our partners, it will depend on our partners in Europe.” “We believe it (the pipeline) is beneficial for us, we will fight for it.”

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A bridge too far for Juncker?

EU Considers Iran Central Bank Transfers To Beat US Sanctions (R.)

The European Commission is proposing that EU governments make direct money transfers to Iran’s central bank to avoid U.S. penalties, an EU official said, in what would be the most forthright challenge to Washington’s newly reimposed sanctions. The step, which would seek to bypass the U.S. financial system, would allow European companies to repay Iran for oil exports and repatriate Iranian funds in Europe, a senior EU official said, although the details were still to be worked out. The European Union, once Iran’s biggest oil importer, is determined to save the nuclear accord, that U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned on May 8, by keeping money flowing to Tehran as long as the Islamic Republic complies with the 2015 deal to prevent it from developing an atomic weapon.

“Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has proposed this to member states. We now need to work out how we can facilitate oil payments and repatriate Iranian funds in the European Union to Iran’s central bank,” said the EU official, who is directly involved in the discussions. The U.S. Treasury announced on Tuesday more sanctions on officials of the Iranian central bank, including Governor Valiollah Seif. But the EU official said the bloc believes that does not sanction the central bank itself.

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We use so many chemicals so much, we’ll end up eradicating ourselves. No caution, no precautionary principle.

Common Fungal Infections Becoming Incurable (Ind.)

Common fungal infections are “becoming incurable” with global mortality exceeding that for malaria or breast cancer because of drug-resistant strains which “terrify” doctors and threaten the food chain, a new report has warned. Writing in a special “resistance” edition of the journal Science, researchers from Imperial College London and Exeter University have shown how crops, animals and people are all threatened by nearly omnipresent fungi. “Fungal infections on human health are currently spiralling, and the global mortality for fungal diseases now exceeds that for malaria or breast cancer,” the report notes.

While the problem of bacteria becoming resistant to commonly used antibiotics has been widely reported on, and likened to the “apocalypse” by medical leaders, the risks of disease-causing fungi have received far less recognition. Fungicides share a problem with antibiotics in that the organisms they aim to kill are becoming resistant to treatments faster than they can be developed, and there are growing numbers of people vulnerable to infection. “We’ve got increasing numbers of immunosuppressed patients, that’s what fungi love to parasitise,” Matthew Fisher, professor of fungal disease epidemiology at Imperial, told The Independent.

“Half a million people a year probably die from fungal meningitis in Africa, which wouldn’t affect them if they didn’t have Aids. “Similarly in the UK we have transplant patients as well, as soon as you whack them on immunosuppressants they start coming down with fungal infections.” “Transplant doctors are absolutely terrified of these fungal infections,” he added, and the same issues arise in cancer patients, or people whose immune systems are destroyed by disease or age – leaving them unable to fight off infection on their own.

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Apr 162018
 
 April 16, 2018  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


James McNeill Whistler Arrangement in Pink, Red and Purple 1883-4

 

US Stock Valuations Are At Multiyear Highs – And Multiyear Lows (MW)
Australia’s Lending Rules Are About to Batter Home Buyers (BBG)
Macron Says He Convinced Trump To Stay In Syria (AFP)
Trump Felt Misled, Angry Over Expulsion Of 60 Russian Diplomats (MW)
Comey And Mueller Have Both Fallen Into Trump’s Trap (MW)
A Third Of People Think Facebook Has A ‘Negative Impact On Society’ (MI)
Who Owns The ‘Virtual You?’ (Escobar)
How Many People Had Their Data Harvested By Cambridge Analytica? (G.)
Where Does the ECB Go From Here? (Mervyn King)
Stoltenberg Calls On NATO Allies To Provide More Support To Turkey (DS)
Detained American Pastor Goes On Trial In Turkey (AFP)
Greek-Turkish Tension ‘Not An Issue For NATO – Stoltenberg (K.)
Greece Is Back in the Spotlight (BBG)
Plastic Is Literally Everywhere: The Epidemic Attacking Australia’s Oceans (G.)

 

 

The new markets.

US Stock Valuations Are At Multiyear Highs – And Multiyear Lows (MW)

With the start of the first-quarter earnings season, U.S. stock-market investors are waiting to see whether the results point to a business environment that is thriving and supportive of the market’s rally over the past several years, or whether the move has been overdone. Turns out, both bulls and bears have data they can marshal in their favor. According to data from FTSE Russell and Thomson Reuters, the U.S. stock market was recently trading at its most expensive levels since the dot-com era, and — even after the first correction for the DJIA and the S&P 500 in about two years — it continues to trade one standard deviation above a historical range. The data is based on the forward price-to-earnings ratio for stocks, which is currently above 17, compared with the long-term average of about 15.

This measure of valuation can be seen mapped out in the following chart. The recent peak of the forward P/E represented a nearly 20-year high, per FTSE Russell.

In another potential warning sign for investors, the cyclically-adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) ratio gives the S&P 500 a ratio of 31.6, nearly twice its long-term mean of 16.85, and at its highest level since the dot-com era. Both of these statistics may give investors pause, as they suggest a market’s that is overstretched and could have more room to fall. However, they only tell half the story. The forward P/E comes at a time when first-quarter earnings growth isn’t just expected to be strong, but coming in at its strongest rate in years. According to FactSet, earnings for companies in the S&P 500 are estimated to grow 17.3% in the first quarter, while sales grow 10%. For both, such rates would represent the fastest pace of growth since the first quarter of 2011.

Accounting for that high level of expansion paints a very different picture for stock valuations, so much so that they go from being at or near multiyear highs, to being at multiyear lows. FTSE Russell also provided the following chart to MarketWatch, which looks at the market in terms of its PEG, or a P/E ratio that accounts for earnings growth. Based on this metric, stocks have a PEG of 1.2, which means they’re not only trading one standard deviation below their long-term average of a little more than 1.3, but also at their cheapest level since 2012.

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Really? Killing the golden eggs?

Australia’s Lending Rules Are About to Batter Home Buyers (BBG)

A toughening of lax lending standards in Australia is threatening an already-cooling property market. An inquiry into misconduct in the financial industry is likely to lead to greater regulation of the nation’s A$1.6 trillion ($1.2 trillion) mortgage market. Banks have routinely relied on an unrealistically low estimate of homebuyers’ living expenses, and a more genuine assessment of spending could reduce borrowing power by as much as 35 percent, according to UBS analysts. That would mean many new buyers simply couldn’t afford current prices – a further drag on home prices that are already falling as a seven-year property boom tails off.

“What drives house prices is credit availability,” said Sean Fenton, director at Sydney-based Tribeca Investment Partners, which manages about A$2.5 billion. “A tightening of lending standards directly impacts the ability of the marginal buyer to buy a house.” The heat is already coming out of the housing market. Prices in Sydney, the world’s second-most expensive property market, fell 2.1 percent in March from a year earlier, according to CoreLogic Inc. A year ago, annual price growth was running at almost 16 percent. The top end of the market has recorded the biggest falls, the data shows.

[..] “It’s really obvious that a lot of people have a lot of unmanageable debt,” said Karen Cox, coordinator of Sydney’s Financial Rights Legal Centre, which fielded 25,000 calls last year from people seeking financial help. “Because it’s such a benign interest rate environment, the problems can only get worse.” Based on historic income and price relationships, property prices in Sydney and Melbourne are overvalued by between 25 percent and 30 percent, according to Paul Dales, chief Australian economist at Capital Economics. For now, he’s predicting prices will just edge lower, with the crunch coming if interest rate increases coincide with tighter credit conditions. “All properties in those cities are particularly vulnerable.”

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Macron dreams big. About himself, mostly.

Macron Says He Convinced Trump To Stay In Syria (AFP)

President Emmanuel Macron asserted Sunday that Paris had convinced Donald Trump to stay engaged in Syria “for the long-term”, adding that French air strikes did not amount to a declaration of war against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. A day after France joined the United States and Britain in launching unprecedented strikes against regime targets, Macron insisted the intervention was legitimate and urged international powers to now push for a diplomatic solution to the brutal seven-year war. “We have not declared war on the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” the 40-year-old centrist said at the start of a combative TV interview, stretching nearly three hours, to mark almost a year in office.

But Macron again argued his first major military intervention as president was necessary to send a signal that the use of chemical weapons against civilians would not go unpunished. Saturday’s strikes targeted three alleged chemical weapons facilities in response to what the West says was a gas attack on the town of Douma that killed dozens of people. “We have full international legitimacy in intervening in this case,” Macron said. He said the US, France and Britain targeted “extremely precise sites of chemical weapons use” in an operation that went off “perfectly”. And he further argued the operation was legitimate despite not being sanctioned by the UN, retorting that under a 2013 UN resolution Syria was supposed to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal. As for his allies, Macron suggested France played a pivotal role in changing Trump’s mind on the need to stay involved in the conflict.

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Makes sense.

Trump Felt Misled, Angry Over Expulsion Of 60 Russian Diplomats (MW)

President Donald Trump erupted in anger when he learned the U.S. was expelling 60 Russian diplomats in March, while France and Germany were only expelling four each, the Washington Post reported late Sunday. Trump reportedly only wanted to match the number of allies’ expulsions, and not to be seen as taking the lead. Trump believed his aides misled him, the Post said. “There were curse words,” one official told the Post, “a lot of curse words.” The expulsions were the most ever by the U.S. against Russia, and came in response to a suspected Russian nerve-agent attack on a former spy and his daughter in England. Separately, the Trump administration appears ready to impose more sanctions on Russia. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday that a new round of sanctions will target Russian companies that aid Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities.

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Playing on Trump’s field.

Comey And Mueller Have Both Fallen Into Trump’s Trap (MW)

If there’s any strategy in the world of President Donald Trump, it’s a simple one: Play on my field. And the Trump playing field is a salacious one. The scandals and affairs are literally too numerous to be chronicled in a single article. Large and small, Trump University to Trump Steaks, bankruptcies and legal judgements, all manner of infidelity and aberrant behavior, real or imagined. Former FBI Director James Comey and Special Counsel Robert Mueller were each charged with looking into an allegation of the most serious variety — colluding with a foreign hostile power to alter the presidential election. This week the headlines emanating from Mueller’s investigation, and Comey’s book, involve a porn star, a Playboy bunny, a pee tape, the size of Trump’s hands and a doorman with a history of fibbing apparently alleging the existence of an illegitimate child.

That is playing on Trump’s field. But wait. Isn’t it a violation of campaign law if Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen paid off Stormy Daniels just ahead of the election? If Cohen used a home-equity loan to fund the payment, did he lie to the bank? Doesn’t it speak to Trump’s truthfulness on a variety of a matters — including alleged collusion with Russia — whether his persistent denials of engaging with prostitutes in Moscow are truthful? Doesn’t it have relevance to the question of whether payoffs were legal if Trump bought off a doorman? And didn’t Mueller actually hand off the investigation on Daniels? Yeah, sure, all of that. Those are all on the level of the Ken Starr investigation into Bill Clinton’s perjury — legal matters, yes, that aren’t really the stuff of high crimes and misdemeanors.

They’re all gotchas reinforcing what we basically knew about Trump and his behavior before the election. By contrast, the consequences of playing on Trump’s field are enormous. For Comey, baiting Trump into a reaction, which sure as water is wet came on Friday morning, will result in better book sales. But it will come at the expense of holding any future higher office. His legacy as FBI director — already tarnished for the ridiculous, torturous inconsistencies in how he handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails — is forever tarnished. Who in Washington could hire this guy? “Untruthful,” as Trump called him? No. “Slime ball?” Hmm.

Mueller, too, looks set to emerge damaged, if perhaps not as fatally. The question of whether Trump can, or should, fire him has returned. Mueller, also a former FBI director, does still have the support of both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to finish his investigation, and a few key Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, have expressed willingness to support legislation to protect him. But the idea of his dismissal is definitely more plausible — and, for that matter, the outrage it would generate a good bit lessened.

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“..how does it affect children, how does the platform create addiction..”

A Third Of People Think Facebook Has A ‘Negative Impact On Society’ (MI)

Here’s another bone to pick with Facebook. Nearly one-third of Americans (31.7%) think the embattled social network is having a “negative impact on society,” according to a survey conducted in recent months by CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s former personal pollster, Tavis McGinn. That view was even more widely held among respondents in Australia (33.4%), Canada (33.3%) and the U.K. (32.2%), per the results reported by Recode. The survey research was conducted on 10,000 respondents across 10 nations in January and February, prior to recent revelations that the British data firm Cambridge Analytica had improperly harvested personal data from up to 87 million Facebook users to create targeted political ads.

Facebook had already come under fire for its role in the proliferation of fake news on the platform during the 2016 election. While McGinn and his Honest Data company didn’t delve into specifics of this “negative” societal impact, the pollster had some ideas. “In the U.S. obviously we’re very focused on election interference, and in the U.K. they’ve been focused on that as well with Brexit,” he told Recode. “But there are also things like, ‘how does it affect children, how does the platform create addiction, how does the platform encourage extremism, how does the platform push American values onto other countries?’”

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Anyone but you does.

Who Owns The ‘Virtual You?’ (Escobar)

While GAFA in the US essentially controls the politics limiting the capacity for regulation, Brussels will continue to insist the only path towards healthy regulation comes from the EU. The other model is of course China. Beijing has domesticated its sprawling digital industry – which is a de facto extension of the state apparatus as well as a growing instrument of global influence. When Zuckerberg was asked whether Facebook should be broken up – the monopoly issue once again – he said that would weaken the US’s competitive advantage against China, which by the way is fast disappearing. Facebook’s customer base though is not American; it’s global. Inside the Facebook HQ, the consensus is that it is a global company.

So all these issues at stake – from monopoly to regulation to privacy – are indeed global issues. Zuckerberg dodged extremely serious questions. Who owns “the virtual you?” Zuckerberg’s response was that you own all the “content” you upload, and can delete that content any time you want. Yet the heart of the matter is the advertising profile Facebook builds on each user. That simply cannot be deleted. And the user cannot alter it in any way. The GAFA galaxy, in fact, owns you when you click accepting those massive terms and conditions of use. As argued by philosopher Gaspard Koenig, director of the GenerationLibre think tank in France, data property should logically follow the evolution of property rights, land property, financial property and property of ideas, thus replacing the current figure of the “proletarian 2.0” at the heart of the value chain of the digital economy.

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Why would the number be limited to Facebok’s users? Isn’t it clear yet? It’s everyone.

How Many People Had Their Data Harvested By Cambridge Analytica? (G.)

Statistics are a staple of journalistic accuracy issues, but rarely is a number so big, consequential and hard to verify as the number of Facebook users directly affected by the still emerging Cambridge Analytica story. Is it no more than 30 million, as Cambridge Analytica says? Fifty million, as estimated by the Observer and Guardian journalists who have done so much to disclose the issue? Or 87 million, as Facebook has ventured? Facebook’s estimate has a fine-print caveat: “We do not know precisely what data the app shared with Cambridge Analytica or exactly how many people were impacted. Using as expansive a methodology as possible, this is our best estimate of the maximum number of unique accounts that directly installed the thisisyourdigitallife app as well as those whose data may have been shared with the app by their friends.”

The numbers seem to be calculated by multiplying the number of people known as “seeders” by the average number of Facebook friends seeders are thought to have. A seeder was a Facebook user who installed certain apps that permitted the apps’ controllers to harvest data from the user and the seeder’s (unknowing) Facebook friends. The wide variation in the estimates of people affected results partly from different estimates of seeders – 185,000, 275,000, 300,000 – and different average-number-of-friends figures – 160, 180, 250, 340.

Does it matter, in the sense that it is now evident that many, many other entities – academic, commercial, governmental – could have harvested the data of users under previous Facebook policies, for which Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s ethically callow controller, apologised before committees of the US Congress last week, without apparent loss of face? A sense of perspective was given by the Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain, a sophisticated observer of the social and democratic impacts of digital technologies: “The Cambridge Analytica dataset from Facebook is itself but a lake within an ocean, a clarifying example of a pervasive but invisible ecosystem where thousands of firms possess billions of data points across hundreds of millions of people – and are able to do lots with it under the public radar.”

[..] Is it unreasonable to wonder whether the potential dataset for the team’s work is 2 billion, the total number of Facebook users?

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Former BOE governor sees stormy days ahead. The ECB must save the euro system, and that won’t be easy.

Where Does the ECB Go From Here? (Mervyn King)

Many observers have drawn comfort from the likelihood that Germany’s new “grand coalition” and French President Emmanuel Macron will indeed reform the basic architecture of monetary union. The language will be warm and encouraging, but the substance less so. In recent months I’ve been struck by the dissonance between, on the one hand, a common French and German determination to move ahead on the principle of reform to the monetary union, and, on the other, their governments’ clashing ideas about how to do it. Macron wants a fiscal union and a finance minister for the euro area. Germany doesn’t: It insists that countries must be responsible for their own fiscal position.

The likely compromise is that any fiscal transfers will be kept as small as possible – no larger than needed to get past the immediate problem. That might suffice in reasonably normal times, but not if market confidence disappears as it did in 2010-12. At that point, the issue can no longer be fudged. As these events unfold, Draghi and his successor, due to take over in October 2019, can expect to face many tests. The rise of populist parties in southern Europe is one — but the greatest challenge is likely to come from opinion in Germany. So far, the monetary union has been good for German exporters and politicians but less so for German consumers, who’ve been denied the higher standard of living that an appreciating currency would have delivered.

[..] U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson famously remarked about his FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover: “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.” I’ve no doubt Johnson would be strongly recommending the appointment of Jens Weidmann, the current president of the Bundesbank, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Europe’s governments see it the same way. My advice to Jens? Think twice before accepting.

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The NATO Secretary General is a dangerous man. He’s tasked with increasing NATO’s power.

Stoltenberg Calls On NATO Allies To Provide More Support To Turkey (DS)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg drew attention to already existing NATO presence in Turkey and called on all allies to provide more support to the country. “We also provide political support, because Turkey is the NATO ally that has suffered the most from terrorist attacks. NATO immediately condemned the coup attempt that targeted Turkey’s democratic institutions,” the secretary-general said. Stoltenberg spoke to Anadolu Agency (AA) at the NATO headquarters in Brussels ahead of his official visit to Turkey on April 16. The NATO chief said the aim of his trip to Ankara is to “to prepare for the upcoming [NATO] summit in Brussels in July..”

[..] Stoltenberg said he highly values the visit to Turkey, as he sees the country it is “a highly valued and key ally for many reasons, not just for its strategic location.” He added that during the visit he will “discuss the preparations for the important summit where we will address issues like how we continue to adapt NATO to a more demanding security environment.” He said that NATO functions with the solidarity principle “one for all and all for one” and added: “We have deployed missile batteries that are augmenting the missile air defenses of Turkey. We have Italy and Spain deploying Patriot batteries and also SAMP-T batteries, and we conduct surveillance flights with our AWACS planes over Turkey. We have also increased our naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean.

[..] When asked about NATO’s approach to Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syrian region of Afrin, Stoltenberg said NATO welcomed Turkey’s transparency. “We’re aware that there are some challenges related to the situation in northern Syria and around Afrin. NATO has been a platform for direct dialogue between Turkey and the U.S. We recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns, which we expect to be addressed in a proportionate and measured way,” NATO chief said. “We all understand that Turkey has to address these threats. We welcome that Turkey has been transparent and briefed NATO several times on the operation in Afrin, both the military operations and the humanitarian assistance.”

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Erdogan gambles on being needed by the US.

Detained American Pastor Goes On Trial In Turkey (AFP)

An American pastor Monday went on trial in Turkey on terror-related charges after spending the last one-and-a-half years behind bars, in a case that has increased friction between Ankara and Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016 and then remanded in custody. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail. Brunson, wearing a white shirt and a black suit, was present in court in the town of Aliaga north of Izmir for the hearing, an AFP correspondent said. In an indication of the importance of the case for Washington, also in court were Sam Brownback, the US ambassador at large for religious freedoms, and Senator Thom Tillis.

Turkish prosecutors have charged Brunson with engaging in activities on behalf of the group led by Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says is behind the failed 2016 coup, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Both are banned by Turkey as terror groups. Brunson is also accused of espionage for political or military purposes. If convicted, he faces two separate terms of 15 years and 20 years in prison, his lawyer Cem Halavurt told AFP. [..] The Brunson case has further raised the temperature of heated relations between NATO allies Turkey and the United States, with US President Donald Trump raising the issue in talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Relations are already tense over American backing for a Kurdish militia in Syria despised by Ankara and the jailing of two employees at American missions in Turkey.

Gulen, who lives in self-exile in the US state of Pennsylvania, firmly denies any role in the failed coup and says his Hizmet (Service) movement promotes a peaceful form of Islam. Turkey has sent a spate of documents to back up its repeated request for Gulen’s extradition from the United States, which has so far shown no sign of interest in expelling the preacher. In September last year, Erdogan suggested that Turkey could free Brunson if Washington handed over Gulen, raising the idea of a swap deal. “They say ‘give us the pastor’. You have a preacher (Gulen) there. Give him to us, and we will try (Brunson) and give him back,” Erdogan said then. The idea was brushed off by the United States.

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Turkey’s a neighbor of Syria. Stoltenberg will have no qualms about selling out Greece.

Greek-Turkish Tension ‘Not An Issue For NATO – Stoltenberg (K.)

The leaders of Greece and Turkey need to address the issues that have been causing tension between the two countries in recent months and this is “not an issue for NATO,” the head of the alliance of which both countries are members said on Sunday. Speaking to Turkey’s Anadolou news agency ahead of a visit to Turkey on Monday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that Greece and Turkey are “two highly valued NATO allies” and “both contribute to our collective defense.” “I expect that the differences we see on some issues are solved between Turkey and Greece in the spirit of good relations,” he added.

“In this context, I welcome that the PMs of both countries have recently held a phone conversation and that they have agreed to resolve these differences through dialogue.” Stoltenberg’s visit is planned in preparation for a crucial NATO summit in Brussels in July, “where we will address issues like how we continue to adapt NATO to a more demanding security environment,” he said. Asked to respond to criticism that NATO is not doing enough to help Turkey in its fight against terrorism, Stoltenberg said “there’s a lot of NATO presence in Turkey but I call on the allies to provide even more support.” “We also provide political support, because Turkey is the NATO ally that has suffered the most from terrorist attacks,” the alliance chief told Anadolou.

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Also about Turkey.

Greece Is Back in the Spotlight (BBG)

Consider what Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is up against. As Greece prepares to free itself from an eight-year European bailout, its 43 year-old premier is confronting challenges at home and abroad. On the domestic front: preparations for post-bailout economic life and the first general election since the end of the program, including feuds with both allies and rivals. On the foreign-policy front: increased tensions with traditional rival Turkey and regional instability stemming from a dispute over a neighboring country’s name. Tsipras’s ability to navigate through all this could determine just how stable the country and its region will be in coming years, experts say, and the European Union, the U.S. and NATO are all watching with interest.

“The worst problem for Tsipras, for the government, but also for Greece is the evolving ‘rogueness’ of Turkey,” said Aristides Hatzis, a professor of law and economics at the University of Athens. “Diminishing American influence on the region is a destabilizing factor and the stakes are very high,” Hatzis said, adding that Greece is not a primary concern for Turkey, but a part of an overall plan by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to establish hegemony in the region. Tensions between Greece and Turkey escalated in March after two Greek soldiers, who Greece says wandered across the border during a routine patrol, were arrested by Turkey. Greece has demanded their return. Relations between Greece and Turkey, always fraught, worsened further after a Greek court declined to extradite eight Turkish soldiers allegedly involved in a military coup attempt in July 2016.

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“No location and no species is likely to remain immune for any period of time. It is ubiquitous. We are literally drowning in this stuff.”

Plastic Is Literally Everywhere: The Epidemic Attacking Australia’s Oceans (G.)

The scientific literature is awash with research documenting plastics of all sizes in every environment that’s been studied – from the deep ocean to both the Arctic and Antarctic. Microplastic is the term used to describe any piece of plastic less than 5mm wide – it’s mostly the broken-apart remnants of straws, fishing nets and all manner of other plastic items, creating trillions of tiny pieces. Dr Jennifer Lavers, a marine biologist at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, has spent the past 15 years studying the impacts of plastics.

In 2015 Lavers travelled to one of the most remote spots on the planet – the uninhabited Henderson Island in the middle of the Pacific – to find this world heritage-listed coral atoll’s beaches strewn with an estimated 37m pieces of plastic weighing about 17 tonnes – the equivalent of less than two seconds of global plastic production. Just one washed-up fishing net, barely a decade old, was disintegrating into trillions of plastic fibres that gave the surrounding sand a lucid green splash. “You can’t prepare yourself for moments like that,” she says.

Northern Australia is a known hotspot for these so-called “ghost nets” that are left to haunt the lives of marine animals. One project, GhostNets Australia, has collected more than 13,000 nets since 2004. A study analysed 9,000 nets found in the north of Australia and estimated that they alone had probably caught between 4,866 and 14,600 turtles. “Nowhere is safe, and plastic is literally everywhere,” says Lavers. “No location and no species is likely to remain immune for any period of time. It is ubiquitous. We are literally drowning in this stuff.”

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Apr 012018
 
 April 1, 2018  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt van Rijn Christ and St Mary Magdalene at the Tomb 1638

 

US Homes Become ATMs Again (MW)
The Housing Crisis – There’s Nothing We Can Do… Or Is There? (Steve Keen)
Fear is Back (MW)
The S&P’s 200-DMA: Why It Ain’t No Maginot Line (Stockman)
Trump Renews Amazon Attack, Says ‘Post Office Scam’ Must Stop (BBG)
Senator Warren, In Beijing, Says US Is Waking Up To Chinese Abuses (R.)
Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Greece Is A Debtors’ Prison’ (G.)
Emmanuel Macron On France’s AI Strategy (Wired)
Conservationists Call For Urgent Action To Fix ‘America’s Wildlife Crisis’ (G.)
More Poachers Than Rhinos Killed In India Reserve (BBC)

 

 

There’s nonsense and then there’s nonsense. Staying in your home is now a “huge expansion of retirement options”: “We’ve seen a huge expansion of the types of retirement options people have. One is aging in place and retrofitting your house.”

US Homes Become ATMs Again (MW)

As interest rates rise, fewer households refinance their mortgages. And the refinances that do get done are often very different than those initiated during low-rate periods. “When rates are low, the primary goal of refinancing is to reduce the monthly payment,” wrote researchers for the Urban Institute in a recent report. “But when rates are high, borrowers have no incentive to refinance for rate reasons. Those who still refinance tend to be driven more by their desire to cash out.” “Cashing out” is shorthand for taking out a new mortgage that’s bigger than the remaining balance on the old one and using the money that makes up the difference for discretionary purchases.

As of the fourth quarter of last year, the share of all refinances that were cash-outs rose to the highest since 2008, according to Freddie Mac data. Rates have churned higher since the presidential election in late 2016, though they spent much of 2017 reversing the immediate post-election surge. It’s not clear whether the overall volume of cash-out refinances is rising. Right now they’re making up a bigger share of the pie because traditional lower-monthly-payment refis are plunging. Tapping into home equity is often a good way for owners to consolidate or manage other, more expensive, forms of debt like high-interest credit cards or bills for higher education.

“As people stay in their homes longer we see people reinvesting in their homes by using equity to update their homes and do repair work,” said Rick Sharga, executive vice president for Carrington Mortgage Holdings and an industry veteran. That’s especially true for older Americans, he added. “We’ve seen a huge expansion of the types of retirement options people have. One is aging in place and retrofitting your house.”

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Housing markets need ever more private debt. So then does the overall economy.

The Housing Crisis – There’s Nothing We Can Do… Or Is There? (Steve Keen)

The supply side of the housing market has two main two factors: the turnover of the existing stock of housing, and the net change in the number of houses (thanks to demolition of old properties and construction of new ones). The turnover of existing properties is far larger than the construction rate of new ones, and this alone makes housing different to your ordinary market. The demand side of the housing market has one main factor: new mortgages created by the banks. Monetary demand for housing is therefore predominantly mortgage credit: the annual increase in mortgage debt. This also makes housing very different to ordinary markets, where most demand comes from the turnover of existing money, rather than from newly created money.

We can convert the credit-financed monetary demand for housing into a physical demand for new houses per year by dividing by the price level. This gives us a relationship between the level of mortgage credit and the level of house prices. There is therefore a relationship between the change in mortgage credit and the change in house prices. This relationship is ignored in mainstream politics and mainstream economics. But it is the major determinant of house prices: house prices rise when mortgage credit rises, and they fall when mortgage credit falls. This relationship is obvious even for the UK, where mortgage debt data isn’t systematically collected, and I am therefore forced to use data on total household debt (including credit cards, car loans etc.).

Even then, the correlation is obvious (for the technically minded, the correlation coefficient is 0.6). The US does publish data on mortgage debt, and there the correlation is an even stronger 0.78—and standard econometric tests establish that the causal process runs from mortgage debt to house prices, and not vice versa (the downturn in house prices began earlier in the USA, and was an obvious pre-cursor to the crisis there).

None of this would have happened – at least not in the UK – had mortgage lending remained the province of money-circulating building societies, rather than letting money-creating banks into the market. It’s too late to unscramble that omelette, but there are still things that politicians could do make it less toxic for the public. The toxicity arises from the fact that the mortgage credit causes house prices to rise, leading to yet more credit being taken on until, as in 2008, the process breaks down. And it has to break down, because the only way to sustain it is for debt to continue rising faster than income. Once that stops happening, demand evaporates, house prices collapse, and they take the economy down with them. That is no way to run an economy.

Yet far from learning this lesson, politicians continue to allow lending practices that facilitate this toxic feedback between leverage and house prices. A decade after the UK (and the USA, and Spain, and Ireland) suffered property crashes – and economic crises because of them – it takes just a millisecond of Internet searching to find lenders who will provide 100% mortgage finance based on the price of the property. This should not be allowed. Instead, the maximum that lenders can provide should be limited to some multiple of a property’s actual or imputed rental income, so that the income-earning potential of a property is the basis of the lending allowed against it.

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Fear is needed.

Fear is Back (MW)

The Dow and the S&P 500 halted a record-setting streak of quarterly wins at nine, and the clearest reason why may be explained by the VIX index, widely known as Wall Street’s “fear gauge.” The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted a quarterly decline of more than 2.3%, snapping the longest streak of quarterly gains for the blue-chip average since an 11-quarter rally that ended in the third quarter of 1997. The S&P 500 index booked a 1.2% quarterly fall, ending its longest such stretch since the first quarter of 2015.

There are perhaps a host of reasons for the surcease of such a lengthy bullish run for the most prominent equity benchmarks: The Federal Reserve’s normalization of monetary policy, with the central bank lifting rates for the fifth time this month since December 2015; Intensifying uncertainty in the makeup and agenda of President Donald Trump’s administration, underscored by a number of high-profile departures; and the intensification of trade-war fears, after the president imposed duties on steel and aluminum imports and leveled more targeted tariffs at the world’s second-largest economy: China.

However, the surge in the Cboe Volatility Index VIX is perhaps the most correlated with the market’s downtrend. According to WSJ Market Data Group, the VIX posted its biggest quarterly rise, up 81% since it jumped in the third-quarter of 2011 following Standard & Poor’s historical downgrade of the U.S. credit rating and European debt-crisis jitters.

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Rhyme and repeat.

The S&P’s 200-DMA: Why It Ain’t No Maginot Line (Stockman)

For the last five years the S&P 500 has been dancing up its ascending 200-day moving average (200-DMA), bouncing higher repeatedly whenever the dip-buyers did their thing. Only twice did the index actually break below this seeming Maginot Line: In August 2015, after the China stock crash, and in February 2016, when the shale patch/energy sector hit the wall. As is evident below, since the frenzied peak of 2873 on January 26, the index has fallen hard twice—on February 8 (2581) and March 23 (2588). Self-evidently, both times the momo traders and robo-machines came roaring back with a stick-save which was smack upon the 200-DMA.

But here’s the thing. The blue line below ain’t no Maginot Line; it’s just the place where the Pavlovian dogs of Bubble Finance have “marked” the charts. And something is starting to smell. In fact, it’s starting to smell very much like an earlier go-round when Pavlov’s 200-DMA barkers had enjoyed a prolonged ascent – only to find an unexpected cliff-diving opportunity at the end. We refer to the nearly identical five year run-up to the March 2000 top at 1508 on the S&P 500. Back then, too, the 200-DMA looked invincible, and had only been penetrated by the August 1998 Russian bankruptcy and the Long Term Capital Management meltdown a month later.

Indeed, the bounce from the October 8, 1998 interim bottom of 960 was nearly parabolic, rising by 57% to the March 2000 top. That latter point might sound vaguely familiar. That’s because the rebound from the February 11, 2016 interim bottom (1829) to the January 26th top (2873) this year was, well, 57%!

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This is going to cost Amazon.

Trump Renews Amazon Attack, Says ‘Post Office Scam’ Must Stop (BBG)

President Donald Trump lit into Amazon.com Inc. for the second time in three days with a pair of Twitter messages that said the online retailer “must pay real costs (and taxes) now!” The president on Saturday claimed, citing reports he didn’t specify, that the U.S. Postal Service “will lose $1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon” and added that the “Post Office scam must stop.” Amazon has said the postal service, which has financial problems stretching back for years, makes money on its deliveries. Amazon shed $53 billion in market value on Wednesday after Axios reported that the president is “obsessed” with regulating the e-commerce giant, whose founder and chief executive officer, Jeff Bezos, also owns the Washington Post newspaper.

Those losses were pared on Thursday, the final day of a shortened trading week, even as Trump tweeted that Amazon was using the postal service as its “Delivery Boy.” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said on Thursday that while the president was displeased with the e-commerce giant, and particularly instances where third-party sellers on the site didn’t collect sales tax, there were no administrative actions planned against Amazon “at this time.” Still, Brad Parscale, who’s managing Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign, hinted in a tweet late Thursday that the administration may act to raise Amazon’s postal costs. “Once the market figures out that a single @usps rule change will crush @amazon’s bottom line we will see,” Parscale wrote.

Amazon.com and the Washington Post have been regular punching bags for Trump. In July, the president mused about whether the newspaper was “being used as a lobbyist weapon” to keep Congress from looking into Amazon’s business practices. He echoed that comment on Saturday, saying the Post “is used as a ‘lobbyist’ and should so REGISTER.” [..] While full details of the agreement between Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service are unknown – the mail carrier is independently operated, and strikes confidential deals with retailers – David Vernon, an analyst at Bernstein Research who tracks the shipping industry, estimated in 2015 that the USPS handled 40% of Amazon’s volume the previous year.

He estimated at the time that Amazon pays the postal service $2 per package, which is about half what it would pay UPS or FedEx. A sudden increase in postal rates would cost Amazon about $2.6 billion a year, according to a report by Citigroup from April 2017. That report predicted UPS and FedEx would also raise rates in response to a postal service hike. Citigroup also said that the “true” cost of shipping packages for the USPS is about 50% higher than its current rates, leading some editorial writers to conclude that Amazon was receiving the type of subsidy cited in Trump’s Thursday tweet.

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Wait, wasn’t she supposed to be the anti-Trump?

Senator Warren, In Beijing, Says US Is Waking Up To Chinese Abuses (R.)

U.S. policy toward China has been misdirected for decades and policymakers are now recalibrating ties, Senator Elizabeth Warren told reporters during a visit to Beijing amid heightened trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies. Warren’s visit comes as U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to implement more than $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods meant to punish China over U.S. allegations that Beijing systematically misappropriated American intellectual property. The Massachusetts Democrat and Trump foe, who has been touted as a potential 2020 presidential candidate despite rejecting such speculation, has said U.S. trade policy needs a rethink and that she is not afraid of tariffs.

After years of mistakenly assuming economic engagement would lead to a more open China, the U.S. government was waking up to Chinese demands for U.S. companies to give up their know-how in exchange for access to its market, Warren said. “The whole policy was misdirected. We told ourselves a happy-face story that never fit with the facts,” Warren told reporters on Saturday, during a three-day visit to China that began on Friday. “Now U.S. policymakers are starting to look more aggressively at pushing China to open up the markets without demanding a hostage price of access to U.S. technology,” she said.

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A poisonous political climate.

Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Greece Is A Debtors’ Prison’ (G.)

Yanis Varoufakis is back. He, of course, would say he never went away, but in Greece’s hurly-burly world of politics his is a name prone to triggering toxic reaction. Abroad, the shaven-headed economist is feted as the man who took on Europe’s establishment. At home, the former finance minister is seen, on both left and right, as a reckless incarnation of all that was wrong with Greece at the height of its struggle to remain in the eurozone. In Athens and Brussels, his confrontational style is still blamed for the price the debt-stricken country had to pay to be bailed out in the summer of 2015. Although his resignation now seems a long time ago, the sight of Varoufakis launching his own party in Greece has unleashed emotions that have run the gamut from enthusiasm to anger and disdain.

Media reaction has been cool; so, too, has that of politicians. None of which seems to bother him in the least. “Nobody believes the systemic media in Greece, and they’re all bankrupt,” he told the Observer with typical defiance, days after announcing his new venture in a packed Athens theatre. “To those who say I cost the country, and I’ve heard €30bn, €86bn, €100bn and even €200bn… I say I cost exactly zero. The troika [of creditors] cost Greece two generations and continue to impose cost.” At 57, in his leather bomber jacket and boots, Varoufakis clearly relishes his anti-establishment role and believes the birth of his European Realistic Disobedience Front, AKA MeRA25, is not a moment too late. Greece, almost nine years after the eurozone crisis erupted, is still condemned to being a debtors’ colony, he says.

[..] MeRA 25 has been working behind the scenes for a year now. Its plan is to contest the European elections in May 2019, although Varoufakis acknowledges Tsipras may elect to call a general election before that. After almost a decade under international surveillance, Athens will exit its third international rescue programme – the biggest sovereign bailout in global financial history – in August. With his popularity compromised under the weight of enforcing measures he once vehemently opposed, Tsipras may opt to capitalise on the success of finally exiting the programme and economic oversight. “We have travelled the whole country and held rallies in all major towns,” says Varoufakis, adding that politicians are already expressing interest in jumping ship.

Far from being saved, Varoufakis believes Greece’s future has been put on hold. If anything, he argues, it is in for an even tougher time because Europe has elected to tackle its debt problem by taking the “extend and pretend” approach of prolonging repayment timetables and condemning the country to decades of further austerity. More pension cuts and tax hikes loom, legislated by MPs at the behest of the EU and IMF. Short of measures to stop the rot, Varoufakis quips that he sees Greece becoming another Kosovo, “with beautiful beaches, only it’s a protectorate emptied of its young people. Every month 15-20,000 young Greeks leave. Everywhere I go, I meet them.”

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Macron knows what’s best for you. He’s your big brother.

Emmanuel Macron On France’s AI Strategy (Wired)

I want to create an advantage for my country in artificial intelligence, directly. And that’s why we have these announcements made by Facebook, Google, Samsung, IBM, DeepMind, Fujitsu who choose Paris to create AI labs and research centers: this is very important to me. Second, I want my country to be part of the revolution that AI will trigger in mobility, energy, defense, finance, healthcare and so on. Because it will create value as well. Third, I want AI to be totally federalized. Why? Because AI is about disruption and dealing with impacts of disruption. For instance, this kind of disruption can destroy a lot of jobs in some sectors and create a need to retrain people. But AI could also be one of the solutions to better train these people and help them to find new jobs, which is good for my country, and very important.

I want my country to be the place where this new perspective on AI is built, on the basis of interdisciplinarity: this means crossing maths, social sciences, technology, and philosophy. That’s absolutely critical. Because at one point in time, if you don’t frame these innovations from the start, a worst-case scenario will force you to deal with this debate down the line. I think privacy has been a hidden debate for a long time in the US. Now, it emerged because of the Facebook issue. Security was also a hidden debate of autonomous driving. Now, because we’ve had this issue with Uber, it rises to the surface. So if you don’t want to block innovation, it is better to frame it by design within ethical and philosophical boundaries. And I think we are very well equipped to do it, on top of developing the business in my country.

But I think as well that AI could totally jeopardize democracy. For instance, we are using artificial intelligence to organize the access to universities for our students That puts a lot of responsibility on an algorithm. A lot of people see it as a black box, they don’t understand how the student selection process happens. But the day they start to understand that this relies on an algorithm, this algorithm has a specific responsibility. If you want, precisely, to structure this debate, you have to create the conditions of fairness of the algorithm and of its full transparency. I have to be confident for my people that there is no bias, at least no unfair bias, in this algorithm.

I have to be able to tell French citizens, “OK, I encouraged this innovation because it will allow you to get access to new services, it will improve your lives—that’s a good innovation to you.” I have to guarantee there is no bias in terms of gender, age, or other individual characteristics, except if this is the one I decided on behalf of them or in front of them. This is a huge issue that needs to be addressed. If you don’t deal with it from the very beginning, if you don’t consider it is as important as developing innovation, you will miss something and at a point in time, it will block everything. Because people will eventually reject this innovation.

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“..more than 150 US species have already become extinct while a further 500 species have not been seen in recent decades..”

Conservationists Call For Urgent Action To Fix ‘America’s Wildlife Crisis’ (G.)

An extinction crisis is rippling though America’s wildlife, with scores of species at risk of being wiped out unless recovery plans start to receive sufficient funding, conservationists have warned. One-third of species in the US are vulnerable to extinction, a crisis that has ravaged swaths of creatures such as butterflies, amphibians, fish and bats, according to a report compiled by a coalition of conservation groups. A further one in five species face an even greater threat, with a severe risk of being eliminated amid a “serious decline” in US biodiversity, the report warns. “America’s wildlife are in crisis,” said Collin O’Mara, chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation. “Fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates are all losing ground. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to prevent these species from vanishing from the earth.”

More than 1,270 species found in the US are listed as at risk under the federal Endangered Species Act, an imperiled menagerie that includes the grizzly bear, California condor, leatherback sea turtle and rusty patched bumble bee. However, the actual number of threatened species is “far higher than what is formally listed”, states the report by the National Wildlife Federation, American Fisheries Society and the Wildlife Society. Using data from NatureServe that assesses the health of entire groups of species on a sliding scale, rather than the case-by-case work done by the federal government, the analysis shows more than 150 US species have already become extinct while a further 500 species have not been seen in recent decades and have possibly also been snuffed out.

Whole classes of creatures have suffered precipitous drops, with 40% of freshwater fish species in the US now vulnerable or endangered, a third of bat species experiencing major declines in the past two decades and amphibians dwindling from their known ranges at a rate of about 4% a year. The true scale of the crisis is probably larger when species with sparse data, or those as yet unknown to science, are considered. “This loss of wildlife has been sneaking up on us but is now like a big tsunami that is going to hit us,” said Thomas Lovejoy, a biologist at George Mason University. Lovejoy was consulted on the study and said it “captures the overall degradation of American nature over recent decades, rather than little snapshots”.

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The future of wildlife conservation?! in 2015, park guards shot dead more people than poachers killed rhinos.

More Poachers Than Rhinos Killed In India Reserve (BBC)

A census in India’s Kaziranga National Park has counted 2,413 one-horned rhinos – up 12 from 2015. The Unesco World Heritage Site, in Assam state, is home to two-thirds of the world’s population of the species. The census is carried out every three years. It is an incredible conservation success story given the fact that there were only a few hundred rhinos in the 1970s, says the BBC’s South Asia editor Anbarasan Ethirajan. However, the conservation effort has not been without controversy. The government has in recent years given the park rangers extraordinary powers to protect the animals from harm – powers usually only given to soldiers intervening in civil unrest. About 150 rhinos have been killed for their horns since 2006, but in 2015, park guards shot dead more people than poachers killed rhinos.

[..] The census total given is an estimate, with authorities cautioning that the population could be bigger than that counted because some animals were concealed by tall grasses and reeds. This vegetation is usually burnt down to encourage its regeneration but this was hampered by unseasonal rains, said reports. It could mean the census is carried out again next year. Since its foundation in 1905, Kaziranga has had great success in conserving and boosting animal populations. As well as being a haven for one-horned rhinoceroses, the park was declared a tiger reserve by the Indian government, and is also home to elephants, wild water buffalo and numerous bird species. The endangered South Asian river dolphin also lives in the rivers that criss-cross the park.

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Feb 012018
 
 February 1, 2018  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frederic Edwin Church The Parthenon 1871

 

FBI Opposes Memo Release Due To “Inaccurate Information” (ZH)
Alan Greenspan Sees Bubbles in Stocks and Bonds (BBG)
Janet Yellen’s Fed Era Ends With Unanimous Vote of No Rate Hike (BBG)
Two Out Of Three UK Pension Schemes Are In The Red (Yahoo)
Secret Price Fixing Among German Carmakers (Spiegel)
Germany Reaches Limit of Support for Macron’s Europe Plans (BBG)
Hungary Rejects Macron’s ‘Arrogance’ as EU Reform-Fight Looms (BBG)
More Than One Million Greeks Trapped In Tax Payment Scheme Nightmare (K.)
Planting Wildflowers Across Farm Fields Could Cut Pesticide Spraying (G.)
Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Shifting, Poles May Flip (ZH)
‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ Rises Over The Acropolis (K.)
Latest Rhino Poaching Figures Show A Decade Of Bloodshed (Ind.)

 

 

Bad theater. But not releasing the memo is no longer an option.

FBI Opposes Memo Release Due To “Inaccurate Information” (ZH)

Update 1240ET: In what CNN described as a “rate public warning,” the FBI released a statement Wednesday saying it has “grave concerns” over the accuracy of the House Intel Committee’s memo describing purportedly egregious FISA abuses. “With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the FBI said in a statement.
* * *
Update 1130ET: Bloomberg reports that FBI Director Christopher Wray told the White House he opposes release of a classified Republican memo alleging bias at the FBI and Justice Department because it contains inaccurate information and paints a false narrative, according to a person familiar with the matter. Of course, given the allegedly terrible picture the memo paints of The FBI, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that Wary would oppose its release, however, if this sourced reporting proves correct, it plays very badly for Republicans as it would seem to confirm Rep. Schiff’s accusations.
* * *
As we detailed earlier, just before President Trump headed to the Capitol for last night’s “State of the Union”, the Washington Post reported that top Justice Department officials made a last-ditch plea on Monday to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about the dangers of publicly releasing the memo. Shortly before the House Intelligence Committee voted to make the document public, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein warned Kelly that the four-page memo prepared by House Republicans could jeopardize classified information and implored the president to reconsider his support for making it public. But those pleas from Rosenstein – who isn’t exactly the West Wing’s favorite lawman, and whose name apparently appears in the memo – have apparently fallen on deaf ears.

Last night, President Trump promised a lawmaker that the memo would “100%” be released now that the House Intel Committee has voted to approve its release. And during a Fox News Radio interview with Brian Kilmeade, Chief of Staff John Kelly added that the memo would be publicly released “pretty quick.” “I’ll let all the experts decide that when it’s released. This president wants everything out so the American people can make up their own minds,” he said.

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He should know, he created them both.

Alan Greenspan Sees Bubbles in Stocks and Bonds (BBG)

The man who made the term “irrational exuberance” famous says investors are at it again. “There are two bubbles: We have a stock market bubble, and we have a bond market bubble,” Alan Greenspan, 91, said Wednesday on Bloomberg Television with Tom Keene and Scarlet Fu. Greenspan, who led the Federal Reserve from 1987 until 2006, memorably used the phrase to describe asset values during the 1990’s dot-com bubble. Greenspan’s comments come as stock indexes remain near record highs, despite selling off in recent days, and as the yields on government notes and bonds hover not far from historic lows. Interest rates are expected to move up in coming years as the Fed continues with a campaign to gradually tighten monetary policy.

“At the end of the day, the bond market bubble will eventually be the critical issue, but for the short term it’s not too bad,” Greenspan said. “But we’re working, obviously, toward a major increase in long-term interest rates, and that has a very important impact, as you know, on the whole structure of the economy.” The Fed on Wednesday opted to leave rates unchanged and markets are pricing in an increase at the central bank’s March meeting. Greenspan sounded an alarm on forecasts that the U.S. government deficit will continue to climb as a share of GDP. He said he was “surprised” that President Donald Trump didn’t specify how he would fund new government initiatives in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech. The president last month signed into law about $1.5 trillion in tax cuts that critics say will further balloon the budget gap.

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The nonsense is deafening. Great solid economy, but no rate hikes.

Janet Yellen’s Fed Era Ends With Unanimous Vote of No Rate Hike (BBG)

Federal Reserve officials, meeting for the last time under Chair Janet Yellen, left borrowing costs unchanged while adding emphasis to their plan for more hikes, setting the stage for an increase in March under her successor Jerome Powell. “The committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant further gradual increases in the federal funds rate,” the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement Wednesday in Washington, adding the word “further” twice to previous language. The changes to the statement, collectively acknowledging stronger growth and more confidence that inflation will rise to their 2% target, may spur speculation that the Fed will pick up the pace of interest-rate increases.

Officials also said inflation “is expected to move up this year and to stabilize” around the goal, in phrasing that marked an upgrade from their statement in December. At the same time, the Fed repeated language saying that “near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced.” “It opens the door to four hikes for them, but I don’t think they have walked through it,” said Michael Gapen at Barclays in New York. “It closes the door to two hikes.” Fed officials penciled in three rate moves this year in quarterly forecasts they updated last month, according to their median projection.

With her term ending later this week after President Donald Trump chose to replace her, Yellen is handing the reins to Powell, who has backed her gradual approach and is widely expected to raise interest rates at the FOMC’s next meeting for the sixth time since late 2015. Fed officials are hoping to keep a tight labor market from overheating without raising borrowing costs so fast that it would stifle the economy. “Gains in employment, household spending and business fixed investment have been solid, and the unemployment rate has stayed low,” the Fed said, removing previous references to disruptions from hurricanes. “Market-based measures of inflation compensation have increased in recent months but remain low.”

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People won’t understand their pensions are Ponzis until there are no payments.

Two Out Of Three UK Pension Schemes Are In The Red (Yahoo)

Two out of three pension funds are in the red – to the tune of a combined £210 billion, it has been revealed. Some 3,710 schemes are in deficit according to the Pension Protection Fund watchdog, putting a serious question mark over the retirement plans of millions of workers. The PFF has been called into action on two high profile occasions of late – working with Toys R Us to secure a near £10m injection into its ailing fund to protect the company’s short-term future and also sorting through the debris of the Carillion collapse. The giant contractor folded earlier this month with debts of above £1.3bn, including an estimated £800m hole in its pension fund. The PFF monitors the health of 5,588 pension pots, with some of the biggest names on the FTSE 100 running schemes with major shortfalls.

The biggest include £9.1billion at BT, as well as deficits of £6.9billion at Royal Dutch Shell, £6.7billion at BP and £6.6billion at both Tesco and BAE Systems. Sir Steve Webb, a former pensions minister under the recent coalition government, said Carillion would not be the last big company to fold leaving its pension scheme in jeopardy. “The question isn’t if there will be another Carillion – it’s when,” said Webb, who is now director of policy at pensions group Royal London. “With two-thirds of schemes in deficit it is inevitable there will be more insolvencies and more schemes ending up in the PPF.”

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They had more than 60 active working groups.. And thought it’d remain secret? Anyone going to jail?

Secret Price Fixing Among German Carmakers (Spiegel)

The Federal Cartel Office suspects that major carmakers and a few of their suppliers have been fixing prices for years, and possibly even decades. It’s not the prices at which the companies sell their cars or car parts that is at issue, but rather a significant component of the prices they pay for steel. “The aim of the suspected collusion,” the court ruling that granted the search warrants read, was to “unify the purchasing price for steel in the automobile industry and, by doing so, create a commonality of costs.” The Federal Cartel Office believes that the alleged collusion existed back in the 1990s and that “it existed again from March 2007 until February 2013.” Investigators have also found indications there may have been collusion in 2016.

Collusion of that nature is the antithesis of competition. It means that VW, Daimler and BMW were no longer competing to buy steel cheaper than their rivals and passing their savings down to customers – as is normally the case in a functioning market economy. And steel is one of the most important supplies purchased by carmakers. The nationwide searches didn’t remain secret, with the media quickly reporting on them. But until now, the background and details of the raids have remained largely unknown, the case having been overshadowed by a European Commission investigation into another case that also involves the automobile industry – a case that DER SPIEGEL exposed last summer.

That case was triggered when Daimler and Volkswagen essentially admitted wrongdoing, and since then the Brussels authority has been looking into suspicions that the companies engaged in collusion for several years with BMW, Porsche and Audi, in the form of more than 60 working groups covering areas such as technological development, suppliers and how to deal with environmental protection authorities. The companies had created working groups for almost every part of a vehicle. They existed for “gasoline engines,” “diesel engines,” “car body,” “chassis,” “total vehicle” and many more areas. With five brands involved – Daimler, BMW, Audi, Porsche and VW – the groups were referred to internally as “groups of five.” All together, they met more than 1,000 times in past years.

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Say no more: “Desired ambiguities..”

Germany Reaches Limit of Support for Macron’s Europe Plans (BBG)

French President Emmanuel Macron will be disappointed if he expects Germany’s next government to drum up more goodwill for his European reform plans in this week’s talks, according to four people familiar with the current coalition negotiations. Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led bloc and its prospective Social Democratic Party partner are not planning any fundamental changes to their proposals on Europe’s future as set out in a preliminary agreement reached Jan. 12, according to the people, who represent all three parties involved in the talks. All asked not to be named as the negotiations are private and ongoing. Representatives of Merkel’s CDU, its Christian Social Union sister party and Martin Schulz’s Social Democrats met in the Chancellery in Berlin on Wednesday to discuss Europe policy.

While Schulz hailed the outcome as a “fresh start” for Europe, details were in short supply. The negotiators didn’t go much beyond those measures already agreed, one of the people attending the meeting said. These include higher German contributions to the EU budget; expanding the European Stability Fund (ESM) into a European Monetary Fund; and a European framework for minimum wages. The SPD proposed giving the EU its own means to raise revenue, whether by taxes or tolls, prompting Merkel’s bloc to warn against a debate over tax increases. On a visit to Macron in Paris on Jan. 19, Merkel said the coalition’s common Europe plans contained “desired ambiguities,” since any attempt to agree on the final details now would reduce the room to negotiate.

In reality, her CDU/CSU and the SPD, as the Social Democrats are known in German, have different interpretations of the proposals, and these divergent positions are likely to bubble up in the coming months in the debate over euro-area reform.

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Hungary won’t be easy to strong-arm. But Brussels will try. The only people who want more Europe are politicians.

Hungary Rejects Macron’s ‘Arrogance’ as EU Reform-Fight Looms (BBG)

French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to bring to heel renegade European Union nations as part of a drive to reform the bloc smacks of arrogance and will fail, a senior Hungarian ruling party official said. Unanimity is required both to change the EU constitution and approve a multi-year, post-2020 EU budget. That means proposed sanctions on countries like Hungary and Poland for alleged rule-of-law violations won’t gain traction, according to Gergely Gulyas, parliamentary leader of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party. Governments are drawing battle lines as the EU mulls plans to re-invent itself, with some members saying the euro crisis, Brexit, the biggest refugee influx since World War II and ex-communist members ditching the bloc’s liberal values have necessitated a revamp.

Macron has presented the most ambitious proposals, with a plan to deepen integration in everything from defense to the economy. He has also called for sanctions against member states seen as backsliding on democracy. “If we’re going to play the game that western European countries want to launch rule-of-law procedures against eastern European countries because of differences over values, then that’s not going to work,” said Gulyas, 36. “That would destroy the Union.” Hungary received 3.6 billion euros ($4.5 billion) in net EU funding in 2016. That made it the fourth-biggest beneficiary in the 28-member bloc after Poland, Romania and Greece and underscores the risk to its economy if Macron can make good on his pledge. Gulyas dismissed proposals aimed at punishing Hungary and Poland, arguing that France has for years failed to meet EU spending limits yet has escaped penalties for fiscal offenders.

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Under an alleged left-wing government.

More Than One Million Greeks Trapped In Tax Payment Scheme Nightmare (K.)

More than 1 million Greeks are now trapped in programs to pay off their tax and social security dues in installments, a situation likely to continue for years to come. On Wednesday the Finance Ministry announced taxpayers can apply for a 12- or 24-installment payment scheme, which under certain circumstances can include non-expired dues, on the website of the Independent Authority for Public Revenue. Citizens are resorting to various payment programs offered by the ministries of Finance and Labor because they would otherwise be unable to meet their obligations. In many cases taxpayers are forced to pay additional installments in order not to default on their plans.

The million-plus taxpayers and businesses that are trapped in the various schemes they have entered to pay off the tax authorities and the social security funds have no other choice but to keep paying, otherwise they will have their assets confiscated. The payment schemes are the outcome of the growth in taxation and of social security contributions in recent years. Worse, as of this year, if anyone delays the payment of an installment by more than 24 hours, the debt will be classified as overdue and the process of the monitoring mechanism will be triggered for the state to safeguard its interests. Particularly in the case of the 100-payment program for dues to the tax authorities, missing a deadline means the entire amount due is classified as expired and becomes immediately payable along with fines and penalties.

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You mean, monoculture is not the greatest thing ever?!

Planting Wildflowers Across Farm Fields To Cut Pesticide Spraying (G.)

Long strips of bright wildflowers are being planted through crop fields to boost the natural predators of pests and potentially cut pesticide spraying. The strips were planted on 15 large arable farms in central and eastern England last autumn and will be monitored for five years, as part of a trial run by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). Concern over the environmental damage caused by pesticides has grown rapidly in recent years. Using wildflower margins to support insects including hoverflies, parasitic wasps and ground beetles has been shown to slash pest numbers in crops and even increase yields. But until now wildflower strips were only planted around fields, meaning the natural predators are unable to reach the centre of large crop fields.

“If you imagine the size of a [ground beetle], it’s a bloody long walk to the middle of a field,” said Prof Richard Pywell, at CEH. GPS-guided harvesters can now precisely reap crops, meaning strips of wildflowers planted through crop fields can be avoided and left as refuges all year round. Pywell’s initial tests show that planting strips 100m apart means the predators are able to attack aphids and other pests throughout the field. The flowers planted include oxeye daisy, red clover, common knapweed and wild carrot. In the new field trials, the strips are six metres wide and take up just 2% of the total field area. They will be monitored through a full rotation cycle from winter wheat to oil seed rape to spring barley.

“It’s a real acid test – we scientists are having to come up with real practical solutions,” said Pywell, who led a landmark study published in 2017 showing that neonicotinoids insecticides damage bee populations, not just individual insects. In the new trials, the researchers will be looking out for any sign that drawing the wild insects into the centre of fields, and therefore closer to where pesticides are sprayed, does more harm than good.

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Old threat. But a real one.

Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Shifting, Poles May Flip (ZH)

[..] scientists from the University of Colorado in Boulder are sounding the alarm that the Earth’s magnetic poles are showing signs of reversing. Although the pole reversal, in and of itself, isn’t unprecedented, the solar winds that would take out the power grid and make parts of the globe uninhabitable could cause widespread disasters. The Earth has a fierce molten core that generates a magnetic field capable of defending our planet against devastating solar winds. This magnetic field is vital to life on Earth and has weakened by 15 percent over the last 200 years. This protective field acts as a shield against harmful solar radiation and extends thousands of miles into space and its magnetism affects everything from global communication to power grids.

Historically, Earth’s North and South magnetic poles have flipped every 200,000 or 300,000 years. However, the last flip was about 780,000 years ago, meaning our planet is well overdue. The latest satellite data, from the European Space Agency’s Swarm trio which monitors the Earth’s magnetic field, suggest a pole flip may be imminent. The satellites allow researchers to study changes building at the Earth’s core, where the magnetic field is generated. Their observations suggest molten iron and nickel are draining the energy out of the Earth’s core near where the magnetic field is generated. While scientists aren’t sure why exactly this happens, they describe it as a “restless activity” that suggests the magnetic field is preparing to flip.

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A lot more timeless than most other pics of this.

‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ Rises Over The Acropolis (K.)

A ‘super blue blood moon’ rises behind the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis hill in Athens on Wednesday evening, when thousands of city residents took to the streets and balconies to witness the rare spectacle. People in many parts of the world caught a glimpse of the moon as a giant reddish globe thanks to a rare lunar phenomenon that combines a total eclipse with a blue moon and super moon. The spectacle – the first in 152 years – has been coined a ‘super blue blood moon’ by NASA. [Petros Giannakouris/AP]

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Just refuse to do any trade with any country that imports the horns. For starters.

Latest Rhino Poaching Figures Show A Decade Of Bloodshed (Ind.)

Dr Ian Player, the veteran South African game ranger and doyen of global rhino conservation, would be turning in his grave today were he to discover that another 1,000 rhinos had been slaughtered in the last calendar year. The African-wildlife warrior died just over three years ago aged 87, at a point when poaching had just exploded to record levels in South Africa – with nearly three rhinos gunned down daily. Annual government statistics announced last week complete the picture of 7,130 rhino carcasses piled up in South Africa over the last decade. Shortly before his death, I visited Player at his home in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands to ask him about his thoughts on the poaching crisis and the future of one of the “big five” (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo) species he devoted most of his life to protecting.

Frail and dispirited, he had reached a point in life where he should have been taking things easy, after more than six decades of service to nature conservation. Instead, his cellphone rang incessantly as colleagues from all corners of the country reported the discovery of yet another rhino butchered for its horns. Having worked so hard to save rhinos from extinction once before, there was no way Player could hang up his conservation boots amidst this new crisis. He also told me about a dream that haunted him. “My dream was about a young white rhino which came to lie down next to me and then gently placed its head on my shoulder. That does not need too much interpretation – the rhinos still need our help more than ever before,” he explained.

Player first came across a rhino in Imfolozi Game Reserve in the early 1950s when he joined the Natal Parks Board as a learner game ranger. A disciple of Carl Jung and Sir Laurens van der Post, Player went on to spearhead a global operation to safeguard the world’s second-largest land animal from extinction. Less than a decade ago, poaching deaths were limited to roughly 20 rhinos per year in South Africa, the country that provides sanctuary to 93% of Africa’s white rhinos and nearly 40% of the continent’s black rhinos. In 2007, only 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa. But in 2008 that tally rose steeply to 80 deaths; to 333 in 2010 and then to a record level of 1,205 during 2014. Last year the death toll topped the 1,000 mark for the fifth year in a row.

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