Pablo Picasso La lecture 1932
“Obviously the economy will shrink, but it shrinks to reality..”
“Everything” in Argentina is 20% to 30% overvalued, making a financial crisis inevitable, Daniel Lacalle, an economist and fund manager, told Business Insider. A financial crisis has been building in Argentina for years but was hidden by an inflationary bubble which politicians refused to address because they wanted to “avoid the pain,” said Lacalle, chief economist at Tressis SV and a fund manager at Adriza International Opportunities. “Argentina was an accident waiting to happen… Right now GDP [in Argentina] is a fabrication… a complete invention. Obviously the economy will shrink, but it shrinks to reality. It needs to face reality,” he said.
The Argentine peso has been struggling against an increasingly strong dollar. Two interest rate hikes in 24 hours failed to prevent the fall of the currency’s value and the country is seeking billions from the International Monetary Fund, according to reports. The news shocked Argentines who are still traumatized by the last IMF loan which coincided with austerity and the financial crisis in 2001 that caused social and economic chaos. The next crisis could already be underway. “The crisis is already happening. You have seen prices go through the roof, discontent, the economy is not growing as it was supposed to grow,” said Lacalle.
He added that the problems have been building for years but were disguised by a “massive bubble” which came from an “extreme inflow of cheap dollars” during the end of QE and helpful “tailwind” conditions. The tailwind has now reversed thanks to an increasingly strong dollar and the prospect of an interest rate rise from the US Federal Reserve. The result is a crisis which interest rate rises have failed to stave off. It was disguised by politicians who wanted to “avoid the pain of facing the problems, so they tried to indebt their way out of it,” Lacalle said.
Planting a spy in a political campaign may cause a problem or two.
Did the bureau engage in outright spying against the 2016 Trump campaign? The Department of Justice lost its latest battle with Congress Thursday when it allowed House Intelligence Committee members to view classified documents about a top-secret intelligence source that was part of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign. Even without official confirmation of that source’s name, the news so far holds some stunning implications. Among them is that the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation outright hid critical information from a congressional investigation. In a Thursday press conference, Speaker Paul Ryan bluntly noted that Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’s request for details on this secret source was “wholly appropriate,” “completely within the scope” of the committee’s long-running FBI investigation, and “something that probably should have been answered a while ago.”
Translation: The department knew full well it should have turned this material over to congressional investigators last year, but instead deliberately concealed it. House investigators nonetheless sniffed out a name, and Mr. Nunes in recent weeks issued a letter and a subpoena demanding more details. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s response was to double down—accusing the House of “extortion” and delivering a speech in which he claimed that “declining to open the FBI’s files to review” is a constitutional “duty.” Justice asked the White House to back its stonewall. And it even began spinning that daddy of all superspook arguments—that revealing any detail about this particular asset could result in “loss of human lives.” This is desperation, and it strongly suggests that whatever is in these files is going to prove very uncomfortable to the FBI.
The bureau already has some explaining to do. Thanks to the Washington Post’s unnamed law-enforcement leakers, we know Mr. Nunes’s request deals with a “top secret intelligence source” of the FBI and CIA, who is a U.S. citizen and who was involved in the Russia collusion probe. When government agencies refer to sources, they mean people who appear to be average citizens but use their profession or contacts to spy for the agency. Ergo, we might take this to mean that the FBI secretly had a person on the payroll who used his or her non-FBI credentials to interact in some capacity with the Trump campaign. This would amount to spying, and it is hugely disconcerting.
“Trump has reshuffled the Grand Chessboard. Persians, though, happen to know a thing or two about chess.”
To cut to the chase, the US decision to leave the JCPOA will not open the path to an Iranian nuclear weapon. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the last word, repeatedly stressed these are un-Islamic. It will not open the path toward regime change. On the contrary, Iran hardliners, clerical and otherwise, are already capitalizing on their interpretation from the beginning – Washington cannot be trusted. And it will not open the path toward all-out war. It’s no secret every Pentagon war-gaming exercise against Iran turned out nightmarish. This included the fact that the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC, could be put out of the oil business within hours, with dire consequences for the global economy.
President Hassan Rouhani, in his cool, calm, collected response, emphasized Iran will remain committed to the JCPOA. Immediately before the announcement, he had already said: “It is possible that we will face some problems for two or three months, but we will pass through this.” Responding to Trump, Rouhani stressed: “From now on, this is an agreement between Iran and five countries … from now on the P5+1 has lost its 1… we have to wait and see how the others react. “If we come to the conclusion that with cooperation with the five countries we can keep what we wanted despite Israeli and American efforts, Barjam [the Iranian description of the JCPOA] can survive.”
Clearly, a titanic internal struggle is already underway, revolving around whether the Rouhani administration – which is actively working to diversify the economy – will be able to face the onslaught by the hard-liners. They have always characterized the JCPOA as a betrayal of Iran’s national interest. [..] So, Trump has reshuffled the Grand Chessboard. Persians, though, happen to know a thing or two about chess.
China will not turn its back on Iran. Neither will Russia.
Chinese businessman Sheng Kuan Li didn’t worry about sanctions when he decided in 2010 to invest $200 million in a steel mill in Iran that started producing ingots and billet within months of the lifting of punitive measures against the Islamic republic as part of 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran. With no operations in the United States, Mr. Li was not concerned about being targeted by the US Treasury. Mr. Li, moreover, circumvented financial restrictions on Iran by funding his investment through what he called a “private transfer,” a money swap that was based on trust and avoided regular banking channels. In doing so, Mr. Li was following standard Chinese practice of evading the sanctions regime by using alternative routes or establishing alternative institutions that were in effect immune.
To be able to continue to purchase Iranian oil while sanctions were in place, China, for example, established the Bank of Kunlun to handle Chinese payments. The Chinese experience in circumventing the earlier sanctions will come in handy with Beijing rejecting US President Donald J. Trump’s renewed effort to isolate Iran and force it to make further concessions on its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs as well as the Islamic republic’s regional role in the Middle East by walking away from the 2015 agreement and reintroducing punitive economic measures. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in response to Mr. Trump’s announcement that the People’s Republic was committed to the deal and would “maintain communication with all parties and continue to protect and execute the agreement fully.”
How can you maintain individualism rules when you see how people interact with social media?
One of the central tenets of late-20th century consumer capitalism is the sanctity of the individual. Margaret Thatcher declared that “There’s no such thing as society, there are individual men and women.” Ayn Rand’s philosophy glamorized anti-social übermenschen who stand against everyone else. Friedrich von Hayek thought mild social welfare policy could be compared to Nazi fascism because they are both “collectivist.” Libertarians promote “individual freedom” with a level of brand discipline that would make Apple proud.
It’s easy to swallow this idea at face value, agreeing that market fundamentalists really do value the inviolability of the individual, while the left believes instead in the collective and the community. After all, market zealots don’t merely try to dismantle policies that benefit the common good. They attack the idea that there can be a common good to begin with. Because leftists talk about social welfare, and supporters of markets put the Individual at the center of their framework, one can forgive those who are seduced by this rhetoric. But it is only rhetoric. In fact, today’s economy is a collectivist enterprise, insofar as collectivism elevates the good of the aggregate and the organization over that of individual human beings.
Get past the well-crafted agitprop, and we see that corporate capitalism is all about subsuming the particular will of an individual to that of the institution. The institutions vary: a monopolistic corporation, a nonprofit charity, an arm of government, the police. But in each, the individual is actually helpless and powerless, with the needs, wants, and will of the larger entity taking priority. Amazon workers work for Amazon: They don’t set the rules of their own workplace, that’s done from above. They don’t own the company, they don’t get to say what it does. And Amazon in particular is a pioneer in sacrificing the sanctity (and dignity) of the individual to the company. The employees serve the corporation, rather than the other way around.
Steve on Marx’s crucial mistake.
With both use-value and exchange-value quantitative, there will be a difference between these two “intrinsically incommensurable magnitudes” (Capital I. Ch. 19) that is the source of surplus. Marx’s best statement of this in relation to labor was in Capital I itself: “The daily cost of maintaining it [Labour], and its daily expenditure in work, are two totally different things. The former determines the exchange-value of the labour power, the latter is its use-value. The fact that half a [working] day’s labour is necessary to keep the labourer alive during 24 hours, does not in any way prevent him from working a whole day… The seller of labour power, like the seller of any other commodity, realises its exchange value, and parts with its use-value.”
He thus had a far more satisfying, positive proof as to why Labour was a source of surplus. But was it the only source? What about machinery as well? In the Grundrisse, when he was still enthralled by his new methodology, he applied it correctly to machinery: “It also has to be postulated (which was not done above) that the use-value of the machine [is] significantly greater than its value; i.e. that its devaluation in the service of production is not proportional to its increasing effect on production.” But Gadzooks! This means that machinery can be a source of surplus as well. And if so, then an increasing “organic composition of capital” has no implications for the levels of surplus and profit: they could go up just as well as go down when production became less labour-intensive.
The “Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall” disappears. Socialism is no longer inevitable. Marx’s reaction to this shock discovery was to employ verbal gymnastics until such a time that he could fool himself that he had reconciled the two approaches. He then set about fooling everyone else, and finally declared emphatically—and falsely—that: “However useful a given kind of raw material, or a machine, or other means of production may be, though it may cost £150… yet it cannot, under any circumstances, add to the value of the product more than £150”. With this false statement swallowed by Marx’s followers, the belief in the inevitability of socialism continued. Accidents of history led to his Russia’s Bolshevik followers attempting to impose socialism on feudal Russia, and the rest is a very unfortunate history.
What despair looks like.
Theresa May has ordered Brexiters to study her “customs partnership” model, and remainers to go over the leavers’ “maximum facilitation” proposal, in a bid to thrash out a compromise between the two sides. Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond – apparently regarded as the “ultras” of leave and remain, respectively – have been sitting out of the cabinet working groups. May’s “customs partnership” will be examined by Brexiters Liam Fox and Michael Gove, teamed with remainer and Cabinet Office minister David Lidington. “Max-fac” will be workshopped by remainers Greg Clark, the business secretary, and Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland secretary, along with Brexit secretary David Davis, a leaver.
The ministers have until Tuesday to examine their options, but entrenched positions mean a breakthrough is not expected. One cabinet minister told the Guardian it is partly about May wanting to “kick any decisions down the road for as long as she can”. It certainly looks that way, after Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, announced government business for the next fortnight – minus the EU withdrawal bill, which needs to come back from the Lords but is peppered with amendments that have enraged Brexiters. Labour accused the government of “subverting democracy” with the delay.
Sir John Major, meanwhile, has hit out at Brexiters’ failure to grasp that leaving the customs union would mean a hard border in Ireland and damaging consequences for peace there. The Conservative former PM, speaking at the Irish embassy in London, said without a customs union, border checks would be required by law, especially for food, animals and animal feed. “If so, a physical border seems unavoidable,” he said.
How bubbles implode. Slowly at first.
More than one in three UK homeowners wouldn’t be able to afford their home if it were listed on the property market at today’s value says new research, as the latest data confirms prices stutter upwards. The Halifax House Price Index, a leading measure of the state of the property market, this week released figures showing prices in the last three months were 2.2% higher than in the same period last year, with the average property now coming in at £220,962. The figures support separate findings that suggest that a significant proportion of those who have owned their own home even for a few years would already be priced out of the market if they were to attempt the purchase again, despite historically low mortgage interest rates.
More than one in three of the 3,000 property owners surveyed by MyJobQuote said their home’s value had increased to the point that they would be unable to afford it at the current value – an average of £50,000 more than their original purchase price – or that changes to their financial circumstances would now make it impossible. However, the Halifax data suggests that a downward price trend that had been contained in geographical pockets until recently is becoming more widespread. While the annual figures still show a reasonable increase, month by month, prices are currently dropping nationally by an average of more than 3%. At a time when the property market traditionally enters a stronger summer buying season, the latest data, which follows a 1.6% increase in average prices in March, suggests a rocky state of affairs.
Properties become unused and useless. There is no reason for this to happen. Scorched Earth.
The exhaustion of Greeks’ taxpaying capacity and the difficulties in meeting day-to-day expenses are leading to more and more citizens waiving inheritances, especially when they concern real estate assets. Legal sources say that the phenomenon no longer only concerns people waiving inheritances due to the debts of the deceased (which they would have to pay), but has spread to those wishing to avoid the payment of the inheritance tax and the Single Property Tax (ENFIA), as well as expenses related to property maintenance. According to the latest data available, in 2017 such waivers amounted to 130,000, while the definitive data will be issued soon, according to Justice Ministry sources.
That figure is quite impressive, given that it is almost three times the number of inheritance waivers in 2016 (54,422), and is up by 333 percent on the 2013 figure. This means that the state takes ownership of properties that cannot be utilized, as the fate of those assets remains unknown given that the state’s auction programs are fairly limited. For instance, in the first half of this month, the state will auction just three properties, after 15 assets went under the hammer over the previous fortnight but without any success. It also remains unknown how many assets have come under state ownership as a result of confiscations and property concessions.
What is certain is that all these properties are assets that will drop in value, which will make it even more difficult to find buyers for them in the future. Every beneficiary has the right to waive an inheritance, except for the state. The deadline for waiving an inheritance is four months after the day a will is published. If there is no will, the four-month period starts on the day the person dies. However, if the deceased lived abroad or the heir has their main residence in another country, then the deadline for waiving an inheritance extends to 12 months. The acceptance or waiver has to concern the entire inheritance, not parts of it.
“..the universe is getting bigger quicker than it should be..”
A crisis of cosmic proportions is brewing: the universe is expanding 9% faster than it ought to be and scientists are not sure why. The latest, most precise, estimate of the universe’s current rate of expansion – a value known as the Hubble constant – comes from , which is conducting the most detailed ever three-dimensional survey of the Milky Way. The data has allowed the rate of expansion to be pinned down to a supposed accuracy of a couple of percent. However, this newest estimate stands in stark contradiction with an independent measure of the Hubble constant based on observations of ancient light that was released shortly after the Big Bang. In short, the universe is getting bigger quicker than it should be.
The mismatch is significant and problematic because the Hubble constant is widely regarded as the most fundamental number in cosmology. “The fact the universe is expanding is really one of the most powerful ways we have to determine the composition of the universe, the age of the universe and the fate of the universe,” said Professor Adam Riess, at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, who led the latest analysis. “The Hubble constant quantifies all that into one number.” In an expanding universe, the further away a star or galaxy is, the quicker it is receding. Hubble’s constant – proposed by Edwin Hubble in the 1920s – reveals by how much.
So one approach to measuring it is by observing the redshifts of bright supernovae, whose light is stretched as the very space it is travelling through expands. A challenge, though, is pinpointing the exact distance of these stars. [..] The new data puts the Hubble constant at 73, which translates to galaxies moving away from us 73km per second faster for each additional megaparsec of distance between us and them (a megaparsec is about 3.3m light-years). However, a separate estimate of Hubble comes from observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background, relic radiation that allows scientists to calculate how quickly the universe was expanding 300,000 years after the big bang.
“The cosmic microwave background is the light that is the furthest away from us that we can see,” said Riess. “It’s been travelling for 13.7bn years… and it’s telling us how fast the universe was expanding when the universe was a baby.” Scientists then use the cosmic equivalent of a child growth chart (a computational model that roughly describes the age and contents of the universe and the laws of physics) to predict how fast the universe should be expanding today. This gives a Hubble value of 67.
Mass extinction and mass insanity.
These extraordinary creatures are our closest relatives, sharing 97% of our DNA. Their similarity to us is astonishing. They are intelligent, inquisitive, smile and show empathy. They even laugh when tickled, like us, when most other animals have evolved to be ticklish only in an itchy, irritating sort of way as a protective reflex. Encountering orangutans in the wild is like nothing else I’ve experienced. They once thrived in Indonesia’s lush, green rainforests but over the last 50 years they have been forced from their home and killed. In the last 16 years alone, 100,000 Bornean orangutans have been lost. All three species – Bornean, Sumatran and the Tapanuli, a species discovered only last year – are now on the critically endangered list.
The reason? It started in the 1960s as forests were logged for timber, but now it’s palm oil. Global demand for palm oil has increased six-fold since 1990. It’s in half of all packaged products on supermarket shelves and to avoid it completely would be incredibly tricky. Although palm oil in food can no longer be described simply as vegetable oil and must be clearly labelled (thanks to an EU directive in 2014), there is no such law for products such as soap, shampoo and other cosmetics. The supermarket Iceland’s decision to ditch palm oil from all of its own-brand products was, it says, a response to the palm oil industry’s catastrophic failure to halt deforestation and deal with the problem.
Even the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – the industry body charged with ensuring registered companies trade only in oil that has not come from deforestation – is failing spectacularly. Just over a week ago, Greenpeace exposed massive rainforest destruction in Papua allegedly caused by palm oil companies that are subsidiaries of a current RSPO member. Buying from them were big multinationals including Unilever, Nestlé, Pepsico and Mars. The companies concerned have responded by saying they are taking Greenpeace’s claims seriously and taking appropriate action. But if Greenpeace’s assertions are correct, no company can claim the palm oil it uses is 100% “sustainable”.