Feb 152018
 
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Grete Stern Sueño No. 1: Artículos eléctricos para el hogar 1949

 

Global Debt Crisis II Cometh (Goldcore)
The % Puzzle Coming Together (Northman)
Trump Surprises Democrats, Supports 25 Cent Federal Gas Tax Hike (ZH)
Household Debt Is China’s Latest Time Bomb (BBG)
China’s Currency Policy May Be Facing a New Chapter (BBG)
Angela Merkel Pays a Steep Price to Stay in Power (BBG)
Meth, the Forgotten Killer, Is Back in America. And It’s Everywhere. (NYT)
German Cities To Trial Free Public Transport To Cut Pollution (G.)
Who Keeps Britain’s Trains Running? Europe (NYT)
Europe’s Poverty Time Bomb (PS)
Erdogan’s Chief Advisor: US Has Plan To Make Greece Attack Turkey (K.)
Greece Looks at USA to Calm Down Turkey (GR)

 

 

There is no escape. No matter what anyone says about recovery etc., the piper will come calling.

Global Debt Crisis II Cometh (Goldcore)

• Global debt ‘area of weakness’ and could ‘induce financial panic’ – King warns
• Global debt to GDP now 40 per cent higher than it was a decade ago – BIS warns
• Global non-financial corporate debt grew by 15% to 96% of GDP in the past six years
• US mortgage rates hit highest level since May 2014
• US student loans near $1.4 trillion, 40% expected to default in next 5 years
• UK consumer debt hit £200b, highest level in 30 years, 25% of households behind on repayments

The ducks are beginning to line up for yet another global debt crisis. US mortgage rates are hinting at another crash, student debt crises loom in both the US and UK, consumer and corporate debt is at record levels and global debt to GDP ratio is higher than it was during the financial crisis. When you look at the figures you realise there is an air of inevitability of what is around the corner. If the last week has taught us anything, it is that markets are unprepared for the fallout that is destined to come after a decade of easy monetary policies. Global debt is more than three times the size of the global economy, the highest it has ever been. This is primarily made up of three groups: non financial corporates, governments and households. Each similarly indebted as one another.

Debt is something that has sadly run the world for a very long time, often without problems. But when that debt becomes excessive it is unmanageable. The terms change and repayments can no longer be met. This sends financial markets into a spiral. The house of cards is collapsing and suddenly it is revealed that life isn’t so hunky-day after all. Rates are set to rise and as they do they will spark more financial shocks, as we have seen this week. Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England, gave warning about global debt levels earlier this week: “The areas of weakness in the current system are really focused on the amount of debt that exists, not just in the U.S. and U.K. but across the world,” he said on Bloomberg Radio last Wednesday. “Debt in the private sector relative to GDP is higher now than it was in 2007, and of course public debt is even higher still.”

Read more …

When you see US debt is out of hand, don’t stop there. All global debt is.

The % Puzzle Coming Together (Northman)

The US is drowning in debt and as long as rates are low it’s all fun and giggles, but there is a point where it cramps on growth and the simple question is when and where. In recent weeks we have had a nasty correction coinciding with technical overbought readings and both bonds and stocks testing 30 year old trend lines. In the meantime we continue to get data that keeps sending the same message: It’s a debt bonanza that keeps expanding and is unsustainable. Janet Yellen a few months ago said the debt to GDP ratio keeps her awake at night. Yesterday the Director of National Intelligence came out and described the national debt on an unsustainable path and a national security threat. This is literally where we are as a nation.

What’s Congress’s and the White House’s response? Spend more and blow up the deficit into the trillion+ range heading toward 2-3 trillion. What is there to say but stand in awe at the utter hubris that is being wrought. Last night the Fed came out with the latest household debt figures and it’s equally as damning, record debt and ever more required to keep consumer spending afloat:

The non-mortgage piece is particularly disturbing:

Higher interest rates will ultimately trigger the next recession as the entire debt construct will be weighted down by the burdens of cost of carry. And today’s inflation and correlated weakening retail sales data suggested that there’s price sensitivity already at these, historically speaking, still very low rates. The Fed may find itself horribly behind the curve and this will have consequences.

Read more …

Makes a lot of sense. Therefore not going to happen.

Trump Surprises Democrats, Supports 25 Cent Federal Gas Tax Hike (ZH)

President Trump surprised a group of lawmakers during a Wednesday meeting at the White House by repeatedly mentioning a 25-cent-per-gallon increase on federal gasoline and diesel tax in order to help pay for upgrading America’s crumbling infrastructure by addressing a serious shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which will become insolvent by 2021. The tax increase was first pitched by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in January, while the White House had originally been lukewarm towards the idea. The federal gasoline and diesel tax has been at 18.4 and 24.4-cents-per-gallon respectively since 1993, with no adjustments for inflation. It currently generates approximately $35 billion per year, while the federal government spends around $50 billion annually on transportation projects.

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, seemed pleasantly surprised at Trump’s repeated mention of the tax as a solution to pay for upgrading American roads, bridges and other public works. “While there are a number of issues on which President Trump and I disagree, today, we agreed that things worth having are worth paying for,” Carper said in a statement. “The president even offered to help provide the leadership necessary so that we could do something that has proven difficult in the past.” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) – the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was also present at the meeting, in which he says President Trump told lawmakers he would be willing to increase federal spending beyond the White House’s $200 billion, 10-year proposal. “The president made a living building things, and he realizes that to build things takes money, takes investment,” DeFazio said.

[..] Republican leaders have already rejected the idea, however, along with various other entities tied to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. [..] Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) doesn’t think the gas tax has any chance of even coming up for a vote in the Senate. “He’ll never get it by McConnell,” said Grassley, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Read more …

Bloomberg always has graphs for everything. But now that I would like to see how fast personal debt has grown in China, nada. Still, this is a whole new thing: Chinese never used to borrow, and now it’s the new national pastime.

Household Debt Is China’s Latest Time Bomb (BBG)

For years, economists and policymakers have hailed the propensity of Chinese to save. Among other things, they’ve pointed to low household debt as reason not to fear a financial crash in the world’s second-biggest economy. Now, though, one of China’s greatest economic strengths is becoming a crucial weakness. Over the past two weeks, as they’ve held their annual work meetings, China’s various financial regulatory bodies have raised fears that Chinese households may be overleveraged. Banking regulators sound especially concerned, and understandably so: Data released Monday showed that Chinese households borrowed 910 billion renminbi ($143 billion) in January – nearly a third of all RMB-denominated bank loans extended that month.

While too much can be made of the headline number – lending is always disproportionately large in January, and bank loans are rising as regulators crack down on more shadowy forms of financing – the pace of growth for household debt is worrying. Between January and October last year, according to recent data from Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Chinese household leverage rose more than eight percentage points, from 44.8% to 53.2% of GDP – a record increase. By contrast, between 2009 and 2015, households had added an average of just three percentage points to their debt-to-GDP ratio each year, and that includes a large jump of 5.5 percentage points in 2009 as banks ramped up lending in response to the global financial crisis. Before 2009, household debt levels had hovered around 18% of GDP for five years.

In other words, the debt burden for Chinese consumers has nearly tripled in the past decade. Part of that rapid debt expansion has been deliberate. China’s government has encouraged increased borrowing and spending on items like cars and houses, to boost both consumption and investment. At the G-20 summit in February 2016, China’s sober central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan remarked that rising household leverage had “a certain logic to it.” Most worryingly, though, skyrocketing home prices seem to be driving much of the increase in household debt. Higher mortgage rates – and, especially, government policy – have compounded the problem. In order to slow rising prices, officials have raised down-payment requirements, pushed banks to slow mortgage lending and placed administrative restraints on purchases. That’s led buyers to borrow from different, often more expensive, channels.

Read more …

Beijing’s dilemma: allowing capital outflows (a no-no) would bring down the yuan (a yes please). Ergo: they can achieve what they want by allowing what they can’t afford to let happen.

China’s Currency Policy May Be Facing a New Chapter (BBG)

In the fraught history of Chinese currency policy, a new chapter could be looming this year as authorities consider the consequences of a yuan that’s testing its strongest levels since mid-2015. After successfully shutting off potentially destabilizing capital outflows and putting a floor under the yuan, policy makers may now have the luxury of looking at relaxing some of the strictures on domestic money. But China watchers warn that any moves are likely to be gradual and calibrated, given the turmoil of 2015 – when a sliding yuan spooked global markets. “Big changes in the capital account are less likely, but some slight easing can be expected,” said Xia Le at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria in Hong Kong. Policy makers have put a priority on deleveraging, “which is likely to cause instability,” he said – all the more reason to go cautiously on cross-border flows.

The yuan has strengthened 2.6% this year, after posting its first annual gain in four years in 2017. While no officials have clearly signaled an intent to relax controls, recent comments and moves hint at the potential for modification of the one-way capital account opening that China has been pursuing since 2016 – in which it has encouraged inflows but not outflows. The State Administration of Foreign Exchange, which oversees foreign-exchange reserves, said last week it sees more balanced capital flows. Pan Gongsheng, the director of SAFE, said last week that there will be a “neutral” policy in managing cross-border transactions. In a free trade zone in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, officials have revived a program allowing for overseas investment that was suspended in 2015. Authorities in January removed a “counter-cyclical” factor from the daily fixing of the yuan, a move seen to let the market take more of a role.

Any return to the sustained appreciation the yuan saw over the decade to 2015 could hurt Chinese exporters’ profits – just as big companies face challenges from the leadership’s drive to reduce excess credit and cut back polluting industries. Yet the disorderly moves that followed 2015 efforts to promote international use of the yuan serve as a warning against any sudden lifting of barriers to capital outflows. “A degree of undershooting” in the dollar against the yuan “is probably necessary to provide reformists in China’s policy circle a window of opportunity to lobby for more capital account liberalization,” analysts led by David Bloom, global head of currency strategy at HSBC in London, wrote in a recent report.

Read more …

Merkel should have stepped down. This can only end in chaos.

Angela Merkel Pays a Steep Price to Stay in Power (BBG)

Angela Merkel once claimed she had bested Vladimir Putin during their first meeting in the Kremlin, employing what she said was an old KGB technique: staring at the Russian leader in silence for several long minutes. As the sun rose over a frigid Berlin on Feb. 7, the German chancellor’s rivals from the Social Democratic Party used the same tactic. This time, Merkel blinked. Merkel and her team had spent the previous day and night at the headquarters of her Christian Democratic Union locked in tense negotiations with the SPD leadership. The SPD had issued an ultimatum that broke with long-standing protocol of German coalition-building: Off the bat, they demanded three key posts, including the finance and foreign ministries, power centers from which the SPD planned to set the government’s agenda, especially on Europe.

An earlier attempt at an alliance with the Greens and the Free Democrats had failed. A second collapse in talks, more than four months after the September election, threatened to sweep out the governing elite, including the chancellor who has dominated German politics for 12 years. As delegates were summoned back to the CDU building, they could barely believe what Merkel and her party’s Bavarian sister group, the Christian Social Union, had negotiated. With so much at stake, she surrendered the portfolios for finance, foreign affairs, and labor to the Social Democrats (though the deal still needs to be approved by the SPD’s 464,000 members). CDU lawmaker Olav Gutting captured the mood with gallows humor. “Puuuh! At least we kept the Chancellery!” he tweeted Wednesday. On Sunday, Merkel took to the airwaves to explain her position. “It was a painful decision,” she told the ZDF television network. “But what was the alternative?”

Read more …

The New York Times making the case for Trump’s border wall?

Meth, the Forgotten Killer, Is Back in America. And It’s Everywhere. (NYT)

The scourge of crystal meth, with its exploding labs and ruinous effect on teeth and skin, has been all but forgotten amid national concern over the opioid crisis. But 12 years after Congress took aggressive action to curtail it, meth has returned with a vengeance. Here in Oregon, meth-related deaths vastly outnumber those from heroin. At the United States border, agents are seizing 10 to 20 times the amounts they did a decade ago. Methamphetamine, experts say, has never been purer, cheaper or more lethal. Oregon took a hard line against meth in 2006, when it began requiring a doctor’s prescription to buy the nasal decongestant used to make it. “It was like someone turned off a switch,” said J.R. Ujifusa, a senior prosecutor in Multnomah County, which includes Portland. “But where there is a void,” he added, “someone fills it.”

The decades-long effort to fight methamphetamine is a tale with two takeaways. One: The number of domestic meth labs has declined precipitously, and along with it the number of children harmed and police officers sickened by exposure to dangerous chemicals. But also, two: There is more meth on the streets today, more people are using it, and more of them are dying. [..] In the early 2000s, meth made from pseudoephedrine, the decongestant in drugstore products like Sudafed, poured out of domestic labs like those in the early seasons of the hit television show “Breaking Bad.” Narcotics squads became glorified hazmat teams, spending entire shifts on cleanup. In 2004, the Portland police responded to 114 meth houses. “We rolled from meth lab to meth lab,” said Sgt. Jan M. Kubic of the county sheriff’s office. “Patrol would roll up on a domestic violence call, and there’d be a lab in the kitchen. Everything would come to a screeching halt.”

[..] But meth, it turns out, was only on hiatus. When the ingredients became difficult to come by in the United States, Mexican drug cartels stepped in. Now fighting meth often means seizing large quantities of ready-made product in highway stops. The cartels have inundated the market with so much pure, low-cost meth that dealers have more of it than they know what to do with. Under pressure from traffickers to unload large quantities, law enforcement officials say, dealers are even offering meth to customers on credit. In Portland, the drug has made inroads in black neighborhoods, something experienced narcotics investigators say was unheard-of five years ago.

Read more …

Will they sponsor this in Greek cities too?

German Cities To Trial Free Public Transport To Cut Pollution (G.)

“Car nation” Germany has surprised neighbours with a radical proposal to reduce road traffic by making public transport free, as Berlin scrambles to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines. The move comes just over two years after Volkswagen’s devastating “dieselgate” emissions cheating scandal unleashed a wave of anger at the auto industry, a keystone of German prosperity. “We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars,” three ministers including the environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, wrote to EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella in the letter seen by AFP Tuesday. “Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany,” the ministers added.

The proposal will be tested by “the end of this year at the latest” in five cities across western Germany, including former capital Bonn and industrial cities Essen and Mannheim. The move is a radical one for the normally staid world of German politics – especially as Chancellor Angela Merkel is presently only governing in a caretaker capacity, as Berlin waits for the centre-left Social Democratic party (SPD) to confirm a hard-fought coalition deal. On top of ticketless travel, other steps proposed Tuesday include further restrictions on emissions from vehicle fleets like buses and taxis, low-emissions zones or support for car-sharing schemes. Action is needed soon, as Germany and eight fellow EU members including Spain, France and Italy sailed past a 30 January deadline to meet EU limits on nitrogen dioxide and fine particles.

Read more …

Never sell your basic needs to foreigners.

Who Keeps Britain’s Trains Running? Europe (NYT)

The privatization of public services “was one of the central means of reversing the corrosive and corrupting effects of socialism,” Margaret Thatcher wrote in her memoirs. “Just as nationalisation was at the heart of the collectivist programme by which Labour governments sought to remodel British society, so privatisation is at the centre of any programme of reclaiming territory for freedom.” Those sentiments fueled a sell-off that put nearly every state-owned service or property in Britain on the auction block in the final decade of the 20th century, eventually including the country’s expansive public transportation infrastructure. Enshrined by parliamentary acts under Mrs. Thatcher and implemented by her two immediate successors, John Major, a Conservative, and Tony Blair of New Labour, the gospel of privatization was embraced by leaders around the world, notably including Mrs. Thatcher’s closest overseas ally, President Ronald Reagan.

In the realm of transportation, that gospel was soon betrayed by its own chief disciples. Put simply, there were few private-sector buyers with the expertise and deep pockets necessary to maintain control of a transit system that serves approximately seven billion passengers per year. With minimal transparency, operational ownership of the network of train and bus lines that crisscross the 607-square-mile sprawl of Greater London, linking it to the far-flung corners of Britain, was peddled in bits and pieces by the British state or acquired in corporate takeovers. But the new bosses were not private, business-savvy British firms. By 2000, the masters of British public transit — thanks to a scheme that was intended to replace state waste and sloth with soundly capitalist business principles — were foreign governments, most of them members of the European Union.

In short, the privatization devolved into a de facto re-nationalization — but under the direction of foreign states — that somehow went largely unnoticed. It now poses a startling and unprecedented dilemma thanks to Brexit, which will soon divorce Britain from the state bureaucracies beyond the English Channel that literally keep its economy in motion. The largest single stakeholder and operator in British transit is the Federal Republic of Germany [..] Germany is followed closely in the ranks of British transit bosses by France, proprietor of the London United bus system, among many other holdings. Its iconic red double-deckers openly announce themselves as the property of the RATP Group (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), the state-owned Paris transport company, and are emblazoned with its logo of a zigzagging River Seine flowing through an abstract representation of the French capital.

Read more …

As EU growth is at 10-year highs, boomers keep it all to themselves.

Europe’s Poverty Time Bomb (PS)

The poor don’t often decide elections in the advanced world, and yet they are being wooed heavily in Italy’s current electoral campaign. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of Forza Italia, has proposed a “dignity income,” while Beppe Grillo, the comedian and shadow leader of the Five Star Movement, has likewise called for a “citizenship income.” Both of these proposals – which would entail generous monthly payments to the disadvantaged – are questionable in terms of their design. But they do at least shed light on the rapidly worsening problem of widespread poverty across Europe. Poverty represents an extreme form of income polarization, but it is not the same thing as inequality. Even in a deeply unequal society, those who have less do not necessarily lack the means to live a decent and fulfilling life.

But those who live in poverty do, because they suffer from complete social exclusion, if not outright homelessness. Even in advanced economies, the poor often lack access to the financial system, struggle to pay for food or utilities, and die prematurely. Of course, not all of the poor live so miserably. But many do, and in Italy their electoral weight has become undeniable. Almost five million Italians, or roughly 8% of the population, struggle to afford basic goods and services. And in just a decade, this cohort has almost tripled in size, becoming particularly concentrated in the country’s south. At the same time, another 6% live in relative poverty, meaning they do not have enough disposable income to benefit from the country’s average standard of living.

The situation is equally worrisome at a continental level. In the EU in 2016, 117.5 million people, or roughly one-fourth of the population, were at risk of falling into poverty or a state of social exclusion. Since 2008, Italy, Spain, and Greece have added almost six million people to that total, while in France and Germany the proportion of the population that is poor has remained stable, at around 20%. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the probability of falling into poverty increased overall, but particularly for the young, owing to cuts in non-pension social benefits and a tendency in European labor markets to preserve insiders’ jobs. From 2007 to 2015, the proportion of Europeans aged 18-29 at risk of falling into poverty increased from 19% to 24%; for those 65 and older, it fell from 19% to 14%.

Read more …

“..Greece is no match for Turkey’s might. It would be like a “fly picking a fight with a giant..” What will the world do when the fighting starts? It could at any moment now.

Erdogan’s Chief Advisor: US Has Plan To Make Greece Attack Turkey (K.)

The chief advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Turkey’s TRT channel that he is “in no doubt” that the US has a plan to make Greece attack Turkey while its military is engaged in Syria. Turkey’s response, Yigit Bulut said, will be tough, adding that Greece is no match for Turkey’s might. It would be like a “fly picking a fight with a giant,” he said and warned that terrible consequences would follow for Greece. Bulut made similar comments earlier in the month referring to Imia over which Greece and Turkey came close to war in 1996. “We will break the arms and legs of any officers, of the prime minister or of any minister who dares to step onto Imia in the Aegean,” Bulut said.

Read more …

It may take Putin to halt Erdogan. But he will expect a reward for that.

Greece Looks at USA to Calm Down Turkey (GR)

Greece is expecting the US administration to intervene and de-escalate the crisis with Turkey over the Imia islets, according to diplomatic sources in Athens. The Greek government is hoping that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is currently in Ankara for an official visit, will persuade the Turkish leadership to tone down its actions in the Aegean. The US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey R. Pyatt will also be in Ankara and will brief Tillerson about recent developments. On Monday night, a Turkish patrol boat rammed into a Greek coast guard vessel near Imia, in the most serious incident between the two NATO allies in recent years. The two countries went almost to war in 1996 over sovereignty of Imia islets (Kardak in Turkish).

A confrontation was avoided then largely due to the intervention of Washington. The Department of State issued a statement on Tuesday stressing that Greece and Turkey should take measures to reduce the tension in the region. On Wednesday, Greek defense minister Panos Kammenos briefed Greece’s NATO allies on the incident at Imia and presented audiovisual material that prove Turkey’s provocation. “The Imia islets are Greek, the Greek Coast Guard and Navy are there and we will not back down on issues of national sovereignty for any reason. We ask our allies in the EU and NATO to adopt a clear stance,” he told AMNA. He also said that it was inconceivable that Turkey, a NATO ally, behaved like this toward another ally, in this case Greece.

Read more …

Feb 132018
 
 February 13, 2018  Posted by at 3:46 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Frank Larson Chrysler reflection, 42nd Street near 5th Ave, New York 1950s

 

Update: Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra resigned at 5pm local time, before the parliamentary debate could take place. But that still leaves Rutte in place with his own version of “when it gets serious, you have to lie”.

 

 

There will be a parliamentary debate in Holland (the Netherlands) today about abject lies about Russia and Vladimir Putin that its Foreign Minister, Halbe Zijlstra, has been telling the country for a few years now. Zijlstra is supposed to fly to Russia tomorrow to meet with his Russian peer, Sergey Lavrov. One would suppose Zijlstra will be fired later today, if only to prevent such a meeting from taking place, but that is by no means a given.

Here’s what happened: in 2006, there was a ‘conference’ in Putin’s dacha outside of Moscow. Zijlstra worked for Shell at the time at a lower level. Later, he has pretended he way present at a meeting with Putin in which the latter supposedly talked about his dreams for a ‘Greater Russia’.

Now, Zijlstra has revealed he was not at that meeting. He claimed ‘a source’ was there and told him about it, and he had wanted to protect the source and therefore pretended he himself was present. That source, then-Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer, not only never asked for any such protection, he also sent an email to paper De Volkskrant saying that Zijlstra had ‘misinterpreted’ the story Van der Veer had told him (a diplomatic word for he lied).

Putin never talked about ambitions for a Greater Russia, and never said Kazachstan was ‘nice to have’. Zijlstra made that all up. There had been mention of Greater Russia, but in a nostalgic, historical manner. And now Van der Veer, undoubtedly much to his chagrin, gets dragged into this entire false tale.

Because the entire Dutch government, longtime Prime Minister Mark Rutte first and most of all, has said Zijlstra’s lies were somehow acceptable because the ‘inhoud’ (tenor, content, narrative) of his story was true. That is to say, Rutte claims that Putin does indeed dream of land-grabbing, of invading Ukraine, the Baltic States etc.

 

It doesn’t matter if you have no proof of something (see the painfully botched MH17 investigation), and neither does it matter if you just make the whole thing up. The only thing that matters in Holland is that you stick to the narrative. Which, there is no other way to look at it, is fully unproven and entirely made up.

This makes the government of Holland (a NATO member), and certainly Rutte, a danger to world peace. Therefore, Rutte has to go along with Zijlstra. Because he not only condones the latter’s lies and fantasies, maintained in his days as Foreign Minister, Rutte himself also makes claim after claim based on no proof at all. Or at least nothing he has ever revealed.

Holland should never have chaired the MH17 investigation, because it was its main victim (2/3 of the near 300 who died in the plane crash had Dutch passports). In the 3,5 years since the tragedy, not an ounce of evidence has ever been published by the investigators that proves Russia was the culprit. But claims to that end have been freely made over the entire period.

Fro his Putin-bashing, then-Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans got himself a cushy job as second to EU head Jean-Claude Juncker (and yes, Juncker’s “when it gets serious, you have to lie” comes to mind in the Zijlstra thing). Timmermans, like then-US Secretary of State Joe Biden, wasted no time in fingering Russia as the perpetrator. They both made this claim within minutes. Again, without any proof.

 

None of this is a specific Dutch issue. The western world, led by the US, has created an atmosphere and a narrative in which it’s deemed acceptable to lie about Russia, about Vladimir Putin, about Russian hackers, and about connections Americans and western Europeans who don’t abide by the narrative, have to Russia and everything connected with it.

And well, they are right in one sense: there is a pattern here. The Russiagate investigations in the US into ties of Trump associates with Russians, like the Dutch investigation into MH17, continue ad infinitum without producing a sliver of proof.

Various and multiple claims pertaining to alleged Russian actions in Crimea, Ukraine, Syria etc. have come up hollow. Indeed, what actions Russia has undertaken are largely in response to American and EU ‘provocation’.

And yes, all this plays out against the backdrop of the military-industrial complex that hides behind the identity of NATO, an organization without a reason to exist even since the Berlin wall came down (the wall has now been gone longer than it ever existed). NATO is a convenient entity for the entirety of the western arms industry, and the neocons that still hold sway in various of its member-nations, to publicize its fear-mongering anti-Russia messages from.

Those messages keep being duly publicized by mainstream media. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement today in which it said “bilateral relations with Holland are being overshadowed by an unparalleled anti-Russia campaign in Dutch media.”

“Holland accuses Russia of spreading disinformation (fake news). People in the Dutch government keep on making such unfunded claims.” Dutch media readily and uncritically disperse the idea that Russian authorities are obsessed with the creation of a Great Russia. How is that not an example of fake news?”

 

Holland would be crazy to let Zijlstra go to Moscow tomorrow to talk to Lavrov. But, given what has already been said, one can only conclude that the country is indeed crazy. Or at the very least its government is. Still, even if parliament today decides that Zijlstra must leave his post, chances that they’ll send Rutte packing as well are zero.

Even though as prime minster he’s publicly stated that his Foreign Minister telling outright lies about another country is no problem as long as he stays with the narrative that said country is a threat, a narrative for which apparently no evidence must ever be presented.

At the next EU meeting Rutte is more likely to be hailed for his stance, because the narrative is that of the entire EU, of Brussels, Berlin and Paris. And NATO.

Will this episode wake up the Dutch people? Fat chance. They will focus on Zijlstra, and probably clamor for him to leave, and then go about their daily job of feeding their readers and watchers their, as Moscow puts it, “unparralleled anti-Russia campaign.”

People like Rutte and Merkel do a very good job of showing us that Europeans have more to fear from their own governments than they do of Putin. But nobody is listening. Because their media have become as much of an echo chamber as the US MSM.

Still, make no mistake: what Rutte tells his people is that he cannot be trusted. That there are things more important than the truth: the narrative. This means they will never again be able to trust him to tell them the truth. He just said so himself.

 

 

Jan 232018
 
 January 23, 2018  Posted by at 10:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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William Claxton John Coltrane at the Guggenheim Museum, New York 1960

 

Trump Makes First Big Trade Move With Tariffs Aimed At Asia (BBG)
The Shutdown Scam: The GOP Is Now The Second “Government Party” (Stockman)
Blow Back (Jim Kunstler)
IMF Raises Global Growth Forecast, Sees Trump Tax Boost (R.)
IMF: Next Recession Will Come Sooner And Will Be Harder To Fight (EuA)
Rising Interest Payments Matter (NMT)
UK Business Leaders Push For New Campaign To Reverse Brexit (G.)
Kim Dotcom Sues New Zealand Government For Billions in Damages (BBC)
Ecuador’s Correa ‘Afraid for Julian Assange’s Safety’ (TeleSur)
Australia Sends Dozens Of Refugees From Pacific Camps To US (AFP)
Angela Merkel Has Completely Reversed Her Refugee Policies (Spiegel)

 

 

Make your own solar panels. What’s wrong with that?

Trump Makes First Big Trade Move With Tariffs Aimed At Asia (BBG)

President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, in his first major move to level a global playing field he says is tilted against American companies. The U.S. will impose new duties of as much as 30 percent on foreign-made solar equipment, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said Monday. The president also approved tariffs starting as high as 50 percent on imported washing machines. Chinese and South Korean officials condemned the move, analysts said it could backfire, while markets largely shrugged it off. The tariffs were announced as Trump prepares to travel to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the international business and political elite gather to mull the current state of the global order.

While the measures may sharpen the president’s “America First” policy after months of rhetoric and herald a hotter trade conflict with China, in Asia manufacturers and investors said the reality wasn’t as bad as they had feared. Investors “are used to bluff from Trump, which often turns out to be a non-event,” said Qiu Zhicheng at ICBC International Research in Hong Kong. “As long as the situation doesn’t escalate into a full-scale trade war, the market impact will be limited. We believe the two economies will stay rational, as a trade war would hurt both.” LG Electronics, a maker of domestic appliances, and South Korean solar panel makers fell initially in Seoul trading on the news before recovering. Samsung said the tariff on washing machines is a “great loss” for U.S. workers and consumers.

South Korea’s trade minister said Tuesday that his nation will file a petition with the World Trade Organization against the U.S. for imposing anti-dumping duties on Korean washing machine and solar panel makers. The U.S. decision is “excessive,” Kim Hyun-chong said. China exported more than 21 million washing machines worth just under 19 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) globally from January through November 2017, according to customs data. China is also the world’s largest exporter of solar panels.

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David knows his shutdowns.

The Shutdown Scam: The GOP Is Now The Second “Government Party” (Stockman)

Nowadays, government “shutdowns” are obviously not all that, and we do claim some expertise on the topic. Since 1975 there have been 14 shutdowns and we have had the privilege of being on-hand up close and personnel during 11 of these. Five shutdowns occurred while your editor was a member of the US House (1977-1981) and another six during his stint as director of OMB. The idea back then, needless to say, was that shutdowns came about mainly when anti-spenders refused to capitulate to the incessant demands of the swamp creatures for more appropriations, pork and graft.

[..] What is really happening, of course, is that the Trumpite/GOP is proving in spades that America is now saddled with two pro-government parties. This means a good shutdown is going to waste and that there is no stopping the fiscal doomsday machine that is now racing toward a national calamity, unimpeded. After all, the reason Washington is operating on its 3rd CR of the fiscal year and struggled a whole weekend to get a fourth one lasting a mere 16 days, lies in the utter irresponsibility of the Trump GOP approach to fiscal policy.

These clowns want to spend $120 billion on disaster relief without a single dime of off-setting cuts; raise defense by $80 billion when the Pentagon is already a $620 billion swamp of waste; appropriate $33 billion for an utterly idiotic Wall on the Mexican border when the problem could be solved by cancelling the $32 billion per year “War on Drugs” and putting up guest worker sign-up booths along the border; and authorizing tens of billions on top of that to pay for the backroom “deals” that were made in order to get the votes for a massive tax bill that not a single Senators or House member had read before it was ram-rodded into law by desperate GOP leaders on Christmas Eve.

So this shutdown is indeed different. Unlike the case back in the day, there is no fiscal red line whatsoever at issue; only a prospective eruption of more red ink and an interim game of political chicken about 700,000 Dreamers, who at the end of the day will not be deported and who will eventually get a path to citizenship. That’s because they, and millions of more immigrants to come, comprise the only available “growth” margin for the US work force in the decades ahead; and therefore constitute the next generation of Tax Mules which will be absolutely necessary to support today’s 50 million retirees. That is, as their population inexorably swells toward 100 million during the next four decades.

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Pressure on the FBI is set to increase tenfold.

Blow Back (Jim Kunstler)

On Sunday, the FBI revealed that it had lost five months of text messages between Trump antagonists Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The agency offered a lame explanation that “software upgrades” and “misconfiguration issues” interfered with the app that is supposed to automatically save and archive communications between officials on FBI phones. This was the couple who chattered about an FBI-generated “insurance policy” for the outcome of the 2016 election with Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. When will these three be invited to testify before a house or senate committee to inform the nation exactly what the “insurance policy” was?

The bad odor at the FBI seeps into several other areas of misbehavior involving Hillary Clinton, her campaign, the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and members of the permanent Washington bureaucracy. Did the Obama White House use the Christopher Steele dossier, paid for by the Clinton Campaign, to obtain FISA warrants against her opponent in the election for the purpose of conducting electronic surveillance on him? Was the FBI abetting a Democratic Party coup to get rid of Trump by any means necessary once he got into office?

Did the FBI conduct a stupendously half-assed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server by dismissing the charges before interviewing any of the principal characters involved, granting blanket immunities to Obama White House officials, and failing to secure computers that contained evidence? Does the FBI actually know what then Attorney General Loretta Lynch discussed with Bill Clinton in the parked airplane on the Phoenix tarmac? Did the FBI fail to investigate enormous contributions (roughly $150 million) to the Clinton Foundation after the Uranium One deal was signed? Did they look into any of the improprieties surrounding the DNC’s effort to nullify Bernie Sander’s primary campaign?

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Growth is God.

IMF Raises Global Growth Forecast, Sees Trump Tax Boost (R.)

The IMF on Monday revised up its forecast for world economic growth in 2018 and 2019, saying sweeping U.S. tax cuts were likely to boost investment in the world’s largest economy and help its main trading partners. However, the IMF, in an update of its World Economic Outlook, also added that U.S. growth would likely start weakening after 2022 as temporary spending incentives brought about by the tax cuts began to expire.\ The tax cuts would likely widen the U.S. current account deficit, strengthen the U.S. dollar and affect international investment flows, IMF chief economist Maurice Obstfeld said. “Political leaders and policymakers must stay mindful that the current economic momentum reflects a confluence of factors that is unlikely to last for long,” Obstfeld told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He said economic gains from the tax cuts would be partially paid back later in the form of lower growth as temporary spending incentives, notably for investment, expired and as rising federal debt took a toll. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde pointed to a “troubling” increase in debt levels across many countries and warned policymakers against complacency, saying now was the time to address structural deficiencies in their economies. Obstfeld said a sudden rise in interest rates could lead to questions about the debt sustainability of some countries and lead to a disruptive correction in “elevated” equity prices.

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IMF wants their cake and eat it. They warn against the failure of their own policy recommendations.

IMF: Next Recession Will Come Sooner And Will Be Harder To Fight (EuA)

The global economy is growing faster than expected, fuelling CEO optimism as they arrive this week at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. But the IMFhas warned that the next crisis will hit sooner and harder that we thought. “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy,” said IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, issuing a warning by quoting British poet William Blake to describe the state of mind of businessmen and politicians in the world. The global economy continues to beat previous forecasts. The Fund revised upward by 0.2% the growth expected for this year and next. In Europe, the IMF increased further its outlook by 0.3% in 2018 (2.2%) and in 2019 (2%). But “complacency is one of the risks we should go against”, Lagarde told reporters in Davos hours before the official opening of the WEF.

The economy is growing but not because countries have lifted their growth potential via investment in human capital or technology. Instead, reforms have been elusive and growth has benefited just the few that are on top of the pile. “We are not satisfied,” Lagarde insisted, because “too many people have been left out of the acceleration of growth”. Against the backdrop of fragile growth and outstanding challenges, including a high level of debt, the Fund’s chief economist, Maurice Obstfeld, stressed that “the next recession will come sooner and will be harder to fight”. He warned political leaders that the economic momentum is due to factors that are “unlikely to last for long”, including the monetary stimulus and supportive fiscal stance. For that reason, he urged countries to adopt measures aimed at improving the resilience of their societies in the fast-changing digital revolution and to improve the inclusiveness of their societies.

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Another huge surge in debt. Insane. But the only way to keep the zombie from dying.

Rising Interest Payments Matter (NMT)

Is anyone paying attention? I don’t know, but the cost of carrying debt has been rising and it’s already showing measurable impacts despite the Fed Funds rate still being very low. My concern of course is that the global debt construct will bring global growth to a screeching halt (see also The Debt Beneath). As the 10 year is already piercing above the 2.6% area now I want to pay attention to the data coming in as the Fed is dot plotting more rate hikes to come. After all the Fed has hiked 5 times off the bottom floor in the past 2 years:

Can we see any measurable impact? You bet we can. Here are personal interest payments for consumers:

Mind you we are still near the lows of the previous cycle and already total interest payments are near record highs. The driver of course is record consumer debt and credit card debt. But despite rates still being historically low this rise in interest rates has an impact on the consumer. Already we see this: “The big four US retail banks sustained a near 20 per cent jump in losses from credit cards in 2017, raising doubts about the ability of consumers to fuel economic expansion. “People are using their cards to get from pay cheque to pay cheque,” said Charles Peabody, managing director at the Washington-based investment group Compass Point. “There’s an underlying deterioration in the ability of the consumer to keep up with their debt service burden.” Recently disclosed results showed Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo took a combined $12.5bn hit from soured card loans last year, about $2bn more than a year ago.”

I repeat: “There’s an underlying deterioration in the ability of the consumer to keep up with their debt service burden.” [..] “Economists with Deutsche Bank expect the extra debt the Treasury must issue to fund President Donald Trump’s tax package and the amount of debt the Federal Reserve plans to redeem at maturity this year will bloat issuance to about $1tn in 2018. That’s up more than 50 per cent from a year earlier and, when coupled with a 30 per cent rise in the amount of corporate debt that’s due to mature, leaves questions of who the eventual buyer will be.“ A good question indeed. That’s a lot of debt issuance:

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2018 will be the year of the Brexit reversal.

UK Business Leaders Push For New Campaign To Reverse Brexit (G.)

Business leaders are privately pushing for a new campaign to reverse Brexit as concerns mount about the viability of government plans to prevent a collapse in exports to Europe. On Monday, the CBI launched its most sustained attack yet on the government’s Brexit strategy by calling for full customs union with the EU and single market participation, even if it means abandoning the pursuit of separate trade deals with the rest of the world. Behind the scenes, senior figures on the CBI policy council are urging the lobby group to toughen its message still further and spell out their belief that this logic should ultimately lead to a national rethink of the decision to leave the EU, perhaps through a second referendum or an election.

While this is not the CBI’s official position, the group says it has decided to speak out about the problems of the government’s approach to Brexit after “thousands of conversations” and workshops with its members over the past two to three months. “It’s not for us to say [whether to reverse Brexit], we are simply pointing out that you need single market access and you need a customs union,” said a spokesman. “If someone concludes that we therefore need to retest this, that’s a political decision, we are just being very practical about it.”

Government ministers reacted furiously to previews of the CBI’s evolving position over the weekend, which now directly challenges the British strategy of leaving the customs union so that new trade deals can be pursued outside a common tariff area. The CBI director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, told an audience at Warwick University on Monday: “There may come a day when the opportunity to fully set independent trade policies outweighs the value of a customs union with the EU; a day when investing in fast-growing economies elsewhere eclipses the value of frictionless trade in Europe. But that day hasn’t yet arrived.”

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The former government, to be exact.

Kim Dotcom Sues New Zealand Government For Billions in Damages (BBC)

Kim Dotcom, the founder of file-sharing site Megaupload, is suing the New Zealand government for billions of dollars in damages over his arrest in 2012. The internet entrepreneur is fighting extradition to the US to stand trial for copyright infringement and fraud. Mr Dotcom says an invalid arrest warrant negated all charges against him. He is seeking damages for destruction to his business and loss of reputation. Accountants calculate that the Megaupload group of companies would be worth $10bn (£7.2bn) today, had it not been shut down during the raid. As he was a 68% shareholder in the business, Mr Dotcom has asked for damages going up to $6.8bn. He is also considering taking similar action against the Hong Kong government.

As stated in documents filed with the High Court, Mr Dotcom is also seeking damages for: • all lost business opportunities since 2012 • his legal costs • loss of investments he made to the mansion he was renting • his lost opportunity to purchase the mansion • loss of reputation. “I cannot be expected to accept all the losses to myself and my family as a result of the action of the New Zealand government,” he told the BBC. “This should never have happened and they should have known better. And because they made a malicious mistake, there is now a damages case to be answered.” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Radio New Zealand: “This has obviously been an ongoing matter, so no it doesn’t surprise me.”

Mr Dotcom’s key argument over his extradition is the warrants used for the raid on his mansion and arrest in January 2012 were based on Section 131 of the 1994 Copyright Act of New Zealand. “Under the NZ copyright act, online copyright infringement is not a crime,” said Mr Dotcom. “92B of Section 131 – an amendment created by parliament in 2012 – prohibits any criminal sanction against an internet service provider in New Zealand. “In order for the US to be successful with an extradition, the allegation of the crimes that they are charging someone with also have to be a crime in the country from which they request the extradition.”

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We must find ways to protect Assange et al.

Ecuador’s Correa ‘Afraid for Julian Assange’s Safety’ (TeleSur)

Former Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa has warned that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s days are numbered at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Correa, who gave Assange asylum back in 2012, said that he’s “afraid for Julian Assange’s safety” due to the new government´s actions with regards to his case. He said that he believes President Lenin Moreno is likely “take away the support” previously afforded to the anti-secrecy activist. “It will only take pressure from the United States to” withdraw protection for Assange and “surely it’s already being done, and maybe they await the results of the Feb. 4 (referendum) to make a decision,” said Correa, in an article published by AFP.

When asked does he have evidence to support his claim, Correa said it’s clear that Moreno “has no convictions, it’s clear that he has yielded to the usual powerbrokers” and will “soon enough yield regarding the question of Assange.” The 54-year old economist added that the ambassador for the United States was shamelessly interfering in Ecuador’s internal affairs, something “hadn’t occurred during ten years” of his government. Earlier this week Correa officially left the ruling PAIS Alliance, the leftist political movement he founded in 2006 and which he first rose to political prominence. Having referred to Moreno as a “traitor,” someone who has called for an “unconstitutional” referendum that could spell an end to “democracy,” Correa went on to say that “they can rob us of Alianza Pais, but never our will and convictions. Despite the pain, this only strengthens us.”

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In the future, Manus will be compared to Birkenau.

Australia Sends Dozens Of Refugees From Pacific Camps To US (AFP)

Dozens of refugees held for years in Australia’s remote Pacific detention camps departed for resettlement in the United States on Tuesday, asylum-seeker advocates said. The Sydney-based Refugee Action Coalition said 40 men flew out from Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby under a deal struck by Australia with former US president Barack Obama but bitterly criticised by his successor Donald Trump. “It was a bitter-sweet moment for the refugees — who on the one hand, are happy to be gaining the freedom that Australia denied them more than four years ago; but on the other, they remain extremely concerned for those that are being left behind,” the advocacy group said in a statement.

The refugees, from camps on Manus Island, flew to Manila from where they will fly on to the US in different groups in the coming weeks before being resettled across the country, it said. The group released photos showing the refugees lining up before dawn to get on buses for the airport, then waiting at the gate to board their flight to Manila. Another 18 men were due to leave Port Moresby in the coming weeks, it said. [..] Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat to detention camps in Manus and the Pacific island of Nauru under a tough policy designed to choke off the flow of refugees to the country. More than 1,000 still remain in limbo in the remote locations.

Canberra has strongly rejected calls to move the refugees to Australia and instead has tried to resettle them in third countries, including the United States. But until now only about 50 refugees have been sent to the US, under an agreement President Trump attacked after taking office as a “dumb deal”. The Refugee Action Coalition said a further 130 people on Nauru have been accepted by the US and are expected to depart next month.

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Merkel can’t take that she’s yesterday’s news.

Angela Merkel Has Completely Reversed Her Refugee Policies (Spiegel)

It’s no longer about people, it’s about a number. It’s about the number of refugees who come to Germany, not about the refugees themselves. The most recent number is 223,000: That’s how many asylum applications were submitted last year, a far cry from the 746,000 applications received in 2016. The new number is rather convenient for Angela Merkel in that it is extremely close to the upper limit of 220,000 that has found its way into the German chancellor’s preliminary coalition outline agreed to by Merkel’s conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). This number is the expression of a political policy that has never been clearly verbalized and never been adequately explained. It is the expression of an about-face on refugee policy, away from open borders and toward harsh rejection.

Late in the summer of 2015, Merkel said that if Germany cannot show “a friendly face” in an emergency, “then it is not my county.” She kept the borders open to the incoming refugees, and much of the world was inspired by her humanitarian approach. Now, however, Germany is presenting a much less friendly face to the world. And the German chancellor has no country anymore. But that doesn’t seem to be bothering her. Indeed, her views would seem to have completely changed. In 2016, Merkel engineered a deal with Turkey on behalf of the European Union which essentially shut down the refugee route across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. She also agreed to demands from the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to her own Christian Democrats (CDU), that an annual upper limit be established, though it isn’t allowed to be called an “upper limit.”

In the future, there is also to be a 1,000-per-month upper limit applied to family reunifications for most refugees. That is too low. The CDU and CSU are fond of emphasizing family values, yet they have joined forces to limit family reunification — even though it should be clear to everyone that men have the best chances at integration if they live here together with their families. But none of that matters anymore. The parties only care that the number is low. And SPD leaders are going along without complaint. That, too, is a disappointment.

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Jan 092018
 
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Thomas Abercrombie Beirut 1957

 

Americans Wait For Tax Refunds Before Seeing A Doctor (BBG)
US Has The Worst Rate of Child Mortality Among 20 Rich Nations (CNBC)
Chapter 11 Bankruptcies Spike 107% from a Year Ago (WS)
The New Gilded Age: First Time Arrogance, the Second Time Vengeance (Rosen)
Retail Investors Are Finally True Believers with Record Exposure (WS)
iPhone Addiction May Be A Virtue, Not A Vice For Investors (R.)
‘It Can’t Be True.’ Inside the Semiconductor Industry’s Meltdown (BBG)
The Decline of Anti-Trumpism (David Brooks)
Cryptocurrencies Are Selling Off (BBG)
Fund Managers Say US Regulator Told Them To Suspend Bitcoin ETF Bids (R.)
US Energy Watchdog Terminates Plan To Subsidize Coal, Nuclear Sectors (AFP)
Fairy Tale (Jim Kunstler)
Theresa May’s Cabinet Reboot Descends Into Chaos (BBG)
Merkel, Coalition Negotiators Agree To Scrap 2020 Climate Target (R.)

 

 

A nation of expendables. To think how hard earlier generations fought for health care.

Americans Wait For Tax Refunds Before Seeing A Doctor (BBG)

As tax season approaches, some consumers are waiting for their refund checks to spend on a long-delayed purchase – a visit to the doctor or dentist. U.S. consumers boosted their out-of-pocket health spending by 60% in the week after they got a tax refund, according to new research from JPMorgan Chase, based on data from Chase customer accounts. Spending stayed high for about 2 1/2 months, with about two-thirds of the extra spending money going to in-person payments to doctors and dentists. Much of the rest was used to pay down past bills. Health insurers and employers have raised copays and deductibles for consumers, making them bear a larger portion of the cost of care when they go see a health-care provider.

As a result, patients sometimes lack the cash to get the care they may need, according to the report. “Cash-flow dynamics are a significant driver of out-of-pocket spending for health care,” the study found. “Even when consumers knew with near-certainty the size and source of a major cash infusion, they still waited until the infusion arrived before spending.” The researchers found that availability of cash had far less of an impact on health-spending decisions among those with credit cards, or who had higher bank-account balances.

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Until about 1970, the US had the lowest child mortality rates. Then something happened.

US Has The Worst Rate of Child Mortality Among 20 Rich Nations (CNBC)

The United States has the worst child mortality rate among a group of 20 wealthy democracies, an analysis released Monday found. And despite overall improvement in the child mortality rate in the U.S. and those 19 other countries, the U.S. has persistently outpaced those nations in that grim metric for decades, the Health Affairs report said. “From 2001 to 2010, the risk of death in the US was 76% greater for infants and 57% greater for children age 1-19,” the report said. And during the same decade, children between the ages of 15 and 19 were 82 times more likely to die from gun-related homicide in the U.S. than in the comparison countries.

The authors of the Health Affairs report said that in the full 50-year period their study looked at, the U.S. had more than “600,000 excess deaths” among kids because of the country’s lagging performance in curbing child mortality. Those excess deaths have occurred even as the U.S. spends more money on health care for kids than the other countries. Among the countries looked at, “there has never been a better time to be born in any of these 20 countries,” the Health Affairs report said. “Despite this generalized trend, children are less likely to survive and transition into adulthood in the US than in other [countries examined],” the report said. “Persistently high poverty rates, poor educational outcomes, and a relatively weak social safety net have made the US the most dangerous of wealthy nations for a child to be born into.”

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Due to the tax law.

Chapter 11 Bankruptcies Spike 107% from a Year Ago (WS)

New Chapter 11 bankruptcies in the US more than doubled in December 2017 from a year ago to 699 filings. That jump of 362 filings from December 2016 was the largest year-over-year jump since the Financial Crisis. This chart shows Chapter 11 filings back to 2011, based on data from the American Bankruptcy Institute. I marked the prior five Decembers with red dots. Note how they’re near the low point of the seasonal swings. That makes the spike in December 2017 even more spectacular. A spike like this in Chapter 11 filings in a month of December is unheard of in normal times. Normally, bankruptcies jump during tax season, the first four or five months of the year, but not at the end of the year. But these are not normal times.

In December, Chapter 11 filings soared 61% from November. This is also highly unusual, as over the prior five years, presumably the “normal times,” the number of filings from November to December has fallen by an average 8.7%. The chart below shows the year-over-year change in Chapter 11 filings. I marked the prior Decembers in yellow. I circled the oil bust and the brick-and-mortar meltdown. But December 2017 was special.

I think companies and their owners and creditors know one thing: They can write off losses in 2017 under the old corporate tax rates, at 35%, thus getting the government to pick up 35% of the tab of their losses via lower taxes. In 2018, the new tax law applies and all kinds of uncertainties have yet to be ironed out, and these companies – the owners and creditors – are thinking (I assume) that it’s better to try to recognize the loss in 2017, support it with a Chapter 11 filing, and pull the write-off into 2017 against a tax rate of 35%, rather than 21% in 2018. A tax-law change of this drastic nature motivates people jump through all kinds of hoops to save some money – including waiting in line for hours to pay property taxes early, a hitherto unthinkable strategy. And I think this is the likely suspect for the spike.

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Wonderful history lesson about the robber barons. Go read.

The New Gilded Age: First Time Arrogance, the Second Time Vengeance (Rosen)

The U.S. is now living through a second Gilded Age. Where once the robber barons were millionaires, today they’ve added a few zeros to their wealth and became billionaires. However, they act with no-less impunity, but a greater sense of entitlement. The Trump administration, together with the Republican-controlled Congress, are functional shills for the current generation of robber barons. As evident from the recently-passed tax bill, legislators jump when their big-money donors order them to deliver the goods — and they did. The U.S. economy has rebounded from the 2007-2009 “great recession,” with the stock market hitting new highs, unemployment the lowest in a generation and home prices recovering. But Americans still haven’t regained the wealth they lost, with incomes remaining stagnant and, on the whole, working Americans worse off than since the late-1990s.

The Federal Reserve’s most recent Survey of Consumer Finances finds that median net worth for all families (measured in 2016 dollars) dropped 8% since 1998. Most sobering, the poorer you are, the worst your fate – and this is compounded by race, education level, gender and age factors. America’s poorest, the bottom fifth, saw their net worth fall 22%; the broad working class, the second-lowest income tier, were the hardest hit with their net worth shrinking by more than a third (34%); and those dubbed “middle class,” with incomes from $43,501 to $69,500, were barely treading water, with their worth gaining a whopping 3.5%. Since 1998, the top 10% saw their worth rise 146%. The share of the nation’s wealth held by the top 1% rose to 38.6% while that portion controlled by the bottom 90% fell 22.8% (from 33.2% in ’89).

Looking at the nation’s income for the period of 2013 to 2016, the same phenomenon is evident: income going to the top 1% climbed to 23.8% (from 20.3%) while the share going to the bottom 90% slipped to about 50% (from 54%). And then there is debt, the lubricant of the U.S. post-WW-II “consumer revolution.” During the 2013 to 2016 period, those with the lowest income (below $25,300), saw their debt rise by 57%; for the lower-middle class (incomes between $25,301 and $43,500), debt increased 58%; and for the middle class (incomes from $43,501 to $69,500), debt rose by a modest 12.5%.

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What beaking points are made of.

Retail Investors Are Finally True Believers with Record Exposure (WS)

As far as the stock market is concerned, it took a while – in fact, it took eight years, but retail investors are finally all in, bristling with enthusiasm. TD Ameritrade’s Investor Movement Index rose to 8.59 in December, a new record. TDA’s clients were net buyers for the 11th month in a row, one of the longest buying streaks and ended up with more exposure to the stock market than ever before in the history of the index. This came after a blistering November, when the index had jumped 15%, “its largest single-month increase ever,” as TDA reported at the time, to 8.53, also a record:

Note how retail investors had been to varying degrees among the naysayers from the end of the Financial Crisis till the end of 2016, before they suddenly became true believers in February 2017. “I don’t think the investors who are engaging regularly are doing so in a dangerous fashion,” said TDA Chief Market Strategist JJ Kinahan in an interview. But he added, clients at the beginning of 2017 were “up to their knees in it and then up to their thighs, and now up to their chests.” The implication is that they could get in a little deeper before they’d drown. “As the year went on, people got more confident,” he said. And despite major geopolitical issues, “the market was never tested at all” last year. There was this “buy-the-dip mentality” every time the market dipped 1% or 2%.

But one of his “bigger fears” this year is this very buy-the-dip mentality, he said. People buy when the market goes down 1% or 2%, and “it goes down 5%, then it goes down 8% — and they turn into sellers, and then they get an exponential move to the downside.” In addition to some of the big names in the US – Amazon, Microsoft, Bank of America, etc. – TDA’s clients were “believers” in Chinese online retail and were big buyers of Alibaba and Tencent. But they were sellers of dividend stocks AT&T and Verizon as the yield of two-year Treasuries rose to nearly 2%, and offered a risk-free alternative at comparable yields. And he added, with an eye out for this year: “It’s hard to believe that the market can go up unchallenged.” This enthusiasm by retail investors confirms the surge in margin debt – a measure of stock market leverage and risk – which has been jumping from record to record, and hit a new high of $581 billion, up 16% from a year earlier.

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Duh!

iPhone Addiction May Be A Virtue, Not A Vice For Investors (R.)

Apple investors are shrugging off concerns raised by two shareholders about kids getting hooked on iPhones, saying that for now a little addiction might not be a bad thing for profits. Hedge fund JANA Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) pension fund said on Saturday that iPhone overuse could be hurting children’s developing brains, an issue that may harm the company’s long-term market value. But some investors said the habit-forming nature of gadgets and social media are one reason why companies like Apple, Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc added $630 billion to their market value in 2017. “We invest in things that are addictive,” said Apple shareholder Ross Gerber, chief executive of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management.

He also owns stock in coffee retailer Starbucks Corp, casino operator MGM Resorts International and alcohol maker Constellation Brands Inc. “Addictive things are very profitable,” Gerber said. Still, the investment community is increasingly holding companies to higher social standards, and there is some concern that market-leading tech companies could draw attention from regulators much like alcohol, tobacco and gambling companies have in the past. Alphabet and Facebook could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday. Facebook has said social media can be beneficial if used appropriately. In a statement to Reuters, Apple said it has offered a range of controls on iPhones since 2008 that allow parents to restrict content, including apps, movies, websites, songs and books, as well as cellular data, password settings and other features.

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This leaves many questions about what the industry knew and what they did not. Hard to believe they were all entirely ignorant for 20 years.

‘It Can’t Be True.’ Inside the Semiconductor Industry’s Meltdown (BBG)

It was late November and former Intel Corp. engineer Thomas Prescher was enjoying beers and burgers with friends in Dresden, Germany, when the conversation turned, ominously, to semiconductors. Months earlier, cybersecurity researcher Anders Fogh had posted a blog suggesting a possible way to hack into chips powering most of the world’s computers, and the friends spent part of the evening trying to make sense of it. The idea nagged at Prescher, so when he got home he fired up his desktop computer and set about putting the theory into practice. At 2 a.m., a breakthrough: he’d strung together code that reinforced Fogh’s idea and suggested there was something seriously wrong. “My immediate reaction was, ‘It can’t be true, it can’t be true,’” Prescher said.

Last week, his worst fears were proved right when Intel, one of the world’s largest chipmakers, said all modern processors can be attacked by techniques dubbed Meltdown and Spectre, exposing crucial data, such as passwords and encryption keys. The biggest technology companies, including Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon.com are rushing out fixes for PCs, smartphones and the servers that power the internet, and some have warned that their solutions may dent performance in some cases. Prescher was one of at least 10 researchers and engineers working around the globe – sometimes independently, sometimes together – who uncovered Meltdown and Spectre. Interviews with several of these experts reveal a chip industry that, while talking up efforts to secure computers, failed to spot that a common feature of their products had made machines so vulnerable.

Read more …

David Brooks exposes everything his paper -NYT- has done for well over a year: make it all up. A mea culpa between the lines.

The Decline of Anti-Trumpism (David Brooks)

Let me start with three inconvenient observations, based on dozens of conversations around Washington over the past year: First, people who go into the White House to have a meeting with President Trump usually leave pleasantly surprised. They find that Trump is not the raving madman they expected from his tweetstorms or the media coverage. They generally say that he is affable, if repetitive. He runs a normal, good meeting and seems well-informed enough to get by. Second, people who work in the Trump administration have wildly divergent views about their boss. Some think he is a deranged child, as Michael Wolff reported. But some think he is merely a distraction they can work around. Some think he is strange, but not impossible. Some genuinely admire Trump. Many filter out his crazy stuff and pretend it doesn’t exist.

My impression is that the Trump administration is an unhappy place to work, because there is a lot of infighting and often no direction from the top. But this is not an administration full of people itching to invoke the 25th Amendment. Third, the White House is getting more professional. Imagine if Trump didn’t tweet. The craziness of the past weeks would be out of the way, and we’d see a White House that is briskly pursuing its goals: the shift in our Pakistan policy, the shift in our offshore drilling policy, the fruition of our ISIS policy, the nomination for judgeships and the formation of policies on infrastructure, DACA, North Korea and trade. It’s almost as if there are two White Houses. There’s the Potemkin White House, which we tend to focus on: Trump berserk in front of the TV, the lawyers working the Russian investigation and the press operation.

Then there is the Invisible White House that you never hear about, which is getting more effective at managing around the distracted boss. I sometimes wonder if the Invisible White House has learned to use the Potemkin White House to deke us while it changes the country. I mention these inconvenient observations because the anti-Trump movement, of which I’m a proud member, seems to be getting dumber. It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information. More anti-Trumpers seem to be telling themselves a “Madness of King George” narrative: Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to people like us. I’d like to think it’s possible to be fervently anti-Trump while also not reducing everything to a fairy tale.

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Still up and down, but that will be a big problem at some point, not some quaint feature..

Cryptocurrencies Are Selling Off (BBG)

Bitcoin slumped, dragging down smaller rivals such as ether and litecoin, as concerns that regulators will tighten their grip on the market weigh on the the world’s largest cryptocurrency. Regulators in China and South Korea are increasing oversight on cryptocurrency trading and mining, while the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission late last year started cracking down on some digital token sales, known as ICOs. Coinmarketcap.com’s decision to exclude Korean pricing data for coins helped create the appearance of a large drop in prices, which some traders attributed as playing a part in the selloff. “News on the regulatory front is dragging down cryptos,” said Gabor Gurbacs at VanEck Associates.

“South Korea and China tightening is weighing on bitcoin and in the ICO market, things started slowing down, with the SEC cracking down on illegal offerings.” Bitcoin slumped as much as 17% to $14,820, the most in more than two weeks. The rout in bitcoin is part of a broader selloff in the cryptocurrency realm, with all of the top 10 by market cap falling, and most tumbling by at least 10%, according to Coinmarketcap.com. Cardano fell 16%, while litecoin slumped as much as 16% to as low as $230. Bitcoin is little changed this year after surging about 1,400% in 2017.

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Liquidity concerns.

Fund Managers Say US Regulator Told Them To Suspend Bitcoin ETF Bids (R.)

Two U.S. companies shelved proposals to launch bitcoin exchange-traded funds, citing ongoing concerns by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), filings showed on Monday. Staff at the regulatory agency “expressed concerns regarding the liquidity and valuation” of futures contracts based on the digital asset, according to one of the filings. The move adds a new hurdle to the bid by Wall Street firms to capitalize on investor interest in cryptocurrencies, and it opens a rare public divergence between two financial regulatory agencies over how to regulate them. Trusts controlled by Rafferty Asset Management and Exchange Traded Concepts each canceled plans to launch three bitcoin funds that could be traded by retail investors as easily as stocks. Neither firm could be reached for comment.

Fund managers thought the proposals had a chance at winning approval given the launch last month of futures contracts based on bitcoin on both the CME and the CBOE exchanges. Regulators have been scrambling to figure out how to deal with this relatively new asset, and no single one has control. The SEC has dominion over funds, while the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) governs futures contracts. The CFTC has been under pressure to address concerns it did not fully assess the potential risks that bitcoin poses to the financial system. [..] The SEC’s decisions also face close scrutiny given its power to clear the way for products that could be among the more volatile traded in U.S. equity markets.

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It was always nonsense, and they know it.

US Energy Watchdog Terminates Plan To Subsidize Coal, Nuclear Sectors (AFP)

The US energy watchdog terminated Monday a key proposal by President Donald Trump’s administration to subsidize coal and nuclear plants, finding it neither justified nor reasonable. The decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was handed down in a unanimous verdict by its five members, a majority of whom belong to the president’s Republican Party. Energy Secretary Rick Perry had in September proposed providing federal aid to nuclear and coal power plants with at least 90 days’ worth of production capacity, arguing the move was necessary to make the national grid more resilient in case of extreme events.

Both sectors have seen their share of the energy market diminish in recent years, losing out to oil, natural gas and renewables – which had all opposed Perry’s plan. There are currently only two nuclear reactors under construction in the US, in addition to the 99 in service. Coal is also facing a crisis, and Trump made reversing its decline a major campaign pledge. In announcing its decision, FERC cited an existing department study’s findings that “changes in the generation mix, including the retirement of coal and nuclear generators, have not diminished the grid’s reliability or otherwise posed a significant and immediate threat to the resilience of the electric grid.”

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Of the Oprah kind.

Fairy Tale (Jim Kunstler)

Oprah might be the Democratic Party’s last best hope before it collapses into the mausoleum of US political history, where the Whigs, Free Soilers, and Anti-Federalists lie a’moldering. Politics in this land has failed in its effort to become show business, while show business is succeeding wildly in its attempt to replace politics. All Washington can produce these days is a succession of tedious irresolvable soap operas. Hollywood is enacting a grand moral drama of clear-cut heroines and villains, victims and oppressors, sticking to archetypal story-line of our lifetime: the campaign for freedom, equality, and decency. Show business loves the desert sunshine; politics is mired in the Potomac swamp. Oprah even has better hair than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Oprah herself is an object lesson in the social and political themes that America dares not talk about: a person of humble origins who succeeded wildly in American life by signing onto a once-sturdy and now-fading common culture. In fact, Oprah probably embodies all that remains of American common culture, and the multitudes adore her for it. They are reassured to know that the binding verities still exist. She moves in a realm where blackness and whiteness are emphatically irrelevant — which is surely a relief to people of good will who are sick of race-hustling from all quarters. Though she has credibly acted plenty of sharecropper roles in the movies, Oprah speaks English beautifully and doesn’t apologize for moving up from the ghetto patois of her rough childhood. She may not write all her own material — such as Sunday’s Golden Globes speech that may live on like MLK’s I Have a Dream oration — but she delivers her message with conviction.

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Stumbling from failure to failure.

Theresa May’s Cabinet Reboot Descends Into Chaos (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempt to give her government a 2018 reboot was marred by a chaotic cabinet reshuffle as senior ministers refused to follow her orders. It’s a development that bodes ill for her ability to successfully navigate the next, even trickier stage of Brexit talks. May’s office flagged Monday’s events as “a refresh” of her top team. But instead of the usual parade of lawmakers arriving at her office in quick succession to accept their new roles, things went off script. First Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, then Education Secretary Justine Greening were locked in discussions with her after rejecting proposed moves. Hunt eventually won his argument to stay on, but Greening, who spent more than two hours in 10 Downing Street, quit rather than accept another job.

May was said to be “disappointed” at losing Greening, who opposed Brexit, and could now vote with pro-European Union rebels in the House of Commons. It was not the restart she wanted. There were echoes of her botched decision to call an election in her announcement of a reshuffle she didn’t have to carry out. In both instances May seemed to dissipate any political goodwill she recouped. She had begun the new year in a position of relative strength, having concluded a problematic first phase of talks over Brexit – still the issue that will define her political legacy and will only get more complicated this year. “She can’t have the government she would choose and has to select from a small group of people,” said Matt Beech, director of the Centre for British Politics at the University of Hull. “Even with a majority she’d be facing tough decisions because her party’s completely divided on Brexit.”

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Want to know when you’re being had? Look no further. The reasoning here is that the German economy is doing so well that climate targets can’t be met. But that’s an impossible contradiction. Because it tries to make you believe that the investments needed to meet the targets will be made when the economy is not doing so well. But they won’t, because by then the story will be that the money is needed to support the economy.

Merkel, Coalition Negotiators Agree To Scrap 2020 Climate Target (R.)

Germany’s would-be coalition partners have agreed to drop plans to lower carbon dioxide emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020, sources familiar with negotiations said on Monday – a potential embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel. Due to strong economic growth and higher-than-expected immigration, Germany is likely to miss its national emissions target for 2020 without any additional measures. Negotiators for Merkel’s conservative bloc and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) told Reuters the parties had agreed in exploratory talks on forming a government that the targeted cut in emissions could no longer be achieved by 2020. Instead, they would aim to hit the 40% target in the early 2020s, the sources said, adding that both parties are still sticking to their goal of achieving a 55% cut in emissions by 2030.

The deal would represent something of a U-turn for Merkel, who has long presented herself as an advocate of climate protection policies on the international stage. Sources said both parties had also agreed that the share of renewable energy in Germany’s electricity consumption should rise to 65% by 2030 from roughly a third last year. Currently, the government plans to raise the renewable energy quota to between 45 and 55% by 2025. Negotiators also agreed to cut the tax on electricity in order to reduce energy costs, according to a document seen by Reuters. They also plan to tender an extra 4 gigawatts of solar energy as well as onshore and offshore wind-generating capacity.

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Dec 312017
 
 December 31, 2017  Posted by at 10:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Paul Klee Dancing Under the Empire of Fear 1938

 

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2017 Sets A Record (Roberts)
The Greatest Bubble Ever: Why You Better Believe It, Part 2 (Stockman)
China To Cap Overseas Withdrawals Using Domestic Bank Cards (R.)
Bitcoin Tensions Rise As Australia Investors Claim Banks Freeze Accounts (SMH)
South Korea’s “Bitcoin Zombies” (ZH)
Merkel Reclaims Role of EU Anchor in Outline of Her 2018 Agenda (BBG)
May Says 2018 Brexit Progress Will Renew British Confidence And Pride (AFP)
Ex-Catalan Leader Demands Regional Government Be Reinstated (AFP)
Facebook Deletes Accounts at the Direction of US and Israeli Governments (GG)
One Of Eight Turkish Servicemen Granted Asylum By Greece (K.)
Greek Gov’t Applies For Cancellation Of Asylum Granted To Turkish Soldier (R.)
Calgary Zoo Moves Penguins Indoors Because Of The Cold (Ind.)

 

 

Let’s not forget that 2017 was exceptional in many ways. Record debt and record tranquillity. What are the odds that 2018 will continue along that path?

2017 Sets A Record (Roberts)

In just the past year, the markets set a record by going 12-straight months without a loss. That liquidity driven surge was accompanied by extremely low volatility as noted last week by Dana Lyons: “Specifically, the average daily closing price of the VIX in 2017 was 11.10 (through 12/26/17). That is the lowest of any year — by more than one and a half points — since the VIX inception in 1986 (by comparison, the ‘average yearly average’ is over 20).”

Of course, with very little volatility, there were very few draw downs along the way as markets continued their advance higher. “Accordingly, we took a look at the amount of losses incurred by the stock market during the year as a measure of adversity faced along the way to its solid full-year gains. Specifically, we tabulated the amount of losses incurred during every down day in the market. We used the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) as it has a longer history than the S&P 500. And based on these calculations, the stock market enjoyed less adversity in 2017 than any other year in history going back over 100 years (our daily DJIA data begins in 1915).”

All that exuberance has got Wall Street already prognosticating that next year could be as good, or better, than 2017. “‘I would expect 2018 to be an almost repeat of 2017,’ said Saut, chief investment strategist at Raymond James. ‘People are still way underinvested. Earnings are starting to come in better than expected. And with the tax reform, and especially the corporate tax cuts, I think earnings are going to continue to surprise on the upside. The professional investors are all in for the most part but the individual investor is not all in.’” Maybe. But there is more than sufficient evidence that not only professional investors, but individuals, are “all in.”

And, not only are they “all in,” they are all in with leverage as I noted previously: “While investors have been chasing returns in the “can’t lose” market, they have also been piling on leverage in order to increase their return.”

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In a 2-part article, Stockman doesn’t see 2018 as being quiet.

The Greatest Bubble Ever: Why You Better Believe It, Part 2 (Stockman)

During the 40 months after Alan Greenspan’s infamous “irrational exuberance” speech in December 1996, the NASDAQ 100 index rose from 830 to 4585 or by 450%. But the perma-bulls said not to worry: This time is different – it’s a new age of technology miracles that will change the laws of finance. It wasn’t. The market cracked in April 2000 and did not stop plunging until the NASDAQ 100 index hit 815 in early October 2002. During those a heart-stopping 30 months of free-fall, all the gains of the tech boom were wiped out in an 84% collapse of the index. Overall, the market value of household equities sank from $10.0 trillion to $4.8 trillion – a wipeout from which millions of baby boom households have never recovered. Likewise, the second Greenspan housing and credit boom generated a similar round trip of bubble inflation and collapse.

During the 57 months after the October 2002 bottom, the Russell 2000 (RUT) climbed the proverbial wall-of-worry – rising from 340 to 850 or by 2.5X. And this time was also held to be different because, purportedly, the art of central banking had been perfected in what Bernanke was pleased to call the “Great Moderation”. Taking the cue, Wall Street dubbed it the Goldilocks Economy – meaning a macroeconomic environment so stable, productive and balanced that it would never again be vulnerable to a recessionary contraction and the resulting plunge in corporate profits and stock prices. Wrong again! During the 20 months from the July 2007 peak to the March 2009 bottom, the RUT gave it all back. And we mean every bit of it – as the index bottomed 60% lower at 340.

This time the value of household equities plunged by $6 trillion, and still millions more baby-boomers were carried out of the casino on their shields never to return. Now has come the greatest central bank fueled bubble ever. During nine years of radical monetary experimentation under ZIRP and QE, the value of equities owned by US households exploded still higher – this time by $12.5 trillion. Yet this eruption, like the prior two, was not a reflection of main street growth and prosperity, but Wall Street speculation fostered by massive central bank liquidity and price-keeping operations. Nevertheless, this time is, actually, very different. This time the central banks are out of dry powder and belatedly recognize that they have stranded themselves on or near the zero bound where they are saddled with massively bloated balance sheets.

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Are card withdrawals an actual issue, or is this a show?

China To Cap Overseas Withdrawals Using Domestic Bank Cards (R.)

China’s foreign exchange regulator will cap overseas withdrawals using domestic Chinese bank cards at 100,000 yuan ($15,370) per year in an effort to target money laundering, terrorist financing and tax evasion, it said on Saturday. Individuals who exceed the annual quota will be suspended from overseas transactions for the remainder of the year and an additional year, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) said in a notice posted on its website. Under the new rules SAFE will submit a daily list of individuals banned from making overseas bank card withdrawals, and banks must suspend the users by no later than 5 p.m. the same day, the notice said.

Domestic card users will also be barred from withdrawing more than 10,000 yuan a day overseas, it said. The new rules come into effect on Jan. 1, and reporting adjustments must be adopted by banks by April 1, 2018, it said. China has strengthened regulatory oversight of overseas card transactions in the past year, targeting illegal cross-border transfers and money laundering. In September SAFE brought in regulations requiring Chinese banks to report daily their bank card holders’ overseas withdrawals as well as every transaction exceeding 1,000 yuan. China’s foreign exchange reserves rose for the 10th straight month in November due to tighter regulation and a stronger yuan, which continue to discourage capital outflows.

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Banks targeting crypto. They’ve talked to each other beforehand, and presumably also with the government.

Bitcoin Tensions Rise As Australia Investors Claim Banks Freeze Accounts (SMH)

Bitcoin investors are claiming Australia’s banks are freezing their accounts and transfers to cryptocurrency exchanges, with a viral tweet slamming the big four and an exchange platform putting a restriction on Australian deposits. Cryptocurrency trader and Youtuber Alex Saunders called out National Australia Bank, ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corporation on Twitter for freezing customer accounts and transfers to four different bitcoin exchanges – CoinJar, CoinSpot, CoinBase and BTC Markets. Bitcoin, a currency once known for its use by criminals trading online through a ‘Silk Road’ for drugs and weapons, has become a popular investment option.

After hundreds of shares and responses to the social media posts calling the banks’ alleged behaviour “disgusting” and “appalling” with some threatening to move their accounts, some users said their activities with the cryptocurrency had still been described as a “security risk” by their financial institutions. Banks were remaining tight-lipped on whether bitcoin activity was causing specific accounts to be closed or frozen, though its understood none had company-wide policies banning cryptocurrency investment activity. Yet the terms and conditions in some cases do reference Bitcoin. Commonwealth Bank’s June 2017 terms and conditions for CommBiz accounts specifically excludes this activity, saying it can refuse to process an international money transfer or an international cash management transaction “because the destination account previously has been connected to a fraud or an attempted fraudulent transaction or is an account used to facilitate payments to Bitcoins or similar virtual currency payment services”.

A Commonwealth Bank spokesman said it was receptive to innovation in alternative currencies and payment systems “however, we do not currently use or recommend any existing virtual currencies as we do not believe they have yet met a minimum standard of regulation, reliability, and reputation compared to other currencies that we offer to our customers”. “Our customers can interact with these currencies as long as they comply with our terms and conditions and all relevant legal obligations,” he said.

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This doesn’t ooze a healthy feeling.

South Korea’s “Bitcoin Zombies” (ZH)

[..] what happens in South Korean crypto trading, does not stay in South Korea: the country is the world’s third-largest market in bitcoin trading after Japan and the US, with roughly 2 million digital-currency investors by one estimate – one in every 25 citizens. The country is also home to one of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency trading exchanges, Bithumb. The country’s crypto-trading craze is so pervasive that the country has developed the term “bitcoin zombie” referring to people who check the cryptocurrency’s price around the clock. Even the country’s prime minister Lee Nak-yeon expressed concerns over Korea’s bitcoin craze, warning that “young people and students are rushing into virtual currency trading to earn huge profits in just a short period of time,” and that “it is time for the government to take action as it could lead to serious pathological phenomena if left unchecked” forcing young people into illegal activities like drug dealing.

For now, the “bitcoin zombies” are winning. As an example, as Reuters details in its just released deep dive in South Korea’s crypto-community, on a recent weeknight at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, more than a dozen students crammed into a classroom not to study, but to share tips on investing in so-called cryptocurrencies, which have driven tales of fantastic returns for savvy investors. “The group sat in rapt silence – broken only by a sudden shout of “there was just a big jump!” from someone monitoring his virtual currencies – as one student gave a presentation on how to read financial data and predict future trends.” Make no mistake: it’s a countrywide craze: “I no longer want to become a math teacher,” said 23-year-old Eoh Kyong-hoon, who founded the club, Cryptofactor.

“I’ve studied this industry for more than 10 hours a day over months, and I became pretty sure that this is my future.” [..] Eoh said the talk of more regulation had not dented his plans, especially after making what he said was a 20-fold gain on his investments over the past six months. He added that many students were bringing laptops to class to track the movements of their investments and participate in actual trading. “Even when professors are giving lectures right in front of them,” he said. Meanwhile, with Bitcoin soaring to record levels, younger investors have gravitated toward “altcoins” which often trade at much lower values, analysts say. Today’s surge in Ripple is just one such example. Another is Iota, which traded at $0.82 in late November and now stands at $3.89, a gain of 375%. Energo gained 400% during the same period.

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Her own people don’t even want a full term from her anymore. Hard to accept you lost power, Angela? You have though.

Merkel Reclaims Role of EU Anchor in Outline of Her 2018 Agenda (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she’ll team up with France to hold the European Union together and pledged to her form next government “without delay.” In a New Year’s Eve speech to the nation, Merkel outlined a vision for her fourth term that includes an alliance with French President Emmanuel Macron to strengthen Europe’s economic clout and control migration, while upholding values of tolerance and pluralism within the EU and abroad. “Twenty-seven countries in Europe must be impelled more strongly than ever to remain a community,” Merkel said in a copy of the speech provided by her office in advance of the televised address on Sunday.

“That will be the decisive question of the next few years. Germany and France want to work together to make it succeed.” Merkel’s effort to combine the strengths of the euro area’s two biggest economies has been hamstrung by Germany’s longest post-election party deadlock since World War II, which has left her a caretaker chancellor since September. Exploratory talks on renewing her coalition with the Social Democrats are due to start on Jan. 7. After a poll this week suggested that Germans increasingly don’t want Merkel, 63, to serve another full term, the chancellor sought to put her stamp on the political debate. Merkel said she’s committed to forming “a stable government for Germany without delay in the new year.”

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Straight faced lies. Or is it Python?

May Says 2018 Brexit Progress Will Renew British Confidence And Pride (AFP)

Prime Minister Theresa May said 2018 would be a year of “renewed confidence and pride” for Britain as it confronts the challenges of negotiating Brexit, in her New Year message out Sunday. Divorce talks between London and Brussels are set to move on to transition arrangements, trade and security next year as Britain prepares to leave the European Union in March 2019. May said 2017 had been a year of progress for Britain as it struck agreement on its departure bill, Northern Ireland and the rights of EU citizens, in the first phase of Brexit negotiations. “I believe 2018 can be a year of renewed confidence and pride in our country,” the premier said. “A year in which we continue to make good progress towards a successful Brexit deal, an economy that’s fit for the future, and a stronger and fairer society for everyone.

“And whatever challenges we may face, I know we will overcome them by standing united as one proud union of nations and people.” However, the British Chambers of Commerce, which represents thousands of firms across the country, warned that business was losing patience waiting for clarity on what will happen once Britain leaves the EU. “That patience is now wearing thin. Businesses want answers,” director general Adam Marshall told The Observer newspaper. “Getting the twin challenges of Brexit and the economic fundamentals right will require leadership, consistency and clarity – after a year in which business has been dismayed by what it sees as division and disorganisation.”

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Once again we’ll see how the EU and democracy don’t go well together.

Ex-Catalan Leader Demands Regional Government Be Reinstated (AFP)

Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont on Saturday demanded Madrid reinstate his regional government, which was deposed after an independence referendum that Spanish courts judged illegal, as part of a political settlement. “As president, I demand the Spanish government and those who support it… restore all they have expropriated from the Catalans without their say-so,” Puigdemont said from Brussels as he called on Madrid to “negotiate politically.” Puigdemont’s administration followed up the October 1 referendum by declaring independence but Madrid promptly sacked him and his team and, facing arrest, he fled into Belgian exile while colleagues were arrested and jailed. Puigdemont campaigned for the region’s December 21 snap election from his Brussels exile after a Spanish court charged him with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

But a solid showing by pro-independence parties in the poll strengthened the hand of the secessionists, albeit they did not capture a majority of votes cast. In a seven-minute recorded message Puigdemont insisted he was still Catalonia’s “legitimate” leader and that the electorate had shown themselves to be “democratically mature, winning the right to constitute a republic of free men and women.” After the divisive regional elections, how the independence camp intends to rule remains a mystery, with other secessionist leaders, including Puigdemont’s former deputy Oriol Junqueras, behind bars pending trial. “The ballot box has spoken,” said Puigdemont, who said he hoped the election outcome could kickstart moves towards “dialogue and negotiation.” “So what is (Prime Minister Mariano) Rajoy waiting for to accept the results?”

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Facebook will be a big story next year.

Facebook Deletes Accounts at the Direction of US and Israeli Governments (GG)

IN September of last year, we noted that Facebook representatives were meeting with the Israeli government to determine which Facebook accounts of Palestinians should be deleted on the ground that they constituted “incitement.” The meetings — called for and presided over by one of the most extremist and authoritarian Israeli officials, pro-settlement Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked — came after Israel threatened Facebook that its failure to voluntarily comply with Israeli deletion orders would result in the enactment of laws requiring Facebook to do so, upon pain of being severely fined or even blocked in the country. The predictable results of those meetings are now clear and well-documented. Ever since, Facebook has been on a censorship rampage against Palestinian activists who protest the decades-long, illegal Israeli occupation, all directed and determined by Israeli officials.

[..] Facebook now seems to be explicitly admitting that it also intends to follow the censorship orders of the U.S. government. Earlier this week, the company deleted the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Ramzan Kadyrov, the repressive, brutal, and authoritarian leader of the Chechen Republic, who had a combined 4 million followers on those accounts. To put it mildly, Kadyrov — who is given free rein to rule the province in exchange for ultimate loyalty to Moscow — is the opposite of a sympathetic figure: He has been credibly accused of a wide range of horrific human rights violations, from the imprisonment and torture of LGBTs to the kidnapping and killing of dissidents. But none of that dilutes how disturbing and dangerous Facebook’s rationale for its deletion of his accounts is.

A Facebook spokesperson told the New York Times that the company deleted these accounts not because Kadyrov is a mass murderer and tyrant, but that “Mr. Kadyrov’s accounts were deactivated because he had just been added to a United States sanctions list and that the company was legally obligated to act.” As the Times notes, this rationale appears dubious or at least inconsistently applied: Others who are on the same sanctions list, such as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, remain active on both Facebook and Instagram. But just consider the incredibly menacing implications of Facebook’s claims. What this means is obvious: that the U.S. government — meaning, at the moment, the Trump administration — has the unilateral and unchecked power to force the removal of anyone it wants from Facebook and Instagram by simply including them on a sanctions list. Does anyone think this is a good outcome? Does anyone trust the Trump administration — or any other government — to compel social media platforms to delete and block anyone it wants to be silenced?

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It took almost a year and a half to decide this. In custody.

One Of Eight Turkish Servicemen Granted Asylum By Greece (K.)

One of eight Turkish servicemen who sought protection in Greece in the wake of a botched coup in Turkey in the summer of 2016 was granted asylum on Saturday. The Asylum Appeals Committee that examines applications in the second degree approved a request for protection from the copilot of the helicopter that flew the eight servicemen into the northern Greek town of Alexandroupoli on July 16, 2016, a day after the attempted takeover by the military in Turkey.

According to the ANA-MPA news agency, the committee upheld an opinion from human rights groups, the Council of Europe and other international agencies decrying human rights violations in Turkey in the aftermath of the failed coup. The panel said that there is no evidence to suggest that the copilot was involved in the coup attempt, yet is nevertheless, being sought by Turkey for “political crimes” and on these grounds may not receive a fair trail if extradited. The other seven Turkish officers remain in custody until a decision is reached on their respective applications.

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At the exact same time that Athens lauds the independence of its courts, it seeks to interfere with their decisions.

Greek Gov’t Applies For Cancellation Of Asylum Granted To Turkish Soldier (R.)

The Greek government said on Saturday that it had filed a request for the cancellation of the asylum granted to a Turkish soldier accused of involvement in last year’s coup attempt. Greece’s administrative court of appeal will now look into the case. Eight Turkish soldiers fled to Greece following Turkey’s abortive July 2016 coup. Seven of them applied for asylum and were rejected, but have been kept in preventive custody. Angered by a decision to grant asylum to the eighth soldier by the Greek asylum service committee, a panel of judges and experts, Turkey said earlier in the day that the move would affect bilateral relations and cooperation. Athens said it was following its standing position regarding the eight soldiers, “as it has been repeatedly expressed, also in public”, a government official said.

The Greek government has said that it does not support coup plotters and that the country’s justice system is independent. A Greek police official said the soldier who was granted asylum would be released from custody. “By granting asylum to one of eight coup plotters involved in the July 15 coup, Greece has once again showed that it is a country that protects and embraces coup plotters with this decision,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Greek courts have blocked two extradition requests by Turkish authorities, drawing an angry rebuke from Ankara and highlighting the tense relations between the NATO allies, who remain at odds over various issues. During his visit to Greece earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara did not want Greece to turn into a safe haven for coup plotters.

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But the people still come to watch them.

Calgary Zoo Moves Penguins Indoors Because Of The Cold (Ind.)

Temperatures have dropped so low in Canada that Calgary Zoo has had to move its penguins indoors. As an extreme-cold warning was in effect for the country – temperatures hit a frosty -25C late this week – zookeepers thought it safer to move the penguins to their indoor enclosure. Larissa Mark, manager of communications at Calgary Zoo told Global News that: “On cold days like this, we have to make that choice for them because it is so cold, but on other days, we do give them the option of coming in and out as they please.” Ms Mark explained that king penguins, like the ones at Calgary zoo, are not as accustomed to sub-zero temperatures as their cousins, the emperor penguins.

King penguins, characterised by the bright orange spots on the sides of their heads and feathers at the nape of their necks, are generally found in sub-Antarctic regions in Chile and Argentina and temperate places like the Falklands, Macquarie and the Sandwich islands. However, the cold snap has not stopped people from going to the zoo. “Calgarians are a hardy bunch. A cup of hot chocolate and a warm fire and they are still coming out and enjoying Zoolights. Our attendance is doing well, it is on par with where we were last year,” said Ms Mark of the annual holiday-lights display event put on by the zoo.

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Dec 182017
 
 December 18, 2017  Posted by at 10:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Russell Lee Sign Along the Road Near Capulin New Mexico 1939

 

Bitcoin Futures Crash Over $2000 From Open (ZH)
Bitcoin’s Illiquidity Is Going To Be A Huge Problem (BI)
Japan Exports Boom, But Inflation Not Following Script (R.)
China Should Let Its Migrant Workers Roam Free (Pettis)
Desperate UK Homeowners Are Cutting Prices – Zoopla (G.)
UK Banks Tell May: A Canada-Style Brexit Deal Is Not Good Enough (G.)
Why Business Could Prosper Under A Corbyn Government (Pettifor)
Heretics Welcome! Economics Needs A New Reformation (G.)
Merkel’s Last Stand – Article 7 For Poland (Luongo)
Cash Still King For The Majority Of Greek Consumers, Employers (K.)
Greece Drafts Law to Accelerate Migrant Asylum Applications And Returns (K.)
If Money Rewarded Hard Work, Moms Would Be The Billionaires (CJ)

 

 

Shaky, but give it time before deciding.

Bitcoin Futures Crash Over $2000 From Open (ZH)

Update: Bitcoin and Bitcoin Futures have collapsed since the futures opened…

Dropping over $2200 to converge with spot…

Both CME and CBOE Bitcoin Futures contracts opened above $20,000 this evening (with Bitcoin spot hovering around $19,000). However, as soon as trading started, Bitcoin futures got hammered lower.

Those expecting a surge in futs volumes on the CME vs the CBOE will be disappointed: In fact, spoting actual trades in the first few minutes of trading is not heavy to say the least. Obviously Jan is seeing all the volume… And March not so much… (let alone the $1200 bid-offer spread).

The lack of trading will likely be a surprise to those who were expecting a more “vigorous” futures launch on the CME, such as Brooks Dudley, vice president of risk in New York at ED&F Man Capital Markets who told Bloomberg that “CME’s bitcoin contract may not be first, but they are a larger futures clearinghouse and we are looking forward to our clients trading their product on Sunday evening. Not all market participants have been able to short the Cboe bitcoin futures. We have allowed our clients to go long or short to take advantage of dislocations between the futures and the underlying spot market.” For now, nobody appears to be taking advantage of anything.

Read more …

This seems to be a reasonable fear.

Bitcoin’s Illiquidity Is Going To Be A Huge Problem (BI)

This chart shows a seven-day average of the total number of minutes it takes to confirm a bitcoin transaction, since May 2016. Like the price of bitcoin itself, transaction time has been rising as the months go by. At the time of writing, it took four-and-a-half hours to confirm a bitcoin trade, on average:

If you are holding bitcoin, and you’re worried that the price is a bubble – it cleared $17,000 last week – then bitcoin transaction times should really start to scare you. The price of bitcoin is shifting up and down by hundreds or thousands of dollars each day. No one knows what the price will be one hour from now, except that we know it will be very, very different. The schedule for the world’s largest ICO, the $500 million Dragon casino offering, has been pushed back two weeks, the company says, “due to the extreme congestion on both the Bitcoin and Ethereum Networks, [in which] ICO investors or contributors have faced significant challenges when transferring their Bitcoin and Ethereum to participate in the Dragon Pre-ICO.”

The transaction time is built into the system. Each transaction must be confirmed by six bitcoin miners, and that takes time. There is a finite number of miners, and the more transactions they have to confirm, the longer it takes as their network bandwidth gets filled. Worse, they charge for transactions and prioritise transactions based on price. Those who pay more get processed first. Imagine how bad this is going to get on the day some negative news hits the wires and the really significant holders of bitcoin decide, “I’ve had enough of this. I’ve made my money. I am bailing.” The majority of bitcoins are held by a tiny percentage of the market. 40% are held by 1,000 people. Those few major holders can crash the market whenever they want.

As anyone who remembers the market crashes of 2000 and 2008 knows, these things happen fast. Billions get wiped off the market in minutes. People who need to cash out now, but who are an hour or so behind the news, can lose their shirts. It is brutal. And blockchain just isn’t equipped to deal with it. Part of the increase in transaction time has, no doubt, been caused by the recent arrival of new, less knowledgeable investors who are coming into the market only because they have seen the headlines about the price of bitcoin going up, up, up. That gives us an idea of just how congested it will be on the way down. It will also be expensive. By some counts, transaction fees are doubling every three months. Ars Technica reported that fees reached $26 per trade recently.

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Abe’s going to have to force his people to spend at gunpoint. And then find out they can’t.

Japan Exports Boom, But Inflation Not Following Script (R.)

Japanese exports accelerated sharply in November, yet again pointing to growing momentum in the world’s third-biggest economy. There was just one catch: inflation remained stubbornly low and well off the central bank’s 2% target. The combination of steady growth and benign consumer prices mean the Bank of Japan will lag other major central banks in exiting crisis-era monetary stimulus, with analysts widely expecting BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda to keep the liquidity tap wide open at a meeting later this week. “Inflation expectation is in a gradual recovery trend, but a gap between firm economic indicators and weak price indexes remains wide open,” said Yuichiro Nagai, economist at Barclays Securities.

Indeed, a BOJ survey on Monday showed companies’ inflation expectations heightened only a touch in December from three months ago, despite a tight labor market and business confidence at over a decade high. The persistently low inflation – with core prices running at an annual pace of 0.8% – was also hard to square off with the robust performance of Japan Inc., which has benefited from booming exports thanks to upbeat global demand. Separate data from the Ministry of Finance showed exports grew 16.2% in the year to November, beating a 14.6% gain expected by economists in a Reuters poll and accelerating from the prior month’s 14.0% increase, led by a stellar sales to China and Asia.

[..] “The BOJ will likely be forced into cutting its price projections once again in its quarterly outlook report in January. That will highlight a distance to an exit from the BOJ’s monetary stimulus,” said Barclays’ Nagai. The BOJ quarterly “tankan” survey on corporate inflation expectations survey showed companies expect consumer prices to rise 0.8% a year from now, slightly ahead of their projection for a 0.7% increase three months ago. The marginal nudge up in expectations underscored why inflation is still well off the BOJ’s target, with firms expecting consumer prices to rise an annual 1.1% three years from now and 1.1% five years ahead, unchanged from three months ago, the survey showed.

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They’ll all go to the same places though.

China Should Let Its Migrant Workers Roam Free (Pettis)

Over the past few weeks, people here in Beijing have been riveted by the so-called migrant “clean-out” – the government’s attempt to evict tens of thousands of migrant workers from their homes in the poorer parts of the city. What’s not being discussed, however, is how the crackdown could threaten one of the government’s other main priorities: managing debt. In China, mobility is legally restricted according to a household registration system, called the hukou. Chinese citizens receive an urban or rural hukou which officially identifies them as residents of a specific area and which allows them to live and work only in that area. Few if any of the migrant workers affected by the current sweep possess a Beijing hukou. Previously, this didn’t really matter.

For the past three decades, during the period of China’s furious economic growth, the country’s fastest-growing regions were desperate for cheap labor to fill factories and build infrastructure. With local government officials graded in large part on their ability to generate rapid growth, they largely ignored hukou restrictions and made migration into their cities easy. Hundreds of millions of workers traveled from their hukou areas to wherever there were jobs, in particular big cities such as Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai. The attitudes of local authorities may be changing now as the economy slows and officials become more concerned about unemployment and tensions over access to schools and other social services. One of the easiest tools the authorities have to manage both problems is to enforce the hukou rules that are already on the books.

In Beijing, the campaign is broadly popular among legal residents, who complain about overcrowding and rising rents. If it spreads, however, the crackdown could carry a significant macroeconomic cost. Enforcing the residency system nationally could severely limit labor mobility in China. This would in turn constrain monetary policy, which is critical to minimizing the cost to China of what’s likely to be a very difficult adjustment after decades of deeply unbalanced growth. How exactly would this happen? It’s important to remember that while China is a huge economy with a great deal of variety across different regions, it can nonetheless operate effectively with a single currency because it has most of the characteristics of an optimum currency area. In the 1960s, Columbia University’s Robert Mundell argued that four conditions were required to establish such an area.

They include high levels of labor mobility, high levels of capital mobility, a system of transfers that shares risks across the region, and coordinated business cycles. If labor mobility in China slows dramatically, growth rates in different parts of the country would diverge even more than they have already, rather than converge. As a result, monetary policies aimed at restraining credit growth overall might end up being too tight for some regions, leading to accelerating bankruptcies, and too loose for others, fueling out-of-control credit growth.

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Inevitable.

Desperate UK Homeowners Are Cutting Prices – Zoopla (G.)

Price cutting by homeowners desperate to shift their property in a slowing market has reached the highest levels in six years, according to an analysis by website Zoopla. Just over 35% of the homes marketed on the site have marked down their price in the hope of achieving a sale, with the biggest discounts in the London property market. The 35% figure compares with 29% just before the EU referendum in 2016, although it is below the levels recorded in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Sellers in Richmond and Kingston upon Thames in south-west London, both relatively prosperous areas, are among those to have made the deepest reductions in sale prices. Zoopla put the average mark-down by sellers in Kingston at £84,244.

It added that around half of all the properties for sale in Kingston and other nearby locations such as Mitcham and Camberley in Surrey have been reduced since their first listing, indicating that sellers are having to significantly readjust their hopes in the light of the Brexit vote. Lawrence Hall, at Zoopla, said it was good news for first-time buyers trying to get on the property ladder. “A slight rise in levels of discounting is to be expected at this time of year when house-hunters are likely to be delaying their property search until activity picks up in January,” Hall said. “Those on the look-out for a bargain should consider looking in Camberley or Kingston upon Thames in the south, or areas of the north-east – home to some of Britain’s biggest discounts.”

The average asking price reduction across the country currently stands at £25,562, according to Zoopla. The property website said towns in Scotland and northern England have proved more resilient to discounts. About 16% of homes in Edinburgh have been reduced in price, followed by 19% in Salford, 22% in Glasgow, and 25% in Manchester – all below the national average. In London, 39% of property listings have recorded a price reduction, up from 37% in July.

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Banks want to be no. 1 consideration.

UK Banks Tell May: A Canada-Style Brexit Deal Is Not Good Enough (G.)

Britain’s banks have written to Theresa May and Philip Hammond warning that a Canada-style free trade agreement with the EU post-Brexit is not ambitious enough and that alignment with EU rules on finance is crucial. The open letter from UK Finance, which represents major banks and other financial institutions, said the government must place the City at the centre of Brexit trade talks or risk dealing a major blow to the economy. “Ceta [the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada] is an interesting template, but given the UK and the EU 27 start from a position of regulatory convergence that the UK and Canada didn’t have, we should seek to be far more ambitious,” said the letter.

The banks congratulated May on successfully negotiating a move to the second phase of withdrawal negotiations with the EU, which it called the first substantive evidence that a final deal could be agreed. But the trade body called on the government to avoid a cliff-edge Brexit and broker a smooth transition by focusing on alignment with Europe. “Pragmatic decisions to align the two regimes from a regulatory perspective … should be seen not as concessions, but as mechanisms to maximise benefits and choice within a deep regional capital market for the benefit of citizens and our economies,” it said. The alternative is “an unnecessary loss” of GDP, it added.

“A high degree of mutual cross-border market access is fundamental to the continued success of our financial services sector – and to the success of the economies and citizens which our sector serves in the UK and the EU 27,” UK Finance wrote.

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Stimulus instead of austerity.

Why Business Could Prosper Under A Corbyn Government (Pettifor)

[..] polling shows that the British people are disillusioned with the privatisation of key sectors, and favour nationalisation. They seek protection from the impact of deregulated market forces on their lives and livelihoods and on their children’s prospects. Business leaders have been made aware – by the IMF, the OECD and the Bank for International Settlements – that the Conservatives’ dependence on what David Cameron called his government’s “monetary radicalism and fiscal conservatism” has gone too far. There is now real concern about the long-term impact of quantitative easing which, coupled with austerity, has led to rocketing asset prices, falling wages and rising inequality. Those with access to central bank largesse have been enriched as the prices of assets have risen; while those without assets and dependent on earnings have suffered as incomes have fallen in real terms.

Falling incomes and spare capacity have not been good for business. While the Treasury, the Office for Budget Responsibility, an independent watchdog, and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, a thinktank, have obsessed over supply-side issues, politicians have been persuaded by economists to sit on their hands, as Britain’s economy falters under huge, unused capacity. Howard Bogod, who runs a business with a turnover of under £20m, wrote recently: “Economic models have failed to explain why wages have not increased as unemployment has fallen so low. These same models are incorrect in their conclusions about productivity growth – indeed these two failures are linked. My conclusion based on observing actual businesses is that if nominal demand were to continue to grow then both productivity and real wages would start to grow more quickly, and economists would again be left scratching their heads.”

There is, nevertheless, anxiety over the scale of Labour’s public investment plans and their impact on the UK’s credit rating. But Labour has a record, in key respects, of being more fiscally conservative than Conservatives. For example, a review by economists at Policy Research in Macroeconomics of current budget deficits or surpluses (that is, excluding public investment) for the whole period before the global financial crisis, from 1956 to 2008, reveals that Conservative governments had an average annual surplus of 0.3% of GDP, while Labour governments had an average annual surplus of 1.1%.

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“Steve Keen, dressed in a monk’s habit and wielding a blow up hammer, could be found outside the London School of Economics last week. ..”

Heretics Welcome! Economics Needs A New Reformation (G.)

In October 1517, an unknown Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther changed the world when he grabbed a hammer and nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The Reformation started there. The tale of how the 95 theses were posted is almost certainly false. Luther never mentioned the incident and the first account of it didn’t surface until after his death. But it makes a better story than Luther writing a letter (which is what probably happened), and that’s why the economist Steve Keen, dressed in a monk’s habit and wielding a blow up hammer, could be found outside the London School of Economics last week.

Keen and those supporting him (full disclosure: I was one of them) were making a simple point as he used Blu Tack to stick their 33 theses to one of the world’s leading universities: economics needs its own Reformation just as the Catholic church did 500 years ago. Like the mediaeval church, orthodox economics thinks it has all the answers. Complex mathematics is used to mystify economics, just as congregations in Luther’s time were deliberately left in the dark by services conducted in Latin. Neo-classical economics has become an unquestioned belief system and treats anybody who challenges the creed of self-righting markets and rational consumers as dangerous heretics. Keen was one of those heretics. He was one of the economists who knew there was big trouble brewing in the years leading up to the financial crisis of a decade ago but whose warnings were ignored.

The reason Keen was proved right was that he paid no heed to the equilibrium models favoured by mainstream economics. He looked at what was actually happening rather than having a preconceived view of what ought to be happening. Somewhat depressingly, nothing much has happened, even though it was a crisis neo-classical economics said could not happen. There was a brief dalliance with unorthodox remedies when things were really bleak in the winter of 2008-09, but by late 2009 and early 2010, there was a return to business as normal.

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“.. invoking Article 7 will eventually allow the European Parliament to rescind all economic aid to Poland and its voting rights within the body.”

Merkel’s Last Stand – Article 7 For Poland (Luongo)

As she fights for her political life Soon-to-be-ex-Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel will go down swinging against her stiffest political opponents in the European Union, the Poles. Merkel and French President Emmanual Macron publicly agreed to back Article 7 proceedings against Poland for refusing to comply with EU immigration quotas and changes to its judicial system. Immigration quotas, I might add, that are becoming harder to defend as the war in Syria is mostly over and the flow of refugees from there has slowed to a trickle. But, those brought in and stranded in camps in Italy and Greece apparently need to go somewhere else. But, no one wants them. And the rest of the EU is trying to bully Poland and the rest of the Visigrad countries – Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia – into taking on their ‘fair share.’

The problem with this is that Merkel made this decision unilaterally and foisted it on the rest of the EU. And she is determined not to lose this fight to Poland, not because this is any kind of humanitarian issue at this point. No, this is about the primacy of EU diktats being enforced at the expense of logic and political cohesion. And, as I’ve been warning about all year, Merkel will put the EU before any practical consideration and bring Article 7 proceedings against Poland. Because she has to. Immigration and the destruction of individual European cultures is the guiding principle behind the EU’s biggest benefactors. This policy is part of the long-term strategic goals of the EU. It has created an army which will be used to quell secessionist movements in the name of ‘continental security.’ Because despite the fevered dreams of a few hundred Latvians, the Russians are not invading Europe anytime soon.

And I have to wonder who will staff this Grand Army of the Oligarchy? After impoverishing an entire generation of people thanks to a decade-long banking system bailout, you shouldn’t be expecting the crème de la crème of the vanishing European middle class. You can expect a number of these newly-integrated immigrants that Merkel invited at everyone else’s expense will be in their ranks. And only the most politically-acceptable members of the current armies of each country will be invited to positions of authority in this new EU army. Their loyalty will be to the EU first and their homes second. The very definition of a Vichy gendarme for the 21st century. Poland and the rest of the Visigrad Four – Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia – are headed for a collision course with the rest of Western Europe over this issue and many others.

And invoking Article 7 will eventually allow the European Parliament to rescind all economic aid to Poland and its voting rights within the body. While at that same time not allowing Poland free access to international trade because it will not be an independent nation at that point. Any move to extricate itself from the EU politically or practically will be met with the most strident opposition. Look no further than Brexit talks and the brutal put-down of Catalonia’s independence movement to see Poland’s future.

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They have that in common with Germans.

Cash Still King For The Majority Of Greek Consumers, Employers (K.)

Greeks love cash: Not only do they make most of their payments in cash – more than in any other eurozone country – but they also use it to pay their regular monthly obligations, such as utility bills, rent and even their taxes. The main reason for this proclivity for paper money is not an inherent aversion towards electronic payments, but that the vast majority of Greeks, far more than in other eurozone member states, still get paid in cash. This is evident in the recent European Central Bank survey on cash use in eurozone households, which showed that 57% of Greeks are paid in paper. Cyprus and Slovenia come a distant second, with a rate of 28%, while in the other eurozone countries the share of people getting paid “cash in hand” ranges between 5 and 20%.

Behind this particularly high rate of people paid in cash in Greece lies the large number of small or family owned enterprises and freelancers who work for cash. This also serves to illustrate the extensive tax evasion in this country, which tends to be focused on a series of professional categories, mainly among freelancers. The above figures concern 2016, while banks estimate that this picture has started changing considerably after the compulsory payment of salaried workers via a bank account from early 2017. The ECB figures show that the cash culture is not a strictly Greek phenomenon, as 79% of transactions in the eurozone – with great variations from country to country – are conducted with coins and banknotes.

Yet contrary to European habits, Greeks use cash for a series of transactions that are regular every month: 40% of Greeks pay their taxes in cash against just 9% in the eurozone, 50% use paper to pay for their insurance against 10% in the eurozone, and 70% pay for their medicines in cash against 31% in the eurozone. Similarly, electricity and phone bills are paid by 60% of Greeks in cash, compared to 16% in the eurozone, and 30% of rents are covered by cash against just 6% in the eurozone. ECB data also revealed that Greeks hold an average of 80 euros in cash on them, against the Spaniards’ 50 euros and the Italians’ 69 euros, while the Portuguese like to keep just 29 euros at hand.

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In a system as overwhelmed as it is, this does not spell a lot of good.

Greece Drafts Law to Accelerate Migrant Asylum Applications And Returns (K.)

In a bid to ease growing pressure on overcrowded refugee camps on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, the government is drafting a law to accelerate the process of granting asylum to refugees with a bill expected to go to Parliament as early as this week. Arrivals of migrants from Turkey radically dropped after Ankara signed an agreement with the European Union to crack down on human smuggling over the Aegean. But the influx has picked up in recent months. Also the process of returning migrants to Turkey, as foreseen by the pact, is very slow, partly due to the influence of critics of the deal within leftist SYRIZA. “The only way to deal with the problem on the Greek islands is for the EU-Turkey agreement to be effectively enforced and for there to be a significant number of returns to Turkey,” an official at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry told Kathimerini.

Since the deal was signed in March 2016, around 48,600 migrants have arrived on the Greek islands, according to the United Nations refugee agency. During that time only some 1, 500 people have been returned to Turkey. Thousands of asylum applications are pending, chiefly because migrants generally appeal rejected claims. At a summit of EU leaders last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged to bolster Greek efforts to accelerate the asylum process and to help increase the presence of Frontex, the EU’s border monitoring agency, at the country’s frontiers with Turkey and Bulgaria, Greek officials said. Meanwhile, there are concerns that a decision by the government to move migrants from cramped island camps to the mainland could encourage smugglers to bring more migrants to Greece.

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“There’s something wrong with a valuing system that doesn’t recognize healthy humans, or the redistribution of goods, or the disappearing of problems forever.”

If Money Rewarded Hard Work, Moms Would Be The Billionaires (CJ)

Ask a woman right now how her Christmas is going and she will almost certainly unfurl her to-do list before your eyes, from the turkey to the costumes for the kids’ concerts. They should call it the Season of To-dos. For women, anyway. Christmas is the one time of the year when the gender pay gap is an open festering wound. Most of women’s work goes unvalued, unpaid, unseen by the patriarchal valuing system we call money. It’s invisible to money but it’s also pretty invisible even to ourselves. For a woman, it’s just what you do. For men, it’s stuff that just… happens. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to give up being Santa. I love it, I’m good at it, and I still do it for my kids even though they’re way past believing. That doesn’t mean it’s not work and it’s not worth something. People love their work and still get money for it.

(A little aside: isn’t it interesting that the man behind Santa is almost never a man? It’s almost like the patriarchy wants to take the credit for all of women’s work at Christmas time.) But whoever coined the term “holiday season” was clearly a bloke. It ain’t no holiday. For women, it’s the busiest time of the year. There’s something really broken about a valuing system that doesn’t recognize how much important work goes into bringing up children, socially integrating the tribe, bonding with each other and appreciating the beauty of each individual in the family and all the gifts they bring. A valuing system that doesn’t recognize the gains of having good-natured humans brought up in solid, loving environments that are closely networked in the goodwill economy. A family that will look after each other.

There’s something wrong with a valuing system that doesn’t recognize healthy humans, or the redistribution of goods, or the disappearing of problems forever. There’s something deeply sick about a valuing system that only knows how to pay people to make more problems, more sickness, more work for themselves. Invent a problem, and then sell your “solution” to it. That’s pretty much every business model ever. Libertarians will tell you earnestly that all our valuing decisions should be left up to “the markets.” If left to its own devices, the intelligence of money is meant to somehow create a handsome retirement savings package for a hardworking single mom of six. It’s somehow going to pay people to reuse and redistribute goods that they don’t need and fill all the unused houses with house-less people. It’s going to reward leaving minerals in the ground and pay for people to be healthy and live simply and for the environment to flourish and sustain life.

Read more …

Dec 042017
 
 December 4, 2017  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Amedeo Modigliani Jeanne Hebuterne 1919

 

The Bitcoin Ramp – Is It Sustainable? (Lebowitz)
UK, EU Plan Regulatory Crackdown On Cryptocurrencies (ZH)
Venezuela To Launch Cryptocurrency To Combat US ‘Blockade’ (G.)
Today’s Central Bank Vol Suppression Will End In Spectacular Fashion (Peters)
Market Is Reminiscent Of 1999 Bubble, On Verge Of Significant Change (ZH)
BIS Joins Chorus Saying Stock Valuations Are Looking ‘Frothy’ (BBG)
Financial Markets Could Be Over-Heating – BIS (G.)
Strong Leadership Across Europe Now Looks Like Wishful Thinking (CNBC)
Theresa May Fails To Strike Border Deal With Irish Government (G.)
Nigel Farage Refuses To Give Up EU Pension (Ind.)
Tony Blair Confirms He Is Working To Reverse Brexit (G.)
Fifth of UK Population Now Live In Poverty (Ind.)
David Attenborough Issues Appeal To Save ‘The Future Of Humanity’ (Ind.)

 

 

Wherever you stand on the issue, that is quite the graph. We’ll do a series on BTC soon.

The Bitcoin Ramp – Is It Sustainable? (Lebowitz)

Believers in BTC claim it is quickly becoming a widely accepted global currency. To better understand their view let’s see how BTC meets the definition of a currency, both as a means of transacting (money) as well as a store of value. Money: money is anything that two parties can agree is acceptable in exchange for goods and services. For example, if I pay you a case of beer to mow my lawn, the beer, in this instance, is money. However, for “money” to be widely accepted, the masses must ascribe similar value to it. While there is an increasing number of vendors accepting BTC, it is nearly impossible to use BTC to meet your everyday needs. Further, the value, or price of money, needs to be relatively stable to be effective. If a dollar bill bought you a case of beer today, but only a single bottle tomorrow and a keg the following week, few consumer or vendors would trust the dollar’s value. BTC’s value can fluctuate 5-10% on an hourly basis.

Store of value: a store of value is something that allows one to save money and retain its value. When we save money we want comfort in knowing the money we earned can buy us the same amount of goods and services tomorrow that it can buy today. Again, the extreme volatility of the price of BTC makes it difficult to project how much purchasing power a BTC will buy you in the future. All currencies fluctuate but typically nowhere near the degree we are witnessing in BTC. If the extreme price movements of BTC subside it is possible that BTC can serve as a widely accepted currency and the believers could be correct.

A second camp believes BTC is a financial bubble. The chart below compares BTC to other recent investment fads. You will notice in all instances above the bubbles rise steadily in price before transitioning to an exponential increase prior to collapse. Often, in the so-called euphoric phase, prices go well beyond the point most investors think is reasonable. In this respect, BTC is following the path of prior bubbles. Bubbles are not solely defined by price movements, but more importantly by a lack of supporting fundamental value. If you subscribe to the value of BTC as does the first camp, the rapid increase in price may well be justified. If you believe there is no value, BTC is showing the classic pattern of most bubbles.

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Politicians, banks, they’re all trying to get control. But can they?

UK, EU Plan Regulatory Crackdown On Cryptocurrencies (ZH)

However, in retrospect this appears to not have been the case, and as the Telegraph reported just around the time of the big drop, UK “ministers are launching a crackdown on the virtual currency Bitcoin amid growing concern it is being used to launder money and dodge tax.” Taking a page out of the Chinese playbook, the UK Treasury has announced plans to regulate the Bitcoin that will force traders in so-called crypto-currencies to disclose their identities and report suspicious activity. According to the Telegraph, while “until now, anybody buying and selling Bitcoins and other digital currencies have been able to do so anonymously, making it attractive to criminals and tax avoiders. But the Treasury has now said it intends to begin regulating the virtual currency, which has a total value of £145 billion, to bring it in line with rules on anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financial legislation.”

“John Mann, a member of the Treasury select committee, said he expected to hold an inquiry into the need for better regulation of Bitcoin and other alternative currencies in the new year. He said: “These new forms of exchange are expanding rapidly and we’ve got to make sure we don’t get left behind – that’s particularly important in terms of money-laundering, terrorism or pure theft. “I’m not convinced that the regulatory authorities are keeping up to speed. I would be surprised if the committee doesn’t have an inquiry next year. “It would be timely to have a proper look at what this means. It may be that we want speed up our use of these kinds of thing in this country, but that makes it all the more important that we don’t have a regulatory lag.”

The proposed changes come amid increasing fears that Bitcoin is being used by gangs to launder the proceeds of crime while also attracting currency speculators – with the value of the coin soaring in the past 12 months. In other words, the same reason why the IRS is cracking down on Coinbase clients in the US is also why UK and European regulators are joining China in cracking down on capital flight. While such legislation by the UK alone would hardly have a major impact on crypto pricing – after all the UK is a very minor player in a market that is dominated by Korea and Japan (as proxies for China), and to a growing extent, the US, the new rules will also be applied across the European Union, and “are expected to come into force by the end of the year or early in 2018, the minister in charge has said.”

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Backed by the world’s biggest oil reserves. But who’s going to buy?

Venezuela To Launch Cryptocurrency To Combat US ‘Blockade’ (G.)

President Nicolas Maduro has said Venezuela would launch a cryptocurrency to combat a US-led financial “blockade,” although he provided few clues about how the economically crippled Opec member would pull off the feat. “Venezuela will create a cryptocurrency … the ‘petro,’ to advance in issues of monetary sovereignty, to make financial transactions and overcome the financial blockade,” leftist Maduro said during his weekly Sunday televised broadcast. The digital currency will be backed by Venezuelan reserves of gold, oil, gas, and diamonds, he said during the near five-hour show, which included traditional Christmas songs and dancing. “The 21st century has arrived!” Maduro added to cheers, without providing specifics about the currency launch.

Opposition leaders scorned the announcement, which they said needed congressional approval, and some cast doubt on whether the digital currency would ever see the light of day in tumultuous Venezuela. Still, the announcement highlights how US sanctions this year are hurting Venezuela’s ability to move money through international banks. Sources say compliance departments are scrutinising transactions linked to Venezuela, which has slowed some bond payments and complicated certain oil exports. Maduro’s move away from the US dollar comes after the recent spectacular rise of bitcoin, which has been fuelled by signs that the digital currency is slowly gaining traction in the mainstream investment world. Cryptocurrencies typically are not backed by any government or central banks.

Bitcoin already has a strong following among tech-savvy Venezuelans looking to bypass dysfunctional economic controls to obtain dollars or make internet purchases. Venezuela’s traditional currency, meanwhile, is in free fall. Currency controls and excessive money printing have led to a 57% depreciation of the bolivar against the dollar in the last month alone on the widely used black market. That has dragged down the monthly minimum wage to a mere $4.30.

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A pretend free market suppressed close to a choking point. That cannot end well.

Today’s Central Bank Vol Suppression Will End In Spectacular Fashion (Peters)

After his provocative admission published earlier that he now checks “Breitbart daily and InfoWars too… You can no longer understand America unless you do”, One River’s CIO Eric Peters published the following anecdote revealing an earlier moment of his life, when as a currency trader, he learned a valuable lesson following the spectacular blow up of Europe’s Exchange Rate Mechanism, or ERM, and why the lesson from some 25 years ago, leads Peters to conclude that “Today’s central bank volatility suppression regime resembles it, and will end in spectacular fashion”.

Anecdote: “Let’s step into my office,” he said. So I did. He was my boss. “The firm’s most important client needs help.” I listened, uninterested, unconcerned about clients, their problems. Barely cared about my boss. I had a game to play, solo sport, and loved it to the exclusion of all else. “They need to do a very large trade.” A twenty-six-year-old proprietary trader’s mind is rather primitive. Which is good and bad. Being young and dumb allows you to see things elders can’t. And take risks one rarely should. In 1992, I’d done both. “They need to buy three hundred million Mark/Lira.” Europeans established a mechanism to lock their exchange rates into narrow ranges to reduce market volatility and promote economic convergence. In theory it worked, in practice it didn’t. Politicians named it the ERM.

“What would you like to do?” he asked, calm. I stood there, processing. Such a sum was extraordinary even before the ERM blew up, which it just had. For months, I’d bought options in anticipation of its demise. Honestly, it was obvious. The ERM encouraged speculators to build massive leveraged carry positions, discouraged corporations from hedging exchange rate risk, suppressing volatility and interest rate spreads everywhere. The process was reflexive. Today’s central bank volatility suppression regime resembles it, and will end in spectacular fashion. All such things do. “I want to buy more!” I answered. My foreign-exchange options left me long the exact amount our client needed to buy. No other bank would sell them such a large sum. So naturally, I wanted more.

“You should sell them your whole position,” he told me, firm. I couldn’t understand, it made no sense. “Big customer orders like this usually mark the highs – never forget it,” he said. I left his office angry, irate, sold my whole position. And he was right.

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There’s far too much crap out there for it all to escape through the emergency exits.

Market Is Reminiscent Of 1999 Bubble, On Verge Of Significant Change (ZH)

Just hours after Neil Chriss announced that his $2.2 billion Hutchin Hill hedge fund is shuttering due to underperformance and admitted that “we fought hard, but did not deliver the performance that you expected from us”, another legendary hedge fund announced it was undergoing a significant restructuring as a result of relentless investor withdrawals: citing a November 30 letter, Bloomberg reported that Paul Tudor Jones’ Tudor Investment Corp, which lost 1.6% YTD, was closing its Discretionary Macro fund “and letting investors shift assets to the main BVI fund as of Jan. 1” with the letter clarifying that “Jones will also principally manage Tudor’s flagship BVI fund, which will be the firm’s only multi-trader fund next year.”

[..] while the internal reorganization of multi-billion hedge funds are hardly of material interest to ordinary retail, or even institutional, investors, PTJ’s outlook on the market always is, and it was concerning: frustrated by the collapse of market vol as a result of record central bank monetary easing, Jones said “the environment is on the verge of a significant change” and that the current market is reminiscent of the bubble of 1999. “That was a year in which Tudor BVI’s macro book was basically flat while U.S. equities experienced one of the greatest bubbles in history,” Jones, 63, wrote. “The termination of that bull market kicked off a three-year macro feast.” adding that “the plot is much the same today but we can substitute Bitcoin and fine art for the Nasdaq 100 of 1999.”

“In the face of a shock, investors may be surprised to find themselves jammed running for the exit,” he wrote. However, as Howard Marks has repeatedly cautioned in the past 3 years, this will be a problem as “the amount and quality of liquidity is lower than people recognize”, and “hidden leverage in the market will make a mass exit even more challenging.”

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They are the central bank cheerleaders, who now try to issue a warning against what they were cheering for.

BIS Joins Chorus Saying Stock Valuations Are Looking ‘Frothy’ (BBG)

The Bank for International Settlements added its voice to institutions questioning whether stocks have become too expensive, saying they look “frothy” – particularly in the U.S. The BIS weighed in on the debate just days after Goldman Sachs said a prolonged bull market across stocks, bonds and credit left its measure of average valuation at the highest since 1900. Stock prices are above historical averages and U.S. companies may struggle to continue their pace of dividend growth, the BIS said in its quarterly review on Sunday. Warnings on elevated asset prices have become more frequent as the world’s biggest central banks move toward tighter monetary policy. A Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey showed a record 48% of investors say equities are overvalued.

Nobel-Prize winning economist Richard H. Thaler said in October he can’t understand why stocks are still rising. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System CIO said last week that holding shares feels like “sitting on a pin cushion.” The paradox is that financial conditions have continued to ease even in the U.S., by far the most advanced in increasing interest rates, leaving investors struggling to judge how rates will drive prices. “Ultimately, the fate of nearly all asset classes appeared to hinge on the evolution of government bond yields,” the Basel, Switzerland-based institution said. “There is also significant uncertainty about the levels those yields will reach once monetary policies are normalized in the core jurisdictions.”

The price-earnings ratio of the U.S. stock market, cyclically adjusted, was recently above 30, exceeding its post-1982 average by almost 25%, the BIS said. While that’s below the peak of 45 reached in the dotcom bubble of the late 1990s, it’s nearly double the long-term average of 1881–2017. The gauges for European and U.K. equities were at their post-1982 averages.

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More BIS. Woodford: “Investors have forgotten about risk and this is playing out in inflated asset prices and inflated valuations..”

Financial Markets Could Be Over-Heating – BIS (G.)

Investors are ignoring warning signs that financial markets could be overheating and consumer debts are rising to unsustainable levels, the global body for central banks has warned in its quarterly financial health check. The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) said the situation in the global economy was similar to the pre-2008 crash era when investors, seeking high returns, borrowed heavily to invest in risky assets, despite moves by central banks to tighten access to credit. The BIS, known as the central bankers’ bank, said attempts by the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England to choke off risky behaviour by raising interest rates had failed so far and unstable financial bubbles were continuing to grow.

Claudio Borio, the head of the BIS, said central banks might need to reconsider changing the way they communicated base interest rate rises or the speed at which they were increasing rates to jolt investors into recognising the need to calm asset markets. “The vulnerabilities that have built around the globe during the long period of unusually low interest rates have not gone away. High debt levels, in both domestic and foreign currency, are still there. And so are frothy valuations. “What’s more, the longer the risk-taking continues, the higher the underlying balance sheet exposures may become. Short-run calm comes at the expense of possible long-run turbulence,” he said. The warning came as Neil Woodford, one of the UK’s most high-profile fund managers, said stock markets were in danger of crashing, resulting in huge losses for millions of people.

The founder of Woodford Investment Management, which manages £15bn worth of assets, told the Financial Times that investors were at risk of the market experiencing a repeat of the dotcom crash of the early 2000s. Woodford said he was concerned that historically low levels of interest rates in most developed nations over the last decade were pushing asset prices to unsustainable levels. “Ten years on from the global financial crisis, we are witnessing the product of the biggest monetary policy experiment in history,” he said. “Investors have forgotten about risk and this is playing out in inflated asset prices and inflated valuations. “There are so many lights flashing red that I am losing count.”

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I said this before: Merkel’s failure to form a coalition is a big deal all across Europe. Even if she succeeds the second time around. She leaves a big vacuum.

Strong Leadership Across Europe Now Looks Like Wishful Thinking (CNBC)

Strong and stable leadership is difficult to come by these days across Europe. The countries that have traditionally been the bastion of reliable leadership – Germany and the U.K. — are leaving citizens feeling disappointed – and more worryingly, it is having spillover effects into matters outside of domestic politics. Brexit and U.K. leader Theresa May’s ill-fated snap election have left the Conservative government hamstrung and weakened, as the prime minister seems to be hanging onto her position by a thread. The latest installment of this political vacuum was showcased by Ireland, where the minority government was at risk of collapsing after a no-confidence motion was tabled against the Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzgerald over a police whistleblower scandal. This could have led to new elections in December.

And in Germany, which is usually considered an absolute beacon of stability, we are facing a political earthquake as exploratory talk on a potential “Jamaica” coalition have faltered spectacularly after the FDP’s (Free Democratic Party) Christian Lindner proclaimed blearily after another long night of talks that he would pull his support for further discussions to form a government. As I am writing this, the parties in Germany are under pressure to deal with shock of the unprecedented nature of the collapse and the utter lack of workable alternatives. New elections have been favored by Chancellor Angela Merkel but talks are still ongoing about a potential return of the much-loathed, yet functioning “grand coalition” between the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). A revival of talks about a potential Jamaica coalition including the Greens, CDU/CSU and the liberal FDP party has now been ruled out by Lindner.

But surprisingly, the impact on the German economy is non-existent so far. Last month, we saw the German business morale hitting another record high in November, with the IFO Institute adding that the economy is “headed for a boom.” Just last week, data confirmed that the German economy grew by 0.8% in the third quarter, which led to the IFO Institute upgrading its growth forecast for the German economy to 2.3% this year, from 1.9% previously. Talking to me on CNBC, Clemens Fuest, the president of Munich-based IFO Institute, said that only a period of prolonged uncertainty brought about by new elections early next year might impact business sentiment, adding that “we are very far away from that scenario.” Even a minority government might work as this would “revitalize parliamentary debate,” he added.

In fact, when I asked Hans Redeker, head of foreign exchange strategy at Morgan Stanley, about a slowdown in investment in growth as a result of the collapse in coalition talks, he said: “When things are going well in the economy, you don’t necessarily need strong leadership – it is only when the economy isn’t doing well that you need leadership”.

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What if talks with the EU today fall flat on their face? Will she still stay on?

Theresa May Fails To Strike Border Deal With Irish Government (G.)

Theresa May and the Irish government have failed to reach a deal on the crucial Brexit issue of the Northern Ireland border ahead of a crunch meeting on Monday lunchtime with the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. Despite intense efforts over the weekend to agree a proposal on how to avoid a hard border in Ireland, Irish officials revealed at midnight on Sunday that “there is still a way to go” to achieve a meeting of minds on the issue. “The Irish government remains hopeful – but at this stage it is very difficult to make a prediction,” said an official. The failure to seal a deal threatens to delay the progression of the Brexit negotiations to the second phase covering trade and the UK’s future relationship with the EU. May will meet Juncker with the UK’s final offer on the three main issues in the first round of Brexit talks – the Irish border, citizens’ rights and the financial settlement.

Talks could continue into Wednesday when the European commissioners are due to meet to discuss their recommendation to European leaders on whether “sufficient progress” has been achieved to move talks on to trade and transition arrangements. May had been given the deadline of Monday 4 December to table the offers before a European council summit on 14 December, when EU leaders will decide if “sufficient progress” has been made to proceed to the next phase. But although the money and citizens’ rights issues have been mostly resolved, the future arrangement with Ireland has remained a significant obstacle because the British government has yet to offer a firm commitment explaining how it will guarantee avoiding a return to a hard border after Brexit. For Ireland, and the EU27 as a whole, the problem has become a potential dealbreaker, with Dublin given an effective veto on progress of talks.

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What hypocrisy is getting worked up about this.

Nigel Farage Refuses To Give Up EU Pension (Ind.)

Nigel Farage has refused to give up his EU pension after Brexit, asking: “Why should my family and others suffer even more?” The former Ukip leader was asked on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show whether he would stick to his principles and turn down his annual MEP pension. “All I can say is, given the arbitrary way the European Union behaves in terms of money, I’d be very surprised if I get any of it,” Mr Farage said. Mr Farage is entitled to an estimated annual pension of £73,000, The Times reports. The 53-year-old would be able to claim the pension at the age of 63.

Pressed by host Andrew Marr on whether he would stick to his principles and turn down the pension, Mr Farage said: “I’m not going to get it anyway. So I don’t think this would even occur.” When he was asked if he would take it, he said: “Of course I would take it. I’ve said that from day one. Why should my family and others suffer even more?” Replying to accusations of hypocrisy, Mr Farage said: “It is not hypocrisy. I’ve just voted to get rid of my job. I was the turkey that voted for Christmas. How is that hypocrisy? If it was hypocrisy, I’d have said we should stay in the EU.”

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People should oinstead get worked up about Blair not being able to shut his face. He’s done enough damage.

Tony Blair Confirms He Is Working To Reverse Brexit (G.)

Tony Blair has confirmed that he is trying to reverse Brexit, arguing that voters deserve a second referendum because the “£350m per week for the NHS” promise has now been exposed as untrue. In an interview with the BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend on Sunday, the former prime minister said that what was happening to the “crumbling” NHS was a “national tragedy” and that it was now “very clear” that the Vote Leave promise about Brexit leading to higher NHS spending would not be honoured. “When the facts change, I think people are entitled to change their mind,” said Blair, who has always been a strong opponent of Brexit but who has rarely been so explicit about being on a personal mission to stop it happening.

Asked if his purpose in relation to Brexit was to reverse it, Blair replied: “Yes, exactly so.” He added: “My belief is that, in the end, when the country sees the choice of this new relationship, it will realise that it’s either going to be something that does profound damage to the country, or alternatively, having left the European Union, left the single market, we will try and by some means recreate the benefit of that in some new relationship, in which case I think many people will think, ‘What’s the point?’” Blair rejected the argument that he was defying the will of the people. “The will of the people is not something immutable. People can change their mind if the circumstances change,” he said.

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And certainly get worked up about this: ..400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners are now living in poverty than five years ago..”

Fifth of UK Population Now Live In Poverty (Ind.)

Britain’s record on tackling poverty has reached a turning point and is at risk of unravelling, following the first sustained rises in child and pensioner poverty for two decades, a major report has warned. Nearly 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners are now living in poverty than five years ago, during which time there have been continued increases in poverty across both age groups – prompting experts to warn that hard-fought progress towards tackling destitution is “in peril”. The report, by the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), shows that a total of 14 million people in the UK currently live in poverty – more than one in five of the population. While poverty levels fell in the years to 2011-12, changes to welfare policy – especially since the 2015 Budget – have seen the numbers creep up again.

The findings will fuel challenges currently facing Theresa May over failure to improve equality in the UK, after the entire board of her social mobility commission quit over the weekend at the lack of progress towards a “fairer Britain”. ..] The report echoes the concerns of the commission, warning that significant reductions in poverty levels – which researchers measured by the proportion of people in households with an income lower than 60 per cent of the median household income – are at risk of being reversed without immediate action. It warns that the squeeze on living standards now risks storing up problems for the future, with people being caught in a “standstill generation” – unable to build the foundations for a decent, secure life.

Debbie Abrahams MP, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said the 700,000 increase in the number of children and older people in poverty was “totally unacceptable”, adding: “The past seven years of flat-lining wages and austerity cuts, now combined with sharply rising costs of household essentials, is a truly terrifying prospect for millions trying to make ends meet.

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Attenborough has been in nature for 70 years. Imagine the changes he’s witnessed, the beauty he’s seen disappear.

David Attenborough Issues Appeal To Save ‘The Future Of Humanity’ (Ind.)

Sir David Attenborough has urged people to take action to save the “future of humanity” as he opened up about the heartrending Blue Planet II scene in which a baby albatross was killed by a toothpick. The creature was shown lying dead after its mother had mistaken the plastic toothpick for healthy food. In a column in the Radio Times, the veteran presenter spoke of the threats earth is facing, including the eight million tonnes of plastic dumped into the sea each year, global warming and the rate of overfishing. There are concerns that more than a million birds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles die every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste.

Sir David, 91, also echoed a previous call that he hoped US President Donald Trump would reconsider his threat to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. He wrote that “never before have we been so aware of what we are doing to our planet – and never before have we had such power to do something about it”. “Surely we have a responsibility to care for the planet on which we live? The future of humanity, and indeed of all life on Earth, now depends on us doing so,” he added. “Plastic is now found everywhere in the ocean, from its surface to its greatest depths,” Sir David wrote. “There are fragments of nets so big they entangle the heads of fish, birds and turtles, and slowly strangle them. Other pieces of plastic are so small that they are mistaken for food and eaten, accumulating in fishes’ stomachs, leaving them undernourished.”

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When nations grow old
The arts grow cold
And commerce hangs on every tree
–William Blake

 

Nov 302017
 
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Amedeo Modigliani Elvira Resting at a Table 1919

 

Many of you are undoubtedly familiar with Naomi Klein’s 2007 book “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, in which she describes how neoliberalism, as developed by Milton Friedman and his Chicago School, wreaks often very brutal and bloody havoc upon societies under the guise of ‘crisis as an opportunity for change’, first in Latin America and later also in Eastern Europe.

One of the most prominent actors in the book, the man behind the term ‘shock therapy’ for economies, is Jeffrey Sachs, a Harvard prodigy. In an interview at the time, Klein had this to say:

 

Q: You mention the shift from shock therapy to shock-and-awe, but there are also attempts to soften the image of neoliberalism. Jeffrey Sachs, the economist who pioneered shock therapy, wrote his latest book on The End of Poverty. Is there any more to this than a rebranding exercise?

A: A lot of people are under the impression that Jeffrey Sachs has renounced his past as a shock therapist and is doing penance now. But if you read The End of Poverty more closely he continues to defend these policies, but simply says there should be a greater cushion for the people at the bottom. The real legacy of neoliberalism is the story of the income gap. It destroyed the tools that narrowed the gap between rich and poor.

The very people who opened up this violent divide might now be saying that we have to do something for the people at the very bottom, but they still have nothing to say for the people in the middle who’ve lost everything. This is really just a charity model. Jeffrey Sachs says he defines poverty as those whose lives are at risk, the people living on a dollar a day, the same people discussed in the Millennium Development Goals. Of course that needs to be addressed, but let us be clear that we’re talking here about noblesse oblige, that’s all.

[..] Leszek Balcerowicz, the former finance minister who worked with Jeffrey Sachs to impose shock therapy in Poland in 1989, said that the ideology advances in moments of extraordinary politics. He listed these moments of extraordinary politics as ends of war and moments of extreme political transition.

Around the same time, Alexander Cockburn said in a review of the book:

 

“Shock therapy” neoliberalism really isn’t most closely associated with Milton Friedman, but rather with Jeffrey Sachs, to whom Klein does certainly give many useful pages, even though Friedman remains the dark star of her story. Sachs first introduced shock therapy in Bolivia in the early 1990s. Then he went into Poland, Russia, etc, with the same shock therapy model. Sachs’ catchy phrase then was that “you can’t leap over an abyss step-by-step,” or words to that effect. This is really where contemporary neoliberalism took shape.

I’ve thought for all these years that Jeffrey Sachs, when out there campaigning for the end of poverty and other ostensibly grandiose goals with the likes of Angeline Jolie, should have at least provided a very public and detailed apology for his past endeavors. I’ve never seen one.

Which meant I was very surprised to see his name pop up as a prominent adviser to Yanis Varoufakis during the latter’s time as Greek finance minister, as Yanis describes it in his 2017 book Adults in the Room. Even more surprising than to see Larry Summers in a similar role in the same book.

The mother of all surprises in this regard, however, was to see Varoufakis’ DiEM25 movement announce Naomi Klein as a member of its Advisory Panel yesterday, a panel which also includes the likes of Julian Assange. Because while he’s not on that panel, Jeffrey Sachs has done public presentations for DiEM25. Bien étonné de se trouver ensemble, as the French put it. Strange bedfellows. Maybe Naomi should explain.

I have said multiple times that I am a fan of Yanis, and his departure as finance minister has been a huge loss to Greece, because he was their best, and perhaps their only, chance at salvation from economic disaster, but I’m still not at all convinced about DiEM25 and its intentions (and I don’t mean to say they don’t mean well).

For one, because I think the EU is so throughly rotten to the core it cannot be reformed; its fatal flaws have been continually baked into the cake for decades. Whereas DiEM25 think they can get people elected in various countries across Europe and get Brussels to change direction and become democratic. It was never built to be democratic.

 

But all this before was merely a build-up to an article Sachs penned for Project Syndicate this week in which he claims to know precisely what Germany and Europe need. He doesn’t.

 

A New Grand Coalition for Germany – and Europe

With America AWOL and China ascendant, this is a critical time for Germany and the European Union to provide the world with vision, stability, and global leadership. And that imperative extends to Germany’s Christian Democrats.

Friends of Germany and Europe around the world have been breathing a sigh of relief at the newfound willingness of Germany’s Christian Democrats and Social Democrats (SPD) to discuss reprising their grand coalition government. The world needs a strong and forward-looking Germany in a dynamic European Union. A new grand coalition working alongside French President Emmanuel Macron’s government would make that possible.

We have all seen, in Greece, in Italy, in Libya, what leadership Germany has provided. In economics and with regards to the refugee crisis. It has been an unmitigated economic disaster everywhere but in Germany itself (and Holland). And that is no coincidence. It illustrates exactly what is so wrong with the EU. Germany has the power to squeeze the poorer and smaller countries into submission with impunity, and it does just that.

The last thing the EU needs is more such German ‘leadership’. In fact, it needs a whole lot less of that. It needs to find a way to diminish German influence. But to get there, it would require for Berlin to voluntarily step back, and that is not going to happen. Merkel can veto anything she likes, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

 

[..] The world and Europe need an outward-looking Germany that offers more institutional and financial innovation, so that Europe can be a true counterpart to the US and China on global affairs. I say this as someone who believes firmly in Europe’s commitment and pioneering statecraft when it comes to sustainable development, the core requirement of our time.

Not only does Sachs not understand that making Germany some superior power in Europe is the exact wrong way to go, he doesn’t understand sustainable development either. It’s as exasperating as it is predictable.

 

Economic growth that is socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable is a very European idea, one that has now been embraced globally in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, as well as in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Europe’s experience with social democracy and Christian democracy made this global vision possible. But now that its agenda has been adopted worldwide, Europe’s leadership in fulfilling it has become essential.

A grand coalition government in Germany must help put Europe in a position to lead. French President Emmanuel Macron has offered some important ideas: a European finance minister; Eurobonds to finance a new European investment program; more emphasis on innovation; a financial transactions tax to fund increased aid to Africa, where Europe has a strategic interest in long-term development; and tax harmonization more generally, before the US triggers a global race to the bottom on taxing corporations and the rich.

There is so much wrong in those few lines we could write a book about it. First of all, and let’s bold this once again, there is no such thing as sustainable growth. It’s a lie.

If we want to do something that can actually save our planet, we have to decouple economic growth from environmental sustainability. We can and will not grow our way out of the disaster we have created with -our blind focus on- growth. This is the most dangerous nonsense story there is out there. We have to pick one of the two, we can’t have both. It’s EITHER growth OR a livable planet. Here’s what I wrote on December 16 2016:

 

Heal the Planet for Profit

If you ever wondered what the odds are of mankind surviving, let alone ‘defeating’, climate change, look no further than the essay the Guardian published this week, written by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney. It proves beyond a moonlight shadow of a doubt that the odds are infinitesimally close to absolute zero (Kelvin, no Hobbes).

Yes, Bloomberg is the media tycoon and former mayor of New York (which he famously turned into a 100% clean and recyclable city). And since central bankers are as we all know without exception experts on climate change, as much as they are on full-contact crochet, it makes perfect sense that Bank of England governor Carney adds his two -trillion- cents.

Conveniently, you don’t even have to read the piece, the headline tells you all you need and then some: “How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change” really nails it. The entire mindset on display in just a few words. If that’s what they went for, kudo’s are due.

That these problems originated in the same relentless quest for profit that they now claim will help us get rid of them, is likely a step too far for them; must have been a class they missed. “We destroyed it for profit” apparently does not in their eyes contradict “we’ll fix it for profit too”. Not one bit. It does, though. It’s indeed the very core of what is going wrong.

Jeffrey Sachs can now be added to the list of deluded ‘experts’ on the topic. The COP21 Paris agreement, which I re-dubbed CON21, is full of, and directed by, such people. I always think Trump was very right to withdraw from it, even if it was for all the wrong reasons.

CON21 is a CON. The recent CON23 in Bonn is too. It’s a scheme meant to get to your money under the guise of going green. If they can convince you that you can prosper of off saving the planet, you’ll give them anything, because it’ll make you feel good about yourself.

This is me from December 12 2015:

 

CON21

Protesters and other well-intended folk, from what I can see, are falling into the trap set for them: they are the frame to the picture in a political photo-op. They allow the ‘leaders’ to emanate the image that yes, there are protests and disagreements as everyone would expect, but that’s just a sign that people’s interests are properly presented, so all’s well. COP21 is not a major event, that’s only what politicians and media make of it. In reality, it’s a mere showcase in which the protesters have been co-opted.

They’re not in the director’s chair, they’re not even actors, they’re just extras. I fully agree, and more than fully sympathize, with the notion of saving this planet before it’s too late. But I wouldn’t want to rely on a bunch of sociopaths to make it happen. There are children drowning every single day in the sea between Turkey and Greece, and the very same world leaders who are gathered in Paris are letting that happen. They have for a long time, without lifting a finger. And they’ve done worse -if that is possible-.

[..] you guys are targeting a conference in Paris on climate change that features the exact same leaders that let babies drown with impunity. Drowned babies, climate change and warfare, these things all come from the same source. And you’re appealing to that very same source to stop climate change.

What on earth makes you think the leaders you appeal to would care about the climate when they can’t be bothered for a minute with people, and the conditions they live in, if they’re lucky enough to live at all? Why are you not instead protesting the preventable drownings of innocent children? Or is it that you think the climate is more important than human life? That perhaps one is a bigger issue than the other?

[..] The current economic model depends on our profligate use of energy. A new economic model, then, you say? Good luck with that. The current one has left all political power with those who profit most from it. And besides, that’s a whole other problem, and a whole other issue to protest.

If you’re serious about wanting to save the planet, and I have no doubt you are, then I think you need to refocus. COP21 is not your thing, it’s not your stage. It’s your leaders’ stage, and your leaders are not your friends. They don’t even represent you either. The decisions that you want made will not be made there.

But let’s return to Sachs and his -other- lofty goals: “..a European finance minister; Eurobonds to finance a new European investment program; more emphasis on innovation; a financial transactions tax to fund increased aid to Africa, where Europe has a strategic interest in long-term development; and tax harmonization more generally..”

We all know Europeans don’t want things that infringe even further on their country’s sovereignty. If they were offered the opportunity to vote on them they would defeat them in massive numbers. Which is precisely why they are not offered that opportunity. The only way to push through such measures is by stealth and against the will of the people.

Which already has, and will much further and worse, divide the EU. It’s not even the plans themselves, it’s the notion of the ever increasing erosion of what people have to say about their own lives. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are flaring off bright red warning signs about sovereignty, and they are completely ignored.

If the EU insists on continuing that way, it will be the cause of chaos and violence and right wing resurgence, not the solution to all that. Europe needs to take a step back and reflect upon itself before taking even one single step forward towards more centralization. But centralization is what Brussels is all about, it’s what it was built on.

The EU will never be viable if Germany in the end calls all the important shots. So a new Grand Coalition in Berlin, and its sympathetic stance towards Macron’s grandiosity, is not ‘needed’, it’s Europe’s biggest danger. But yeah, you’re right, it fits right in with Jeffrey Sachs’ neoliberalist dreams.

And there’s more centralization, globalism, neoliberalism and ‘green growth’ where that came from:

 

Contrary to the Germans who oppose such ideas, a European finance minister and Eurobonds would not and should not lead to fiscal profligacy, but rather to a revival of investment-led green growth in Europe. China has proposed the Belt and Road Initiative to build green infrastructure linking Southeast Asia and Central Asia with Europe.

This is the time for Europe to offer the same bold vision, creating a partnership with China to renovate Eurasia’s infrastructure for a low-carbon future. If Europe plays its cards right, Europe’s (and China’s) scientific and technical excellence would flourish under such a vision. If not, we will all be driving Chinese electric vehicles charged by Chinese photovoltaic cells in the future, while Germany’s automotive industry will become a historical footnote.

We don’t need more vehicles, whatever they run on, we need less, because we need to use less energy. Of any kind. We must not drive differently, in different cars using a different energy source, we must drive less. Much less. This shouldn’t be that hard, because our cities and societies are designed to be as wasteful as possible.

What we need is not green growth, but green shrinkage. We cannot grow our way into a sustainable planet or economic system. It is a fallacy. And it is time people like Jeffrey Sachs and Mike Bloomberg and Mark Carney (and Merkel and Macron etc. etc.) stop spreading such nonsense. If even Lloyd Blankfein supports the Paris Agreement, we should be suspicious, not feel grateful or validated in our warped views.

 

A European finance minister would, moreover, finally end Europe’s self-inflicted agony in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. As difficult as it is to believe, Greece’s crisis continues to this day, at Great Depression scale, ten years after the onset of the crisis. This is because Europe has been unable, and Germany unwilling, to clean up the financial mess (including Greece’s unpayable debts) in a fair and forward-looking manner (akin to the 1953 London Agreement on German External Debts, as Germany’s friends have repeatedly reminded it).

If Germany won’t help to lead on this issue, Europe as a whole will face a prolonged crisis with severe social, economic, and political repercussions. In three weeks, Macron will convene world leaders in Paris on the second anniversary of the climate accord. France should certainly take a bow here, but so should Germany. During Germany’s G20 Presidency, Merkel kept 19 of the 20 members of the G20 firmly committed to the Paris agreement, despite US President Donald Trump’s disgraceful attempt to wreck it.

Yes, the corruption of US politics (especially campaign funding by the oil and gas industry) threatened the global consensus on climate change. But Germany stood firm. The new coalition should also ensure that the country’s Energiewende (“energy transition”) delivers on the 2020 targets set by previous governments. These achievable and important commitments should not be a bargaining chip in coalition talks.

Oh, c’mon, Jeffrey. You really want anyone to believe that European politics is less corrupt than American? What do you think handed Monsanto its 5-year glyphosate extension this week? Why do you think the entire Volkswagen board is still at liberty? Thing is, all this is about money.

It’s just that Merkel thinks there’s more of it to be made supporting CON21, while Trump, who’s 180º wrong on on the entire topic, thinks otherwise. But they’re both equally focused on money, not polar bears or penguins or elephants. Trump is right for believing green growth is a load of humbug, he’s just right for all the wrong reasons. While Merkel is trying to sell you a CON. Take your pick.

 

A CDU/CSU-SPD alliance, working with France and the rest of Europe, could and should do much more on climate change. Most important, Europe needs a comprehensive energy plan to decarbonize fully by 2050. This will require a zero-carbon smart power grid that extends across the continent and taps into the wind and solar power not only of southern Europe but also of North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean.

Once again, Eurobonds, a green partnership with China, and unity within Europe could make all the difference. Such an alliance would also enable a new foreign policy for Europe, one that promotes peace and sustainable development, underpinned by new security arrangements that do not depend so heavily on the US.

“Decarbonize fully by 2050”. Our entire societies have been built on carbon. Every single bit of it. Sachs simply doesn’t understand the world he lives in. He envisions bigger where only smaller could possibly help. We can decarbonize, but it will mean the end of our way of life. No amount of solar panels or wind turbines can change that. That are made with and from carbon.

It’s all just snake oil. We want to save the planet, and the life upon it, but we’re not willing to pay the price and bear the consequences. So we make up a narrative that feels good and run with it.

I have a tonic here that will cure all your ills, ladies and gentlemen. Only ten dollars. I know it sounds expensive, and it’s a full month’s wages, but just you think of the benefits. Think of your children!

 

Europe, a magnet for hundreds of millions of would-be economic migrants, could, should, and I believe would regain control of its borders, allowing it to strengthen and enforce necessary limits on migration. The political terms of a new grand coalition government, it would seem, are clear. The SPD should hold out for ministerial leadership on economic and financial policy, while the CDU/CSU holds the chancellorship.

That would be a true coalition, not one that could bury the SPD politically or deny it the means to push for a truly green, inclusive, EU-wide, sustainable development agenda. With Merkel and SPD leader Martin Schulz in the lead, the German government would be in excellent, responsible, and experienced hands. Germany’s friends and admirers, and all supporters of global sustainable development, are hoping for this breakthrough.

Long story short, Jeffrey Sachs still promotes disaster.

 

 

Nov 252017
 
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Walter Kelleher 13th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade NYC 1937

 

Canada’s Household Debt Levels Higher Than Any Other Country (CNBC)
As America Gives Thanks, Homelessness Sets New Records (Snyder)
UK Council Proposes £1,000 Fines For Homeless People Sleeping In Tents (G.)
UK Faces Longest Fall in Living Standards on Record (BBG)
Britain Has 10-Day Absolute Deadline On Key Brexit Issues: Tusk (R.)
Germany’s Voice Suddenly Missing in Brussels (Spiegel)
Tesla’s Newest Promises Break the Laws of Batteries (BBG)
The Old Songs (Jim Kunstler)
Let’s Adopt The U.S. Naval Policy of 1890 (Rossini)
The US-Saudi Starvation Blockade (Buchanan)
Horrified By Libya Slave Trade, Rwanda Offers Refuge To Migrants (IBT)
Mediterranean ‘By Far World’s Deadliest Border’ For Migrants – IOM (R.)
The Refugee Scandal on the Island of Lesbos (Spiegel)
Endangered Butterfly, Mexican Shrub May Be Hurdles to Trump Wall (BBG)

 

 

Canada, Australia, New Zealand; and Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

Canada’s Household Debt Levels Higher Than Any Other Country (CNBC)

Household debt levels in Canada are higher than in any other country, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In a preliminary version of the report, set to be released fully next month, the OECD found Canada’s household debt ranked as the highest among the 35 developed and developing countries the group monitors. The rapid accumulation of household debt for Canadians could also leave its economy particularly vulnerable to shocks, the organization said. “Although in part this reflects strong population growth, these developments may entail significant risk to financial stability given the direct exposure of the financial system to the housing market,” the OECD said. The group found Canada’s household debt-to-GDP ratio had ballooned to 101% — significantly higher than any other nation studied.

In comparison, the ratio for South Korea was the next highest at slightly under 93%, with the U.K. third at over 88%. In the U.S., the household debt-to-GDP ratio was around 80%, while Germany and France had a ratio below 60%. “Research points to a number of links between high indebtedness and the risks of severe recessions,” the group said. While virtually all countries witnessed soaring debt loads ahead of the credit crisis a decade ago, most have seen their indebtedness reduce over time. However, for Canada — and some countries in Scandinavia — this has not been the case, with OECD pinning the blame on inflated house prices. “OECD countries that have experienced the strongest increases in household debt since the crisis have also the steepest rise in house prices,” the group said.

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Highest since the Great Depression.

As America Gives Thanks, Homelessness Sets New Records (Snyder)

If the U.S. economy was actually in good shape, we would expect that the number of people that are homeless would be going down or at least stabilizing. Instead, we have a growing national crisis on our hands. In fact, within the past two years “at least 10 cities or municipal regions in California, Oregon and Washington” have declared a state of emergency because the number of homeless is growing so rapidly. Things are particularly bad in southern California, and this year the Midnight Mission will literally be feeding a small army of people that have nowhere to sleep at night… “Thanksgiving meals will be served to thousands of homeless and near-homeless individuals today on Skid Row and in Pasadena and Canoga Park amid calls for donations and volunteers for the rest of the year. The Midnight Mission will serve Thanksgiving brunch to nearly 2,500 homeless and near-homeless men, women and children, according to Georgia Berkovich, its director of public affairs.”

Overall, the Midnight Mission serves more than a million meals a year, and Berkovich says that homelessness hasn’t been this bad in southern California “since the Great Depression”… “Berkovich said the group has been serving nearly 1 million meals a year each year since 2013. “We haven’t seen numbers like this since the Great Depression,” she said.” And of course the official numbers confirm what Berkovich is claiming. According to an article published earlier this year, the number of homeless people living in Los Angeles County has never been higher…”The number of homeless people in Los Angeles has jumped to a new record, as city officials grapple with a humanitarian crisis of proportions remarkable for a modern American metropolis. Municipal leaders said that a recent count over several nights found 55,188 homeless people living in a survey region comprising most of Los Angeles County, up more than 25% from last year.”

If the California economy is truly doing well, then why is this happening? We see the same thing happening when we look at the east coast. Just check out these numbers from New York City… “In recent years the number of homeless people has grown. Whereas rents increased by 18% between 2005 and 2015, incomes rose by 5%. When Rudy Giuliani entered City Hall in 1994, 24,000 people lived in shelters. About 31,000 lived in them when Mike Bloomberg became mayor in 2002. When Bill de Blasio entered City Hall in 2014, 51,500 did. The number of homeless people now in shelters is around 63,000. For New York, this is the highest that the homeless population has been since the Great Depression, and city leaders are trying to come up with a solution.”

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It’s getting to be time for Hoovervilles.

UK Council Proposes £1,000 Fines For Homeless People Sleeping In Tents (G.)

A council has been called “cruel and callous” for proposing £1,000 fines to homeless people sleeping in tents in the city centre. Stoke-on-Trent council in Staffordshire is consulting on a public space protection order (PSPO) that will make it an offence for a person to “assemble, erect, occupy or use” a tent unless part of a council-sanctioned activity such as a music festival. Under such a scheme anyone who fails to pay their £100 on-the-spot penalty notice can be prosecuted and could be fined up to £1,000 in court. Though only currently at the consultation stage, the PSPO would cover the city centre, Hanley park, Festival park and Octagon retail park.

Ruth Smeeth, the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove, said: “This is a cruel and callous policy to inflict on our most vulnerable in the lead-up to Christmas. We do have a growing problem with homelessness here in Stoke-on-Trent, but punishing people for their misfortune is no way to fix it. “It’s right and proper that the police take action to stop antisocial behaviour on our streets, but punishing the homeless simply for being homeless is appalling. “In recent years we’ve seen local funding for drug and alcohol treatment slashed and support to tackle homelessness cut to the bone. Locking these people up or saddling them with debt they can’t pay will only make the problem worse.”

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Incompetence.

UK Faces Longest Fall in Living Standards on Record (BBG)

Britons were warned they are on course for the longest fall in living standards since records began 60 years ago after the U.K.’s fiscal watchdog took the ax to its outlook for economic growth. In an analysis of the government’s latest budget and accompanying report by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Resolution Foundation said on Thursday that the economy is set to be 42 billion pounds ($56 billion) smaller in 2022 than the OBR predicted in March. It also calculated wages will not return to their pre-financial crisis levels of 2007 until at least 2025 once inflation is taken into account. Average annual pay is now projected to be 1,030 pounds lower in 2022 than the March forecasts and household disposable incomes will fall for an unprecedented 19 straight quarters between 2015 and 2020, according to Resolution.

The analysis was reinforced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which said the OBR’s forecasts implied average earnings would be almost 1,400 pounds lower in 2021 than predicted before the 2016 Brexit referendum and still below their 2008 level. “We are in danger of losing not just one but getting on for two decades of earnings growth,” IFS Director Paul Johnson told a briefing in London on Thursday. The warnings underscore the challenge Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond faced on Wednesday when he released a budget that left him little room for fiscal maneuver as Brexit looms. The OBR slashed its growth forecasts as a result of weak productivity, and Hammond piled further pressure on the budget by pledging extra cash for the health service and abolishing the tax on some housing purchases for first-time buyers.

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Tusk pretends to speak with a powerful mandate, but…

Britain Has 10-Day Absolute Deadline On Key Brexit Issues: Tusk (R.)

Britain has only 10 days left to deliver on all three areas of its divorce terms with the European Union if London wants to start talks on a transition period after Brexit and a future relationship, the chairman of EU leaders Donald Tusk said. “We need to see progress from UK within 10 days on all issues, including on Ireland,” Tusk tweeted on Friday after a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May in Brussels. “Sufficient progress in Brexit talks at December council is possible but still a huge challenge,” he said on Twitter. An EU official said that May agreed in the one-hour discussions that Dec. 4 was the “absolute deadline” to allow the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to recommend moving onto the next stage on trade and future ties.

“Tusk presented the timeline ahead of the December European Council, with Dec. 4 as the absolute deadline for the UK to make additional efforts, allowing Barnier to be in a position to recommend sufficient progress,” the official said. “May agreed to this timeframe,” the official said. The official said Tusk had warned that if there was no progress within next 10 days, that would make moving forward impossible. The official said that the way Ireland’s border with Northern Ireland functioned after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019 was still an issue.

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… that mandate has severely weakened now Germany’s in trouble…

Germany’s Voice Suddenly Missing in Brussels (Spiegel)

European Union Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger wanted to know what is going on in Germany. To find out, he set up a number of meetings in Berlin this week, including one in the Chancellery. He also arranged to chat with Christian Lindner, the head of the Free Democrats (FDP) and the man who unexpectedly turned his back on German coalition talks in Berlin last Sunday night. The reason for Oettinger’s interest in the political developments in Germany is simple. He has been assigned with writing a draft EU budget for the next 10 years and his due date is next May. He is currently traveling from capital to capital on the Continent to determine how member states envision EU spending for the period from 2018 to 2027.

But the German voice, which generally carries significant weight when it comes to budgetary questions,is silent these days. “The long process of assembling a government is weakening Germany’s influence in Brussels,” says Oettinger. “German influence on important issues is currently undiscernible.” The failure of German coalition negotiations in Berlin has caught the European Union completely off guard. Ahead of elections in France and the Netherlands earlier this year, there had been widespread concern about the rise of the right wing and potential difficulties when it came to assembling a governing coalition in those countries. Few such concerns were voiced ahead of Germany’s general election on Sept. 24. Everyone assumed that Germany was solid.

Now, though, French President Emmanuel Macron has taken center stage in the EU with his ambitious reform proposals while European Council President Donald Tusk has already come up with a detailed timeline for transforming Macron’s vision into concrete policy decisions. And suddenly, Germany has vanished. “You’re ruining our entire presidency,” complained Kaja Tael, Estonia’s permanent representative in Brussels. Estonia currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

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Still surprised by these things?

Tesla’s Newest Promises Break the Laws of Batteries (BBG)

Elon Musk knows how to make promises. Even by his own standards, the promises made last week while introducing two new Tesla vehicles—the heavy-duty Semi Truck and the speedy Roadster—are monuments of envelope pushing. To deliver, according to close observers of battery technology, Tesla would have to far exceed what is currently thought possible. Take the Tesla Semi: Musk vowed it would haul an unprecedented 80,000 pounds for 500 miles on a single charge, then recharge 400 miles of range in 30 minutes. That would require, based on Bloomberg estimates, a charging system that’s 10 times more powerful than one of the fastest battery-charging networks on the road today—Tesla’s own Superchargers.

The diminutive Tesla Roadster is promised to be the quickest production car ever built. But that achievement would mean squeezing into its tiny frame a battery twice as powerful as the largest battery currently available in an electric car. These claims are so far beyond current industry standards for electric vehicles that they would require either advances in battery technology or a new understanding of how batteries are put to use, said Sam Jaffe, battery analyst for Cairn Energy Research in Boulder, Colorado. In some cases, experts suspect Tesla might be banking on technological improvements between now and the time when new vehicles are actually ready for delivery.

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“There is some kind of revolution coming to American life.”

The Old Songs (Jim Kunstler)

It probably all comes down to money. Money represents the mojo to keep on keeping on, and there is probably nothing more unreal in American life these days than the way we measure our money — literally, what it’s worth, and what everything related to it is worth. So there is nothing more unreal in our national life than the idea that it’s possible to keep on keeping on as we do. The weeks ahead may be most illuminating on this score. The debt ceiling suspension runs out on December 8, around the same time that the tax reform question will resolve one way or another. The debt ceiling means that the treasury can’t issue any more bonds, bills, or notes. That is, it can’t borrow any more money to pretend the government can keep running.

[..] There’s a fair chance that congress may not be able to resolve the debt ceiling deadline. The votes may just not be there. If the deadline comes and goes, the treasury can only use incoming tax revenues to cover its costs, and it won’t be enough. It will have to choose whether it issues paychecks to the roughly 2.7 million US government employees, or pays the vendors that sell things like warplanes to the military, or pay out so-called entitlements like Medicare and SNAP cards, or pay the interest on the previously-issued bonds, debts, and bills that the US has racked up over the years. Believe it or not, making those interest payments is probably the top priority, because failing to do that would shove the nation officially into default for the first time and destroy the country’s credit standing. The full faith and credit in the US dollar would shatter.

And then the fun and games would really cease. The country would discover it doesn’t have its mojo working, as another old song goes. The reality of being truly broke will set in. After all, there are two basic ways of going broke as a nation: you can run out of money; or you can have plenty of money that is worthless. Take your pick. There is some kind of revolution coming to American life. One way or another, it amounts to a much lower standard of living. The journey there may take the public by surprise, a la Ernest Hemingway’s crack about how a character in one of his stories went broke: slowly, and then all at once. The main question about this journey must be whether it is accompanied by political violence. One would have to think the potential for that is pretty high, given levels of animosity and delusional thinking among the two opposing factions — can we even call them Left and Right anymore? — which may even exceed the ill-feeling of 1861.

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Amen.

Let’s Adopt The U.S. Naval Policy of 1890 (Rossini)

Back in 1890, the U.S. Naval Policy Board said in a report: “We fear no encroachments on our territory, nor are we tempted at present to encroach on that of others. We have no colonies, nor any desire to acquire them.” First, let’s discuss the aspect of the statement that has not changed one iota since 1890: “We fear no encroachments on our territory”. In 2017, we can say the exact same statement with total confidence. No state on the planet has any interest in conquering America. No one is interested in ruling over our WalMart/McDonald’s society. No one is interested in taking over Washington D.C. and inheriting 20,000,000,000,000 in debt. No one is interested in ruling a nation of people who are in debt up to their eyeballs with student loans, auto loans, mortgage loans, credit card loans….loans…loans…loans…loans…loans… No one is interested!

Which leads to the part of the statement that has changed since 1890: “..nor are we tempted at present to encroach on that of others.” In 1898, that aspect changed, and the U.S. federal government has never looked back. In 1898, the U.S. got its first taste of the conquering game. It swiftly took control of the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Hawaii. All of a sudden 11 million people were under a new American Empire. A few decades later, after the first high wore off, one of the worst decisions in the history of the world was made: U.S. President Woodrow Wilson tricked the American public into entering an exhausted and stalemated European war between princes. The “war to end all wars” was the war that would lead to the death of hundreds of millions over the next century.

The rest, of course, is history, and here we are: Broke….A country with middle-class that is disappearing, and 50% of the American public receiving some kind of welfare from a bankrupt government. U.S. Naval Policy in 1890 is where it’s at. The sooner we adopt it, the better.

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History repeats AND rhymes.

The US-Saudi Starvation Blockade (Buchanan)

Our aim is to “starve the whole population – men, women, and children, old and young, wounded and sound – into submission,” said First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill. He was speaking of Germany at the outset of the Great War of 1914-1918. Americans denounced as inhumane this starvation blockade that would eventually take the lives of a million German civilians. Yet when we went to war in 1917, a U.S. admiral told British Prime Minister Lloyd George, “You will find that it will take us only two months to become as great criminals as you are.” After the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918, however, the starvation blockade was not lifted until Germany capitulated to all Allied demands in the Treaty of Versailles.

As late as March 1919, four months after the Germans laid down their arms, Churchill arose in Parliament to exult, “We are enforcing the blockade with rigor, and Germany is very near starvation.” So grave were conditions in Germany that Gen. Sir Herbert Plumer protested to Lloyd George in Paris that morale among his troops on the Rhine was sinking from seeing “hordes of skinny and bloated children pawing over the offal from British cantonments.” The starvation blockade was a war crime and a crime against humanity. But the horrors of the Second World War made people forget this milestone on the Western road to barbarism. A comparable crime is being committed today against the poorest people in the Arab world – and with the complicity of the United States.

[..] Almost 90% of Yemen’s food, fuel and medicine is imported, and these imports are being cut off. The largest cities under Houthi control, the port of Hodaida and Sanaa, the capital, have lost access to drinking water because the fuel needed to purify the water is not there. Thousands have died of cholera. Hundreds of thousands are at risk. Children are in danger from a diphtheria epidemic. Critical drugs and medicines have stopped coming in, a death sentence for diabetics and cancer patients. If airfields and ports under Houthi control are not allowed to open and the necessities of life and humanitarian aid are not allowed to flow in, the Yemenis face famine and starvation. What did these people do to deserve this? What did they do to us that we would assist the Saudis in doing this to them?

The Houthis are not al-Qaida or ISIS. Those are Sunni terrorist groups, and the Houthis detest them. Is this now the American way of war? Are we Americans, this Thanksgiving and Christmas, prepared to collude in a human rights catastrophe that will engender a hatred of us among generations of Yemeni and stain the name of our country?

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We can’t afford Yemen, and we can’t afford Libya. We need to stop these medieval situations.

Horrified By Libya Slave Trade, Rwanda Offers Refuge To Migrants (IBT)

Rwanda has opened its doors to migrants stuck in Libya and announced plans to take in as many as 30,000 people. The offer of help comes in response to an exposé into Libya’s underbelly where slave trade is flourishing. It involves migrants from other parts of Africa who are stuck in the country as they wait for an opportunity to cross into Europe. The government is still ironing out the details regarding how it plans to move interested parties from the northern part of the continent to the east. “Rwanda is currently under discussions… to see how we can help in welcoming migrants held captive in Libya,” Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told AFP. “It has just been decided, so numbers and means are still under discussion, but Rwanda estimates the number to be welcomed around 30,000,” she said.

“For Africans being sold in Libya: Rwanda is small, but we will find some space!” she tweeted. In its investigation into the slave market in Libya, CNN was able to capture footage of auctions held in the capital city of Tripoli, where bids were accepted for men to be used for manual labour. While the videos only featured males, they have raised concerns over a similar fate for women and children who escaped their countries to come to Libya. “Rwanda, like the rest of the world, was horrified by the images of the tragedy currently unfolding in Libya, where African men, women and children who were on the road to exile, have been held and turned into slaves,” Mushikiwabo continued. “Given Rwanda’s political philosophy and our own history, we cannot remain silent when human beings are being mistreated and auctioned off like cattle,” she said. The minister was referring to her nation’s own dark history wherein over 800,000 people (mostly Tutsi) were killed in 1994 in one of the worst genocides in world history.

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You see, Angela, the power you crave comes with responsibilities.

Mediterranean ‘By Far World’s Deadliest Border’ For Migrants – IOM (R.)

More than 33,000 migrants have died at sea trying to reach European shores this century, making the Mediterranean “by far the world’s deadliest border”, the United Nations migration agency said on Friday. After record arrivals from 2014 to 2016, the European Union’s deal with Turkey to stop arrivals from Greece, and robust patrols off Libya’s coast have greatly reduced the flow, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said. Professor Philippe Fargues of the European University Institute in Florence, author of the report, said the figures probably underestimated the actual scale of the human tragedy. “The report states that at least 33,761 migrants were reported to have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean between the year 2000 to 2017. This number is as of June 30,” IOM’s Jorge Galindo told a Geneva news briefing.

“It concludes that Europe’s Mediterranean border is by far the world’s deadliest,” he said. So far this year some 161,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe by sea, about 75% of them landing in Italy with the rest in Greece, Cyprus and Spain, according to IOM figures. Nearly 3,000 others are dead or missing, it said. “Shutting the shorter and less dangerous routes can open longer and more dangerous routes, thus increasing the likelihood of dying at sea,” Fargues said. The report said: “Cooperation with Turkey to stem irregular flows is now being replicated with Libya, the main country of departure of migrants smuggled along the central route; however, such an approach is not only morally reprehensible but likely to be unsuccessful, given the context of extremely poor governance, instability and political fragmentation in Libya.”

Read more …

Brussels and Athens have run out of excuses.

The Refugee Scandal on the Island of Lesbos (Spiegel)

Those wishing to visit ground zero of European ignominy must simply drive up an olive tree-covered hill on the island of Lesbos until the high cement walls of Camp Moria come into view. “Welcome to prison,” someone has spray-painted on the walls. The dreadful stench of urine and garbage greets visitors and the ground is covered with hundreds of plastic bags. It is raining, and filthy water has collected ankle-deep on the road. The migrants who come out of the camp are covered with thin plastic capes and many of them are wearing only flipflops on their feet as they walk through the soup. Children are crying as men jostle their way through the crowd. Welcome to one of the most shameful sites in all of Europe. Camp Moria was originally built to handle 2,330 refugees. But currently it is home to 6,489.

[..] Conditions on the island of Lesbos haverarely been as precarious as they are today. Just as winter is arriving in Greece, some 15,000 refugees find themselves trapped in the five “hotspots” located on Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. Fully 8,357 of them are on Lesbos, living in horrific conditions in overcrowded, completely inadequate shelters. A huge number of refugees are forced to sleep in tents designed for summer conditions and many of them fear for their safety because of the close quarters and the repeated clashes in the main camp. Dozens of refugees have begun a hunger strike on Lesbos. The European Union’s refugee deal with Turkey may have managed to cut the number of people reaching Greece by 97%, but dozens of migrants continue to arrive every day.

Thus far this year, around 11,000 people have crossed over to the island from Turkey – a tiny number compared to the 12,500 who arrived on a single day in August 2015. But back then, newcomers were taken to the mainland and allowed to continue their journeys through the Balkans toward Hungary, Austria and, ultimately, Germany. Now, though, the former registration facilities have essentially been transformed into prisons. [..] he government in Athens has had plenty of time to learn its lesson from last winter, when five refugees died in Camp Moria, some of them because they were trying to heat their tents. Now, the country’s immigration minister is seeking to solve the problem at the last minute ahead of this winter by renting hotels on Lesbos and bringing in two ships from Piraeus that can accommodate a total of 3,000 refugees.

On the island of Lesbos though, where residents have shown remarkable patience thus far, there is widespread opposition to the plan. On Monday, the mayor of Lesbos, known for being a moderate, called for a general strike and declared war on the Greek government. He accuses Athens of seeking to use the need to establish winter facilities as an excuse to transform Lesbos into a prison island.

Read more …

Let’s finish on a lighter note.

Endangered Butterfly, Mexican Shrub May Be Hurdles to Trump Wall (BBG)

Environmentalists suing to block President Donald Trump from constructing a wall along the Mexican border say the project would imperil endangered species including the Quino checkerspot butterfly and the Mexican flannel bush. The Homeland Security Department has asserted authority under federal immigration law to waive compliance with environmental protection statutes because 14 miles of existing fencing near San Diego is “no longer optimal for border patrol operations.”

Defenders of Wildlife, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity argued in court filings this week that the Trump administration’s attempts to sidestep the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act are unconstitutional. A hearing over the dispute is set for February before U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whom Trump scorned during the presidential campaign over the San Diego jurist’s handling of the Trump University fraud litigation. Trump attacked Curiel as being biased against him because of his Mexican heritage, saying the Indiana-born judge had issued rulings against him as retribution for his pledge to build a wall between the U.S. and its neighbor to the south.

Read more …

Nov 232017
 
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Nicolas de Staël Mer du nord 1954

 

Punxsutawney Phil Hammond, the UK chancellor, presented his Budget yesterday and declared five more years of austerity for Britain. As was to be expected. One doesn’t even have to go into the details of the Budget to understand that it is a dead end street for both the country and for Theresa May’s Tory party.

So why the persistent focus on austerity while it becomes clearer every day that it is suffocating the British economy? There are many answers to that. Sheer incompetence is a major one, a lack of empathy with the poorer another. Conservative Britain is a class society full of people who dream of empire, and deem their class a higher form of life than those who work low-paid jobs.

When you see that the British Parliament has even voted that animals don’t feel pain or emotions, you’d be tempted to think it’s a throwback all the way back to the Middle Ages, not just the British Empire. They’re as lost in time as Bill Murray is in Groundhog Day. Only worse.

But perhaps incompetence is the big one here. The inability to understand that if your economy is not doing well, you need to stimulate it, not drain even more of what’s left out of it. The people in government don’t understand economics, and therefore rely on economic theory for guidance. And the prevailing theories of the day prescribe bloodletting as the cure, so they bloodlet (let blood?). Let it bleed.

This is not a British problem, it’s pan-European if not global. Neither is the UK Tory party the only one being killed by it, all Conservative parties share that faith. They’re just lucky that their left wing opponents have all committed hara kiri, and joined their ranks when it comes to economics. All of Europe’s poorer have lost the voices that were supposed to speak for them, to economic incompetence.

Obviously, the US democrats did their own hara kiri years ago. One might label -some of- Bernie Sanders’ views left-wing, but he’s trapped in a system that won’t let him breathe.

 

All of this leads me to question the following:

A letter in the Guardian published on Sunday called on Chancellor Philip Hammond, ahead of his budget presentation on Wednesday, to end austerity in the UK. It is signed by 113 people, a veritable who’s who from the academic field, one -economics- professor after another. They include people like Joe Stiglitz, Steve Keen, Dave Graeber.

Looking at the letter itself, and then the entire list, makes me wonder: I’m sure you all mean well, guys, but I think perhaps you should first of all ask yourselves how it is possible that such a large group of well-educated ladies and gentlemen has become so utterly sidelined over time when it comes to major economic decisions, has allowed itself to be sidelined.

It’s one thing to ask what someone else is doing wrong, it’s another to ask yourself what you have done wrong. My question to y’all would be: where were you? Shouldn’t you have written and/or signed this letter 7 years ago, or 5, even just 3? Isn’t calling on the Chancellor to ‘end austerity now’ a bit late in the game?

Is it even the right call, or should you maybe be calling for him to simply resign (along with the entire cabinet)? After all, what are the odds that the Tories are going to turn on a dime and reverse their entire economic policies? They would look stupid, and they will avoid that like the plague. Here’s that letter:

 

The Chancellor Must End Austerity Now – It Is Punishing An Entire Generation

Seven years of austerity has destroyed lives. An estimated 30,000 excess deaths can be linked to cuts in NHS spending and the social care crisis in 2015 alone. The number of food parcels given to impoverished Britons has grown from tens of thousands in 2010 to over a million. Children are suffering from real-terms spending cuts in up to 88% of schools. The public sector pay cap has meant that millions of workers are struggling to make ends meet. Alongside the mounting human costs, austerity has hurt our economy.

The UK has experienced its weakest recovery on record and suffers from poor levels of investment, leading to low productivity and falling wages. This government has missed every one of its own debt reduction targets because austerity simply doesn’t work. The case for cuts has been grounded in ideology and untruths. We’ve been told public debt is the outcome of overspending on public services rather than bailing out the banks. We’ve been told that while the government can find money for the DUP, we cannot afford investment in public services and infrastructure.

We’ve been told that unless we “tighten our belts” we’ll saddle future generations with debt – but it’s the onslaught of cuts that is punishing an entire generation. Given the unprecedented economic uncertainty posed by Brexit negotiations and the private sector’s failure to invest, we cannot risk exacerbating an already anaemic recovery with further public spending cuts. We’ve reached a dangerous tipping point. Austerity has failed the British people and the British economy. We demand the chancellor ends austerity now.

If you ask me, Britain reached that ‘dangerous tipping point’ years ago. And talking about ‘an anaemic recovery’ sounds like total nonsense. There is no recovery, as you yourselves make clear with the examples you provide of the consequences of austerity. So why say it?

I don’t know if we can blame individual economists for missing out on the effects of political measures, although when those measures affect economics, we probably should. But regardless, the big game in town these days is politics, not economics. Everywhere there are ‘leaders’ fighting for survival, and it’s telling that Donald Trump is not nearly the most besieged among them.

That Theresa May is still PM of the UK is as surprising as it is ridiculous. But it also points to the lack of coherence and timing among her opponents, including those 113 academics. That once May goes, which could be soon, the Tories get to pick yet another one of their own as PM, is even more ridiculous. To top off the absurdity, the next in line could be Boris Johnson.

A country that finds itself in a quandary as immense as the UK faces post-Brexit vote, should not let one party that had a mere 42% of the vote, run all the plans, decisions and negotiations, be they domestic and/or international. There is no surer way for disaster to ensue. It’s the system itself that fails if that possibility exists, more than that one party.

The UK needs, more than anything, a national government (or something in that vein), an option in which at least a majority of the population is represented. That is much more important than some call for some policy to be halted.

Moreover, everyone should see this in the light of international political developments as a whole. What’s happening in Albion is not an isolated event, and it doesn’t happen under the influence of isolated forces or developments. What happened overnight on Sunday with the failure of Angela Merkel’s attempt to form a German coalition government makes that more obvious than ever.

Traditional political parties, left and right, have been swept out of power all over Europe. Germany is just one more example. The process doesn’t have the same shape, or the same speed, everywhere. But it’s real. It’s due to a mixture of rising inequality, deteriorating economic conditions and no left left to represent the people, the victims, at the bottom of societies. Well, and there’s the incessant lies about economic recovery.

But let’s take a little detour first. Just in order to illustrate the point even more. The Guardian ran a piece, also on Sunday, on newly minted French President Emmanuel Macron and his government and party, that is pretty hilarious.

 

New Head Of Macron’s Party Vows To Recapture Its Grassroots ‘Soul’

A fiercely loyal, self-styled “man of the people” has been appointed to lead Emmanuel Macron’s fledgling political movement, La République En Marche (The Republic on the Move, or La REM), promising to recapture the party’s“soul” after a hiatus since the recent election win. Christophe Castaner, 51, a burly member of parliament with a southern accent, styles himself as both in touch with everyday voters and devoted to Macron’s well-oiled communications machine. He was handpicked by the French president to take over the running of La REM.

Castaner, currently a minister and government spokesman, was a Socialist mayor of a picturesque small town in Provence for more than a decade before becoming one of the first politicians to jump ship to Macron’s centrist project in its early days. He grew up in a military family in the south of France, left school before his final exams – which he retook as an adult – and has a reputation for straight-talking. At La REM’s first party congress in Lyon this weekend, Castaner was the lone candidate for the role of party director.

He was picked by Macron at a presidential palace dinner, then confirmed by a group of party members with a show of hands rather than a secret ballot, sparking criticism from the media and political observers about undemocratic internal party practices. A small group of 100 party followers went public last week with an open resignation letter, claiming the party had no internal democracy. Others, including La REM members of parliament, responded that Castaner was “the obvious choice”.

Macron founded his own movement because he saw an opening to defeat all traditional French parties. He won the presidential elections, and only after that organized the movement into an actual political party ahead of parliamentary elections. I’d still like to see someone explain who paid for the campaigns of hundreds of candidate parliamentarians. It’s a mystery. France’s banking and business sector?

Macron has set an example for many people in other countries, provided they can unravel that mystery, of how they, too, can defeat incumbents and other long time power blocks. There are two countries where such tactics have until now not seemed possible: the UK and US. But that, too, will change.

In many other European countries, age-old blocks have already been beaten into submission. Even if many deep state powers in France et al have merely shifted allegiances. As their peers elsewhere will. But that’s just the way things are. It doesn’t negate the huge shifts in politics. Voters all over feel they’ve been had for too long. It’s all part of a tectonic shift. Deteriorating economic conditions will do that for you.

What makes the article on Macron et al so entertaining is the mention of the promise to “..recapture the party’s grassroots “soul”. A political party that’s barely a year old does not have grassroots, let alone a soul. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not thinking. And that is a good thing to keep in mind, because Macron’s example – and success- will inspire similar initiatives in many places, and similar nonsensical narratives.

 

Ironically, if that’s the right word, the world -or at least the EU- is now Macron’s oyster. Angela Merkel has shown her weaknesses, and she has blinked first, in her failed attempt to form a new cabinet, and she will not recover from that, not with anything remotely like her past clout. Maybe -more than- 12 years as head of state is not such a good idea.

While Macron is a blank sheet without a soul or grassroots, Merkel and her CDU party possess both in spades. It’s just that in today’s world these things tend to easily turn against you. You’re better off without a past that you can be blamed for. Macron has no past. And no soul.

Merkel leaves an enormous void both in Germany and in Europe (even globally). And it’s one thing for her to have become too powerful at home, but it’s quite another for the same to have been allowed on the entire continent. Germany, under any leadership, will remain the only power in Europe that matters, no matter what grand plans Macron devises. And that is the EU’s fatal flaw. If you have 27-28 sovereign countries and you try to order them around all the time, you have a problem on your hands.

 

There is an inherent contradiction in being both the leader of political union’s strongest country and -simultaneously- of the union as a whole, and Merkel has bitterly failed in addressing, let alone solving, that contradiction. Merkel didn’t create it, true enough, but because she is/was the boss, it is her responsibility to address it. Even if it’s ultimately unsolvable.

In the present setting, any German leader, Angela or someone else, will be voted in by Germans, and focus on their interests, to hold on to these votes. But German interests are not always the same as those of other countries. That means Germany will always come out on top, and more so as time passes. Ever more wealth will flow to Berlin. That’s the fatal flaw, and at present there’s no way out of it.

With Merkel weakened, or soon even gone, lots of voices will speak up across Europe for their countries’ sovereignty, and the attack on them from Brussels. We already have Poland, Czechia and Hungary. Expect a lot more noise from Italy in the run-up to its elections. The power balance that Merkel held together is gone for good.

Yes, her refugee policy backfired, which is no surprise given that she decided on it like some empress. But what may be more important is that her traditional opponent, the left wing SPD, was not only her coalition partner, but it has no ideas that are notably different from her conservatives, and its new head is the former head of the European Parliament.

Where does one turn as a German who doesn’t want all that more EU all the time? Either far left or far right. Everything else has become a homogenous blob, all across Europe. And all of that blob is in favor of imposing ever more austerity on the most unlucky in their societies, because bloodletting is the most advanced treatment they know of.

 

It’s not even so much the financial crisis that has caused a political crisis in Europe, it’s the answers to it, the incompetence. Greece is a far worse-off victim of austerity than Britain is, and Yanis Varoufakis has described very well why that is: an absolute stonewalling refusal to talk about any alternatives to bloodletting. Because austerity is an ideology bordering on religion, executed by people who care much more about their own careers than they do about their people.

Greece is beyond salvation, its economy has been so thoroughly destroyed it will take decades to recover, if it ever can. Britain is set to follow the Greek example. The blame for that will be put on Brexit, not disastrous economic ‘policies’. In the same way that the Greek crisis was blamed on the Greeks, not the German and French banks that treated the country like an overleveraged game of Texas Hold ’em.

After Merkel Europe will fall victim to a vast power vacuum. In effect, today’s already ‘After Merkel’, even if it will take people a while to understand that. The EU is unraveling, and the blame goes to austerity and its incompetent priests. Including Angela. The bloodletters destroy their own economies, and they don’t understand that either.

Merkel hasn’t just demolished Greece, she has, in doing that, fatally undermined the foundations of the EU as well. And Germany. Look, ‘Mutti’ Merkel invited a million refugees to her country, and now refuses to let hundreds of war-traumatized children stuck on Greek islands join their parents in Germany, because she fears it could cost her votes. Talk about priorities. Theresa May does the same as we speak.

There’s a price to be paid for incompetence. It’s a shame that Merkel and Theresa May and Punxsutawney Phil Hammond won’t be the ones paying -the worst of- it.