Jul 242019
 
 July 24, 2019  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Marie-Thérèse Walter 1937

 

Mueller In Last-Minute Request For Aide To Be With Him During Testimony (NBC)
Questions for Mueller (Aaron Maté)
Robert Mueller, The ‘Magician Of Omission’ On Russia (Solomon)
Mueller Deputy Andrew Weissmann’s Offer To An Oligarch Could Hurt DOJ (Solomon)
The Clown Is Crowned As The Country Burns In Hell (G.)
Deutsche Bank’s Problem Derivatives Cloud Recovery (R.)
Deutsche Bank Flagged Epstein’s Overseas Transactions To US Watchdog (CNBC)
Berkeley First US City To Ban Natural Gas (G.)
Libra Scams Are Already Popping Up On Facebook (F.)
Big Tech Faces Broad US Justice Department Antitrust Probe (R.)
MH17 Evidence Tampering Revealed by Malaysia (John Helmer)
Ralph Nader Says Boeing 737 Max Should Never Fly Again (CNBC)

 

 

From what I understand Zebley will be sworn in for the Intelligence Committe part, the last part, but not the Judiciary Committee, the first 3 hours. Hints at them knowing at least some of what’s going to be asked.

Mueller In Last-Minute Request For Aide To Be With Him During Testimony (NBC)

One of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s longtime aides will appear alongside him during his highly-anticipated testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, a spokesperson said Tuesday, but is not expected to be sworn in. Mueller’s team made a last-minute request that Aaron Zebley be sworn in and testify with him during his scheduled hearings before Congress on Wednesday, a congressional source familiar with the request told NBC News. Mueller is slated to testify on his report into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the country’s influence on President Donald Trump for three hours before the House Judiciary Committee, take a break, then appear for at least two additional hours before the House Intelligence Committee.

For the first hearing, Zebley will sit alongside Mueller as his counsel, according to the Judiciary Committee spokesperson. The committee, however, is not updating its guidance to include Zebley as a witness. This means that Zebley will not be sworn in. Mueller can confer with him as he is questioned by the panel, according to committee rules, but cannot answer questions. The ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, said Tuesday that GOP members had “not gotten assurances from the House Democrats on the committee that he [Zebley] will not speak.”

“He’s not supposed to speak in that role to anyone on the committee or asked questions. And we’re asking, and, frankly, that that be confirmed before the hearing. So we don’t have to waste time with it tomorrow,” Collins said. Jim Popkin, Mueller’s spokesperson, disputed the idea that Zebley’s presence at the hearings amounted to an 11th-hour addition. “Aaron Zebley was the Deputy Special Counsel and had day-to-day oversight of the investigations conducted by the Office,” Popkin said in a statement Tuesday. “He will accompany Special Counsel Mueller to the Wednesday hearings, as was discussed with the committees more than a week ago.”

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Mueller’s people asked Barr for guidance on what he can talk about. Wonder how many times they will refer to that guidance when not answering questions. Sort of like taking the fifth.

Questions for Mueller (Aaron Maté)

”For two years, Democrats have waited on Robert Mueller to deliver a death blow to the Trump presidency,” The New York Times observed on July 20. “On Wednesday, in back-to-back hearings with the former special counsel, that wish could face its final make-or-break moment.” The very fact that Democrats had to subpoena Mueller in order to create this final moment should in fact be the final reminder of what a mistake it was for Democrats to have waited on him. If Mueller had incriminating information yet to share, or had been stymied from doing his work, or if Attorney General William Barr had somehow misrepresented his findings, then it stands to reason that Mueller would be welcoming the opportunity to appear before Congress, not resisting it.


The reality is that Mueller’s investigation did not indict anyone on the Trump campaign for collusion with Russia, or even for anything related to the 2016 election. Mueller’s report found no evidence of a Trump-Russia conspiracy, and even undermined the case for it. That said, there are unresolved matters that Mueller’s testimony could help clarify. Mueller claimed to have established that the Russian government conducted “a sweeping and systematic” interference campaign in order to elect Trump, yet the contents of his report don’t support that allegation. The Mueller report repeatedly excludes countervailing information in order to suggest, misleadingly, that the Trump campaign had suspect “links” and “ties” to people connected with Russia. And Mueller and other intelligence officials involved in the Russia probe made questionable investigative decisions that are worthy of scrutiny.

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Horowitz has to finish his report first before Durham can do anything. Today’s hearings are far from the last thing on the topic.

Robert Mueller, The ‘Magician Of Omission’ On Russia (Solomon)

While most of the political world focused its attention elsewhere, special prosecutor John Durham’s team quietly reached out this summer to a lawyer representing European academic Joseph Mifsud, one of the earliest and most mysterious figures in the now closed Russia-collusion case. An investigator told Swiss attorney Stephan Roh that Durham’s team wanted to interview Mifsud, or at the very least review a recorded deposition the professor gave in summer 2018 about his role in the drama involving Donald Trump, Russia and the 2016 election. The contact, confirmed by multiple sources and contemporaneous email, sent an unmistakable message:


Durham, the U.S. attorney handpicked by Attorney General William Barr to determine whether the FBI committed abuses during the Russia investigation, is taking a second look at one of the noteworthy figures and the conclusions of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report. The evidence I reviewed suggests Mueller’s handiwork may be exposed for glaring omissions that, when brought to public light, leave key questions unanswered, especially about how the FBI’s unprecedented probe of the Trump campaign started. Durham is focused on determining whether any government or private figures who came in contact with the Trump campaign in 2016 “were engaged in improper surveillance,” a U.S. official told me when asked about the Mifsud overture.

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Is someone going to question Weismann at some point?

Mueller Deputy Andrew Weissmann’s Offer To An Oligarch Could Hurt DOJ (Solomon)

At the time, pressure was building inside the DOJ and the FBI to find smoking-gun evidence against Trump in the Russia case because the Steele dossier — upon which the early surveillance warrants were based — was turning out to be an uncorroborated mess. (“There’s no big there there,” lead FBI agent Pete Strzok texted a few days before Weissmann’s overture.) Likewise, key evidence that the DOJ used to indict Firtash on corruption charges in 2014 was falling apart. Two central witnesses were in the process of recanting testimony, and a document the FBI portrayed as bribery evidence inside Firtash’s company was exposed as a hypothetical slide from an American consultant’s PowerPoint presentation, according to court records I reviewed.

In other words, the DOJ faced potential embarrassment in two high-profile cases when Weissmann made an unsolicited approach on June 4, 2017, that surprised even Firtash’s U.S. legal team. To some, the offer smacked of being desperately premature. Mueller was appointed just two weeks earlier, did not even have a full staff selected, and was still getting up to speed on the details of the investigation. So why rush to make a deal when the prosecution team still was being selected, some wondered. Second, Weissmann’s approach was audaciously aggressive, even for a prosecutor with his reputation.

According to a defense memo recounting Weissmann’s contacts, the prosecutor claimed the Mueller team could “resolve the Firtash case” in Chicago and neither the DOJ nor the Chicago U.S. Attorney’s Office “could interfere with or prevent a solution,” including withdrawing all charges. “The complete dropping of the proceedings … was doubtless on the table,” according to the defense memo.

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“So we beat on, against the sun, borne back ceaselessly into hell.”

The Clown Is Crowned As The Country Burns In Hell (G.)

Well, here we are then. Someone who could easily be rejected as a Guess Who character for looking too ridiculous is now to lead the country. A man whose DNA profile is the exact same as a Bernard Manning joke. A man who mentioned the 20 hustings he had taken part in, approximately 30 seconds after Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis talked of the 16 hustings held. With 8,000 members of the Johnson family watching on – and Jeremy Hunt, looking for all the world like a sub who’s never gonna get off the bench and knows it – Boris Johnson was announced as the new leader of the Conservative party, and, in short order, the new prime minister. Elected by a staggering 0.2% of the nation, we can’t say it isn’t the will of the people.

It’s quite extraordinary, isn’t it, when the new leader of the country opens his inaugural speech with: “There may be people here who wonder quite what they have done!” – having to address the fact that many people in the room are coming to terms with the fact they’ve got shit on their shoe. “Do you look daunted?!” he boomed, “You don’t look remotely daunted to me!” Which was met with a Spectoresque wall of silence, a number of faces as white as Elizabeth I’s, and a solitary cry of: “No!”.

[..] I don’t really know what to say myself. I don’t understand how a man can lie his way about bananas and condoms to high office. I don’t understand how a man whose entire prep for anything seems to consist of drawing a cock and balls – but in Latin! – on a sheet of paper, ends up in high office. I don’t understand how a man can be recorded offering to facilitate the assault of a journalist and reach high office. I don’t understand how a man can be fired twice for cavalierly making stuff up and reach high office. I don’t understand how a man whose entire personality is a job-lot sold off from a closing down joke shop can reach high office. A racist, an inveterate liar, a man who makes Machiavelli look misunderstood and Pinocchio button-nosed. It’s 33C outside in London. You can’t tell whether people are crying or sweating. We can’t do anything until we get a say – which, this time, we did not. So we beat on, against the sun, borne back ceaselessly into hell.

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There will not be a recovery. The only thing they can so is prolong the agony.

Deutsche Bank’s Problem Derivatives Cloud Recovery (R.)

Deutsche Bank’s turnaround strategy rests in large part on shedding 288 billion euros of unwanted assets. Three bank insiders said it will take years, tying up capital that could have generated income of 500 million euros ($557 million) a year. The opportunity cost of holding the assets, which has not been previously reported, underscores the challenges facing Chief Executive Christian Sewing as he attempts to turn around the bank and restore confidence among investors who have seen the value of their shares decline by 75% in the past four years. Sewing said earlier this month that Deutsche, Germany’s largest lender, would set up a bad bank to house the assets, which include equity, credit and interest-rate derivatives.


The bank said it wants to offload most of its derivatives by 2020. Executives managing the book can either sell positions or allow them to gradually wind down over time, depending on which is more profitable. The bank is planning an auction of its short-dated equity derivatives book, having already received “significant expressions of interest,” the sources familiar with the matter said. However, its long-dated interest rate and credit derivatives are expected to be much harder to offload, the sources said. Deutsche Bank has held on-and-off talks with potential buyers of some of those assets over the past two years, three people said. The sales did not happen because the prices offered would have resulted in hundreds of millions of euros in losses for the bank, they said.

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What, laundering as well?

Deutsche Bank Flagged Epstein’s Overseas Transactions To US Watchdog (CNBC)

Deutsche Bank notified U.S. financial watchdogs about suspicious transactions by accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein — a customer of the bank — according to a new report Tuesday. The transactions, which involved Epstein moving money out of the United States, were flagged after Deutsche Bank discovered them while looking for indications that the wealthy financier was using his money for sex trafficking, The New York Times reported. Epstein had been a client of Deutsche Bank’s private banking division since at least 2013, five years after he pleaded guilty to prostitution-related charges involving a teenage girl filed by Florida state prosecutors, the Times noted.


That guilty plea led to Epstein — a former friend of Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton — being required to register as a sex offender. According to the new article, an anti-money laundering compliance officer in Deutsche Bank’s office in New York and Florida raised concerns about the bank’s relationship with Epstein in 2015 and 2016. Those officers also reportedly put together a suspicious activity report on potentially illegal activity in an Epstein account at the time, which had moved money outside of the U.S. The Times said it was not clear if that report was ever filed with the financial crimes division of the U.S. Treasury Department. But the latest suspicious transactions were reported this year, according to the article.

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But but.

Berkeley First US City To Ban Natural Gas (G.)

Berkeley this week became the first city in the United States to ban natural, fossil gas hook-ups in new buildings. The landmark ordinance was passed into law on Tuesday, after being approved unanimously by the city council the previous week amid resounding public support. Although Berkeley may be pushing the vanguard, the city is hardly alone. Governments across the US and Europe are looking at strategies to phase out gas. In California alone, dozens of cities and counties are considering eliminating fossil fuel hook-ups to power stoves and heat homes in new buildings, while California state agencies pencil out new rules and regulations that would slash emissions. Natural gas, it seems, has become the new climate crisis frontline. Berkeley’s ordinance, which goes into effect on 1 January, will ban gas hook-ups in new multi-family construction, with some allowances for first-floor retail and certain types of large structures.


The reasons behind the decision are multifold. Energy use in buildings accounts for about 25% of greenhouse gas emissions in California. If the state is to meet its goal of 100% zero-carbon energy by 2045, the gas will have to go. For decades, gas was considered among the preferred energy sources for buildings and embraced as a bridge from dirtier fossil fuels to a green energy future. “There’s been a lingering perception that burning gas was cleaner than electricity, which might have been true 20 years ago when electricity came from burning coal,” said Pierre Delforge, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council . “When we look at electrification policies, we need to think about what the grid will look like in 10 or 20 years, not what it looked like yesterday.”

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Not the Onion.

Libra Scams Are Already Popping Up On Facebook (F.)

As Facebook faces skepticism from regulators that it can handle launching its cryptocurrency Libra, a raft of fake accounts and scams purporting to sell Libra have cropped up on its own platform, according to the Washington Post. At least a dozen fake pages and websites on Facebook and Instagram claim to be associated with Facebook’s Libra, which has yet to be officially launched. One video offered a discount on Libra coins that have been distributed to early investors. Another linked to a realistic-looking fake website called “buylibracoins.com.” The website remains online. The scams even spread to YouTube and Twitter, according to the Washington Post. Facebook says Libra will allow people to send money to each other without a traditional middleman, such as a bank.


A digital wallet, called Calibra, will also be available as a stand-alone app on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. A Facebook spokesperson told Forbes that it “removes ads and Pages that violate our policies when we become aware of them, and we are constantly working to improve detection of scams on our platforms.” Key Background: In 2018, Facebook banned advertisements involving cryptocurrency or initial coin offerings to combat the proliferation of scams and bogus ICOs cropping up as the price of Bitcoin soared. Over the last few months, Facebook has been softening the ban in the run up to the announcement of Libra—and it appears scammers are taking advantage. Libra scams may not help Facebook convince lawmakers and regulators that it can protect user privacy and prevent the digital currency from being used in criminal activity.

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I’ll believe it when I see it. Because Big Tech=CIA.

Big Tech Faces Broad US Justice Department Antitrust Probe (R.)

The U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday it was opening a broad investigation of major digital technology firms into whether they engage in anticompetitive practices, the strongest sign the Trump administration is stepping up its scrutiny of Big Tech. The review will look into “whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers,” the Justice Department said in a statement. The Justice Department did not identify specific companies but said the review would consider concerns raised about “search, social media, and some retail services online” — an apparent reference to Alphabet Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Facebook Inc, and potentially Apple Inc.


[..] The announcement comes a day before the Federal Trade Commission is set to announce a $5 billion penalty to Facebook for failing to properly protect user privacy. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said the Justice Department “must now be bold and fearless in stopping Big Tech’s misuse of its monopolistic power. Too long absent and apathetic, enforcers now must prevent privacy abuse, anticompetitive tactics, innovation roadblocks, and other hallmarks of excessive market power.” In June, Reuters reported the Trump administration was gearing up to investigate whether Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Alphabet’s Google misuse their massive market power, setting up what could be an unprecedented, wide-ranging probe of some of the world’s largest companies.

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The FBI tried to steal the black boxes, but Malaysian secret service had already ‘smuggled’ agents into the Donbass ahead of other countries. Oh, and literally everybody has been caught lying. What a story this is becoming,

MH17 Evidence Tampering Revealed by Malaysia (John Helmer)

A new documentary from Max van der Werff, the leading independent investigator of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 disaster, has revealed breakthrough evidence of tampering and forging of prosecution materials; suppression of Ukrainian Air Force radar tapes; and lying by the Dutch, Ukrainian, US and Australian governments. An attempt by agents of the FBI to take possession of the black boxes of the downed aircraft is also revealed by a Malaysian National Security Council official for the first time. The sources of the breakthrough are Malaysian — Prime Minister of Malaysia Mohamad Mahathir; Colonel Mohamad Sakri, the officer in charge of the MH17 investigation for the Prime Minister’s Department and Malaysia’s National Security Council following the crash on July 17, 2014; and a forensic analysis by Malaysia’s OG IT Forensic Services of Ukrainian Secret Service (SBU) telephone tapes which Dutch prosecutors have announced as genuine.

The 298 casualties of MH17 included 192 Dutch; 44 Malaysians; 27 Australians; 15 Indonesians. The nationality counts vary because the airline manifest does not identify dual nationals of Australia, the UK, and the US. The new film throws the full weight of the Malaysian Government, one of the five members of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), against the published findings and the recent indictment of Russian suspects reported by the Dutch officials in charge of the JIT; in addition to Malaysia and The Netherlands, the members of the JIT are Australia, Ukraine and Belgium. Malaysia’s exclusion from the JIT at the outset, and Belgium’s inclusion (4 Belgian nationals were listed on the MH17 passenger manifest), have never been explained.


The film reveals the Malaysian Government’s evidence for judging the JIT’s witness testimony, photographs, video clips, and telephone tapes to have been manipulated by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), and to be inadmissible in a criminal prosecution in a Malaysian or other national or international court. For the first time also, the Malaysian Government reveals how it got in the way of attempts the US was organizing during the first week after the crash to launch a NATO military attack on eastern Ukraine. The cover story for that was to rescue the plane, passenger bodies, and evidence of what had caused the crash. In fact, the operation was aimed at defeating the separatist movements in the Donbass, and to move against Russian-held Crimea. The new film reveals that a secret Malaysian military operation took custody of the MH17 black boxes on July 22, preventing the US and Ukraine from seizing them. The Malaysian operation, revealed in the film by the Malaysian Army colonel who led it, eliminated the evidence for the camouflage story, reinforcing the German Government’s opposition to the armed attack, and forcing the Dutch to call off the invasion on July 27.

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Not the first time he’s said it, but this time it’s directly to the FAA.

Ralph Nader Says Boeing 737 Max Should Never Fly Again (CNBC)

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader on Tuesday urged the Federal Aviation Administration to permanently ground Boeing’s 737 Max jet. “The plane cannot be refixed,” said Nader, whose grandniece was killed in a March crash of a 737 Max jet in Ethiopia. “It has to be recalled” and permanently taken out of service, he said. Regulators worldwide ordered airlines to ground their 737 Max planes in mid-March after the crash in Ethiopia and one in Indonesia that occurred within five months of one another, killing a total of 346 people. Since then, Boeing has been preparing to get the Max back in the air. Airlines have canceled thousands of flights due to the grounding and are planning to do so until at least November, a move that Boeing said it took a $4.9 billion charge for in its second quarter.


But the planemaker needs to “take their losses” on the jet, Nader said in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” Crash investigators have pointed to an issue with the jets’ software, for which Boeing said it has developed a fix, as the cause behind the two fatal crashes. But once a software upgrade is submitted to the FAA, it will likely take at least another month before the planes are back in operation. On the software fix, Nader said it shouldn’t be trusted since executives are “stuck in their bad decision” and are “ignoring preventable aerodynamic design.” “It’s a new plane; they can’t say it’s just a little bit changed,” he said. “It needs full certification.”

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Jun 202019
 


Caravaggio I musici 1595-96

 

The investigation into the crash of the MH17 Malaysia Airlines plane in East Ukraine was always compromised, right from the start. The crash on July 17 2014 came shortly after the “Euromaidan revolution” in Kiev – which first began in November 2013 and culminated in the ousting of elected president Yanukovich on 23 February 2014, happily helped along by John McCain, Victoria Nuland and then-US ambassador to Ukraine (now ambassador to Greece) Geoffrey Pyatt for the USA, as well as various EU actors.

Russia reacted by “annexing” Crimea – a large majority of whose people had voted for Yanukovich, thereby safeguarding its access to its only warm water port. Not a shot was fired there, but it was very different in East Ukraine (Donbass), where people -of Russian origin- also didn’t want to be subjected to a new regime under Nuland’s puppet Yatsenyuk -and later Poroshenko. They started a civil war which continues to this day.

It was in that heated political climate that the MH17 came down, killing all its 298 passengers, 196 of whom had the Dutch nationality. 3 weeks later, on August 8, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was formed, which was to be led by Holland, and to also include representatives from Australia, Belgium and Ukraine. Which is odd, since at that time, Ukraine certainly was a potential perpetrator of the downing.

Malaysia joined only in December, allegedly because only then did it finally agree to allow Ukraine, a nation that was a suspect, a veto over any conclusions that the team would publish. Malaysia had already been handed the black boxes by pro-Russian rebels in the area, and passed them on to the team in August. Summarized, the way the JIT was formed was highly curious. The countries even signed a secret agreement.

 

Immediately after the crash, people like then-US VP Joe Biden, as well as Frans Timmermans, then-Dutch Foreign Minister and today candidate for the EU top job, pointed the finger at Russia as the party responsible for shooting down the plane. Also curious, since there had been no investigation and the plane crashed in a civil war zone where access was almost impossible. There was talk at the time of the US having satellite images, but none have ever been produced.

In that atmosphere, the JIT yesterday, June 19 2019, held another press conference, in which it accused four men, three from Russia and one from Ukraine, of being “involved” in shooting down the plane. But again, almost 5 years after the incident, the team produced no evidence for its accusations, saying it will only be presented 9 months from now when a trial will start in the Netherlands.

It also again accused Russia of refusing to cooperate, though Russia has offered its help ever since the MH17 came down. It’s just not the help the people want who have accused the Russians since before there was any hint of evidence it was involved. And there still is no evidence. Russia has filed long and detailed reports on the incident despite being ignored, but these reports have been … ignored.

 

The trial will take place starting March 9 2020 without the accused, since Russia doesn’t extradite its citizens, and neither does Ukraine. Moreover, the one Ukrainian who is accused is thought to be in the Donbass, where the government has no access.

So this will be a show trial. And one must wonder why it is staged. What’s the use of a trial where defendants don’t defend themselves? Sure, the official line is they would love to have the men provide a defense, but that smells a bit too much like what has happened to Julian Assange. What are the odds of a fair trial when so many conclusions have been drawn at such early times?

There is not a soul in Europe west of the Russian border who doesn’t believe the Russians did it. The media take care of that. Nor is there in the US. But the Malaysian PM himself yesterday, again, said the team has proven nothing, and only provided hearsay. I kid you not, I read a piece on the BBC today that asked if the 93-year-old who lost 43 of his countrymen only said that because he wanted to sell palm oil to Russia.

And in the meantime, the evidence is not there, and won’t be for another 9 months, if ever, and the EU today added another year to its Russia sanctions over Crimea, and 4 men can deny their involvement all they want, but they can make their case only in March 2020, and only at a show trial, with international search warrants hanging over their heads.

 

The four men in question, by the way, are not accused of firing the BUK missile that supposedly downed the MH17. They are only accused of facilitating the transport of the missile and launcher from Russia to Ukraine -and back. The JIT Ukrainian team bases the entire story of that transport on serial numbers it says it has found.

On September 17 2018, the Russian Ministry of Defense in a YouTube response to a May 24 2018 JIT exhibition, said it had tracked down those serial numbers, 8868720, and 1318869032, and 9M38, and said both the launcher and missile corresponding to the numbers were purchased by Ukraine from Russia as far back as 1986, transferred there, and had never left the country since.

I get that information from a lengthy, deep-digging and highly recommended essay by Eric Zuesse, from December 2018, MH17 Turnabout: Ukraine’s Guilt Now Proven, which I’ve been reading the past few days, in which Eric says: “…if the JIT’s supplied evidence is authentic — which the Ukrainian team asserts it to be — then it outright convicts Ukraine. This is an evidentiary checkmate, against the Ukrainian side.”

Zuesse also details, in that article, contentions from multiple sources that, while the MH17 may have been hit with a BUK missile, it certainly wasn’t the only thing that hit it. There was at least one fighter jet seen close to the plane before it came down, as multiple eye-witness reports claim, and it is alleged that they fired on the cockpit for sure and perhaps other parts of the plane. It is an excellent article that is very well researched and chock-full of links to prove its points.

 

There are many things wrong with the MH17 investigation. Having the PM of one of your member investigative countries complain that after 5 years you produce only hearsay and no evidence may be the least of the worries. The Netherlands, as main victim, leading the investigation, is strange. How neutral could they be? Their Foreign Minister blamed Russia way before any investigating was done. And Holland was a main sponsor in the “Euromaidan revolution”, i.e. the ousting of an elected president.

Still, Ukraine’s position in all this must be the biggest warning sign. They stood a lot to gain from committing atrocities and then blaming Russia for them. Plus, Yatsenyuk and Nuland and the US and the EU were mightily angry that Russia had outsmarted them all over Crimea.

But instead of keeping Ukraine out of the investigation, they became a major contributor, and were even given veto rights on anything that came out of it, as far as we know the only party with such rights. If you present a crime novel or movie with ingredients like that, nobody would believe you. Such things don’t happen in real life.

 

 

 

 

May 312019
 


 

Julian Assange Shows Psychological Torture Symptoms – UN Expert (G.)
Julian Assange Must Never Be Extradited (Matt Taibbi)
The Unrelenting State (Craig Murray)
Trump Announces Tariffs On Mexico Until ‘Immigration Problem Remedied’ (G.)
Futures, Peso Tumble As Trump Unleashes Tariffs On Mexico (ZH)
GOP Senator Grassley Blasts Trump Over Mexico Tariff Threat (Hill)
Russiagate Is #1 Threat To US National Security – Stephen Cohen (RT)
Malaysia PM Wants Evidence To Show Russia Shot Down MH17 (FMT)
Boeing Admits It ‘Fell Short’ On Safety Alert For 737 (BBC)
Yield-Curve Spaghetti (WS)
Ted Cruz, AOC Agree To Ban Former Congress Members From Becoming Lobbyists (G.)

 

 

Time is ticking away.

Julian Assange Shows Psychological Torture Symptoms – UN Expert (G.)

Julian Assange is showing all the symptoms associated with prolonged exposure to psychological torture and should not be extradited to the US, according to a senior UN expert who visited him in prison. Nils Melzer, UN’s special rapporteur on torture, is expected to make his appeal to the UK government on Friday. It comes after Assange, the co-founder of WikiLeaks, was said by his lawyers to be too ill to appear by video link for the latest court hearing of the case on Thursday. Assange has been moved to the health ward of Belmarsh prison, London, where he has been serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail while fighting extradition to the US.

He is accused of violating the Espionage Act by publishing secret documents containing the names of confidential US military and diplomatic sources. After meeting Assange earlier this month in the company of medical experts who examined him, Melzer will say on Friday that he fears the Australian’s human rights could be seriously violated if he is extradited to the US and will condemn what he describes as the “deliberate and concerted abuse inflicted for years” on him. “Physically there were ailments but that side of things are being addressed by the prison health service and there was nothing urgent or dangerous in that way,” Melzer said.

“What was worrying was the psychological side and his constant anxiety. It was perceptible that he had a sense of being under threat from everyone. He understood what my function was but it’s more that he was extremely agitated and busy with his own thoughts. It was difficult to have a very structured conversation with him.” [..] The lawyer [..] said that his office had been approached by Assange’s lawyers in December. But he said that he was initially reluctant to do so, admitting he was affected by what he called the “prejudice” around the case.However, he began looking into the case again in March and, earlier this week, wrote letters to the foreign ministers of the US, the UK and Sweden.

“In the course of the past nine years, Mr Assange has been exposed to persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy, and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination,” Melzer will say on Friday. He added the UK authorities had contacted his Geneva office to indicate that the British government would be issuing a point-by-point rebuttal of the assertions made in his letter. [..] “In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.”

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I doubt Orwell ever knew how right he was.

Julian Assange Must Never Be Extradited (Matt Taibbi)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange today sits in the Belmarsh High Security prison in southeast London. Not just for his sake but for everyone’s, we now have to hope he’s never moved from there to America. The United States filed charges against Assange early last month. The case seemed to have been designed to assuage fears that speech freedoms or the press were being targeted. That specific offense was “computer hacking conspiracy” from back in 2010. The “crime” was absurdly thin, a claim that Assange agreed (but failed, apparently) to try to help Chelsea Manning develop an administrative password that could have helped her conceal identity as she downloaded secrets. One typewritten phrase, “No luck so far,” was the damning piece of evidence.

The troubling parts of that case lurked in the rest of the indictment, which seemed to sell normal journalistic activity as part of the offense. The government complained that Assange “took measures to conceal Manning as the source of the disclosure.” Prosecutors likewise said, “Assange encouraged Manning to provide information and records from departments and agencies of the United States.” The indictment stressed Assange/Manning were seeking “national defense information” that could be “used to the injury of the United States.” The indictment likewise noted that the pair had been guilty of transmitting such information to “any person not entitled to receive it.” It was these passages that made me nervous a month and a half ago, because they seemed to speak to a larger ambition.

Use of phrases like “national defense information” given to persons “not entitled to receive it” gave off a strong whiff of Britain’s Official Secrets Acts, America’s Defense Secrets Act of 1911 (which prohibited “national defense” information going to “those not entitled to receive it”) and our Espionage Act of 1917, which retained many of the same concepts. All of these laws were written in a way that plainly contradicted basic free speech protections. The Espionage Act was revised in 1950 by the McCarran Internal Security Act, sponsored by Nevada Senator Pat McGarran (who incidentally was said to be the inspiration for the corrupt “Senator Pat Geary” character in The Godfather). The change potentially removed a requirement that the person obtaining classified information had to have intent to harm the country.

There was a way to read the new law that criminalized what the Columbia Law Review back in 1973 (during the Pentagon Papers controversy) called the “mere retention” of classified material. This provision buried in subsection 793 of the Espionage Law has, since passage, been a ticking time bomb for journalism. The law seems clearly to permit the government to prosecute anyone who simply obtains or receives “national defense” information. This would place not only sources who steal and deliver such information at risk of prosecution, but also the journalists who receive and publish it. If the government ever decided to start using this tool to successfully prosecute reporters and publishers, we’d pretty quickly have no reporters and publishers.

I’m not exaggerating when I say virtually every reporter who’s ever done national security reporting has at some time or another looked at, or been told, or actually received copies of, “national defense” information they were technically “not entitled to receive.

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Britain employs torture. What do its own laws say about that?

The Unrelenting State (Craig Murray)

We are seriously worried about the condition of Julian Assange. He was too unwell to appear in court yesterday, and his Swedish lawyer, Per Samuelson, found him in a state where he was unable to conduct a conversation and give instructions. There are very definite physical symptoms, particularly rapid weight loss, and we are not satisfied that genuine and sufficient diagnostic efforts are being made to determine the underlying cause. Julian had been held for the last year in poor, highly confining and increasingly oppressive conditions in the Ecuadorean Embassy and his health was already deteriorating alarmingly before his expulsion and arrest.

A number of conditions, including dental abcesses, can have very serious consequences if long term untreated, and the continual refusal by the British government and latterly the Ecuadoreans to permit him access to adequate healthcare while a political asylee was a callous denial of basic human rights. I confess to feeling an amount of personal relief after his arrest that at least he would now get proper medical treatment. However there now seems to be no intention to provide that and indeed since he has been in Belmarsh his health problems have accelerated. I witnessed enough of the British state’s complicity in torture to know that this may be more than just the consequence of unintended neglect. That the most lucid man I know is now not capable of having a rational conversation is extremely alarming.

There is no rational reason that Assange needs to be kept in a high security facility for terrorists and violent offenders. We are seeing the motive behind his unprecedented lengthy imprisonment for jumping police bail when he entered political asylum. As a convicted prisoner, Assange can be kept in a worse regime than if he were merely on remand for his extradition proceedings. In particular, his access to his lawyers is extremely restricted and for a man facing major legal proceedings in the UK, USA and Sweden it is impossible, even were he healthy, for his lawyers to have sufficient time with him adequately to prepare his cases while he is under the restrictions placed on a convict. Of course we know from the fact that, within three hours of being dragged from the Ecuadorean Embassy, he was already convicted and sentenced to a lengthy prison term, that the state has no intention that his lawyers should be able to prepare.

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It’s like hammering in a nail with a pair of scissors.

Trump Announces Tariffs On Mexico Until ‘Immigration Problem Remedied’ (G.)

In a surprise announcement that could compromise a major trade deal, Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he is slapping a 5% tariff on all Mexican imports to pressure the country to do more to crack down on the surge of Central American migrants trying to cross the border. He said the percentage would gradually increase “until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied”. Trump made the announcement by tweet after telling reporters earlier Thursday that he was planning “a major statement” that would be his “biggest” so far on the border. “On June 10th, the United States will impose a 5% Tariff on all goods coming into our Country from Mexico, until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP. The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied,” he wrote, “at which time the Tariffs will be removed.”


Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, responded with a two-page letter to Trump on Thursday night. “The Statue of Liberty is not an empty symbol,” he said. “With all due respect, even though you have the right to say it, ‘make America great again’ is a fallacy because, until the end of times, and beyond national borders, universal justice and fraternity should prevail,” he wrote. Amlo, as the president is commonly called, offered his US counterpart history lessons on past periods of cordial US-Mexico relations. He also included details of his plans to develop Central America to stop migration and warned: “I don’t lack courage, I’m not a coward nor timid, rather, I act on principles.”

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“The only way the S&P 500 doesn’t sink massively today is if Trump rows back on this.”

Futures, Peso Tumble As Trump Unleashes Tariffs On Mexico (ZH)

Update 2: some borderline apocalyptic observations from Bloomberg markets live managing editor, Mark Cudmore who writes the following: “This Mexico tariff news is far worse than even the initial market reaction makes it out to be. The timing is almost immediate. Chaos for both companies and bureaucrats. No time for anyone to prepare or make contingencies. The only way the S&P 500 doesn’t sink massively today is if Trump rows back on this. The U.S. imported almost $350b worth of goods from Mexico in 2018. What makes it even worse again, if possible, is that so many traders were hoping Trump would soon take a more conciliatory trade zone because U.S. stocks have weakened. This is a black swan event for markets and people aren’t even registering. Maybe traders are all hoping there’s some mistake or that this won’t be implemented.”


Update 1: it’s going from bad to worse, with the White House warning that it will hike Mexico tariffs to 25% by October 1, if the border crisis persists, as Trump is activating a scorched earth approach whereby he will “punish” any offshore nation that he believes is transgressing, by imposing tariffs. Meanwhile, moments after Trump’s shock tweet, the Mexican deputy foreign minister Seade said that if President’s threat to impose tariffs is carried out, “it would be disastrous”, and Mexico would “respond strongly”, adding that “we will not remain with out arms folded” before the tariff deadline “to see if it is serious.”

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“Trade policy and border security are separate issues.”

GOP Senator Grassley Blasts Trump Over Mexico Tariff Threat (Hill)

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) condemned President Trump’s new tariffs on Mexico late Thursday, calling the move a “misuse” of presidential tariff authority and cautioning the levies could derail passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). “Trade policy and border security are separate issues. This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent,” Grassley said in a statement. The lawmaker cautioned that following through on Trump’s tariff threat “would seriously jeopardize passage of USMCA,” a revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).


“I support nearly every one of President Trump’s immigration policies, but this is not one of them,” he added. Trump announced he would impose the tariffs to pressure Mexico to stop the flow of migrants into the U.S. via the southern border. [..] Grassley had previously threatened to derail Trump’s central trade achievement over continued steel and aluminum tariffs. Last week, Trump hinted that he had reached a deal to drop those tariffs, paving the way for the USMCA in the Senate.

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“This is the worst scandal in American history. It’s the worst, at least, since the Civil War.”

Russiagate Is #1 Threat To US National Security – Stephen Cohen (RT)

The systemwide US Russophobia that reached its nadir with Russiagate has created a “catastrophe” for both domestic politics and foreign relations that threatens the future of the American system, professor Stephen Cohen tells RT. War with Russia could easily break out if the US insists on pursuing the policy of “demonization” that birthed Russiagate instead of returning to detente and cooperation, New York University professor emeritus of Russian history Stephen Cohen argues on Chris Hedges’ On Contact. While NATO deliberately antagonized post-Soviet Russia by expanding up to its borders, the US deployed missile defense systems along those borders after scrapping an arms treaty, leaving President Vladimir Putin devoid of “illusions” about the goodwill of the West – but armed with “nuclear missiles that can evade and elude any missile defense system.”


Cohen believes the conspiracy theory – which remains front-page news in US media despite being thoroughly discredited, both by independent investigators and last month by special counsel Robert Mueller’s report – is the work of the CIA and its former director, John Brennan, who are dead set against any kind of cooperation with Russia. Attorney General William Barr, who is investigating the FBI over how the 2016 counterintelligence probe began, should take a look at Brennan and his agency, Cohen says. “If our intelligence services are off the reservation to the point that they can first try to destroy a presidential candidate and then a president…we need to know it,” Cohen says. “This is the worst scandal in American history. It’s the worst, at least, since the Civil War.” And the damage wrought by this “catastrophe” hasn’t stopped at the US border.

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“We don’t know why we are excluded from the examination but from the very beginning, we see too much politics in it.”

Malaysia PM Wants Evidence To Show Russia Shot Down MH17 (FMT)

The Malaysian government wants strong evidence to show that Russia is responsible for the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 tragedy in 2014, said Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad today. He said Malaysia accepted the investigation report of Holland but only up to the point where the plane was brought down by a missile made by Russia. Mahathir said while the government agreed that the plane was brought down by a Russian missile, it cannot be certain that the missile was launched by Russia. “They are accusing Russia but where is the evidence? We know the missile that brought down the plane is a Russian-type missile, but it could also be made in Ukraine. “You need strong evidence to show it was fired by the Russians.

“It could be by the rebels in Ukraine; it could be Ukrainian government because they too have the same missile,” he said during a dialogue and media conference with the Japanese Foreign Correspondents Club (FCCJ) here today. Mahathir said people of Russia are military people and they would know that MH17 is a passenger plane. “I don’t think a very highly disciplined party is responsible for launching the missile,” he said. The prime minister said Malaysia should also be involved in examining the black box as the plane belongs to Malaysia and there were Malaysian passengers. “We may not have the expertise but we can buy the expertise. For some reason, Malaysia was not allowed to check the black box to see what happened.

“We don’t know why we are excluded from the examination but from the very beginning, we see too much politics in it. “The idea was not to find out how this happened but seems to be concentrated on trying to pin it on the Russians. This is not a neutral kind of examination,” said Mahathir. “Had a neutral party examined and made the conclusion, Malaysia is willing to accept the findings but here we have parties with political interests in the matter,” he added.

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Why is the CEO still in office?

Boeing Admits It ‘Fell Short’ On Safety Alert For 737 (BBC)

Boeing has admitted it “fell short” when it failed to implement a safety alert system on the 737 Max. The aircraft was grounded globally in March after two crashes within months. Boeing boss Dennis Muilenburg said a mistake had been made in the software for a cockpit warning light called an “angle-of-attack (AOA) disagree alert”. He said: “We clearly fell short and the implementation of this angle-of-attack disagree alert was a mistake, right, we did not implement it properly.” In an interview with Norah O’Donnell of CBS News he said Boeing was now fixing the problem.


The alert could have notified pilots and maintenance crews that there was a problem early in the flight. One flight safety expert said if there had been an AOA disagree alert on board the Ethiopian airlines flight it “would have been the very first clue” for the pilots that something was wrong. Chris Brady, a pilot and author of The Boeing 737 Technical Guide said: “I’m fairly confident that the Ethiopian Airlines flight probably would not have crashed if they had had the AOA disagree alert” on the aircraft.

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“This is getting pretty nutty, when you think about it.”

Yield-Curve Spaghetti (WS)

On Thursday, the US Treasury yield curve sagged further in the middle, producing an ever more beautiful middle-age sag, so to speak, that first started taking shape late last year. The chart shows the yield curves on seven dates. Each line represents the yields from the 1-month yield on the left to the 30-year yield on the right, on that date. The steep green line coming up from the bottom represents the yields on December 14, 2016, when the Fed got serious about rate hikes — the steep slope, with short-term yields a lot lower than long-term yields, is what a yield curve in normal-ish times is supposed to look like. The beautifully sagging red line represents the yields today, May 30. The entire portion of the yield curve from the 3-year yield through the 10-year yield has now dropped by over 1 percentage point since the peak on November 8, 2018.

Some more standouts: The 3-year yield inched down to 2.00%, the lowest since January 2, 2018, forming the low point of the middle-age sag. On Nov 8, it was at 3.05%. The 10-year yield dipped to 2.22%, lowest since Sep 18, 2017, and below 1-year and shorter maturities; but it remains above the 2-year yield and in this cycle has not inverted with the 2-year yield yet. The 1-month yield ticked up to 2.37%, from 2.35% yesterday, which had been the bottom of its range, and as is to be expected, right in the middle of the Fed’s target range for the federal funds rate (2.25% -2.50%). The 6-month yield had been anchored since late October at round 2.5%, with only slight variations. It now too has dropped out of this range and hit 2.38% over the past two days but ticked up to 2.40% today. The 30-year yield dropped to 2.65%, the lowest since Nov 7, 2016. This is getting pretty nutty, when you think about it.

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AOC should be focusing all her energy on Assange.

Ted Cruz, AOC Agree To Ban Former Congress Members From Becoming Lobbyists (G.)

A conversation on Twitter has led to an unlikely collaboration between the Republican senator Ted Cruz and the Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to pass legislation targeting lobbying by former members of Congress. The two lawmakers tweeted support of placing restrictions or a potential lifetime ban on former Congress members becoming lobbyists. The conversation began when Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a study from Public Citizen that found 60% of former Congress members had taken jobs influencing federal policy. “If you are a member of Congress and leave, you shouldn’t be allowed to turn right around and leverage your service for a lobbyist check,” she wrote.


Cruz retweeted Ocasio-Cortez, suggesting bipartisan legislation to fight the Washington political “swamp”. The Republican House representative Chip Roy tweeted that he would help Ocasio-Cortez spearhead the effort. She agreed to create a bipartisan team in the House while Cruz forms one in the Senate to write a ban. [..] Previous efforts to prevent lobbying from former congresspeople have been put forth but not passed, including a 2017 bill co-sponsored by the Republican senator Cory Gardner and the Democratic senators Michael Bennet and Al Franken. Also in 2017, Senator Jon Tester of Montana introduced legislation that would ban lawmakers from lobbying their former colleagues until five years after leaving office, but it failed to gain traction.

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Jan 022019
 
 January 2, 2019  Posted by at 10:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Portrait of Dora Maar pensive 1937

 

China Warns Cities To Cut Reliance On Property, Developers’ Shares Fall (R.)
Chinese Manufacturing Had An Even Worse December Than Expected (CNBC)
Markets Dive As China Manufacturing Weakens In Bleak Start To 2019 (G.)
The Future Might Not Belong to China (Martin Wolf)
Australian Home Prices Mark Worst Year Since 2008 (R.)
The Anti-Trump Party (Turley)
Red Paul: The Senator from Kentucky is Now Working for Vladimir Putin (M.)
MH17 Turnabout: Ukraine’s Guilt Now Proven (Zuesse)
Reasons To Be Hopeful About The Environment In 2019 (G.)

 

 

Beijing has both actively and passively encouraged real estate sales. Now they move into “we warned you”, and shift the blame onto local government. Ominous, Xi tries to wash his hands from what he sees coming.

China Warns Cities To Cut Reliance On Property, Developers’ Shares Fall (R.)

China’s regional economies need to reduce their reliance on the property market for growth and instead focus on sustainable longer-term development, the Communist Party’s People’s Daily wrote on Wednesday. Hundreds of cities across China have seen upswings in their local property markets in recent years under a long-term plan by Beijing to further urbanize the country. In the last few years, the process of building new homes and revamping old ones has accelerated, backed by local governments keen to boost land sales and meet red-hot property demand. The total sales of China’s top 100 real estate developers soared 35 percent last year, according to private research firm CIRC.

But Beijing is concerned that some cities, looking for rapid expansion, have grown their property markets too quickly and at the expense of new industry development, adding potential froth to real estate prices. “All areas should focus on their own urbanization processes, develop their own pillar industries according to population mobility and resources, and form new points of growth to avoid the old road of relying on real estate to drive the economy,” the commentary quoted a professor at the Capital University of Economics and Business as saying. [..] The article also comes as a number of Chinese city authorities seek to ease existing curbs on their property markets, despite broader directives from Beijing to keep prices in check. Last week, the city of Hengyang rescinded an order to lift restrictions on property prices, having just introduced the easing measure a day earlier.

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So housing slumps, and so does industry. One month left till Chinese new year.

Chinese Manufacturing Had An Even Worse December Than Expected (CNBC)

Results of a private survey on China’s manufacturing for the month of December showed factory activity contracted for the first time in 19 months amid a trade dispute with the U.S. The Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ index (PMI), a private survey, fell to 49.7 in December from 50.2 in November. Analysts’ in a Reuters poll predicted the PMI to come in at 50.1 in December. A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below that level signals contraction. In December, two separate measures for new orders and new export orders showed contraction, the Caixin survey showed.

“That showed external demand remained subdued due to the trade frictions between China and the U.S., while domestic demand weakened more notably,” wrote Zhengsheng Zhong, director of macroeconomic analysis at CEBM Group, a subsidiary of Caixin. “It is looking increasingly likely that the Chinese economy may come under greater downward pressure,” Zhong added in the press release. [..] The slide in China’s PMI is “worrying” as there will be broader fallout on Asian exporters, said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank.

Even though China’s manufacturing PMI typically slows ahead of Chinese New Year holidays — starting on February 5 in 2019 — this particular downturn in the sector “could be even sharper than headlines suggest,” Varathan wrote in a note on Wednesday. He added that the sustained downturn in manufacturing PMI in the second half of 2018 “with emphatic year-end slide” is “potentially symptomatic of far sharper underlying demand pullback. Especially as front-running US tariffs on China fade to reveal much softer demand conditions.”

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Whoever it is who holds Chinese stocks, some incurred some big losses.

Markets Dive As China Manufacturing Weakens In Bleak Start To 2019 (G.)

China’s huge manufacturing sector has shrunk for the first time in 19 months, sending stock markets into a tailspin in an ominous start to 2019. The weak data released on Wednesday follows a slew of other disappointing figures from the world’s second largest economy and underline concerns that is heading for a tough 12 months. Stock markets in the region suffered. Hong Kong was down 2.7%, Shanghai off 1.2% and the ASX 200 benchmark closed down 1.6% in Sydney. In South Korea, figures showed that its crucial export industries finished the year on a poor note, sending the Kospi stock index down 1.7% at the end of trading.

Asia biggest market, Japan, was closed for a holiday. But the selling looks set to spread to Europe and the US with FTSE futures pointing to a 0.25% fall at the open and the E-Mini futures for Wall Street’s S&P 500 down 0.8%. The Australian dollar, which is seen as a proxy for the Chinese economy, lost 0.6% as it plunged as low as US70.05 cents. It was the currency’s lowest level since January 2016 and perilously close to dipping below the key trading benchmark of US70c that, once breached, could spur further falls. The Australian outlook was not helped by figures showing that house prices are now falling at their fastest rate for 10 years.

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Snippets posted by Brad De Long. I could just as easily says: the future MIGHT not belong to India, either.

The Future Might Not Belong to China (Martin Wolf)

…The view widely held in the 1980s that Japan would be “number one” turned out to be badly mistaken. In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev, then first secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union, told the west that “We will bury you!” He proved utterly wrong…. Mistakes: extrapolating… assuming… rapid economic growth will be indefinitely sustained; and exaggerating the benefits of centralised direction… [which] in the long run… is likely to become rigid and so brittle….

China’s investment rate, at 44 per cent of GDP in 2017, is unsustainably high…. Not surprisingly, returns on investment have collapsed…. China has also hit the buffers on export-driven growth, at a lower level of income per head than other high-growth east Asian economies…. Future demand will depend on the emergence of a mass-consumer market, while growth of supply will require an upsurge in growth of “total factor productivity”…

For one and a half decades, China has benefited from the reforms introduced by Zhu Rongji, premier from 1998 to 2003. No comparable reforms have happened since his time. Today, credit is still being preferentially allocated to state businesses, while state influence over large private businesses is growing. All this is likely to distort the allocation of resources and slow the rate of innovation and economic progress…. China may well fail to replicate the success of other east Asian high-growth economies… because the distortions in its economy are so large and the global environment is going to be so much more hostile….

The most interesting other economy is not Europe, which seems destined for a slow relative decline, but India… far poorer than China … has great potential for fast catch-up growth…. The triumph of despotism is still far from inevitable. Autocracies can fail, just as democracies can thrive. China confronts huge economic challenges. Meanwhile, democracies must learn from their mistakes and focus on renewing their politics and policies…

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Everything is worst in a decade, it seems.

Australian Home Prices Mark Worst Year Since 2008 (R.)

Australian home prices skidded nearly 5% in 2018, marking their worst year since 2008, led by tighter credit conditions and waning investor interest, and analysts expect the weakness to persist this year. Property values across the country fell for the 15th consecutive month in December, with the rate of decline in Sydney and Melbourne – the two largest markets – worsening over the year, according to property consultant CoreLogic. Its index of home prices nationally dropped 1.8% in December from November, and tumbled 2.3% for the quarter – the worst quarterly decline in eight years. Values in the combined capital cities fell 1.3% in the month and 6.1% for the year.

Sydney was the worst performing capital city with prices down 1.8% in December. Regional centers fared better with prices outside the cities staying almost flat. “Access to credit has been the most significant factor weighing down housing market conditions over the year,” said Tim Lawless, head of research at CoreLogic. Since 2015, regulators have clamped down on risky lending by banks, particularly for interest-only loans, while a raft of scandals amid a high-level government-mandated inquiry has added to an air of caution. Earlier this year, Australia’s prudential regulator did ease some of its lending restrictions, but Lawless said access to finance was likely to remain “the most significant barrier” to an improvement in housing market conditions in 2019.

“Lenders are understandably risk-averse against a backdrop of falling dwelling values, high household debt, rising supply and heightened regulatory focus following the banking royal commission inquiry,” he said. The slowdown has been greatest in Sydney where home prices stumbled nearly 9% on the year, though Melbourne was catching up with an annual drop of 7%. Sydney and Melbourne comprise about 60% of Australia’s housing market by value and 40% by number.

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2019 promises to be even uglier than 2018. US politics becomes an oxymoron, the entire system, and all the blame is shifted to just one man.

Me, I’m getting tired of trying to provide some balance in the face of these things. The Democrats refuse to understand that not being Trump is not an identity, because it’s the only claim they have left at an identity.

The Anti-Trump Party (Turley)

Democrats are now defined by Trump the way that antimatter is defined by matter, with each particle of matter corresponding to an antiparticle. Take the secrecy. Democrats once were the party that fought against the misuse of secret classification laws by the FBI and other agencies. They demanded greater transparency from the executive branch, which is a position that I have readily supported. Yet, when oversight committees sought documents related to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation of Trump associates, Democrats denounced the very thought that Republicans would question the judgment of the FBI that any such disclosures would be tantamount to jeopardizing national security.

Democratic Party leaders including Pelosi declared that the oversight committees had moved beyond “dangerous irresponsibility and disregard for our national security” and “disregarded the warnings of the Justice Department and the FBI.” Likewise, House Intelligence Committee ranking minority member Adam Schiff expressed shock that the FBI was not given deference in withholding the information in the surveillance investigation.

Yet, when the information was finally forced out of the FBI, including the disclosure of previously redacted material, it was clear that the FBI had engaged in overclassification to shield not national security but to shield the bureau itself from criticism. It included discussion of the roles of high ranking FBI officials and their reliance on such sources as the Christopher Steele dossier, which were already publicly known. Democratic House members like Schiff presumably knew what was in the redactions and, nevertheless, wanted deference to the classification decisions of the FBI.

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The writer is Greg Olear. Whoever that is. But it’s published at Medium, who until now I thought had some standards. I no longer think so.

Red Paul: The Senator from Kentucky is Now Working for Vladimir Putin (M.)

[..] John McCain accused him on the Senate floor of “working for Vladimir Putin.” This quote got a lot of play in the political press, who love that sort of thing, but the consensus seemed to be that McCain was using hyperbolic language to make his point. But what if this was a bad take? Few members of Congress were more antagonistic toward Putin than John McCain. Perhaps when he called Rand Paul a Russian asset, on the floor of the US Senate, he actually meant it. Since the day John McCain called him out, Rand Paul has been a veritable lobbyist for the Kremlin.

On matters large and small, Paul has supported Moscow’s positions. He’s pushed for open and active dialogue with the nation that engaged in cyberwarfare against us. He’s argued for the lifting of sanctions on Russian individuals close to Putin. He was one of few politicians who defended Trump after his disastrous showing in Helsinki, when Trump more or less kissed the ring of the Russian dictator. He joined Trump in seeking the revocation of a security clearance on John O. Brennan, after the former CIA director denounced the Helsinki summit as “nothing short of treasonous.” In recent weeks, Paul has held with the Kremlin’s position on Syria.

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A long piece by Eric Zuesse, I haven’t read the whole thing yet.

MH17 Turnabout: Ukraine’s Guilt Now Proven (Zuesse)

Russia’s response documented beyond any question, at all, that this airliner was shot down by the Ukrainian Government, and that Western (i.e., US-allied) ‘news’media have been and are covering-up this crucial historical fact and The West’s still-ongoing lies about the downing of MH17. Those lies are the basis of US and EU anti-Russia sanctions, which remain in effect despite the basis for those sanctions having been exposed unequivocally, on September 17th, to be based on lies. Thus, continuing to hide those lies is crucial to the liars. This is the reason why Russia’s blazingly detailed presentation on September 17th has been virtually ignored — to protect the actually guilty.

The evidence here proves that those sanctions, themselves, are nothing but frauds against the public, and crimes against Russia — ongoing additional crimes, which have been, and remain, effectively hidden till now. The reader can see and consider here all of the conclusive evidence in the MH17 case — it can be reached via the present article’s links. Unlike the ‘news’-reports in The West’s ‘news’-media, the presentation here is not presuming readers’ trust, but is instead providing to all readers access to the actual evidence — evidence that is accepted by both sides. That’s what the links here are for: examination by any skeptics.

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if you need to look at Macron and the UN for such reasons, forget it.

Reasons To Be Hopeful About The Environment In 2019 (G.)

[..] 2019 may indeed be a breakthrough year. Public opinion is mobilising around the world and politicians and businesses are paying attention. There will be a series of high-profile events that will engage the public and governments and may provide a better way forward than was managed last year. Chief among them is the promise of António Guterres, the UN secretary general, to hold a summit for world leaders that will require them to face up to the dangers of climate change head on. Guterres is uncompromising, warning in Poland that it would be “immoral and suicidal” not to take firm and urgent action commensurate with the scale of the problem.

Leaders will be put on the spot, and will come under very public pressure as coalitions of civil society groups seek to put their case around the summit and in the lead-up to it. The role of women, who are among the most vulnerable to climate change, will be highlighted, and the role of young people, who will have to live with the consequences of their elders’ mistakes in a warming world. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is also holding a One World Summit, planned for the summer, at which the focus will be on persuading businesses to take a leading role, investing in projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and changing the way they use energy.

There are clear signs of hope on climate change also in the rapidly falling cost of renewable energy technology, which is now competitive with fossil fuels. And the keep it in the ground campaign has succeeded in encouraging many investors to move their money out of fossil fuel stocks.

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Nov 272018
 
 November 27, 2018  Posted by at 4:33 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  22 Responses »


Berthe Morisot The old track to Auvers 1863

 

Our politicians and media are not going to allow us to see Russia, and any incidents the country can be linked to, in any other way than black and white, in which we are the good party and they are the black, evil and guilty ones. So we’ll have to do that ourselves.

More than enough has been said about why NATO should have been dismantled when the reason for its existence, the Soviet Union, was dissolved, but nobody listened and NATO has kept expanding eastward and demanding more money, more members, more weapons.

NATO demands an enemy, and their chosen enemy is Russia. This has nothing to do with anything Russia has done or is doing at the moment. We can only hope that people are willing to accept that simple fact. And not passively go along with the flow of badmouthing and smear that decides what our picture of the country is.

Russia ‘invaded’ Crimea? Russia ‘downed’ MH17? Russia sent two hapless and inept blokes to kill the Skripals? Russia launched an unprovoked attack on three Ukrainian vessels in the Sea of Azov? Russia colluded with the Trump campaign against Hillary Clinton? And collaborated with Julian Assange to make that happen?

What all these allegations have in common is that there is no evidence any of them are true. Oh, and that nobody’s really trying to prove them anymore. Because you’ve already accepted them as gospel.

 

90% or so of Crimeans voted to be part of Russia, after the west had tried their hand at regime change in Kiev, with John McCain and Victoria Nuland opening the gates for various neo-nazi groups to enter government.

The MH17 investigation is led by the Netherlands, the main victim. As I told Jim Kunstler in our recent podcast, you try and find a detective story where the main victim leads the investigation. Aided by Ukraine, one of the suspects, but not Russia, the designated suspect from the get-go. We’re over 4.5 years later and there is no proof -not that that keeps anyone from assigning blame.

The Skripals were allegedly attacked with the most deadly nerve gas ever, and allegedly survived. They simply haven’t been heard from anymore. There are images of two alleged Russian spies who went out of their way to be filmed and photographed in Salisbury, but their ineptitude doesn’t rhyme with Russian secret service in any way, shape or form. The west tries to make it sound like Comedy Capers, and that just gives the west away.

As for the ‘attacks’ the other day, the Guardian of all outlets explains: “Since the completion of the bridge over the Kerch strait, Moscow has demanded that Ukrainian ships not only give notice of their intention to transit the strait but request permission, a change that Kiev has rejected. According to western diplomats, the dispatch of the three ships was intended to assert freedom of navigation..”

Sure, you can claim that Russia has no right to ask Ukraine to ask for permission to the Sea of Azov, but then Kiev should have protested that demand, not send three armed vessels to ignore the demand and sail through anyway. That is called provocation.

And Ukraine provoking Russia is a bad idea. Unless you’re NATO, and you want Ukraine as a member. And unless you’re the chocolate billionaire who took over the government and now has an approval rating in the single digits with elections coming up in March. Question: how much chocolate do Ukrainians eat?

For Ukraine to enter NATO would be the most flagrant violation against the deal the west made with Gorbachev just prior to the dissolution of the Soviet union to date. And there have been plenty such violations in the past almost 30 years; little wonder that Moscow draws a line.

It’s just that nobody in the west is aware there is such a line. The media have helped politicians, NATO and arms manufacturers in painting a picture of Russia as the evil bogeymen in the east, and there is no counterweight to that picture anywhere in what people read and watch. It doesn’t matter whether the ‘news’ is accurate, because journalists don’t do their jobs to go out and check the facts.

 

As for the Muller’s unending investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, we know for a fact that there’s no evidence of any such thing, since Mueller would have been forced to go public with it because it’s such a serious issue; you can’t let treason lie for months or years. And sure, Mueller today fingered Manafort for lying, but that has nothing to do with collusion.

As for Mueller’s Julian Assange allegations, he should be ashamed of himself for accusing someone he knows is barred from defending himself. Mueller can say anything he likes about Assange, and does, and it has no value, Julian has been silenced to an extent that shames us all, but Mueller first.

The problem with Robert Mueller when he uses such tactics is that he loses his credibility, or rather, what he had left after solemnly testifying that Iraq possessed WMD when he was FBI head. The man is incessantly portrayed as America’s straightest arrow, but that just makes you lament the state the country is in. The odds that Trump is the straightest arrow are much higher, and even the Donald himself wouldn’t buy into that one.

As we’re worried about fake news and Facebook and election meddling and what have you, we need to be clear on what that really is. Which is, the worst and most fake news you see every single day comes from those sources that you trust most. This is not just deliberate, it’s highly profitable too. As long as you are gullible enough to keep buying into it. So far, you are.

Whenever you read anything at all about Trump, Russia/Putin and Assange in the major news outlets, chances that it is not objective or properly due diligence researched are far higher than that it is. You have to start out with the idea that what you’re about to read or watch is not true, for the simple reason that the vast majority of it is not; it only exists to serve an agenda and a narrative.

And because reporting what is not accurate makes ‘news sources’ much more money than reporting the truth. In the meantime, though, NATO, US/UK/EU intelligence and the military-industrial complex may be happy, but you should not be. Because you’ve landed somewhere in the middle between Orwell, Huxley and the Matrix. And that’s not going to end up doing you any good. Let alone your kids.

Shake it off, guys. You’re sinking. Information dissemination has become like walking into quicksand. Walking into a pre-processed narrative that deprives you of your ability to think. Not something we should wish upon anyone. But take this from me: you’re already in it, and you need to get out. It’s no longer about trying not to get in, those days are long gone. You’re already there.

 

 

Jul 172018
 
 July 17, 2018  Posted by at 12:50 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Ivan Aivazovsky Among the waves 1898

 

Yeah, just keep ’em coming, right, so that when the last one falls flat on its face people will have already forgotten about it and instead focus on the new one. It’s been the modus operandi of the US MSM ever since Donald Trump emerged as an actual presidential candidate, and they haven’t let go.

They realize by now that it divides the nation, it costs them a large chunk of their potential readers and viewers, and creates chaos all around, but the bottom line is it makes them money. Because those people who fall into the echo chamber trap, tumble into it fast and furious, and will gladly pay to read yet another installment of how bad the man really is.

But it is getting out of hand, guys and gals, it is becoming a real and present danger to the -formerly- United States. The anti-Russia propaganda machine far predates Trump, but manufacturing an ever closer link between the two has proven to be a masterstroke of media genius.

That Vladimir Putin is an existential threat to the US and indeed the entire western world is a narrative taken straight out of Edward Bernays’ playbook. And it works like a charm. The problem is, it is also the biggest threat to peace anywhere on the globe that we have ever seen since WWII.

Putin is a patriot who came to the fore in mostly unexplained ways, named by American puppet Boris Yeltsin as his successor, only to save his country from US-induced plundering and restore Russia as a functioning country. Far from perfect, but functioning. Don’t forget that Russian life-expectancy fell by many years in the post-Gorbachev era. And then look now.

Yes, Putin uses some hard-handed tactics from time to time. He has no choice: the US threat to Russia is an ongoing one. There’s still a huge economic threat, of which US sanctions are but a minor part, there’s an intelligence threat, there’s NATO encroaching upon Russia’s borders.

Thus far, Putin has been able to counter them all. And his popularity among Russia’s population is far higher than that of any western politician. His people understand and recognize what he’s done and why he’s done it. He refuses for his country to be overrun and sold off to the highest bidders.

 

Just a few of the points of contention: Crimea – The US tried to take away Russia’s only warm water port. Putin countered with what through non-western eyes was tactical masterpiece; no violence, no shots fired, an election that saw an overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted to (re-)join Russia.

Connected to Crimea is Ukraine. Putin had -and has- to protect Russian-speaking people in the region. Who were going to be under threat from the very dubious, neo-nazi linked government installed by the US after the coup. All Putin has been able to achieve so far is a very brittle stand still. But ‘his’ people in Eastern Ukraine have strong links to the Russian area just across the border. He’s not going to sell them out.

Connected to Ukraine is MH17. The Netherlands commemorates the victims of the shooting down again today. Several years of investigating have come up with no conclusive proof, even if they say it has. The problem is that the investigation was -is- led by The Netherlands itself. You don’t let the biggest victim conduct an investigation.

What’s worse: the Ukraine was actively involved in the investigation, even when it was a potential culprit. Try to write that scenario into the plot of one of your favorite TV crime series. Won’t fly.

 

Then the novichok ‘events’ in the UK. Again, no evidence, but tons of allegations. And if Russia says it’s not guilty, everyone says and writes: of course they would say that. They get accused anyway. Still, no evidence is no evidence. the time that intelligence agencies were believed on their word is over. And they did it to themselves.

In the regard, it’s useful to see that Robert Mueller was one of the people who ‘swore’ that the Weapons of Mass Destruction ‘evidence’ against Saddam Hussein was real. We now know it was complete and utter fiction. Intelligence has overplayed its hand, and they won’t get it back for a long time.

People now realize they cannot be trusted. Well, not those who read and view the MSM, but then that’s sort of the entire point, isn’t it? That’s where the dividing line is being drawn. The CIA, FBI et al present a view of the world in concoction with the media that they think a sufficient number of people will swallow, and that’s really all they care for.

And boy, it is successful. The vitriol spewed over the Helsinki summit is something to behold. #TreasonSummit was a trending hashtag. For a meeting that was long overdue and aimed at calming down tensions. The by now very poorly named ‘social’ media play an ever bigger role in these things.

People can say whatever they want on them, without feeling they’ll ever actually be tested on their claims. One after the other, and each one trying to outdo the last. It all leads up to one particular worldview at the exclusion of all others. And again, that is very dangerous.

 

Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russians, which just happened to coincide with the first meeting of American and Russian presidents in an exceptionally long time, has been shot full of holes by many commentators, see for instance Adam Carter and Aaron Mate, but those views won’t make it to CNN or the NYT.

But despite the fact that the indictment is hollow and riddled with holes, it’s been a large part of why people call Trump a traitor for meeting with Putin. It ties together their opinions, carefully built along Bernays principles over the past two years. It’s a Matrix, it’s a trap. But then they throw in another story, of a 29 year-old Russian(!) girl arrested for allegedly setting up links between Russia and the NRA when she was 24 or so, and that replaces the Mueller indictment in most attention spans. And so the carrousel goes on. The torture never stops.

See, the idea is that you get yourself informed and then form your own opinion. Not that you let others pre-cook and pre-chew your opinions for you. Still, once you’re inside the deafening echo chamber, that’s what inevitably happens. Because there’s so much one-sided innuendo in there, your head aches and you just give up all resistance. Just to have a quiet moment.

And so very many Americans end up believing that indeed their president is guilty of treason. Because so many pundits claim that he is. But how many of them understand what treason really is, how serious an allegation it is? Is doesn’t really matter anymore, does it? Because all those others say he is, and they can’t all be wrong. And the echo chamber gives you a headache.

This is where I should say that somebody better do something about this, but it’s hard to see what. The divide has grown into a chasm. And that both sides are equally to blame for that doesn’t excuse either side’s wilful blindness. But yes, I hear you, it makes them money.

Still, if a US president can no longer talk to another president without being accused of treason, you’re in a scary predicament.

At some point you’re going to need real proof. And Bob Mueller is not going to get it for you. That’s what his indictment of the 12 Russians, as well as the moment he released it, makes abundantly clear. Mueller is -forever- going to hide behind the ‘Trust me, I’m the FBI’ line. Well, he betrayed you before. Wisen up. Demand evidence.

We know Mueller betrayed America when he made false claims over WMD. We have no evidence that Trump betrayed his country, we have only allegations. He may be a poor choice for president, but that’s not the same thing.

 

 

Feb 132018
 
 February 13, 2018  Posted by at 3:46 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


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.

 

 

Jul 182016
 
 July 18, 2016  Posted by at 8:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Arthur Rothstein General store and railroad crossing, Atlanta, Ohio 1938

Ireland Hits Brexit Alarm in Biggest Foreign Crisis in 50 Years (BBG)
Yuan Declines to 2010 Low as Property Prices Slow, Dollar Rises (BBG)
Goodbye Lenin, Hello Bernanke (ABC.au)
Stocks and Bonds Are on a Collision Course (DR)
Bubbles in Bond Land (David Stockman)
Chinese Cities’ Expansion Plans Could House 3.4 Billion People (BBG)
Slowing China Home Price Rises Add To Doubts About Economy (R.)
Under-35s Could Be The First Generation To Earn Less Than Their Parents (DM)
Boom to Bust (Salt)
Justice Department ‘Uses Aged Computer System To Frustrate FOIA Requests’ (G.)
MH-17: Russia Convicted By Propaganda (PCR)
Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All (New Yorker)
Six Wealthiest Countries Host Less Than 9% Of World’s Refugees (G.)
20 Migrants Dead, 366 Saved From Boats In Mediterranean (NW)

 

 

Huh? Didn’t Ireland grow 26% just last week?

Ireland Hits Brexit Alarm in Biggest Foreign Crisis in 50 Years (BBG)

The prime minister is under pressure, economists are slashing growth forecasts and companies are warning of Brexit’s dire consequences. London? No, Dublin. The intertwining of trade and finance means no other country is feeling the fallout from the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union more than Ireland. In the year the Irish marked the centenary of their uprising against British rule, the country remains at the mercy of the unfolding drama in its closest neighbor. “It’s the most serious, difficult issue facing the country for 50 years,” said John Bruton, 69, who was Irish prime minister between 1994 and 1997 and later served as the EU’s ambassador to the U.S.

Exporters have warned the plummeting pound will erode earnings and economic growth, just as a recovery had taken hold after the 2010 international bailout that followed the banking meltdown. Irish shares have declined, not least because the U.K. is the top destination for the country’s exports after the U.S. and the biggest for its services. Meantime, Prime Minister Enda Kenny is fending off demands by Northern Irish nationalists for a reunification poll as he comes to terms with the loss of a key EU ally and plotters from his own party try to topple him. Then there’s the future of the U.K.’s only land border with the EU. “The consequences are mind-boggling,” said Eoin Fahy, chief economist at Kleinwort Benson Investors in the Irish capital.

Britain and Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1973. Ireland was drawn in part to escape what one politician called “our gate-lodge attitude towards England.” More than four decades later, the two countries remain woven together economically as well as culturally and linguistically. Ireland uses the euro, yet does about $45 billion of trade with the U.K. About 380,000 Irish citizens living in Britain were eligible to vote in the Brexit referendum. Britain also chipped in for Ireland’s bailout six years ago, despite not being part of the euro region. When Theresa May took over as British prime minister last Wednesday, Kenny was among three leaders she spoke to, along with Germany’s Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande of France.

Read more …

Bloomberg should simply say: “The yuan fell, and we have no idea why”.

Yuan Declines to 2010 Low as Property Prices Slow, Dollar Rises (BBG)

China’s yuan fell to the weakest level since 2010, pulled down by cooling property prices, a dollar rebounding on haven demand and a weaker central bank fixing. New home prices rose in fewer cities in June compared with a month earlier, according to official data released Monday, blunting optimism prompted by last week’s figures showing forecast-beating economic growth. The monetary authority weakened the yuan’s daily fixing to the lowest since 2010 after the dollar strengthened Friday following a coup attempt in Turkey.

The greenback was supported on Monday also as China said it would hold military exercises in the South China Sea. “The dollar strengthened as orders to buy the currency jumped, pressuring the yuan and the rest of Asian currencies lower,” said Andy Ji, a Singapore-based foreign-exchange strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia. “There’s news that China will hold military exercises in the South China Sea later this month,” which could spur some haven-demand for the greenback.

Read more …

Lookalike contest.

Goodbye Lenin, Hello Bernanke (ABC.au)

Maybe it’s just me, but have you noticed the striking similarity between Vladimir Lenin and Ben Bernanke lately? Superficially, there’s the obvious physical resemblance; whippet build, glabrous pate, facial hair and a penchant for stylish, if somewhat conservative, garb. More significantly, both appear to harbour the same ideological distrust of free markets or, at the very least, a burning desire to control them as much as possible. Separated by almost a century, both men have made it a lifelong ambition to impose state control over the economy. And it has to be said, while Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Lenin achieved significant success in spreading the word from Russia through developing nations, he and his successors never quite got across the line when it came to the so-called free world.

Maybe it was his reputation as a firebrand, an over-reliance on bloody revolution by force and the frightening prospect – for the ruling elite at least – that wealth would be redistributed to the poor. Enter Ben Bernanke. In the space of a mere eight years, the former Federal Reserve chief has managed to achieve what Vladimir could barely conceive. He’s convinced the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Japan and Europe to embark on a revolutionary journey to completely subvert free market instincts. Unlike his Russian predecessor, Ben has opted for the calm, congenial exterior of Central Banker from Central Casting, complete with a mogadon monotone designed to lull his audience into a state of torpor.

He’s also wisely decided to modify the wealth distribution bit. As western governments have raided the kitty, plunging themselves into an ocean of debt, much of the proceeds have flowed directly into asset markets – stocks, bonds and property – which has helped maintain the flow of wealth towards the wealthy. Brilliant! Last week, Ben was in Japan. And that got twitchy fingered traders across the globe all hot under the collar. Ben, after all, is the man who pioneered the implementation of “unorthodox monetary policy”.

Read more …

“Bond markets are signaling something very nasty coming down the road at us — an all-encompassing, worldwide deflation.”

Stocks and Bonds Are on a Collision Course (DR)

One of the following is correct: A) The stock market is lying. B) The bond market is lying. They both can’t be true. Consider: The stock market has sprung to record highs this week. Shocking, given the world was coming to an end after Brexit. But it’s true. Both the S&P and the Dow eclipsed previous records this week. What does that normally indicate? A rollicking economy in high gear, stability, investor belief in the future. Maybe some “healthy” inflation into the bargain. Now consider: Bonds are also trading at record highs. Meaning yields are at historic lows (prices and yields move in opposite directions – the higher the price, the lower the yield, and vice versa). Yields on 10-year Treasuries plunged to all-time lows this month. Same with 30-year Treasuries.

That would normally signal an economy on the brink of ruin and investors panicking into government bonds. It also means deflation of the hide-the-women-and-children variety. TheTelegraph: “Bond markets are signaling something very nasty coming down the road at us — an all-encompassing, worldwide deflation.” Two completely different narratives. One wrong, one right. Someone’s in for a nasty shock – and probably soon. Says analyst William Koldus, founder of The Contrarian: The tug of war between inflationary and deflationary assets is likely to be resolved in 2016. Either U.S. stock prices, which have been an outlier to the upside, are wrong, and a significant correction awaits stock investors, or U.S. bond prices, and global sovereign bond yields, which have priced in a significant deflationary head wind, are wrong, and safe-haven bondholders are set for losses.

Who’s the jury to believe? Generally, the bond market. As Neil Irwin of The New York Times explains, “Savvy economic analysts have always known the bond market is the place to look for a real sense of where the economy is going, or at least where the smart money thinks it is going.” Here he dumps more rain on the parade: “And right now, if the bond market is correctly predicting the economic path ahead, we should all be terrified.”

Read more …

“Surely, BOJ Governor Kuroda will go down in history as the stupidest central banker of all-time.”

Bubbles in Bond Land (David Stockman)

Last year Japan lost another 272,000 of its population as it marches steadily toward its destiny as the world’s first bankrupt old age colony. At the same time, the return on Japan’s 40-year bond during the last six months has been an astonishing 48%. That’s right! We aren’t talking Tesla, the biotech index or the FANGs. To the contrary, like the rest of the Japanese Government Bond (JGB) yield curve, this bond has no yield and no prospect of repayment. But that doesn’t matter because it’s not really a sovereign bond, anyway. It has actually morphed into a risk free gambling chip. Leveraged front-runners are scooping up whatever odds and sots of JGBs that remain on the market and are selling them to the Bank of Japan (BOJ) at higher, and higher and higher prices.

At the same time, these punters face virtually no risk. That’s because the BOJ already owns 426 trillion yen of JGBs, which is nearly half of the bonds outstanding. And it is buying up the rest at a rate of 80 trillion yen per year under current policy, while giving every indication of sharply stepping up its purchase rate as it segues to outright helicopter money. It can therefore be well and truly said that the BOJ is the ultimate roach motel. Virtually every scrap of Japan’s gargantuan public debt will go marching into its vaults never to return, and at “whatever it takes” bond prices to meet the BOJ’s lunatic purchase quotas. Surely, BOJ Governor Kuroda will go down in history as the stupidest central banker of all-time.

But in the interim the man is contributing — along with Draghi, Yellen and the rest of the central bankers guild — to absolute mayhem in the global fixed income market. That’s because these fools have succeeded in unleashing a pincer movement among market participants that is flat-out suicidal. That is, the leveraged fast money gamblers are chasing prices ever higher as sovereign bonds become increasingly scarce. At the same time, desperate bond fund managers, who will lose their jobs for just sitting on cash, are chasing yields rapidly lower on any bond that still has a positive current return. This is the reason the 30-year U.S. treasury bond has produced a 22% return during the last six months. To say the least, that’s not shabby at all considering that its current yield is just 2.25%.

Read more …

Want to see a real housing crisis?

Chinese Cities’ Expansion Plans Could House 3.4 Billion People (BBG)

New areas planned by China’s small cities could accommodate 3.4 billion people by 2030 – or almost half the world’s current population – a target that even Chinese state media calls problematic. A report by the National Development & Reform Commission, China’s central planning agency, found that small- and medium-sized cities were planning more than 3,500 new areas that could accommodate more than twice the country’s current population of 1.4 billion. The entire world has a population of 7.4 billion, according to U.S. Census estimates. The findings were detailed in an analysis by the official Xinhua News Agency, which criticized the planned new areas as unworkable: “Who’s going to live in them? That’s a problem,” the piece said.

The expansion comes amid urbanization calls by President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang as China prepares for another 100 million people to move from the countryside to urban metropolises by the end of the decade. People tend favor bigger markets with more opportunities and fewer than 1-in-10 migrant workers moved to small cities last year, according to an NDRC report published in April. Even without the new areas, China already has more housing than it needs and “ghost cities” have proliferated. China has been building more than 10 million new units annually for the past five years, outstripping an estimated of demand of less than 8 million, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence Economists Tom Orlik and Fielding Chen.

Read more …

Look, Reuters, there comes a point where things like “..a construction-led rebound in the economy may not be sustainable..” become meaningless. We reached that point quite a while ago.

Slowing China Home Price Rises Add To Doubts About Economy (R.)

Home price rises in China slowed in June for a second straight month, adding to fears that a construction-led rebound in the economy may not be sustainable. The property market is a key driver of the world’s second-largest economy and a robust recovery in home prices and sales gave a stronger-than-expected boost to activity in the first half of the year. But slowing price growth in smaller cities and cooling property investment show the bounce may already be fading, raising the risk of weaker economic growth in coming months. Home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 7.3% in June from a year earlier, an official survey showed on Monday, accelerating from a 6.9% rise in May.

To be sure, some of the biggest cities showed eye-popping gains on a yearly basis, with prices in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen up 46.7% and Shanghai up 27.7%. Gains on a monthly basis continued to slow, however, as cities tightened policies amid fears of a housing price bubble. The monthly rise slowed slightly to 0.8% in June, easing from 0.9% in May, according to a Reuters calculation based on data issued by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). “We continue to expect the property rebound to subside and property investment growth to fall in the second half of the year,” economists at Nomura said in a note, predicting sales would stabilize and a large glut of unsold homes would keep pressure on prices in some areas.

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Stupidest term in a long time: “generational pay progress”.

Under-35s Could Be The First Generation To Earn Less Than Their Parents (DM)

Millennials could become the first generation to earn less than their predecessors, analysis by a think-tank has found. The Research Foundation found that under-35s have been hit hardest by the recent pay squeeze and earned £8,000 less during their 20s than a typical person in the previous generation – known as generation X. The finding comes just days after new Prime Minister Theresa May warned of a ‘growing divide between a more prosperous older generation and a struggling younger generation’. The report, which comes as the thank-tank launches its Intergenerational Commission, warns that a post-Brexit downturn could depress millennials’ wages further.

The Intergenerational Commission report states that while some of the pay squeeze is down to millennials entering the job market as the recession hit, it also found generational pay progress had actually stopped before the 2007/08 financial crash. If the future pay of millennials follows the path of generation X, that would reduce their lifetime earnings to around £825,000 – making them the first ever generation to earn less than their predecessors over the course of their working lives. The comparable figure for Generation X is around £832,000. Even if their wages followed a more optimistic path and improved rapidly like their baby boomer parents, their lifetime earnings would be around £890,000. This would be just 7% more than generation X and a third of the size of the pay progress that generation X are set to enjoy over the baby boomers.

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“Boomers got the Pill, free love, free education and easy jobs. Gen X got AIDS, HECS and the GFC.”

Boom to Bust (Salt)

I feel sorry for Generation X, those of you born between 1965 and 1983 and who are now straddling the load-bearing years of the late 30s and 40s. There is no escaping the big responsibilities at this time in the life cycle. At this very moment, Xers are raising families and paying taxes and working flat out… and yet nary a peep from this lot does anyone hear. It’s all about the baby boomers, and if it’s not about the baby boomers and their interminable retirement woes then it’s all about their gifted Generation-Y children. Are we paying you enough, Gen Y? Is anyone being mean to you? Can I get you a pillow? You do realise that I am a Generation Xer, trapped inside a baby boomer body. The reason I feel sorry for the Xers is that they’re always in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Xers are the pissed-off generation. They are heartily sick of baby boomers and their cultural chest-beating. Yes, boomers, we know it was you who saved humanity from the Vietnam War. Yes, we know you discovered free love in the 1960s. No one had thought of sex prior to that, had they? This is what I mean about being pissed off. Baby boomers got the Pill and free love when they were coming of age. But what did older Xers get when they passed through their teens and 20s? The 1980s. Out went the concept of free love; in came the mortal threat of HIV-AIDS. Kind of puts a dampener on the sex thing, don’t you think?

Boomers got fee-free university education courtesy of Gough Whitlam. When did most Xers go to uni? Oh, that’d be after 1989, when we decided fee-free tertiary education was unsustainable and in came HECS. When did many Xers enter the workforce? Oh, that’d be in the early 1990s, when unemployment peaked at nearly 12 per cent. And then they worked for baby boomer managers, biding their time, pacing, scheming, forever waiting for the boomers to let go of the reins. And when was it that baby boomer management let go of the reins? Oh, that’d be around the time of the global financial crisis. “Here you go Xers, it’s your turn now. We’re off on a Rhine River cruise. Make sure you pay your taxes. Bye.”

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If the Department of Justice won’t obey the law, what do you get?

Justice Department ‘Uses Aged Computer System To Frustrate FOIA Requests’ (G.)

A new lawsuit alleges that the US Department of Justice (DoJ) intentionally conducts inadequate searches of its records using a decades-old computer system when queried by citizens looking for records that should be available to the public. Freedom of Information Act (Foia) researcher Ryan Shapiro alleges “failure by design” in the DoJ’s protocols for responding to public requests. The Foia law states that agencies must “make reasonable efforts to search for the records in electronic form or format”. In an effort to demonstrate that the DoJ does not comply with this provision, Shapiro requested records of his own requests and ran up against the same roadblocks that stymied his progress in previous inquiries.

A judge ruled in January that the FBI had acted in a manner “fundamentally at odds with the statute”. Now, armed with that ruling, Shapiro hopes to change policy across the entire department. Shapiro filed his suit on the 50th anniversary of Foia’s passage this month. Foia requests to the FBI are processed by searching the Automated Case Support system (ACS), a software program that celebrates its 21st birthday this year. Not only are the records indexed by ACS allegedly inadequate, Shapiro told the Guardian, but the FBI refuses to search the full text of those records as a matter of policy. When few or no records are returned, Shapiro said, the FBI effectively responds “sorry, we tried” without making use of the much more sophisticated search tools at the disposal of internal requestors.

“The FBI’s assertion is akin to suggesting that a search of a limited and arbitrarily produced card catalogue at a vast library is as likely to locate book pages containing a specified search term as a full text search of database containing digitized versions of all the books in that library,” Shapiro said.

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Will be a big story again when Holland produces its ‘objective’ report. Which has lost all credibility way before publication.

MH-17: Russia Convicted By Propaganda (PCR)

Today is the second anniversary of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and we still do not know the explanation. Washington and its European vassal politicians and media instantly politicized the event: The Russians did it. End of story. After 15 months of heavy anti-Russian propaganda had imprinted the message on peoples’ minds, the Dutch Safety Board issued its inconclusive report. By then, it was irrelevant what the report said. Everyone already knew that “the Russians did it.” I remember when pre-trial media accusations resulted in dismissed cases. Anyone declared guilty prior to presentation of evidence and conviction was considered to have been convicted in advance and unable to receive a fair trail. Such cases were dismissed by judges.

Washington’s story never made any sense. Neither Russia nor the separatists in the Donetsk region had any reason to shoot down a Malaysian airliner. In contrast Washington had enormous incentives as Washington’s propaganda machine could place the blame on Russia and use the incident to compel European governments to accept Washington’s sanctions placed on Russia. It worked for Washington. Washington successfully used the incident to wreck Europe’s political and economic relationships with Russia. Four months into the anti-Russian propaganda campaign, a website called Bellingcat, claiming to be an open source site for citizen journalists, but which could be a MI-5, MI-6, or CIA front, issued a report that the Buk missile was fired by a Russian unit, the 53rd Buk Brigade, based in the Russian city of Kursk.

This allegation exposed the propaganda for what it is. Whereas it is possible that separatists unfamiliar with the Buk weapon system could accidentally shoot down a civilian airliner, it is not possible for a Russian military unit to make such a mistake. Moreover, it is unclear why separatists or the Ukrainian government would have any reason to use Buk missiles in their conflict. The separatists have no air force. The Ukrainians attack the separatists at ground level with ground attack aircraft and helicopters, not with high altitude bombing. The Buk missile is a high altitude missile. The only way the separatists could have acquired Buk missiles is by overrunning and capturing Ukrainian positions that for unfathomed reasons had deployed Buk missiles.

It seems to me that if a Buk missile was present in the conflict area, it was moved there for a reason unrelated to the conflict. A European air traffic controller said that MH-17 and the airliner carrying Russian President Vladimir Putin were initially on the same course. Possibly Washington and its vassal in Kiev thought MH-17 was Putin’s plane and destroyed the Malaysian flight by mistake.

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Brought to you by the Clinton Foundation: “I put lipstick on a pig,” he said. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.” He went on, “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All (New Yorker)

Last June, as dusk fell outside Tony Schwartz’s sprawling house, on a leafy back road in Riverdale, New York, he pulled out his laptop and caught up with the day’s big news: Donald J. Trump had declared his candidacy for President. As Schwartz watched a video of the speech, he began to feel personally implicated. Trump, facing a crowd that had gathered in the lobby of Trump Tower, on Fifth Avenue, laid out his qualifications, saying, “We need a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’ ” If that was so, Schwartz thought, then he, not Trump, should be running. Schwartz dashed off a tweet: “Many thanks Donald Trump for suggesting I run for President, based on the fact that I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’ ”

Schwartz had ghostwritten Trump’s 1987 breakthrough memoir, earning a joint byline on the cover, half of the book’s five-hundred-thousand-dollar advance, and half of the royalties. The book was a phenomenal success, spending forty-eight weeks on the Times best-seller list, thirteen of them at No. 1. More than a million copies have been bought, generating several million dollars in royalties. The book expanded Trump’s renown far beyond New York City, making him an emblem of the successful tycoon. Edward Kosner, the former editor and publisher of New York, where Schwartz worked as a writer at the time, says, “Tony created Trump. He’s Dr. Frankenstein.”

Starting in late 1985, Schwartz spent eighteen months with Trump—camping out in his office, joining him on his helicopter, tagging along at meetings, and spending weekends with him at his Manhattan apartment and his Florida estate. During that period, Schwartz felt, he had got to know him better than almost anyone else outside the Trump family. Until Schwartz posted the tweet, though, he had not spoken publicly about Trump for decades. It had never been his ambition to be a ghostwriter, and he had been glad to move on. But, as he watched a replay of the new candidate holding forth for forty-five minutes, he noticed something strange: over the decades, Trump appeared to have convinced himself that he had written the book. Schwartz recalls thinking, “If he could lie about that on Day One—when it was so easily refuted—he is likely to lie about anything.”

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While being responsible for 91% of them fleeing in the first place.

Six Wealthiest Countries Host Less Than 9% Of World’s Refugees (G.)

The six wealthiest countries in the world, which between them account for almost 60% of the global economy, host less than 9% of the world’s refugees, while poorer countries shoulder most of the burden, Oxfam has said. According to a report released by the charity on Monday, the US, China, Japan, Germany, France and the UK, which together make up 56.6% of global GDP, between them host just 2.1 million refugees: 8.9% of the world’s total. Of these 2.1 million people, roughly a third are hosted by Germany (736,740), while the remaining 1.4 million are split between the other five countries. The UK hosts 168,937 refugees, a figure Oxfam GB chief executive, Mark Goldring, has called shameful.

In contrast, more than half of the world’s refugees – almost 12 million people – live in Jordan, Turkey, Palestine, Pakistan, Lebanon and South Africa, despite the fact these places make up less than 2% of the world’s economy. Oxfam is calling on governments to host more refugees and to do more to help poorer countries which provide shelter to the majority of the world’s refugees. “This is one of the greatest challenges of our time yet poorer countries, and poorer people, are left to shoulder the responsibility,” said Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB. “It is a complex crisis that requires a coordinated, global response with the richest countries doing their fair share by welcoming more refugees and doing more to help and protect them wherever they are.

“Now more than ever, the UK needs to show that it is an open, tolerant society that is prepared to play its part in solving this crisis. It is shameful that as one of the richest economies the UK has provided shelter for less than 1% of refugees.”

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Look away.

20 Migrants Dead, 366 Saved From Boats In Mediterranean (NW)

Rescuers saved 366 migrants from rickety boats trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy but at least 20 people were reported to have drowned, Italian police said on Saturday. The survivors, who were rescued in four separate operations, were crammed onto three rubber dinghies and a wooden fishing boat. They were all taken to the Sicilian port of Augusta, where they were questioned on Friday evening by the Italian police unit Interforce, which combats illegal immigration.

The Norwegian ship Siem Pilot went to the aid of one dinghy that sank in the Sicilian Channel, but many migrants were already in the sea when it arrived, Antonio Panzanaro, an Interforce official, told Reuters. One corpse was recovered but survivors said that at least 20 people had drowned before the ship arrived, he said. There were 82 women and 25 children among the 366 people rescued, he said. The survivors were mainly from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Bangladesh. Seven people were arrested from the four boats, including their drivers, on suspicion of people-trafficking, he said.

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Oct 202015
 
 October 20, 2015  Posted by at 9:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Hans Behm Windy City tourists at Monroe Street near State 1908

Another Quarter Of Remarkably Precise China GDP Growth Data (Reuters)
China’s Better-Than-Expected GDP Prompts Skepticism From Economists (WSJ)
Chinese Economists Have No Faith In 7% Growth ‘Target’ (Zero Hedge)
China’s Capital Outflows Top $500 Billion (FT)
China Heads For Record Crude Buying Year (Reuters)
Britain’s Love Affair With China Comes At A Price (AEP)
The Perfect Storm That Brought Britain’s Steel Industry To Its Knees (Telegraph)
Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse Set to Scale Back Global Ambitions (Bloomberg)
Wal-Mart Puts The Squeeze On Suppliers To Share Its Pain (Reuters)
Brazil’s Corruption Crackdown Can’t Be Stopped (Bloomberg)
US Supreme Court May Weigh In on a Student Debt Battle (Bloomberg)
New Canada PM Justin Trudeau: Out of Father’s Shadow and Into Power (Bloomberg)
Farewell Fossil Fools – Harper And Abbott Both Dispatched (CS)
Death by Fracking (Chris Hedges)
Is There A War Crime In What The Dutch Safety Board Is Broadcasting? (Helmer)
Stranded in Cold Rain, a Logjam of Refugees in the Balkans (NY Times)
Without Safe Access To Asylum, Refugees Will Keep Risking Their Lives (Crawley)
Merkel In Turkey: Trade-Offs And Refugees (Boukalas)
Greek Coast Guard Rescues 2,561 Migrants Over The Weekend (AP)

Maybe Beijing is just very good at predicting.

Another Quarter Of Remarkably Precise China GDP Growth Data (Reuters)

China GDP releases are starting to look like near-perfect landings each and every time, in all kinds of weather conditions and visibility. Yet another quarter has just gone by – literally less than three weeks ago – and already statisticians have reported that growth slowed a tiny sliver from Beijing’s 2015 target of 7% recorded for the first half of the year. Now it’s 6.9%, slightly above the Reuters consensus forecast from 50 economists of 6.8%. It is difficult to understate just how precise such figures are in the grand scheme of economic data reporting. It is also difficult to ignore just how remarkable this stability is considering the Chinese authorities are trying to rebalance the entire economy away from reliance on exporting manufacturing goods toward domestic consumer spending.

And that worry about a Chinese growth slowdown was one of the main reasons cited by the U.S. Federal Reserve for holding off last month on its first rate rise in nearly a decade. That’s also not to mention that China growth concerns dominated the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s latest meetings in Lima, Peru. In the past three years, Chinese GDP data as reported have only missed the Reuters Polls consensus three times, and on each occasion it was because the reported growth figure beat by just 0.1 percentage point. For the periods of Q4 2013 through to Q1 of this year, the reported figure was exactly on forecast.

Other large and important global economies are nowhere near as accurate. U.S. growth data have taken even the most pessimistic forecaster completely off guard on several occasions since the financial crisis, most recently in the first quarter of last year. The initial report for Q1 GDP this year also matched the lowest forecast. Initial U.S. growth data have only actually been reported exactly in line with expectations three times in the last half decade. It seems implausible that economists, who are often widely panned as a group for failing to predict economic turning points, are uncannily able to nail Chinese GDP within a few tiny slivers of a percentage point each and every time.

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Not much use trying to analyze something so obvious.

China’s Better-Than-Expected GDP Prompts Skepticism From Economists (WSJ)

Within minutes of China’s publishing its rosier-than-expected numbers, a wave of skepticism emanated from economists over the accuracy of the official 6.9% third-quarter growth figure. Economists’ doubts centered in part on the apparent disconnect between the headline figure and the underlying data. Both exports and imports declined during the third quarter, and industrial production was weaker than expected. Factories have seen 43 consecutive months of falling prices and—despite a flood of government infrastructure spending—fixed-asset investment decelerated in September. While retail sales and services have held up, and new lending data in September point to a pickup in demand, these factors haven’t been enough to offset the parade of negative data, economists said.

“When you look at the numbers, it’s not entirely easy to see how GDP growth held up so well,” said Société Générale CIB economist Klaus Baader. The weak reports leading up to Monday’s GDP release had strengthened the impression that China is increasingly under siege to reach its 2015 growth target of about 7%, which already would be its slowest pace in a quarter century. Economists say the world’s second-largest economy is far from collapsing, though a number of them say they believe actual growth is one or two percentage points below the official figure. China’s official growth statistics have long been viewed with skepticism. Although the methodology has improved exponentially since the days of the 1958-61 Great Leap Forward, when cadres were encouraged to inflate production statistics to please Chairman Mao, many say there is still a focus on reaching a predetermined number, even when underlying conditions change.

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Much better index, and Pettis explaining how China is both much worse and not all that bad (I disagree).

Chinese Economists Have No Faith In 7% Growth ‘Target’ (Zero Hedge)

Earlier today in “The Truth Behind China’s GDP Mirage: Economic Growth Slows To 1999 Levels”, we pointed out that Beijing may be habitually understating inflation for domestic output, which has the effect of making “real” GDP less “real” than nominal GDP. This is what we’ve called the “deficient deflator math” problem and it raises questions about whether China is netting out import prices when they calculate the deflator. If they’re not, then the NBS is likely overstating GDP during periods of rapidly declining commodities prices. If Beijing is indeed understating the deflator it’s not entirely clear that it’s their fault, as robust statistical systems take time to implement, especially across an economy the size of China’s.

That said, there are plenty of commentators who believe that the practice of overstating GDP is policy and exists with or without an understated deflator. Put simply: quite a few people think China is simply lying about its economic output. To be sure, there’s ample evidence to suggest that Beijing’s critics are right. After all, the Li Keqiang index doesn’t appear to be consistent with the numbers coming out of the NBS and the degree to which the data tracks the Communist party’s “target” is rather suspicious (and that’s putting it nicely).

In effect, everyone is perpetually in an awkward scenario when it comes to Chinese GDP data. Economists are forced to “predict” a number that they know is gamed and while that’s pretty much always the case across economies (just see “double adjusted” US GDP data for evidence), with China it’s arguably more blatant than it is anywhere else, and one could run up a pretty impressive track record simply by betting with Beijing’s “target.” It’s with all of this in mind that we bring you the following clip from University of Peking economist Michael Pettis, whose outlook is apparently far more dour than his compatriots:

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I can’t see how or why this would stop.

China’s Capital Outflows Top $500 Billion (FT)

Capital outflows from China topped $500bn in the first eight months of this year, according to new calculations by the US Treasury that highlight the shifting fortunes in the global economy. The outflows, which peaked at about $200bn during the market turmoil in August according to the estimates released on Monday, have also contributed to a shift by Washington in its assessment of the valuation of China’s currency, the renminbi. In its latest semi-annual report to Congress on the global economy, the US Treasury dropped its previous assessment that the renminbi was “significantly undervalued”. Instead, the Treasury said the Chinese currency was “below its appropriate medium-term valuation”. “Given economic uncertainties, volatile capital flows and prospects for slower growth in China, the near-term trajectory of the RMB is difficult to assess,” Treasury economists wrote.

“However, our judgment is that the RMB remains below its appropriate medium-term valuation.” The new language reflects the cautious welcome that the Obama administration has given to Beijing’s efforts in recent months to prop up the renminbi since China announced on August 11 that it would allow a greater role for the market in setting the currency’s exchange rate. It is also a sign of the recognition in Washington that even as it believes China’s currency should strengthen in the longer term, in the short term the renminbi is facing downward pressures because of several factors including what amount to historic outflows from China and other emerging economies. “Market factors are exerting downward pressure on the RMB at present, but these are likely to be transitory,” the Treasury said. Among those factors, Treasury economists wrote, was the unwinding of carry trades betting on the appreciation of the renminbi.

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Q: what will happen to prices when Chinese storage has filled up its teapots?

China Heads For Record Crude Buying Year (Reuters)

As China closes in on the US as the world’s biggest crude oil importer, demand from private refiners and stockpiling of cheap oil is expected to keep imports at record levels after a wobble in the third quarter. Despite slower growth in recent months – crude imports rose just 1.3% in September on a year earlier – buying for October-November delivery has picked up strongly, traders and analysts say. The purchases will ease concerns of a sharp slowdown in Chinese buying and support prices in coming months, analysts said. The increased buying has shown up in tanker movements and freight rates, said Energy Aspects analyst Virendra Chauhan, and analysts are upgrading earlier forecasts for second half growth. “Despite a slowing Chinese economy, crude imports remain robust on the back of accelerated stockpiling activities into operating and commercial storage,” said Wendy Yong, analyst at oil consultancy FGE.

Since July, China has also granted nearly 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude import quotas to small refiners, known as “teapots”, or roughly 10% of China’s current total imports, as part of efforts to boost competition and attract private investment, creating a new source of demand. “The teapots are super-active,” said one oil trader, with many racing to fill their new quotas. And state-owned refiners are restocking after a third-quarter lull. Unipec, the trading arm of Asia’s top refiner Sinopec, bought 6 million barrels of North Sea Forties crude and 2.9 million barrels of Russian ESPO for loading this month, and it has also stepped up Angolan crude purchases for November. To accommodate the oil, new storage tanks on southern Hainan island have either been put to use or are due to be filled with crude from end-2015.

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Something to do with licking certain body parts.

Britain’s Love Affair With China Comes At A Price (AEP)

It is a sobering experience to travel through eastern China with a British passport. Again and again you run into historic sites that were burned, shelled or sacked by British forces in the 19th century. The incidents are described in unflattering detail on Mandarin placards for millions of Chinese national pilgrims, spiced with emotional accounts of the Opium Wars. The crown jewel of this destructive march was the Summer Palace of the Chinese emperors outside Beijing, looted of its Qing Dynasty treasures by Lord Elgin in 1860, and burned to ground. It was a reprisal for the murder of 18 envoys by the Chinese court, but the exact “casus belli” hardly matters anymore. The defilement lives on in the collective Chinese mind as a high crime against the nation, the ultimate symbol of humiliation by the West.

The Communist Party has carefully nurtured the grievance under its “patriotic education” drive. David Marsh, from the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum, says Britain’s leaders are implicitly atoning for a colonial past by rolling out the red carpet this week for Chinese President Xi Jinping, and biting their tongue on human rights. They are acknowledging that British officialdom is in no fit position to lecture anybody in Beijing. The exact line between good manners and kowtowing is hard to define, but George Osborne came close to crossing it on his trade mission to China last month, earning plaudits from the state media for his “pragmatism” and deference. But as the Chancellor retorted, you have to take risks in foreign policy. Moral infantilism is for the backbenches. “China is what it is,” he said.

The proper question for David Cameron and Mr Osborne is whether they have accurately judged the diplomatic and commercial trade-off in breaking ranks with other Western allies and throwing open the most sensitive areas of the British economy to Chinese expansion, and whether they will reap much in return. The US Treasury was deeply irritated when the Chancellor defied Washington and signed up to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), China’s attempt to create an Asian rival to the Bretton Woods institutions controlled by the West. Mr Osborne was correct on the substance. Congress acted foolishly in trying to smother the AIIB in its infancy and stem the rise of China as a financial superpower. It was tantamount to treating the country as an enemy, an approach that soon becomes self-fulfilling.

The AIIB is exactly what is needed to recycle China’s trade surpluses back into the world economy, just as the US Marshall Plan recycled American surpluses in the 1950s. The problem is that Britain carelessly undercut a close ally, putting immediate mercantilist interests ahead of a core strategic relationship. Anglo-American ties are now at their lowest ebb for years, a risky state of affairs at a time when the UK faces a showdown with the European Union.

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Overinvestment.

The Perfect Storm That Brought Britain’s Steel Industry To Its Knees (Telegraph)

Britain’s steel industry is caught in a “perfect storm”, ravaged by global economics and politics, reducing an industry that once led the world to a mere bit player on the global stage. Just 12m tonnes of the metal that is a basic raw material for the modern world were produced in the UK in 2013, according to the World Steel Association, out of a global total of 1.65bn. In 1983 this figure was 15m tonnes out of a total 663bn. However, the number of people employed making the metal in Britain has dropped from 38,000 in 1994 to less than 18,000 today. While productivity improvements account for some of the decline, with worldwide demand more doubling than in a generation, there are other factors that are inflicting a much heavier toll on the industry. Globalisation is the main one, according to Chris Houlden at commodities analyst CRU.

“The issue facing UK steel has been developing since the financial crisis,” he says. “Demand for steel in Britain and the EU has fallen and not recovered and there’s persistent global overcapacity.” While things weren’t all sunshine and roses ahead of the crash – the sector faced the universal pressures to find efficiencies and savings – Britain’s steel industry could function successfully with the growing global economy gobbling up available output, led by China’s burgeoning growth. Today things are different. Beijing is pencilling in annual growth of about 7pc, half the rate seen in heady pre-crisis times as its economy industrialised, placing huge demand on the country’s steel mills to turn out the beams and sheets needed for machines and construction.

Thanks to heavy investment in its steel industry, China is now responsible for half of the world’s steel output – up from 10pc a decade ago – and is reluctant to let it go to waste. As a result, China’s mills are dumping excess output abroad, and the country’s overcapacity is estimated to be 250m tonnes a year. “China’s production is not abating,” says Peter Brennan, European editor at steel industry data provider Platts. “You might have thought they would cut capacity but in a country where industry is effectively government controlled, it’s not happened. In what’s arguably a more unstable society, the government has no intention of cutting masses of jobs.”

The sentiment is echoed by the International Steel Statistics Bureau. “It would take a major reversal of the slowdown in the Chinese economy to prevent them pushing steel abroad,” says ISSB commercial manager Steve Andrews. “That’s why they are looking externally. There’s not the political will to remove capacity. They have taken some of the old and highly polluting plants out as they look at improving air quality but a lot of their stuff is big and modern.” The result is cheap steel coming on to the market, pushing prices down. But it’s not just China that is dumping output. “China is not unique,” says Houlden. “There’s low to no growth in a lot of other major steel producers such as Brazil and Russia, so they are doing it, too. Japan, the world’s second largest producer, is also looking to export more steel.”

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All banks are in deep shit.

Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse Set to Scale Back Global Ambitions (Bloomberg)

Europe’s last global banks are caving in to pressure from regulators and preparing to tell investors just how much their aspirations will shrink. “The European banks were too long holding onto the past and not realizing that this change is for good – it’s permanent,” said Oswald Gruebel, a former chief executive officer of both UBS and Credit Suisse. “The main reason for reducing global investment banking is that with the capital requirements which the regulators put on these banks, you cannot make any decent return.” Deutsche Bank announced sweeping management changes on Sunday, less than two weeks before co-CEO John Cryan will present his plans to scale back the trading empire built by his predecessor.

On Wednesday, Tidjane Thiam will probably reveal a strategy to prune Credit Suisse’s investment bank in favor of wealth management. Barclays, BNP Paribas and Standard Chartered are also trimming operations. Europe’s global lenders are struggling to adapt to rising capital requirements, record-low interest rates and shrinking opportunities for growth. Their retrenchment risks further squeezing lending to economies in the region and handing more business to U.S. competitors, which were quicker to raise capital levels and are benefiting from growth at home. “Everything that’s being done should have been done years ago,” said Barrington Pitt Miller at Janus Capital in Denver. “The European muddle-through scenario has been proven not to be a terribly good one.”

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Very predictable, and very blind too: “..Wal-Mart believes it can grow sales by 3 to 4% a year over the next three years..”

Wal-Mart Puts The Squeeze On Suppliers To Share Its Pain (Reuters)

Suppliers of everything from groceries to sports equipment are already being squeezed for price cuts and cost sharing by Wal-Mart. Now they are bracing for the pressure to ratchet up even more after a shock earnings warning from the retailer last week. The discount store behemoth has always had a reputation for demanding lower prices from vendors but Reuters has learned from interviews with suppliers and consultants, as well as reviewing some contracts, that even by its standards Wal-Mart has been turning up the heat on them this year. “The ground is shaking here,” said Cameron Smith, head of Cameron Smith & Associates, a major recruiting firm for suppliers located close to Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. “Suppliers are going to have to help Wal-Mart get back on track.”

For the vendors, dealing with Wal-Mart has always been tough because of its size – despite recent troubles it still generates more than $340 billion of annual sales in the U.S. That accounts for more than 10% of the American retail market, excluding auto and restaurant sales, and the company increasingly sells a lot overseas too. To risk having brands kicked off Wal-Mart’s shelves because of a dispute over pricing can badly hurt a supplier. On Wednesday, Wal-Mart stunned Wall Street by forecasting that its earnings would decline by as much as 12% in its next fiscal year to January 2017 as it struggles to offset rising costs from increases in the wages of its hourly-paid staff, improvements in its stores, and investments to grow online sales.

This at a time when it faces relentless price competition from Amazon.com, dollar stores and regional supermarket chains. Keeping the prices it pays suppliers as low as it can is essential if it is to start to claw back some of this cost hit to its margins. Helped by investments to spruce up stores and boost worker pay, Wal-Mart believes it can grow sales by 3 to 4% a year over the next three years, or by as much as $60 billion, offering suppliers new opportunities to boost their own revenues.

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Here’s hoping.

Brazil’s Corruption Crackdown Can’t Be Stopped (Bloomberg)

In a continent of peacocks, Brazilian federal judge Sergio Moro makes an unlikely celebrity. Laconic and poker-faced, he has little time for the spotlight, and yet his name is emblazoned on t-shirts and protest banners, and splashed across social media. Why the fuss? Check out the 13th federal district court, where Moro has presided over the largest corruption investigation in the country’s history, sent muckety-mucks to jail and helped restore civic pride in a land where too often justice has been honored in the breach. So after the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled last month to take a high-profile defendant named by witnesses in the landmark Petrobras case away from the 13th district, worried citizens hit the streets. Is the so-called Operation Carwash investigation into looting at the state oil company in danger of getting derailed, as some claim?

Brazil’s white-collar crooks should be so lucky. True, the scope of the scam at Latin America’s biggest corporation might never have come to light had it not been for the 43-year-old judge, who specializes in money-laundering cases, and a dedicated cadre of prosecutors. From their base in Curitiba, a city in southern Brazil, investigators exposed what Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot called a “complex criminal organization” bent on skimming money from padded supply contracts with Petrobras into political coffers. But getting to Curitiba took the collaboration of the best minds in public service, from the federal police to the Finance Ministry’s financial intelligence unit. That web of sleuths and wonks is the best assurance that the effort to shut down Brazil’s most brazen political crime ring will carry on, no matter who holds the gavel.

The probe began when federal police watching a gas station and one-time car wash (hence the name) in the nation’s capital uncovered a money-changing scheme to spirit gains overseas. The public prosecutor’s office took up the chase and, tapping into finance ministry data, followed the money trail to Petrobras. Janot took the investigation across the Atlantic, where Swiss prosecutors found evidence pointing to the head of Brazil’s lower house, as well as to corporate leaders. Some of Brazil’s biggest oil and construction executives are behind bars, and dozens of politicians are under investigation, including the head of the senate. And despite recently ruling to spin off parts of the investigation, the Supreme Court has consistently buttressed Moro’s authority in the past.

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“One in four borrowers is either delinquent or in default on his or her student loans.”

US Supreme Court May Weigh In on a Student Debt Battle (Bloomberg)

Mark Tetzlaff is a 57-year-old recovering alcoholic who has been convicted of victim intimidation and domestic abuse. He may also be the person with the best shot at upending the way U.S. courts treat student debt for bankrupt borrowers. Tetzlaff has spent three years battling lawyers for the Department of Education over the right to have his student loans canceled in bankruptcy. On Thursday, he appealed his case to the Supreme Court. If the nation’s highest court takes the case on, it will be one of the rare occasions when it has addressed the $1.3 trillion pile of student debt held by 41 million Americans. Tezlaff also got a new attorney after representing himself for most of his case. The lawyer, Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, successfully argued part of the landmark June case that made same-sex marriage a legal right in all 50 states.

Hallward-Driemeier and his team have asked the court to clarify 1970s-era rules that prevent borrowers from getting rid of education debt in bankruptcy, except in cases in which repaying it would constitute an “undue hardship.” Lawmakers never fully defined “undue hardship,” leaving it to the courts to define these special, and rare, circumstances in individual cases. Tetzlaff has said that the standard being applied to his case is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court may be tempted to consider the case partly because it would be able to resolve a split between federal courts in their interpretation of the law, according to court documents. Courts disagree mainly on which of two tests should be used to determine whether someone can erase his or her debt in bankruptcy.

The so-called Brunner test is used in most federal courts and was applied in Tetzlaff’s case. It is the strictest version of the standard because it requires debtors to prove that they have diligently tried to repay their loans, that making any payments would deprive them of a “minimal” standard of living, and that the hardship affecting them today will persist long into the future. Over the past two decades, lawyers arguing on behalf of the government have further pushed courts to take the most stringent view of each one of those components. Tezlaff’s legal team has said the Supreme Court should instead apply a less harsh alternative to the Brunner test, known as the “totality of the circumstances” test, which has been gaining ground in courts across the country.

[..] It would be hard to overstate the significance of this case for people struggling with student debt. Student loans are the largest source of consumer debt aside from mortgages. The total amount of outstanding student debt is expected to double to $2.5 trillion in the next decade. One in four borrowers is either delinquent or in default on his or her student loans.

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Surprisingly nice write-up of Trudeau for Bloomberg. I wish Justin well, but Canada’s in for very hard times.

New Canada PM Justin Trudeau: Out of Father’s Shadow and Into Power (Bloomberg)

As a young man, Justin Trudeau continually sought respite from his father’s long shadow. He debated in university as Jason Tremblay, boxed as Justin St. Clair and eventually settled on Canada’s west coast – as far in Canada as he could get from being Pierre Trudeau’s eldest and still be close to great skiing. Now 43, he has come full circle, reviving a moribund Liberal Party to a solid majority amid a new wave of the Trudeaumania that swept his father to power in 1968. In ousting Stephen Harper Monday, he becomes the country’s first inter-generational prime minister and gets to move back into his childhood home. Trudeau campaigned on a brand of optimism, transparency and youthful energy – while promising government activism to stimulate a weak economy and address middle class anxiety over income inequality and retirement security.

In contrast to the departing Harper, he will run deficits willingly, reduce Canada’s combat role against the Islamic State and get behind the Iran nuclear deal. He’ll also rule out the purchase of F-35 fighters in favor of more spending on the navy and join President Barrack Obama in Paris in pushing for aggressive action on climate change. He is, in many ways, the happy faced anti-Harper. Trudeau’s political role model is not so much his beloved “papa,” whose public persona over 15 years as prime minister mixed charisma and aloofness, but his maternal grandfather, Jimmy Sinclair, a consummate glad-handing, baby-kissing Scottish immigrant to Canada and Rhodes scholar.

It was no accident that Trudeau held his final campaign event Sunday night in the Vancouver constituency his grandfather represented from 1940 to 1958. “I’m not sure if love of campaigning has any kind of genetic component, but if it does, I can trace my passion for it straight back to grandpa,” he told an enthusiastic crowd on what was the birthday of both his father and his eldest son, eight-year-old Xavier James, named for Sinclair. “He loved knocking on doors, getting out, meeting with people, taking the time to really listen to what they had to say. It’s his style that I’ve adopted as my own.”

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“Both of them had a penchant for using precisely the same words to describe the country’s future as an “Energy Superpower”.

Farewell Fossil Fools – Harper And Abbott Both Dispatched (CS)

The prospects for the forthcoming global climate conference to be held in Paris later this year have received a significant diplomatic boost. The two developed world leaders most intent on undermining the conference – Australia’s Tony Abbott and Canada’s Stephen Harper – have been dispatched to the political wilderness. Based on early Canadian election vote counting Monday night, Harper’s Conservative Party look set to lose office, with the centrist Liberals having been declared the winner of 173 seats at the time of writing and projected to win 184 of the 338 lower house seats (according to Canada’s Globe and Mail), giving them the ability to rule in their own right. The Conservatives have suffered big losses, with latest counting giving them 92 seats with a projection of 102 seats.

Back in June 2014 when Abbott visited Harper in Canada, the two put on an act of professing concern for climate change while describing a policy that would actually limit carbon emissions as something that would “clobber the economy” in Abbott’s words while being “job killing” in Harper’s words. As Climate Spectator noted in Harper and Abbott: Two fossils fooling no one, what was plainly obvious was that both Harper and Abbott had confused the interests of the coal mining industry (in Abbott’s case) and tar sands (Harper) with the interests of their respective country as a whole.

A year on it appears the two of them had far too narrowly focussed and deeply flawed economic strategies. [..] Harper and Tony Abbott have followed eerily similar strategies. Both of them had a penchant for using precisely the same words to describe the country’s future as an “Energy Superpower”. Unfortunately for them the plummeting price of a barrel of oil and a tonne of coal left them both floundering without a coherent economic narrative for how to drive their respective nations’ future prosperity. They then both resorted in desperation to the bottom of the barrel trying to using fears of terrorism in an attempt to restore their popularity.

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“Resistance will be local. It will be militant. It will defy the rules imposed by the corporate state. It will turn its back on state and NGO environmental organizations. And it will not stop until corporate power is destroyed or we are destroyed.”

Death by Fracking (Chris Hedges)

The maniacal drive by the human species to extinguish itself includes a variety of lethal pursuits. One of the most efficient is fracking. One day, courtesy of corporations such as Halliburton, BP and ExxonMobil, a gallon of water will cost more than a gallon of gasoline. Fracking, which involves putting chemicals into potable water and then injecting millions of gallons of the solution into the earth at high pressure to extract oil and gas, has become one of the primary engines, along with the animal agriculture industry, for accelerating global warming and climate change. The Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers who are profiting from this cycle of destruction will—once clean water is scarce and crop yields decline, once temperatures soar and cities disappear under the sea, once droughts and famines ripple across the globe, once mass migrations begin—surely profit from the next round of destruction.

Collective suicide is a good business, at least until it is complete. It is a pity most of us will not be around to see the power elite go down. [..] The activists are waging a war against a corporate state that is deaf and blind to the rights of its citizens and the imperative to protect the ecosystem. The corporate state, largely to pacify citizens being frog-marched to their own execution, passes environmental laws and regulations that, at best, slow the ongoing environmental destruction. Corporations, which routinely ignore even these tepid restrictions, largely write the laws and legislation designed to regulate their activity. They rewrite them or overturn them as the focus of their exploitation changes. They turn public hearings on local environmental issues into choreographed charades or shut them down if activists succeed in muscling their way into the room to demand a voice.

They dominate the national message through a pliable and bankrupt corporate media and slick public relations. Elected officials are little more than corporate employees, dependent on industry money to stay in office and, when they retire from “public service,” salivating for jobs in the industry. Environmental reform has become a joke on the public. And the Big Green environmental groups are complicit because they rely on donors, at times from the fossil fuel and animal agriculture industries; they are silent about the reality of corporate power, largely ineffectual, and part of the fiction of the democratic process. Resistance will be local. It will be militant. It will defy the rules imposed by the corporate state. It will turn its back on state and NGO environmental organizations. And it will not stop until corporate power is destroyed or we are destroyed.

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John Helmer has written a deep-digging and extensive series on the Dutch MH17 report (h/t Yves Smith). I’ve left the topic alone, because Holland was never in a position to write a neutral analysis. From the get-go it was made clear that Russia and the rebels were responsible, proof be damned, because that fitted the overall anti-Russia mood whipped up by US and EU. What’s perhaps most galling is that the question of intent has been taken off the table altogether: whoever shot down the plane, did they do it on purpose? In ignoring that question, the answer is implied, and analysis makes way for propaganda. Victims’ families be damned.

Is There A War Crime In What The Dutch Safety Board Is Broadcasting? (Helmer)

Tjibbe Joustra, chairman of the Dutch Safety Board, wants it to be very clear that Russia is criminally responsible for the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17, 2014; that a Russian-supplied ground-to-air missile, fired on Russian orders from territory under Russian control, exploded lethally to break up the MH17 aircraft in the air, killing everyone on board; and that Russian objections to these conclusions are no more than cover-up and dissimulation for the guilty. Joustra also wants to make sure that no direct evidence for what he says can be tested, not in the report which his agency issued last week; nor in the three Dutch government organs which prepared and analysed the evidence of the victims’ bodies, the aircraft remains, and the missile parts on contract to the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) – the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR), the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), and the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI).

So Joustra began broadcasting his version of what he says happened before the release of the DSB report. He then continued in an anteroom of the Gilze-Rijen airbase, where the DSB report was presented to the press; in a Dutch television studio; and on the pages of the Dutch newspapers. But when he and his spokesman were asked today for the evidence for what Joustra has been broadcasting, they insisted that if the evidence isn’t to be found in the DSB report, Joustra’s evidence cannot be released. So, if the evidence for Joustra’s claims cannot be found in the NLR, TMO and NFI reports either, what exactly is Joustra doing – is he telling the truth? Is he broadcasting propaganda? Is he lying? Is he covering up for a crime?

In the absence of the evidence required to substantiate what the DSB chairman is broadcasting, is the likelihood that Joustra is concealing who perpetrated the crime equal to the probability that he is telling the truth? And if there is such a chance that Joustra is concealing or covering up, is this evidence that Joustra may be committing a crime himself? In English law, that may be the crime of perverting the course of justice. In US law, it might be the crime of obstruction of justice. In German law, it might be the crime of Vortäuschung einer Straftat. By the standard of World War II, Joustra’s crime might be propagandizing for the losing side, that’s to say the enemy of the winning side.

When William Joyce, an Anglo-American broadcaster on German radio during the war and known as Lord Haw-Haw, was prosecuted in London in 1945, he was convicted of treason and hanged. The treason indictment said he “did aid and assist the enemies of the King by broadcasting to the King’s subjects propaganda on behalf of the King’s enemies.” The legality of this indictment and the conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords.

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They’re going to die like flies.

Stranded in Cold Rain, a Logjam of Refugees in the Balkans (NY Times)

After weeks of warnings about the dangers involved in Europe’s migrant influx, and fears about winter’s arrival, the worries of public officials and humanitarian groups were realized on Monday when thousands of asylum seekers, many of them families with small children, began to back up at crossings and were stranded in a chilly rain. The backups came just two days after Hungary closed its border with Croatia, and occurred as countries on the north end of the Balkan route tightened border controls while states to its south quarreled over how to manage the unabated human flow into Europe.

The logjam followed a month of relative stability across the Balkans and Central Europe, as countries unofficially worked together to create a safe and relatively quick route north and west by transporting asylum seekers by bus or train from one border to the next, where they could exit on their way toward Germany, Sweden and other desired destinations. The arrangement filled the void left by the European Union, which has talked, bickered and failed to come up with a common solution to the problem of accommodating hundreds of thousands of new arrivals, many fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, or repression in places like Eritrea in northern Africa.

A recent effort to stem the flow of migrants by keeping them in Turkey, and preventing them from entering the European Union through Greece, faltered over the weekend, when little progress was reported in talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Turkish leaders. No other plans appear to be on the table, and the safety of the migrants has depended upon the cooperation of the countries along the route, many of them dubious about the migration from the start and resentful that Germany has encouraged it by agreeing to accommodate asylum seekers. That policy by the government of Ms. Merkel has created tensions in Germany, as well, where the weekend stabbing of the politician in charge of refugee affairs in Cologne heightened the polemics surrounding the influx.

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“I could get there and back for just €30. That’s because I’m British. I am not Syrian, Afghan, Palestinian, Iraqi, Somali or Eritrean.”

Without Safe Access To Asylum, Refugees Will Keep Risking Their Lives (Crawley)

I stood in the corner of a dusty cemetery on the Greek island of Lesvos and watched a mother bury her child. As the tiny body of a baby boy wrapped in a white sheet was lifted from the boot of a car, she fell to her knees and howled with pain. The child had slipped from her arms into the cold waters of the Aegean as she made the journey from Turkey to join her husband, who had already travelled to Germany to seek protection from the war that is ravaging their home country, Syria. Her baby should not have died. The journey from Turkey to Lesvos is short and safe. If I wanted to take a ferry trip from the port of Mytiline to Ayvalik on the Turkish coast, the trip would take around an hour. I could get there and back for just €30. That’s because I’m British. I am not Syrian, Afghan, Palestinian, Iraqi, Somali or Eritrean.

I am not required to put my life at risk by paying a smuggler hundreds or even thousands of euros to sit in the bottom of a motorised dingy with 30 or 40 other people to take the exact same journey. I do not need to close my eyes and pray that my children and I will make it to the other side without drowning. After a long summer of protracted negotiations about how to respond to the crisis in the Mediterranean region, this is what European asylum policy still looks like in practice. Although (most) EU member states have reluctantly agreed to redistribute 160,000 of those who have already arrived, there is still no legal route for refugees to enter Europe. And with no hope of a better life at home, thousands of people continue to make the illegal, expensive and potentially dangerous journey across the sea. They know the risks, but the water seems like a better option than the alternatives.

Although Turkey offers temporary protection to Syrian refugees, it is not a signatory to the 1967 Protocol which extends the protection available under the 1951 Refugee Convention to those coming from outside Europe. That means no guaranteed access to employment, education or even basic health care. Conditions for Syrian refugees in Turkey are well documented and known to be deteriorating. There is no prospect that things will improve, no hope for a better future. Those who are not from Syria get nothing. And so they come to Europe. Since the beginning of 2015, more than a quarter of a million people have arrived on Lesvos by sea, and still more are coming. More than 70,000 people arrived in September alone and, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the numbers are set to be even higher for October.

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Cattle trade.

Merkel In Turkey: Trade-Offs And Refugees (Boukalas)

The gilded thrones may have been the perfect expression of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s sultanic ambitions but they appeared to make his guest, Angela Merkel, somewhat uncomfortable judging by the customary photographs. Maybe the German chancellor was thinking that such a lavish setting was not appropriate for discussing the fate of thousands of people whose only surviving assets are their bodies, their children and whatever dollars or euros they have managed to save up to pay their traffickers. Maybe Merkel, as she sat in the kind of showy opulence that usually reveals something deeper, was thinking that she was being used by the Turkish president as a propaganda tool, that her presence in Istanbul just a few days before elections in Turkey was giving Erdogan a powerful boost.

Particularly at a time when the Turkish government is facing so many accusations: of waging war against the Kurds and brushing off every proposal for a peace settlement in a bid to appeal to those who want authoritarian rule; of racism and intolerance; of persecuting its political rivals; and of quashing free speech by cracking down on “unorthodox” journalists who don’t propagate the Erdogan narrative. Merkel cannot be unaware of all this, and even if her own advisers failed to brief her 100 Turkish university professors did in an open letter. Let us accept that on a mission during which she was not just representing Germany but the EU as a whole, Merkel decided to strike a concessionary tone for the sake of the issue at hand: the protection of the refugees, or, rather, the stemming of the flow of refugees.

The idea is that the refugee influx will abate not as a result of peace in Syria but by convincing Turkey to be more vigilant of its borders, to accept the creation of camps on its territory where refugees can be identified and documented and to grant passage to Europe to those who are deemed eligible for refugee status. It is a technical solution to a political problem; ergo, no solution at all. Turkey, naturally, did not just demand financial remuneration for its cooperation. It asked that its own people be given easier to access to Europe. And it got it. It asked that its European accession be speeded up even though it has fulfilled only a handful of the 40 criteria. And it was promised this would happen by the most powerful voice in Europe: the German one.

And what about the refugees? If only they had been the main topic of discussion at that meeting. Instead, they will keep drowning. And if the complex war in Syria continues unabated, even the winter will not prevent them from trying to get across.

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Most shocking: nobody’s shocked by dead babies anymore.

Greek Coast Guard Rescues 2,561 Migrants Over The Weekend (AP)

Greece’s coast guard says it has rescued 2,561 people in dozens of incidents in the eastern Aegean over the weekend as Europe’s refugee crisis continues unabated. The coast guard said Monday the rescues occurred in 69 operations from Friday morning until Monday morning near eight Aegean islands. The number doesn’t include those who make it ashore themselves from the nearby Turkish coast, often in overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels. On Sunday, the bodies of two women, a baby and a teenager were recovered near the remote island of KastelLorizo after their vessel overturned, while 12 others were rescued by a passing sailing boat. The deaths came a day after a 7-year-old boy died after falling into the water from a boat carrying 80 people who reached the island of Farmakonisi.

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Jul 282015
 
 July 28, 2015  Posted by at 9:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle July 28 2015


John Collier FSA housing project for Martin aircraft workers, Middle RIver, MD 1943

Weakness in Asia Batters Currencies Abroad (WSJ)
Wealth Doesn’t Trickle Down, It Just Floods Offshore -$32 Trillion (Guardian)
Hong Kong Is Feeling China’s Pain (Bloomberg)
The Good News in China’s Stock Plunge (Pesek)
How Much Worse Can the Junk-Bond Sell-Off Get? (WolfStreet)
The Few Who Won’t Say ‘Sorry’ for Financial Crisis (Ritholtz)
Varoufakis Unplugged: The London Call Transcript (FT)
Statement on the FinMin’s Plan B Working Group (Yanis Varoufakis’ office)
Varoufakis: It Would Be Irresponsible Not To Have Drawn Up Contingency Plans (E)
Yanis Varoufakis Admits ‘Contingency Plan’ For Euro Exit (Guardian) /td>
Contingency Plans (Paul Krugman)
Greece’s Headache: How To Lift Capital Controls (AFP)
Germany Rides Into Its Greek Colony On The “Quadriga” (Zero Hedge)
IMF Paints Dim Europe Picture, Says More Money Printing May Be Needed (Reuters)
How the Greek Deal Could Destroy the Euro (NY Times)
The Way To Fix Greece Is To Fix The Banks (Coppola)
France Wants To Outlaw Discrimination Against The Poor (Guardian)
Dutch Journalist, MH17 Expert: ‘UN Tribunal Attempt to Hide Kiev’s Role’ (RI)
Potemkin Party (Jim Kunstler)
It’s Really Very Simple (Dmitry Orlov)

Any country heavily dependent on commodities trade must suffer the inevitable.

Weakness in Asia Batters Currencies Abroad (WSJ)

The global commodities slump is testing the resilience of resource-driven economies, pushing currencies from Australia, Canada and Norway to lows not seen since the financial crisis. Weakening energy and metals prices are punishing investors, companies and governments. Slumping demand from China, the world’s biggest purchaser of many materials, is rippling through foreign-exchange markets, reflecting expectations that a valuable source of export growth is drying up. But few countries are being battered as badly as Canada, due to its dependence on the hard-hit energy industry and its central bank’s decision this month to cut its key overnight interest rate for the second time this year.

The Bank of Canada expects Canada’s gross domestic product to rise a paltry 1.1% this year, down from previous forecasts of 1.9% made earlier in the year, as a persistent decline in oil prices and a drop in exports that the central bank described as “puzzling” hampered growth. The decision to reduce rates is adding to the woes of the Canadian dollar, which is called the loonie, underscoring the delicate balance that policy makers must strike at a time of uneven global growth and whipsaw trading in currency markets. At the same time, a boost in exports—often billed as one of the silver linings of a currency’s decline—has yet to arrive.

“My gut feeling is that it’s going to be bad for some time to come,” said Thomas Laskey at Aberdeen Asset Management, which has US$483 billion under management. Mr. Laskey said he is shorting the Canadian dollar—a bet that the currency will fall—until he sees an improvement in Canadian oil-and-gas companies’ investment spending. The loonie is down 8.1% against the U.S. dollar since May 14 in New York trading, making it one of the biggest victims of the steep decline in global commodity prices since then. In that same period, the Australian dollar is down 10% and the Norwegian krone, which is pegged to the euro, has dropped 9.8% against its U.S. counterpart.

Plunging commodity prices and the end of a mining investment boom have pushed the Reserve Bank of Australia to cut interest rates twice this year. The central bank said that while it is open to further easing monetary policy, it is also wary of some of the unintended consequences of lower rates, such as burgeoning real-estate prices in Sydney. Norway’s central bank cut interest rates in June in a bid to boost its flagging economy, which is closely tied to oil exports. Norges Bank said more reductions are likely before the end of the year.

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“Inequality is much, much worse than official statistics show, but politicians are still relying on trickle-down to transfer wealth to poorer people. “This new data shows the exact opposite has happened..”

Wealth Doesn’t Trickle Down, It Just Floods Offshore -$32 Trillion (Guardian)

The world’s super-rich have taken advantage of lax tax rules to siphon off at least $21 trillion, and possibly as much as $32tn, from their home countries and hide it abroad – a sum larger than the entire American economy. James Henry, a former chief economist at consultancy McKinsey and an expert on tax havens, has conducted groundbreaking new research for the Tax Justice Network campaign group – sifting through data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the IMF and private sector analysts to construct an alarming picture that shows capital flooding out of countries across the world and disappearing into the cracks in the financial system.

Comedian Jimmy Carr became the public face of tax-dodging in the UK earlier this year when it emerged that he had made use of a Cayman Islands-based trust to slash his income tax bill. But the kind of scheme Carr took part in is the tip of the iceberg, according to Henry’s report, entitled The Price of Offshore Revisited. Despite the professed determination of the G20 group of leading economies to tackle tax secrecy, investors in scores of countries – including the US and the UK – are still able to hide some or all of their assets from the taxman. “This offshore economy is large enough to have a major impact on estimates of inequality of wealth and income; on estimates of national income and debt ratios; and – most importantly – to have very significant negative impacts on the domestic tax bases of ‘source’ countries,” Henry says.

Using the BIS’s measure of “offshore deposits” – cash held outside the depositor’s home country – and scaling it up according to the proportion of their portfolio large investors usually hold in cash, he estimates that between $21tn and $32tn in financial assets has been hidden from the world’s tax authorities. “These estimates reveal a staggering failure,” says John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network. “Inequality is much, much worse than official statistics show, but politicians are still relying on trickle-down to transfer wealth to poorer people. “This new data shows the exact opposite has happened: for three decades extraordinary wealth has been cascading into the offshore accounts of a tiny number of super-rich.”

In total, 10 million individuals around the world hold assets offshore, according to Henry’s analysis; but almost half of the minimum estimate of $21tn – $9.8tn – is owned by just 92,000 people. And that does not include the non-financial assets – art, yachts, mansions in Kensington – that many of the world’s movers and shakers like to use as homes for their immense riches.

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“Chinese tour group visitors to Hong Kong plunged 40% in the first two weeks of July compared with the same period a year earlier..”

Hong Kong Is Feeling China’s Pain (Bloomberg)

For Hong Kong, it’s been one thing after another when it comes to China. A series of anti-China and pro-democracy protests last year prompted stores to close and mainland tour groups to cancel bookings. Meanwhile, a slowing Chinese economy and President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption and austerity campaigns have also made the Chinese more wary of buying pricey cognac and Gucci bags in the city. While the biggest outbound destination for Chinese tour groups last year, Hong Kong is in danger of losing its lead to regional rivals such as Thailand and South Korea, as well as mainland alternatives including Shenzhen and Shanghai. Mainland Chinese travelers to Hong Kong last year grew by the slowest pace since 2009, Bloomberg Intelligence data show.

Chinese tour group visitors to Hong Kong plunged 40% in the first two weeks of July compared with the same period a year earlier, the Hong Kong Economic Times reported Monday, citing Michael Wu, head of the city’s Travel Industry Council. With fewer mainland Chinese staying overnight, average daily rates at Hong Kong’s hotels fell for a ninth straight month through June. In addition, China slashed tariffs on products such as face creams and imported sneakers from June 1, reducing Hong Kong’s draw as a cheaper shopping destination. The effect on Hong Kong’s retailers has been immediate and painful. Retail sales fell in four of the five months through May, with jewelry, watches and other high-end gifts the worst hit.

Burberry Group Plc, whose stores in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui shopping districts sell HK$18,500 ($2,400) handbags and HK$24,000 dresses, has said it may try and lower its rent bill to offset a worsening slump in Hong Kong, while Emperor Watch & Jewellery, which sells Cartier and Montblanc watches, said it may shut one or two of its Hong Kong stores when their leases end this year. And the news out of China doesn’t inspire much confidence. French distiller Remy Cointreau reported first-quarter sales that missed analyst estimates as Chinese wholesalers continued to hold back on cognac orders. Prada also reported first-quarter profit that trailed analyst estimates on slumping sales in China, while foreign carmakers including Audi have stepped up discounts to woo buyers.

So there’s no relief in sight for Hong Kong. The tourism board forecasts overall visitor arrival growth to slow to 6.4% in 2015 from 12% last year, with mainland Chinese tourist arrivals expected to drop by half to 8%. Hong Kong’s economy expanded 2.1% in the first quarter from a year earlier, weaker than a revised 2.4% expansion in October through December. “We’re just too exposed to China,” said Silvia Liu at UBS. “Structurally, until the tourism sector consolidates and Hong Kong finds new growth engines, I don’t see the way out yet.”

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It will force a free market?!

The Good News in China’s Stock Plunge (Pesek)

Panic is in the air as China suffers its biggest one-day stock plunge since 2007. It shouldn’t be. The 8.5% slide in the Shanghai Composite Index is actually a development that could leave China better off eight years from now. I’m focusing on eight both because it’s an auspicious number in Chinese folklore (the Beijing Olympics didn’t begin on 8/8/08 by accident) and Beijing’s idea of nirvana. Growth returning to 8% (relative to this year’s 7% target) would buttress President Xi Jinping’s reformist bona fides. Instead, stocks fell by that much Monday as Xi’s magic has lost potency. Why is that a good thing? It’s at once a reminder that rationality is returning to mainland markets and a message to Xi to stop putting the financial cart before the proverbial horse.

Since mid-June, when shares began sliding, Xi’s market-rescue squad has tried everything imaginable: interest-rate cuts, margin-lending increases, bans on short selling, a moratorium on initial public offerings, hauling supposedly rogue traders in for a talking to, ordering state-run institutions to buy shares, halting trading in at least half of listed companies, you name it. What Xi hasn’t tried is upgrading the economy and financial system in such a way as to help the stock market thrive. To find out what he should do next, Xi could do worse than to check in with Henry Paulson. Even though Paulson might regard with scorn China’s love of the number eight, it was on his watch as Treasury secretary in 2008 that the U.S. had its own brush with financial collapse.

Paulson has been merciless in his all-hype-and-no-fundamentals critique of Xi’s government. “China is especially vulnerable at this point because while its economy has grown and matured, its capital markets have lagged behind,” he wrote in the Financial Times. “It is no surprise that those ideologically opposed to markets would use recent events to make the opposite argument — that to prevent market instability, Beijing should slow the pace of financial liberalisation or perhaps even abandon market-based reforms altogether.” Yet, he argued, “while Beijing’s instinct to protect investors is understandable, the best way of doing so is to create a modern capital market.”

That’s why ambivalence toward Xi’s titanically large market interventions could be a positive. It refocuses Beijing on what’s needed to re-create the vibrant markets that prevail in New York and Hong Kong. Xi’s Communist Party has tried and failed to stabilize things by edict. In fact, heavy-handed manipulation has set back Beijing’s designs on making the yuan a global reserve currency and getting Shanghai shares included in MSCI’s indexes.

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Junk bonds dive with commodities.

How Much Worse Can the Junk-Bond Sell-Off Get? (WolfStreet)

Commodities had once again an ugly week. Copper hit the lowest level since June 2009. Gold dropped below $1,100 an ounce. Other metals dropped too. Agricultural commodities fell; corn plunged nearly 7% for the week. Crude oil swooned, with West Texas Intermediate dropping nearly 7% to $47.97 a barrel, a true debacle for energy junk-bond investors. It was the kind of rout that bottom fishers a few months ago apparently didn’t think was possible. For example, in March, coal miner Peabody Energy had issued 10% second-lien notes due 2022 at 97.5 cents on the dollar. Now, these junk bonds are trading at around 49 cents on the dollar, having lost half their value in four months, and 17% in July alone, according to S&P Capital IQ’s LCD HY Weekly.

Yield-hungry fund managers that bought them at issuance and stuffed them into their bond funds that people hold in their retirement accounts should be sued for malpractice. Among the bonds: Cliffs Natural Resources down 27.6%, SandBridge down 30%, Murray Energy down 21.2%, and Linn Energy down 22.3%, according to Bloomberg. For example, Linn Energy 6.25% notes due in 2019 were trading at 78 cents on the dollar at the beginning of July and at 58 on Friday, according to LCD. There was bloodshed beyond energy, such as AK Steel’s 7.625% notes due in 2021. They were trading at 62 cents on the dollar, down 22% from the beginning of July. “The performance is a disappointment to investors who purchased about $40 billion of junk-rated bonds from energy companies this year, thinking that the worst of the slump was over,” Bloomberg noted.

The riskiest junk bonds, tracked by the BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield CCC or Below Effective Yield Index, have been hit hard, with yields jumping from the ludicrous levels below 8% of last summer to 12.19% as of Thursday, the highest since July 2012. Note the spike in yield during the “Taper Tantrum” in the summer of 2013 when the Fed discussed ending “QE Infinity.” After which bonds soared once again and yields descended to record lows, until the oil panic set in, as investors in the permanently cash-flow negative shale oil revolution were coming to grips with the plunging price of oil. But in the spring, bottom fishers stepped in and jostled for position as energy companies sold them $40 billion in new bonds, including coal producer Peabody. Now a lot of people who touched these misbegotten bonds are scrutinizing their burned fingers.

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“..the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999..”

The Few Who Won’t Say ‘Sorry’ for Financial Crisis (Ritholtz)

“Some people look at subprime lending and see evil. I look at subprime lending and I see the American dream in action. My mother lived it as a result of a finance company making a mortgage loan that a bank would not make. – Former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm”

Many elected or appointed officials have a specific belief system that they may act upon in the implementation of policies. When the policies that flow from those beliefs go terribly wrong, it is natural to want to learn why. As is so often the case, that underlying ideology is usually a good place to begin looking. In the aftermath of the great credit crisis, we have seen all manner of contrition from responsible parties. Most notably, Alan Greenspan admitted error, saying as much in Congressional testimony. Greenspan was unintentionally ironic when he answered a question about whether ideology led him down the wrong path when it came to preventing irresponsible lending practices in subprime mortgages: “Yes, I’ve found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I’ve been very distressed by that fact.”

Other contributors to the crisis have been similarly humbled. In “Bailout Nation,” I held former President Bill Clinton, and his two Treasury secretaries, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, responsible for signing the ruinous Commodity Futures Modernization Act that exempted derivatives from regulation and oversight. The CFMA was passed as part of a larger bill by unanimous consent, and that Clinton signed on Dec. 21, 2000. Clinton joined Greenspan in admitting his contribution to the credit crisis, as well as saying the advice he received from his Treasury secretaries – Rubin and Summers – was wrong. The CFMA removed the standard regulations that all other financial instruments follow: reserve requirements, counter-party disclosures and exchange listings.

Bloomberg reported that Clinton said his advisers argued that derivatives didn’t need transparency because they were “expensive and sophisticated and only a handful of people will buy them and they don’t need any extra protection. The flaw in that argument was that first of all, sometimes people with a lot of money make stupid decisions and make it without transparency.” Even the American Enterprise Institute changed the name of its “Financial Deregulation Project” to the more benign “program on financial policy studies.” That is as close to an apology as we can expect for its part in pushing for market deregulation.

The exception to any post-crisis self-reflection is former Senator Phil Gramm. Although he was one of the chief architects of the radical gutting of financial regulations and oversight rules during the two decades that preceded the financial crisis, the former senator remains a stubborn believer that banks and markets can regulate themselves. Perhaps more than anyone else, Gramm drove the legislation that allowed banks to get much bigger and derivatives to run wild. His name is on the law – the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 – that overturned the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that forced commercial banks to get out of the risky investment-banking business.

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It really is very revealing. How about: “Marsh wraps up the teleconference [..], reminding everyone Varoufakis’ remarks were under the so-called Chatham House rules, which means the information can be passed on but Varoufakis should not be cited as the source of the information.

Varoufakis Unplugged: The London Call Transcript (FT)

The London-based Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum, headed by two ex-Financial Times scribes – chairman John Plender and managing director David Marsh – on Monday released a 24-minute audiotape of a teleconference they held nearly two weeks ago with Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister. Details of the call were first revealed by the Greek daily Kathimerini, and much of most sensational revelations Varoufakis made were about a surreptitious project he and a small team of aides worked on to set up a parallel payments system that could be activated if the European Central Bank forced the shutdown of the Greek financial system.

But Varoufakis also made some other interesting allegations, including claims the IMF believes the Greek bailout is doomed and that Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, offered him another ministry shortly after he was relieved as finance minister. We’ve had a listen to the entire call, and transcribed most of it – excluding some inconsequential asides to the teleconference’s hosts, Messrs Marsh and Norman Lamont, the former UK finance minister.

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Have the tapes taken Plan B off the table for good?

Statement on the FinMin’s Plan B Working Group (Yanis Varoufakis’ office)

During the Greek government’s negotiations with the Eurogroup, Minister Varoufakis oversaw a Working Group with a remit to prepare contingency plans against the creditors’ efforts to undermine the Greek government and in view of forces at work within the Eurozone to have Greece expelled from the euro. The Working Group was convened by the Minister, at the behest of the Prime Minister, and was coordinated by Professor James K. Galbraith. It is worth noting that, prior to Mr Varoufakis’ comfirmation of the existence of the said Working Group, the Minister was criticized widely for having neglected to make such contingency plans. The Bank of Greece, the ECB, treasuries of EU member-states, banks, international organisations etc. had all drawn up such plans since 2012.

Greece’s Ministry of Finance would have been remiss had it made no attempt to draw up contingency plans. Ever since Mr Varoufakis announced the existence of the Working Group, the media have indulged in far-fetched articles that damage the quality of public debate. The Ministry of Finance’s Working Group worked exclusively within the framework of government policy and its recommendations were always aimed at serving the public interest, at respecting the laws of the land, and at keeping the country in the Eurozone. Regarding the recent article by “Kathimerini” newspaper entitled “Plan B involving highjacking and hacking”, Kathimerini’s failure to contact Mr Varoufakis for comment and its reporter’s erroneous references to “highjacking tax file numbers of all taxpayers” sowed confusion and contributed to the media-induced disinformation.

The article refers to the Ministry’s project as described by Minister Varoufakis in his 6th July farewell speech during the handover ceremony in the Ministry of Finance. In that speech Mr Varoufakis clearly stated: “The General Secretariat of Information Systems had begun investigating means by which Taxisnet (Nb. the Ministry’s Tax Web Interface) could become something more than it currently is, to become a payments system for third parties, a system that improves efficiency and minimises the arrears of the state to citizens and vice versa.” That project was not part of the Working Group’s remit, was presented in full by Minister Varoufakis to Cabinet, and should, in Minister Varoufakis’ view, be implemented independently of the negotiations with Greece’s creditors, as it will contribute considerable efficiency gains in transactions between the state and taxpayers as well as between taxpayers.

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What I said yesterday.

Varoufakis: It Would Be Irresponsible Not To Have Drawn Up Contingency Plans (E)

Google Translate: Official statement issued by Yanis Varoufakis to be placed in relation to what came to light during the last two days after the publication of “Kathimerini” leaving clear spikes in the newspaper, noting that it would be irresponsible not to have alternative plans the Ministry of Finance . In its notification, the former Minister of Finance notes that “During the negotiations, and until the day of the Referendum, the t. Finance Minister. Yanis Varoufakis, as required, and at the behest of Prime Minister, oversaw working group which, coordinator Professor James K. Galbraith , elaborating emergency plan and response of the government to undermine plans by lenders , including the country known extrusion projects outside the eurozone. ”

Former Finance Minister points out that before the announcement that there was such a group accept continuous and intense criticism for the lack of response plan in the country to undermine plans by lenders. He adds, in fact, that “The Bank of Greece (which had, for example, ready PNP plan for a bank holiday), the ECB, the EU country governments, banks and international organizations have such groups and design by 2012. Indeed, it would be of utmost irresponsibility not drafted such plans the Ministry of Finance . ” “Since the t. Minister of Finance, announced the existence of that working group, the media inundated with imaginative “story” that affect the quality of public debate by trying to delineate as a group “conspiring” to restore national currency. This is pure slander.

The working group of the Ministry of Finance has always worked in the government policy and recommendations had as a permanent reference to the public interest, compliance with legality and stay in the country in the eurozone, “noted the statement of Yanis Varoufakis press office. In response to the “Daily report” leaves clear spikes in the newspaper stating that ” the pension “neglected” to request explanations and commentary by Mr. Varoufakis Before publishing inaccurate references to “tapping AFM of all taxpayers.” So, deliberately or not, sowed confusion contributed to widespread misinformation of SMEs “.

“In substance, the report appears to refer to plans of the Ministry of Finance that section. Minister stated boldly in the account at the ministry handover ceremony on July 6 with the following reference: The General Secretariat of Information Systems has started to process how whom taxisnet can become something more than what it is, be a payment system and to third parties, a system that increases efficiency and minimizes arrears of government to citizens and to businesses “noted the statement.

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What I said.

Yanis Varoufakis Admits ‘Contingency Plan’ For Euro Exit (Guardian)

Greece’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has been thrust back in the spotlight as he vigorously defended plans to launch a parallel payment system in the event of the country being ejected from the euro. Saying it would have been “remiss” of him not to have a “plan B” if negotiations with the country’s creditors had collapsed, the outspoken politician admitted that a small team under his control had devised a parallel payment system. The secret scheme would have eased the way to the return of the nation’s former currency, the drachma. “Greece’s ministry of finance would have been remiss had it made no attempt to draw up contingency plans,” he said in a statement.

But Varoufakis, who resigned this month to facilitate talks between Athens’ left-led government and its creditors, denied that the group had worked as a rogue element outside government policy or beyond the confines of the law. “The ministry of finance’s working group worked exclusively within the framework of government policy and its recommendations were always aimed at serving the public interest, at respecting the laws of the land, and at keeping the country in the Eurozone,” the statement said. Earlier on Monday the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum, which had organized a conference call between Varoufakis and investors, released a recording of the conversation held between the former minister and financial professionals on 16 July .

Varoufakis is heard saying that he ordered the ministry’s own software programme to be hacked so that online tax codes could be copied to “work out” how the payment system could be designed. “We were planning to create, surrepticiously, reserve accounts attached to every tax file number, without telling anyone, just to have this system in a function under wraps,” he says, adding that he had appointed a childhood friend to help him carry out the plan. “We were ready to get the green light from the PM when the banks closed.” The plan was denounced by Greek opposition parties, which in recent weeks have called for Varoufakis to be put on trial for treason. The academic-turned-politician has been blamed heavily for the handling of negotiations with Greece’s creditors which saw Greece come close to leaving the eurozone.

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” I think he called it wrong, but God knows it was an awesome responsibility – and we may never know who was right.”

Contingency Plans (Paul Krugman)

People are apparently shocked, shocked to learn that Greece did indeed have plans to introduce a parallel currency if necessary. I mean, really: it would have been shocking if there weren’t contingency plans. Preparing for something you know might happen doesn’t show that you want it to happen. Someday, maybe, we’ll know what kind of contingency plans the United States has had over the years. Plans to invade Canada? Probably. Plans to declare martial law in the event of a white supremacist uprising? Maybe. The issue now becomes whether Tsipras was right to decide not to invoke this plan in the face of what amounted to extortion from the creditors. I think he called it wrong, but God knows it was an awesome responsibility – and we may never know who was right.

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Be its own master?!

Greece’s Headache: How To Lift Capital Controls (AFP)

It is just the headache Greece’s government does not need right now: How can it loosen the capital controls that are shielding its banks, but strangling the rest of the economy? For the past month, Greece has been financially cut off from the rest of the world. It is almost impossible for most Greeks to take money out of the country, thanks to a raft of capital control measures put in place on June 29 amid fears of a catastrophic bank run. For companies, the capital controls have meant waiting for a government commission to sign off on large bills owed to foreign firms – a process that has slowed payments so much that distrustful suppliers started asking to be paid in advance.

Bank of Greece chief Yannis Stournaras on Friday loosened the restrictions to allow banks to greenlight companies’ foreign payments up to €100,000 But people remain unable to open new foreign bank accounts, buy shares, or transfer large sums of money. Athens is tolerating two main exceptions to the rules: Greek students abroad can receive €5,000 per quarter, while citizens having medical treatment in other countries can receive up to €2,000. Cash withdrawals were limited to €60 per day after Greeks emptied ATMs, worried for the safety of their savings. Greek Economy Minister Giorgos Stathakis warned on July 12 that it could be “several months” before it is deemed safe to lift the measures completely.

Announced in the throes of the crisis, when Greece appeared to be teetering on the brink of a chaotic eurozone exit, the capital controls were brought in with just one immediate concern in mind: protect the banks. Some €40 billion euros have left the banks’ coffers since December. As the world waits to see whether Greece and its creditors can hammer out a bailout worth up to €86 billion, staving off a panicked outpouring of the country’s cash remains a paramount concern. According to Diego Iscaro, an economist at consultancy IHS, the problem with capital controls is that they are “easy to implement but very difficult to lift.” Or as Moody’s analyst Dietmar Hornung put it: “Confidence (in the banks) is lost quickly, but it takes time to restore it.”

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“Apparently (and unfortunately), this is not a joke.”

Germany Rides Into Its Greek Colony On The “Quadriga” (Zero Hedge)

With creditors’ motorcades having officially returned to the streets of Athens in the wake of Greek lawmakers’ approval of the second set of bailout prior actions last Wednesday, tensions are understandably high. After all, these are the same “institutions” which Yanis Varoufakis famously booted from Greece after Syriza swept to power in January, and they’ve come to represent the oppression of the Greek people and are now a symbol of the country’s debt servitude. Although an absurd attempt was made to rebrand the dreaded “troika” earlier this year, the new and rather amorphous moniker – “the institutions” – never really stuck and perhaps because everyone involved felt the need to put a new name to the group that Greeks regard as the scourge of the Aegean in order to make negotiators feel safer on their trips to Athens, creditors have now added the ESM to their collective and rebranded themselves “The Quadriga.” Apparently (and unfortunately), this is not a joke. Here’s MNI:

The source from the Commission also noted that the group formerly known as Troika is now being renamed as “Quadriga”, to note the inclusion of the ESM in the talks. “Quadriga is the name inspired by Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker for the new Greek project” the Commission source said, adding that “the EU side is a bit nervous of not knowing the IMF stance.”

We assume the reference to the IMF’s “stance” there refers to the size of the bailout and the prospects for debt relief and not to the new nickname choice, but whatever the case, here’s the definition of “quadriga” from Wikipedia:

A quadriga (Latin quadri-, four, and iugum, yoke) is a car or chariot drawn by four horses abreast (the Roman Empire’s equivalent of Ancient Greek tethrippon). It was raced in the Ancient Olympic Games and other contests. It is represented in profile as the chariot of gods and heroes on Greek vases and in bas-relief. The quadriga was adopted in ancient Roman chariot racing. Quadrigas were emblems of triumph; Victory and Fame often are depicted as the triumphant woman driving it. In classical mythology, the quadriga is the chariot of the gods; Apollo was depicted driving his quadriga across the heavens, delivering daylight and dispersing the night.

We’re not sure what’s more ironic there, the fact that an image which once appeared on Greek ceramics is now the symbol of serfdom or the fact that it’s the “chariot of the gods”, who in this case would be eurocrats and IMF officials. As amusing – and somewhat sad – as this is, perhaps the most tragically ironic part of the entire rebranding effort is that one of the most significant representations of a quadriga the world over sits atop the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

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IMF tells China central bank to cool it down, and at the same time tells ECB to turn up the heat. Vested interests?!

IMF Paints Dim Europe Picture, Says More Money Printing May Be Needed (Reuters)

The IMF warned on Monday that the euro zone’s prospects were modest and that more money printing than planned may be needed. Contrasting the IMF’s relative gloom, however, German think tank Ifo reported improving confidence the 19-country bloc’s largest economy. The IMF, saying medium-term growth would be subdued, urged the ECB to keep its money presses rolling, perhaps beyond the target late next year. “The important thing is that the ECB intends to stay the course until September 2016 and that, we think, will be necessary,” said Mahmood Pradhan, deputy director of the IMF’s European department, referring to QE. Letting the €1 trillion plus scheme to buy chiefly government bonds run longer could be better still, he suggested. “It may need to go beyond that,” he said.

Worries about the global economy, prompted by a slowdown in China where shares slid more than 8% on Monday , are weighing on many countries in Europe. Manufacturing confidence in the Netherlands, with huge exposure to international trade though several of Europe’s largest ports, slipped back in July, reflecting pessimism among companies over the prospects for the coming three months. Finnish consumer and industry confidence also weakened in July compared to the previous month. But the data was mixed, with the positive Ifo report on German business confidence after two monthly drops and the ECB reporting a boom in lending for home buyers, which could bolster the bloc’s economy.

The ECB also said is M3 measure of money circulating in the euro zone, which is often an early indicator of future economic activity, grew by 5.0% in June, in line with the previous month. But lending to companies fell by 0.2% in June. This was a slower pace of decline for the 11th month in a row, but still suggested most of the ECB’s largest is going to consumers not companies. In its report on the euro zone, the IMF said that the bloc was getting stronger thanks to lower oil prices, a weaker euro and central bank action, but that medium-term prospects were for an average potential growth of just 1%. The IMF said euro area GDP should accelerate to 1.7% next year from 1.5% in 2015, with inflation of 1.1% from zero.

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“In essence, Germany established that some democracies are more equal than others.”

How the Greek Deal Could Destroy the Euro (NY Times)

Indeed, the European institutions led by Germany seem to have decided that waging an ideological battle against a recalcitrant and amateurish far-left government in Greece should take precedence over 60 years of European consensus built painstakingly by leaders across the political spectrum. By imposing a further socially regressive fiscal adjustment, the recent agreement confirmed fears on the left that the EU could choose to impose a particular brand of neoliberal conservatism by any means necessary. In practice, it used what amounted to an economic embargo — far more brutal than the sanctions regime imposed on Russia since its annexation of Crimea — to provoke either regime change or capitulation in Greece. It has succeeded in obtaining capitulation.

Through its actions, Germany has made a broader political point about the governance of the euro. It has confirmed its belief that federalism by exception — the complete annihilation of a member state’s sovereignty and national democracy — is in order whenever a eurozone member is perceived to challenge the rules-based functioning of the monetary union. In essence, Germany established that some democracies are more equal than others. By doing so, the agreement has sought to remove politics and discretion from the functioning of the monetary union, an idea that has long been very dear to the French.

The negotiations leading to the Greek agreement also destroyed the constructive ambiguity created by the Maastricht Treaty by making it absolutely clear that Germany is prepared to amputate and obliterate one of its members rather than make concessions. Germany appears to believe that the single currency ought to be a fixed exchange-rate regime or not exist at all in its current form, even if this means abandoning the underlying project of political integration that it was always meant to serve. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Germany signaled to France that it was prepared to go ahead alone and take a clear contradictory stand on a critical political issue.

This forceful attitude and the several taboos it broke reveal that the currency union that Germany wants is probably fundamentally incompatible with the one that the French elite can sell and the French public can subscribe to. The choice will soon be whether Germany can build the euro it wants with France or whether the common currency falls apart. Germany could undoubtedly build a very successful monetary union with the Baltic countries, the Netherlands and a few other nations, but it must understand that it will never build an economically successful and politically stable monetary union with France and the rest of Europe on these terms.

Over the long run, France, Italy and Spain, to name just a few, would not take part in such a union, not because they can’t, but because they wouldn’t want to. The collective GDP and population of these countries is twice that of Germany; eventually, a confrontation is inevitable.

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Yeah, but which banks? Only the Greek ones? Would that suffice? How about the rest of Europe?

The Way To Fix Greece Is To Fix The Banks (Coppola)

Successive bailout strategies for Greece have failed to grasp the nettle of the zombie banks. The banking sector is highly concentrated, with 90% of banking assets held by four players — Alpha Bank, Eurobank, Piraeus Bank and National Bank of Greece (not to be confused with Bank of Greece, which is the central bank). All four required recapitalisation in 2012 when the “public sector involvement” restructuring impaired their holdings of Greek sovereign debt. The funds to do this were provided by eurozone and IMF creditors via the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, the entity created in 2010 to channel bailout funds to banks. The HFSF now holds majority stakes in all four. However, recapitalising did not mean restructuring them. Nor did it mean ensuring good practice in balance sheet management.

Although the proximate cause of the 2012 bailout was the PSI, their performance had declined sharply since 2008 and they have been persistently lossmaking since about 2010. The biggest single-year loss was in 2012, but the underlying decline in profitability is actually far more damaging both to the banks themselves and to the Greek economy. The headline explanation for the banks’ problems is lack of liquidity. From 2009, successive credit rating downgrades of their own bonds and Greek sovereign debt increased their cost of funding at the same time as deposit flight increased their need of it. They lost market access in 2009 and have since relied entirely on eurosystem aid, both funding from the ECB and emergency liquidity assistance from Bank of Greece. Since March 2015, only ELA has been available, and this is currently capped by the ECB.

The banks’ dependence on official sector liquidity makes it easy to claim that their problems are caused by the restriction of it — what the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis called “asphyxiation”. Although providing liquidity beyond their credit appetite does not increase lending, restricting liquidity does force them to avoid activities that could create funding gaps. Lending, by its very nature, creates a funding gap: if banks are not confident of being able to obtain the funding to settle loan drawdowns, they will not lend. But liquidity restriction is not the whole story. The other side of the banks’ balance sheets is also to blame for the credit crunch. Since 2009, non-performing loans have risen considerably and now make up at least a third of Greek bank assets: some estimates put the figure as high as 50%.

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They can start with Greece then.

France Wants To Outlaw Discrimination Against The Poor (Guardian)

In France it could soon be illegal to discriminate against people in poverty. Under proposed legislation – already approved by the senate and likely to be passed by the chamber of deputies – it would be an offence in France to “insult the poor” or to refuse them jobs, healthcare or housing. Similar laws banning discrimination on the grounds of social and economic origin already exist in Belgium and Bolivia, but the French version is said to be the most far-reaching. Anyone found guilty of discrimination against those suffering from “vulnerability resulting from an apparent or known economic situation” would face a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine of €45,000.

It is easy to judge the proposed French law as showing the worst excesses of the state, or to bemoan the practicalities of how difficult it could be to implement. But most of us are content to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, or sex. Is it so ridiculous to add poverty to that list? And if it does feel ridiculous, why is that? Whether it’s the discrimination of people in poverty or how government should respond to it, this is not a problem just for other countries. “People think that because we are poor, we must be stupid,” Oréane Chapelle, an unemployed 31-year-old from Nancy told Le Nouvel Observateur. Micheline Adobati, 58, her neighbour, who is a single mother with no job and five children, said: “I can’t stand social workers who tell me that they’re going to teach me how to have a weekly budget.”

One study reported by The Times found that 9% of GPs, 32% of dentists and 33% of opticians in Paris refused to treat benefit claimants who lacked private medical insurance. Doctors say they are “reluctant to take on such patients for fear that they will not get paid”. Does any of this sound familiar? These are attitudes – and even outright discrimination – that have been growing in Britain for some time. You can hear it in stories about local authorities monitoring how much people drink or smoke before awarding emergency housing payments. Or when politicians respond to a national food bank crisis by saying the poor are going hungry because they don’t know how to cook. It is there in the fact that it’s now all too common for landlords to refuse to rent flats to people on benefits. Britain is front and centre of its own discrimination of the poor – whether that’s low-income workers, benefit claimants, or the recurring myth that these are two separate species.

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Another farce that keeps on giving.

Dutch Journalist, MH17 Expert: ‘UN Tribunal Attempt to Hide Kiev’s Role’ (RI)

The proposed UN-backed MH17 tribunal is a “desperate attempt to hide Kiev’s responsibility”, Dutch journalist and blogger Joost Niemoller argues in his post “How Chess Player Putin Wins the MH17 Game”. Niemoller is no layman. In October 2014 he published a book on the MH17 disaster whose title De Doofpotdeal (“The Cover Up Deal”) summarizes its key argument. The inside flap explains what the author means:

“The Netherlands took charge of the investigation into the cause of the disaster, but agreed to grant a covert deal to Kiev. It thus became a pawn in an international political chess game. Unvarnished Cold War rhetoric is making a comeback. Putin here is the ultimate bad guy. What he says is labeled as poisonous propaganda in the West. Meanwhile, it seems, all those concerned suffer from tunnel vision. Can we still be assured that the investigators do their work independently and objectively?”

In his piece, Niemoller laments the shortcomings of the Dutch Safety Board, the body charged with conducting the investigations on the MH17 disaster. The ever-postponed deadline – the final report might be released at the end of the year, hence one and a half year after the crash, but that too is still uncertain – he finds perplexing:

“When the co-operating countries, the JIT (Joint Investigation Team), intend to complete their probe, is not known. Then, something gets leaked to the press: ‘At the end of this year’. With which legal framework? It is not yet known. Under which conditions? No idea. How will the co-operation between the Ukrainian, the JIT and Dutch Safety Board unfold?” “Everything is vague and secret. That is not the way it should be for such an important study.”

Niemoller contrasts this with the approach taken by Moscow:

“Russia proposed last year to conduct an international study based on research carried out by the UN – and not by means of a secret deal of countries, where one of the possible culprits, namely Ukraine, has veto power.”

Niemoller, a Dutchman, laments the dubious role of his country, especially when considering that it was the one affected most by the MH17 tragedy: 193 of the 298 victims were Dutch. And yet, Niemoller says:

“What we know for sure is that the Netherlands from day zero intensely cooperates with Kiev. What we know is that the Russians are kept out and that there is a blame game played against Putin.”

Now Niemoller focuses his attention on the role Russia is about to play. He argues that Moscow holds all the cards, and that Kiev & co apparently hold none:

“When the Russians said that if a BUK had been fired by the separatists, they would have certainly seen it on their radar, the Russians indicated that they know much more”. “After a year, there is still no evidence of that alleged separatist Buk on the table. Kindergarten-level work from Bellingcat has been dismissed. And there was no ‘Buk-track’ through the Donbas region.”

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“..1) our society faces a crisis, and 2) the existing political parties are not up to the task of comprehending what society faces.”

Potemkin Party (Jim Kunstler)

The “to do” list for rearranging the basic systems of daily life in America is long and loaded with opportunity. Every system that is retooled contains jobs and social roles for people who have been shut out of the economy for two generations. If we do everything we can to promote smaller-scaled local farming, there will be plenty of work for lesser-skilled people to do and get paid for. Saying goodbye to the tyranny of Big Box commerce would open up vast vocational opportunities in reconstructed local and regional networks of commerce, especially for young people interested in running their own business.

We need to prepare for localized clinic-style medicine (in opposition to the continuing amalgamation and gigantization of hospitals, with its handmaidens of Big Pharma and the insurance rackets). The train system has got to be reborn as a true public utility. Just about every other civilized country is already demonstrating how that is done — it’s not that difficult and it would employ a lot of people at every level. That is what the agenda of a truly progressive political party should be at this moment in history. That Democrats even tolerate the existence of evil entities like WalMart is an argument for ideological bankruptcy of the party. Democratic Presidents from Carter to Clinton to Obama could have used the Department of Justice and the existing anti-trust statutes to at least discourage the pernicious monopolization of commerce that Big Boxes represented.

By the same token, President Obama could have used existing federal law to break up the banking oligarchy starting in 2009, not to mention backing legislation to more crisply define alleged corporate “personhood” in the wake of the ruinous “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision of 2010. They don’t even talk about it because Wall Street owns them. So, you fellow disaffected Democrats — those of you who can’t go over to the other side, but feel you have no place in your country’s politics — look around and tell me who you see casting a shadow on the Democratic landscape. Nobody. Just tired, corrupt, devious old Hillary and her nemesis Bernie the Union Hall Champion out of a Pete Seeger marching song.

I’ve been saying for a while that this period of history resembles the 1850s in America in two big ways: 1) our society faces a crisis, and 2) the existing political parties are not up to the task of comprehending what society faces. In the 1850s it was the Whigs that dried up and blew away (virtually overnight), while the old Democratic party just entered a 75-year wilderness of irrelevancy. God help us if Trump-o-mania turns out to be the only alternative. Oh, by the way, notice that the lead editorial in Monday’s New York Times is a plea for transgender bathrooms in schools. What could be more important?

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The western model has died.

It’s Really Very Simple (Dmitry Orlov)

The old world order, to which we became accustomed over the course of the 1990s and the 2000s, its crises and its problems detailed in numerous authoritative publications on both sides of the Atlantic—it is no more. It is not out sick and it is not on vacation. It is deceased. It has passed on, gone to meet its maker, bought the farm, kicked the bucket and joined the crowd invisible. It is an ex-world order. If we rewind back to the early 1980s, we can easily remember how the USSR was still running half of Europe and exerting major influence on a sizable chunk of the world. World socialist revolution was still sputtering along, with pro-Soviet regimes coming in to power here and there in different parts of the globe, the chorus of their leaders’ official pronouncements sounding more or less in unison.

The leaders made their pilgrimages to Moscow as if it were Mecca, and they sent their promising young people there to learn how to do things the Soviet way. Soviet technology continued to make impressive advances: in the mid-1980s the Soviets launched into orbit a miracle of technology—the space station Mir, while Vega space probes were being dispatched to study Venus. But alongside all of this business-as-usual the rules and principles according which the “red” half of the globe operated were already in an advanced state of decay, and a completely different system was starting to emerge both at the center and along the periphery. Seven years later the USSR collapsed and the world order was transformed, but many people simply couldn’t believe in the reality of this change.

In the early 1990s many political scientists were self-assuredly claiming that what is happening is the realization of a clever Kremlin plan to modernize the Soviet system and that, after a quick rebranding, it will again start taking over the world. People like to talk about what they think they can understand, never mind whether it still exists. And what do we see today? The realm that self-identifies itself as “The West” is still claiming to be leading economically, technologically, and to be dominant militarily, but it has suffered a moral defeat, and, strictly as a consequence of this moral defeat, a profound ideological defeat as well. It’s simple.

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