Jan 112019
 
 January 11, 2019  Posted by at 10:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Hieronymous Bosch The Haywain Triptych c.1516 (click to enlarge)

 

The Stock Market Just Got Off To Its Best Start In 13 Years (MW)
78% of US Workers Live Paycheck To Paycheck (CNBC)
Fed’s Powell Says He Is ‘Very Worried’ About Growing Amount Of US Debt (CNBC)
Trump Digs In As Shutdown Continues (BBC)
Michael Cohen To Testify Publicly Before Congress In February (G.)
China Set To Lower GDP Growth Target In 2019 (R.)
Can The Chinese Consumer Be Resurrected? (Jim O’Neill)
Why I Asked May If She Is On The Side Of Putin Or The People (Moran)
May’s Brexit Deal ‘Threat To National Security’ – Former MI6 Chief (Ind.)
May Begs Unions To Help Salvage Her Brexit Deal (Ind.)
US Defenses No Match For Russian Hypersonic Missiles – Retired US General (RT)
Bases, Bases, Everywhere… Except in the Pentagon’s Report (Turse)
Oceans Warming Faster Than Expected, Set Heat Record In 2018 (R.)
Julian Assange’s Living Conditions Deteriorate (Cassandra Fairbanks)

 

 

And there’s still people who claim the stock market reflects the economy.

The Stock Market Just Got Off To Its Best Start In 13 Years (MW)

Things are coming up roses in the stock market, lately. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 index and Nasdaq Composite Index are off to their best starts to a year since 2006 after a powerful series of gains. The Dow closed up 0.5% on Thursday, pushing its year-to-date gain to 2.89%, which would mark the best first seven days to a year since 2006, when stocks burst 3.04% higher over the same period. The S&P 500 rose 0.5% on the day and has returned 3.58% thus far this year, its best start since a 3.68% gain 13 years ago, while the Nasdaq Composite booked a 0.4% gain, enough for a 5.3% year-to-date advance, representing its best seven-session to kick off a year since its 5.72% rise also in 2006.

A late-session rally helped to solidify Thursday’s gains, coming after investors digested comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who pronounced at the Economic Club in Washington on Thursday afternoon that the economy is in good health, while adding that the central bank would be cognizant of stresses to financial markets amid rate hikes. The comments were a reiteration of Powell’s remarks last week during a broad panel discussion of current and former Fed bosses that helped to placate anxious investors and reverse what was shaping up to be another dismal year.

Read more …

Why is everybody quoting a 2017 report?

78% of US Workers Live Paycheck To Paycheck (CNBC)

The partial government shutdown, which began Dec. 22, has now stretched well into the new year. President Donald Trump said Friday that it would continue for “months or even years” until he receives the requested $5 billion in funding for a border wall. The shutdown has left approximately 800,000 federal workers in financial limbo. Around 420,000 “essential” employees are working without pay, while another 380,000 have been ordered to stay home, according to calculations provided to CNBC by Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University. In some cases, the furloughs have forced government employees to tap into their savings, rely on credit cards or crowdsource funds to make ends meet.

Government workers are far from alone in feeling stressed about not getting paid. Nearly 80% of American workers (78%) say they’re living paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2017 report by employment website CareerBuilder. Women are particularly vulnerable: 81% of them report living paycheck to paycheck, compared with 75% of men. Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, tells CNBC that the group has heard from hundreds of frantic federal employees. “They’re scared,” he says. “They don’t know how they’re going to put food on the table.” Various #ShutdownStories making that point have gone viral on Twitter.

It’s not merely those earning low wages who are struggling. CareerBuilder reports that nearly 10% of Americans with salaries of $100,000 or more live paycheck to paycheck as well. That means that many workers aren’t able to put anything significant into savings. More than 50% of respondents say that they save less than $100 per month. And a comparable 2017 survey from GOBankingRates found that 61% of Americans don’t have enough money in an emergency fund to cover six months’ worth of expenses. [..] more than 70% of all respondents say that they’re in debt, and a quarter of workers say they weren’t able to make ends meet at the end of every month of the past year.

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Which his own Fed has encouraged like nobody else could.

Fed’s Powell Says He Is ‘Very Worried’ About Growing Amount Of US Debt (CNBC)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is concerned about the ballooning amount of United States debt. “I’m very worried about it,” Powell said at The Economic Club of Washington, D.C. “From the Fed’s standpoint, we’re really looking at a business cycle length: that’s our frame of reference. The long-run fiscal, nonsustainability of the U.S. federal government isn’t really something that plays into the medium term that is relevant for our policy decisions.” However, “it’s a long-run issue that we definitely need to face, and ultimately, will have no choice but to face,” he added. The Fed chief’s comments came as the annual U.S. deficit reaches new sustained highs above $1 trillion, a fact many economists worry could spell trouble for future generations.

Annual deficits have topped $1 trillion before, but never during a time of sustained economic growth like now, raising concern about what would happen if a recession hits. Total U.S. debt is about $21.9 trillion, of which $16 trillion is owed by the public. In part because of continued rate increases under Powell, the interest cost on that debt could start to become a bigger and bigger burden. Wall Street’s “bond king” and respected financial prognosticator Jeffrey Gundlach said in December that the Fed seems to be on a “suicide mission,” raising rates while the government deficit increases as a share of GDP. Normally when the deficit is expanding, the Fed would be lowering interest rates.

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View from the MSM: Trump digs in, not the Dems.

Trump Digs In As Shutdown Continues (BBC)

US President Donald Trump has threatened again to declare a national emergency to fund a border wall without Congress’s approval. “I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency,” he told reporters. The White House has denied reports it is looking at diverting funds set aside for reconstruction projects. A political row over funding the wall has left the US government partially shutdown for 20 days, leaving about 800,000 federal employees without pay. President Trump has refused to sign legislation to fund and reopen the government if it does not include $5.7bn for a physical barrier along the US-Mexico border.

But budget talks have come to a standstill as Democrats – who control the House of Representatives – refuse to give him the money. Republican leaders insist the party stands behind the president, although some Republican lawmakers have spoken out in favour of ending the shutdown. On Thursday, Mr Trump visited a border patrol station in McAllen, in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. He said that if Congress did not approve funding for the wall, he would “probably… I would almost say definitely” declare a national emergency to bypass lawmakers. But such a move is likely to face legal challenges. The money would also have to come from funds allocated by Congress for other purposes – which some Republicans would also oppose.

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Planning a huge media spectacle. Imagine all the readers and viewers… Trump keeps on giving. Bread and circuses it is.

Michael Cohen To Testify Publicly Before Congress In February (G.)

Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer and aide Michael Cohen says he has accepted an invitation from a top House Democrat to testify publicly before Congress next month. His testimony before the House oversight and reform committee on 7 February will be the first major public oversight hearing for Democrats, who have promised greater scrutiny of Trump after winning control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections. Cohen said in a statement: “I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired.”

The New Yorker, who is to begin a three-year prison sentence in March, is a pivotal figure in investigations by the special counsel Robert Mueller into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, and by federal prosecutors in New York into campaign finance violations related to hush-money payments to two women who say they had sex with Trump. Elijah Cummings, the committee’s chair, said the panel would avoid interfering with Mueller’s investigation. “We have no interest in inappropriately interfering with any ongoing criminal investigations, and to that end, we are in the process of consulting with Special Counsel Mueller’s office,” Cummings said in a statement.

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But not to the 1.67% predicted by professor Xiang Songzuo, I’m sure.

China Set To Lower GDP Growth Target In 2019 (R.)

China plans to set a lower economic growth target of 6% to 6.5% in 2019 compared with last year’s target of “around” 6.5%, policy sources told Reuters, as Beijing gears up to cope with higher U.S. tariffs and weakening domestic demand. The proposed target, to be unveiled at the annual parliamentary session in March, was endorsed by top leaders at the annual closed-door Central Economic Work Conference in mid-December, according to four sources with knowledge of the meeting’s outcome. Data later this month is expected to show the Chinese economy grew around 6.6% in 2018 — the weakest since 1990. Analysts are forecasting a further loss of momentum this year before policy support steps begin to kick in.

“It’s very difficult for growth to exceed 6.5% (this year), and there could be trouble if growth dips below 6%,” said one source who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. As the world’s second-largest economy loses steam, China’s top leaders are closely watching employment levels as factories could be forced to shed workers amid a trade war with the United States, despite a more resilient services sector, policy insiders said. Growth of about 6.2% is needed in the next two years to meet the ruling Communist Party’s longstanding goal of doubling gross domestic product and incomes in the decade to 2020, and to turn China into a “modestly prosperous” nation. [..] Local governments could be allowed to issue up to 2 trillion yuan worth of special bonds in 2019, up from 1.35 trillion yuan last year, they said.

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Goldman Sachs to the -image- rescue.

Can The Chinese Consumer Be Resurrected? (Jim O’Neill)

Last week, Apple published a letter to shareholders revising down its expected revenues for the first quarter of 2019, citing an economic slowdown in China, which has become an increasingly important market for iPhone, Mac, and iPad sales. Though tech industry analysts are debating whether internal dynamics at Apple might also explain the change, the company’s new guidance nonetheless adds to the evidence that Chinese consumption is slowing. A sustained decline in Chinese consumption would be even more worrying than the current US-China trade dispute.

Given that US trade policies and other external influences should not have much effect on domestic Chinese spending, the problem may be more deeply rooted in China’s economic model. To understand what is at stake, consider all that has changed just within the past decade. At the end of 2010, domestic consumption accounted for around 35.6% of Chinese GDP, according to official Chinese data. That was remarkably low compared to most other economies, not least the US, where consumption accounted for almost 70% of GDP. In nominal dollar terms, China’s domestic consumption thus was around $2.2tn, or almost five times lower than that of the US ($10.5tn).

Yet China’s high overall growth rate meant that Chinese consumers could potentially play a much larger role, with far-reaching benefits for global brands such as Apple, BMW, Burberry, Ford, and many others. As of 2017, Chinese consumption as a share of GDP had risen to 39.1%, representing just over $5tn in nominal dollar terms. That is an increase of almost $3tn in just seven years. And though Chinese consumer spending still lagged far behind that of the US ($13.5tn in 2017), the gap has narrowed. If China were to continue on the same trajectory in terms of nominal GDP growth and domestic consumption, its consumer spending could increase by another $2tn by 2020, putting it at around half that of the US. Chinese consumers would be more relevant to the global economy than anyone except Americans.

Read more …

From time to time you wonder what’s more hysterical, the Brexit mayhem or the UK’s fabricated Russophobia. This is pretty unbelievable, but it’s become normal.

Layla Moran is a Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.

Why I Asked May If She Is On The Side Of Putin Or The People (Moran)

For all the farcical invoking of Blitz spirit, Brexit isn’t merely an absurdist experiment in English nationalist nostalgia – it is the most audacious example yet of a futuristic Russian nationalism that seeks to divide and rule Europe. If we can be judged by our friends then Brexit has no stauncher ally than Vladimir Putin. After all, Donald Trump has proved unreliable. But Putin? It is hard to think of anyone who has done more for the cause (and that is not to take anything away from the years of Brexit monologues by Tory MP Bill Cash). Russian bot farms have been exposed as having supported the Leave campaign. This comes on top of allegations of iffy Russian money funding Brexit campaigns, and Arron Banks’ almost comical inability to explain his donations to Leave.

Comical, that is, if his scarcely thought through Brexit wasn’t driving Britain to what Hilary Clinton has called the single biggest act of deliberate self-harm a nation has ever committed. As if Russian interference in the original referendum was not shocking enough, it is still going on. The Channel 4 drama Brexit: The Uncivil War might have relegated Russian involvement to the briefest postscript, but in reality Putin is still in the trenches fighting for a hard Brexit. At a recent press conference Putin attacked the idea of a referendum on the deal, claiming the original result should be respected. Oh, the irony! Putin, the arch kleptocrat, giving advice on democracy. “Don’t steal Brexit,” he seemed to demand, while probably stealing (sorry, being gifted) another superyacht.

It should have been sufficiently chilling to make even Boris Johnson pause for thought. And all while using the Brexiteer message script of delivering the will of the people. As any student of Russian history could tell you, “the people” are often invoked by the Kremlin, including when justifying the mass murder of innocent people. But rarely does the Kremlin actually ask “the people” for anything so radical as an opinion. For Putin, “the people” are to be manipulated and even killed for his own ends. And Putin’s ends are clear. He wants a weak and divided EU. Ultimately, he seeks to break it up, with the Eastern bloc – brought into the European fold by Margaret Thatcher’s single market – dragged back into the lair of the Russian bear.

Read more …

And why not? If all else fails, scare them.

May’s Brexit Deal ‘Threat To National Security’ – Former MI6 Chief (Ind.)

The former head of MI6 has warned Theresa May’s Brexit deal will “threaten the national security of the country”, in a call for Tory MPs to reject it. The agreement would “place control of aspects of our national security in foreign hands”, claims Sir Richard Dearlove, in an extraordinary letter to Conservative associations. It has also been signed by Lord Guthrie, a former chief of the defence staff, in a bid to stiffen grassroots resistance, ahead of next Tuesday’s vote.= Sir Richard and Lord Guthrie, who are both prominent Leave supporters, write: “Please ensure that your MP votes against this bad agreement.” The prime minister, a former home secretary, has insisted her agreement would protect national security by retaining existing cooperation arrangements during the 21-month transition.

However, she was forced to acknowledge the UK was likely to lose direct access to vital EU security databases after 2012, under the proposed long-term arrangements. In their letter, the ex-security chiefs argue the deal is dangerous because it would weaken membership of Nato and existing “close” defence and intelligence ties with the US. “This withdrawal agreement, if not defeated, will threaten the national security of the country in fundamental ways,” it says. Downing Street hit back immediately, insisting the letter was “completely wrong” and that the Brexit deal offered the broadest security agreement the EU has with any of its partners. But both sides of the Brexit divide seized on the intervention, arch-Brexiteer Owen Paterson calling it a “devastating warning”.

Read more …

After Tuesday all bets are off.

May Begs Unions To Help Salvage Her Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May has called the leaders of Britain’s biggest unions for the first time since becoming prime minister in a desperate bid to find backing for her Brexit deal. The calls to Unite leader Len McCluskey and the GMB’s Tim Roache – whose unions are Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest financial backers – mark just how far she is being forced to go in the hope of finding support for the deal expected to be rejected by MPs next week. She was scorned by second referendum-backing Mr Roache, who joked after his call that he was “glad the prime minister finally picked up the phone”. The unprecedented move came as she also sought to convince Labour MPs to back her by promising new commitments to maintain workers’ rights in line with EU standards after Brexit.

But expectations that she is heading for a heavy defeat on Tuesday simply grew further, with some estimates suggesting that opposition has actually grown since she delayed the vote on her deal in December. Capitalising on the deep Tory divisions, Mr Corbyn instead invited Conservative MPs to back a motion of no confidence in the government which he is promising to table if Ms May’s plans are defeated. Downing Street confirmed the calls to Mr Roache, whose union has 620,000 members, and Mr McCluskey, representing more than 1.4 million, and admitted it was the first time she had spoken to either of them since her arrival at No 10. The Independent understands the prime minister also attempted to call Dave Prentis, leader of Unison which also has some 1.4 million members, but could not get through because Mr Prentis was travelling.

Read more …

Click here for the original Hill article.

US Defenses No Match For Russian Hypersonic Missiles – Retired US General (RT)

A retired general and chief of staff has warned that the US’ missile defense systems are “simply incapable” of stopping the latest generation of Russian hypersonic missiles – some of which fly at 27 times the speed of sound. Now retired, Maj. Gen. Howard ‘Dallas’ Thompson was once Chief of Staff at US Northern Command in Ohio. In a column published by The Hill on Thursday, Thompson argues that military leaders have neglected to develop proper defenses against the hypersonic threat. There have been some calls for the US to pursue hypersonic weapons in defense policy circles, but America has lagged behind China – which conducted more tests in the last year than the US has is a decade – and Russia, which successfully tested such a missile in December. The ‘Avangard’ missile flew at Mach 27, and will be deployed in 2019.

At present, the US Missile Defense Agency’s sensors and radars are designed for one purpose: to counter an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fired by an adversary like Iran or North Korea. ICBMs have a predictable flight path, and the US’ Patriot and Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries stand a reasonable chance of intercepting and destroying any incoming missiles. Not so with hypersonics. Missiles like ‘Avangard’ fly low and fast, evading radar detection. They can also engage in evasive maneuvers to dodge surface-to-air rockets or missiles, further lowering the chances of a successful interception.

“The stark reality is that our current missile defense systems, as well as our operational mindset, are simply incapable versus this threat,” Thompson wrote. The retired General’s words are backed up by a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, which concluded that there are “no existing countermeasures” against the threat. Thompson claims that a massive collaborative program between the Department of Defense and arms companies is needed to counter Russian and Chinese advances. “Countering this threat will require U.S. investment in an extensive defensive architecture,” he wrote. “…a highly robust ‘family of systems’ that nonetheless must be envisioned, designed, developed and deployed in a completely holistic manner.”

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800 bases, of which 300 are unreported?!

Bases, Bases, Everywhere… Except in the Pentagon’s Report (Turse)

Within hours of President Trump’s announcement of a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, equipment at that base was already being inventoried for removal. And just like that, arguably the most important American garrison in Syria was (maybe) being struck from the Pentagon’s books — except, as it happens, al-Tanf was never actually on the Pentagon’s books. Opened in 2015 and, until recently, home to hundreds of U.S. troops, it was one of the many military bases that exist somewhere between light and shadow, an acknowledged foreign outpost that somehow never actually made it onto the Pentagon’s official inventory of bases. Officially, the Department of Defense (DoD) maintains 4,775 “sites,” spread across all 50 states, eight U.S. territories, and 45 foreign countries.

A total of 514 of these outposts are located overseas, according to the Pentagon’s worldwide property portfolio. Just to start down a long list, these include bases on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, as well as in Peru and Portugal, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. But the most recent version of that portfolio, issued in early 2018 and known as the Base Structure Report (BSR), doesn’t include any mention of al-Tanf. Or, for that matter, any other base in Syria. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Niger. Or Tunisia. Or Cameroon. Or Somalia. Or any number of locales where such military outposts are known to exist and even, unlike in Syria, to be expanding.

[..] According to David Vine, author of Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, there could be hundreds of similar off-the-books bases around the world. “The missing sites are a reflection of the lack of transparency involved in the system of what I still estimate to be around 800 U.S. bases outside the 50 states and Washington, D.C., that have been encircling the globe since World War II,” says Vine

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The reporting on the issue seems broken.

Oceans Warming Faster Than Expected, Set Heat Record In 2018 (R.)

The oceans are warming faster than previously estimated, setting a new temperature record in 2018 in a trend that is damaging marine life, scientists said on Thursday. New measurements, aided by an international network of 3,900 floats deployed in the oceans since 2000, showed more warming since 1971 than calculated by the latest U.N. assessment of climate change in 2013, they said. And “observational records of ocean heat content show that ocean warming is accelerating,” the authors in China and the United States wrote in the journal Science of ocean waters down to 2,000 metres (6,600 ft). Man-made greenhouse gas emissions are warming the atmosphere, according to the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, and a large part of the heat gets absorbed by the oceans.

That in turn is forcing fish to flee to cooler waters. “Global warming is here, and has major consequences already. There is no doubt, none!” the authors wrote in a statement. Almost 200 nations plan to phase out fossil fuels this century under the 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit warming. [..] Data due for publication next week will show “2018 was the warmest year on record for the global ocean, surpassing 2017,” said lead author Lijing Cheng, of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He told Reuters that records for ocean warming had been broken almost yearly since 2000. Overall, temperatures in the ocean down to 2,000 metres rose about 0.1 degree Celsius (0.18F) from 1971-2010, he said.

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Another issue on which reporting seems broken. We’re not getting anywhere.

Julian Assange’s Living Conditions Deteriorate (Cassandra Fairbanks)

I last visited Assange in March, days before the Ecuadorians placed the award-winning journalist in isolation for allegedly violating a draconian ban on all public political comments. [..] In order to visit the publisher last year, I simply organized it with him and his lawyer and went. This time I was required to provide details about my social media, my employer, and my reason for visiting in advance of my arrival and hope to be approved. If I wanted to bring my cell phone, I would have had to provide the brand, model, serial number, IMEI number and telephone number. Providing these details to a foreign nation with extreme surveillance seemed unwise, so I left it behind.

[..] Currently, Assange cannot even have a simple visit with a friend without it being monitored by some shadowy state actor. It’s like a scene from the Stasi spy drama The Lives of Others. While Ecuador presents this surveillance operation as a mission to “protect and support” Assange, this is contradicted by the fact that he isn’t even allowed to confidentially speak with a reporter and friend without being recorded. In May, the Guardian reported that there are “extraordinary reports” from these spies that include daily logs of Assange’s activities inside the embassy, even noting his “general mood.”

As John Pilger pointed out after his visit with Assange on New Year’s Eve, it could be any newspaper publisher or editor stuck in that embassy. For the crime of publishing journalism, Assange has not only had to give up his freedom, but also any semblance of privacy. It’s impossible to overstate how unsettling it feels to have multiple lenses pointed at you wherever you stand. Unable to speak privately, even with a noise machine attempting to muffle the microphones from picking up conversations, we resorted to passing notes. Assange is not only barred from sharing his views online under the new regulations — thanks to the constant surveillance, he can’t even do so among his friends in the embassy where he is arbitrarily detained.

If we value the principle of the freedom of speech — we must do something to stop this madness. While we do not know what Assange has been charged with by the U.S. as it remains under seal, we do know that it is related to his work as a publisher, the only publisher with a record of 100% accuracy. His dedication to truth is so profound that he has never once had to issue a correction or retraction.

Read more …

Nov 252017
 
 November 25, 2017  Posted by at 1:48 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Zao Wu-Ki The red sun 1950

 

Once again, to my delight, we’re back with former British diplomat and MI6 ‘ranking figure’ Alastair Crooke and his Conflicts Forum organization. We posted a few of his articles this year and last. This time, Alastair writes a reaction to one of his own articles posted at Consortium News, which I included in the November 18 Debt Rattle at the Automatic Earth. My short comment then: “Former (and current?!) TAE contributor Alastair Crooke draws his conclusions.” This morning, the Conflicts Forum reached out again:

Dear Raul, We took the hint on a recent posting your site that referred to one of Alastair’s articles! …. and below is a comment piece he has done. It is an attempt to be strategic at where we’re going.

Anytime, guys! My first reaction to that piece was that Alastair makes Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s role in the Saudi crackdown seem very large, which makes the role played by deep state America look small in comparison. And I’m not so sure about that. The riddle of ‘who’s playing who?’ is not a straightforward one. But that’s by no means a criticism (I ain’t criticizing no MI6!). It’s a question.

First, here are two paragraphs of that article to ‘get in the mood’:

 

Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels

Aaron Miller and Richard Sokolsky, writing in Foreign Policy, suggest “that Mohammed bin Salman’s most notable success abroad may well be the wooing and capture of President Donald Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” Indeed, it is possible that this “success” may prove to be MbS’ only success. “It didn’t take much convincing”, Miller and Sokolski wrote: “Above all, the new bromance reflected a timely coincidence of strategic imperatives.” Trump, as ever, was eager to distance himself from President Obama and all his works; the Saudis, meanwhile, were determined to exploit Trump’s visceral antipathy for Iran – in order to reverse the string of recent defeats suffered by the kingdom.

So compelling seemed the prize (that MbS seemed to promise) of killing three birds with one stone (striking at Iran; “normalizing” Israel in the Arab world, and a Palestinian accord), that the U.S. President restricted the details to family channels alone. He thus was delivering a deliberate slight to the U.S. foreign policy and defense establishments by leaving official channels in the dark, and guessing. Trump bet heavily on MbS, and on Jared Kushner as his intermediary. But MbS’ grand plan fell apart at its first hurdle: the attempt to instigate a provocation against Hezbollah in Lebanon, to which the latter would overreact and give Israel and the “Sunni Alliance” the expected pretext to act forcefully against Hezbollah and Iran.

Since the crackdown seems to have had limited success so far on an international level, this is certainly an interesting issue to delve deeper into. MbS has reportedly, assisted by US mercenaries, hung members of his own family upside down from ceilings in posh hotels and palaces to break them into submission and steal their fortunes, but if the international part of his plan falls short, this becomes a very unpredictable story.

But this new article has a much broader scope. I’ve often said that the falling apart of the American, European and global political systems is caused one-on-one by deteriorating economies (even if 90% of media and politicians stick the recovery narrative). Alastair agrees, and even quotes me again.

 

 

Alastair Crooke: Robert Kagan first called attention to the fact that America would need to awake from its ‘dream’ a decade ago in End of Dreams: The Return of History, and would have to manage the rise of ‘other’ powers, (some greater than others), with adroitness, if it were to avoid a bad road-crash as emerging competitors clashed with the waning dominant power.  

This meant that the US no longer would be able to assert its will everywhere, and on everything – and would have to give ground – especially to China and Russia.  “There’s going to have to be some very painful horse trading”, historian Sir Max Hastings suggests, adding that its pain will be none the less traumatic, since – like Germany after WW1 – America, does not feel itself defeated: Quite the converse, it sees itself having emerged from the Cold War wholly vindicated: in terms of its societal, governmental and capitalist models.

The American-shaped globalist order, in which three American generations have been steeped, had seemed so naturally to flow out from the Cold War, that the onset of world ‘order’ dissolution seems – shockingly, for many – to have struck out of the blue – as it were – with Brexit, and the election of Mr Trump. 

Commentators speak of America needing to be wary of the Thucydides’ Trap (when the then aspiring power, Athens, threatened the primacy of the established hegemon, Sparta, leading to war). But ‘the trap’ today is not simply just about who’s rising ‘up’, and who’s heading ‘down’, in the great-power stakes – for, as Josh Feinman, chief economist for Deutsche Bank, last year  warned, the problem is not just great power competition. But rather: “We’ve seen this movie before. The first great globalization wave, in the half-century or so before World War I, sparked a populist backlash too, and ultimately came crashing down in the cataclysms of 1914 to 1945.”  In short, the two world wars were not just about Germany challenging British hegemony, but were also about globalization ‘backlash’ too – something that is often overlooked. 

In other words, in the wake of WW2, America has been backing itself into the corner of an ‘American-shaped’ (imposed), second wave ‘globalisation’, and that is the major risk posed today (as much as rising China), with ‘populism’ again markedly on the up. And ‘second wave globalisation’ is again yielding predictable political volatility (i.e. in ‘unexpected’ election results).  However, as Max Hastings  suggests, (quoting former UK politician Michael Howard), “we must recognize that the élites, of which he [Howard] himself freely admits to having been a part, have failed to sustain the consent of electorates for this [Euro-centralisation and for globalisation]. This ignoring the need to sustain the consent of the electorate, bears a considerable responsibility for getting us into this mess”.

Further, as Andrew Bracevich underlines globalism has its distinct social ‘flipside’: “[A] war [has been waged] on (genuine) culture: Under whatever guise, liberal-market globalism is hostile to tradition, community, established norms, and the very idea of a common culture – all of which impinge [adversely] upon the operation of the market, or claims of radical individual autonomy”.

 

 
The Thucydides’ Trap for America, rather, as Professor Lears of Rutgers writes, then, is not just the rising of Russia and China, but that of Americans being backed into the corner of not recognizing “that ‘they’ [the liberal globalists] are no longer defending either liberalism or democracy; [these] forms of élite rule – that provoke [such] popular anger – are merely the husk of liberal democracy: The once-vital discourse of liberal democracy has been hollowed out, and transformed into a language of managerial technique … Within this discourse, freedom has been reduced to market behaviour; citizenship to voting; and, efficiency for the public good to efficiency for profit. The rich civic culture that gave rise to popular American politics in the past—unions, churches, local party organizations—has been largely replaced, in both parties, by élites who have benefited from the ‘technocratic turn’”.

“As long as prosperity continued to increase as it has since 1945, western electorates were willing to give élites a very considerable measure of discretion about what they did, [whether in creating the EU], or whatever it might be. They were willing to acquiesce. Now, prosperity is being squeezed, wages are stagnant, and for many people unlikely to rise much in real terms.   It is going to be much more difficult to sustain the consent of Western electorates for purposes which the élites might consider as [somehow] ‘enlightened and unselfish’”. (Hastings again – with emphasis added).

And here lies the real ‘trap’: it is not that “prosperity is being squeezed” as per Hastings, but that the economy has rather, been divaricated into the ‘squeezed 60%’ and the asset-holding, and enriched 40% (as Ray Dalio describes it). Last month Dalio, the billionaire founder of top hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, posted a new article, “The Two Economies: The Top 40% and the Bottom 60%”.  He believes it is a serious mistake to think you can analyze or understand “the” economy because we now have two of them. The wealth and income levels are so skewed between top and bottom that “average” indicators no longer reflect the average person’s experience or living conditions. Dalio explains with this chart:

 

 

The red line is the share of US wealth owned by the bottom 90% of the population, and the green line is the share held by the top 0.1%. Right now they are about the same, but notice the trend. The wealthiest 0.1% has been increasing its share of wealth since the 1980s, while the bottom 90% has been losing ground. But it would be a mistake to understand this phenomenon – ‘populism’ as it is labelled in Dalio’s chart – or, the push to recover national culture and sovereignty – as simply a gripe about inequity. It has become since 2009 much more than that: it has become a matter of survival for a major segment of the American and European population (especially, as it coincides with a pensions crisis, which will leave many impoverished in their old age): 

“Prior to 2009, debt was able to support a rising standard of living…”, Raúl Ilargi Meijer says, “but less than a decade later, [personal debt], can’t even maintain the status quo. That’s what you call a breaking point.” (Alastair: Or, even, a precursor to civil violence?)

“To put that in numbers, there’s a current shortfall of $18,176 between the standard of living and real disposable incomes. In other words, no matter how much people are borrowing, their standard of living is in decline. 

“Something else we can glean from the graphs is that after the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-9, the economy never recovered. The S&P may have, and the banks are back to profitable ways and big bonuses, but that has nothing to do with real Americans in their own real economy. 2009 was a turning point, and the crisis never looked back”.

 

 

And Max Hastings’ point is that with austerity gone, early popular acquiescence has turned to anger against the élites – for having so taken them for granted in their utopian globalist projects.

Now the wider point: what we have here is the intersection of geo-politics with geo-finance. Both are now wholly contingent on the ‘saving of appearances’.  One co-constitutes the other.  One is the saving of appearance that America is not losing ‘respect’, or being disdained in the international arena, as it attenuates its global commitments (that is the Thucydides ‘syndrome’), and two, saving the appearance that ‘recovery’ and ‘prosperity for all’, are continuing to unfold nicely in the economy (the world converging globally to western values ‘syndrome’). 

Both these aspects to the dissolution of today’s western ‘modernity’ are intertwined, and co-constituting, and therefore likely to march in tandem – at least for now:  western ‘prosperity’ underwrites the global order, and the global order underwrites American ‘prosperity’.  The American and European élites therefore find themselves painted into a globalised ‘rules-based order’ corner, geo-politically, just as the Central Bankers have been backed into their QE, low or negative interest rate corner – from which there is no easy escape, either. 

The term ‘globalisation’ has been used to paint a landscape that is both inevitable, and beneficent: “free trade floats all boats; everywhere” is the meme. Devotees of globalisation however, never examine rigorously whether David Ricardo’s comparative advantage theory still holds good in the contemporary world (Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, however, being a notable exception). There just has been no point in asking the fundamentally political (as opposed to technical) question: Has the resulting off-shoring of supply lines, truly been in our interest – politically, as well as financially?  And has the concomitant – globalist disembedding of humans from national culture, community and sovereignty, and the rise of the apolitical, neo-liberal, chameleon-identity ‘Self’, been in the general political and societal interest, too?

It may be objected that Trump is not a globalist.  Whilst it is true that he does not favour America shouldering the claims of a world order; he – himself – protests loudly that he is a globalist – but it is just that he is a hard-nosed, New York businessman, type of globalist: that’s all.  Globalisation (in the neo-liberal mode), remains as a western totem, rightly, or not, according to political taste.

 

Where now? In the domestic field, the Central Banks’ easy ‘group think’ on QE, low or negative interest-rates, and ballooning public and private debt, has been pursued now for so long and so extensively, that it has both given us Dalio’s Two Economies, and no way back.   It has become a vicious circle: as high debt, to GDP ratios, low-interest zombification of entities and shrinking personal disposable income in the 60%, have depressed growth. Yet, paradoxically, never has the need for more of the same – QE, low or negative interest rates, or even ‘helicopter’ income – been so widely extolled — and, at the very moment when their drawbacks have become so widely identified, even by central bankers, themselves.

So here we are: there is a messy, and bitter, divorce taking place in our societies between the 60% and the 40% ‘tribes’. Asset valuations indeed have never been higher. Yet growth by contrast, has, on average, been ratcheting down, decade by decade – and for some, the situation has become truly existential (those for whom even additional debt cannot sustain their non-discretionary outgoings).

Where do we go from here?  A continuation of the existing financial paradigm is what everyone believes; what everyone expects (wants) – and is what we likely will get.  It might even be deepened a little, in the wake of a market hiccough (S&P down by more than 2%).  And in the case of a financial black swan, we may witness the system literally ‘hosed down’ with newly created ‘money’.  But essentially, the business and trade cycle will continue to be heavily repressed – volatility slammed down – and the S&P be the metric of national well-being.

Not only do the markets ‘believe it’, President Trump needs it: geo-politically he likes to do his style of negotiating from a position of strength (and not from one of economic crisis); and internally, he is at ‘war’ with the Establishment.  With the S&P touching records daily, he is immune from taunts of incompetence (regardless of whether not the highs have anything to do with the President).  His base likes it too: their meagre retirement portfolios at least are rising in value. And in any event, it is not surprising if Trump is a low interest, plentiful liquidity, expanding balance sheet, man globally:  It is how he made his billions, personally.

 

Of course, the flip side to continuing the ‘easing’ paradigm is the ongoing hidden transfer of wealth from general taxpayers (the 60%) to the 40%: more populism; more unexpected election outcomes in Europe; more fake-ness; quicker dissolution of the glue holding society together; more political process, less outcome; less ability to address the needs of collective purpose, etcetera — rising rancour and push-back, in a word. This is the implication.

In parallel, the saving of appearance in geo-politics seems to require its slamming down of volatility too (and in the EU, not least – i.e. Catalonia).  People want to believe it (in American power); important sectors of the economy want it, (need it): the appearance of America’s global standing must be preserved.  Repressing North Korea, ‘slamming down’ Iran can save appearances (America is strong), but the flip-side is the increased danger of war – whether inadvertently triggered, or by the US cornering itself into it.  Actually, ebbing power is something that you smell: false bravura only heightens the odour of weakness.

So, continuance of the paradigms (financial and geopolitical), and the continuance of ‘populist push-back’ (i.e. volatility) seem set. Is Josh Feinman of Deutsche Bank then right when he says: “We’ve seen this movie before. The first great globalization wave, in the half-century or so before World War I, [it] sparked a populist backlash too, and ultimately came crashing down in the cataclysms of 1914 to 1945.” Is a financial crisis inevitable – ultimately?  Is war – a confrontation with either Russia, China or N. Korea – unavoidable?

Who can say, for sure?  But the repeating of history is not inevitable.  Financial re-set at some point, has become inevitable, it would appear. It has taken time for the old meme to fade, and weaken its hold sufficiently. Hemingway famously said about bankruptcy (his), that it starts only very slowly, but ends lightningly fast.  The political impulse for a change in the social and cultural paradigm however does seem to be unfolding at an accelerating pace. ‘Populism’ and ‘unexpected’ election results are acting as its accelerant. And the intellectual context for a seismic economic policy shift, is in place too:  monetary policy is seen to be bust, and the economic ‘models’ have been seen to be plain wrong. TINA (there is no alternative) is wobbling on her pedestal, and seems poised to topple over.

Of course there are alternatives.  But will they arrive in time?  Perhaps the existing paradigms are destined to endure a while yet … ’til Hemingway’s observation about bankruptcy sliding unstoppably fast towards the end is further proven as a truism?  In the meantime: we wait; shackled by inertia, and backed into a corner.
 

 

 

May 272017
 
 May 27, 2017  Posted by at 5:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Herbert Draper Lament for Icarus 1898

 

There are times when you have to talk about things when it appears most inopportune to do so, because they’re the only times people might listen. Times when people will argue that ‘this is not the right moment’, while in reality it’s the only moment.

A solid 99% of people will have been filled, and rightly so of course, with a mixture of disgust, disbelief and infinite sadness when hearing of yet another attack on civilians in Europe, this one in Manchester. An equally solid 99% will have failed to recognize that while the event was unique for the city of Manchester, it was by no means unique for the world, not even at the time it happened.

Though the footage of parents desperately trying to find their children, and the news that one of the dead was just 8 years old, touches everyone in more or less the same place in our hearts, by far most of us miss out on the next logical step. In a wider perspective, it is easy to see that parents crying for missing children, and children killed in infancy, is what connects Manchester, and the UK, and Europe, to parents in Syria, Libya, Iraq.

What’s different between these places is not the suffering or the outrage, the mourning or the despair, what’s different is only the location on the map. That and the frequency with which terror is unleashed upon a given population. But just because it happens all the time in other places doesn’t make it more normal or acceptable.

It’s the exact same thing, the exact same experience, and still a vast majority of people don’t, choose not to, feel it as such. Which is curious when you think about it. In the aftermath of a terror attack, the mother of a missing, maimed or murdered child undergoes the same heartbreak no matter where they are in the world (“I hope the Russians love their children too”). But the empathy, the compassion, is hardly acknowledged in Britain at all, let alone shared.

Not that it couldn’t be. Imagine that our papers and TV channels would tell us, preferably repeatedly, in their reports in the wake of an attack like the one in Manchester how eerily similar the emotions must be to those felt in Aleppo, Homs and many other cities. That would change our perception enormously. But the media choose not to make the connection, and the people apparently are not capable of doing it themselves.

None of that changes the fact, however, that British lives are not more valuable than Syrian and Libyan ones. Not even when we’ve gotten used to ‘news’ about bombings and drone attacks executed for years now by US-led coalitions, or the images of children drowning when they flee the area because of these attacks.

The overall theme here is that 99.9% of people everywhere in the world are innocent, especially when they are children, but their governments and their societies are not. That doesn’t justify the Manchester attack in any shape or form, it simply lays equal blame and condemnation for western terror attacks in the Middle East and North Africa, perpetrated by the people we elect into power.

This is something people in the west pay no attention to. It’s easier that way, and besides our media with great enthusiasm pave the way for our collective ignorance, by calling some other group of people ‘terrorists’, which while they’re at it is supposed to justify killing some other mother’s child.

There’s another thing that is also different: they didn’t start. We did. The British and French terrorized the region for many decades, since the 19th century, even way before the Americans joined in. The presence of oil, and its rising role in our economies, caused them to double down on that terror.

Yes, it’s awkward to talk about this on the eve of a deadly attack, and it’s easy to find arguments and rhetoric that appear to deflect responsibility. But at the same time this truly is the only moment we can hope that anyone will listen. And lest we forget, the UK carries an outsized share of the responsibility in this tragedy, both historically and in the present.

You can say things about the city coming together, or the country coming together, or “not allowing terrorists to affect our way of life”, but perhaps it should instead really be all the mothers who have children missing or dying, wherever they live, coming together. They all see their ways of life affected, and many on a daily basis.

Those mothers in Syria and Libya, who have been through the same hellhole as those in Manchester, are a lot closer to you than the politicians who send out jet fighters to bomb cities in the desert, or sell arms to individuals and organizations to control these cities for their own narrow personal gain, such as the governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The traumatized mothers in the desert are not your enemies; your enemies are much closer to home. Still, most of you will tend to react to fear and panic by looking for protection in exactly those circles that are least likely to provide it. The UK government under Theresa May, like those of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron before, is as cynically eager as their predecessors to send bombers into the desert, and sell arms to those living there.

We can illustrate all this with a few bits of news. First, the US-led coalotion, of which the UK is a substantial part, killed more civilians in Syria than at any time since they started bombing the country almost 3 years ago. They keep saying they don’t target civilians, but to put it mildly they don’t appear to go out of their way not to hit them. For instance, a single attack on Mosul, Iraq in March killed over 105 civilians. ‘Collateral damage’ in these cases, and there are hundreds by now, is a very disrespectful term. Moreover, the files released by Chelsea Manning show US soldiers killing people ‘with impunity’.

Deadliest Month For Syria Civilians In US-Led Strikes

US-led air strikes on Syria killed a total of 225 civilians over the past month, a monitor said on Tuesday, the highest 30-day toll since the campaign began in 2014. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the civilian dead between April 23 and May 23 included 44 children and 36 women. The US-led air campaign against the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria began on September 23, 2014. “The past month of operations is the highest civilian toll since the coalition began bombing Syria,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. “There has been a very big escalation.” The previous deadliest 30-day period was between February 23 and March 23 this year, when 220 civilians were killed, Abdel Rahman said.

And it’s not as if the British didn’t or couldn’t know what was going on. That was clear as early as 2003, when Tony Blair couldn’t wait to join the Bush coalition to invade Iraq on the false premise of weapons of mass destruction. Before Libya was invaded, which led to Hillary’s disgusting ‘we came we saw he died’, Gaddafi, the one who did die, warned Blair about what would happen. It indeed did, which makes Blair a guilty man.

Gaddafi Warned Blair His Ousting Would ‘Open Door’ To Jihadis

Muammar Gaddafi warned Tony Blair in two fraught phone conversations in 2011 that his removal from the Libyan leadership would open a space for al-Qaida to seize control of the country and even launch an invasion of Europe. The transcripts of the conversations have been published with Blair’s agreement by the UK foreign affairs select committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the western air campaign that led to the ousting and killing of Gaddafi in October 2011. In the two calls the former British prime minister pleaded with Gaddafi to stand aside or end the violence. The transcripts reveal the gulf in understanding between Gaddafi and the west over what was occurring in his country and the nature of the threat he was facing.

In the first call, at 11.15am on 25 February 2011, Gaddafi gave a warning in part borne out by future events: “They [jihadis] want to control the Mediterranean and then they will attack Europe.” In the second call, at 3.25pm the same day, the Libyan leader said: “We are not fighting them, they are attacking us. I want to tell you the truth. It is not a difficult situation at all. The story is simply this: an organisation has laid down sleeping cells in north Africa. Called the al-Qaida organisation in north Africa … The sleeping cells in Libya are similar to dormant cells in America before 9/11.”

Gaddafi added: “I will have to arm the people and get ready for a fight. Libyan people will die, damage will be on the Med, Europe and the whole world. These armed groups are using the situation [in Libya] as a justification – and we shall fight them.” Three weeks after the calls, a Nato-led coalition that included Britain began bombing raids that led to the overthrow of Gaddafi. He was finally deposed in August and murdered by opponents of his regime in October.

What they are guilty of is no more and no less than Manchester. No hyperbole, but a warning from Blair’s own intelligence services back in 2003. The real weapons of mass destruction were not in Iraq, but in the White House and Downing Street no. 10. The CIA issued warnings similar to this.

British Intelligence Warned Tony Blair Of Manchester-Like Terrorism If The West Invaded Iraq

Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq led by the U.S. and U.K., he was forcefully and repeatedly warned by Britain’s intelligence services that it would lead to exactly this type of terrorist attack — and he concealed these warnings from the British people, instead claiming the war would reduce the risk of terrorism. We know this because of the Chilcot Report, the seven-year-long British investigation of the Iraq War released in 2016. The report declassifies numerous internal government documents that illustrate the yawning chasm between what Blair was being told in private and his claims in public as he pushed for war.

On February 10, 2003, one month before the war began, the U.K.’s Joint Intelligence Committee — the key advisory body for the British Prime Minister on intelligence matters — issued a white paper titled “International Terrorism: War With Iraq.” It began: “The threat from Al Qaida will increase at the onset of any military action against Iraq. They will target Coalition forces and other Western interests in the Middle East. Attacks against Western interests elsewhere are also likely, especially in the US and UK, for maximum impact. The worldwide threat from other Islamist terrorist groups and individuals will increase significantly.”

And it concluded much the same way: “Al Qaida and associated groups will continue to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat will be heightened by military action against Iraq. The broader threat from Islamist terrorists will also increase in the event of war, reflecting intensified anti-US/anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim world, including among Muslim communities in the West.”

Not long behind Blair came David Cameron, a man after Tony’s heart:

Cameron Brags Of ‘Brilliant’ UK Arms Trade As EU Embargoes Saudi Arabia

European ministers have embarrassed David Cameron by voting to impose an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia on the same day the British prime minister praised the UK for selling “brilliant” arms to the country. Speaking at a BAE Systems factory in Preston, the prime minister said the UK had pushed the sale of Eurofighter Typhoons to countries in the Middle East, including Oman and Saudi Arabia. [..] Cameron’s speech in Preston came at the same time the European Parliament voted to impose an EU-wide ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia, citing criticism from the UN of its bombing in Yemen.

Asked at the talks how he was helping to export the planes, Cameron said: “With the Typhoon there is an alliance of countries: the Italians, Germans and ourselves. We spend a lot of time trying to work out who is best placed to win these export orders. We’ve got hopefully good news coming from Kuwait. The Italians have been doing a lot of work there. The British have been working very hard in Oman.” The vote will not force EU members to comply with the ban, but will force the government to examine its relationship with Saudi Arabia.

In the last year the British government has sold £3 billion (US$4.18 billion) worth of arms and military kit to the Gulf state, as well as providing training to Saudi forces. A report released by Amnesty International on Friday called the ongoing trade with Saudi Arabia “truly sickening,” and urged governments to attend meetings in Geneva on Monday to discuss the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The report names the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the US as having issued licenses for arms to Saudi Arabia worth more than £18 billion in 2015.

The arms sold include drones, bombs, torpedoes, rockets and missiles, which have been used by Saudi Arabia and its allies for gross violations of human rights and possible war crimes during aerial and ground attacks in Yemen, the campaign group said. Control Arms Director Anna Macdonald said: “Governments such as the UK and France were leaders in seeking to secure an ATT – and now they are undermining the commitments they made to reduce human suffering by supplying Saudi Arabia with some of the deadliest weapons in the world. It’s truly sickening.”

British MPs from Cameron’s own party didn’t like it either, but what meaning does that have if it takes 5 years to issue a report, and moreover he can simply refuse to give evidence?

MPs Deliver Damning Verdict On David Cameron’s Libya Intervention

David Cameron’s intervention in Libya was carried out with no proper intelligence analysis, drifted into an unannounced goal of regime change and shirked its moral responsibility to help reconstruct the country following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, according to a scathing report by the foreign affairs select committee. The failures led to the country becoming a failed a state on the verge of all-out civil war, the report adds. The report, the product of a parliamentary equivalent of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, closely echoes the criticisms widely made of Tony Blair’s intervention in Iraq, and may yet come to be as damaging to Cameron’s foreign policy legacy.

It concurs with Barack Obama’s assessment that the intervention was “a shitshow”, and repeats the US president’s claim that France and Britain lost interest in Libya after Gaddafi was overthrown. Cameron has refused to give evidence to the select committee. In one of his few reflections on his major military intervention, he blamed the Libyan people for failing to take their chance of democracy.

The committee, which has a majority of Conservative members, did not have Chilcot-style access to internal papers, but took voluminous evidence from senior ministers at the time, and other key players such as Blair, the chief of the defence staff, Lord Richards, and leading diplomats. The result of the French, British and US intervention, the report finds, “was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of Isil [Islamic State] in north Africa”.

It seems obvious that if there were an impartial international body with the power to prosecute, Bush, Cheney, Blair, Cameron, Hillary etc. etc. (don’t forget France) would be charged with war crimes. And Obama too: his ‘shitshow’ comment must be seen in light of the ‘we came we saw he died’ comment by Hillary Clinton, his Secretary of State. Think he didn’t know what was happening?

Another person who should be charged is Theresa May, Cameron’s Home Secretary from May 2010 till July 2016, and of course Britain’s present PM, who sells as much weaponry to Saudi Arabia as she possibly can while the Saudi’s are shoving the few Yemeni’s they leave alive back beyond the Stone Age. And then May has the gall to talk about humanitarian aid.

Theresa May Defends UK Ties With Saudi Arabia

Theresa May has defended her trip to Saudi Arabia, saying its ties with the UK are important for security and prosperity. The prime minister is facing questions about the UK’s support for the Saudi-led coalition which is fighting rebels in neighbouring Yemen. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said UK-made weapons were contributing to a “humanitarian catastrophe”. [..] Mrs May said humanitarian aid was one of the issues she would be discussing on her trip. “We are concerned about the humanitarian situation – that’s why the UK last year was the fourth largest donor to the Yemen in terms of humanitarian aid – £103m. We will be continuing with that,” she told the BBC.

[..] Mr Corbyn called for the immediate suspension of UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia. He criticised the “dictatorial Saudi monarchy’s shocking human rights record” and said the PM should focus on human rights and international law at the centre of her talks. “The Saudi-led coalition bombing in Yemen, backed by the British government, has left thousands dead, 21 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and three million refugees uprooted from their homes,” he said. “Yemen urgently needs a ceasefire, a political settlement, and food aid, not more bombing. “British-made weapons are being used in a war which has caused a humanitarian catastrophe.”

The one person who would probably not be in front of such a court is Jeremy Corbyn, opponent of May’s in the June 8 elections. Though there is the issue that he never protested in much stronger terms as an MP. Still, if you have to pick one of the two, what is not obvious?

Theresa May Claims Selling Arms To Saudi Arabia Helps ‘Keep People On The Streets Of Britain Safe’

Theresa May has staunchly defended selling arms to Saudi Arabia despite the country facing accusations of war crimes, insisting close ties “keep people on the streets of Britain safe”. Jeremy Corbyn called on the Prime Minister to halt those sales because of the “humanitarian devastation” caused by a Saudi-led coalition waging war against rebels in Yemen. The Labour leader spoke out after the Parliamentary committee charged with scrutinising arms exports said it was likely that British weapons had been used to violate international law.

The Saudis stand accused of bombing multiple international hospitals run by the charity Médecins Sans Frontières, as well as schools, wedding parties and food factories. In the Commons, Mr Corbyn linked weapons sales to the ongoing refugee crisis, which he said should be Britain’s “number one concern and our number one humanitarian response”. He added: “That is why I remain concerned that at the heart of this Government’s security strategy is apparently increased arms exports to the very part of the world that most immediately threatens our security.

The British Government continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia that are being used to commit crimes against humanity in Yemen , as has been clearly detailed by the UN and other independent agencies.”

But, in response, Ms May pointed out she had called on Saudi Arabia to investigate the allegations about Yemen when she met with the kingdom’s deputy crown prince at the recent G20 summit in China. The Prime Minister dismissed Mr Corbyn’s suggestion that “what happened in Saudi Arabia was a threat to the safety of people here in the UK”. Instead, she said: “Actually, what matters is the strength of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. When it comes to counter-terrorism and dealing with terrorism, it is that relationship that has helped to keep people on the streets of Britain safe.”

May’s, and Britain’s, utterly mad stance in this is perhaps best exemplified, in one sentence, by her comments during the speedy trip she made to Turkey, again to sell more arms to an at best highly questionable regime. Why do it, why drag your entire nation through the moral gutter for $100 million or a few billion? The military industrial complex.

Theresa May Signs £100m Fighter Jet Deal With Turkey’s Erdogan

Theresa May issued a stern warning to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan about respecting human rights yesterday as she prepared to sign a £100m fighter jet deal that Downing Street hopes will lead to Britain becoming Turkey’s main defence partner.

And once again, no, none of this justifies the Manchester bombing. Neither a government nor an extremist movement has any right to kill innocent people. But let’s make sure we know that neither does.

There’s another aspect to the story. MI6 had close links to the Libyan community in Manchester.

‘Sorted’ by MI5: How UK Government Sent British-Libyans To Fight Gaddafi

The British government operated an “open door” policy that allowed Libyan exiles and British-Libyan citizens to join the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi even though some had been subject to counter-terrorism control orders, Middle East Eye can reveal. Several former rebel fighters now back in the UK told MEE that they had been able to travel to Libya with “no questions asked” as authorities continued to investigate the background of a British-Libyan suicide bomber who killed 22 people in Monday’s attack in Manchester.

Salman Abedi, 22, the British-born son of exiled dissidents who returned to Libya as the revolution against Gaddafi gathered momentum, is also understood to have spent time in the North African country in 2011 and to have returned there on several subsequent occasions. Sources spoken to by MEE suggest that the government facilitated the travel of Libyan exiles and British-Libyan residents and citizens keen to fight against Gaddafi including some who it deemed to pose a potential security threat.

One British citizen with a Libyan background who was placed on a control order – effectively house arrest – because of fears that he would join militant groups in Iraq said he was “shocked” that he was able to travel to Libya in 2011 shortly after his control order was lifted. “I was allowed to go, no questions asked,” said the source. He said he had met several other British-Libyans in London who also had control orders lifted in 2011 as the war against Gaddafi intensified, with the UK, France and the US carrying out air strikes and deploying special forces soldiers in support of the rebels.

“They didn’t have passports, they were looking for fakes or a way to smuggle themselves across,” said the source. But within days of their control orders being lifted, British authorities returned their passports, he said. Many Libyan exiles in the UK with links to the LIFG [Libyan Islamic Fighting Group ] were placed on control orders and subjected to surveillance and monitoring following the rapprochement between the British and Libyan governments sealed by the so-called “Deal in the Desert” between then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Gaddafi in 2004.

According to documents retrieved from the ransacked offices of the Libyan intelligence agency following Gaddafi’s fall from power in 2011, British security services cracked down on Libyan dissidents in the UK as part of the deal, as well as assisting in the rendition of two senior LIFG leaders, Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi, to Tripoli where they allege they were tortured.

Torture one day, passports the other. Lovely. And it still gets better: MI6 didn’t just have close contacts with Libyans in Manchester, it knew the alleged perpetrator’s family, and used his father multiple times as on operative:

Manchester Attack as MI6 Blowback

According to Scotland Yard, the attack on the crowd leaving the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena, 22 May, has been perpetrated by Salman Abedi. A bankcard has been conveniently found in the pocket of the mutilated corpse of the ‘terrorist’. This attack is generally interpreted as proof that the United Kingdom is not implicated in international terrorism and that, on the contrary, it is a victim of it.

[..] In 1992, Ramadan Abedi [Salman’s father] was sent back to Libya by Britain’s MI6 and was involved in a British-devised plot to assassinate Muammar Gaddafi. The operation having been readily exposed, he was exfiltrated by MI6 and transferred back to the UK where he obtained political asylum. He moved in 1999 to Whalley Range (south of Manchester) where there was already resident a small Libyan Islamist community. In 1994, Ramadan Abedi returned again to Libya under MI6’s direction. In late 1995 he is involved in the creation of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a local branch of Al-Qaeda, in conjunction with Abdelhakim Belhadj.

The LIFG was then employed by MI6 again to assassinate Gaddafi, for a payoff of £100,000. This operation, which also failed, provoked heated exchanges within British Intelligence, leading to the resignation of one David Shayler. Other former members of the LIFG have also lived at Whalley Range, including Abedi’s friend Abd al-Baset-Azzouz. In 2009, this last joined Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and became a close associate of its chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In 2011, al-Baset-Azzouz is active on the ground with the NATO operation against Libya.

On 11 September 2012, he directs the operation against the US Ambassador in Libya, Christopher Stevens, assassinated at Benghazi. He is arrested in Turkey and extradited to the US in December 2014, his trial still pending. Nobody pays attention to the fact that Ramadan Abedi has linked LIFG members to the formation of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and, in 2011, he takes part in MI6’s ‘Arab Spring’ operations, and in LIFG’s role on the ground in support of NATO. In any event, Abedi returned to Libya after the fall of Gaddafi and moves his family there, leaving his older children in the family home at Whalley Range.

According to the former Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar, Abdelhakim Belhadj was involved in the assassinations in Madrid of 11 March 2004. Later, he is secretly arrested in Malaysia by the CIA and transferred to Libya where he is tortured not by Libyan or American functionaries but by MI6 agents. He is finally freed after the accord between Saif al-Islam Gaddafi [Gaddafi’s son] and the jihadists.

Luckily, perhaps the Brits are not that stupid:

Half of Britons Blame UK’s Foreign Wars for Terror Attacks at Home

Slightly over a half of people in the UK agree that the nation’s involvement in wars abroad has increased the terror threat to the country, a poll out Friday has showed. The survey found that 53% of 7,134 UK adults sampled by YouGov said they believed wars the UK supported or fought were in part responsible for terror attacks at home. [..] Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who made a speech earlier in the day to mark his return to general election campaigning, said UK’s war on terror had not worked. He cited intelligence experts who said foreign wars, including in Libya, threatened the country’s security.

If that is true, Theresa May obviously should have no chance of winning. May can and will try to use the horror of Manchester, and the subsequent pause in the campaign, to strengthen her position in the upcoming election, by playing on people’s fear and making them believe she’s in control. Even if the very attack itself makes clear that she’s not. The Tories have already attacked Corbyn for saying their policies have failed; it was the wrong time to say that, according to them.

But it’s not. It’s the very best time. This is when people pay attention. And having this discussion doesn’t disrespect the victims of Manchester. If anything, it shows more respect than not having the discussion. Because you want to make sure this doesn’t happen again, neither here nor there. And to achieve that, you have to look at why these things happen.

An 8-year old child in Manchester, just like one in Mosul or Aleppo, is innocent. Yourself, perhaps not so much. The politicians you vote into power, and the media you read and watch to inform you, not a chance. Guilty as hell.

 

 

Jul 072016
 
 July 7, 2016  Posted by at 9:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle July 7 2016


Harris&Ewing Childs Restaurant, Washington, DC 1918

The Eurozone Is Ersatz Deutschland (David McWilliams)
I’m in Awe at How Fast Deutsche Bank is Coming Unglued (WS)
“When Deutsche Bank Goes To Single Digits People Will Start To Panic” (ZH)
To Save Italian Banks, The EU Will Have To Bend Some Rules (BBG Ed.)
Populist Politicians Take On Italy’s Massive Debt Pile (BBG)
Italy May Spur Systemic Bank Crisis: SocGen (BBG)
Italy’s Bad Loan Woes Tiny Compared To Europe’s Derivative Problem – Renzi (R.)
From Brexit to the Future (Stiglitz)
Finance Insiders: The UK Won’t Really Go (Pol.)
China’s Innovation Economy A Real Estate Bubble In Disguise? (R.)
Bill Gross Calls Sovereign Bonds Too Risky (BBG)
Voodoo Central Banking Is A Bad Idea (BBG)
US June Truck Orders Down 34% vs Year Ago (R.)
The Rock Movie Plot ‘May Have Inspired MI6 Source’s Iraqi Weapons Claim’ (G.)
Putin Warns of War: ‘I Don’t Know How to Get Through to You People’ (RI)
Crazy – A Story Of Debt (Grant WIlliams)

 

 

Williams points out what I have many times: the EU’s problem -and the one that will undo it- is that Germany gets to call the shots every time and all of the time, and “the rest of the countries are little more than policy eunuchs..”

The Eurozone Is Ersatz Deutschland (David McWilliams)

Of course, the main player in all this will be Germany. Germany calls the shots. Over the past five years, the pretence of a European Germany has given way to the reality of a German Europe. This is the new deal. As a result of this, the Eurozone is Ersatz Deutschland, where the rest of the countries are little more than policy eunuchs, emasculated by German fiscal straightjackets and German creditor obsessions. Again, if you doubt this, watch the ongoing implosion of the Italian banking system, which will dwarf even the great Irish banking crisis. Italy wants to recapitalise its banks using government money because it fears a complete collapse of its crippled economy. Germany is saying no. As always, German decisions reflect the interest of German industry.

This is entirely understandable. It means that the interests of German carmakers that sell tens of thousands of cars to the UK every year will influence the attitude of German politicians towards the deal that Britain gets. Already Angela Merkel is urging the Commission to back off and give the British time to sort themselves out. So because of German industrial interests, Italy, the friend with the broken banking system, will be treated harshly by Germany, while the UK, now the putative political enemy, will be treated more favourably. In short, the anti-EU Brits will get a better hearing from the Germans than the pro-EU Italians. It is this apparent mistreatment of so-called allies that initially drove Brexit and is driving Marine Le Pen’s support in France and will determine the background noise to the Italian general election later this year.

All this also puts Germany on a collision course with the EU institutions that are seeking to punish the UK for the temerity of Brexit. Germany will look to get the Brits the most access to EU market in the same way as Germany shouted loudly about Vladimir Putin’s annexation of bits of Ukraine but still took Russia’s oil and gas. This is Realpolitik – and the Commission had better get used to it.

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Will Germany prop up Deutsche even when it won’t allow Italy to prop up its banks?

I’m in Awe at How Fast Deutsche Bank is Coming Unglued (WS)

Deutsche Bank – “the most important net contributor to systemic risks,” as the IMF put it last week after a lag of several years – is having a rough time. Shares dropped 4.2% today to close at a new three-decade low of €11.63, down 48% since July 31 last year, lower even than the low during the doom-and-gloom days of the euro debt crisis and the Global Financial Crisis. It’s not the only European bank in trouble. Credit Suisse dropped 1.7% today to CHF 9.92, another multi-decade low, down 63% since July 31. Other European banks are getting mauled too. The European Stoxx 600 banking index dropped 3% today to 117.69, approaching the Financial Crisis low of March 2009.

If July 31, 2015, keeps showing up, it’s because this was the propitious day when Draghi’s harebrained experiment with negative interest rates and massive QE came unglued, when European stocks, and particularly European bank stocks began to crash. Deutsche Bank is so shaky that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble found it necessary to stick his neck out and explain to Bloomberg in February that he has “no concerns about Deutsche Bank.” Finance ministers don’t say this sort of thing about healthy banks. At the time, CEO John Cryan – whose main job these days is propping up Deutsche Bank with his rhetoric – explained ostensibly to frazzled employees that the bank’s position was “absolutely rock-solid, given our strong capital and risk position.”

Days later, he followed up his rhetoric with a stunning ruse: On February 12, the bank announced that it would buy back $5.4 billion of its own bonds, including some issued only a month earlier. “The bank is using market conditions to buy back these bonds at attractive prices and to cut debt,” CFO Marcus Schenck said at the time. “By buying them back below their issuance value, the bank is making a profit. The bank is also using its financial strength to provide liquidity to bond investors in a difficult market environment.” Shares soared 12% on the spot! Its bonds rocketed higher. Even its contingent convertible bonds, the infamous CoCo bonds, though they weren’t part of the buyback plan, bounced.

For example, its €1.75 billion of 6% CoCo notes soared from a record low of 70 cents on the euro on February 9 to 87 cents by March – a 24% move! The ruse had worked! During the miracle rally, short sellers got their heads handed to them. But it was one of the silliest, most desperate ways to prop up shares and bonds. And now the bond-buyback miracle-nonsense rally has collapsed, with shares at a new multi-decade low, and with bonds swooning. This is what these 6% CoCo notes did: they plunged 5.7% today to 75 cents on the euro. Nearly the entire bond-buy-back miracle-nonsense rally has re-collapsed…

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“..you’ll see someone say, ‘Someone is going to have to do something’.”

“When Deutsche Bank Goes To Single Digits People Will Start To Panic” (ZH)

Following today’s Fed minutes release, Jeff Gundlach had a far less “uncertain” message: “Things are shaky and feeling dangerous,” Gundlach told Reuters in a telephone interview. It’s not just stocks that Gundlach was not too excited about, he also had some choice words about buying Treasuries here. “You’re seeing people who hated the ‘2%’ 10-year suddenly loving it at a 1.38-1.39% revisit of the all-time low closing yield,” Gundlach said. “If you buy 10-year Treasuries now, I would say, it is a terrible trade location. In fact, it is the worst trade location in the history of the 10-year Treasury.”

True, just like buying stocks less than 2% from all time highs, however what Gundlach failed to mention is that those who are buying Treasurys here are not doing it for the yield (or lack thereof on more than $11 trillion in notional), they are simply doing so to frontrun even more central bank purchases now that the monetary spigots have once again been activated as “confused” central banks around the world have just one trick left up their sleeve – to monetize even more debt in hopes of pushing every last investor into risk assets. The DoubleLine bond king also had some choice words about Europe’s banking crisis: “Banks are dying and policymakers don’t know what to do,” Gundlach said. “Watch Deutsche Bank shares go to single digits and people will start to panic… you’ll see someone say, ‘Someone is going to have to do something’.”

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But it can’t bend rules only for Italy, that’s another Pandora’s box.

To Save Italian Banks, The EU Will Have To Bend Some Rules (BBG Ed.)

Italy’s slow-motion banking crisis is getting worse, and if it isn’t stopped, it could cause system-wide damage across the euro area and beyond. To contain this danger, the European Union must be willing to bend some rules. Shares in Italy’s third-largest lender, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, are down about 75% this year and trading at one-tenth of book value. A ban on short-selling the bank’s stock was imposed on Wednesday. Monte dei Paschi is only one of a group of Italian banks beset with 360 billion euros ($398 billion) of nonperforming loans; that’s some 20% of Italy’s GDP. Banking crises in Spain and Ireland were rooted in real-estate bubbles, but Italy’s stems from a culture of cronyism, poor governance and shoddy lending.

The banks’ sickness has hurt the broader economy, too: As borrowers defaulted, banks withheld credit, dragging down growth. Reforming Italy’s banking culture is the job of years, but short-term action is needed right now to halt the panic. The simplest approach would be to sequester impaired loans in a state-supported “bad bank” – along the lines of the ones used by Spain and Ireland. A stabilized banking industry could then resume its vital economic function of supporting investment. After Greece’s financial debacle, though, the EU adopted rules requiring a failing bank’s shareholders and creditors to shoulder much of the cost of any rescue – to be “bailed in,” as it’s called. That’s a good idea in principle. In Italy, it’s close to impossible politically, because a third of bank bonds are held by households.

The result has been a characteristic EU muddle of half-baked answers and hoping for the best. A scheme to attract private capital and securitize bad loans has been tried but hasn’t worked. Confidence kept on deteriorating. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is doubtless looking to save his political skin, but he’s right that Italy needs more freedom of action than EU rules allow. Renzi has staked his job on an October referendum on constitutional reform, one that polls show he could lose. If that happens, the euroskeptic, populist Five Star Movement might take the country in a new direction not to Europe’s liking – least of all now, coming on the heels of Brexit.

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The use of the word ‘populist‘ is up there with ‘migrant’ in trying to paint a picture that is not real. Beppe Grillo has nothing to do with Farage or Le Pen or any of these people, other than he wants Italy out of the eurozone (and EU). Populist could simply mean: for normal people, but that’s not the connotation it gets, it’s utilized in a much more sinister way. On purpose.

Populist Politicians Take On Italy’s Massive Debt Pile (BBG)

The Rome Olympics of 1960 marked the rebound of the Italian capital after years of war and reconstruction, an affirmation of the country’s renaissance and the city’s emergence as a symbol of dolce vita insouciance. Rome is still paying the bill, and the new mayor, Virginia Raggi, is sick of it. The city has roughly €13.6 billion ($15.2 billion) in debt and more than 12,000 creditors—though the pile is so complex no one really knows how much is owed to whom. Rome faces outstanding bills for operating its 61-year-old metro system, hauling trash, and running a network of unprofitable pharmacies that compete with private shops. The courts are grappling with hundreds of lawsuits over unpaid debts going back 50 years for land expropriated to build hospitals, streets, and other city projects—including some debts connected to the 1960 games, former Mayor Ignazio Marino has said.

The average interest rate: 5%, at a time when the Italian government is issuing 10-year bonds at 1.5% annually. “We can’t keep paying such high interest just because nobody bothered to renegotiate the debt,” Raggi, who was elected on June 19, told the RAI television network. Raggi, a 37-year-old lawyer and Rome’s first female mayor, has ridden a wave of frustration with Italy’s old guard—especially its handling of the economy—to one of the country’s most powerful political jobs. Her rise mirrors the growing strength of her party, the Five Star Movement, founded in 2009 by Beppe Grillo. Five Star (the stars are meant to represent water, environment, transport, development, and energy, though the party mostly focuses on fighting corruption and cutting regulations) has grown into a formidable rival to the Democratic Party of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

[..] Few would argue that Italy doesn’t desperately need a solution to its debt woes. The country owes creditors €2.2 trillion, or more than 130% of GDP—a ratio higher than any EU country’s other than Greece. High taxes aimed at paying down the debt stifle growth, which reduces the government’s ability to fund new programs. At the same time, Italy’s banks hold more of their country’s sovereign debt than lenders in any other euro area nation, and they’re burdened with €360 billion in bad loans, more than a quarter of the total held by euro area financial institutions. Government attempts to load these assets into a “bad bank” have foundered because of European rules against state aid to banks. As a result some institutions could face insolvency.

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No, no no, I kid you not: in this Bloomberg video, the reporter asks SocGen Chairman Bini Smaghi: “Do you get a sense that markets are orderly, that markets are rational at the moment?” And he responds: “I mean, you have uncertainty, you don’t know what’s going to happen…”

Orderly and rational? You f**king kidding me? There are no markets, you bleeding doodles. And you’re not supposed to know beforehand what’s going to happen either. But you f**king do anyway, because central banks keep on feeding losers like you and there is no price discovery anywhere to be found. It’s insane to see how fast the new normal becomes normal. But these wankers make their present profits at the cost of you and me. Let’s put a halt to that. These people have no connection to us. But they should.

Italy May Spur Systemic Bank Crisis: SocGen (BBG)

Italy’s banking crisis could spread to the rest of Europe, and rules limiting state aid to lenders should be reconsidered to prevent greater upheaval, Societe Generale SA Chairman Lorenzo Bini Smaghi said. “The whole banking market is under pressure,” the former ECB executive board member said. “We adopted rules on public money; these rules must be assessed in a market that has a potential crisis to decide whether some suspension needs to be applied.” With Italian banks weighed down by about €360 billion in soured loans, the government has been sounding out regulators on ways to shore up lenders amid a renewed selloff in the wake of the British vote to leave the EU.

The government would invoke an EU rule allowing temporary state aid if regulatory stress tests uncover a shortfall at Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, a person with knowledge of the discussions said Tuesday. European banking stocks resumed their descent as policy makers disagreed and sometimes issued contradictory statements about what may come next. Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest lender, slid 6.1% to its lowest level since at least 1989. Societe Generale, France’s second-biggest bank, which Bini Smaghi has chaired for just over a year, fell 1.8% as of 2 p.m. in Paris. Italian Finance Undersecretary Pier Paolo Baretta said in an interview on RAI radio Wednesday morning that a “technical solution” on Monte Paschi could be hours away, before issuing a statement an hour later that said “no intervention is expected in the next few hours.”

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, speaking at a news conference in Berlin hours later, said his Italian counterpart Pier Carlo Padoan told him that Italy intends to stick to the banking-union rules.

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He’s talking about Deutsche. Renzi’s desperate to save his skin. And he WILL challenge Berlin to do it. They will respond by making Italy Greece Redux.

Italy’s Bad Loan Woes Tiny Compared To Europe’s Derivative Problem – Renzi (R.)

The difficulties facing Italian banks over their bad loans are miniscule by comparison with the problems some European banks face over their derivatives, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Wednesday. Italian bank shares have tumbled in recent days and are the worst performers among European lenders this year on investor concerns over how they will handle some €360 billion of bad and non-performing loans. Speaking at a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, Renzi said other European banks had much bigger problems than their Italian counterparts. “If this non-performing loan problem is worth one, the question of derivatives at other banks, at big banks, is worth one hundred. This is the ratio: one to one hundred,” Renzi said.

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Stiglitz doesn’t have much. Disappointing?!

From Brexit to the Future (Stiglitz)

Digesting the full implications of the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” referendum will take Britain, Europe, and the world a long time. The most profound consequences will, of course, depend on the European Union’s response to the UK’s withdrawal. Most people initially assumed that the EU would not “cut off its nose to spite its face”: after all, an amicable divorce seems to be in everyone’s interest. But the divorce – as many do – could become messy. The benefits of trade and economic integration between the UK and EU are mutual, and if the EU took seriously its belief that closer economic integration is better, its leaders would seek to ensure the closest ties possible under the circumstances.

But Jean-Claude Juncker, the architect of Luxembourg’s massive corporate tax avoidance schemes and now President of the European Commission, is taking a hard line: “Out means out,” he says. That kneejerk reaction is perhaps understandable, given that Juncker may be remembered as the person who presided over the EU’s initial stage of dissolution. He argues that, to deter other countries from leaving, the EU must be uncompromising, offering the UK little more than what it is guaranteed under World Trade Organization agreements. In other words, Europe is not to be held together by its benefits, which far exceed the costs. Economic prosperity, the sense of solidarity, and the pride of being a European are not enough, according to Juncker.

No, Europe is to be held together by threats, intimidation, and fear. That position ignores a lesson seen in both the Brexit vote and America’s Republican Party primary: large portions of the population have not been doing well. The neoliberal agenda of the last four decades may have been good for the top 1%, but not for the rest. I had long predicted that this stagnation would eventually have political consequences. That day is now upon us.

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Hey, their jobs depend on it…

Finance Insiders: The UK Won’t Really Go (Pol.)

Finance industry insiders still don’t think a full Brexit will actually happen. Only 37% of participants in POLITICO’s Economic Caucus, which surveyed an elite group of 63 business and economic leaders, said that Britain will exit the European Union following the June 23 referendum. An overwhelming majority said the U.K. won’t cut its ties altogether — a finding that reflects the finance community’s optimism, delusion or a little of both. Britain will suffer much more than the rest of the Continent and will fall into recession following the referendum, said the caucus, which includes EU ambassadors, European Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva, former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, and OECD and European Central Bank economists.

More than three-quarters of those surveyed said the U.K. should brace itself for a major economic slowdown as uncertainty hits “confidence, consumer spending and investment,” whereas they predicted the wider European economy will fare much better. Britain scored “an astonishingly avoidable own goal,” said one member of the caucus, all of whom spoke on condition their remarks not be individually attributed. “The uncertainty [while exit negotiations take place] will particularly hit the British services market, which is the strong point of the U.K. economy at the moment,” said one caucus member, adding that “anti-foreigner sentiment, if not kept in check, might persuade many skilled workers to leave the U.K.” Reports of hate crime in London are up by more than 50% since Britons voted by a margin of 52-48% to leave the EU, police figures show.

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Bubbles are all China has left. Nothing new there.

China’s Innovation Economy A Real Estate Bubble In Disguise? (R.)

The Chinese government’s call to the nation to build an innovation-driven economy from the top down has sparked a rush by local governments to construct new buildings in the name of supporting creativity. Innovation centers have been popping up around the country and are set to more than double to nearly 5,000 in the next five years, according to internet research firm iiMedia. The only problem for local governments; entrepreneurs are not moving in. Many centers are in small Chinese cities or towns, not ideal locations for attracting startups. There is no local market for their product, no local ecosystem of suppliers and fellow entrepreneurs and centers generally provide only basic amenities, such as a desk and a telephone. They lack the financial, technical or marketing expertise that many startups need.

Most incubators have occupancy rates of no more than 40%, iiMedia says. The result: like steel mills, theme parks and housing before them, the country now faces a glut of innovation centers as another top-down policy backfires to leave white-elephant projects and a further buildup of debt. “The risk of a bubble is extremely large,” said Shi Jiqiang, a partner at Leilai Management, which runs day-to-day operations at a startup base in the city of Tianjin, near Beijing. “This is both a test for government and for the managers of startup spaces … there aren’t enough entrepreneurs.” [..] Beijing argues its development model that worked so well for infrastructure and real estate, powering the country through the global financial crisis, can build successful, high-tech startups.

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Supernova revisited.

Bill Gross Calls Sovereign Bonds Too Risky (BBG)

Bill Gross said sovereign bond yields at record lows aren’t worth the risk. “The sovereign bonds are not up my alley,” Gross, who built the world’s biggest bond fund at PIMCO and is now at Denver-based Janus Capital, said on Bloomberg Television Wednesday. “It’s too risky.” Low yields mean bonds are especially vulnerable because a small increase can bring a large decline in price, he said. Yields in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia pushed to all-time lows Wednesday, while those in Germany and Japan dropped to unprecedented levels below zero. The average yield on the bonds in Bank of America’s World Sovereign Bond Index this week dropped below 1% for the first time, based on data going back to 2006.

Bonds are rallying on speculation the British vote to leave the European Union will damp global economic growth, driving demand for the safest assets. The Federal Reserve is losing confidence in its need to raise interest rates as officials face rising uncertainty about the outlook for growth at home and abroad, the minutes of its most recent meeting issued Wednesday indicate. [..] Gross warned almost a month ago central bank policies that pushed trillions of dollars into bonds with negative interest rates will eventually backfire violently. “This is a supernova that will explode one day,” he wrote on Twitter.

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But it’s all they have left.

Voodoo Central Banking Is A Bad Idea (BBG)

Desperate times, we’re told, demand desperate measures, and there may be no more desperate country anywhere in the world than Japan. Even as policymakers struggle to boost growth and inflation, post-Brexit turmoil has caused the yen to strengthen, slamming Japanese exporters. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda is coming under more and more pressure to expand his already crazy-loose monetary policy. With few options available, he might be forced to push key interest rates even deeper into negative territory when the BOJ meets later this month. Proponents of Kuroda’s negative-rate policy, introduced in January, contend that the strategy is transferring profits from big banks to needy households, lowering borrowing costs for companies, encouraging more risk-taking in investment and propping up real estate values.

Kuroda in June proclaimed that negative rates were “having a positive impact on the real economy.” Yet there are already ample indications that negative rates are failing to achieve their main goals of spurring growth and inflation. And more broadly, the fact that central bankers have resorted to negative rates at all is a signal of just how narrow-minded and counterproductive the approach to restoring global growth has become. Contrary to Kuroda’s optimistic words, Japan sunk even deeper into deflation in May. The IMF has slashed its 2016 forecast for Japan’s GDP growth to 0.5%. Perhaps Japan’s negative-rate policy needs more time to work its magic. Maybe Japanese companies and consumers, knowing how desperate Kuroda is, are holding out for even lower borrowing costs in coming months.

Yet Europe’s experience suggests otherwise. Even though the ECB introduced negative rates two years ago, growth in the euro zone looked to be slowing even before Brexit. Inflation is barely expected to inch back into positive territory in June, at 0.1%. It’s at least as likely that the entire strategy is flawed. The purpose of loose monetary policy is to stimulate economies by encouraging greater borrowing. That, however, assumes that investors see sound economic opportunities that make taking on debt worthwhile. Apparently, not many Japanese feel that way. [..] In the first quarter, according to a recent report by Capital Economics, bank lending to Japan’s private sector grew at the slowest pace since 2014, while the amount of corporate bonds outstanding actually shrank.

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But we’ll bury that under blubber like: “”The Class 8 market is stuck in a holding pattern, at the bottom end of this cycle…”

US June Truck Orders Down 34% vs Year Ago (R.)

U.S. orders for heavy duty trucks in June were down 34% from the same month last year to a four-year low as trucking firms were holding off on buying new 18-wheelers amid a weak freight environment, according to preliminary data released by a freight transportation forecaster on Wednesday. “The Class 8 market is stuck in a holding pattern, at the bottom end of this cycle,” Don Ake, vice president for commercial vehicles at FTR said in a statement. “Fleets are cautious as freight demand has cooled off this year,” he said. Preliminary data showed 13,000 units ordered in June, the lowest monthly total since July 2012 and the worst June since 2009. FTR said that all truck manufacturers were equally affected by the month’s weak order numbers.

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Your first reaction is ‘you can’t make this up’. But then you realize that’s exactly what somebody did. And MI6 actually discussed the movie and its plot in 2002, but Britain went on to help kill 600,000 Iraqi’s anyway.

The Rock Movie Plot ‘May Have Inspired MI6 Source’s Iraqi Weapons Claim’ (G.)

An allegation in an MI6 report about Iraq’s supposed chemical weapons capability before the 2003 war to remove Saddam Hussein appeared to have been lifted from a Hollywood film, according to the Chilcot report. A section of the inquiry’s findings about the build-up to the conflict in the autumn of 2002 found that MI6, formally known as the Secret Intelligence Service or SIS, feared a source might have taken inspiration from The Rock, a 1996 thriller starring Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage. The report details how MI6 sent information to “a small number of very senior readers”, including Tony Blair and the then foreign secretary, Jack Straw, on 11 and 23 September 2002. Based on what MI6 called “a new source on trial with direct access”, this alleged that Saddam’s government had accelerated the production of chemical and biological agents, and in particular that chemical agents might be carried in glass containers.

After some discussion on the reliability of the new source, in early October MI6 was questioned directly about this idea. The report says: “It was pointed out that glass containers were not typically used in chemical munitions; and that a popular movie [The Rock] has inaccurately depicted nerve agents being carried in glass beads or spheres.” MI6 accepted this possible flaw to the intelligence, the report adds: “The questions about the use of glass containers for chemical agents and the similarity of the description to those portrayed in The Rock had been recognised by SIS. There were some precedents for the use of glass containers but the points would be pursued when further material became available.”

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“The World Is Being Pulled In An Irreversible Direction..”

Putin Warns of War: ‘I Don’t Know How to Get Through to You People’ (RI)

Vladimir Putin has finally taken the kid gloves off. The Russian president was meeting with foreign journalists at the conclusion of the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 17th, when he left no one in any doubt that the world is headed down a course which could lead to nuclear war. Putin railed against the journalists for their “tall tales” in blindly repeating lies and misinformation provided to them by the United States on its anti-ballistic missile systems being constructed in Eastern Europe. He pointed out that since the Iran nuclear deal, the claim the system is to protect against Iranian missiles has been exposed as a lie. The journalists were informed that within a few years, Russia predicted the US would be able to extend the range of the system to 1000 km.

At that point, Russia’s nuclear potential, and thus the nuclear balance between the US and Russia, would be placed in jeopardy. Putin completely lost patience with the journalists, berating them for lazily helping to accelerate a nuclear confrontation by repeating US propaganda. He virtually pleaded with the western media, for the sake of the world, to change their line: We know year by year what’s going to happen, and they know that we know. It’s only you that they tell tall tales to, and you buy it, and spread it to the citizens of your countries. You people in turn do not feel a sense of the impending danger – this is what worries me. How do you not understand that the world is being pulled in an irreversible direction? While they pretend that nothing is going on. I don’t know how to get through to you anymore.

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Must watch.

Crazy – A Story Of Debt (Grant WIlliams)

This is a story about debt – 2008 was the crystallization of that, the years since have been the denial of it, and the years to come will be the resolution. Grant Williams, founder & publisher of the ‘Things That Make You Go Hmmm…’ research service, and co-founder of Real Vision TV, brings us an eye-opening presentation titled Crazy, where he puts into perspective the extraordinary levels of global debt and unprecedented monetary policy, and reminds us that the many factors that led to the ‘08 crisis are still very much present.

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