Aug 172018
 
 August 17, 2018  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Brick factory at Tortosa 1909

 

Emerging Markets and US Treasuries (Albert Edwards)
Asia the Next Source of Downside Systemic Risk for Financial Markets (WS)
Trump Says US ‘Will Pay Nothing’ To Turkey For Release Of Detained Pastor (R.)
Lira Rallies As Turkey Pledges Spending Cuts To Avoid IMF Bailout (G.)
Turkish Tremors Will Cause Shocks In Britain (Times)
$125,000: The Pension Debt Each Chicago Household Is On The Hook For (WP)
Russian Oil Industry Would Weather US ‘Bill From Hell’ (R.)
NATO Repeats the Great Mistake of the Warsaw Pact (SCF)
Italy’s NATO Racket… A Bridge Too Far (SCF)
Google Staff Tell Bosses China Censorship Is “Moral And Ethical” Crisis (IC)
Jury in Paul Manafort’s Case Asks Judge to Redefine ‘Reasonable Doubt’ (BBG)

 

 

From an email sent to Mish.

Emerging Markets and US Treasuries (Albert Edwards)

Turkey has discovered that high and rising foreign-denominated debt never sits well with a huge current account deficit and a reluctance to raise interest rates. The problem though is that this is not about Turkey or even EM. It is as always, about the Fed. When the most important person in the free world starts lobbing macro hand-grenades in an effort to drain the swamp, the financial markets will always eventually react badly. No, I am not talking about President Trump with his tweets about imposing tariffs on Turkey. I am actually talking about Fed Chair Jerome Powell draining the global liquidity swamp.

Make no mistake, whatever the macro-idiosyncrasies of Turkey, the key to the current turmoil that is spreading into EM generally, is Fed tightening and the strong dollar. As we have repeated ad infinitum, since 1950 there have been 13 Fed tightening cycles, 10 of them ended in recession and the others usually saw the EM blow up – such as the 1994 collapse in the Mexican peso. The Fed always tightens until something breaks. It is usually its own economy, but sometimes it is the EM’s. And when the liquidity tide goes out we always find out who is swimming naked. If it hadn’t been Turkey it would eventually have been someone else.

To be sure the unfolding EM crisis has been building for many years. And just as investors ignored the naysayers in the run-up to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), they have ignored the IMF and BIS, who have been cautioning for some years about the explosive build-up in EM debt and especially dollar-denominated debt. According to the BIS, total dollar-denominated debt outside the U.S. reached $10.7 trillion in the first quarter of 2017, and about a third of this debt is owed by the EM nonfinancial sector. EM specialists, the Institute of International Finance (IIF), have also warned about this build-up in EM foreign-denominated debt. They too note that the EM corporate sector has been leading the explosion of debt, with Turkey standing out for the increase in its exposure since the GFC. Turkey has never managed to escape membership of ‘The Fragile Five’ EM country club.

 

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Dollar shortages.

Asia the Next Source of Downside Systemic Risk for Financial Markets (WS)

“Except for an expected short-term reprieve, we expect these tighter USD conditions to remain in place for the rest of the year,” the strategists write. “That is unless policy makers react soon to stimulate financial markets with liquidity.” “Southeast Asia stands out again as in 1997/8, with a large amount of USD denominated debt outstanding,” the write. “The only difference is then Asia had fixed exchange rates and now they are floating! We believe Asia will be the next source of downside systemic risk for financial markets.” The chart below shows dollar-denominated debt in the EMs, in trillion dollars. This does not include euro-denominated debt which plays a large role in Turkey. The fat gray area represents Asia without China:

Asia’s dollar-denominated debt, relative to its foreign exchange reserves and exports, has risen significantly since 2009, they note. The chart below shows the ratio between dollar-denominated debt and foreign exchange reserves in Asia, with China (green line) and without China (black dotted line). Values over 50% mean that there is more dollar-debt than foreign exchange reserves:

“This leaves these nations susceptible to a shortage in USDs,” they write: “Notably, the Asian nations that have amassed record amounts of USD debt are also home to the largest technology companies i.e. Tencent (China), Alibaba (China), TSNC (Taiwan), Samsung (South Korea). The tech sector is now 28% of the MSCI EM index. The rally in the US Dollar, dented global growth prospects, credit growth in China slowing down and escalating political tensions from the US leaves these nations very exposed to a shortage in USDs.”

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More sanctions. Yesterday’s relief is gone.

Trump Says US ‘Will Pay Nothing’ To Turkey For Release Of Detained Pastor (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday the United States “will pay nothing” to Turkey for the release of detained American pastor Andrew Brunson, who he called “a great patriot hostage.” “We will pay nothing for the release of an innocent man, but we are cutting back on Turkey!” Trump said on Twitter. The U.S. warned Turkey on Thursday to expect more economic sanctions unless it hands over Brunson, as relations between the two countries took a further turn for the worse. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin assured Trump at a Cabinet meeting that sanctions were ready to be put in place if Brunson was not freed. “We have more that we are planning to do if they don’t release him quickly,” Mnuchin said during the meeting.

The United States and Turkey have exchanged tit-for-tat tariffs in an escalating attempt by Trump to induce Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan into giving up Brunson, who denies charges that he was involved in a coup attempt against Erdogan two years ago. “They have not proven to be a good friend,” Trump said of Turkey during the Cabinet meeting. “They have a great Christian pastor there. He’s an innocent man.” Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, had issued a blunt warning to Turkish ambassador Serdar Kilic when he met him on Monday at the White House, an administration official said on Thursday. When Kilic sought to tie conditions to Brunson’s release, Bolton waved them aside and said there would be no negotiations.

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But that was yesterday. Today, the lira’s lost 4% already.

Lira Rallies As Turkey Pledges Spending Cuts To Avoid IMF Bailout (G.)

Turkey’s finance minister sparked a recovery in the lira after he addressed thousands of international investors, pledging to protect beleaguered local banks and cut public spending to prevent the country defaulting on its loans. Berat Albayrak, who has faced criticism for failing to tackle the country’s growing financial crisis, spoke to around 6,000 investors on a conference call to rebuff concerns that a funding squeeze on Turkey’s banks and a damaging trade war with the US would force him to seek a rescue bailout from the IMF. Albayrak, who was appointed as finance minister last month by his father-in-law, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Turkey will not hesitate to provide support to the banking sector, which was capable of accessing funds itself during the current turmoil in financial markets.

He added that deposit withdrawals by panicked investors remained low and manageable. “We are experiencing unfavourable conditions but we will overcome,” he said. The Turkish lira was up 4% against the US dollar following the conference call and after reassuring words from the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, that Turkey’s stability was important. However, Albayrak’s attempt to shore up confidence in the lira was quickly undermined by the US Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, who reportedly told president Donald Trump in a cabinet meeting that he was preparing further sanctions against Ankara. The lira slipped back to settle at just 1% up on the previous day.

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It’s not Spain or Italy. It’s Britain.

Turkish Tremors Will Cause Shocks In Britain (Times)

There are many strange things about Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but one of the oddest is his pet theory about interest rates. The Turkish president believes that high borrowing costs produce high inflation. “The interest rate is the cause and inflation is the result,” he said a few months ago. “The lower the interest rate is, the lower inflation will be.” No, you didn’t misread that. In defiance of economic orthodoxy (not to mention centuries of experience) which says that high interest rates tend to reduce inflation, President Erdogan believes the opposite. As one economist put it, this is a little like believing that umbrellas cause rain.

The Turkish president’s eccentric attitude towards monetary policy is not the only reason his country is now facing an economic crisis, but it is at least part of the explanation. Over the past decade or so, Turkey became one of the great bubbles of the modern era. Housing bubble? Check. Debt binge? Check. Yawning current account deficit? Check. Runaway inflation? Check. These traits alone qualified the Turkish economy for crisis candidacy some time ago. But as always, saying a country is due a crunch is far simpler than predicting when and how. And Turkey may well have muddled through a little longer were it not for four critical ingredients.

[..] Who is most exposed to this looming crisis? Conventional wisdom says Spain and Italy, whose banks have Turkish subsidiaries. However, this slightly misses the point, since much of that lending is in lira. Those banks should be able to survive even the loss of their stakes. The real question is: who has been lending Turkish companies all this foreign exchange debt? That brings us to the sting in the tail. For when you dig through Turkish treasury data, as the Deutsche Bank economist Oliver Harvey has, you discover that the country that lent most to Turkey, both short and long term, was the UK. That’s right: Britain, or more specifically the City of London, is by far the most exposed to a collapse in the Turkish economy.

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Creative accounting 101.

$125,000: The Pension Debt Each Chicago Household Is On The Hook For (WP)

Chicagoans have no idea how much pension debt Illinois politicians have saddled them with. Officially, Windy City residents are on the hook for $70 billion in total pension shortfalls from the city and its sister governments plus a share of Cook County and state pensions. But listen to Moody’s Investors Service, the rating agency that’s been most critical of Chicago’s finances, and you’ll get a different picture. Moody’s pegs the total pension debt burden for Chicagoans at $130 billion, nearly double the official numbers. (Yes, by chance the number is eerily similar to the official shortfall of $129 billion facing the five state-run pension funds. But don’t confuse the two.)

That’s scary news for Windy City residents. Barring real reforms, concessions from the unions or bankruptcy, Chicagoans can expect to be hit with whatever series of tax hikes politicians will try to enact to reduce that debt. That $130 billion is the total Moody’s calculates when adding up the direct pension debt owed by the city government, Chicago Public Schools, the park district and Chicago’s share of various Cook County governments and the five state pension funds. Moody’s takes a more realistic approach to investment assumptions than the city and county governments take.

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Russia’s had time to prepare.

Russian Oil Industry Would Weather US ‘Bill From Hell’ (R.)

Stiff new U.S. sanctions against Russia would only have a limited impact on its oil industry because it has drastically reduced its reliance on Western funding and foreign partnerships and is lessening its dependence on imported technology. Western sanctions imposed in 2014 over Russia’s annexation of Crimea have already made it extremely hard for many state oil firms such as Rosneft to borrow abroad or use Western technology to develop shale, offshore and Arctic deposits. While those measures have slowed down a number of challenging oil projects, they have done little to halt the Russian industry’s growth with production near a record high of 11.2 million barrels per day in July – and set to climb further.

Since 2014, the Russian oil industry has effectively halted borrowing from Western institutions, instead relying on its own cash flow and lending from state-owned banks while developing technology to replace services once supplied by Western firms. Analysts say this is partly why Russian oil stocks have been relatively unscathed since U.S. senators introduced legislation to impose new sanctions on Russia over its interference in U.S. elections and its activities in Syria and Ukraine. The measures introduced on Aug. 2, dubbed by the senators as the “bill from hell”, include potential curbs on the operations of state-owned Russian banks, restrictions on holding Russian sovereign debt as well as measures against Western involvement in Russian oil and gas projects.

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Too expensive.

NATO Repeats the Great Mistake of the Warsaw Pact (SCF)

Through the 1990s, during the terms of US President Bill Clinton, NATO relentlessly and inexorably expanded through Central Europe. Today, the expansion of that alliance eastward – encircling Russia with fiercely Russo-phobic regimes in one tiny country after another and in Ukraine, which is not tiny at all – continues. This NATO expansion – which the legendary George Kennan presciently warned against in vain – continues to drive the world the closer towards the threat of thermonuclear war. Far from bringing the United States and the Western NATO allies increased security, it strips them of the certainty of the peace and security they would enjoy if they instead sought a sincere, constructive and above all stable relationship with Russia.

It is argued that the addition of the old Warsaw Pact member states of Central Europe to NATO has dramatically strengthened NATO and gravely weakened Russia. This has been a universally-accepted assumption in the United States and throughout the West for the past quarter century. Yet it simply is not true. In reality, the United States and its Western European allies are now discovering the hard way the same lesson that drained and exhausted the Soviet Union from the creation of the Warsaw Pact in 1955 to its dissolution 36 years later. The tier of Central European nations has always lacked the coherence, the industrial base and the combined economic infrastructure to generate significant industrial, financial or most of all strategic and military power.

[..] When nations such as France, Germany, the Soviet Union or the United States are seen as rising powers in the world, the small countries of Central Europe always hasten to ally themselves accordingly. They therefore adopt and discard Ottoman Islamic imperialism. Austrian Christian imperialism, democracy, Nazism, Communism and again democracy as easily as putting on or off different costumes at a fancy dress ball in Vienna or Budapest. As Russia rises once again in global standing and national power, supported by its genuinely powerful allies China, India and Pakistan in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the nations of Central Europe can be anticipated to reorient their own loyalties accordingly once again.

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Case in point: the cost of NATO and Russiagate.

Italy’s NATO Racket… A Bridge Too Far (SCF)

What should be a matter of urgent public demand is why Italy is increasing its national spending on military upgrades and procurements instead of civilian amenities. As with all European members of the NATO alliance, Italy is being pressured by the United States to ramp up its military expenditure. US President Donald Trump has made the NATO budget a priority, haranguing European states to increase their military spending to a level of 2 per cent of GDP. Trump has even since doubled that figure to 4 per cent. Washington’s demand on European allies predates Trump. At a NATO summit in 2015, when Barack Obama was president, all members of the military alliance then acceded to US pressure for greater allocation of budgets to hit the 2 per cent target.

The alleged threat of Russian aggression has been cited over and over as the main reason for boosting NATO. Figures show that Italy, as with other European countries, has sharply increased its annual military spending every year since the 2015 summit. The upward trend reverses a decade-long decline. Currently, Italy spends about $28 billion annually on military. That equates to only about 1.15 per cent of GDP, way below the US-demanded target of 2 per cent of GDP. But the disturbing thing is that Italy’s defense minister Elisabetta Trenta reportedly gave assurances to Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton that her government was committed to hitting its NATO target in the coming years. On current figures that translates roughly into a doubling of Italy’s annual military budget. Meanwhile, the Italian public have had to endure years of economic austerity from cutbacks in social spending and civilian infrastructure.

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But the company’s become a secret service.

Google Staff Tell Bosses China Censorship Is “Moral And Ethical” Crisis (IC)

Google employees are demanding answers from the company’s leadership amid growing internal protests over plans to launch a censored search engine in China. Staff inside the internet giant’s offices have agreed that the censorship project raises “urgent moral and ethical issues” and have circulated a letter saying so, calling on bosses to disclose more about the company’s work in China, which they say is shrouded in too much secrecy, according to three sources with knowledge of the matter. The internal furor began after The Intercept earlier this month revealed details about the censored search engine, which would remove content that China’s authoritarian government views as sensitive, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.

It would “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown” at all when people enter certain words or phrases, leaked Google documents disclosed. The search platform is to be launched via an Android app, pending approval from Chinese officials. The censorship plan – code-named Dragonfly – was not widely known within Google. Prior to its public exposure, only a few hundred of Google’s 88,000 employees had been briefed about the project – around 0.35 percent of the total workforce. When the news spread through the company’s offices across the world, many employees expressed anger and confusion. Now, a letter has been circulated among staff calling for Google’s leadership to recognize that there is a “code yellow” situation – a kind of internal alert that signifies a crisis is unfolding.

The letter suggests that the Dragonfly initiative violates an internal Google artificial intelligence ethical code, which says that the company will not build or deploy technologies “whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.” The letter says: “Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment. That the decision to build Dragonfly was made in secret, and progressed with the [artificial intelligence] Principles in place, makes clear that the Principles alone are not enough. We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building.”

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Don’t be surprised if he’s aquitted.

Jury in Paul Manafort’s Case Asks Judge to Redefine ‘Reasonable Doubt’ (BBG)

A Virginia jury deliberating the fraud charges against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort sent a note with four questions to the judge in the case. Near the end of the first day of deliberations on Thursday, the jury asked whether a report of foreign bank and financial accounts, known as an FBAR, needed to be filed by a person with less than a 50 percent ownership. Manafort is charged with four counts of failing to file FBARs for offshore companies. The jury also asked about the definition of a shelf company.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III replied that the jurors should rely on their collective memory. The jury also requested that the judge redefine “reasonable doubt.” Ellis replied that the government wasn’t required to prove its case beyond “all doubt,” just to the extent that a person would consider reasonable. Finally, the jury asked if the exhibit list could be amended to include the indictment. The jury was excused for the day and is to return Friday to continue deliberations.

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Jul 242018
 
 July 24, 2018  Posted by at 9:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Félix Vallotton Sunset, Bronze-Purple 1911

 

Wildfire Kills At Least 50 Near Athens, Families Flee To Beaches (R.)
Ecuador ‘Close To Evicting’ Julian Assange From UK Embassy (Ind.)
NATO Trumped (SCF)
Dying Groundskeeper Testifies In Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trial (G.)
Russia Attacked Us (Jim Kunstler)
Cost To Insure Tesla’s Debt Rises On Growing Default Fears (R.)
The Low-Priced Home Shortage Continues (CNBC)
Exposing the American Okie-Doke (CP)
End ‘Botched’ Brexit, Corbyn Calls On UK To Back His Vision (R.)
Over-Promising Has Crippled Public Pensions (WirePoints)
Rubens Nudes Fall Foul Of Facebook Censors (G.)

 

 

Yesterday around noon the skies here in Athens started turning brown. We learned this was due to a wildfire west of the city. In late afternoon winds began picking up, a lot. Then this happened throughout the evening and night, in a wildfire at the exact opposite side of the city. Latest number of dead is now 54. 26 of them died together just 30 meters from the beach.

Wildfire Kills At Least 50 Near Athens, Families Flee To Beaches (R.)

A wildfire killed at least 50 people and injured more than 150 as it swept through a small resort town near Athens, with huge flames trapping families with children as they fled. The fire which hit Mati, 29 km (18 miles) east of the capital, late Monday afternoon was by far the country’s worst since flames devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens. People scrambled to the sea as the blaze closed in close to the shore. Hundreds were rescued by passing boats but others found their way blocked by smoke and flames. “I was briefed by a rescuer that he saw the shocking picture of 26 people tightly huddled in a field some 30 meters from the beach,” Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece’s Red Cross, told Skai TV.

“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time,” he said. A Reuters witness also saw several bodies in the area. Mati is in the eastern Rafina region, a popular spot for Greek holidaymakers, particularly pensioners and children at camps. The 26 deaths came on top of more than 20 casualties reported by government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos earlier on Tuesday. He said more than 88 adults and 16 children were injured.

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They’re walking this back a little bit.

Ecuador ‘Close To Evicting’ Julian Assange From UK Embassy (Ind.)

Speculation about Mr Assange’s future has grown this month after the Sunday Times said senior officials from Ecuador and Britain have been in discussions since last week about how to remove him from the embassy after revocation of his asylum. “The situation is very serious. Things are coming to a head,” the source, who spoke on condition on anonymity, told Reuters. He said the latest information from inside the embassy was, “It’s not looking good”. However, both the Ecuadorean government and British government sources played down suggestions there was likely to be any imminent movement to break the stalemate.

“The Ecuadorian state will only talk and promote understandings about Mr Assange’s asylum, within the framework of international law, with the interested party’s lawyers and with the British government,” Ecuador’s foreign ministry said in a statement ahead of the visit. “At the moment, due to the complexity of the topic, a short or long-term solution is not in sight.” A British government source also said there was no sign of immediate progress. Last month, Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan told parliament that they were increasingly concerned about Mr Assange’s health. “It is our wish that this is brought to an end, and we would like to make the assurance that if he were to step out of the embassy, he would be treated humanely and properly,” Mr Duncan said. “The first priority would be to look after his health, which we think is deteriorating.”

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“If you don’t get up to 2% (or is it 4%?) and quickly too; I warned you. Goodbye. If you do get your spending up, then you don’t need us. Goodbye.”

NATO Trumped (SCF)

Indicators of European NATO members’ actual readiness and combat capability are stunning; the latest being “Only 4 of Germany’s 128 Eurofighter jets combat ready — report”; “Ground force: Half of France’s military planes ‘unfit to fly'”. “Britain’s ‘withered’ forces not fit to repel all-out attack”. “Europe’s Readiness Problem”. Obviously they’re not expecting a Russian attack any time soon. NATO is, as I have argued here, a paper tiger. It is questionable whether NATO members can conduct any operation without the USA providing satellite navigation and observation, air defence suppression, airborne command and control, inflight tankers, heavy lift and ammunition resupply to name a few deficiencies. So, either the Europeans are not worried; or, as Trump likes to say, they are free riders.

Six months ago I suggested that Trump may be trying to get out of what I called the “Gordian knot of entanglements”. President Trump can avoid new entanglements but he has inherited so many and they are, all of them, growing denser and thicker by the minute. Consider the famous story of the Gordian Knot: rather than trying to untie the fabulously complicated knot, Alexander drew his sword and cut it. How can Trump cut The Gordian Knot of American imperial entanglements? By getting others to untie it. He stomps out of NATO leaving them quaking: if you say Russia is the enemy, why do you act as if it isn’t; and if you act as if it isn’t, why do you say it is? And firing, over his shoulder, the threat: 2% by next January.

I believe it is a threat and a very neat one too: If you don’t get up to 2% (or is it 4%?) and quickly too; I warned you. Goodbye. If you do get your spending up, then you don’t need us. Goodbye.

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Their best shot may be if they can prove that Monsanto suppressed scientists.

Dying Groundskeeper Testifies In Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trial (G.)

Dewayne Johnson said that if he had known what he knew now about Roundup weedkiller, “I would’ve never sprayed that product on school grounds … if I knew it would cause harm … It’s unethical.” Johnson, a former school groundskeeper in northern California who is terminally ill, was testifying Monday in his landmark suit against Monsanto about the cancer risks of the company’s popular weedkiller. He is the first person to take the agrochemical company to trial over allegations that the chemical sold under the Roundup brand is linked to cancer. He spoke for the first time during the trial in San Francisco, detailing his use of Monsanto’s products, his extensive exposure to herbicides, and his belief that the chemicals caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a blood cell cancer.

He also described the suffering he endured as skin lesions took over his body. “I’ve been going through a lot of pain,” said Johnson, a father of three who goes by the name Lee. “It really takes everything out of you … I’m not getting any better.” His doctors have said he may have just months to live. Johnson’s lawyers have argued in court that Monsanto has “fought science” over the years and worked to “bully” researchers who have raised concerns about potential health risks of its herbicide product. At the start of the trial, the attorneys presented internal Monsanto emails that they said revealed the corporation’s repeated efforts to ignore expert’s warnings while seeking favorable scientific analyses and helping to “ghostwrite” positive papers.

Thousands have brought similar legal claims across the US, and a federal judge in California ruled this month that hundreds of cancer survivors or those who lost loved ones can also proceed to trial. Johnson’s case has attracted international attention, with the judge allowing his team to present scientific arguments about glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide.

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“We await the fabled “moment of truth” when the avenging angel of price discovery returns and shatters the illusion that accounting fraud equals prosperity.”

Russia Attacked Us (Jim Kunstler)

The Helsinki summit meeting has the look of a turning point in Mr. Trump’s political fortunes. One irony is that he may escape his enemies’ efforts to nail him on any Russia “collusion” rap only to be sandbagged by financial turmoil as the dog days of summer turn nervously toward autumn. Events will cancel the myth that his actions as president have produced a booming economy. If anything, the activities that make up our economy have only become more vicious rackets, especially the war industries, with all their inducements to counter the imagined Russia threat.

The financial markets are the pillars of the fantasy that the US economy is roaring triumphantly. The markets are so fundamentally disabled by ten years of central bank interventions that they don’t express the actual value of any asset, whether stocks, or bonds, or gold, oil, labor, currencies, or the folly known as crypto-currency. We await the fabled “moment of truth” when the avenging angel of price discovery returns and shatters the illusion that accounting fraud equals prosperity.

The revelation that Mr. Trump is not an economic genius will spur a deeper dive by chimerical Democrats into nanny state quicksand. They will make the new fad of a Guaranteed Basic Income the centerpiece of the midterm election — even though many Democrats will not really believe in it. They are pretending not to notice how broke the USA actually is, and how spavined by unpayable debt. The lurking suspicion of all this is surely behind fantasies such as Russia attacked us, the displacement of abstruse and impalpable fear onto something simple and cartoonish, like the President of the United States.

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“The CDS is saying that there are a lot of people betting this company is going out of business…”

Cost To Insure Tesla’s Debt Rises On Growing Default Fears (R.)

The amount investors must pay to insure their debt holdings in Tesla Inc against declining credit quality rose on Monday to its second-highest price ever, implying the company is at a greater risk of default following a report that sparked concern that Tesla may need to raise funds. Insurance on Tesla’s debt, which is sold as a credit default swap contract, increased from Friday by 13 cents to $5.96 per $100 of Tesla debt. That followed a Wall Street Journal report on Sunday that Tesla had turned to some suppliers for a refund of previously made payments in a bid to make a profit, citing a memo sent by a Tesla global supply manager.

A Tesla spokesperson said on Monday that the company had no comment on the credit default swaps, but said in a statement in response to the WSJ story that Tesla had asked fewer than 10 suppliers to reduce capital expenditure project spending. Tesla said that any changes with these suppliers would improve future cash flows but not affect its ability to achieve profitability in the third quarter. Company founder and Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk may be obligated to tap debt or equity markets again this year, according to analysts, though he has said he would do neither. [..] It cost $5.96 to insure $100 of Tesla’s debt, plus an upfront cost of around 18%, representing a total of 24.1% of the face value of the 2025 bond on Monday. “The CDS is saying that there are a lot of people betting this company is going out of business,” said Thomas Graff, head of fixed income at Brown Advisory.

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Trying to outdo Orwell. First blow a ginormous bubble and then claim there are not enough cheap homes.

The Low-Priced Home Shortage Continues (CNBC)

The nationwide housing shortage continues but is especially troublesome for homebuyers with a budget of $250,000 or less, Susan Wachter, professor of real estate and of finance at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNBC on Monday. Rising labor, land and material costs are slowing down the supply, “except at higher prices, which is simply not affordable for the great middle, and that’s where we see the hit in … existing sales,” Wachter said on “Power Lunch.” Sales of existing homes are down for the third month in a row due to a shortage of properties, which results in higher prices and pushes some potential buyers out of the market.

Existing home sales fell 0.6% in June, or 2.2% from June 2017. And as prices for new home construction increase, construction in general is on the decline. Housing starts, or the number of new residential housing projects, decreased in June, plunging 12.3%. The loss represents the third month in a row of declines or a nine-month low. “That sets a price point for the existing sale market as well,” Wachter said. And with inventory at historic lows and a lack of new construction, existing homeowners are holding on to their homes longer, Wachter noted.

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I’ll leave this here.

Exposing the American Okie-Doke (CP)

The “founding fathers” deliberately arranged a system of governance that would protect the wealthy minority from the majority. Over time, as it fused with capitalism, this arrangement transformed the US government into a market. Railroad tycoons and robber barons forced their way into this market during the Gilded Age. Big business controlled the “public agenda” throughout the 20th century, with multinational firms taking root in the 1980s and 90s. Ronald Reagan ushered in the neoliberal era, which amounted to an all-out corporate coup of American politics. And, in 2010, the Supreme Court placed its stamp of approval on this system with its Citizens United decision, allowing anonymous donors unlimited access to politics through Political Action Committees (PACs).

In other words, the US government has been a traded commodity for a long time, in many ways since the beginning of the country’s founding. Wealth determines elections (over 90% of the time the campaign with the most money wins). Politicians are commodities that are bought by capitalists. Legislation is a commodity that is bought by lobbyists (employed by capitalists). This is the case for both parties and all politicians (because it is built into the system). The point: If you still believe your 5th-grade textbook and think you have a say in determining public policy in the US, you are furious right now. Because you believe democracy exists and that it was hijacked by a foreign government. However, if you realize democracy (or a republic) does not exist, the Russia/Trump revelations mean only one thing: the traded commodity known as the US government has gone global, following all of the other capitalist markets that have been globalized over the past 40 years.

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Anyone convinced by Corbyn?

End ‘Botched’ Brexit, Corbyn Calls On UK To Back His Vision (R.)

British opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn will call on the government on Tuesday to back his vision for a new customs union with the European Union to avoid a “botched” Brexit leaving the country “in hock to Donald Trump”. Unveiling a Labour Party campaign to boost manufacturing and keep public contracts in Britain, Corbyn will also increase the pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May over her Brexit plans by suggesting she back his vision of “a brand new customs union”. May is struggling to sell what she calls her business-friendly Brexit to not only the competing factions in her governing Conservative Party but also across Britain just over eight months before the country is due to leave in March.

But Corbyn also faces dissent in his party, with many Labour lawmakers and members calling for him to back a second referendum on any deal and support keeping the closest possible ties with the EU by staying in its single market and customs union. “Theresa May and her warring cabinet should think again, even at this late stage, and reconsider the option of negotiating a brand new customs union,” Corbyn will tell the EEF manufacturers’ organisation in the city of Birmingham. “A botched…Brexit will sell our manufacturers short with the fantasy of a free trading buccaneering future, which in reality would be a nightmare of chlorinated chicken, public services sold to multinational companies and our country in hock to Donald Trump,” he will say, according to excerpts of his speech.

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Extensive report h/t ZH

Over-Promising Has Crippled Public Pensions (WirePoints)

The real problem plaguing public pension funds nationwide has gone largely ignored. Most reporting usually focuses on the underfunding of state plans and blames the crises on a lack of taxpayer dollars. But a Wirepoints analysis of 2003-2016 Pew Charitable Trust and other pension data found that it’s the uncontrolled growth in pension promises that’s actually wreaking havoc on state budgets and taxpayers alike. Overpromising is the true cause of many state crises. Underfunding is often just a symptom of this underlying problem. Wirepoints found that the growth in accrued liabilities has been extreme in many states, often growing two to three times faster than the pace of their economies. It’s no wonder taxpayer contributions haven’t been able to keep up.

The reasons for that growth vary state to state – from bigger benefits to reductions in discount rates – but the reasons don’t matter to ordinary residents. Regardless of how or when those increases were created, it’s taxpayers that are increasingly on the hook for them. Unsurprisingly, the states with the most out-of-control promises are home to some of the nation’s worst pension crises. Take New Jersey, for example. The total pension benefits it owed in 2003 – what are known as accrued liabilities – were $88 billion. That was the PV, or present value, of what active state workers and retirees were promised in pension benefits by the state at the time. Today, promises to active workers and pensioners have jumped to $217 billion – a growth of 176% in just 13 years. That increase in total obligations is four times greater than the growth in the state’s GDP, up only 41%.

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Oh yes, we really need censorship by a bunch of poorly educated kids.

Rubens Nudes Fall Foul Of Facebook Censors (G.)

Rubens nudes have entranced those visiting the world’s great art galleries for some 400 years. Contemporaries on whom the Flemish master is said to have had a profound impact include Van Dyck and Rembrandt … but none of this has passed muster with Facebook’s censors. In a move that has prompted a semi-playful complaint to the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, it has taken down a series of promotions on social media for the Belgian region of Flanders because they feature works by the artist famous for his Baroque paintings of voluptuous women and cherubs. Advertisements containing sexually oriented content, including artistic or educational nudes, apart from statues, are prohibited on the site.

In an open letter signed by most of the museums in Flanders, the Flemish tourist board, Toerisme Vlaanderen, has written to Zuckerberg to ask for a rethink. “Breasts, buttocks and Peter Paul Rubens’ cherubs are all considered indecent”, the letter says. “Not by us, but by you … Even though we secretly have to laugh about it, your cultural censorship is making life rather difficult for us.” Posts removed have even included an advert featuring Rubens’ The Descent from the Cross, in which Jesus is naked in his loincloth. The Flemish tourist board has pushed its point by releasing a short video in which the “nude police” drag away visitors at the Rubens House in Antwerp to stop them from gazing at the implicated paintings.

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Jul 222018
 
 July 22, 2018  Posted by at 8:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin The Vision after the Sermon (Jacob wrestling with the Angel) 1888

 

Ecuador Will Imminently Withdraw Asylum for Julian Assange (Greenwald)
In Historic First, DOJ Releases Carter Page FISA Application (ZH)
Breannan And The 2016 Spy Scandal (Strassel)
UK To Refuse To Pay Brexit Bill Without Trade Deal (AFP)
Warning On Australia’s Looming Interest-Only Crisis (SMH)
German Industry Groups Warn US On Tariffs Ahead Of EU-US Meeting (R.)
NATO: Doomed To Destruction By Its Own Growth (SCF)
Hundreds of Syrian ‘White Helmets’ Evacuated By Israel to Jordan (R.)
Our Vanishingly Pleasant Land (McCarthy)

 

 

This is physically sickening. Checked front web pages of BBC, Guardian and Independent today: not a word. Hence: another gag order. Yes, there are journalists who don’t like Assange, but it’s not about liking him. It’s about your own freedom to speak. Guess that’s already gone then. I feel sick to my stomach.

Ecuador Will Imminently Withdraw Asylum for Julian Assange (Greenwald)

Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno traveled to London on Friday for the ostensible purpose of speaking at the 2018 Global Disabilities Summit (Moreno has been using a wheelchair since being shot in a 1998 robbery attempt). The concealed, actual purpose of the President’s trip is to meet with British officials to finalize an agreement under which Ecuador will withdraw its asylum protection of Julian Assange, in place since 2012, eject him from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and then hand over the WikiLeaks founder to British authorities. Moreno’s itinerary also notably includes a trip to Madrid, where he will meet with Spanish officials still seething over Assange’s denunciation of human rights abuses perpetrated by Spain’s central government against protesters marching for Catalonia independence.

Almost three months ago, Ecuador blocked Assange from accessing the internet, and Assange has not been able to communicate with the outside world ever since. The primary factor in Ecuador’s decision to silence him was Spanish anger over Assange’s tweets about Catalonia. A source close to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry and the President’s office, unauthorized to speak publicly, has confirmed to the Intercept that Moreno is close to finalizing, if he has not already finalized, an agreement to hand over Assange to the UK within the next several weeks. The withdrawal of asylum and physical ejection of Assange could come as early as this week. On Friday, RT reported that Ecuador was preparing to enter into such an agreement.

The consequences of such an agreement depend in part on the concessions Ecuador extracts in exchange for withdrawing Assange’s asylum. But as former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa told the Intercept in an interview in May, Moreno’s government has returned Ecuador to a highly “subservient” and “submissive” posture toward western governments.

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The only thing left on the menu is nothingburgers.

In Historic First, DOJ Releases Carter Page FISA Application (ZH)

The Department of Justice late Friday released via the FBI’s FOIA Vault a redacted copy of the Carter Page FISA warrant application and several renewals, which accuse Page of being a Russian spy, as summarized by the New York Times – which obtained a copy of the materials through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. Of note, in the nearly two years since the application was filed, Page hasn’t been charged with any of the allegations contained within it. The previously top-secret document is the first such release by the DOJ in the 40 years since the surveillance law was enacted. In April, the DOJ said they were “processing for potential redaction and release certain [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] materials related to Carter Page,” after watchdog group Judicial Watch and several other organizations filed similar lawsuits.

The application reads in part: “Identity of the target The target of this application is Carter W. Page, a U.S. person, and an agent of a foreign power, described in detail below.” “The F.B.I. believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government,” the warrant application continues. A line was then redacted, and then it picked up with “undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law. Mr. Page is a former foreign policy adviser to a candidate for U.S. president.” -NYT. The document then concludes that Page was allegedly “collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government,” which they viewed as probably cause to spy on him – and again, which Page has never been charged with.

Page – who has repeatedly denied being a Russian spy, said in April that the FISA application was “beyond words,” and a “Joke,” while claiming that he has never served as an agent for a foreign government. We would also note that he hasn’t been charged as one. Page was targeted months earlier by FBI informant Stefan Halper, who formed a relationship with Page and several other Trump aides as part of the Obama administration’s active counterintelligence operation on the Trump campaign. While President Trump has characterized the entire counterintelligence operation as a “witch hunt,” an increasing chorus of frustrated GOP lawmakers have begun to echo his sentiment, as we are now in month 18 of post-inaugural investigation by the Department of Justice.

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When intelligence becomes partisan political, that’s a big problem.

Breannan And The 2016 Spy Scandal (Strassel)

Mr. Comey stands accused of flouting the rules, breaking the chain of command, abusing investigatory powers. Yet it seems far likelier that the FBI’s Trump investigation was a function of arrogance and overconfidence than some partisan plot. No such case can be made for Mr. Brennan. Before his nomination as CIA director, he served as a close Obama adviser. And the record shows he went on to use his position—as head of the most powerful spy agency in the world—to assist Hillary Clinton’s campaign (and keep his job).

Mr. Brennan has taken credit for launching the Trump investigation. At a House Intelligence Committee hearing in May 2017, he explained that he became “aware of intelligence and information about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons.” The CIA can’t investigate U.S. citizens, but he made sure that “every information and bit of intelligence” was “shared with the bureau,” meaning the FBI. This information, he said, “served as the basis for the FBI investigation.” My sources suggest Mr. Brennan was overstating his initial role, but either way, by his own testimony, he was an Obama-Clinton partisan was pushing information to the FBI and pressuring it to act.

More notable, Mr. Brennan then took the lead on shaping the narrative that Russia was interfering in the election specifically to help Mr. Trump – which quickly evolved into the Trump-collusion narrative. Team Clinton was eager to make the claim, especially in light of the Democratic National Committee server hack. Numerous reports show Mr. Brennan aggressively pushing the same line internally. Their problem was that as of July 2016 even then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper didn’t buy it. He publicly refused to say who was responsible for the hack, or ascribe motivation. Mr. Brennan also couldn’t get the FBI to sign on to the view; the bureau continued to believe Russian cyberattacks were aimed at disrupting the U.S. political system generally, not aiding Mr. Trump.

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The UK already agreed to pay it.

UK To Refuse To Pay Brexit Bill Without Trade Deal (AFP)

Britain will only pay its EU divorce bill if the bloc agrees the framework for a future trade deal, the new Brexit Secretary warned in an interview published Sunday. Dominic Raab, who replaced David Davis after he quit the role earlier this month in protest over the government’s Brexit strategy, said “some conditionality between the two” was needed. He added that the Article 50 mechanism used to trigger Britain’s imminent exit from the European Union provided for new deal details. “Article 50 requires, as we negotiate the withdrawal agreement, that there’s a future framework for our new relationship going forward, so the two are linked,” Raab told the Sunday Telegraph.

“You can’t have one side fulfilling its side of the bargain and the other side not, or going slow, or failing to commit on its side. “So I think we do need to make sure that there’s some conditionality between the two.” The British government has sent mixed signals so far on the divorce bill. Prime Minister Theresa May agreed in December to a financial settlement totalling £35 to £39 billion ($46-51 billion, 39-44 billion euros) that ministers said depended on agreeing future trade ties. But cabinet members have since cast doubt on the position. Finance minister Philip Hammond said shortly afterwards he found it “inconceivable” Britain would not pay its bill, which he described as “not a credible scenario”.

The country is set to leave the bloc on March 30, but the two sides want to strike a divorce agreement by late October in order to give parliament enough time to endorse a deal. Raab met the EU’s top negotiator Michel Barnier for the first time on Friday, where he heard doubts over May’s new Brexit blueprint for the future relationship. But Barnier noted the priority in talks should be on finalising the initial divorce deal. A hardline stance by the British government on the financial settlement could complicate progress, with Raab insisting on the link with the bill and a future agreement. “Certainly it needs to go into the arrangements we have at international level with our EU partners,” he told the Telegraph. “We need to make it clear that the two are linked.”

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Australia’s bad, but not the only country with an interest-only problem.

Warning On Australia’s Looming Interest-Only Crisis (SMH)

Australia’s version of the sub-prime crisis that ushered in the global financial crisis could be looming, with a significant number of the 1.5 million households with interest-only loans likely to struggle with higher repayments, experts warn. Martin North, the principal at consultancy Digital Finance Analytics, said interest-only loans account for about $700 billion of the $1.7 trillion in Australian mortgage lending and it was “our version of the GFC”. “My view is we’re in somewhat similar territory to where the US was in 2006 before the GFC,” Mr North said.

Craig Morgan, managing director of Independent Mortgage Planners, said one in five people who took a loan two or three years ago would not qualify for the same loan now, because of the crackdown on lending by the regulator and ongoing fallout from the Royal Commission into financial services. “In the last six months lenders have had this lightbulb moment of what ‘responsible lending’ means,” Mr Morgan said. One of the triggers for the GFC was rising defaults from over-leveraged borrowers who were unable to refinance when their honeymoon rates ended. However, the sub-prime lending in the United States before the GFC included large mortgages being given to people without jobs or on minimum wage.

“This is absolutely not ‘sub-prime’ in the US definition but there were people [in Australia] who were being encouraged to get very big loans on the fact that principal & interest was impossible to service but they could service interest-only,” Mr North said. “We also know that some interest-only loans were not investors but they are actually first-home buyers encouraged to go in at the top of the market.” The Reserve Bank has previously warned $500 billion in interest-only loans are set to expire in the next four years, causing a significant jump in repayments of 30-40 per cent when borrowers are forced to start paying back the principal.

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The car industry may be too complex for simple tariffs.

German Industry Groups Warn US On Tariffs Ahead Of EU-US Meeting (R.)

German industry groups warned on Sunday, ahead of a meeting between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and U.S. President Donald Trump, that tariffs the United States has recently imposed or threatened risk harming the U.S. itself. The U.S. imposed tariffs on EU steel and aluminum on June 1 and Trump is threatening to extend them to EU cars and car parts. Juncker will discuss trade with Trump at a meeting on Wednesday. Dieter Kempf, head of Germany’s BDI industry association, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper it was wise for the European Union and United States to continue their discussions.

“The tariffs under the guise of national security should be abolished,” Kempf said, adding that Juncker needed to make clear to Trump that the United States would harm itself with tariffs on cars and car parts. He added that the German auto industry employed more than 118,000 people in the United States and 60 percent of what they produced was exported to other countries from the U.S. “Europe should not let itself be blackmailed and should put in a confident appearance in the United States,” he added. EU officials have sought to lower expectations about what Juncker can achieve, and downplayed suggestions that he will arrive in Washington with a novel plan to restore good relations.

Eric Schweitzer, president of the DIHK Chambers of Commerce, told Welt am Sonntag he welcomed Juncker’s attempt to persuade the U.S. government not to impose tariffs on cars. “All arguments in favor of such tariffs are … ultimately far-fetched,” he said.

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Pentagon just delivered $200 million in deadly weapons to Ukraine. Madness.

NATO: Doomed To Destruction By Its Own Growth (SCF)

In the 1960s, Marvel Comics writer Stan Lee and artist/co-plotter Jack Kirby in the United States created a superhero with a novel twist. He was called Giant-Man, and the bigger he got, the weaker he became. Today that character is a prophetic parable about the future of the post- Cold War “super-NATO” that has expanded to include 29 nations compromising more than 880 million people. First it absorbed all the former Warsaw Pact member states in Central Europe. Then it absorbed the three tiny and virulently anti-Russian Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia. Now NATO is looking to embrace former Soviet Georgia and Ukraine.

As if all this was not enough, some genius at NATO Supreme Headquarters in Brussels came up with the idea of calling the alliance’s June 2016 military exercises in Eastern Europe ANACONDA. An anaconda is a gigantic carnivorous snake in the Amazon rain forest that first encircles its victims, crushes them to death and then devours them. What message was Russia meant to take from such tasteless nomenclature? However, it will not happen. Far from burying Russia, the US-led NATO alliance has been burying itself instead through its reckless, unending and remorseless growth. The curse of Giant Man is upon it. When the comic book hero Giant Man grew to 50 or 60 feet tall, he collapsed under his own weight. Such a fate is already happening to NATO.

The fundamental problem of the NATO alliance is that it is simultaneously too big and too diverse. The bigger it gets, the weaker it gets. This is because, with every state that joins the Alliance, the only militarily significant power within it, the United States, takes on an additional commitment to defend it. What does the United States get in return for its reckless bestowal of such earth shaking commitments? It gets nothing at all. When a tiny nation like Lithuania or Estonia boasts about meeting the 2 percent of GDP defense spending requirement of NATO this is ludicrous. The armed forces and GDP’s of such countries are so small as to be nonexistent. The much larger nations in the Alliance in Western Europe make no pretense of coming remotely close to their two percent defense spending pledge.

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No, not a daring escape, as I read somewhere. Negotiated by Russia.

Hundreds of Syrian ‘White Helmets’ Evacuated By Israel to Jordan (R.)

About 800 members of Syria’s White Helmets civil defense group and their families were evacuated via Israel to Jordan on Sunday from southwest Syria, where a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive is under way, media said. In a statement, the Israeli military said it had completed “a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organization and their families … due to an immediate threat to their lives”. It said they were transferred to a neighboring country, which it did not identify, and that the evacuation came at the request of the United States and several European countries.

Israeli media identified the Syrians as belonging to the White Helmets organization. Officially called the Syrian Civil Defense but known by their distinctive white helmets, the group has operated a rescue service in rebel-held parts of Syria. Jordan’s official Petra news agency said on its website the kingdom “authorized the United Nations to organize the passage of about 800 Syrian citizens through Jordan for resettlement in Western countries”. The agency identified the Syrians as civil defense workers who fled areas controlled by the Syrian opposition after attacks there by the Syrian army. Petra said they would remain in a closed area in Jordan and that Britain, Germany and Canada had agreed to resettle them within three months.

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Poison to feed ourselves.

Our Vanishingly Pleasant Land (McCarthy)

It’s bizarre: in what seems like a display of obtuseness on a nationwide scale, it is still not generally realised or admitted that across huge swathes of the land, the biodiversity that at the end of the second world war was giving animation and vibrant life to the countryside as it had always done has simply vanished. By the government’s own admission, farmland birds have declined by 56% just since 1970; and the wild flowers have gone, and the butterflies have disappeared in their turn. Farewell to the spotted flycatcher, adios to the corncockle, goodbye to the high brown fritillary: what remains may be green, at least in spring, but that is mainly the pesticide-saturated crops; in wildlife terms, the landscape is now grossly impoverished, beyond any other one in Europe.

In his important new book, Cocker, one of our leading Nature writers, tackles head-on this remarkable twin phenomenon of destruction and ignorance, and he does so on an ambitious scale, seeking to explain and understand it by looking back in detail over a century of growing conservation efforts by individuals, charities, quangos and governments. How have they failed? In particular he is preoccupied with a paradox: how can our Nature have been so devastated, when there are more people who are members of green organisations in Britain than anywhere else? How can it have happened at the very moment in history that saw the rise of a new popular philosophy, environmentalism?

The simple answer is that this moment in history also saw the rise of intensive farming, a juggernaut beyond the power of green groups to control – and indeed beyond the power of individual governments once the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union was fixed in place. It is modern industrial agriculture, above all by its immense reliance on poisons to boost crop yields, that has wiped out the wildlife of our countryside on a scarcely believable scale.

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Jul 132018
 
 July 13, 2018  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh View of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer 1888

 

Stock Markets See the US Winning the Trade War, Defying Propaganda (WS)
A Decade On, Pre-Crisis Mortgages Linger For Big Banks, Homeowners (R.)
Fed’s Escape From Crisis Holdings Could Hit Dead End (R.)
Social Security, Medicare To Add Another $50 Trillion to Our National Debt (JM)
China’s Record Trade Surplus With US Further Inflames Trade Tensions (R.)
Approval Of Brexit Negotiations Lowest On Record (Orb)
No Brand Of Brexit Can Command A Commons Majority (G.)
Donald Trump Is Right. NATO Is A Costly White Elephant (G.)
Trump Ready To Help Some NATO States Buy US Arms (R.)
Who Wants To Disrupt Strategic Balance In The Black Sea Region? (SCF)
Germany Puts Last Bailout Tranche to Greece on Hold (GR)
Europe’s Remarkable Ability To Remain In Denial (Varoufakis)
US Judge Asked To Create Mental Health Fund For Migrant Children (R.)
Facebook Users Marked With “Treason” Label (ZH)

 

 

“Now they had a fig leaf – the threat of future tariffs – behind which to hide their long-planned offshoring strategies.”

Stock Markets See the US Winning the Trade War, Defying Propaganda (WS)

The trade war talk has been going on since the presidential campaign but markets just brushed it off and rallied. In 2018, the trade war verbiage moved to the foreground. But until June 14, the administration vacillated between thinking about tariffs and putting the trade war “on hold,” depending on who was doing the talking or tweeting. This vacillation ended on June 14 (Thursday) evening, when it was reported that Trump had approved to hit an initial list of $50 billion in goods (1,300 products) from China with tariffs of 25%. At the time, the administration was also preparing a second list of products, accounting for another $100 billion in imports from China.

On the evening of June 19 (Monday), Trump threatened to hit another $200 billion of imports from China with tariffs of 10%. And on Tuesday, the Shanghai stock market plunged. Markets were taking it seriously. Since then, Corporate America’s propaganda machine – the same that for the past two decades had extolled the unrivalled virtues of offshoring production to cheap countries – fired up the mainstream media, which launched into incessant, deafening, repetitive, and manipulative coverage of how these tariffs would hurt US jobs more than anything.

Two glorious examples are Harley-Davidson and GM, which had been laying off workers and shutting plants in the US for years as they were offshoring production to cheap countries. For example, in July 2017, Harley-Davidson announced layoffs in the US as it was building a factory in Thailand. GM has been laying off workers in the US since 2016, even as it opted to produce more models in Mexico. Now they had a fig leaf – the threat of future tariffs – behind which to hide their long-planned offshoring strategies.

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TBTF banks have no incentive to come clean.

A Decade On, Pre-Crisis Mortgages Linger For Big Banks, Homeowners (R.)

A decade on big U.S. banks are still running down and selling off crisis-era mortgages, a process executives point to as weighing on loan growth. Eager to see a turning point in loan books, analysts count these portfolios as one factor, along with home equity loan runoff and new mortgage demand, to watch for when deciphering the true loan growth picture as U.S. second-quarter bank earnings start on Friday. Wells Fargo and Bank of America executives have flagged portfolios from prior to the 2008-2009 crisis era where banks are no longer originating similar new products when they are asked to predict a turning point in consumer loans. “These are portfolios of a bygone era that were very, very painful for the banks,” said Gerard Cassidy at RBC Capital Markets.

“They are not plain vanilla portfolios, which means they are more costly to manage. It may just not be worth the headache.” Analysts have said higher loan growth is critical to driving bank’s stock prices, but they anticipate only a modest acceleration year over year, driven primarily by commercial and industrial loans, not residential. “Remember that there’s a portion of that book that, again, is pre-crisis,” Chief Executive Tim Sloan said about Wells Fargo’s mortgage book at a May conference. He added the bank continues to examine the older portfolio’s risk-return tradeoff and sells assets when the opportunity arises, factors “that could have some impact” on growth.

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Backpedalling.

Fed’s Escape From Crisis Holdings Could Hit Dead End (R.)

Not long ago the Federal Reserve expected to quietly shed nearly half of its $4.5-trillion portfolio by around 2022, leaving little trace of the extraordinary steps it took to face down the financial crisis. But an unexpected market kink could force the Fed to scrap the plan two or three years early and permanently leave it holding $1 trillion more than it wanted. The U.S. central bank is making adjustments on the fly and keeping its options open. “I don’t think that’s problematic in any way” to halt the process “somewhat earlier,” William Dudley, the former New York Fed president and key architect of the portfolio strategy, told reporters last month.

Yet if the world’s largest holder of U.S. bonds tossed out its play book and effectively took on a more accommodative stance, the result could be an across-the-board easing of market borrowing costs, the foreign-exchange value of the dollar, and of the growing strains on emerging markets. “The evidence that we have suggests that the ultimate size of the balance sheet will be bigger than what people expected,” said Matthew Luzzetti, senior economist at Deutsche Bank Securities in New York. All of this amounts to the final chapter in the Fed’s unprecedented decision over the last decade to buy some $3.5 trillion in mortgage and Treasury bonds in an effort to boost riskier investments, hiring and economic recovery from recession. In a nod to a stronger U.S. economy, the Fed since 2015 has raised interest rates well above zero and, since October of last year, begun shrinking its balance sheet to a more normal but yet-unspecified size.

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“As of this year, both programs are in negative cash flow, meaning Congress must provide additional cash to pay the promised benefits.”

Social Security, Medicare To Add Another $50 Trillion to Our National Debt (JM)

The official, on-the-books federal debt is currently about $21.2 trillion, according to the US National Debt Clock. $21.2T is the face amount of all outstanding Treasury paper, including so-called “internal” debt. This is about 105% of GDP and it’s only the federal government. If you add in state and local debt, that adds another $3.1 trillion to bring total government debt in the US to $24.3 trillion or more than 120% of GDP. Then there’s corporate debt, home mortgages, credit cards, student loans, and more. Add it all together and total debt is about 330% of GDP, according to the IIF data I cited in Debt Clock Ticking. We are in hock up to our ears. In calculating debt, however, we don’t factor in Social Security and Medicare. These aren’t yet debt because they have dedicated revenue streams: payroll taxes.

Most Medicare recipients also pay premiums. To date, these revenue sources have covered current expenditures and more, allowing the programs to build up reserves. But that’s about to change. As of this year, both programs are in negative cash flow, meaning Congress must provide additional cash to pay the promised benefits. It will get worse, too. The so-called “trust funds” are going to run dry sooner or later, and it may be sooner. This month’s annual trustee report estimated Social Security will run out of reserves in 2034, and the hospitalization part of Medicare will go dry in 2026. Just for the record, those “trust funds” don’t exist except as an accounting fiction. It is like you saving $100,000 for your child’s education and then borrowing all the money from your child’s education fund.

You can pretend that you have set aside $100,000 for your child’s future education, but when it comes time to make those payments, you’ll have to pull it out of current income or liquidate other assets. The US government has borrowed (or used or whatever euphemism you want to apply) all the money in those trust funds. So, talking about running out of reserves in 2034 or 2026 is rather meaningless. We’ve already run out of reserves. Any time a politician talks about putting a “lock box” around Social Security or Medicare trust funds, he or she is either staggeringly ignorant or lying.

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Stockpiling ahead of the crash?!

China’s Record Trade Surplus With US Further Inflames Trade Tensions (R.)

China’s trade surplus with the United States swelled to a record in June as its overall exports remained solid, a result that could further inflame a bitter trade dispute with Washington. The data came after the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump raised the stakes in its trade row with China on Tuesday, saying it would slap 10 percent tariffs on an extra $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, including numerous consumer items. China’s trade surplus with the United States, which is at the center of the tariff tussle, widened to a record monthly high of $28.97 billion, up from $24.58 billion in May, according to Reuters calculations based on official data going back to 2008.

Trump, who has demanded Beijing cut the trade surplus, could use the latest result to further ratchet up pressure on China after both sides last week imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on $34 billion of each other’s goods. Washington has warned it may ultimately impose tariffs on more than $500 billion worth of Chinese goods – nearly the total amount of U.S. imports from China last year. The dispute has jolted global financial markets, raising worries a full-scale trade war could derail the world economy. Chinese stocks fell into bear market territory and the yuan currency has skidded, though there have been signs in recent days its central bank is moving to slow the currency’s declines.

[..] China’s exports to the United States rose 13.6 percent in the first half of 2018 from a year earlier, while its imports from the U.S. rose 11.8 percent in the same period. Separate data showed Chinese shipments to U.S. ports rose more than expected in June, suggesting some retailers moved up orders to insulate themselves from the intensifying trade war that threatens to send up costs on a growing number of consumer products. For January-June China’s trade surplus with the United States rose to $133.76 billion, compared with about $117.51 billion in the same period last year.

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May will have to find something else.

Approval Of Brexit Negotiations Lowest On Record (Orb)

Approval of the Brexit negotiations has seen a significant fall in July – now the lowest on record. Last month 36% approved of the negotiations and it is now 29%. In June, 32% agreed that Theresa May would get the right deal for Britain in the Brexit negotiations – this has now fallen to 26% – the lowest again on record. These 2,027 interviews were carried out before the resignation of Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

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Perhaps the biggest one of a million problems.

No Brand Of Brexit Can Command A Commons Majority (G.)

Theresa May’s new cabinet has now rallied behind her Chequers plan, set out fully in the government’s white paper on future UK-EU relations. However, far from settling the Brexit debate, recent events have given rise to another nightmare scenario that is only just beginning to take shape: that every conceivable Brexit outcome may now not command a parliamentary majority. The conventional wisdom in Westminster is that since the general election last year, there is no House of Commons majority for a hard Brexit. With a working majority of only 13, including the Democratic Unionists, it would take just seven Tory MPs to oppose it. But there are at least 20-30 pro-European Tories minded to do so.

Yet May’s softer Brexit blueprint has also significantly increased the prospect of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs voting against her EU deal when it is put to parliament later this year. In the febrile atmosphere at Westminster this week, there have been rumours that up to 70 Tories could oppose it – especially if, as seems likely, May makes further concessions in order to win the EU’s backing for a bespoke deal, instead of having to choose between a Canada or Norway-style agreement. Hints in the white paper about a preferential system for EU migrants, despite May’s rhetoric about ending free movement of labour, will fuel the Tory revolt.

May’s embrace for a softer Brexit has therefore changed the Commons arithmetic – and the political calculations that come with it. It is now Labour MPs, rather than Tory ones, who may prove critical. In recognition of this, May has been reaching out to Labour MPs in the hope that soft Brexit supporters vote for her deal, neutralising the impact of the Eurosceptics voting against it. In an unusual move, David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister and May’s de facto deputy, briefed Labour (as well as Liberal Democrat and SNP) MPs on the Chequers plan. But Labour won’t want to save May. Their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, will almost certainly whip Labour MPs to oppose May’s deal, in the hope that the ensuing chaos will result in an election.

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What I said a few days ago.

Donald Trump Is Right. NATO Is A Costly White Elephant (G.)

Nato was founded in 1949 in response to Stalin’s blockade of Berlin. It was meant to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”. Since then, it has welcomed the American nuclear shield, at vast cost to America. Otherwise, its only military achievements have been the breakup of Yugoslavia and the loss of a squalid 17-year war in Afghanistan. Neither has anything to do with the North Atlantic. Nothing better symbolised this than Theresa May’s bizarre gift to Trump this week of 450 British troops for Kabul. Nato was about deterring an attack on Europe from Russia. In 1945, the west agreed the Potsdam settlement, accepting the Soviets’ “sphere of influence” over eastern Europe.

Thus when Russia invaded Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, there was no question of Nato, or Europe, retaliating. The iron curtain was iron. Come 1989 and the collapse of Potsdam Europe, Nato did not approach a broken Russia to agree some new settlement. It did the opposite. To protests from Russia’s weakened leader, Boris Yeltsin, it gathered former Warsaw Pact states under its wing and advanced its border east towards Russia. It embraced Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, then the Baltic states, Romania and Bulgaria. It was like Khrushchev stationing missiles in Cuba. Only Germany counselled caution.

Nato’s provocation was so blatant as to be an open invitation to any new populist leader in Moscow to exploit Russia’s bruised patriotism: hence Vladimir Putin. He and his kleptocratic cronies are virtually a Nato creation. But the fact that America was party to the provocation does not invalidate Trump’s question. What is Nato’s policy beyond needling Russia and feebly relying on the American shield?

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But in the end, it’s all about money. That’s why NATO still exists. Nothing to do with security.

Trump Ready To Help Some NATO States Buy US Arms (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was ready to help smaller NATO countries to buy U.S. weapons as he pushed them to spend more on their own defense. Speaking after a NATO summit, at which he said nations had agreed on new spending pledges, Trump said some less wealthy members had asked during meetings in Brussels if he could help them buy U.S. arms equipment, but did not name the countries. Asked about pressures on countries with weaker finances, he said, “We have many wealthy countries with us today but we have some that aren’t so wealthy and they did ask me if they could buy the military equipment, and could I help them out, and we will help them out a little bit,” he told a news conference.

“We are not going to finance it for them but we will make sure that they are able to get payments and various other things so they can buy – because the United States makes by far the best military equipment in the world: the best jets, the best missiles, the best guns, the best everything.” Trump claimed a personal victory at the summit after telling European allies to increase spending or lose Washington’s support. The White House has been pushing a “Buy American” initiative which aims to help drum up billions of dollars more in arms business. The initiative has raised concerns in Europe, where some see increased weapons sales as a key goal of Trump’s repeated calls for NATO members to increase their military spending.

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Americans have no business there. Go home.

Who Wants To Disrupt Strategic Balance In The Black Sea Region? (SCF)

The US-led series of drills in and around Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline is part of NATO exercise Sea Breeze that kicked off on July 9 to last until July 21. The training event involves an international armada representing 19 countries, including such non-NATO states as Ukraine, India, Georgia, the United Arab Emirates and Moldova. All in all, 29 warships, 1 submarine, and 25 aircraft are involved in the exercise held in Odessa and Mykolayiv and the northwestern Black Sea region. The Black Sea regional security is actually an issue paid little attention to. It’s not addressed by an international forum. NATO official documents adopt an openly provocative language to challenge Russia.

The North Atlantic Alliance always emphasizes the Black Sea’s role as a critical intersection. The US-led NATO activities have been intensifying since 2014 to turn the region into another hotbed along with the South China Sea and the Baltic. Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania, three of the six Black Sea countries, are NATO members. Ukraine and Georgia are the bloc’s close partners aspiring for membership. The alliance has a significant military presence in Romania, including a US Aegis Ashore BMD system capable of firing long-range cruise missiles at Russia.

American military presence in Romania and Bulgaria is gradually growing. The US plans to deploy up to 2,500 troops at Novo Selo, Bulgaria. The facility is large enough to accommodate as many as 5,000 servicemen. Heavy tanks deployment is envisaged. The 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, where NATO pledged not to deploy “substantial forces” near Russia, seems to be forgotten. The US Navy’s policy is aimed at ramping up its presence there. The presence of American warships perilously close to Russia’s borders is undoubtedly provocative. For comparison, the Russian Navy does not stage regular maneuvers in the Caribbean Sea with such allies as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela though nothing prevents it from doing so.

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First, Berlin forces Greece to keep the islands loaded with refugees. Then it forces them to load more taxes on the already destroyed economies there.

Germany Puts Last Bailout Tranche to Greece on Hold (GR)

Germany blocked a final 15 billion-euro ($17.5 billion) bailout payment to Greece after the government in Athens postponed a value-added tax (VAT) hike on a handful of islands that have been hit hard by the influx of migrants. For the tranche to be unblocked by early August, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos pledged at yesterday’s Eurogroup that the measure to retain the 30 percent VAT discount on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos will end in January 2019, and that the loss of 28 million euros of revenues will be offset from other sources.

The SYRIZA-led government postponed the VAT hike in the islands without consulting Greece’s creditors. Germany was eager to send a message to Athens that it will not tolerate any deviation from the program in the future. Commentators say that the Eurogroup decision shows how difficult it will be for the southern country to regain financial sovereignty even as it exits an eight-year bailout regime in August.

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Given how Greece gets treated, denial doesn’t sound like the correct term.

Europe’s Remarkable Ability To Remain In Denial (Varoufakis)

Europe’s establishment is luxuriating in two recent announcements that would have been momentous even if they were only partly accurate: the end of Greece’s debt crisis, and a Franco-German accord to redesign the eurozone. Unfortunately, both reports offer fresh proof of the European Union (EU) establishment’s remarkable talent for never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The two announcements did not come in the same week by accident. The Greek debt implosion, back in 2010, was the ugly symptom of the eurozone’s design flaws, which is why it triggered a domino effect across the continent. Greece’s continuing insolvency reflects the deep disagreements within the Franco-German axis concerning eurozone redesign.

While three French presidents and the same German chancellor were failing to agree on the institutional changes that would render the eurozone sustainable, Greece was asked to bleed quietly. In 2015, the Greeks staged a rebellion, which Europe’s establishment ruthlessly crushed. Neither Brexit nor the EU’s steady delegitimation in the eyes of European voters managed to convince the establishment to change its ways. French President Emmanuel Macron’s election seemed the last hope for the new Berlin-Paris accord needed to prevent a suffocating Italy from triggering the next—this time lethal—domino effect.

Under Macron, new, hopeful ideas were proposed: a common budget for the eurozone; a new safe debt instrument and quasi-federal tax-raising capacities; a common unemployment insurance fund; common bank deposit insurance and a common pot from which to recapitalize failing banks. Moreover, a new investment fund would mobilize idle savings across Europe, without adding to the fiscal stress of member states. A year later, with Italy on a collision course with the EU, the Meseberg Summit between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Macron delivered an agreement on eurozone reform. A few days later, the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers delivered its own “solution” to the Greek debt crisis.

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Sensible.

US Judge Asked To Create Mental Health Fund For Migrant Children (R.)

A civil rights group asked a federal judge on Thursday to order the U.S. government to provide mental health counseling for the around 2,000 immigrant children separated from their parents by officials at the U.S.-Mexican border. The request by the American Civil Liberties Union follows a chaotic week for U.S. immigration officials, who failed to meet a court-ordered deadline on Tuesday for reuniting children under the age of five. The government “must establish a fund to pay for professional mental health counseling, which will be used to treat children who are suffering from severe trauma as a result of their forcible separation from their parents,” said the ACLU in court papers filed late Thursday.

The group said the cost of the fund could be determined at a future date. The rights group brought the lawsuit that prompted U.S. Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego last month to order the government to reunite families separated at the border. The family separation policy was instituted as part of President Donald Trump’s efforts to curtail illegal immigration. The administration ended the practice last month after widespread protests. The government, in the same court filing on Thursday, acknowledged that it had missed a Tuesday deadline for reuniting the youngest children with their parents, but said it had now complied with the judge’s order.

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How does anyone make this, too, about Russia? It’s your own people who use this for spying on you. Targeting ‘Russians’ is just a way to divert your attention from that.

Facebook Users Marked With “Treason” Label (ZH)

Beleaguered social media giant Facebook has removed “treason” from their database of the keywords assigned to users for advertising purposes, the company stated Wednesday after Danish state broadcaster DR reported its existence. Company spokesman Joe Osborne replied “National treason was an advertising interest because of its historical significance, but as it is an illegal act, we have removed it.” Facebook tags its more than 2 billion users with a wide variety of keywords depending on their interests – from shopping habits to political and religious views in order to sell more efficiently targeted advertising.

This makes Facebook a sublime sales channel for companies. Categorizing users in areas of interest means that companies with ads on Facebook can buy into an almost perfect audience. Eg. garden equipment for people with special interest in gardens, etc. But categorization also allows intelligence services in all countries to look at the population over the shoulder. DR suggests that the a government such as Russia could have used the “treason” tag to locate around 65,000 Facebook users who had been marked with the keyword. The article notes that they do not know “if the Russian authorities have used Facebook’s “treason” keyword” for nefarious purposes – adding “Only the Russian authorities know that.”

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Jul 122018
 
 July 12, 2018  Posted by at 9:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Blu Mural in Rome, Italy 2015 Click to enlarge See also here

 

Trade War Risk On (Hedgeye)
Corporate Bonds Are Getting Junkier (DDMB)
It’s Not Wage Rises That Are A Problem – It’s The Lack Of Them (Frank)
Britain Facing ‘State Of Emergency’ If No Deal Reached – Grieve (Ind.)
Trump Tells NATO Allies To Spend 4% of GDP On Defence (G.)
Germans Want Trump To Pull US Troops Out Of Germany (Ind.)
China’s Silky Charming of Arabia (Escobar)
The Supreme Court Is Much Too Powerful (Mises.org)
New Zealand Hospitals In Chaos As 30,000 Nurses Strike (G.)
EU Approves ‘Enhanced Surveillance’ for Post-Bailout Greece (GR)
Trash Piles Up In US As China Closes Door To Recycling (AFP)

 

 

Great cartoon.

Trade War Risk On (Hedgeye)

– Global equities are retreating materially today on fears of a commensurate escalation in the burgeoning trade war between the U.S. and China. Specifically, the Trump administration released a list of goods that it may target w/ sanctions totaling some $200 billion, while China’s Commerce Ministry described the move as “totally unacceptable bullying”, and promised to lodge complaints at the WTO without detailing what its retaliatory steps would be. Are trade wars bad for growth? Of course they are. Does anyone really possess a reliable framework for quantifying the ultimate impact ex ante? Probably not.

This we do know, however: prior to the last Friday’s tit-for-tat escalation targeting $34 billion in Chinese goods and a list of [mostly] U.S. agricultural products, Export growth was trending lower in 70% of the near-50 economies we maintain detailed predictive tracking algorithms for, while 77% of Manufacturing PMI series were trending lower. This figures reflect data through MAY and JUN, respectively, and are supportive of our view that trade tensions aren’t the driving force behind Global #Divergences; they are merely adding fuel to the fire. Global equities peaked in late-JAN for a reason.

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Anyone remember AAA?

Corporate Bonds Are Getting Junkier (DDMB)

Life insurers invest heavily in high-grade corporate bonds to fund annuities, life insurance policies and other products. Here’s a look at the possibility that the issues might be affected by credit rating grade inflation… Much has been made of the degradation of the $7.5 trillion U.S. corporate debt market. High yield offers too little, well, yield. And “high grade” now requires air quotes to account for the growing dominance of bonds rated BBB, which is the lowest rung on the investment-grade ladder before dropping into “junk” status. And then there’s the massive market for leveraged loans, where covenants protecting investors have all but disappeared.

How does that break down? Corporate bonds rated BBB now total $2.56 trillion, having surpassed in size the sum of higher-rated debentures, which total $2.55 trillion, according to Morgan Stanley. Put another way, BBB bonds outstanding exceed by 50% the size of the entire investment grade market at the peak of the last credit boom, in 2007. But aren’t they still investment grade? At little to no risk of default? In 2000, when BBB bonds were a mere third of the market, net leverage (total debt minus cash and short term investments divided by earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) was 1.7 times. By the end of last year, the ratio had ballooned to 2.9 times.

Given the marked deterioration in fundamentals, bond powerhouse PIMCO worries that “This suggests a greater tolerance from the credit rating agencies for higher leverage, which in turn warrants extra caution when investing in lower-rated IG names, especially in sectors where earnings are more closely tied to the business cycle.” [..] why not treat the BBB portion of the bond market for what it is: a high-risk slice of the corporate debt pie. Keeping count of “fallen angels,” or those investment-grade bonds that are downgraded into junk territory, will become a spectator sport.

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“Except in the very tightest labour markets, workers simply don’t have the power to demand their fair share.”

It’s Not Wage Rises That Are A Problem – It’s The Lack Of Them (Frank)

If you study the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ numbers on wages for nonsupervisory workers over the past few decades, you will notice that wage growth has been strangely slow to pick up. Hot economies usually drive wages up pretty promptly; this recovery has been running since 2009 and it has barely moved the needle. It’s even more perverse on the other side of the Atlantic. According to a 2017 story in the Financial Times, Britain was “the only big, advanced economy in which wages contracted while the economy expanded” – an amazing achievement if you think about it. And UK thinktank the Resolution Foundation has said this decade is “set to be the worst for pay growth since the Napoleonic wars”.

How could such a thing happen in this modern and enlightened age? Well, for starters, think of all that whining we’re hearing from the US’s management, who will apparently blame anyone and do anything to avoid paying workers more. Every labour-management innovation seems to have been designed with this amazing goal in mind. Every great bipartisan political initiative, from free trade to welfare reform, points the same way. When Republicans are in charge, it’s open season on working-class organisations. And you can forget about increases in the minimum wage, regardless of who’s in the White House.

Of course it’s happening the same way in the UK; be it Thatcher’s war on unions or New Labour’s “third way”, Britain has followed the US model closely. Political decisions within both countries have had highly predictable results, and we are now fated to live with them. Good times aren’t really all that good for ordinary people any more, only for the people on top – the owners of companies, of real estate, of stocks. Except in the very tightest labour markets, workers simply don’t have the power to demand their fair share. If you ask me, this is the thing to panic about: not the possibility that workers might prosper, but that they’re not prospering yet.

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“..ordinary life will grind to a halt. That is the extent to which our lives are intermeshed with the lives of our European partners..”

Britain Facing ‘State Of Emergency’ If No Deal Reached – Grieve (Ind.)

Britain will face a “state of emergency” if no Brexit deal is reached by February, Dominic Grieve has warned at an exclusive event for Independent subscribers. Appearing on a stage with other key Brexit figures, including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Gina Miller, the leading Tory rebel said “ordinary life will grind to a halt” if the talks are still deadlocked as D-Day nears. The warning came as Mr Rees-Mogg launched his most outspoken attack yet on big businesses opposing a hard Brexit, claiming they have “got everything wrong in the whole of their history”. Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader, suggested she would not accept any further “compromises” beyond the deal struck at Chequers by Theresa May – preferring a no-deal outcome. [..]

Last month, Mr Grieve, a former attorney general, led an aborted revolt to guarantee MPs a “meaningful vote” to prevent Britain crashing out of the EU without an agreement. In his most dramatic language yet, to underline the high stakes, Mr Grieve told the audience: “If by the end of February or early March it is clear that there is no deal on anything, there will be a declaration of a state of emergency in this country. “Actually, ordinary life will grind to a halt. That is the extent to which our lives are intermeshed with the lives of our European partners, and that is what will happen if there is no deal on anything.” Mr Grieve said hardline anti-Brexit MPs had “abdicated” their responsibilities to the public by boasting that they will do “absolutely nothing while we skated off the edge of the cliff into this major national crisis”. “That is the madness that has crept into some of the discourse in parliament,” he added.

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They won’t.

Trump Tells NATO Allies To Spend 4% of GDP On Defence (G.)

Donald Trump left the opening day of the Nato summit in Brussels in disarray on Wednesday after making a surprise demand for members to raise their defence spending to 4% of GDP, and clashing with German chancellor Angela Merkel over a proposed pipeline deal with Russia. Trump left the assembled presidents and prime ministers floundering, unsure whether he was serious about the 4% target, double the existing Nato target of 2%, which many do not meet, or whether it was just a ploy. After making the announcement, Trump walked out.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, confirmed the 4% figure. “During the president’s remarks today at the Nato summit he suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of 2% of their GDP on defence spending, but that they increase it to 4%,” she said. Sanders added: “President Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and, at a very minimum, meet their already stated obligations.”

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So there. WHy on earth would you need so many US bases?

Germans Want Trump To Pull US Troops Out Of Germany (Ind.)

Germans would actually welcome the withdrawal of American troops stationed in their country, a new poll has found – as Donald Trump threatens to pull the plug on military support. The finding comes on the first day of a Nato summit in which the US president is urging Europe to spend more on defence if it wants to continue to receive American military protection. But far from being seen as a threat, a YouGov poll for the dpa news agency found that more Germans would welcome the departure of the 35,000-strong American force than would oppose it.

42% said they supported withdrawal while just 37% wanted the soldiers to stay, with 21% undecided. Last month the US media reported that the US government was in the process of assessing the cost of keeping troops in Germany ahead of a possible withdrawal, citing Pentagon sources. But the policy of actually pulling out of the country has not actually reached the negotiating table in his week’s Brussels summit and is not expected to be discussed as a possibility – for now.

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At some point the Chinese will run into Americans there.

China’s Silky Charming of Arabia (Escobar)

Under the radar, away from World Cup frenzy and the merger and acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo Inc. and Fiat, the eighth ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF), established in 2004, sailed on in Beijing, hosted by President Xi Jinping. Amid the torrential pledge of loans and aid, China committed to invest right across the Arab world in transportation infrastructure, oil and gas, finance, digital economy and artificial intelligence (AI). Significantly, Beijing will offer $15 million in aid for Palestinian economic development, as well as $91 million distributed among Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

A China-Arab bank consortium will be set up, with a dedicated fund of $3 billion tied up with the financial aid and loan package. Beijing also foresees importing a whopping $8 trillion from Arab states up to 2025. Predictably, once again Xi fully connected the whole Arab world with the expansion of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). And careful to navigate the geopolitical minefield, he urged “relevant sides” to respect the international consensus in the Israel-Palestine confrontation, calling for justice. That may indicate a gradual, but sure departure from trademark Chinese passive or reactive policy across the Arab world, focused exclusively on energy and political non-interference.

Xi is now openly tying up Chinese financial aid and deals with nations across the Global South to an overall economic development drive; the only roadmap to solve intractable political and religious conflict. And that includes full respect of international deals. As much as the Arab world, Iran is in Southwest Asia. A day before the China-Arab forum, Premier Li Keqiang, in Berlin, was warning of “unforeseeable consequences” if the Iran nuclear deal, known as JCPOA, were to be discarded, as the Trump administration wants.

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Stating the obvious.

The Supreme Court Is Much Too Powerful (Mises.org)

The current frenzy over the vacancy on the Supreme Court in the wake of Justice Kennedy’s retirement highlights just how much power has been centralized in the hands of a small number of people in Washington, DC. The left has grown positively hysterical over the thought of yet another Trump-appointed judge being installed, who could potentially serve on the court for decades. Right-wingers who claim the left is overreacting, however, are unconvincing. One can only imagine the right’s reaction were Hillary Clinton president. She would have already had the opportunity to appoint Scalia’s replacement, and we might now be talking about her nominee to replace Justice Ginsberg.

The right-wing media would be filled with article after article about how the new court would be a disaster for health-care freedom, private gun ownership, and, of course, the unborn. But, as it is, we live in a country where five people on a court decide what the law is for 320 million people. And for some reason, many people think this is entirely normal. It’s our own American version of the Soviet politburo, but few are even bothering to ask whether it’s a good idea. After all, if it makes sense for a small handful of people to decide law for the entire country, why even bother with a House of Representatives? Even the Senate — composed primarily of multimillionaires living full-time in Washington, DC, is [by comparison] extravagantly “democratic.”

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“be fair to those who care”

New Zealand Hospitals In Chaos As 30,000 Nurses Strike (G.)

Hospitals in New Zealand have cancelled elective surgeries and discharged patients early after 30,000 nurses walked off the job in the first such nationwide strike in 30 years. The 24-hour strike began on Thursday, and comes after months of negotiations between the government and nurses broke down on Wednesday, leaving hospitals to battle winter illnesses without crucial staff. Long delays at hospital emergency departments are expected around the country. Striking nurses held rallies in major cities, chanting “be fair to those who care” in the largest public demonstrations by the health sector ever seen on the country’s streets. Nurses said they were overworked and underpaid, with unsafe working conditions leading to burnout and exhaustion.

Patient care and staff wellbeing were routinely compromised, they said. Acting prime minister Winston Peters said the government was “very, very disappointed” that its latest offer of a 12.5% increase had been rejected, and that it would take time to address nine years of neglect under the previous National government. Although the May budget delivered a surplus, Peters said the extra funds were needed to handle unforeseen spending, such as managing the spread of mycoplasma bovis, a cow disease. “We are saying give us some time … it’s not that we’re not willing to, we haven’t got the money,” said Peters. “We’ve gone as far as we can go as a government. We got hold of a negotiated arrangement which we inherited – the nurses have had a raw nine years.”

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Straight jacket.

EU Approves ‘Enhanced Surveillance’ for Post-Bailout Greece (GR)

The European Commission on Wednesday said Greece will remain under an “enhanced surveillance framework” to ensure that it meets ambitious budget targets through 2022. The country will still be subject to quarterly inspections from creditors after the bailout program ends in late August. “Greece is now able to stand on its own two feet but that doesn’t mean it has to stand alone … The reform era has not ended,” EU Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said. “Enhanced surveillance is not a fourth program: it involves no new commitments or conditions. It is a framework to support the completion and delivery of ongoing reforms,” he added.

Despite returning to growth after a massive recession, Greece leaves the program still facing major difficulties. Banks are struggling to deal with a high rate of bad loans. At over 20%, Greece has the highest unemployment rate in the euro currency union. Government bonds remain below investment grade even though their yields have fallen to manageable rates. And to help reduce its debt, Greece has committed to punishingly high primary budget surpluses — that is, the budget excluding the cost of debt servicing — of above 3.5% through 2022. “Enhanced surveillance is there to help Greece build confidence with markets, investors and companies,” Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said. “They all want stability and predictability.”

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They’ll find a new dump.

Trash Piles Up In US As China Closes Door To Recycling (AFP)

For months, a major recycling facility for the greater Baltimore-Washington area has been facing a big problem: it has to pay to get rid of huge amounts of paper and plastic it would normally sell to China. Beijing is no longer buying, claiming the recycled materials are “contaminated.” For sure, the 900 tons of trash dumped at all hours of the day and night, five days a week, on the conveyor belts at the plant in Elkridge, Maryland – an hour’s drive from the US capital – are not clean. Amid the nerve-shattering din and clouds of brown dust, dozens of workers in gloves and masks – most of them women – nimbly pluck a diverse array of objects from the piles that could count as “contaminants.”

That could be anything from clothes to cables to tree branches to the bane of all recyclers: plastic bags, which are not supposed to go in recycling bins because they snarl up the machinery. “We’ve had to slow our machinery, and hire more people” to clean up the waste, says Michael Taylor, the head of recycling operations for Waste Management, the company that runs the plant. At the end of the sorting line is the end product — huge bales of compacted waste containing paper, cardboard or plastics. These have been bought up for decades by businesses, most of them based in China, which clean them up, crush them and transform them into raw materials for industrial plants.

Last year, China bought up more than half of the scrap materials exported by the United States. Globally, since 1992, 72% of plastic waste has ended up in China and Hong Kong, according to a study in the journal Science Advances. But since January, China has closed its borders to most paper and plastic waste in line with a new environmental policy pushed by Beijing, which no longer wants to be the world’s trash can, or even its recycle bin. For other waste products such as cardboard and metal, China has set a contamination level of 0.5% — a threshold too low for most current US technology to handle. US waste handlers say they expect China will close its doors to all recycled materials by 2020 — an impossibly short deadline.

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Jul 112018
 
 July 11, 2018  Posted by at 5:23 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Marc Riboud Forbidden City under the snow, Beijing 1957

 

Okay, well, Trump did it again. Antagonizing allies. This time it was Germany that took the main hit, over the fact that it pays Russia billions of dollars for oil and gas while relying on the US for its defense … against Russia. And yes, that is a strange situation. But it’s by no means the only angle to the story. There are many more.

For one thing, The US has by far the largest military industry. So it makes a lot of money off the billions already spent by NATO partners on weaponry. Of course Raytheon, Boeing et al would like to see them spend more. But once they would have done that, they would clamor for even more after.

At some point one must ask how much should really be spent. How much is enough, how much is necessary. The military-industrial complex (MIC) has every reason to make the threat posed by ‘enemies’ as big as they possibly can. So knowing that, we must take media reports on this threat with tons of salt.

And that is not easy. Because the MIC has great influence in politics and the media. But we can turn to some numbers. According to GlobalFirePower, the US in 2018 will spend $647 billion on its military, while Russia is to spend a full $600 billion less, at $47 billion. And the US Senate has already voted in a $82 billion boost recently.

There are other numbers out there that suggest Russia spends $60 billion, but even then. If Moscow spends just 10% of the US, and much less than that once all NATO members’ expenditure is included, how much of a threat can Russia realistically be to NATO?

 

Sure, I’ve said it before, Russia makes weapons to defend itself, while America makes them to make money, which makes the latter much less efficient, but it should be glaringly obvious that the Russia threat is being blown out of all proportions.

Problem with that is that European nations for some reason love playing the threat card as much as America does. After all, Britain, France and Germany have major weapons manufacturers, too. So they’re all stuck. The Baltic nations clamor for more US protection, so does Sweden, Merkel re-focused on Putin just days ago, the game must go on.

Another way to look at this is to note that UD GDP in 2017 according to the IMF was $19.3 trillion, while Russia’s was $1.5 trillion. NATO members Germany France, Britain, Italy and France all have substantially higher GDP than Russia as well. European Union GDP was $17.3 trillion in 2017.

If this economically weak Russia were really such a threat to NATO, they would be using their funds so much better and smarter than anyone else, we’d all better start waving white flags right now. And seek their help, because that sort of efficiency, in both economics and defense, would seem to be exactly what we need in our debt-ridden nations.

 

The solution to the problems Trump indicated this morning is not for Germany et al to spend more on NATO and their military in general, but for the US to spend less. Much less. Because the Russian threat is a hoax that serves the interests of the MIC, the politicians and the media.

And because America has much better purposes to spend its money on. And because we would all be a lot safer if this absurd theater were closed. To reiterate: developments in weapons technology, for instance hypersonic rocket systems make most other weapons systems obsolete. Which is obviously a big threat to the MIC.

Russia attacking NATO makes as much sense as NATO attacking Russia: none whatsoever. Unwinnable. Russia attacking Germany and other European countries, which buy its oil and gas, makes no sense because it would then lose those revenues. From that point of view, European dependence on Russian energy is even a peacemaker, because it benefits both sides.

Can any of the Russiagate things be true? Of course, Russia has ‘bad’ elements seeking to influence matters abroad. Just like the US does, and France, Britain, Germany, finish the list and color the pictures. How about the UK poisoning stories? That’s a really wild one. Russia had no reason to poison a long-lost double spy they themselves let go free years ago, not at a time when a successful World Cup beckoned.

342 diplomats expelled and risking the honored tradition of exchanging spies and double agents from time to time. Not in Moscow’s interest at all. Britain, though, had, and has, much to gain from the case. As long as its people, and its allies, remain gullible enough to swallow the poisoned narrative. Clue: both poisonings, if they are real, occurred mere miles from Porton Down, Britain’s main chemical weapons lab.

And c’mon, if Putin wants his country strong and independent, the last thing he would do is to risk his oil and gas contracts with Europe. They’re simply too important, economically and politically. Trump may want some of that action for the US, understandably, but for now US LNG can’t compete with Russian pipelines. Simple as that.

Let’s hope Trump and Putin can talk sense in 5 days. There’s a lot hanging on it. Let’s hope Trump gets his head out of NATO’s and the US and EU Deep State’s asses in time. There’s no America First or Make America Great Again to be found in those dark places. It’s time to clear the air and talk. America should always talk to Russia.

Funny thing is, the more sanctions are declared on Russia, the stronger it becomes, because it has to learn and adapt to self-sufficiency. Want to weaken Russia? Make it depend on your trade with it, as opposed to cut off that trade. Well, too late now, they won’t trust another western voice anymore for many years. And we’re too weak to fight them. Not that we should want to anyway.

We’re all captive to people who want us to believe we’re still stuck in the last century, because that is their over-luxurious meal ticket. But it’s all imaginary, it’s an entirely made-up narrative. NATO is a con game.

 

 

Jun 292018
 
 June 29, 2018  Posted by at 1:19 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Mysteries of the horizon (a.k.a. The Masterpiece) 1955

 

Don’t know if you noticed, but the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki on July 16 takes place one day after the soccer World Cup final, Sunday July 15. Now it seems clear that Trump doesn’t care about soccer, though he apparently knows Christiano Ronaldo, but that factoid is significant because the World Cup takes place in Russia.

It’s amusing to contemplate that Putin told Trump’s people he would love to meet with his counterpart, but not until after the Cup Final. So they settled on the very next day.

The same people who now express worries about the summit, also had worries about the nasty things that could happen to players and supporters in Moscow and other cities. There has not been one single incident. No police violence, no hooliganism, the stadiums are beautiful, the organization is pitch perfect. There’s been only sunshine, too.

The only problem reported in the media was that some cities ran out of beer, because the Russians hadn’t expected the Aussies and British to drink as much of the stuff as Russians themselves do. They probably didn’t expect them to show up in such large numbers either. But those Russians don’t see a real problem: “we always have enough vodka”.

 

Patrick Lang called the fact that Trump sent uber-neocon John Bolton to Moscow to organize the summit a stroke of genius. The man who wants WWIII more than anyone must now make sure a summit that may serve to prevent it, successful. But what does Trump really want? And what do the neo-cons want?

First off, US and Russian presidents should meet all the time. It’s beyond reason that Trump has been in the saddle almost a year and a half without such a summit. Trumped up allegations of election meddling in about half the nations on the planet, about poisonings in Britain and about chemical weapons in Syria, have prevented a summit so far.

It looks like Trump got tired of all that. But of course all we’ll see the next two+ weeks is more ‘Trump is Putin’s lapdog’ memes. While there are very serious issues to be discussed. A major one, undoubtedly, is Syria. There has been a lot of movement politically on that.

The US has indicated it will no longer support the Syrian rebels. It has acknowledged that regime change, and removal of Assad, is not going to happen. Because Russia will not leave Assad to fend for himself.

 

There are signs that another false flag chemical attack in the country is being prepared, but if that happens before July 16, Trump himself will jump in to condemn the nonsense. He wants the meeting, and he wants it bad. As he should, and not for some nefarious reason.

Regime change in Syria is off the calendar because of Putin. Regime change in Iran, apparently still on that calendar, will also fail because while Putin may -but just may- be willing to give in, China will not. And not even a Saudi-US-UAE-Israel cabal can withstand both China AND Russia. Those days are over.

The neocons are way behind the action. They think in terms of something that has long since passed its best before date. Yeah, wonder how John Bolton sees these things these days. Maybe he had a crash course upon entering the White House.

But let’s not kid ourselves: the US warmonger faction may be outdated, they are still very powerful and very present. They can still attempt to force Trump’s hand with a false flag here or there. Their plans to conquer Russia, though, will have to be shelved for now. Or do they?

Tyler Durden has a lengthy report on the proposed spending in Europe by the US military. I won’t get into the details (tons of infrastructure spending close to Russian borders), but here’s the money shot:

 

The request for additional funding would more than double the military’s infrastructure projects under the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), from the 2018 request, when just a few years ago, the Pentagon was scaling back its Cold War-era footprint in Europe. According to Defense News, the EDI request increased to $6.5 billion from $4.8 billion in 2018, military construction projects in the EDI request jumped from $338 million in 2018, while pre-positioning funds soared from $2.2 billion to $3.2 billion.

The Air Force would spend roughly $368.6 million to pre-position equipment and $363.8 million for military construction projects. While the spending is almost equal to what was expensed in fiscal 2018, it is a huge jump from 2017, when the Air Force was only allotted $31.2 million in pre-positioning funds and $85.4 million for military construction.

 

And I know what you’re thinking: didn’t Trump say not so long ago that he wanted Europe to pay more for its own defense? Well, yes, he did, but Europe is other wise engaged, it’s now planning its own ‘army’, which can’t NOT take away from its contributions to NATO.

So Trump meets Putin on July 16, who knows all of this and a boatload more, and what’s he going to tell him? When Putin asks him about these new US ‘investments’ in Europe, what’s he going to say?

Putin will state that Russia’s military expenditures have only fallen over the past decade+, and that he doesn’t understand why the US spends that much more, because Russia’s new weapons are decades ahead of America’s. (I don’t think he’s kidding).

Of course Putin knows better then anyone that his military spending takes place for a whole different purpose than that in the US: he builds a strong defense, while America feeds its private contractors arms industry as much taxpayers’ money as it can get away with. What did the Pentagon lose track of again, was that $21 trillion?

And of course Putin knows that to an extent Trump is trapped inside the military-industrial complex Ike warned about. And that John Bolton is such a docile and eager servant of.

One thing we can be sure of is that just like the World Cup, the summit won’t be a boring event, the media will be all over it, each with their own favorite, and over half the world will follow the ‘games’. And the outcome of Helsinki is as unpredictable as that of the final in Moscow. One more thing that’s for sure: the US won’t be in that final. Not even John Bolton.

 

 

May 222018
 
 May 22, 2018  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Femme au Béret et à la Robe Quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) 1937

 

‘Who Are You?’ Iran Hits Back At US Demands (AlJ)
Trumpism Folds into Netanyahu-ism, or ‘Neo-Americanism’ (Alastair Crooke)
Swedes Told To Prepare For Conflict In Cold War-Style Booklet (R.)
Baltic States Ask the US for Bigger Military Presence on Their Soil (SCF)
Italy on Verge of Inducing a Fresh European Crisis (Cudmore)
Goldman Sachs: The Fiscal Outlook For The US ‘Is Not Good’ (CNBC)
The US is Shackled by Historic Debt (GT)
US Consumer Debt Set To Reach $4 Trillion By The End Of 2018 (CNBC)
Learning from America’s Forgotten Default (PS)
You Think It’s All About Guns? (Jim Kunstler)
Human Race Just 0.01% Of All Life But Eradicated Most Other Living Things (G.)

 

 

“The era of the US making decisions for the rest of the world is over”. That’s what Russia and China think, too.

‘Who Are You?’ Iran Hits Back At US Demands (AlJ)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said the world would “not accept” US unilateralism just hours after Washington laid out a series of tough demands to be included in a potential new nuclear treaty with Iran. In remarks carried by Iran’s ILNA news agency on Monday, Rouhani said the era of the United States making decisions for the rest of the world was “over”. “Countries are independent … We will continue our path with the support of our nation,” Rouhani said. “Who are you to decide for Iran and the world?”

[..] In announcing the new US strategy towards Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday warned that Washington “will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime” unless it complied with a list of 12 conditions, which must be met before any new deal can be reached. The demands include giving the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a full account of the country’s former nuclear military programme, withdrawing its forces from Syria and ending what Pompeo described as Iran’s “threatening behaviour” towards its neighbours.

Also responding to Pompeo, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif accused the US of a “regression to old habits”, saying Washington’s diplomatic efforts were a “sham”. “It repeats the same wrong choices and will thus reap the same ill rewards. Iran, meanwhile, is working with partners for post-US JCPOA solutions,” Zarif said in a tweet on Monday.

Read more …

Regime change always leads to chaos.

Trumpism Folds into Netanyahu-ism, or ‘Neo-Americanism’ (Alastair Crooke)

The 8 May US Presidential declaration (on exiting JCPOA) requires of us fundamentally to revise our understanding of Trumpism. At the outset to his term of office, Trumpism was widely understood to be based on three key pillars: That the costs incurred by the US in upholding the full panoply of Empire (i.e. policing the American, rules-based, global order) were just too onerous and unfair (especially in the provision of the defence umbrella) – and that others must be coerced into sharing its cost. Secondly, that American jobs had been, as it were, stolen from America, and would have to be recovered through forced changes to the terms of trade. And thirdly, that these changes would be effected, through applying the tactics of the Art of the Deal.

That seemed, at least, to be clear, (if not necessarily a wholly feasible blueprint). But mostly we thought that the Art of the Deal was about threatening, blustering, and hiking leverage on ‘whatever the counterparty’ – raising tensions to explosive levels – before, at the very eleventh hour, at the very climax of crisis, offering ‘the deal’. And that was the point (then): Yes, Trump would toss verbal grenades intended to upend conventional expectations, take actions to force an issue – but the objective (as generally understood), was to get a deal: One that would tilt towards America’s mercantile and political interests, but a deal, nonetheless.

Maybe we misread Trump’s build-up of America’s already super-sized military. It seemed that it was about potential leverage: something to be offered (in terms of an umbrella to compliant states), or withdrawn from those who would not put their hand in their pocket deeply enough. But everything changed with Trump’s 8 May statement. It was not just an American ‘exit’ that was mooted, it was full court financial war that was declared against Iran (with ‘terms of surrender’ couched in terms of regime change, and total submission to the US). But this is no longer about how to reach a ‘fairer’, better deal for the US; how to make it more money. Rather the financial system was to be leveraged to destroy another state’s currency and economy. The US military are being super-sized further, to be used: to be able to rain down ‘fire and fury’ on non-compliant states.

Read more …

Sweden is no longer an independent country.

Swedes Told To Prepare For Conflict In Cold War-Style Booklet (R.)

Sweden will send out instructions to its citizens next week on how to cope with an outbreak of war, as the country faces an assertive Russia across the Baltic Sea. The 20-page pamphlet titled “If Crisis or War Comes” gives advice on getting clean water, spotting propaganda and finding a bomb shelter, in the first public awareness campaign of its kind since the days of the Cold War. It also tells Swedes they have a duty to act if their country is threatened. “If Sweden is attacked by another country, we will never give up,” the booklet says. “All information to the effect that resistance is to cease is false.” The leaflet’s publisher, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, did not spell out where an attack might come from.

“Even if Sweden is safer than most countries, threats do exist,” agency head Dan Eliasson told journalists. But Sweden and other countries in the region have been on high alert since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March, 2014. They have also accused Russia of repeated violations of their airspace – assertions that Moscow has either dismissed or not responded to. The Kremlin has in the past insisted that it does not interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries and has accused Western powers of stoking “Russophobia”. Stockholm has repeatedly cited Russian aggression as the reason for a series of security measures including the reintroduction of conscription this year and the stationing of troops on the Baltic island of Gotland.

The Swedish government decided to start increasing military spending from 2016, reversing years of declines. The booklet on its way to Sweden’s 4.8 million households warns that supplies of food, medicine and gasoline could run short during a crisis. It also lists oat milk, tins of Bolognese sauce and salmon balls as examples of food that people should store in case of an emergency along with tortillas and sardines. The publication describes what an air raid warning sounds like in the first such publication handed out since 1961. Sweden has not been at war with anyone for more than 200 years, not since its war with Norway in 1814. It was officially neutral during World War Two.

Read more …

NATO.

Baltic States Ask the US for Bigger Military Presence on Their Soil (SCF)

The foreign ministers (FMs) of the Baltic states have wound up their May 16-18 visit to Washington. They asked National Security Adviser John Bolton to reinforce the NATO battalions that have been deployed to their countries with air and naval units. They also want their air-defense capability enhanced. Lithuanian FM Linas Linkevicius emphasized that it’s not just the numbers that are important, but also training exercises, visits, the distribution of equipment, and the establishment of new military facilities. [..] NATO is ratcheting up tensions by holding an increasing number of large-scale exercises right on Russia’s borders. This greatly elevates the risk of inadvertent escalation. For instance, three major exercises are scheduled to be held in the Baltic region this summer.

On June 3-15, the Saber Strike exercise organized by the US Army Europe will encompass the three Baltic states and Poland, involving over 18,000 troops from 19 countries. About 3,000 American soldiers and over 1,500 combat vehicles will travel from Germany to Latvia and Lithuania. Public roads will be used to move heavy equipment. On June 12-13, the soldiers of the US 2nd Cavalry Regiment will construct a bridge in order to cross the Neman River in Lithuania (in the Kaunas district). Their main mission is to ensure that the forces are ready to rapidly advance, not to merely defend their positions. Eight thousand American airborne troops will land in Latvia during the Swift Response exercise, in order to train alongside Lithuanian and Polish troops.

Namejs 2018 will be held from August 20 to September 2 and will involve over 9,200 Latvian forces, including the military, police, border guards, volunteer reservists, and other state institutions. They will be joined by 650 troops from the US, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, and the Czech Republic. All these large-scale intensive training activities will take place in the background of the planning for Trident Juncture 2018, the largest NATO exercise involving about 40,000 troops, 70 ships, and about 130 aircraft from over 30 nations, which will be deployed to central and northern Norway in October for the live portion of the event. A command post phase will be conducted in Italy. Norway does not have a shoreline in the Baltic Sea but it is a member of the Council of the Baltic Sea States.

Read more …

“..while the policy platform doesn’t explicitly state an intention to leave the euro, the new government plan, if instituted as is, makes that the inevitable end-game…”

Italy on Verge of Inducing a Fresh European Crisis (Cudmore)

It may be time to move on from rising Treasury yields and trade wars. An Italian-led euro crisis is on the verge of becoming the dominant theme for markets. It turns out that the euro break-up trade isn’t dead — it’s just been hibernating and is likely to return with a vengeance in the months ahead if the populists get their way. Their proposed economic policies make no attempt at debt sustainability. Italy already has the largest absolute debt pile in the EU and the second-largest, after Greece, as a percentage of GDP, at 132%. The coalition’s plan sends the signal that it has no intention of ever paying back its debt. Things could spiral quickly because its fiscal promises will send BTP yields much higher, adding to refinancing costs and making the budgetary situation worse.

That creates a dilemma for the EU. Either fund Italy’s largesse at the expense of every other member country, or kick Italy out of the euro. The first option isn’t sustainable. This isn’t a relatively containable problem like Greece. Italy’s economy is almost ten times the size of Greece’s and the third-largest in the euro zone. The PIIGS — Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain — were only ever a problem as a group because of concerns that the contagion would infect Italy. And this isn’t just a sovereign debt problem. Italy’s banks have by far the most non-performing loans in the euro zone, more than a quarter of the total. A section of the plan makes it harder for banks to repossess collateral, further deteriorating the value of those loans.

So while the policy platform doesn’t explicitly state an intention to leave the euro, the new government plan, if instituted as is, makes that the inevitable end-game. Fortunately, the Italian constitution forbids an excessive budget deficit, so may act as a limiting force. However, the concern is whether they can circumvent those restrictions by selecting favorable economic projections. The proposal already seems to be stealthily planning for euro departure with a plan to issue short-term debt contracts to pay back arrears. As my colleague Ferdinando Giugliano suggested on Friday, that’s the first step toward a parallel currency. So Italy’s prospective rulers seem to be fully aware of the end-game and are already planning for it. Investors will soon need to catch up.

Read more …

“..debt could equal GDP within a decade..”

Goldman Sachs: The Fiscal Outlook For The US ‘Is Not Good’ (CNBC)

The fiscal outlook for the United States “is not good,” according to Goldman Sachs, and could pose a threat to the country’s economic security during the next recession. According to forecasts from the bank’s chief economist, the federal deficit will increase from $825 billion (or 4.1% of GDP) to $1.25 trillion (5.5% of GDP) by 2021. And by 2028, the bank expects the number to balloon to $2.05 trillion (7% of GDP). “An expanding deficit and debt level is likely to put upward pressure on interest rates, expanding the deficit further,” Jan Hatzius — Goldman’s chief economist — wrote Sunday. “While we do not believe that the U.S. faces a risk to its ability to borrow or repay, the rising debt level could nevertheless have three consequences long before debt sustainability becomes a major obstacle.”

Legislators passed a package of corporate and individual tax cuts in December, a two-year budget deal in February and a massive spending bill in March that boosted government expenditures on both domestic and military programs. In light of the big spending and easier tax burden, the Congressional Budget Office – Capitol Hill’s nonpartisan financial scorekeeper – in April projected that debt could equal GDP within a decade if Congress extends the tax cuts, a level not seen since World War II. Economic growth should jump above 3% in 2018 thanks to the stimuli, the CBO said, but the acceleration will likely prove brief, and debt held by the public will soar to $28.7 trillion by the end of fiscal 2028.

That could create a precarious situation for Congress if the economy faces an economic downturn in the near term, Hatzius wrote, hampering legislators’ ability provide additional fiscal stimulus. “Lawmakers might hesitate to approve fiscal stimulus in the next downturn in light of the already substantial budget deficit,” the economist said. “While we would expect some additional loosening of fiscal policy during the next downturn, there is a good chance in our view that it would be less aggressive than it was in the last few recessions.”

Read more …

“Is the Federal Reserve playing politics?”

The US is Shackled by Historic Debt (GT)

Do you feel as if you’re drowning in debt? It’s worse than you think. The U.S. government reached a new milestone when our country’s debt topped $21 trillion for the first time. The national debt grows by an average of $17,000 every second – more than some people earn in an entire year. That’s only an average, and During the past eight months, the national debt grew by $52,000 per second. And the trend toward bigger and higher spending is only getting worse. The ratio of national debt to GDP is at 105%, larger than the economy as a whole. In 1981, the national debt comprised a mere 31% of GDP. We are not moving in the right direction. The Treasury Department has plans to borrow $1 trillion this year, an 84% jump from last year.

When individuals borrow, they can use the money wisely to increase their wealth. That’s what happens when people make good investments. What does the government do with all this money? While some of it may be put to good use, the National Science Foundation’s spending $856,000 on having mountain lions run on treadmills can’t be termed prudent spending. Nor can the $2 billion spent on former President Obama’s healthcare website. In 2017, Brooklyn, NY spent $2 million on a 400 square feet restroom in a public park. Flushing money down the toilet?

Why is the government raising interest rates at a time consumer prices and wages are rising only marginally? During Obama’s administration, prices rose 14.6%, and the Federal Reserve kept interest rates low. Inflation is up by a mere 2.2% since Trump took office, and interests rates keep rising. Is the Federal Reserve playing politics? While the rate of inflation was somewhat higher during the Obama years, the Federal Reserve didn’t get aggressive in handling the problem until Trump came to office. If it’s politics, what game is being played?

Read more …

“Americans owe more than 26% of their annual income to this debt.”

US Consumer Debt Set To Reach $4 Trillion By The End Of 2018 (CNBC)

Americans are in a borrowing mood, and their total tab for consumer debt could reach a record $4 trillion by the end of 2018. That’s according to LendingTree, a loan comparison website, which analyzed data from the Federal Reserve on nonmortgage debts including credit cards, and auto, personal and student loans. Americans owe more than 26% of their annual income to this debt. That’s up from 22% in 2010. It’s also higher than debt levels during the mid-2000s when credit availability soared.

Debts on auto loans and credit cards are climbing by more than 7% annually, while housing debt is rising at a little more than 2%. Consumer credit has been rising by 5% to 6% for about two years. LendingTree projects total consumer debt will top $4 trillion by the end of 2018.

That kind of growth is not surprising, according to LendingTree chief economist Tendayi Kapfidze, and is in keeping with the growth of consumer debt that has been happening since 2012. At these levels, consumers are spending about 10% of their income paying these debts each month, Kapfidze said. From 2000 to 2008, that averaged about 12% to 13%, he said. Still, credit card delinquency rates, which are at 2.4%, are low.

Read more …

We’ve seen this movie before.

Learning from America’s Forgotten Default (PS)

One of the most pervasive myths about the United States is that the federal government has never defaulted on its debts. Every time the debt ceiling is debated in Congress, politicians and journalists dust off a common trope: the US doesn’t stiff its creditors. There’s just one problem: it’s not true. There was a time, decades ago, when the US behaved more like a “banana republic” than an advanced economy, restructuring debts unilaterally and retroactively. And, while few people remember this critical period in economic history, it holds valuable lessons for leaders today.

In April 1933, in an effort to help the US escape the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt announced plans to take the US off the gold standard and devalue the dollar. But this would not be as easy as FDR calculated. Most debt contracts at the time included a “gold clause,” which stated that the debtor must pay in “gold coin” or “gold equivalent.” These clauses were introduced during the Civil War as a way to protect investors against a possible inflationary surge. For FDR, however, the gold clause was an obstacle to devaluation. If the currency were devalued without addressing the contractual issue, the dollar value of debts would automatically increase to offset the weaker exchange rate, resulting in massive bankruptcies and huge increases in public debt.

To solve this problem, Congress passed a joint resolution on June 5, 1933, annulling all gold clauses in past and future contracts. The door was opened for devaluation – and for a political fight. Republicans were dismayed that the country’s reputation was being put at risk, while the Roosevelt administration argued that the resolution didn’t amount to “a repudiation of contracts.” On January 30, 1934, the dollar was officially devalued. The price of gold went from $20.67 an ounce – a price in effect since 1834 – to $35 an ounce. Not surprisingly, those holding securities protected by the gold clause claimed that the abrogation was unconstitutional. Lawsuits were filed, and four of them eventually reached the Supreme Court; in January 1935, justices heard two cases that referred to private debts, and two concerning government obligations.

The underlying question in each case was essentially the same: did Congress have the authority to alter contracts retroactively? On February 18, 1935, the Supreme Court announced its decisions. In each case, justices ruled 5-4 in favor of the government – and against investors seeking compensation. According to the majority opinion, the Roosevelt administration could invoke “necessity” as a justification for annulling contracts if it would help free the economy from the Great Depression.

Read more …

“..a bewildering clown culture wrapped in a Potemkin economy..”

You Think It’s All About Guns? (Jim Kunstler)

Is it possible that we Americans only pretend not to notice the conditions that produce an epidemic of school shootings, or is the public just too dumbed-down to connect the dots? Look at the schools themselves. We called them “facilities” because they hardly qualify as buildings: sprawling, one-story, tilt-up, flat-roofed boxes isolated among the parking lagoons out on the six-lane highway strip, disconnected from anything civic, isolated archipelagoes where inchoate teenage emotion festers and rules while the few adults on the scene are regarded as impotent clowns representing a bewildering clown culture wrapped in a Potemkin economy that has nothing to offer young people except a lifetime of debt and “bullshit jobs” — to borrow a phrase from David Graeber.

The world of teens has been exquisitely engineered to steal every opportunity for colonizing the chemical reward centers of their brains to provoke endorphin hits, especially the cell-phone realm of social media, which is almost entirely about status competition, much of which revolves around the wild hormonal promptings of teen sexual development — at the same time they are bombarded with commercial messages designed to prey on their fantasies, longings, and perceived inadequacies. All of this produces immersive and incessant melodrama along with untold grievance, envy, frustration, confusion, and rage. And, of course, where the cell-phone universe leaves off, the world of video games begins, so that boys (especially) get to act-out in “play” the extermination of their competitors and foes.

Read more …

The planet is dying.

Human Race Just 0.01% Of All Life But Eradicated Most Other Living Things (G.)

Humankind is revealed as simultaneously insignificant and utterly dominant in the grand scheme of life on Earth by a groundbreaking new assessment of all life on the planet. The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds. The new work is the first comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature and overturns some long-held assumptions. Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter. All other creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass.

Another surprise is that the teeming life revealed in the oceans by the recent BBC television series Blue Planet II turns out to represent just 1% of all biomass. The vast majority of life is land-based and a large chunk – an eighth – is bacteria buried deep below the surface. “I was shocked to find there wasn’t already a comprehensive, holistic estimate of all the different components of biomass,” said Prof Ron Milo, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who led the work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “I would hope this gives people a perspective on the very dominant role that humanity now plays on Earth,” he said, adding that he now chooses to eat less meat due to the huge environmental impact of livestock.

[..] The transformation of the planet by human activity has led scientists to the brink of declaring a new geological era – the Anthropocene. One suggested marker for this change are the bones of the domestic chicken, now ubiquitous across the globe. The new work reveals that farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.

Read more …

May 202018
 
 May 20, 2018  Posted by at 2:20 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vittorio Matteo Corcos Conversation in the Jardin du Luxembourg 1892

 

Obviously, there are tensions between Europe and the US. Just as obviously, these tensions are blamed on, who else, Donald Trump. European Council President Donald Tusk recently said: “With friends like Trump, who needs enemies?” EU Commission chair Jean-Claude Juncker even proclaimed that “Europe must take America’s place as global leader”.

These European ‘leaders’ love the big words. They think they make them look good, strong. In reality, they are merely messenger boys for Berlin and Paris. Who have infinitely more say than Brussels. Problem is, Berlin and Paris are not united at all. Macron wants more Europe, especially in finance, but Merkel knows she can’t sell that at home.

So what are those big words worth when the whip comes down? It’s amusing to see how different people reach wholly different conclusions about that. Instructive and entertaining. First, Alex Gorka at The Strategic Culture Foundation, who likes the big words too: “..a landmark event that will go down in history as the day Europe united to openly defy the US.” and “May 17 is the day the revolt started and there is no going back. Europe has said goodbye to trans-Atlantic unity. It looks like it has had enough.

 

Brussels Rises In Revolt Against Washington: A Turning Point In US-European Relations

The May 16-17 EU-Western Balkans summit did address the problems of integration, but it was eclipsed by another issue. The meeting turned out to be a landmark event that will go down in history as the day Europe united to openly defy the US. The EU will neither review the Iran nuclear deal (JPCOA) nor join the sanctions against Tehran that have been reintroduced and even intensified by America.

Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the JPCOA was the last straw, forcing the collapse of Western unity. The Europeans found themselves up against a wall. There is no point in discussing further integration or any other matter if the EU cannot protect its own members. But now it can.

[..] As European Council President Donald Tusk put it, “With friends like Trump, who needs enemies?” According to him, the US president has “rid Europe of all illusions.” Mr. Tusk wants Europe to “stick to our guns” against new US policies. Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the EU Commission, believes that “Europe must take America’s place as global leader” because Washington has turned its back on its allies.

Washington “no longer wants to cooperate.” It is turning away from friendly relations “with ferocity.” Mr. Juncker thinks the time is ripe for Europe “to replace the United States, which as an international actor has lost vigor.” It would have been unthinkable not long ago for a top EU official to say such things and challenge the US global leadership. Now the unthinkable has become reality.

[..] Sandra Oudkirk, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy, has just threatened to sanction the Europeans if they continue with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project to bring gas in from Russia across the Baltic Sea.

[..] President Donald Trump has just instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to prepare a list of new sanctions against the Russian Federation for its alleged violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. [..] But nobody in Europe has announced that they want US nuclear-tipped intermediate- range weapons on their territory that will be a target for a potential retaliatory strike by Russia.

[..] The time is ripe for Brussels to stop this sanctions-counter-sanctions mayhem and stake out its own independent policies on Russia, Iran, defense, and other issues, that will protect European, not US, national interests. May 17 is the day the revolt started and there is no going back. Europe has said goodbye to trans-Atlantic unity. It looks like it has had enough.

As for placing new nukes in Europe, that will be a hard sell. But the US will probably find countries that say yes, provided they are compensated well. Just don’t try it in Holland, Germany or France. But also don’t forget the amount of nukes already on the continent: just call it an upgrade.

Nord Stream 2 is tricky, but mostly an economic issue: Trump wants to sell American gas to Europe, and uses the bad bad Putin narrative to make that happen. Still, the pipeline has been in the pipeline for a long time, and a lot of time and money has been spent on it. It’ll be hard for the US to cut it off at this late stage.

When it comes to claiming the EU will not review the Iran nuclear deal, isn’t that exactly what they are indeed doing? Reuters:

 

Europe, China, Russia Discussing New Deal For Iran

Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions. One of the main complaints of the Trump administration was that the accord did not cover Iran’s missile program or its support for armed groups in the Middle East which the West considers terrorists.

Concluding a new agreement that would maintain the nuclear provisions and curb ballistic missile development efforts and Tehran’s activities in the region could help convince Trump to lift sanctions against Iran, the paper said. “We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the paper quoted a senior EU diplomat as saying.

All in all, Mr. Gorka doesn’t convince me. Europe doesn’t speak with one voice, and we wouldn’t even know which voice speaks for it. Just that it isn’t Juncker or Tusk, they’re handpuppets. Moreover, Europe has so many internal issues to deal with that it has a hard time speaking at all. A landmark event in US-EU relations may happen one day, but May 17 wasn’t it.

What I find more interesting is the account of academic John Laughland, ‘a historian and specialist in international affairs’, at RT:

 

With Iran Sanctions Trump Made Europeans Look Like The Fools They Are

Donald Tusk may say “Europe must be united economically, politically and also militarily like never before … either we are together or we are not at all” but Europe is indeed not “together” at all. The Brussels commission is hounding Poland and Hungary on what are clearly internal political matters beyond the Commission’s remit; the EU is about to lose one of its most important member states; and a new government is going to take power in Rome whose economic policies (a flat tax at 15%) will blow the eurozone’s borrowing rules out of the water and perhaps cause Italy to leave the euro.

The Italian 5-Star/League government also wants an end to the EU sanctions against Russia; these are voted by a unanimity which, although fragile, has held until now but which, if the new power in Rome keeps its word, will shortly collapse. In other words, what Trump has done is to make the Europeans look like the fools they are. In circumstances in which the EU has placed all its eggs in one basket, a basket which Trump has now overturned, it will be impossible for it to come together. On the contrary, it is falling apart.

[..] the EU draws its entire legitimacy from the belief that by pooling sovereignty and by merging its states into one entity, it has advanced beyond the age when international relations were decided by force. It believes that it embodies instead a new international system based on rules and agreements, and that any other system leads to war. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this belief for European leaders; yet Donald Trump has just driven a coach and horses through it.

The angry statements by European leaders might lead one to think that we are on the cusp of a major reappraisal of trans-Atlantic relations. However, the reality is that the EU and its leaders have painted themselves into a corner from which it will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to extricate themselves.

Like I said, completely different conclusions based on the exact same events. The EU risks what might turn into an existential crisis with Beppe Grillo effectively holding the reins of power in Rome. The new government may have dropped the demand for a €260 billion debt relief, but the basic income plan is still there, and so is dropping Russian sanctions.

The new guys can’t divert from their election promises much further, they need to maintain their credibility. But for a lot of their promises it is not at all clear how they could possible fit into the present EU structure. Try their demand for a mechanism to leave the EU.

Italy is so large that Brussels cannot be too aggressive against it. The ECB cannot stop buying Italian bonds, as it did with Greek ones. And at some point the debt relief demand will return too.

But Laughland has a lot more cold water to pour on the alleged but toothless European revolt. In the shape of NATO. This is scary for every European:

 

[..] the links between the EU and the US are not only very long-standing, they are also set in stone. NATO and the EU are in reality Siamese twins, two bodies born at the same time which are joined at the hip. The first European community was created with overt and covert US support in 1950 in order to militarize Western Europe and to prepare it to fight a land war against the Soviet Union; NATO acquired its integrated command structure a few months later and its Supreme Commander is always an American.

Today the two organizations are legally inseparable because the consolidated Treaty on European Union, in the form adopted at Lisbon in 2009, states that EU foreign policy “shall respect” the obligations of NATO member states and that it shall “be compatible” with NATO policy. In other words, the constitutional charter of the EU subordinates it to NATO, which the USA dominates legally and structurally. In such circumstances, European states can only liberate themselves from US hegemony, as Donald Tusk said they should, by leaving the EU. It is obvious that they are not prepared to do that.

Anything else about those dreams of standing up to Trump? Have the past and present leaders in Brussels, and in Berlin and Paris and Rome, betrayed their own citizens? Sold them out? How far removed is this from treason? And does this perhaps indicate that it’s high time for a complete and utter overhaul of the European Union?

It sure sounds a lot more realistic than Europe replacing America as the global leader.

Who needs enemies? NATO does.

 

 

May 202018
 
 May 20, 2018  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Roman Vishniac Isaac Street, Krakow 1930s

 

Stefan Halper: The FBI Informant Who Monitored the Trump Campaign (GG)
IG Horowitz Finds FBI, DOJ Broke Law In Clinton Probe (ZH)
China Agrees To Bolster Purchases Of US Goods (CNBC)
With Iran Sanctions Trump Made Europeans Look Like The Fools They Are (RT)
Europe, China, Russia Discussing New Deal For Iran (R.)
Now Facebook Serves NATO’s Agenda (McDonald)
Hedge Funds Bet On Big Turnaround By Italy’s Mid-Tier Banks (R.)
Companies Are Now Paying Off Their Employees’ Student Loans (CNBC)
What Happens In An Internet Minute In 2018? (WEF)
Drunk People Are Better at Creative Problem Solving (HBR)

 

 

Why not just call him a spy?

Stefan Halper: The FBI Informant Who Monitored the Trump Campaign (GG)

An extremely strange episode that has engulfed official Washington over the last two weeks came to a truly bizarre conclusion on Friday night. And it revolves around a long-time, highly sketchy CIA operative, Stefan Halper. Four decades ago, Halper was responsible for a long-forgotten spying scandal involving the 1980 election, in which the Reagan campaign – using CIA officials managed by Halper, reportedly under the direction of former CIA Director and then-Vice-Presidential candidate George H.W. Bush – got caught running a spying operation from inside the Carter administration. The plot involved CIA operatives passing classified information about Carter’s foreign policy to Reagan campaign officials in order to ensure the Reagan campaign knew of any foreign policy decisions that Carter was considering.

Over the past several weeks, House Republicans have been claiming that the FBI during the 2016 election used an operative to spy on the Trump campaign, and they triggered outrage within the FBI by trying to learn his identity. The controversy escalated when President Trump joined the fray on Friday morning. “Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president,” Trump tweeted, adding: “It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a “hot” Fake News story. If true – all time biggest political scandal!”

In response, the DOJ and the FBI’s various media spokespeople did not deny the core accusation, but quibbled with the language (the FBI used an “informant,” not a “spy”), and then began using increasingly strident language to warn that exposing his name would jeopardize his life and those of others, and also put American national security at grave risk. On May 8, the Washington Post described the informant as “a top-secret intelligence source” and cited DOJ officials as arguing that disclosure of his name “could risk lives by potentially exposing the source, a U.S. citizen who has provided intelligence to the CIA and FBI.”

Read more …

Excellent from Zero Hedge. Things are going to change. Read the whole thing.

IG Horowitz Finds FBI, DOJ Broke Law In Clinton Probe (ZH)

As we reported on Thursday, a long-awaited report by the Department of Justice’s internal watchdog into the Hillary Clinton email investigation has moved into its final phase, as the DOJ notified multiple subjects mentioned in the document that they can privately review it by week’s end, and will have a “few days” to craft any response to criticism contained within the report, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Those invited to review the report were told they would have to sign nondisclosure agreements in order to read it, people familiar with the matter said. They are expected to have a few days to craft a response to any criticism in the report, which will then be incorporated in the final version to be released in coming weeks.” -WSJ

Now, journalist Paul Sperry reports that “IG Horowitz has found “reasonable grounds” for believing there has been a violation of federal criminal law in the FBI/DOJ’s handling of the Clinton investigation/s and has referred his findings of potential criminal misconduct to Huber for possible criminal prosecution.” Sperry also noted on Twitter that the FBI and DOJ had been targeting former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn before his December 2016 phone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, stemming from photos of Flynn at a December 2015 Moscow event with Vladimir Putin (and Jill Stein). As we reported in March, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed John Huber – Utah’s top federal prosecutor, to be paired with IG Horowitz to investigate the multitude of accusations of FBI misconduct surrounding the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The announcement came one day after Inspector General Michael Horowitz confirmed that he will also be investigating allegations of FBI FISA abuse. While Huber’s appointment fell short of the second special counsel demanded by Congressional investigators and concerned citizens alike, his appointment and subsequent pairing with Horowitz is notable – as many have pointed out that the Inspector General is significantly limited in his abilities to investigate. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) noted in March “the IG’s office does not have authority to compel witness interviews, including from past employees, so its investigation will be limited in scope in comparison to a Special Counsel investigation,” Sessions’ pairing of Horowitz with Huber keeps the investigation under the DOJ’s roof and out of the hands of an independent investigator.

Read more …

You’ll need to put meat on that bone.

China Agrees To Bolster Purchases Of US Goods (CNBC)

China and the U.S. have mutually agreed to “substantially reduce” the yawning trade imbalance between the two countries, a joint statement read on Saturday, in a move that will involve the Chinese boosting more of what they buy from American producers. Amid fears of a global trade war and rising tensions between the world’s two largest economies, both China and the U.S. have entered bilateral talks to bolster cooperation. In a statement issued by the White House, both parties forged a “consensus on taking effective measures to substantially reduce the United States trade deficit in goods with China.”

Just a day ago, both countries were sharply at odds over a claim, made by White House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow, that China would move to cut its trade deficit with the U.S. by $200 billion annually. That characterization was disputed by Chinese officials. Left unclear was exactly how much the Chinese would boost its purchases of U.S. goods. The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that China’s delegation rebuffed American demands to commit to an exact deficit reduction figure, and the two sides bickered all night over the statement’s language. The trade imbalance has long been a thorny and intractable topic in the Sino-US relationship.

Commerce Department data recently showed that imbalance between what China buys from the U.S. and vice versa hit a record in 2017 at over $375 billion. However, President Donald Trump has staked a resolution of the dispute on his personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. This week, Kudlow stated that China was “meeting many” Trump administration demands to cut its U.S. surplus. The statement released on Saturday struck a conciliatory tone. “To meet the growing consumption needs of the Chinese people and the need for high-quality economic development, China will significantly increase purchases of United States goods and services. This will help support growth and employment in the United States,” it read.

Read more …

John Laughland: “..the constitutional charter of the EU subordinates it to NATO, which the USA dominates legally and structurally ..”

With Iran Sanctions Trump Made Europeans Look Like The Fools They Are (RT)

First, the links between the EU and the US are not only very long-standing, they are also set in stone. NATO and the EU are in reality Siamese twins, two bodies born at the same time which are joined at the hip. The first European community was created with overt and covert US support in 1950 in order to militarize Western Europe and to prepare it to fight a land war against the Soviet Union; NATO acquired its integrated command structure a few months later and its Supreme Commander is always an American.

Today the two organizations are legally inseparable because the consolidated Treaty on European Union, in the form adopted at Lisbon in 2009, states that EU foreign policy “shall respect” the obligations of NATO member states and that it shall “be compatible” with NATO policy. In other words, the constitutional charter of the EU subordinates it to NATO, which the USA dominates legally and structurally. In such circumstances, European states can only liberate themselves from US hegemony, as Donald Tusk said they should, by leaving the EU. It is obvious that they are not prepared to do that.

Second, EU leaders have burned their own bridges with other potential partners, especially Russia. Angela Merkel traveled to Russia on Friday but only a few weeks ago more than half of the EU member states expelled scores of Russian diplomats and encouraged non-EU European states like Ukraine and Montenegro to do the same, in retaliation for the poisoning in Salisbury of Sergei and Julia Skripal.

How is Mrs Merkel going to convince Mr Putin to join her in keeping Iran’s nuclear program under control if she officially thinks that Mr Putin is guilty of secretly stockpiling and using chemical weapons for assassinations in the West? Only a few weeks later, in mid-April, Britain and France, together with the US, attacked Syria on the basis that its army had used chemical weapons at Douma with Russian backing. If they try to turn on the charm now in Sochi or in Moscow, do they really expect the Russians can take them seriously?

Read more …

It might yet work.

Europe, China, Russia Discussing New Deal For Iran (R.)

Diplomats from Europe, China and Russia are discussing a new accord to offer Iran financial aid to curb its ballistic missile development and meddling in the region, in the hope of salvaging its 2015 nuclear deal, a German newspaper reported on Sunday. The officials will meet in Vienna in the coming week under the leadership of senior European Union diplomat Helga Schmid to discuss next steps after the May 8 decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to pull out of a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper said, citing senior EU sources. Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China would participate in the meeting, but the United States would not, it said. It was not immediately clear if Iran – which has resisted calls to curb its ballistic missile program in the past – would take part.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions. One of the main complaints of the Trump administration was that the accord did not cover Iran’s missile program or its support for armed groups in the Middle East which the West considers terrorists. Concluding a new agreement that would maintain the nuclear provisions and curb ballistic missile development efforts and Tehran’s activities in the region could help convince Trump to lift sanctions against Iran, the paper said. “We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the paper quoted a senior EU diplomat as saying.

Read more …

CIA, military, they all want in.

Now Facebook Serves NATO’s Agenda (McDonald)

Facebook has engaged a think tank funded by weapons manufacturers, branches of the US military and Middle-Eastern monarchies to safeguard the democratic process. It’s akin to hiring arsonists to run the fire brigade.
If Facebook truly wanted to “protect democracy and elections worldwide,” it would build a broad coalition of experts and activists from a wide and disparate range of the countries it serves. Instead, the American social media giant has outsourced the task to NATO’s propaganda wing. For the uninitiated, the Atlantic Council serves as the American-led alliance’s chief advocacy group. And its methods are rather simple: it grants stipends and faux academic titles to various activists that align with NATO’s agenda.

Thus, lobbyists become “fellows” and “experts,” while the enterprise constructs a neutral sheen, which is rarely (if ever) challenged by Western media outlets – often reliant on its employees for easy comment and free op-eds. While that has always been ethically questionable, Facebook’s latest move, given its effective monopoly position, is far more sinister. Because it is now tied to a “think tank” which has proposed terrorist attacks in Russia and has demanded Russian-funded news outlets be forced to register as “foreign agents” in the United States. Make no mistake: this is a dream scenario for NATO and those who depend on it for their livelihoods and status. Because the Atlantic Council is now perfectly positioned to be the tail wagging the Facebook dog in the information space.

On Thursday, the social network announced how it was “excited to launch a new partnership with the Atlantic Council, which has a stellar reputation looking at innovative solutions to hard problems.” It then added that “experts” from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL) will liaise closely with Facebook’s “security, policy and product teams” to offer “real-time insights and updates on emerging threats and disinformation campaigns from around the world.” Now, this sort of talk would be fine if Facebook had assembled a diverse group, comprised of stakeholders from a wide range of democracies. But, by selecting a clearly biased actor to police “misinformation and foreign interference” during “elections and other highly sensitive moments” and also work to “help educate citizens as well as civil society,” Mark Zuckerberg’s team has essentially made their company a tool of the US military agenda.

Read more …

Wonder what the new government will do to this.

Hedge Funds Bet On Big Turnaround By Italy’s Mid-Tier Banks (R.)

Major hedge funds have picked Italian mid-tier banks as one of Europe’s few remaining recovery plays, betting they will shed billions of euros in bad loans. Europe’s 2010-2012 debt crisis left Italy’s banks with among the euro zone’s biggest hangovers, some 285 billion euros ($338 billion) of soured debt on their balance sheets. But when Credito Valtellinese sold new shares in a February rights issue for eight times its market value, they were lapped up by hedge funds in the United States and Britain. Now the mid-sized Italian bank counts Algebris Chief Investment Officer Davide Serra, Toscafund Asset Management and a hedge fund run by Eurizon Capital SGR among its biggest investors, Thomson Reuters data shows.

So far the bet seems to be paying off as Italy’s bank shares have risen 15% year-to-date against a fall of 1% for European banks, while Credito Valtellinese stock has risen 7.5% since the rights issue completion. Although the price-to-book ratio of Italian banks has improved since Rome announced a state bailout fund in 2016, it trades around 8% below the European sector average. Even the possible formation of a new government comprising two anti-establishment parties has not put off many of the funds contacted by Reuters, some of whom invested in Greek government bonds on a similar bet, who said the investment stacked up despite the vagaries of Italian politics.

Italy’s bad loans are a legacy of the recession that followed the debt crisis and with small and medium-sized businesses heavily dependent on bank lending, the soured loans have long been a drag on the third biggest euro zone economy. But pressure from regulators has begun to have an impact and the ratio of gross impaired loans to total loans has fallen to 14.5% from 17.3% a year ago, Bank of Italy data shows ..

Read more …

But move away from paying for the education.

Companies Are Now Paying Off Their Employees’ Student Loans (CNBC)

Student loan assistance, which started as a niche offering by a handful of companies, is finding its way into the mainstream menu of workplace benefits. “This is certainly emerging as a new and very important benefit,” said David Pratt, a professor at Albany Law School who studies employee benefits. This year, Fidelity began to offer businesses a way to contribute to their workers’ education debt. Since then, more than two dozen companies have signed up and it expects that number to double by the year’s finish. “This is going to grow rapidly over time,” said Asha Srikantiah, vice president of workplace emerging products at Fidelity. “We’re seeing so many more people who have debt and who are overwhelmed by that.”

Indeed, 7 in 10 college graduates have student loan debt. The average person leaves school $30,000 in arrears, while nearly 20% owe more than $100,000. Americans are now more burdened by education loans than they are by credit card or auto debt. [..] one of the factors likely contributing to the nation’s swelling student loan debt is that the number of employers helping their workers with their original education costs is shrinking. Company contributions to undergraduate education expenses dropped to 53% in 2017, from 61% in 2013, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. During that same time period, graduate school assistance at work also fell, to 50% from about 60%.

Read more …

100 trillion emails per year.

What Happens In An Internet Minute In 2018? (WEF)

In your everyday life, a minute might not seem like much. But when it comes to the vast scale of the internet, a minute of time goes much further than you ever could have imagined. That’s because the internet has a degree of scale that our linear human brains are unaccustomed to operating on. Today’s infographic is from Lori Lewis and Chadd Callahan of Cumulus Media, and it shows the activity taking place on various platforms such as Facebook or Google in each 60 second span. It really helps put an internet minute in perspective.

The numbers for these services are so enormous that they can only be shown using the 60 second time scale. Any bigger, and our brains can’t even process these massive quantities in any useful capacity. Here are just a few key numbers scaled to a monthly basis, for fun: • 42,033,600,000 Facebook logins • 159,840,000,000 Google searches • 1,641,600,000,000 WhatsApp messages sent • 8,078,400,000,000 emails sent On an annualized basis, the data becomes even more ridiculous, with something close to 100 trillion emails sent.

Read more …

The world’s biggest problems are solved in bars.

Drunk People Are Better at Creative Problem Solving (HBR)

Professor Andrew Jarosz of Mississippi State University and colleagues served vodka-cranberry cocktails to 20 male subjects until their blood alcohol levels neared legal intoxication and then gave each a series of word association problems to solve. Not only did those who imbibed give more correct answers than a sober control group performing the same task, but they also arrived at solutions more quickly. The conclusion: drunk people are better at creative problem solving.

JAROSZ: You often hear of great writers, artists, and composers who claim that alcohol enhanced their creativity, or people who say their ideas are better after a few drinks. We wanted to see if we could find evidence to back that up, and though this was a small experiment, we did. We gave participants 15 questions from a creative problem-solving assessment called the Remote Associates Test, or RAT—for example, “What word relates to these three: ‘duck,’ ‘dollar,’ ‘fold’?”; the answer to which is “bill.” We found that the tipsy people solved two to three more problems than folks who stayed sober. They also submitted their answers more quickly within the one-minute-per-question time limit, which is maybe even more surprising.

HBR: So alcohol doesn’t slow us down mentally after all? It still does, but we think that creative problem solving is one area in which a key effect of drunkenness—loss of focus—is a good thing. In an exercise like the RAT, it’s important not to fixate on your first thought, and alcohol seems to help that seemingly irrelevant stuff slip in. When we asked participants how much they relied on strategic thinking versus sudden insights to solve the problems, the intoxicated people reported solving via insight on 10% more problems than their sober counterparts did.

Read more …