Aug 012017
 
 August 1, 2017  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Paul Cézanne Young Italian Woman at a Table c1900

 

How Can The Richest Nation On Earth Be Lagging So Far Behind Its Peers? (BBG)
With LIBOR Dead, $400 Trillion In Assets Are Stuck In Limbo (ZH)
Amazon And The 110% Surge In US Retail Bankruptcies (ZH)
No Bubble in Stocks But Look Out When Bonds Pop, Greenspan Says (BBG)
Trump Got This One Right: Shutting Down The CIA’s Ghost War In Syria (WS)
The Tweet That Is Shaking the War Party (David Stockman)
Pentagon Offers To Arm Ukraine, McCain Delighted (ZH)
Killing Them is Killing Us (Robert Gore)
Scaramucci’s China Dealings Pushed Him Out Of White House – Rickards (CNBC)
Unsecured UK Consumer Credit Tops £200 Billion For First Time Since 2008 (G.)
Moody’s Warns Of Growing UK Household Debt As Brexit Downturn Looms (Ind.)
Facebook AI Creates Its Own Language In Creepy Preview Of Our Future (F.)
Narratives Are Not Truths (Jim Kunstler)
Aid Groups Snub Italian Code Of Conduct On Mediterranean Rescues (G.)

 

 

I blame Darwin.

How Can The Richest Nation On Earth Be Lagging So Far Behind Its Peers? (BBG)

What do the economists at the IMF see when they look at the U.S.? An economy in the midst of a long expansion (“its third longest expansion since 1850”), with “persistently strong” job growth, “subdued” inflation and something close to “full employment.” But also this: For some time now there has been a general sense that household incomes are stagnating for a large share of the population, job opportunities are deteriorating, prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy. This sense is generally borne out by economic data and when comparing the U.S. with other advanced economies. The IMF then goes on to compare the U.S. with 23 other advanced economies in the OECD in this chart:

[..] the overall point is that the U.S. has been losing ground relative to other OECD members in most measures of living standards. 1 And in the areas where the U.S. hasn’t lost ground (poverty rates, high school graduation rates), it was at or near the bottom of the heap to begin with. The clear message is that the U.S. – the richest nation on Earth, as is frequently proclaimed, although it’s actually not the richest per capita – is increasingly becoming the developed world’s poor relation as far as the actual living standards of most of its population go. This analysis is contained in the staff report of the IMF’s annual “consultation” with the U.S., which was published last week. Another IMF report released last week, an update to its World Economic Outlook that downgraded short-term growth forecasts for the U.S. and U.K., got a lot more attention. But the consultation report is more interesting.

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With Libor shut down to prevent revelations of involvement in manipulation by ‘higher-ups’, what will these same ‘higher-ups’ opt to use instead? Who has the political clout to make the decisions?

They better hurry: “moving an existing $9.6 trillion retail mortgage market, $3.5 trillion commercial real estate market, $3.4 trillion loan market and a $350 trillion derivatives market is a herculean task.”

With LIBOR Dead, $400 Trillion In Assets Are Stuck In Limbo (ZH)

In an unexpected announcement, earlier this week the U.K.’s top regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority which is tasked with overseeing Libor, announced that the world’s most important, and manipulated, benchmark rate will be phased out by 2021, catching countless FX, credit, derivative, and other traders by surprise because while much attention had been given to possible LIBOR alternatives across the globe (in a time when the credibility of the Libor was non-existent) this was the first time an end date had been suggested for the global benchmark, which as we explained on Thursday, had died from disuse over the past 5 years.

Commenting on the decision, NatWest Markets’ Blake Gwinn told Bloomberg that the decision was largely inevitable: “There had never been an answer as to how you get market participants to adopt a new benchmark. It was clear at some point authorities were going to force them. The FCA can compel people to participate in Libor. What can ICE do if they’ve lost the ability to get banks to submit Libor rates?” And while the rationale for replacing Libor is well understood (for those unfamiliar, read David Enrich’s “The Spider Network”), there are still no clear alternatives. Ultimately, as Bank of America calculates, “moving an existing $9.6 trillion retail mortgage market, $3.5 trillion commercial real estate market, $3.4 trillion loan market and a $350 trillion derivatives market is a herculean task.”

And with nearly half a quadrillion dollar in securities referncing a benchmark that is set to expire in under 5 years, the biggest problem is one of continuity: as Bloomberg calculated last week, in addition to the hundreds of trillion in referencing securities, there is also currently an open interest of 170,000 eurodollar futures contracts expiring in 2022 and beyond – contracts that settle into a benchmark that will no longer exist. “What are existing contract holders and market makers supposed to do?” Then there is the question of succession: with over $300 trillion in derivative trades, and countless billions in floating debt contracts, referening Libor, the pressing question is what will replace it, and how will the transition be implemented seamlessly?

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Tech monopolies are devastating economies.

Amazon And The 110% Surge In US Retail Bankruptcies (ZH)

As Amazon flirts with a $500 billion market cap, letting Jeff Bezos try on the title of world’s richest man on for size if only for a few hours, for Amazon’s competitors it’s “everything must go” day everyday, as the bad news in the retail sector continue to pile up with the latest Fitch report that the default rate for distressed retailers spiked again in July. According to the rating agency, the trailing 12-month high-yield default rate among U.S. retailers rose to 2.9% in mid-July from 1.8% at the end of June, after J. Crew completed a $566 million distressed-debt exchange. Meanwhile, with the shale sector flooded with Wall Street’s easy money, the overall high-yield default rate tumbled to 1.9% in the same period from 2.2% at the end of June as $4.7 billion of defaulted debt – mostly in the energy sector – rolled out of the default universe.

In a note, Fitch levfin sr. director Eric Rosenthal, said that “even with energy prices languishing in the mid $40s, a likely iHeart bankruptcy and retail remaining the sector of concern, the broader default environment remains benign.” He’s right: after the energy sector dominated bankruptcies in the first half of 2016, accounting for 21% of Chapter 11 cases, in H1 2017 the worst two sectors for bankruptcies are financials and consumer discretionary. And if recent trends are an indication, the latter will only get worse as Fitch expects Claire’s, Sears Holdings and Nine West all to default by the end of the year, pushing the default rate to 9%. “The timing on Sears and Claire’s is more uncertain, and our retail forecast would end the year at 5% absent these filings,” Rosenthal wrote. Putting the retail sector woes in context, Reorg First Day has calculated that retail bankruptcies soared 110% in the first half from the year-earlier period, accounting for $6 billion in debt.

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Oracle dementia.

No Bubble in Stocks But Look Out When Bonds Pop, Greenspan Says (BBG)

Equity bears hunting for excess in the stock market might be better off worrying about bond prices, Alan Greenspan says. That’s where the actual bubble is, and when it pops, it’ll be bad for everyone. “By any measure, real long-term interest rates are much too low and therefore unsustainable,” the former Federal Reserve chairman said in an interview. “When they move higher they are likely to move reasonably fast. We are experiencing a bubble, not in stock prices but in bond prices. This is not discounted in the marketplace.” While the consensus of Wall Street forecasters is still for low rates to persist, Greenspan isn’t alone in warning they will break higher quickly as the era of global central-bank monetary accommodation ends.

Deutsche Bank’s Binky Chadha says real Treasury yields sit far below where actual growth levels suggest they should be. Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets, says it’s only a matter of time before inflationary pressures hit the bond market. “The real problem is that when the bond-market bubble collapses, long-term interest rates will rise,” Greenspan said. “We are moving into a different phase of the economy – to a stagflation not seen since the 1970s. That is not good for asset prices.” Stocks, in particular, will suffer with bonds, as surging real interest rates will challenge one of the few remaining valuation cases that looks more gently upon U.S. equity prices, Greenspan argues. While hardly universally accepted, the theory underpinning his view, known as the Fed Model, holds that as long as bonds are rallying faster than stocks, investors are justified in sticking with the less-inflated asset.

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How on earth can Obama and Hillary have supported this?

Trump Got This One Right: Shutting Down The CIA’s Ghost War In Syria (WS)

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump was shown a disturbing video of Syrian rebels beheading a child near the city of Aleppo. It had caused a minor stir in the press as the fighters belonged to the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, a group that had been supported by the CIA as part of its rebel aid program. The footage is haunting. Five bearded men smirk as they surround a boy in the back of a pickup truck. One of them holds the boy’s head with a tight grip on his hair while another mockingly slaps his face. Then, one of them uses a knife to saw the child’s head off and holds it up in the air like a trophy. It is a scene reminiscent of the Islamic State’s snuff videos, except this wasn’t the work of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men. The murderers were supposed to be the good guys: our allies.

Trump wanted to know why the United States had backed Zenki if its members are extremists. The issue was discussed at length with senior intelligence officials, and no good answers were forthcoming, according to people familiar with the conversations. After learning more worrisome details about the CIA’s ghost war in Syria—including that U.S.-backed rebels had often fought alongside extremists, among them al Qaeda’s arm in the country—the president decided to end the program altogether. On July 19, the Washington Post broke the news of Trump’s decision: “a move long sought by Russia,” the paper’s headline blared. Politicians from both sides of the aisle quickly howled in protest, claiming that Trump’s decision was a surrender to Vladimir Putin.

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I said it before: Stockman’s had enough.

The Tweet That Is Shaking the War Party (David Stockman)

Most of the Donald’s tweets amount to street brawling with his political enemies, but occasionally one of them slices through Imperial Washington’s sanctimonious cant. Indeed, Monday evening’s 140 characters of solid cut right to the bone: “The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad…..” Needless to say, we are referencing not the dig at the empire of Bezos, but the characterization of Washington’s anti-Assad policy as “massive, dangerous and wasteful”. No stouter blow to the neocon/Deep State “regime change” folly has ever been issued by an elected public official. Yet there it is – the self-composed words of the man in the Oval Office. It makes you even want to buy some Twitter stock! Predictably, the chief proponent of illegal, covert, cowardly attacks on foreign governments via proxies, mercenaries, drones and special forces, Senator McWar of Arizona, fairly leapt out of his hospital bed to denounce the President’s action: “If these reports are true, the administration is playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin.”

That’s just plain pathetic because the issue is the gross stupidity and massive harm that has been done by McCain’s personally inspired and directed war on Assad – not Putin and not Russia’s historic role as an ally of the Syrian regime. Since 2011, Senator McCain has been to the region countless times. There he has made it his business to strut about in the manner of an imperial proconsul – advising, organizing and directing a CIA recruited, trained and supplied army of rebels dedicated to the overthrow of Syria’s constitutionally legitimate government. At length, several billions were spent on training and arms, thereby turning a fleeting popular uprising against the despotic Assad regime during the 2011 “Arab spring” into the most vicious, destructive civil war of modern times, if ever. That is, without the massive outside assistance of Washington, Saudi Arabia and the emirates, the Syrian uprising would have been snuffed out as fast as it was in Egypt and Bahrain by dictators which had Washington’s approval and arms.

As it has happened, however, Syria’s great historic cities of Aleppo and Damascus have been virtually destroyed – along with its lesser towns and villages and nearly the entirety of its economy. There are 400,000 dead and 11 million internal and external refugees from an original population of hardly 18 million. The human toll of death, displacement, disease and disorder which has been inflicted on this hapless land staggers the imagination. Yet at bottom this crime against humanity – there is no other word for it – is not mainly Assad’s or Putin’s doing. It can be properly described as “McCain’s War” in the manner in which (Congressman) Charlie Wilson’s War in Afghanistan during the 1980’s created the monster which became Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda.

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And of course they just go on.

Pentagon Offers To Arm Ukraine, McCain Delighted (ZH)

The WSJ reports that, in what appears to be the next gambit by the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex (or “deep state” for those so inclined) to force Trump to “prove” that he did not, in fact, collude or have any ties with Russia or Vladimir Putin, Pentagon and State Department officials have devised plans to hit Russia where it hurts the most, and supply Ukraine with antitank missiles and other weaponry, and are now seeking White House approval at a time when ties between Moscow and Washington are as bad as during any point under the Obama administration. American military officials and diplomats say the arms, which they characterized as defensive, are meant to deter aggressive actions by Moscow, which the U.S. and others say has provided tanks and other sophisticated armaments as well as military advisers to rebels fighting the Kiev government.

The question of course is, “why now?” Since the start of the Crimean conflict, which in turn was the byproduct of a State Department-facilitiated presidential coup in Ukraine, the US has been supporting Russian-speaking insurgents in the country’s east however Washington, wary of escalating the conflict, has largely limited its support for Kiev’s military to so-called non-lethal aid and training. So one attempt at “why now”, is because with Trump reeling, and having already caved on the latest Congressional anti-Russia bill, why not push the president to escalate the Russia conflict to a point where not even his predecessor dared to take it. For now, Trump is unaware of the plan: “A senior administration official said there has been no decision on the armaments proposal and it wasn’t discussed at a high-level White House meeting on Russia last week. The official said President Donald Trump hasn’t been briefed on the plan and his position isn’t known.”

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“The blood never washes away.”

Killing Them is Killing Us (Robert Gore)

There is something eerily fascinating about cold-blooded murderers – a staple of Hollywood thrillers and crime dramas—killing without emotion or remorse. Ordinary humans, afflicted with guilt for minor, not even criminal transgressions, can’t conceive of pulling the trigger and then sitting down for dinner. In real life, the number of people who can is glancingly small. Even for those few, actions have consequences. The blood never washes away. “Live and let live,” is, in American mythology, a benevolent and almost uniquely American attitude. We destroyed Japan and Germany in World War II and then helped rebuild them. Live and let live goes down well with the living, the winners. However, it’s often nothing more than balm for an uneasy conscience, hand sanitizer for bloodstained hands.

A century and a half later, many Southerners lack this “unique” American attitude towards their conquerers in the War of Northern Aggression. The war on terror has laid waste to large swaths of the Middle East and Northern Africa. Cities, towns, and villages have been reduced to smoking, bombed-out rubble, chaos reigns, the carnage is ubiquitous. The US military keeps count of its own personnel wounded and killed, a number in the thousands. Civilian casualties —or collateral damage as the military calls it—across Chaostan (Richard Maybury’s apt coinage) are in the millions, as are the number of people displaced (an estimated 11 million in Syria alone).

Imagine the American fury and media sensationalism if a small US town was carpet-bombed by a foreign power. YouTube’s servers would melt from the overflow of viewers watching videos of parents pulling their dead children from collapsed homes. The war on terror’s refugee flows threaten to upend civic order and submerge the cultures of the countries receiving them. It’s a vicious act of intellectual corruption to maintain that the war on terror does not create terrorists, that those killed, wounded, or displaced have no friends or family who will exact what they consider justified vengeance. The terrorism we see now is lava trickling from a volcano of hatred that has boiled, bubbled, and occasionally erupted for centuries, and will continue to do so. There will be no live and let live. Blood will have blood, not banalities.

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A different perspective.

Scaramucci’s China Dealings Pushed Him Out Of White House – Rickards (CNBC)

The abrupt dismissal of White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci less than two weeks after his appointment may be linked to the outspoken financier’s China dealings. The firing has been widely attributed to Scaramucci’s verbal tirade to a reporter in addition to orders from new chief of staff John F. Kelly. But there’s a third issue that may have played into the decision, Jim Rickards, editor of investment newsletter Strategic Intelligence, told CNBC. The sale of Scaramucci’s hedge fund, SkyBridge Capital, to HNA Capital, a subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, was a red flag for Washington, according to Rickards. The acquisition, which was finalized in January and reportedly values SkyBridge at around $200 million, is currently pending approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States – or CFIUS – a government panel that reviews foreign purchases of American companies for national security risks.

Officially chaired by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, CFIUS involves multiple U.S. agencies, including the defense, commerce and state departments. Rickards, who previously worked with intelligence officials on CFIUS regarding foreign acquisitions of U.S. financial services firms, said he believes the Skybridge deal was “a sleeper story waiting to come back to haunt the White House.” HNA’s purchase is likely to get rejected amid concerns of Chinese control over U.S. hedge funds and investment banks — a decision that wouldn’t bode well for President Donald Trump’s administration, he said. “My recommendation would have been for CFIUS to turn the deal down…we had always warned ‘don’t let our adversaries such as China or Russia get plugged into the U.S. financial system’…When I was involved, this deal would have not gone through,” he said.

“In some ways, the White House is probably relieved to get rid of Scaramucci because now, no matter what happens to that deal, that burden won’t be with the White House,” Rickards continued. “Using the [New Yorker] interview was great cover to get rid of Scaramucci before the hedge fund deal and national security review blew up in his face.”

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Oh well, someone will always say it’s because of confidence…

Unsecured UK Consumer Credit Tops £200 Billion For First Time Since 2008 (G.)

The financial watchdog has announced fresh measures to protect consumers from spiralling debt as official data showed that borrowing through credit cards, overdrafts and car loans has topped £200bn for the first time since the global financial crisis. The Financial Conduct Authority said it was cracking down on the high cost of overdrafts and reviewing the booming car loan market. The regulator’s latest intervention came as credit ratings agency Moody’s also warned about the growing household debt mountain, saying that some borrowers would struggle to repay their debt as the economy weakened and inflation ate into their salaries. Unsecured consumer credit, which includes credit cards, car loans and overdrafts, peaked in the autumn of 2008 – just as the banking crisis was taking hold.

It fell in subsequent years, but has been rising again since 2014 and is now in touching distance of the pre-crisis lending boom. Data from the Bank of England on Monday showed that it grew by 10% in the year to June, to almost £201bn. The last time outstanding debt was above £200bn was December 2008. In a paper published on Monday, the FCA said that one in six people with debt on credit cards, personal lending and car loans – 2.2 million – were in financial distress. They are more likely to be younger, have children, be unemployed and less educated than others. As households grapple with rising living costs, charities and policymakers have raised concerns that consumers are increasingly turning to loans amid worrying signs of a return to reckless lending by the banks.

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… but in reality it’s not confidence, but poverty that rules Britannia.

Moody’s Warns Of Growing UK Household Debt As Brexit Downturn Looms (Ind.)

A credit rating agency has warned that soaring levels of household debt could leave Britain’s lower-income families dangerously exposed amid signs of an economic downturn linked to Brexit. Moody’s said the UK’s weak economic climate meant it had to downgrade four of the five consumer finance sectors to negative. The agency’s warning over credit came as the Bank of England revealed that the amount borrowed by UK consumers through credit cards, loans and overdrafts had reached £200bn for the first time since the financial crash of 2008. Inflation, triggered by the low pound, is now rising faster than wage growth and has put growing pressure on households, squeezing budgets and causing credit card spending to increase and savings to fall.

In this context, the Bank of England has expressed concerns over surging levels of unsecured consumer borrowing on credit cards, which is going up by more than 10 per cent a year and outstripping income. Moody’s analyst Greg Davies said: “Household debt is high and still growing, leaving consumers vulnerable to an economic downturn, while higher inflation, weaker wage growth and levels of indebtedness leaves those in lower-income brackets the most exposed. “An additional challenge is that households’ capacity to draw on savings to maintain consumption and/or service their consumer debts has significantly diminished.” The credit rating agency has also warned in recent weeks of the potential economic damage if the UK fails to secure an exit trade deal with the EU.

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“Our entire world is wired and connected. An artificial intelligence will eventually figure that out – and figure out how to collaborate and cooperate with other AI systems. Maybe the AI will determine that mankind is a threat, or that mankind is an inefficient waste of resources – conclusions that seems plausible from a purely logical perspective.”

Facebook AI Creates Its Own Language In Creepy Preview Of Our Future (F.)

Facebook shut down an artificial intelligence engine after developers discovered that the AI had created its own unique language that humans can’t understand. Researchers at the Facebook AI Research Lab (FAIR) found that the chatbots had deviated from the script and were communicating in a new language developed without human input. It is as concerning as it is amazing – simultaneously a glimpse of both the awesome and horrifying potential of AI. Artificial Intelligence is not sentient—at least not yet. It may be someday, though – or it may approach something close enough to be dangerous. Ray Kurzweil warned years ago about the technological singularity. The Oxford dictionary defines “the singularity” as, “A hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence and other technologies have become so advanced that humanity undergoes a dramatic and irreversible change.”

To be clear, we aren’t really talking about whether or not Alexa is eavesdropping on your conversations, or whether Siri knows too much about your calendar and location data. There is a massive difference between a voice-enabled digital assistant and an artificial intelligence. These digital assistant platforms are just glorified web search and basic voice interaction tools. The level of “intelligence” is minimal compared to a true machine learning artificial intelligence. Siri and Alexa can’t hold a candle to IBM’s Watson. Scientists and tech luminaries, including Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Steve Wozniak have warned that AI could lead to tragic unforeseen consequences. Eminent physicist Stephen Hawking cautioned in 2014 that AI could mean the end of the human race. “It would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

Why is this scary? Think SKYNET from Terminator, or WOPR from War Games. Our entire world is wired and connected. An artificial intelligence will eventually figure that out – and figure out how to collaborate and cooperate with other AI systems. Maybe the AI will determine that mankind is a threat, or that mankind is an inefficient waste of resources – conclusions that seems plausible from a purely logical perspective.

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Racketeering.

Narratives Are Not Truths (Jim Kunstler)

The American polity is not thriving. It has been incrementally failing to meet its needs for quite a while now, playing games with itself to pretend that it is okay while its institutional organs and economic operations decay. It turns this way and that way ever more desperately, over-steering like a drunk on the highway. It is drunk on the untruths it tells itself in the service of playing games to avoid meeting its real needs. Narratives are not truths. Here is a primary question we might ask ourselves: do we want to live in a healthy society? Do we want to thrive? If so, what are the narratives standing in the way of turning us in the direction? Let’s start with health care, so called, since the failure to do anything about the current disastrous system is so fresh. What’s the narrative there?

That “providers” (doctors and hospitals) can team up with banking operations called “insurance companies” to fairly allocate “services” to the broad population with a little help from the government. No, that’s actually not how it works. The three “players” actually engage in a massive racketeering matrix — that is, they extract enormous sums of money dishonestly from the public they pretend to serve and they do it twice: once by extortionary fees and again by taxes paid to subsidize mitigating the effects of the racketeering. The public has its own narrative, which is that there is no connection between their medical problems and the way they live. The fact is that they eat too much poisonous food because it’s tasty and fun, and they do that because the habits-of-life that they have complicitly allowed to ev0lve in this country offers them paltry rewards otherwise.

They dwell in ugly, punishing surroundings, spend too much time and waste too much money driving cars around it in isolation, and have gone along with every effort to dismantle the armatures of common social exchange that afford what might be called a human dimension of everyday living. So, the medical racket ends up being nearly 20 percent of the economy, while the public gets fatter, sicker, and more anxiously depressed. And there is no sign that we want to disrupt the narratives.

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Well, they got the NGOs fighting each other now. Mission accomplished.

Aid Groups Snub Italian Code Of Conduct On Mediterranean Rescues (G.)

Five aid groups that operate migrant rescue ships in the Mediterranean have refused to sign up to the Italian government’s code of conduct, the Interior Ministry said, but three others backed the new rules. Charity boats have become increasingly important in rescue operations, picking up more than a third of all migrants brought ashore so far this year against less than one percent in 2014, according to the Italian coastguard. Italy, fearing that the groups were facilitating people smuggling from North Africa and encouraging migrants to make the perilous passage to Europe, proposed a code containing around a dozen points for the charities. Those who refused to sign the document had put themselves “outside the organised system of sea rescues, with all the concrete consequences that can have”, the ministry said.

Italy had previously threatened to shut its ports to NGOs that did not sign up, but an source within the Interior Ministry said that in reality those groups would face more checks from Italian authorities. Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has taken part in many of the rescues of the 95,000 migrants brought to Italy this year, attended a meeting at the Interior Ministry but refused to sign the code. MSF objected most strongly to a requirement that aid boats must take migrants to a safe port themselves, rather than transferring people to other vessels, which allows smaller boats to stay in the area for further rescues. “Our vessels are often overwhelmed by the high number of [migrant] boats … and life and death at sea is a question of minutes,” MSF Italy’s director, Gabriele Eminente, wrote in a letter to the interior minister, Marco Minniti.

“The code of conduct puts at risk this fragile equation of collaboration between different boats,” he continued, adding that MSF still wanted to work with the ministry to improve sea rescues. [..] “For us, the most controversial point … was the commitment to help the Italian police with their investigations and possibly take armed police officers on board,” Jugend Rettet coordinator Titus Molkenbur said. “That is antithetical to the humanitarian principles of neutrality that we adhere to, and we cannot be seen as being part of the conflict.”

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Sep 142016
 
 September 14, 2016  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


LoC Old Patent Office model room, Washington DC 1865

The US Consumer Will Cause The Next Crisis (Vallee)
Shares Crumble As Oil Falls, Bond Yields Soar On Stimulus Doubts (R.)
How ‘Zombie’ Oil Companies Stay Alive in Life-or-Death Debt Markets (BBG)
Negative Rates May Do More Harm Than Good (BBG)
Why Democrats in Western Pennsylvania Are Voting Trump (Atlantic)
How Much It ‘Costs’ To Get An Ambassadorship (ZH)
Buffett Loses $1.4 Billion as Wells Fargo Tumbles on Scandal (BBG)
Hanjin Brings One of World’s Busiest Shipping Terminals to Near Standstill (BBG)
IMF’s Lagarde Slams Globalization (ZH)
Bayer To Announce Acquisition Of Monsanto On Wednesday (R.)
Hillary’s 9/11 “Medical Episode” Looks More Like Parkinson’s Than Pneumonia (ZH)
An ‘Amicable Divorce’ For The Eurozone? (Varoufakis)
Expel Hungary From EU For Hostility To Refugees, Says Luxembourg (G.)
Greece Has Exposed The NGO Aid Community’s Failures (G.)

 

 

If you still need this spelled out, this is quite good. Lots of graphs too.

The US Consumer Will Cause The Next Crisis (Vallee)

The market is materially mispricing the strength of the US consumer whose weakness will lead the US economy into a recession in Q117. The divergence is a result of the top 40% of earners who have accrued 84% of all new income and only 34% of new debt since 2013. This strength has driven headline sales figures and accounted for nearly all deleveraging since the financial crisis. That said, the market has extrapolated the health of top 40% to all consumers, as it corresponds to the current narrative of low unemployment and rising average hourly earnings leading to higher rates of consumption and balance sheet strength. Due to this misconception, we believe the market has overlooked the deterioration of lower and middle income households who have historically preceded the fall of the top. We see this disparity being corrected over the next 6-9 months, as a series of disappointing retail sales and consumption figures lead market participants to the realization that their thesis is imperfect.

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Markets won’t get quiet again at least before November 8, and more likely 2017.

Shares Crumble As Oil Falls, Bond Yields Soar On Stimulus Doubts (R.)

Asian stocks fell to fresh six-week lows on Wednesday and the greenback stood strong against a broad swathe of currencies including the Japanese yen as concerns grew about the fading impact of the world’s major central banks to stimulate growth. Losses in stock markets across Asia deepened as rising bond yields and soaring volatility forced investors to unwind positions. The MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slid 0.2%, extending its decline since late last week to 4.2%. Within the region, Japan’s Nikkei led losers with a 0.3% decline as uncertainty grew ahead of a central bank policy meeting next week. The BOJ plans to make its controversial negative interest rate policy the centerpiece of future monetary easing, promising to weigh further rate cuts as expansions to asset buying near their limits, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“The moves in developed market fixed-income, which are largely behind the volatility, have stemmed from Japan and the potential changes in monetary policy,” said Chris Weston at IG Markets. “Secondly, some of the biggest systematic funds have had to alter their portfolios. The rest of the market participants have had to simply react.” Stock markets have come under pressure as investors cut positions after large inflows in recent weeks betting on a long period of low volatility and suppressed bond yields. Inflows into emerging market equity funds amounted to $24 billion dollars over the past 10 weeks, the highest on record according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch flow data. An index of market volatility soared to its highest level in three months.

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The refusal to restructure will come back to bite the US.

How ‘Zombie’ Oil Companies Stay Alive in Life-or-Death Debt Markets (BBG)

Beneath the surge in corporate defaults lies a surge in distressed exchanges. Such exchanges – defined by Moody’s as when a troubled company offers its lenders new or restructured debt, securities, cash, or other assets, that amount to a smaller commitment than the original IOU – could have big implications for debt markets as they stretch out the current credit cycle and result in even greater losses for investors. The trend is most apparent in the energy sector where oil and gas companies have been deploying a raft of creative measures to stay afloat amid lower crude prices that have crimped profits and threatened their survival. Such measures have included swapping unsecured debt for secured, offering discounted buybacks of existing debt, or junior-lien debt that gets paid after other creditors.

“While these [distressed exchanges] do result in some level of loss to bondholders, unlike missed payments and bankruptcy filings the bonds typically remain eligible for inclusion in the high-yield index,” Kai Gilkes and Anneli Lefranc, analysts at CreditSights, wrote in new research. They note that the 12-month default rate rose to 7.2% for U.S. junk-rated bonds in August. That’s an increase of 30 basis points compared to July’s default rate of 6.9%, spurred on by six corporate defaults last months – including a trio of U.S. energy companies. “Distressed exchanges have contributed greatly to the rise in default rates,” they add, with 38 of the 75 U.S. high-yield defaults over the last 12 months coming from such deals. The degree to which distressed exchanges are propelling defaults higher is apparent in the below CreditSights chart, which shows the U.S. and European default rate excluding the swaps.

The question now will be whether such exchanges actually help companies improve their balance sheets and reduce their debt long enough to enjoy a recovery in oil prices or the market’s appetite for energy-related assets. If they don’t, then truly troubled companies will only have succeeded in putting off the inevitable and their lenders risk suffering greater losses further down the line.

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You think? Again, there’s one solution only: take away central banks’ powers.

Negative Rates May Do More Harm Than Good (BBG)

The negative interest rate strategy that Japan and Europe’s central banks have embraced may do more harm than good, according to John Taylor, the creator of an eponymous rule for guiding monetary policy. “What we are learning is that, in my view, negative rates may not have helped and may have hurt,” Taylor, a professor at Stanford University in California, said in a telephone interview this week. “It could be counterproductive, no question.” A potential problem is that the strategy of charging banks for a portion of their reserves squeezes the availability of credit. Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda last week rejected the idea that the negative-rate policy adopted in January had hurt banks’ “intermediary functions” – their ability to channel savings to lending.

Even so, he acknowledged that the move had spurred a powerful drop in long-term yields. That, in turn, hurt earnings on savings including pensions, generating some risk for the “sustainability of the financial function in a broad sense.” “The macro models we have don’t really incorporate that financial-sector behavior, so it’s hard to give a magnitude to it,” Taylor said. While some companies may boost investment, others could pare it back, and saving rates could be affected, said Taylor, who served as the U.S. Treasury’s top international official from 2001 to 2005.

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Joe Bageant meets Brexit. Excellent from the Atlantic. Nothing learned from Project Fear that helped shape Brexit.

Why Democrats in Western Pennsylvania Are Voting Trump (Atlantic)

Lee Supply is a third-generation family-owned business, operating since 1954. “My dad started it servicing the coal industry,” Lee said. Nestled in a glen between the rolling hills of the Alleghenies and the Monongahela River, the company bustles with workers moving about the plant. Today, it sells pipe and pumping systems used in everything from traditional applications, such as water distribution and sewage treatment, to highly specialized applications such as horizontal directional drilling, slip lining, leachate and methane collection, gas extraction, and water transport. One man wearing a florescent-yellow Lee Supply safety shirt, with grease smudged on his arms and face, registered to vote for the first time in his 61 years.

His eyes watered as he put down the pen. “This is about me,” he said, declining to give his name. “I am doing this for me, my hometown.” “Sheik” Shannon, 55, a 17-year employee at the company, believes the political class fundamentally misunderstands what this election cycle is all about. “They think it is the celebrity of Trump. It’s not. They think we’ve all gone mad. We’ve not,” he said, emphasizing each sentence with passion. “Communities like where I live do not need to shutter and die. We lead solid, honest lives, we work hard, we play hard, we pray hard … we love where we are from, and we feel a duty to make sure that it is here for generations.” Paul Sracic, a Youngstown State University political scientist, believes there are two categories of voters rallying to support Trump.

“First, there are people who don’t normally vote,” he said. “Nearly half the voting-age population was either not registered to vote, or was registered and decided not to vote in 2012. And if even 10% of that group was to show up and vote this year, it could easily change the outcome in the important swing states.” Sracic—who frankly admits he obsesses over opinion polls—wonders whether these voters are even represented in the endless presidential surveys: “If people aren’t registered voters, they won’t be picked up by most polls. If they are registered voters but don’t normally vote, they may be eliminated by ‘likely voter’ screens pollsters use.” Romney lost Pennsylvania in 2012 by about 300,000 votes out of about 5.5 million cast; in Ohio, he lost by less than 200,000. “So bringing new people in can make a difference,” Sracic said.

Potentially more significant, however, are those voters who “flip”—Sracic’s second category. “Remember,” he said, “taking a Democratic voter and having them vote Republican is both a +1 and a -1. In other words, if Romney lost Pennsylvania by 300,000 voters, all you have to do [this time] is flip slightly more than 150,000 votes.” Between Ohio and Pennsylvania, if approximately 225,000 voters (out of the 11 million who are expected on Election Day) switch parties, they could tip the entire election.

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For names, amounts and photos click the link.

How Much It ‘Costs’ To Get An Ambassadorship (ZH)

After addressing a cybersecuirty conference in London, notorious hacker ‘Guccifer’ shared over 500Mb of documents detailing 100,000 DNC donors contact info and donations. A large number of the largest donors received senior diplomatic or political positions following thge donations, ranging from UK Ambassador to Assistant Attorney General. The DNC released a statement pre-emptively claiming that this was the work of Russia (and reigniting Trump’s links to Putin). Probably just coincidence… The dcoments contained detailed lists of 100,000 alledged donors, addresses, and phone numbers, and well as amounts donated…

[..] The DNC responded to the latest hack claim Tuesday through its Interim Chair Donna Brazile, who stated that the “DNC is the victim of a crime,” which she blamed on “Russian state-sponsored agents,” while also cautioning that the hacked documents were still being authenticated by the DNC legal team, as “it is common for Russian hackers to forge documents.” DNC pre-emptively published a statement in an attempt to change the narrative… [..] Once again blaming Russia (and Trump)… As RT reports, it’s not the first time that the name of Vladimir Putin has been brought up in the US presidential campaign, but this time the US president used this “argument” while openly campaigning for Clinton against Trump. The situation has become “really ludicrous and it borders on the ridiculous,” believes Gregory R. Copley, editor of Defense & Foreign Affairs.

“In my 50 odd years covering the US government, I have never seen this level of partisanship within the administration where a sitting president actually regards the opposition party as the enemy of the state,” Copley told RT. [..] The US establishment is “sacrificing key bilateral relationships in order to win [a] domestic election,” believes Copley. He added that neither Obama nor Clinton are interested in unifying the country, but they are rather “interested in winning and engaging in what modern democracy seems to have become – the tyranny of the marginal majority over the marginal minority.”

“When you think about the number of times that the Clinton campaign has brought up President Putin and the alleged Russian hacking of Hillary Clinton’s service, it makes you wonder just how desperate they are,” Copley noted. “President Obama has lost literally all prestige in an international community…with the loss of prestige he has become desperate.”

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Is there anything more boring in the world than billionaires?

Buffett Loses $1.4 Billion as Wells Fargo Tumbles on Scandal (BBG)

Warren Buffett had $1.4 billion wiped from his fortune Tuesday after Wells Fargo fell 3.3% as the fallout continued from revelations that bank employees had opened more than 2 million accounts without clients’ approval. Berkshire Hathaway, the lender’s biggest shareholder, fell 2%, causing the 86-year-old’s fortune to drop more than anyone else’s on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The U.S. investor is the world’s fourth-richest person with a net worth of $65.8 billion. Tuesday’s decline came amid a global equity sell off that has wiped out $93 billion from the world’s 400 biggest fortunes since Friday. The billionaires shed $37.3 billion Tuesday as stocks and bonds both slumped, and oil sank after the IEA’s prediction that a glut will extend into next year.

The world’s second-richest person, Inditex founder Amancio Ortega, leads the 400 richest people with a decline of $3.3 billion since the sell off began, according to the index. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, the world’s richest person with $87.3 billion, has lost $2.4 billion. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the world’s third-richest person with $66.2 billion, has shed $1.9 billion. Buffett, whose fortune is mostly in Berkshire shares, has lost $1.6 billion in the sell off. Wells Fargo was overtaken by JPMorgan as the world’s most valuable bank on Tuesday. It has fallen 5.9% since Thursday, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced fines stemming from the fake accounts. The drop since Thursday compares with a 2.5% fall for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

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Good example of why systems need redundancy, but don’t have it.

Hanjin Brings One of World’s Busiest Shipping Terminals to Near Standstill (BBG)

The Hanjin Shipping Co. terminal at South Korea’s largest port used to be one of the world’s busiest. Dozens of container carriers would line up to ferry boxes to and from the giant cranes that loaded and unloaded the world’s biggest ships.
Last week the terminal, as big as 100 football fields, came to a virtual standstill. In front of hundreds of containers stacked four-high, Seo Seong Deok, a 35-year-old driver of the port tractors, wondered if he would ever get to move them again. “We have no work now,” said Seo, one of about 1,000 tractor drivers without work. “This Hanjin terminal used to be always bustling with trucks and ships. Now, I heard some fresh food such as mango or banana is rotting in Hanjin container ships drifting somewhere in the ocean.”

Since the world’s seventh-largest container line filed for protection from creditors on Aug. 31, the port has been paralyzed as unshipped boxes piled up. The collapse has come at the worst time: September is peak season for the industry as manufacturers look to stock store shelves for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Port officials say cargo owners have been scrambling to find alternative ways to send goods. The port in Busan, on the tip of the Korean peninsula about 200 miles southeast of Seoul, handles more than 70% of the containers that enter or leave South Korea, according to local government data. Until last week, Hanjin alone accounted for about 10% of goods that flow through its wharves. “The biggest concern is Busan losing its longtime reputation as a maritime hub in Asia,” said Kim Kyu-Ok, the city’s vice mayor for economic affairs. Hanjin’s collapse “could make ship owners shun Busan.”

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A good take from Tyler: turn Christine on her head.

IMF’s Lagarde Slams Globalization (ZH)

Two months after consultancy giant McKinsey dramatically flip-flopped on its long held position of praising globalization, cautioning that – as Britain’s vote to exit the European Union exemplified what happens when people feel like the system is letting them down – the system is on the verge of “explosion”, comparing the buildup of resentment over globalization to a dangerous natural gas leak in a row of houses, today it was the IMF’s turn. In a speech titled “Making Globalisation Work For All”, IMF managing director Chrstine Lagarde became the latest in a growing chorus of senior policymakers urging governments to take heed of rising discontent and economic insecurity in the advanced world.

Lagarde said that governments in the developed world should focus their attention on boosting support for low income workers and reducing inequality, amid a “groundswell of discontent” against globalisation. Effectively reiterating the McKinsey report, Lagarde said that there is “a growing sense among some citizens that they “lack control,” that the system is somehow against them”, a system which she now slams, even though the IMF been instrumental in helping create and grow precisely this system ever since its inception, saying that “growing inequality in wealth, income, and opportunity in many countries has added to a groundswell of discontent, especially in the industrialized world.” She then slammed both banks, tax regimes and pervasive corruption, saying that “financial institutions are being seen as unaccountable to society. Tax systems allow multinational companies and wealthy individuals not to pay what many would consider a fair share. Corruption remains endemic.”

Last but not least she warned about the “challenge” from migration flows: And there is the challenge from uncontrolled migration flows, contributing to economic and cultural anxieties.” To be sure, Lagarde did have some kinds words for globalisation, highlighting the opening up of world trade and the entry of the likes of China and India into the global economy, which has had “far reaching effects” for low-income workers in the likes of Europe and the US, however even here she highlighted the negatives saying that “the size of the global workforce effectively doubled, putting downward pressure on wages, especially for lower-skilled workers in advanced economies…. Some local labour markets that have faced deep, long-lasting effects from overseas competition.” We are confident this is a bullet point that Trump will be delighted to use during the upcoming debates.

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This is very dangerous. We should not allow it.

Bayer To Announce Acquisition Of Monsanto On Wednesday (R.)

Chemicals and healthcare group Bayer is poised to announce the acquisition of U.S. seeds company Monsanto on Wednesday for more than $66 billion, clinching the biggest deal of the year, people familiar with the matter said. By accepting Bayer’s offer, the largest cash acquisition proposal on record, Monsanto is set to give the German company a shot at grabbing the top spot in the fast-consolidating farm supplies industry, combining its crop science business with Monsanto’s strength in seeds. It will also set the stage for the deal to be closely scrutinized by antitrust regulators. The breakthrough in negotiations, which follows more than four months of talks, came after Bayer further improved on the sweetened offer of $127.50 per share in cash it disclosed last week, the people said.

However, the deal will still value Monsanto at less than $130 per share, which the company was previously hoping to fetch, the people added. Once Monsanto’s board of directors approves the deal on Tuesday, Bayer’s supervisory board will meet on Wednesday to also authorize the transaction, with an announcement expected before the stock market opens in New York on Wednesday. It is still possible the board of either company could decide to walk away from the deal at the last minute, the people cautioned. Bayer’s bid to combine its crop chemicals business, the world’s second-largest after Syngenta, with Monsanto’s industry leading seeds business, is the latest in a series of major consolidation moves in the agrochemical sector. U.S. chemicals giants Dow Chemical and DuPont have agreed to merge and spin off their respective seeds and crop chemicals operations into a major agribusiness.

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I don’t want to get into this too much, but the good doctor makes a convincing case.

Hillary’s 9/11 “Medical Episode” Looks More Like Parkinson’s Than Pneumonia (ZH)

A few weeks back, Dr. Ted Noel, an anesthesiologist with 36 years of experience, gained notoriety by sharing his opinion on his website, Vidzette, that Hillary likely had Parkinson’s disease. Now, Dr. Noel has posted a new video in which he explains how Hillary’s behavior on 9/11 and the subsequent decisions made by her campaign staff and secret service detail are more consistent with Parkinson’s disease than pneumonia. Among other things, Noel points out that if Hillary actually was suffering from such a severe case of pneumonia that it forced her to literally collapse on a sidewalk, it’s extremely unlikely that she could make a seemingly full recovery after only 90 minutes at Chelsea’s apartment and feel well enough to great onlookers and snap a selfie with a child.

Per Noel, Hillary’s recovery timing is more consistent with how long it would take her to ingest a dosage of Levodopa and wait for her Parkinson’s symptoms to subside. Noel also points out that sunglasses with dark blue lenses, like the ones Hillary wore this weekend despite the cloud cover, have been noted by doctors to help treat patients with major motion disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. With that preview, here is the full analysis

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I’m looking at doing another article on the political restraints on an EU ‘redesign’. Wrote on that years ago, don’t know if I can find any of it back. Nothing much has changed, other than tensions have increased.

Yanis looks at the economic/financial side. I think I’m more convinced that a ‘divorce’ is inevitable than he is, ugly as it may be.

An ‘Amicable Divorce’ For The Eurozone? (Varoufakis)

Stefano Fassina points out that in my article ‘Europe’s Left After Brexit’ I did not discuss his preferred option for Eurozone member-states: Stay in the EU but leave the euro. Of course the reason my article did not discuss that position is that it was focusing on Brexit and addressing Lexiteers like Tariq Ali and Stathis Kouvelakis who are arguing, from a left-wing position, for leaving the EU altogether – i.e. Brexit-like moves. But I am more than happy to comment on Stefano’s preferred option (In the EU, Out of the Euro) here. Stefano invokes Joe Stiglitz who, in his recent book on the euro, recommends an ‘amicable divorce’ that would lead to the creation of at least two new currencies (one for the deficit and one for the surplus countries).

Since I have recently discussed this with Joe Stiglitz it is perhaps useful to share the gist of our discussion with Stefano and our readers. In my email to Joe, I expressed scepticism that an ‘amicable divorce’ is at all possible. The moment it becomes public that a ‘divorce’ is under discussion, a wall of money will leave the banks of the countries destined for devaluation, heading for Frankfurt. At that point, the banks of the deficit member-states will collapse (as they run out of ECB-acceptable collateral) and the member-states will impose stringent currency and capital controls – complete with officials at airports checking suitcases and/or harsh limits in cash withdrawals. This would spell the end not only of monetary union but also of (the already injured) Schengen Treaty.

Meanwhile, as bank deposits are being redenominated, huge assets belonging to the Bundesbank and the central banks of other surplus countries (e.g. the Netherlands), which are the liabilities of the deficit countries, will disappear, causing an uproar of indignation in Germany and the Netherlands. Under such circumstances, and given the already advanced stage of the EU’s disintegration, it is almost certain that the dissolution of the Eurozone will be anything but amicable. Joe Stiglitz responded to me thus: “You are absolutely right that the moment any country contemplated leaving, capital controls would have to be imposed… The rush out will occur presumably before–when a party advocating a referendum looks like it might win.

So the hard decisions about imposing capital controls are likely to be faced ironically by a pro-Euro government. If it delays, by the time the election occurs, the country may be in shambles. The picture ahead for Europe is not a pretty one.” In conclusion, it is a fantasy to think that the EU can oversee an amicable disintegration of the Eurozone. Indeed, it is hard to imagine the EU surviving a Eurozone breakdown.

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Yeah, about that EU divorce…

Expel Hungary From EU For Hostility To Refugees, Says Luxembourg (G.)

Luxembourg’s foreign minister has called for Hungary to be thrown out of the EU over its increasingly hostile approach to refugees, as campaigners accuse Viktor Orbán’s hardline government of whipping up xenophobia to block a European plan to relocate asylum seekers. Jean Asselborn said Hungary should be temporarily or even permanently expelled from the EU for treating asylum seekers “worse than wild animals”. In an interview with German daily Die Welt, he said: “Anyone who, like Hungary, builds fences against refugees from war or who violates press freedom and judicial independence should be excluded temporarily, or if necessary for ever, from the EU.”

Asselborn called for EU rules to be changed to make it easier to expel Hungary as this was “the only way of preserving the cohesion and values of the EU”. Hungary’s foreign affairs and trade minister Péter Szijjártó dismissed Asselborn as “an intellectual lightweight” and his comments as “sermonising, pompous and frustrated”. He said only Hungarians have the right to decide who they wish to live with, adding that no Brussels bureaucrat can deprive them of this right. In a statement issued by the Hungarian government, Szijjártó added: “It is somewhat curious that Jean Asselborn and Jean-Claude Juncker – who both come from the country of tax optimisation – speak about jointly sharing burdens. But we understand what this really means: Hungary should take on the burden created by the mistakes of others.”

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This is what I have observed in Greecem, and why I support Konstantinos so strongly. His is the much better model for aid, not the massive overhead NGO one. But they get the millions, and he gets nothing, except from the Automatic Earth and a few minor other sources. NGOs have become corporations entrenched in a system that’s as expensive as it is a failure. And guess who the victims of this failure are?

Greece Has Exposed The NGO Aid Community’s Failures (G.)

The aid community has over many years developed a habit of finding reasons for why the school was not built in the Afghan village, why the women’s agricultural businesses never made any profits, why the toilets took three months to set up in the refugee camp. When it comes to our shortcomings, we have become very comfortable with, and rely upon the shopping list of excuses that we find ourselves using in Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the other contexts we’re flown into. The humanitarian excuses list includes, but is not limited to: a fragile context, ongoing war and conflict, poor infrastructure, a corrupt government, dictatorship (current or past), insufficient funding, and values that are not akin to our own.

Or if all else fails, that other favourite go-to, the overwhelming scale and number of people, such as the 1,033,513 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 655,990 Syrian refugees in Jordan or 3.9 million internally displaced people in Iraq. But in Greece we are without the humanitarian excuse list to fall back on. The aid community has already received €83m to improve conditions for refugees in Greece with €214m to come from the European Commission alone in the next few months. This makes it hard to suggest we are underfunded, especially when you look at the scale of the crisis. At the time of writing, the number of refugees in Greece is approximately 60,000. The problem is not overwhelming. This time we are in an EU country.

I feel safe wherever I am – this means I can conduct a visit to monitor the impact of a programme or ensure I am consulting refugees about what they want. But I don’t, because it is something we have talked about but not done for many years, and there is little pressure to change. The disconnect between the sector’s standards and the reality on the ground is more stark here than in any other mission I’ve been involved in. We have historically been unaccountable, failing to sufficiently consult and engage affected communities. In Greece we are continuing to operate in the same ways as before, but without the traditional excuses to rely on.

Across Greece there are volunteers working both independently and as organised groups, meeting needs and filling gaps. They take over abandoned buildings to ensure refugees have somewhere to sleep, provide additional nutrition to pregnant and breastfeeding women, organise and manage informal education programmes, including setting up schools inside camps. All of this while INGO staff sip their cappuccinos in countless coordination meetings – for cash distribution, protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, food distribution and child-protection.

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