Mar 232017
 
 March 23, 2017  Posted by at 5:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Live cooking in Monastiraki Square, Athens

 

Every time I write about my ‘adventures’ in Greece for the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund, which I initiated in June 2015, I think it’s been way too long, but also every time I realize that I’ve already written so much about it (which makes every new article harder to write as well). Still, it’s been three months since the last one, and as always lots has happened; we’re not sitting still. As always, there’s a full list of previous articles at the bottom of this one.

To start with the latest development, I gave Konstantinos Polychronopoulos of O Allos Anthropos another €1,000 (the last funds I had) on March 15, which he needed to go to Lesbos, where he’s been asked to help set up a ‘Multi-Center’, to be jointly built by Greeks and refugees. It’s an initiative of a privately funded organization named Swisscross, to be located outside of the horrible Moria camp.

The center, which will have no sleeping facilities, is designed to make life more bearable for the refugees stuck inside Moria. It will provide shower rooms, laundry facilities, a kindergarten, a school (remedial teaching), a cinema, cafeteria and a restaurant.

O Allos Anthropos will be in charge of the restaurant, which will also be very much geared towards providing space, equipment, food and resources for the refugees themselves to cook. An often overlooked part of the refugee tragedy here in Greece is that preparing food is an important aspect of family- and community life, a source of dignity and pride, that has been taken away from them and replaced by real bad catering.

 


Thank you to the Texan girls who donated their Santa hat to me for Konstantinos on December 25. Perfect fit!

 

We’ve had the fifth anniversary of O Allos Anthropos in December, and of course Christmas. Then we had New Year’s, and on January 8 Greek New Year. February 16 was Tsikno Pempti (aka Charcoal Thursday or Greek Cholesterol Day), when everyone eats roasted meat – there’s a connection with carnival there-, and the Monday after that was Clean Monday, the end of carnival and the start of what is probably best compared to Lent, what once upon a time was a 40-day period of ‘fasting’ all the way to Easter. No Fat Tuesday or Ash Wednesday, as far as I could find.

Konstantinos and his people made sure that everyone, homeless and refugees, had a Christmas and New Year’s party like ‘normal’ people. Someone had donated a whole lot of turkey for Christmas, there was some meat to eat, and on Cholesterol Day there was even over 1000 kilos of meat to be spread to the Social Kitchens all over the country. It’s the kind of thing that makes people feel they do count, and they do belong, despite the misery they find themselves in.

Just as important, if not more, was the fact that all children who were present in the Big House in Athens, many of whom are homeless, received presents on Greek New Year. That means so much to them. Holidays without presents is cruel to children. I’ll sprinkle some pictures through this article.

 


Nobody gets left out at Christmas

 

Through all these events one thing that kept popping into my head was how close they brought joy and misery together. It’s pretty much priceless to see the happiness in people’s faces when they are served a real Christmas meal, a sign that they belong to the ‘human tribe’, that they ARE important, and there ARE people who care about them. Being able to do that for people is a very precious thing. As I said to someone also involved in refugee work a while ago: I’m sure that when we look back on this years from now, we’re going to say this is the best thing we’ve done in our lives, or right up there.

But at the same time, you can’t look at the joy without realizing where it comes from, why a simple meal or a Christmas present means so much; it comes from the every day misery so many people live in, in Greece these days. Looking at people knowing they’ll have no place to sleep that night, while it’s pretty cold outside too (colder than I thought Athens would be), it will never be easy. The misery is always close to the surface.

So I want to thank you once again, Automatic Earth readers, for having made much of this possible through your donations. You help make a lot of people feel better, help them eat, shower, give them a sense of dignity. In the process, you make me feel better too. Thank you. (Update: Saw a video the other day of a girl tattoo artist who set up a program to change self-mutilated arms into beautiful works of body art. Her reason to do this: “You don’t know what happiness is within yourself until you do something for another person.” That. You rock.

 


Happiness is a little girl’s face

 

That €1000 I gave Konstantinos was again the last money I had to donate to him, so I will call on you once more, and shamelessly so (which I allow myself to do because it’s for others, and it really helps). The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund has so far generated over $50,000(!) -one wonderful soul sent me a check for $10,000…-, and it’s a bit of a victim of its own success. The more there is, the more gets spent; we don’t want to not help people. And already the number of meals O Allos Anthropos can prepare and serve is dropping again, for monetary reasons; the number should be going up instead. We’re rowing against a strong current, which is awfully ironic, as you can see in the rest of this article.

 

I was reading an article earlier this week from AFP about an Italian program for refugees that shows everything that is wrong about how the crisis is being dealt with in Europe. Italy has started flying in Syrian refugees from Beirut, so they don’t have to spent a fortune on a risky sea voyage only to be locked up for months in camps. There are other ways. Kudos to Italy, and may many other countries follow their example:

Avoiding Risky Sea Journey, Syrian Refugees Head To Italy ‘Pronto’

Just before midnight in a sleepy district of Beirut, dozens of Syrian refugees huddle in small groups around bulging suitcases, clutching their pinging cellphones and one-way tickets to Italy. “Torino! Pronto! Cappuccino!” They practise random Italian words in a schoolyard in the Lebanese capital’s eastern Geitawi neighbourhood, waiting for the buses that will take them to the airport, and onwards to their new lives in Italy. Under an initiative introduced last year by the Italian government, nearly 700 Syrian refugees have been granted one-year humanitarian visas to begin their asylum process in Italy. The programme is the first of its kind in Europe: a speedy third way that both avoids the United Nations lengthy resettlement process and provides refugees with a safe alternative to crammed dinghies and perilous sea crossings.

[..] A country of just four million people, Lebanon hosts more than one million Syrian refugees. For members of Mediterranean Hope, the four-person team coordinating Italy’s resettlement efforts from Lebanon, “humanitarian corridors” are the future of resettlement. The group interviews refugees many times before recommending them to the Italian embassy, which issues humanitarian visas for a one-year stay during which they begin the asylum process for permanent resettlement. “It’s safe and legal. Safe for them, legal for us, says Mediterranean Hope officer Sara Manisera. “After people cross the Mediterranean on the journey of death, they are put into centres for months while they wait. But with this programme, there are no massive centres, it costs less, and refugees can keep their dignity,” she tells AFP.

Since March 20 was the 1st anniversary of the EU-Turkey refugee deal, many articles were published about what happened during the past year. And I haven’t seen one that was positive, which makes a lot of sense. There may be fewer refugees arriving in Greece now, but the situation of those who are in the country has gotten much worse. They are now prisoners, ‘housed’ in squalid conditions and with very little idea what will happen to them, how long their asylum applications will take to be heard, if they can or will be sent back to Turkey.

And now, with Erdogan getting ever more desperate in his quest to become the over-powerful president of Turkey, with just 4 weeks left till the referendum that should make him so, and with polls showing he’s behind, the EU-Turkey deal may well fall victim to petty politics. As it always looked to do. Who will suffer if that happens? The usual suspects, Greece and the refugees. The walls to fortress Europe are still shut tight. And it’s always election time somewhere.

 


Live cooking in Monastiraki Square, Athens

 

A friend recently translated something for me that Konstantinos had written on the O Allos Anthropos Facebook page. He said that every refugee who, before the EU-Turkey deal, passed through Greece on his/her way to Europe, cost the EU €800. For a family of 5 that adds up to €4,000, which would have been more than enough to pay for transport, stay at decent hotels and eat in normal restaurants for the duration of their trip (7-10 days). Suffice it to say, that was not what they got.

After the EU-Turkey deal made it impossible for refugees to leave Greece, €15,000 has been spent per capita. That is €75,000 per family of 5, more than enough to rent a villa on the beach, hire a butler and eat gourmet food for 8 months. Instead, the refugees are stuck in old abandoned factories with no facilities, in old tents in the freezing cold and in the rain, and forced to eat a dirt poor version of rice with chickpeas and lentil soup.

Then over the weekend I saw this confirmed in a graph issued by Refugees Deeply (with slightly lower numbers, but those are just margin errors). Note: March 16 2015 in the graph should of course read March 16 2016:

 

 

Refugees Deeply are a bit of a new kid on the block, they’re a year old, and I have no doubt they do care and have the best intentions. But since they operate throughout the world, not just in Greece, they run the same risk many international NGOs do, of spreading their resources too thin. Moreover, one thing that’s become obvious is that if you approach and treat Greece the same way as Somalia, for instance, you’re certain of making some major mistakes. Greece was a modern and prosperous country until Europe tried to turn it into Somalia.

I first heard of Refugees Deeply 2 weeks ago when they published a report called The Refugee Archipelago – The Inside Story Of What Went Wrong In Greece. A good piece, for sure, and I recommend it, but it comes up far short of naming everything that went -and is still going- wrong.

What’s good is that it focuses on the failures of the Greek government in the never-ending refugee tragedy, because that was a part that had largely been missing. But what’s not so good is that it focuses almost exclusively on that. And that’s far from the whole story.

 

You see, there are three separate parties involved in the saga that have access to serious funding, and all three have their own reasons NOT to solve the problems to the best of their abilities. There’s the EU, there’s Greece, and there are dozens of NGOs, many of whom are large and operate internationally (iNGOs).

The EU wants to use Greece as a deterrent. It aims to create an image to the world of Greece as a sordid inhumane place that no potential refugee should ever wish to flee to. Because it doesn’t want any more refugees. 1 million refugees is too much for a continent, and a political union, of 500 million people. Rich Europe is overwhelmed by 0.2% more people. (Note: I’m not advocation open borders or anything, I’m just saying we need to take care of people in need, which is basically what the Geneva Convention says. Until we decide to stop bombing countries like Syria, and start rebuilding them, people will come to our territory to seek help.)

The EU also wants to put Greece in an even harder predicament, for politico-economic reasons. Brussels hands out a lot of money, but it doesn’t- from what I’ve been reading- seem to keep proper tabs of where that money is going, or how it’s spent. That way its hands are always clean: we gave all this money, you can’t blame us! And their hands will remain clean until someone calls them on their lack of oversight of what happens to taxpayers’ money. But taxpayers don’t even know who to call on, Europe is faceless.

 

The Greek government, too, likes the deterrent idea, albeit for slightly different reasons. While the EU has money to burn, Greece has none. The country doesn’t have the means to handle the refugee influx; it doesn’t even have the means to deal with its own domestic austerity-driven misery. The last thing it wants to do is give the impression that it is able to deal with the whole thing.

That might give refugees the idea that Greece is a good place to go to, and it might give Brussels the idea that Greece can handle this, so it must be doing fine. Also, there are (party-) political issues, there is rampant corruption, and there are egos. Greece is a country that politically, socially and economically has been robbed of any and all certainties and confidence. Where the poor take care of each other and the rich only have eye for themselves. But it’s hardly a functioning society anymore, it’s a bankruptcy fire sale.

The only thing surprising about the letter bombs (parcels) for Dijsselbloem, the IMF and Schäuble sent from Greece is that it took so long. Punishing a country into paying more than they could possibly afford is Versailles redux. But sure, the Greek part in the refugee crisis needs serious scrutiny as well: how Mouzalas can still be migration minister after the Refugees Deeply piece is hard to see. Then again, sources on the ground tell me it’s not -only- him, it’s the overall chaos and infighting.

 


And there are protests

 

The third party, the NGOs, is a bit tricky to talk about. For one, because there are so many of them, and in many lots of people work with the best possible intentions. That coming to a country where you don’t know the language or culture is not a perfect plan may often get lost in translation, certainly for unpaid bright-eyed young volunteers looking for a holiday but with a meaning.

It’s tricky also because NGOs, as I’ve written before, have become an industry in their own right, institutionalized even. As someone phrased it: we now have a humanitarian-industrial complex. Which in Greece has received hundreds of millions of euros and somehow can’t manage to take proper care of 60,000 desolate souls with that.

I’ve even been warned that if I speak out too clearly about this, they may come after Konstantinos and his people and make their work hard and/or impossible. This is after all an industry that is worth a lot of money. Aid is big business. And big business protects itself.

Still, if we’re genuinely interested in finding out how and why it is possible that hundreds of millions of taxpayer euros change hands, and people still die in the cold and live in subhuman conditions, we’re going to have to break through some of the barriers that the EU, Greece and the iNGOs have built around themselves.

If only because European -and also American- taxpayers have a right to know what has made this ongoing epic failure possible. And of course the first concern should be that the refugees have the right, encapsulated in international law, to decent and humane treatment, and are not getting anything even remotely resembling it.

Refugees Deeply quotes ‘a senior aid official’ (they don’t say from what) anonymously saying that €70 out of every €100 in aid is wasted. I see little reason to question that; if anything, it could be worse. But on the sunny side that means it need not take much to improve things. If ‘only’ one third of the aid were wasted, the portion that actually helps could potentially be doubled.

 

Most importantly: how do you waste at least €560 million (7/10 of €800 million) when that was intended for people in misery, in peril, in desperate need? I find it hard to wrap my mind around this, can’t seem to understand how actual people in Brussels can allow that to happen, when it’s about taxpayers’ money supposed to help people in grave distress. And I can’t figure out how Greece can allow that people freeze to death on its territory, when that could obviously have been easily prevented.

Nor can I fathom how iNGOs, who together have received hundreds of millions, can fail to build a number of decent winter camps, having been warned and funded months in advance. A lot of money goes to contractors, to the caterers who provide the awful meals at ten times the cost that O Allos Anthropos does, to the builders who don’t build, to the ubiquitous wheeler-dealers who can smell a cheap profit from miles away. And NGO executives want their often hefty salaries to be paid in time.

But even then I keep on thinking: where has all the money gone? They could have built or rented great facilities for all 60,000 refugees, and fed them, and schooled their children, and still have plenty of profit left. Why must greed be so unbridled?

 

In view of all this wasted money, we, Konstantinos and his people, can do so much more and so much better. But then again, of course, we can’t, because we don’t have that kind of funding, not even to spend wisely. And we won‘t either since we don’t want to comply with rules that would force O Allos Anthropos to refuse a meal to a hungry person, Greek or refugee, who doesn’t have ‘the proper ID’.

That ID thing fits ‘wonderfully’ into the EU model that has turned so many refugees into de facto prisoners, and has made so many Greeks destitute. In the end, aid must come from the heart, not from a wallet. Once humanitarian aid becomes a profit-based industry, as it so clearly has here, situations like the ones I describe here become inevitable. It all must come from the desire to help fellow human beings, and that should never be something that someone gets rich off of.

And compromising that in order to let the same machine fund you that has created so much mayhem feels like a road to some place between hell and nowhere. It’s sort of the opposite of Sartre’s “L’enfer c’est les autres” (Hell is other people). O Allos Anthropos means ‘The Other Human’. In other words, heaven is other people too. I could make a good case arguing that this is the very meaning of life, that we are here to help others. But that of course is just me. And thankfully and hopefully, bless you, many of our readers.

I don’t want to spend too much time being angry over the whole thing. The best we can all do is be positive, work with we have, and help as many people as we can. Of course Konstantinos and I, and many others, talk about becoming an NGO. But in his view, that would mean becoming a part of the machine, the industry, that does so much harm, wastes so much money and precious resources, and hurts so many needy people in the process.

Konstantinos is very much opposed to that, and I agree with him (not everyone always does). For him, it’s about never forgetting the reason why you do what you do, and certainly not forgetting it for money. But at the same time, yes, with more money we could do so much more. The number of projects that don’t get done, the people who don’t get fed, because the money is simply not there, is for lack of a better term, embarrassing. Especially, obviously, because that same money does get wasted somewhere else.

So we ask you once again for your help:

 

 

For donations to Konstantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos. Every penny goes where it belongs, no overhead. Guaranteed. It’s a matter of honor.

 

Please give generously.

 

 

A list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

Nov 28 2016

The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas

Dec 21 2016

The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017

 

 


Konstantinos and a happy refugee

 

 

Feb 142017
 
 February 14, 2017  Posted by at 10:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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David Myers Theatre on 9th Street. Washington, DC July 1939

 

Top Trump Aide Flynn Resigns Over Russia Contacts (AFP)
Judge Grants Injunction Against Trump Travel Ban In Virginia (AP)
Is Trump the New Boris Yeltsin? (Max Keiser)
Bond Traders Fear Yellen Is Planning A ‘St. Valentine’s Day Massacre’ (MW)
Yellen Outlook ‘Irrelevant’ Because Trump Will Reshape Fed (CNBC)
The Fed Is Bad For America – But Getting Rid Of It Isn’t The Answer (DDMB)
Made For Each Other (Jim Kunstler)
Democracies Must Reclaim Power Over The Production Of Money (Pettifor)
China Factory Prices Surge Most Since 2011, Boosting Reflation (BBG)
Putin’s Central Banker Is on a Tear (BBG)
The Euro May Already Be Lost (ETT)
Greece To Exceed Its Primary Surplus Target In 2018 (R.)
Greece Lines Up Rothschild For Debt Advisory Role As Bankruptcy Looms (IW)
To Those Who Kept Me Alive All These Years: Thank You (Chelsea Manning)
Lesbos Doctors Accuse NGOs Of Failing To Care For Refugees (K.)

 

 

I still don’t fully get it. Was Flynn set up? Hard to believe he didn’t know his calls would be recorded and transcribed. He ran US -military- intelligence for a number of years, for pete’s sake. How could he not have known?

Top Trump Aide Flynn Resigns Over Russia Contacts (AFP)

Donald Trump’s national security advisor Michael Flynn resigned amid controversy over his contacts with the Russian government, a stunning first departure from the new president’s inner circle less than a month after his inauguration. The White House said Trump had accepted Flynn’s resignation amid allegations the retired three star general discussed US sanctions strategy with Russia’s ambassador Sergey Kislyak before taking office. Flynn – who once headed US military intelligence – insisted he was honored to have served the American people in such a “distinguished” manner. But he admitted that he “inadvertently briefed” the now Vice President Mike Pence with “incomplete information” about his calls with Kislyak. Pence had publicly defended Flynn, saying he did not discuss sanctions, putting his own credibility into question.

“Regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology,” read Flynn’s letter, a copy of which was released by the White House. The White House said Trump has named retired lieutenant general Joseph Kellogg, who was serving as a director on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to be interim national security advisor. Flynn’s resignation so early in an American administration is unprecedented, and comes after details of his calls with the Russian diplomat were made public – upping the pressure on Trump to take action. Several US media outlets in Monday reported that top Trump advisors were warned about Flynn’s contacts with the Russians early this year. Questions will now be raised about who knew about the calls and why Trump did not move earlier to replace Flynn.

Read more …

The ban is now all but dead. But they’ll throw out another one soon.

Judge Grants Injunction Against Trump Travel Ban In Virginia (AP)

A federal judge Monday granted a preliminary injunction barring the Trump administration from implementing its travel ban in Virginia, adding another judicial ruling to those already in place challenging the ban’s constitutionality. The ruling is significant from a legal standpoint because U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema found that an unconstitutional religious bias is at the heart of the travel ban, and therefore violates First Amendment prohibitions on favoring one religion over another. She said the evidence introduced so far indicates that Virginia’s challenge to the ban will succeed once it proceeds to trial. A federal appeals court in California has already upheld a national temporary restraining order stopping the government from implementing the ban, which is directed at seven Muslim-majority countries.

But the ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was rooted more in due process grounds, said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat who brought the lawsuit against Trump in Virginia. “Judge Brinkema’s ruling gets right to the heart of our First Amendment … claim,” Herring said in a conference call Monday night. In her 22-page ruling, Brinkema writes that Trump’s promises during the campaign to implement what came to be known as a “Muslim ban” provide evidence that the current executive order unconstitutionally targets Muslims. “The president himself acknowledged the conceptual link between a Muslim ban and the EO (executive order),” Brinkema wrote. She also cited news accounts that Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani said the executive order is an effort to find a legal way for Trump to be able to impose his Muslim ban. Herring said that “the overwhelming evidence shows that this ban was conceived in religious bigotry.”

Read more …

“The creeping tide of kleptocracy will be appeased at every juncture.”

Is Trump the New Boris Yeltsin? (Max Keiser)

The hope that Trump would take on Wall Street crooks is dead. It was a long shot to begin with but it’s now clear that his level of financial illiteracy and corruption, a hallmark of Obama’s Presidency, is on par, or perhaps even exceeds Obama’s. What we see shaping up in the first few weeks of Trump’s Presidency is his emergence as the new Boris Yeltsin, the puppet idiot installed by America’s neo-cons and Wall St. bankers after the Soviet Union collapsed to drown the country in debt and deceit. Yeltsin was a drunk clown who gave away the country to oligarchs, who turned the country into a kleptocracy – all happening under the laughing approval of President Bill Clinton. Today Trump fills the Yeltsin role in American politics. As Wall St. laughs, Trump begins the process of giving away (read: privatizing) America’s assets to be owned by our new ruling kleptocracy.

Inflation is coming…But not because wages go up, but because price gouging and monopoly pricing starts to dominate our everyday lives with no cheap substitutes coming from overseas due to an increasing global level of distrust and illiquidity among trading partners. Leveraged buyouts fueled by bailouts and free money from the central bankers will continue to kill competition in America. Media, energy, pharmaceutical, finance and agriculture will all be controlled by impregnable monopolies (and Warren Buffett). It’s a pitiful sham and a godawful shame – a situation where Trump’s supporters will, in the not too distant future, turn on him after they’ve had their illusions shattered – but will it be too late? The creeping tide of kleptocracy will be appeased at every juncture. The vanishing middle class will cling to their guns and bibles – hoping for a miracle. They simply will not be able to believe that they could have been so wrong. The triumph of the will.

Read more …

The always colorful language of Albert Edwards.

Bond Traders Fear Yellen Is Planning A ‘St. Valentine’s Day Massacre’ (MW)

Is Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen capable of conducting a bond-market bloodbath? That’s what some on Wall Street are wondering. Albert Edwards, market strategist at Société Générale and noted permabear, expects Yellen, who is set to deliver semiannual testimony to the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, will trigger a steep bond selloff by talking up the possibility that the central bank will raise interest rates in March. In a note, he refers to the possibility as “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” a homage to the 1929 gangland murder of seven men in a garage in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side. The killings were allegedly planned by famed mobster Al Capone, who was trying to wrest power away from Chicago’s Irish gangsters.

Edwards isn’t the only one who expects Yellen to remind investors that the central bank could raise interest rates at its next meeting for what would be the third time in a decade. “The market is bracing for the possibility that Yellen will talk up the chances of a rate increase in March,” said Guy LeBas, chief fixed income strategist at Janney. Treasury yields, which move inversely to prices, are on track to rise for the third straight day, a selloff that has largely been driven by these concerns, LeBas said. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose 3.6 basis points to 2.447%. But a March hike is still viewed as far from likely. Although the central bank back projected back in December that it would raise interest rates three times in 2017, investors have remained skeptical—probably because they’ve been burned by the Fed before.

Read more …

If Brainard leaves too, that makes five seats to fill with Yellen gone early next year.

Yellen Outlook ‘Irrelevant’ Because Trump Will Reshape Fed (CNBC)

With at least three vacancies expected on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors this year, the central bank may not be exempt from a Trump-led shakeup, strategist Mark Grant told CNBC on Monday. “The Fed of today is not going to be the Fed of tomorrow,” the chief strategist at Hilltop Securities told “Squawk Box.” Grant, who accurately predicted the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory, said the president and Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin will take advantage of filling key vacancies on the Fed board to further their agenda. Grant spoke a day ahead of Fed Chair Janet’s Yellen’s semiannual monetary report to the Senate. The Fed has said it expect to raise interest rates three times this year.

“I think what the Fed says at this point is, for all practical purposes, irrelevant, because Mr. Trump is going to be able to appoint three members of the Fed,” Grant said. “I think they’re going to be business people and the days of an academic, economist Fed are going to be over.” Removing academics from the Fed’s board remains a point of contention, but Grant said the Trump administration is likely to do so with the economic landscape and policy goals in mind. “I also believe that Trump and company, as I call them, know as they put in the infrastructure or the military expansion that there’s going to be a balance to the balance sheet, and … that the new people on the Fed are going to keep interest rates low,” Grant said. “So all this talk of a three interest rate or four interest rate hike, in my opinion, is baloney.”

On Friday, Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo announced plans to leave the board in April, creating a third vacancy. Danielle DiMartino Booth, author of “Fed Up: An Insider’s Take on Why the Federal Reserve Is Bad for America,” said that there is a high probability that board member Lael Brainard will also leave, creating yet another vacancy. She said Trump’s bold spending plan may require low interest rates (and, in turn, a more dovish Fed), but she wondered about whom the president would appoint to the board. “It’s really going to come down to whether or not he’s got the gumption to totally change the complexion of the Federal Reserve board, or if he steps back and says, ‘You know what, I’ve got to finance all this stuff, so I’m going to put more doves in.’ These are hard decisions,” she said.

Read more …

Fed insider Danielle DiMartino Booth’s new book Fed Up is here.

The Fed Is Bad For America – But Getting Rid Of It Isn’t The Answer (DDMB)

On September 20, 2005, Mark Olson did something ordinary that’s since proved to be extraordinary. Never heard of him? You’re not alone. Nevertheless, the banking expert had the gumption to lob a dissenting vote in his capacity as a governor on the Federal Reserve Board. He joined the estimable company of Edward “Ned” Gramlich, a fellow governor who dissented at the September 2002 Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Gramlich is best known for sounding an early warning on the subprime crisis, and being resolutely dismissed by Alan Greenspan. The two gentlemen represent central banking’s answer to the “Last of the Mohicans,” the sole two dissents that have been recorded by governors since 1995. And that’s a problem. At last check, ‘No” was not a four-letter word.

It’s no longer a secret that an abundance of anger is churning among many working men and women who feel they’ve been excluded by the current economic recovery and the longest span of job creation in postwar history. The funny thing about a sense of abandonment is that more often than not, anger follows. What too few Americans appreciate is how directly the inability to say “no” at the Fed has determined their station in life. But that’s just the case. The Fed directly impacts a slew of the most important decisions we make — the values we instill in our children, the things we buy and how they are financed and how we best prepare for what follows after a lifetime of laboring in the trenches.

Stop and think for a moment about the first time you discovered the miracle of compounding interest, that first bank statement that proved savings does pay. Can your children experience that same sensation? What about the roof over your head and the car you drive? Can you afford the payments or did you stretch to buy more than you could afford, out of sheer necessity? What about your mom and dad’s retirements? Do they say their prayers that the stock market will hang in there and that the safety of their bond holdings will protect them if that’s not the case? All of these dysfunctional dynamics lay at the feet of an academic-led Fed being hellbent on launching unconventional monetary policy with the false prerequisite that interest rates had to be zero before quantitative easing (QE) could be deployed.

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“The Republican Party is Norma Desmond’s house in Sunset Boulevard, starring Donald Trump as Max the Butler, working extra-hard to keep the illusions of yesteryear going.”

Made For Each Other (Jim Kunstler)

Don’t be fooled by the idiotic exertions of the Red team and the Blue team. They’re just playing a game of “Capture the Flag” on the deck of the Titanic. The ship is the techno-industrial economy. It’s going down because it has taken on too much water (debt), and the bilge pump (the oil industry) is losing its mojo. Neither faction understands what is happening, though they each have an elaborate delusional narrative to spin in the absence of any credible plan for adapting the life of our nation to the precipitating realities. The Blues and Reds are mirrors of each other’s illusions, and rage follows when illusions die, so watch out. Both factions are ready to blow up the country before they come to terms with what is coming down.

What’s coming down is the fruit of the gross mismanagement of our society since it became clear in the 1970s that we couldn’t keep living the way we do indefinitely — that is, in a 24/7 blue-light-special demolition derby. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with accounting fraud, but in the end it is an affront to reality, and reality has a way of dealing with punks like us. Reality has a magic trick of its own: it can make the mirage of false prosperity evaporate. That’s exactly what’s going to happen and it will happen because finance is the least grounded, most abstract, of the many systems we depend on. It runs on the sheer faith that parties can trust each other to meet obligations. When that conceit crumbles, and banks can’t trust other banks, credit relations seize up, money vanishes, and stuff stops working.

You can’t get any cash out of the ATM. The trucker with a load of avocados won’t make delivery to the supermarket because he knows he won’t be paid. The avocado grower will have to watch the rest of his crop rot. The supermarket shelves empty out. And you won’t have any guacamole. There are too many fault lines in the mighty edifice of our accounting fraud for the global banking system to keep limping along, to keep pretending it can meet its obligations. These fault lines run through the bond markets, the stock markets, the banks themselves at all levels, the government offices that pretend to regulate spending, the offices that affect to report economic data, the offices that neglect to regulate criminal misconduct, the corporate boards and C-suites, the insurance companies, the pension funds, the guarantors of mortgages, car loans, and college loans, and the ratings agencies.

The pervasive accounting fraud bleeds a criminal ethic into formerly legitimate enterprises like medicine and higher education, which become mere rackets, extracting maximum profits while skimping on delivery of the goods. All this is going to overwhelm Trump soon, and he will flounder trying to deal with a gargantuan mess. It will surely derail his wish to make America great again — a la 1962, with factories humming, and highways yet to build, and adventures in outer space, and a comforting sense of superiority over all the sad old battered empires abroad. I maintain it could get so bad so fast that Trump will be removed by a cadre of generals and intelligence officers who can’t stand to watch someone acting like Captain Queeg in the pilot house.

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Ann Pettifor’s new book is out too.

Democracies Must Reclaim Power Over The Production Of Money (Pettifor)

Today, the international monetary system is run by the equivalent of Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice. In the absence of the equivalent of the Sorcerer – regulatory democracy – financial risk-takers and fraudsters have, since 1971, periodically crashed the global economy and trashed the lives of millions of people. And let’s be clear: there is no such thing as effective global regulation. Ask the Bitcoiners – that is why they operate in the ‘dark web’. The question is this: who should control our socially constructed, publicly-backed financial institutions and relationships? Private, unaccountable, rent-seeking authority? Or public, democratic, regulatory authority? Policy and regulation requires boundaries. Pensions policy, criminal justice policies, taxation policies, policies for the protection of intellectual property – all require boundaries.

Finance capital abhors boundaries. Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, global financiers want to be free to use the magic of money creation to flood the global economy with ‘easy’ (if dear) money, and just as frequently to starve economies of any affordable finance. And they want to have ‘the freedom’ to do that in the absence of the Sorcerer – regulatory democracy. If we want to strengthen democracy, then we must subordinate bankers to their role as servants of the economy. Capital control over both inflows and outflows, is, and will always be a vital tool for doing so. In other words, if we really want to ‘take back control’ we will have to bring offshore capital back onshore. That is the only way to restore order to the domestic economy, but also to the global economy.

Second, monetary relationships must be carefully managed – by public, not private authority. Loans must primarily be deployed for productive employment and income-generating activity. Speculation leads to capital gains that can rise exponentially. But speculation can also lead to catastrophic losses. Loans for rent-seeking and speculation, gambling or betting, must be made inadmissible. Third, money lent must not be burdened by high, unpayable real rates of interest. Rates of interest for loans across the spectrum of lending – short- and long-term, in real terms, safe and risky – must, again, be managed by public, not private authority if they are to be sustainable and repayable, and if debt is not going to lead to systemic failure. Keynes explained how that could be done with his Liquidity Preference Theory, still profoundly relevant for policy-makers, & largely ignored by the economics profession.

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Remember: there can be no inflation without consumer spending going up. Prices may rise for other reasons, but that’s not the same.

China Factory Prices Surge Most Since 2011, Boosting Reflation (BBG)

China’s producer prices increased the most since 2011, with the world’s biggest exporter further lifting the outlook for global inflation. Producer price index rose 6.9% in January from a year earlier, compared with a median estimate of 6.5% in a Bloomberg survey and a 5.5% December gain. Consumer-price index climbed 2.5%, boosted by the week-long Lunar New Year holiday beginning in January this year, versus a 2.4% rise forecast by analysts. Producer prices for mining products surged 31% year-on-year while those for raw materials climbed 12.9%, the National Bureau of Statistics said Tuesday. China is again exporting inflation as factories increase prices after emerging from years of deflation. That fresh strength may moderate in coming months as year-ago comparisons gradually rise and Donald Trump’s policies add uncertainties to the global demand outlook.

Continued pressure for raw materials is forcing companies to increase prices, according to Tao Dong at Credit Suisse in Hong Kong. “Without strong demand, producers have limited space for price hikes,” he said. “But I see a wide range of price increases because the cost push is so severe.” Both consumer and producer inflation will peak soon, Julian Evans-Pritchard, an economist at Capital Economics in Singapore, wrote in a report. “Tighter monetary policy, slowing income growth and cooling property prices should keep broader price pressure contained over the medium-term,” he said. “The latest inflation data add to the case for a continued moderate tightening in monetary policy,” Tom Orlik, chief Asia economist at Bloomberg Intelligence in Beijing, wrote in a report.

“The central bank is likely to continue on that path in the months ahead, as policy makers lean against excess leverage, yuan weakness and capital outflows, and nascent inflationary pressure.” “We haven’t seen significant pass-through effect from PPI to CPI inflation yet, suggesting that the strong rebound in PPI inflation is a reflection of proactive fiscal policies,” Zhou Hao, an economist at Commerzbank in Singapore, wrote in a report. With the Communist Party Congress later this year, “local governments are keen to deliver decent growth figures. Against this backdrop, the infrastructure investment pipeline will remain solid.”

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It’s almost 2 years ago that I wrote Russia’s Central Bank Governor Is Way Smarter Than Ours. This is a pretty crazy story. Russian banking appears to take place in some kind of black hole, complete with event horizons.

Putin’s Central Banker Is on a Tear (BBG)

In Russia, Peresvet Bank had an edge no other big private financial institution could match. Its largest shareholder was the powerful Russian Orthodox Church. In a 2015 pitch to investors, Peresvet said the backing of the church and the bank s other big owner, Russia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, gave it a quasi-sovereign status. For more than two decades, big state companies stashed their cash with the bank, whose ponderous full name Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Charity and Spiritual Development of Fatherland suggested its grand standing. Even so, it took less than a month last fall for the bank, one of Russia’s 50 largest, to come undone and be taken over by the central bank. Peresvet was just the latest casualty in a financial purge presided over by Central Bank chief Elvira Nabiullina, a bookish economist who’s a favorite of Vladimir Putin.

The regulator closed almost 100 banks in 2016, and in a cleanup with few precedents, Nabiullina has shut almost 300 over the past three years. This may be only the beginning. There are about 600 banks left across the world’s largest country, but Fitch Ratings analyst Alexander Danilov, adjusting for population, calculates that as an emerging market Russia would be fine with about 1 in 10 of those. A warning from Fitch signaled Peresvet’s fall: Almost a tenth of its loans were to companies seemingly without real businesses. Then Russian media reported that the chief executive officer, Alexander Shvets, had disappeared. The bank issued denials and publicized positive comments from other analysts. But within days, as depositors clamored for their cash, the bank said it was “temporarily” limiting withdrawals. The regulator took control of the lender four days later.

As of late January the central bank was still trying to determine the scale of Peresvet’s financial woes. Nabiullina, 53, has emerged as one of Putin’s most influential economic advisers following a low-key government career that began in the 1990s, before the Russian leader’s rise to power. Soft-spoken and unassuming, she runs what in Russia is called a “megaregulator.” When it comes to the economics behind Putin’s overarching goal of restoring Russia’s place in the world, there’s no one more influential. As central bank governor, she’s in charge of a banking system whose weak links are an economic burden, driving up the cost of financing so badly needed in the face of stagnant growth. She’s also the chief guardian of Russia’s foreign currency reserves. Those holdings are more than just a tool of monetary policy; according to several senior officials, Putin views them as a vital safeguard of the country’s sovereignty. [..]

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The eurozone’s core problem: as soon as harder economic times come, the poorer countries are hit hardest. Solution: a transfer union like the US. But that will never be accepted in the EU, because it means giving up more sovereignty.

From Finland’s EuroThinkTank, h/t Mish

The Euro May Already Be Lost (ETT)

The 1st of January 2017 marked the 18th anniversary of the European common currency, the euro. Despite its success from 1999 to 2007, after 2008 the euro has become a burden for many of its members. For example, living standards in Italy and Greece are below the levels when they joined the euro. Finland is the only Nordic country using the euro and it is also the only Nordic country which has not yet recovered from the financial crash of 2008. There have been many proposals on how to fix the euro and the EMU, but they are politically unpopular and unrealistic. In this blog-entry, we will argue that the euro will almost surely fail; we just do not know the exact timing of its demise. The problem of the euro can be visualized in the development of the GDP per capita.

Germany has been successful in the Eurozone, while Greece and Italy have not. France is not doing well either. The jury is still out for Finland. The different growth paths are a symptom of a general problem that has haunted currency unions for centuries. Competitiveness and productivity develop at a different pace in different countries. Over time, this leads to large competitiveness differences among the members of a currency union. These differences do not usually pose a problem during economic booms because strengthening aggregate demand supports ailing fields of production. However, when a currency union faces an economic downturn or a crisis, falling aggregate demand hits less competitive industries and countries hard and the financing costs of less competitive countries jump. This is an asymmetric shock.

The detrimental effects of asymmetric shocks can be mitigated by transferring funds from prosperous to declining member states. When the dollar union of the US threatened to fall apart during the Great Depression, the federal government enacted federal income transfers from prosperous states to aid ailing ones. The federal budget also increased rapidly and, in practice, income transfers became permanent. The no bailout policy of crisis-hit states had already been enacted earlier. According to the ECB, competitiveness of the German economy has improved by around 19.3%, Greece’s competitiveness has improved by around 6.5%, France’s around 3.9%, Finland’s around 1.7% and Italy’s around 0.9% since 1999. Thus, for survival in its present form and size, the Eurozone needs a similar income transfer system, that is, a full political union as in the US.

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Meaningless numbers.

Greece To Exceed Its Primary Surplus Target In 2018 (R.)

Greece will have a primary surplus in the budget of 3.7% of GDP next year, exceeding the target of 3.5% agreed with its euro zone creditors, the European Commission forecast on Monday. The size of next year’s Greek primary surplus, which is the budget balance before debt-servicing costs, is a bone of contention between euro zone governments and the IMF, which believes it will be only 1.5%. A further disagreement between the two lenders to Greece is what surplus Athens will be able to maintain in the years after 2018. The higher the surplus and the longer it is kept the less is the need for any further debt relief to Greece.

The IMF insists Greek debt, which the Commission forecast on Monday would fall to 177.2% of GDP this year from 179.7% in 2016 and then decline again to 170.6% in 2018, is unsustainably high and that Greece must get debt relief. Germany and several other euro zone countries say that, if Greece does all the agreed reforms, then debt relief will not be necessary. The Commission forecast that Greek investment would triple to 12% of GDP this year and rise further to 14.2% of GDP next year as the economy expands 2.7% in 2017 and 3.1% in 2018 after years of recession. It also forecast Greek unemployment would fall to 22% of the workforce this year from 23.4% last year and decline further to 20.3% in 2018.

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If all else fails, sell your soul.

Greece Lines Up Rothchild For Debt Advisory Role As Bankruptcy Looms (IW)

Greece is reportedly planning to hire Rothschild as its debt adviser, replacing current adviser Lazard in the role, as it attempts to end a long-running stand off with creditors. According to the Financial Times, government officials in Greece hope to finalise the appointment before a gathering of euro-area finance ministers on 20 February. Unless Greece receives fresh funds it will not be able to make €7bn of debt payments due this July, including €2.1bn to private sector creditors. In the role, Rothschild will reportedly advise the country on negotiations with creditors, potential inclusion in the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme, and the sale of Greek government bonds.

The deal would replace the Greek government’s current deal with Lazard, which guided the country through its original bailout in 2012. According to the FT, out of Greece’s €323bn of outstanding government debt just €36bn is owned by private investors who hold Greek bonds, while the rest is owned by sector creditors. Last week, yields on two-year Greek bonds rose to their highest level since June last year after the IMF and the EU failed to reach an agreement on how to lend the €7bn required by the country to avoid bankruptcy. The IMF refused to sign up to the aid programme unless the EU grants further debt relief to Greece. However, the head of the eurozone’s €500bn rescue fund has rejected this demand.

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Power to you, Chelsea.

To Those Who Kept Me Alive All These Years: Thank You (Chelsea Manning)

To those who have kept me alive for the past 6 years: minutes after President Obama announced the commutation of my sentence, the prison quickly moved me out of general population and into the restrictive housing unit where I am now held. I know that we are now physically separated, but we will never be apart and we are not alone. Recently, one of you asked me “Will you remember me?” I will remember you. How could I possibly forget? You taught me lessons I would have never learned otherwise. When I was afraid, you taught me how to keep going. When I was lost, you showed me the way. When I was numb, you taught me how to feel. When I was angry, you taught me how to chill out. When I was hateful, you taught me how to be compassionate. When I was distant, you taught me how to be close. When I was selfish, you taught me how to share.

Sometimes, it took me a while to learn many things. Other times, I would forget, and you would remind me. We were friends in a way few will ever understand. There was no room to be superficial. Instead, we bared it all. We could hide from our families and from the world outside, but we could never hide from each other. We argued, we bickered and we fought with each other. Sometimes, over absolutely nothing. But, we were always a family. We were always united. When the prison tried to break one of us, we all stood up. We looked out for each other. When they tried to divide us, and systematically discriminated against us, we embraced our diversity and pushed back. But, I also learned from all of you when to pick my battles. I grew up and grew connected because of the community you provided.

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I’ll get back to this soon. It’s good to see others address this issue too.

Lesbos Doctors Accuse NGOs Of Failing To Care For Refugees (K.)

State hospital doctors on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos, which has been hard particularly hit by the refugee crisis, have complained that nongovernmental organizations receiving European Union funding to help migrants are not doing enough, resulting in them being forced to bear an excessive burden. In a statement released on Monday, the island’s union of state hospital doctors said the two refugee camps at Moria and Kara Tepe do not have any pediatricians, meaning that all sick children from the camps must be treated at local hospitals, which are seriously understaffed. Noting that the NGOs “get paid handsomely” by the EU to help refugees, the union claimed they had “totally failed to provide humane conditions for the refugees.” Several human rights groups have complained about conditions at Greek refugee camps, particularly Moria and Elliniko, in southern Athens.

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Jan 272017
 
 January 27, 2017  Posted by at 10:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »
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Kathimerini Trump and Evolution Jan 25 2017

Theresa May: US and UK Will No Longer Invade Foreign Countries (Ind.)
Donald Trump’s Plan For China Relations Is To Be Unpredictable (G.)
Wave Of US State Department Personnel Resign, Are Fired (ZH)
How America Could Collapse (Nation)
Outrage Dilution (Adams)
How America Lost Its Identity – Megalomania & Small-Mindedness (Spiegel)
Obama Bequeaths A More Dangerous World (Parry)
China’s Shadow Banking Crusade Risks Bond Market Crash (R.)
China’s Army of Global Homebuyers Is Suddenly Short on Cash (BBG)
Lurching Towards the New Paradigm (Art+M)
Greece Creditors Demand Legislation Of Reforms For 2018-19 (Kath.)
Greek Supreme Court Rules Against Extraditing Eight Turkish Soldiers (WSJ)
EU Looks To Camps In Africa To Cut Immigration (R.)
Europe’s Crackdown On African Immigration Is Hitting Vulnerable Refugees (G.)
EU’s Mishandled Millions Not Reaching Refugees (DW)

 

 

If it could only be true. Between this from Theresa May, and the disappearance of Victoria Nuland, not such a bad day. But I find it hard to go through all the ‘serious’ press who report on things like the US spelling Theresa without the ‘h’. Is that worth paying a journalist for? That’s the best you got? Then again, I did like the person on twitter pointing out that Teresa May is the name of a pornstar, and wondering who Trump thought he was going to meet.

Theresa May: US and UK Will No Longer Invade Foreign Countries (Ind.)

Britain and the US will never again invade sovereign foreign countries “in an attempt to make the world in their own image,” Theresa May told Republican policymakers in Philadelphia. The Prime Minister vowed never to repeat the “failed policies of the past” in reference to Western military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, breaking from the “liberal intervention” principle established by Tony Blair. Referencing the “special relationship” between the UK and US, Ms May also stressed the importance of cooperation between the two countries to meet their “obligations of leadership” and “stand up for our interests”. “It is in our interests – those of Britain and America together – to stand strong together to defend our values, our interests and the very ideas in which we believe,” she said.

“This cannot mean a return to the failed policies of the past. The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.” However she called for “strong, smart and hard-headed” actions to stand up for Western principles, adding: “Nor can we afford to stand idly by when the threat is real and when it is in our own interests to intervene.” She also pledged support to Mr Trump in the continued fight against the “new enemies of the west and our values”. Ms May said it was a “priority” to push back on “Iran’s aggressive efforts” to increase its “arc of influence from Tehran through to the Mediterranean”. However, she defended the nuclear deal brokered by Barack Obama despite threats from Mr Trump that he would rip up the agreement, saying it had been successful in neutralising a potential threat. [..] “With President Putin, my advice is to engage but beware.”

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What’s that worth if you announce it, though?

Donald Trump’s Plan For China Relations Is To Be Unpredictable (G.)

Donald Trump’s game plan for relations with China is to use unpredictability as a means of wrong-footing the country’s Communist party leaders and extracting economic concessions, a prominent adviser has said. Since his election, Trump and his team have repeatedly discombobulated the Chinese government with a series of interventions on sensitive issues such as the South China Sea, US relations with Taiwan and China’s alleged manipulation of its currency, the yuan. Those moves have unsettled and angered Beijing, which had expected Trump to tone down his anti-China rhetoric after his victory. In an interview with China’s state-run broadcaster, Michael Pillsbury, a former Pentagon official and longtime China scholar, suggested Trump’s decision to repeatedly tweak Beijing’s nose was part of a calculated strategy.

The US president believed the Chinese were “the best negotiators in the whole world, so to get an advantage he wants to be unpredictable in the eyes of the Chinese government,” Pillsbury told CGTN, an international mouthpiece for the Chinese government that was formerly called CCTV. “I think he has succeeded in this, don’t you?” Pillsbury, a fluent Mandarin speaker who is known for his contacts within China’s People’s Liberation Army and has been advising Trump’s team, said the president had outlined this strategy in his most recent book, Great Again: How To Fix Our Crippled America. In it Trump writes: “The element of surprise wins battles. So I don’t tell the other side what I’m doing, I don’t warn them, and I don’t let them fit me comfortably into a predictable pattern … I like being unpredictable. It keeps them off balance.”

In a chapter on foreign policy, Trump accuses his predecessors of “rolling over” for Beijing and hints it will be one of the main targets of his strategy. “There are people who wish I wouldn’t refer to China as our enemy. But that’s exactly what they are,” Trump writes. China specialists on both sides of the Pacific fear relations between Beijing and Washington could deteriorate rapidly under Trump, increasing the risks of a potentially calamitous great power conflict. However, Pillsbury, who has written a book about a supposed Chinese plot to become the world’s preeminent military, political and economic power by 2049, claimed ties could warm. “I say the road to making America great again runs through Beijing,” he told CGTN, calling for greater Chinese investment in the US.

“It can be win-win. I think it will be win-win,” Pillsbury said, using one of the favourite phrases of Chinese diplomats. Another China scholar who is understood to have offered advice to Trump’s team also said this week that he believed an improved relationship was on the cards. “I don’t quite understand why people seem to be operating under the assumption that the relationship with China was good and now all of a sudden it is going to change to be less good,” Daniel Blumenthal, the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute told the Guardian.

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Bit confusing who left of their own accord and who got a pink slip. Been a thorough clean-up. Getting rid of Victoria Nuland is worth just about any price.

Wave Of US State Department Personnel Resign, Are Fired (ZH)

Update: according to a CNN report – so as always take with lots of salt – the story has shifted materially, because according to two senior administration officials, it wasn’t a resignation by the State Department officials, but more of a termination: “the Trump administration told four top State Department management officials that their services were no longer needed as part of an effort to “clean house” at Foggy Bottom.”

Patrick Kennedy, who served for nine years as the undersecretary for management, Assistant Secretaries for Administration and Consular Affairs Michele Bond and Joyce Anne Barr, and Ambassador Gentry Smith, director of the Office for Foreign Missions, were sent letters by the White House that their service was no longer required, the sources told CNN. All four, career officers serving in positions appointed by the President, submitted letters of resignation per tradition at the beginning of a new administration. The letters from the White House said that their resignations were accepted and they were thanked for their service.

The White House usually asks career officials in such positions to stay on for a few months until their successors are confirmed. “Any implication that that these four people quit is wrong,” one senior State Department official said. “These people are loyal to the secretary, the President and to the State Department. There is just not any attempt here to dis the President. People are not quitting and running away in disgust. This is the White House cleaning house.” Mark Toner, the State Department’s acting spokesman, said in a statement that “These positions are political appointments, and require the President to nominate and the Senate to confirm them in these roles. They are not career appointments but of limited term.”

A second official echoed that the move appeared to be an effort by the new administration to “clean house” among the State Department’s top leadership. “The department will not collapse,” the second official said. “Everyone has good deputies. It’s a huge institutional loss, but the department has excellent subordinates and the career people will step up. They will take up the responsibility.” Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s assistant secretary for Europe, was also not asked to stay on. The following org charts breaks out the unfilled appointee positions, in blue, while the red crosses show the resignations.

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America has killed its resilience and redundancy, its back-up system. All western nations have. Best argument for protectionism: produce your own essentials.

How America Could Collapse (Nation)

A few months ago, a friend in the entertainment industry told me of a new business model in Hollywood: hoarding videotapes. Apparently, the earthquake in Japan knocked offline a Sony factory that makes certain types of tape. That factory was also in the tsunami zone, so now there’s a serious tape shortage threatening the television industry. The NBA scrambled to get enough tape to broadcast the NBA finals; one executive told the Hollywood Reporter, “It’s like a bank run.” In the last few years, economists have spent a lot of time and energy thinking about bank runs. A bank run happens when depositors think a bank is weak and scramble to get their money out before it collapses. “Tight coupling” of financial institutions, like when banks are overly dependent on each other, can create a cascading series of problems for the system itself.

We saw this with Lehman Brothers when it went bankrupt. Its AAA-rated debt instruments lost value unexpectedly; that caused money market funds that held those presumably safe bonds to suddenly lose value. A shadow bank run was the result, as investors rushed to withdraw from the money market funds. Worryingly, there’s been very little consideration of how systemic collapses can happen in another, perhaps more dangerous realm—the industrial supply system that keeps us in everything from medicine to food to cars to, yes, videotape. In 2004, for instance, England closed one single factory, which caused the United States to lose half of its flu vaccine supply. Barry Lynn of the New America Foundation has been studying industrial supply shocks since 1999, when he noticed that global computer chip production was concentrated in Taiwan.

After a severe earthquake in that country, the global computer industry nearly shut down, crashing the stocks of large computer makers. This level of concentration of the production of key components in a globalized economy is a new phenomenon. Lynn’s work points to the highly dangerous side of globalization, the flip side of a hyper-efficient global supply chain. When one link in that chain is broken, there is no fallback. Lynn has continued to study industrial supply shocks and says, “What I have found most interesting recently is the apparent role supply chain shocks played in triggering a synchronized slowdown of industrial economies in April—production down (in USA, China, Europe, Southeast Asia), jobs down, demand down, GDP numbers down—due almost entirely to the loss of a single factory that makes microcontroller chips for cars.”

[..] There’s a good amount of grumbling about the state of American infrastructure—collapsing bridges, high-speed rail, etc. But American infrastructure is not just about public goods, it’s about how the corporations that enforce, inform and organize economic activity are themselves organized. Are they doing productive research? Are they spreading knowledge and know-how to people who will use it responsibly? Are they creating prosperity or extracting wealth using raw power? And most importantly, are they contributing to the robustness of our society, such that we can survive and thrive in the normal course of emergencies? The answer to all of these questions right now is “no.” And while this may not be hitting the elite segments of the economy right now, there will be no escape from a flu pandemic or significant food shortage. The re-engineering of our global supply chain needs to happen—and it will happen, either through good leadership or through collapse.

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As much as people may dislike Scott Adams, he has a story to tell that many do not understand but should.

Outrage Dilution (Adams)

I’m having a fun time watching President Trump flood the news cycle with so many stories and outrages that no one can keep up. Here’s how the math of persuasion works in this situation: 1 outrage out of 3 headlines in a week: Bad Persuasion. 25 outrages out of 25 headlines in a week: Excellent Persuasion. At the moment there are so many outrages, executive orders, protests, and controversies that none of them can get enough oxygen in our brains. I can’t obsess about problem X because the rest of the alphabet is coming at me at the same time. When you encounter a situation that is working great except for one identifiable problem, you can focus on the problem and try to fix it. But if you have a dozen complaints at the same time, none of them looks special. The whole situation just looks confusing, and you don’t know where to start. So you wait and see what happens.

Humans need contrast in order to make solid decisions that turn into action. Trump removed all of your contrast by providing multiple outrages of similar energy. You’re probably seeing the best persuasion you will ever see from a new president. Instead of dribbling out one headline at a time, so the vultures and critics can focus their fire, Trump has flooded the playing field. You don’t know where to aim your outrage. He’s creating so many opportunities for disagreement that it’s mentally exhausting. Literally. He’s wearing down the critics, replacing their specific complaints with entire encyclopedias of complaints. And when Trump has created a hundred reasons to complain, do you know what impression will be left with the public? He sure got a lot done. Even if you don’t like it. In only a few days, Trump has made us question what-the-hell every other president was doing during their first weeks in office. Were they even trying?

For a fun party trick, ask your most liberal friends if they think the Federal government should have a say in whether a woman gets an abortion or not. When they say the Federal government should stay out of that decision, inform them that President Trump shares their opinion. He doesn’t want the Federal government to be in the business of making health care choices for women. He prefers leaving that decision to the woman, her doctor, and state laws.

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Not bad at all from Der Spiegel.

How America Lost Its Identity – Megalomania & Small-Mindedness (Spiegel)

On a frigid January evening one year ago, I was standing in a line of around 1,000 people in Burlington, Vermont, to see Donald Trump. I reported my very first story on the United States in 1991 and had been living in the country since 2013. I thought I knew the country well. But on that evening in January, I realized that I had been mistaken. Burlington lay under a blanket of snow and next to me in line stood Mary and Tim Loyer, both wrapped in dark-blue parkas. Mary was unemployed and her son Tim had a job at a bar. Both told me they were Bernie Sanders supporters. Tim said he was particularly bothered by the power held by large companies, that the division of wealth was unfair and that people like him no longer had opportunities to improve their lives. It was the anthem of the working class.

When asked what he found attractive about Trump, Tim said: “Bernie and Trump are the only politicians who say what they’re thinking and do what they say,” as his mother Mary nodded along. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, is corrupt, he said. In an election pitting Trump against Clinton, Tim said he would not vote for Clinton. Again, Mary nodded. At the entrance, security personnel patted us down and asked if we were planning on voting for Trump. Only those who said yes were allowed to proceed. When Trump began speaking, a demonstrator stood up and yelled that Trump was a racist. The candidate paused, shook his fist and demanded that security throw the protester out. “Keep his coat. Confiscate his coat,” Trump said from the stage. It was 21 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 degrees Celsius) outside.

Trump snarled as his fans jumped to their feet hooting and jeering. One was reminded of a lynch mob. I learned three things on that evening in Burlington: In the fatherland of capitalism, anger with the elite is so vast that even leftists would rather vote for a narcissist billionaire than a veteran of the political establishment. In a country that values freedom of opinion higher than almost any other country in the world, there were now attitude tests prior to admission to political rallies. And many Americans, who are otherwise so polite, lose all restraint when confronted by those who think differently. Everything that I associated with America seemed no longer to apply on that evening in Burlington. What had happened to this once-proud country?

I found answers to this question on a journey through American society – to places like Vermont, Maryland, Rhode Island and Virginia. Those are just a few of the places I have visited in the last four years – places where those symptoms could be seen that together add up to the huge crisis that has gripped America. This self-confident country that has spent decades exporting its values with imperialist hubris has lost its identity. Democratic capitalism no longer works well enough to keep together a country of 325 million people and to guarantee domestic peace. The United States is not alone in having been struck by this identity crisis: It has also hit the United Kingdom, France, Germany and other countries. But America, where capitalism flourishes to a greater degree than anywhere else, has been hit the hardest of all.

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Not Robert Parry’s strongest effort, he seems to want to stick to two contradictory stories at the same time: is Obama a closet neocon or is he a coward?

Obama Bequeaths A More Dangerous World (Parry)

[..] perhaps Obama’s most dangerous legacy is the New Cold War with Russia, which began in earnest when Washington’s neocons struck back against Moscow for its cooperation with Obama in getting Syria to surrender its chemical weapons (which short-circuited neocon hopes to bomb the Syrian military) and in persuading Iran to accept tight limits on its nuclear program (another obstacle to a neocon bombing plan). In both cases, the neocons were bent on “regime change,” or at least a destructive bombing operation in line with Israeli and Saudi hostility toward Syria and Iran. But the biggest challenge to these schemes was the positive relationship that had developed between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. So, that relationship had to be shattered and the wedge that the neocons found handy was Ukraine.

By September 2013, Carl Gershman, the neocon president of the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, had identified Ukraine as “the biggest prize” and a steppingstone toward the ultimate goal of ousting Putin. By late fall 2013 and winter 2014, neocons inside the U.S. government, including Sen. John McCain and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, were actively agitating for a “regime change” in Ukraine, a putsch against elected President Viktor Yanukovych that was carried out on Feb. 22, 2014. This operation on Russia’s border provoked an immediate reaction from the Kremlin, which then supported ethnic-Russian Ukrainians who had voted heavily for Yanukovych and who objected to the coup regime in Kiev. The neocon-dominated U.S. mainstream media, of course, portrayed the Ukrainian conflict as a simple case of “Russian aggression,” and Obama fell in line with this propaganda narrative.

After his relationship with Putin had deteriorated over the ensuring two-plus years, Obama chose to escalate the New Cold War in his final weeks in office by having U.S. intelligence agencies leak unsubstantiated claims that Putin interfered in the U.S. presidential election by hacking and publicizing Democratic emails that helped Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. The CIA also put in play salacious rumors about the Kremlin blackmailing Trump over a supposed video of him cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. And, according to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. counterintelligence agents investigated communications between retired Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor, and Russian officials. In the New McCarthyism that now surrounds the New Cold War, any conversation with Russians apparently puts an American under suspicion for treason.

The anti-Russian frenzy also pulled in The New York Times, The Washington Post and virtually the entire mainstream media, which now treat any dissent from the official U.S. narratives condemning Moscow as prima facie evidence that you are part of a Russian propaganda apparatus. Even some “progressive” publications have joined this stampede because they so despise Trump that they will tout any accusation to damage his presidency.

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Scary insane: “..WMPs jumped 42% year-on-year to 26 trillion yuan ($3.8 trillion) at the end of June, doubling in just two years.”

China’s Shadow Banking Crusade Risks Bond Market Crash (R.)

China’s campaign to cut high debt levels in its economy is aiming this year to shrink the $3 trillion shadow banking sector, which could drain a critical source of income for the country’s banks and of funding for its fragile bond market. Shadow banking, a term for financial agents that perform bank-like activity but are not regulated as banks, has boomed in China, the world’s second-largest economy, as a way of circumventing government’s tight controls on lending. It has been a key driver of the breakneck growth in debt in the economy, which UBS says rose to 277% of GDP from 254% in 2016, and is now a target as Beijing tries to reduce that figure before it destabilizes the economy.

But with banks’ shadow banking business accounting for about a fifth of total outstanding loans, analysts fear that the unintended consequences of government efforts could trigger the fate it seeks to avoid. “We see a policy-induced drastic deleveraging in shadow banking as a policy miscalculation that could trigger unexpected tail risks for the banking sector,” said Liao Qiang, credit analyst at S&P Global Ratings. Investors’ concerns stem from new rules this month that put lenders’ wealth management products (WMPs), the biggest component of shadow banking, under the scrutiny of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) for the first time and into its calculations on prudence, capital adequacy and loan growth guidelines.

According to the latest official data, WMPs jumped 42% year-on-year to 26 trillion yuan ($3.8 trillion) at the end of June, doubling in just two years. WMPs are typically kept off banks’ balance sheets, making it difficult for regulators to assess the stability of a banking sector reliant upon them for growth. And just as in the global financial crisis of 2008, banks’ interconnectedness amplifies the risks. Banks are increasingly buying into each other’s WMPs, such that interbank WMPs hit 4 trillion yuan in June, a doubling from two years ago.

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Wonder how this connects to the shadow banks.

China’s Army of Global Homebuyers Is Suddenly Short on Cash (BBG)

China’s escalating crackdown on capital outflows is sending shudders through property markets around the world. In London, Chinese citizens who clamored to purchase flats at the city’s tallest apartment tower three months ago are now struggling to transfer their down payments. In Silicon Valley, Keller Williams Realty says inquiries from China have slumped since the start of the year. And in Sydney, developers are facing “big problems” as Chinese buyers pull back, according to consultancy firm Basis Point. “Everything changed’’ as it became more difficult to send money offshore, said Coco Tan, a broker associate at Keller Williams in Cupertino, California. Less than a month after China announced fresh curbs on overseas payments, anecdotal reports from realtors, homeowners and developers suggest the restrictions are already weighing on the world’s biggest real estate buying spree.

While no one expects Chinese demand to disappear anytime soon, the clampdown is deterring first-time buyers who lack offshore assets and the expertise to skirt tighter capital controls. “If it’s too difficult, I’m out,’’ said Mr. Zheng, 66, a retired civil servant in Shanghai who declined to give his first name to avoid attracting regulatory scrutiny. He may abandon a 2.4 million yuan ($348,903) home purchase in western Melbourne, even after shelling out a 300,000 yuan deposit last August. He’s due to make another big payment next month. The change spooking Zheng and his compatriots came in a statement from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Dec. 31, hours before the reset of Chinese citizens’ annual foreign currency quotas.

Among other requirements, SAFE said all buyers of foreign exchange must now sign a pledge that they won’t use their $50,000 quotas for offshore property investment. Violators will be added to a government watch list, denied access to foreign currency for three years and subjected to money-laundering investigations, SAFE said. “A lot of clients are worried and have started hesitating,’’ said Wang Ning, vice president of the international department at Fang Holdings, China’s most popular property website.

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A pity this ends in a political rant, the first part is interesting.

Lurching Towards the New Paradigm (Art+M)

The world heaved under the sudden weight of its own nervous system. Lit up and lashed to the planet in only a few decades, we lost our bearings in the paradox of connectivity: minute detail of every moment yet removed from any tangible presence, our animal bandwidth compressed to sound and vision, crowded and alone. We got connected and it’s terrifying. Direct confrontation with The Other. Massive social relativism. A fractal collage of affinity networks and sub genres and Things That Seem Really Different. Nature red in tooth and claw, in full glorious monstrosity. And now it’s like “oh shit you mean we’re responsible for all of this??” The Web is a planetary architecture that compresses and distributes information. There’s only so much bandwidth and the Web is just one modality of acting in the world.

The network compresses physical experience from 5 senses to mostly one. The lo-fidelity of text invites us to project our fears and insecurities on vagaries stripped of all the social cues we use to interrogate communication. No tone of voice, no body language, no skin flush or eye contact or simple touch. We get complete vision at the expense of physical connection. We casually act like monsters when online, say terrible things, things we would never say to someone’s face. We’d see their hurt, feel their anger. Yet, such is the new asymmetry of power that dateless trolls can destroy lives from the safety of their parents’ basement. It turns out social media is pretty sociopathic. But this couch is pretty comfortable and many of us in the developed world enjoy tremendous security, all things being equal.

Our relentless sapien modeling no longer frets about saber toothed beasts rumbling in the brush to devour us, but abstracts those same spirits, those hopes and fears, into the characters and dramatic occurrences that enchant our fickle minds. So we sat on the couch and projected ourselves into the astral theater of television. The Gods we looked to for hope and guidance, for rules and consequences, those gods became priests, then politicians, and then celebrities. The Stars of the Silver Screen. Then we broke open the screen, tore apart the TV and unbundled its business entanglements and made it so we could all walk onto the soundstage and stand beneath those glowing lights, big smile, ready to share ourselves with the masses. On the way to Godhead we are tempted by Stardom.

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The longer this takes, and there’s no end in sight, the more I’ll be thinking of the Treaty of Versailles. It won’t lead to a new Hitler, but the risk of destabilizing the entire region is very real. Destroying a country is always a bad idea, destroying a member of your own union is much worse. And entirelu unnecessary too.

Greece Creditors Demand Legislation Of Reforms For 2018-19 (Kath.)

Eurozone finance ministers turned the heat up on Athens on Thursday, demanding that it legislates measures now for the period after 2018, when the country’s bailout ends, dashing the government’s hopes of a swift conclusion to the second review of its third bailout. The Eurogroup in Brussels, which the government hoped would pave the way for the return to Athens of the representatives of the country’s quartet of creditors to continue talks, was held just two days after the emphatic refusal by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to enact any further measures now. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said the demands by the IMF went “well beyond the European framework of democracy.”

“It’s not correct to ask a country in a program to legislate two to three years beforehand what it will do in 2019,” he said after the Eurogroup. Moreover, what is worrisome for the leftist-led government is that Greece appears to have lost the support of the European Commission, which aligned itself with the demands made by the IMF and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble for Athens to legislate measures now for the period after 2018. However, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said that completing the review is “in everybody’s interest,” adding that Greece’s creditors remain committed to continuing talks, and that eurozone finance ministers want to expedite procedures that will allow creditor representatives to return to Athens “as quick as possible.” The good news, he said, was that the Greek economy is recovering fiscally, and that state revenues were higher than expected.

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The only possible decision. Time for the EU to stand up for Greece. Yeah, right.

Greek Supreme Court Rules Against Extraditing Eight Turkish Soldiers (WSJ)

Greece’s Supreme Court rejected an extradition request for eight Turkish military officers who fled to Greece after a failed coup, a decision that Turkey warned would hurt the countries’ relations. The court ruled that the servicemen wouldn’t get a fair trial in Turkey and that their extradition could put their lives at risk while exposing them to torture or degrading treatment. The decision is final and cannot be appealed. “We protest this judgment which prevents these individuals who actively participated in the coup attempt which targeted the democratic order in Turkey, killed 248 members of our security forces and civilians, wounded 2193 of our citizens and attempted against the life of our President, to be brought before the independent Turkish judiciary,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a written statement in English.

The Turkish statement accused Greece of sheltering “putschists” and said it that in light of a decision “taken for political motives,” Turkey will evaluate bilateral ties, including cooperation against terrorism. The eight officers, with ranks up to the level of major, flew by helicopter to the northern Greek city of Alexandroupolis the day after the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey. The Turkish government requested the rapid extradition of the men, whom it has described as “traitors,” to face charges of trying to overthrow the democratic constitution. The eight men deny the charges. They say they were unaware of the coup attempt until it was under way and fled to Greece to escape violent reprisals against soldiers after the coup failed. Greek intellectuals and activists, including prominent author Apostolos Doxiadis, campaigned forcefully against the men’s extradition in recent weeks, turning the men’s plight into a high-profile political issue.

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Like Trump’s ‘safe places’. In other words, rebuild what you destroyed. Not going to happen. They’ll just throw billions at it and hope it disappears. It won’t. But then they can say they tried the best they could.

EU Looks To Camps In Africa To Cut Immigration (R.)

EU interior ministers will consider plans on Thursday to finance camps in Africa where the UN refugee agency and aid groups would process migrants to prevent them trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. The sea crossing from Libya to Italy, operated by people smugglers, is now the main route for migrants seeking better lives in wealthy Europe, but the EU wants to shut it down and admit only refugees. More than 4,500 people are known to have drowned last year alone trying to make the crossing. The European Union has deployed a naval mission in the Mediterranean and is training the Libyan coastguard to cut the numbers attempting the journey. Now it also wants to return migrants plucked from the sea to where they came from. “The idea is to send them to a safe place, without bringing them into Europe,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters as he arrived for the talks in the Maltese capital Valletta.

“The people taken up by the smugglers need to be saved and brought to a safe place, but then from this safe place outside Europe we would bring into Europe only those who require protection,” he said. The camps in Libya or its neighbors would be run by the UN refugee agency UNHCR or the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which would screen the migrants and help return those not eligible for asylum to their home countries. Most of those taking the Libya-Italy route are regarded as economic migrants with no chance of winning asylum in the EU. Since the influx of more than a million people in 2015, many of them fleeing the Syrian conflict, the EU has tightened border controls, making it increasingly hard for migrants and asylum seekers alike to enter the 28-nation bloc.

It is also offering money and assistance to countries along the migration routes in the hope that fewer people will seek to leave their homes or will be stopped on the way before they embark for Europe. The idea of financing camps in Africa enjoys wide political backing in the EU, but poses legal and security challenges. Libya sank into chaos following the 2011 overthrow of veteran ruler Muammar Gaddafi, and the new UN-backed government in Tripoli exercises no control over its territory. Such lawlessness means returning people to Libya would likely violate international law, which prohibits sending people back to a place where their lives could be in danger. That is why the EU needs the UNHCR and IOM to create sites there that could be deemed as meeting international humanitarian standards. It is an effort to replicate parts of existing agreements the EU has with Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, which host several million Syrian refugees in camps on their soil.

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“The German magazine Der Spiegel revealed a warning from the European commission that “under no circumstances” should the public learn what was said during talks held in March last year.”

Europe’s Crackdown On African Immigration Is Hitting Vulnerable Refugees (G.)

Documents cited in the Guardian on Monday showing that the UK government downplayed the risk of human rights abuses in Eritrea in an attempt to reduce asylum-seeker numbers are the latest indication of Britain’s determination to reduce African immigration. But this is a Europe-wide initiative, co-ordinated in Brussels. With French, German, Dutch and Italian elections later this year, there is intense pressure across the European Union to cut the flows of refugees and migrants across the Mediterranean. European plans to deal with the question have been veiled in secrecy, since they involve close cooperation with some of Africa’s most notorious dictatorships.

The German magazine Der Spiegel revealed a warning from the European commission that “under no circumstances” should the public learn what was said during talks held in March last year. A member of staff working for Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative for foreign affairs, warned of the risk to Europe’s reputation. Plans are being formulated under arrangements agreed between the EU and African leaders in Malta in November 2015. These called for close cooperation between European security services and those of African states. Among those around the table at Valletta were representatives of repressive regimes in Sudan (whose president, Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes) and Eritrea, which has been accused of crimes against humanity.

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Everybody accuses the other. Meanwhile, it’s going to be very cold again in Greece this weekend.

EU’s Mishandled Millions Not Reaching Refugees (DW)

On January 18, Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos. The reason for his visit was simple, if disheartening: a wave of bitterly cold weather had blanketed much of Greece in snow, and with it the country’s refugee camps. In the world’s richest continent, images emerged of refugees – many of them children, elderly or disabled -battling sub-zero temperatures with little more protection than tents and blankets. A few days earlier Ioannis Mouzalas, the country’s Minister for Migration, had stated, “No refugee or migrant is in the cold.” Avramopoulos called on authorities and NGOs to do more. Pointedly he noted that Greece was the single biggest recipient of EU Home Affairs funding, with €1 billion ($1.1 billion) made available over two years in financial support.

So where has the money gone? And why has the country proven unable to provide rudimentary living conditions for many of the roughly 50,000 refugees? The fact is that the €1 billion figure touted by Avramopoulos conflates a number of funds many of which have not yet been spent. Nevertheless the funds that have already been awarded to the government or NGOs remain substantial. Since the start of 2015, the Greek government, according to data from the European Commission and the Greek Ministry of Development, has absorbed 179 million euros of emergency funds from the Directorate General of Home Affairs (DG HOME). This is in addition to €60 million from the €509 million of long-term funding allocated to Greece for the period 2014-2020.

Meanwhile the UNHCR, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have received €175 million from DG HOME’s emergency funds. An additional €186 million of emergency funding has also been contracted to a number of major NGO’s for humanitarian assistance in Greece from the Directorate General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) for projects starting in 2016. An additional €500 million has been earmarked for this fund until 2018.

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Jan 202017
 
 January 20, 2017  Posted by at 10:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Unknown Masterpiece 2016-7

Trump’s Tweets Are Little Different From FDR’s Fireside Chats (MW)
Fortress Washington Braces For Anti-Trump Protests, New Yorkers March (R.)
Executive Actions Ready To Go As Trump Prepares To Take Office (R.)
Mnuchin Says Long-Term Strength of US Dollar Is Important (BBG)
German Opposition Leader Calls For Security Union With Russia, End Of NATO (DW)
The ‘Ever Closer European Union’ Principle Is “Buried And Gone” (MT)
Chinese Growth Slips To 6.7% In 2016, The Slowest For 26 Years (AFP)
China GDP Beats Expectations But Debt Risks Loom (R.)
There’s an Unexplained $9 Billion Gap in India’s Cash Supply (BBG)
Amazon Is Going To Kill More American Jobs Than China Did (MW)
Stiglitz Tells Davos Elite US Should “Get Rid Of Currency” (Black)
US Government Caught Massively Fabricating Student Loan Default Data (ZH)
EU Migration Commissioner Urges NGOs To Manage Funds With Transparency (KTG)

 

 

Nice angle. Circumventing the press is nothing new.

Trump’s Tweets Are Little Different From FDR’s Fireside Chats (MW)

Donald Trump, arguably, has already changed the office of the presidency forever, with his prolific tweets, some of which, at least in the lead-up to his Friday inauguration, have endorsed specific companies, lashed out at impersonations and in some case even laid the groundwork for complex policies. Cabinet appointees have found themselves walking back his remarks with some regularity this week. Some observers embrace the transparency of the unfiltered Trump experienced on Twitter. The public wasn’t ruffled one bit when a newly elected Trump’s staff blew off the protocol for press pool reports and end-of-day signoffs. Trump’s delivery mechanism may be relatively new, but the motivation isn’t.

Circumventing the press, and even the carefully crafted press release, is a presidential tack that can be traced as far back as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “fireside chats,” which leveraged the radio medium to deliver Roosevelt directly into American living rooms, said Andrew Card, in an MSNBC interview. Card, White House chief of staff to the second President Bush, also served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. FDR delivered his first radio address on March 12, 1933, in the middle of the crisis of confidence over the U.S. banking system. The intent? Reassure the public as if the president had stopped by personally. It was only after the broadcast’s relative success that they eventually earned the “fireside chat” familiarity. Trump’s tweets are the president-elect’s way to get closer to Americans, too, said Card. And that’s not without risk. Trump’s words represent “empathy” but don’t always reflect “judgment,” said Card.

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Are they all protesting the same thing? Where were they 8 years ago?

Fortress Washington Braces For Anti-Trump Protests (R.)

Washington turned into a virtual fortress on Thursday ahead of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, while thousands of people took to the streets of New York and Washington to express their displeasure with his coming administration. Some 900,000 people, both Trump backers and opponents, are expected to flood Washington for Friday’s inauguration ceremony, according to organizers’ estimates. Events include the swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and a parade to the White House along streets thronged with spectators. The number of planned protests and rallies this year is far above what has been typical at recent presidential inaugurations, with some 30 permits granted in Washington for anti-Trump rallies and sympathy protests planned in cities from Boston to Los Angeles, and outside the U.S. in cities including London and Sydney.

The night before the inauguration, thousands of people turned out in New York for a rally at the Trump International Hotel and Tower, and then marched a few blocks from the Trump Tower where the businessman lives. The rally featured a lineup of politicians, activists and celebrities including Mayor Bill de Blasio and actor Alec Baldwin, who trotted out the Trump parody he performs on “Saturday Night Live.” “Donald Trump may control Washington, but we control our destiny as Americans,” de Blasio said. “We don’t fear the future. We think the future is bright, if the people’s voices are heard.” In Washington, a group made up of hundreds of protesters clashed with police clad in riot gear who used pepper spray against some of the crowd on Thursday night, according to footage on social media. The confrontation occurred outside the National Press Club building, where inside a so-called “DeploraBall” event was being held in support of Trump, the footage showed.


JFK inaugural parade 1961

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Nice detail: “Trump plans on Saturday to visit the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Virginia…”

Executive Actions Ready To Go As Trump Prepares To Take Office (R.)

Donald Trump is preparing to sign executive actions on his first day in the White House on Friday to take the opening steps to crack down on immigration, build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border and roll back outgoing President Barack Obama’s policies. Trump, a Republican elected on Nov. 8 to succeed Democrat Obama, arrived in Washington on a military plane with his family a day before he will be sworn in during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. Aides said Trump would not wait to wield one of the most powerful tools of his office, the presidential pen, to sign several executive actions that can be implemented without the input of Congress.

“He is committed to not just Day 1, but Day 2, Day 3 of enacting an agenda of real change, and I think that you’re going to see that in the days and weeks to come,” Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said on Thursday, telling reporters to expect activity on Friday, during the weekend and early next week. Trump plans on Saturday to visit the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Virginia. He has harshly criticized the agency and its outgoing chief, first questioning the CIA’s conclusion that Russia was involved in cyber hacking during the U.S. election campaign, before later accepting the verdict.

Trump also likened U.S. intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany. Trump’s advisers vetted more than 200 potential executive orders for him to consider signing on healthcare, climate policy, immigration, energy and numerous other issues, but it was not clear how many orders he would initially approve, according to a member of the Trump transition team who was not authorized to talk to the press. Signing off on orders puts Trump, who has presided over a sprawling business empire but has never before held public office, in a familiar place similar to the CEO role that made him famous, and will give him some early victories before he has to turn to the lumbering process of getting Congress to pass bills.

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The contradictions people seek don’t appear to exist.

Mnuchin Says Long-Term Strength of US Dollar Is Important (BBG)

Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin told lawmakers the long-term strength of the U.S. dollar is important and said President-elect Donald Trump’s comments that the currency was too high weren’t meant as a longer-run policy. The dollar’s “long-term strength – over long periods of time – is important,” Mnuchin said in response to questions at his confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate Finance Committee in Washington. “The U.S. currency has been the most attractive currency to be in for very, very long periods of time. I think that it’s important and I think you see that now more than ever.” At the same time, he said the greenback is currently “very, very strong, and what you see is people from all over the world wanting to invest in the U.S. currency.”

The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index extended its gains on Thursday. The currency has appreciated more than 5% since Trump won the Nov. 8 election on expectations he will boost economic growth through tax cuts and spending increases. Trump expressed concern about the dollar’s recent appreciation in an interview with the Wall Street Journal this month, saying the currency was “too strong.” That prompted speculation that his administration might reverse longstanding tradition in the U.S. to support a strong-dollar policy. “When the president-elect made a comment on the U.S. currency, it wasn’t meant to be a long-term comment,” Mnuchin said. “It was meant to be that perhaps in the short term the strength in the currency, as a result of free markets and people wanting to invest here, may have had some negative impacts on our ability in trade.”

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You can’t keep Germany vested against Russia for too long for opaque reasons. History says so.

German Opposition Leader Calls For Security Union With Russia, End Of NATO (DW)

The parliamentary leader of Germany’s largest opposition party has urged the dissolution of the NATO alliance. Her remarks come after US president-elect Donald Trump described it as “obsolete.” German opposition leader Sahra Wagenknecht on Tuesday added her voice to calls to dissolve NATO in the wake of US President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial remarks concerning the military alliance “NATO must be dissolved and replaced by a collective security system including Russia,” Wagenknecht told Germany’s “Funke” media group. Wagenknecht, who leads the opposition Left Party in parliament, added that comments made by the future US president “mercilessly reveal the mistakes and failures of the [German] federal government.”

In an interview published by German tabloid “Bild,” Trump described NATO as an “obsolete” organization. “I said a long time ago that NATO had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago,” he said. “We’re supposed to protect countries. But a lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States,” Trump added. Germany’s Left Party has previously called for warmer ties with Russia and scrapping the security alliance, measures which appear to be policy concerns for the incoming US administration. The Left Party is Germany’s largest opposition group in parliament, and holds seats in several state legislatures.

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Rutte is smart enough to feel the ghost of the times contradicting everything he ran on in the past, but he wants to use it to remain in power. Pragmatism?! It all plays into the hands of Wilders. 2 months to Dutch elections.

The ‘Ever Closer European Union’ Principle Is “Buried And Gone” (MT)

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and former European Parliament President Martin Schulz clashed over the strategy to relaunch the Union, illustrating the deep division at Europe’s helm in front of the global audience of the World Economic Forum 19 January. Hundreds of business leaders and political figures attending the Davos forum witnessed how fundamentally disunited Europeans are when they are confronted with challenges and the solutions needed to overcome them. Schulz, who stepped down as president of the European Parliament this week, praised the achievements of the past and the need to push forward EU integration. But Rutte told the Socialists and Democrats (S&D group) MEP to “leave out those romantic ideas”, adding that “that is the fastest way to dismantle Europe”.

Europe needs a “pragmatic approach and to stop lofty speeches”, Rutte said. He called for tangible results on migration, security or the internal market in the effort to create jobs. He even went as far to say that the ‘ever closer union’ principle is “buried and gone”. The ‘ever closer union’ goal is seen as the driving force behind the EU project. It was enshrined in the founding Treaty of Rome that celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. While the Dutchman said that the experiences of Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand could not be “a model for the future”, Schulz punched back responding he was not a “romantic” but a “German”. He got an applause when he recalled how the emotional ties after World War II brought peace and prosperity to the continent.

The fight between the two started right from the get-go as Rutte insisted more efforts from France and Italy to reform their economies are needed to save Europe. He warned that if countries failed to meet their promises, it would be harder for Northern leaders like him to convince their citizens about the need to tighten their belts. “At the end, this will have a devastating impact on EU integration”, he warned. But Schulz told the Dutch leader to be “very prudent” about dictating to other countries what they should do, as this could further divide the European bloc. He said that it is the European Commission and Council, and not “several member states”, who are responsible for fiscal and macroeconomic recommendations made to national governments.

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Fake news.

Chinese Growth Slips To 6.7% In 2016, The Slowest For 26 Years (AFP)

China’s economy has grown at its slowest rate in more than a quarter-century as Beijing braces itself for an uncertain outlook that could see a trade stand-off with Donald Trump. After a tumultuous start to 2016, the country’s leaders used huge monetary stimulus to steer the world’s number two economy to hit their annual target and also record the first quarterly pick-up in two years. The Asian superpower is a crucial driver of global growth but Beijing is trying to reduce its heavy reliance on exports and state-backed investment and instead focus on domestic consumer spending to drive expansion. However, the transition has proved bumpy, with the crucial manufacturing sector struggling in the face of sagging global demand for its products and excess industrial capacity left over from an infrastructure boom.

This led to the economy growing 6.7% last year, in line with forecasts but down from 6.9% in 2015, and the worst reading since 1990. The government targeted 6.5-7.0%. The October-December increase of 6.8% also marked the first quarterly improvement since the final three months of 2014. The national statistics bureau called the figure a “good start” for the government’s goal of achieving 6.5% annual growth through to 2020. “China’s economy was within a proper range with improved quality and efficiency. However, we should also be aware that the domestic and external conditions are still complicated and severe,” the bureau said in a statement. It added that the coal and steel industries had cut overcapacity, but structural reform should be the “mainline” this year, urging policymakers to focus on “fending off risks” to stability.

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Beats expectations with a 26-year low. Wow.

China GDP Beats Expectations But Debt Risks Loom (R.)

China’s economy grew a faster-than-expected 6.8% in the fourth quarter, boosted by higher government spending and record bank lending, giving it a tailwind heading into what is expected to be a turbulent year. But Beijing’s decision to prioritize its official growth target could exact a high price, as policymakers grapple with financial risks created by an explosive growth in debt. China’s debt to GDP ratio rose to 277% at the end of 2016 from 254% the previous year, with an increasing share of new credit being used to pay debt servicing costs, UBS analysts said in a note. The fourth quarter was the first time in two years that the world’s second-largest economy has shown an uptick in economic growth, but this year it faces further pressure to cool its housing market, the impact of government efforts at structural reforms, and a potentially testy relationship with a new U.S. administration.

“We do not expect this (Q4 GDP) rebound to extend far into 2017, when a slowdown in the property market and steps to address supply shortages in the commodity sector ought to drag again on demand and output,” said Tom Rafferty, regional China manager for the Economist Intelligence Unit. The economy expanded 6.7% in 2016, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Friday, near the middle of the government’s 6.5-7% growth target but still the slowest pace in 26 years. Economists polled by Reuters had expected 6.7% growth for both the fourth quarter and the full year. Housing helped prop up growth again in the fourth quarter, with property investment rising a surprisingly strong 11.1% in December from 5.7% in November, even as house prices showed signs of cooling in some major cities.

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The mayhem is far from over.

There’s an Unexplained $9 Billion Gap in India’s Cash Supply (BBG)

India’s unprecedented ban on high-denomination currency bills has led to a mismatch in cash supply that has flummoxed some economists and data crunchers. Indians withdrew about 600 billion rupees ($9 billion) more than the 9.1 trillion rupees of currency in circulation as of Jan. 13, according to a report submitted by the Reserve Bank of India to a parliamentary panel on Wednesday. A copy of the document was seen by Bloomberg News. “This is usually not the case,” said Sujan Hajra, chief economist at Anand Rathi Securities in Mumbai, who was a director at the RBI from 1993-2006. He added that cash with public should be lower than currency in circulation “but then you don’t have demonetization usually.”

Clarity will emerge only once the central bank reconciles and publishes final figures, he said. The central bank has refused to share the amount of invalidated bills that have been deposited and said on Jan. 5 that it is still counting the notes to eliminate errors. In a shock move late on Nov. 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi canceled 15.4 trillion rupees of the 17.7 trillion rupees in circulation and pledged to swap the worthless notes with fresh bills. Between Nov. 9 to Jan. 13, the RBI printed about 5.53 trillion rupees of new notes and put in circulation 25,197 million bank notes aggregating 6.78 trillion rupees, taking total currency in circulation to about 9.1 trillion rupees, according to the RBI’s document on Wednesday. As on Jan. 13 the public had withdrawn close to 9.7 trillion rupees from bank counters and cash-dispensing machines, the document said.

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Apples and oranges, but still. Amazon sucks money out of communities. Support your local dealer!

Amazon Is Going To Kill More American Jobs Than China Did (MW)

Amazon.com has been crowing about its plans to create 100,000 American jobs in the next year, but as with other recent job-creation announcements, that figure is meaningless without context. What Amazon won’t tell us is that every job created at Amazon destroys one or two or three others. What Jeff Bezos doesn’t want you to know is that Amazon is going to destroy more American jobs than China ever did. Amazon has revolutionized the way Americans consume. Those who want to shop for everything from books to diapers increasingly go online instead of to the malls. And for about half of those online purchases, the transaction goes through Amazon.

For the consumer, Amazon has brought lower prices and unimaginable convenience. I can buy almost any consumer product I want just by clicking on my phone or computer — or even easier, by just saying: “Alexa: buy me one” — and it will be shipped to my door within days or even hours for free. I can buy books for my Kindle, or music for my phone instantly. I can watch movies or TV shows on demand. But for retail workers, Amazon is a grave threat. Just ask the 10,100 workers who are losing their jobs at Macy’s. Or the 4,000 at The Limited. Or the thousands of workers at Sears and Kmart, which just announced 150 stores will be closing. Or the 125,000 retail workers who’ve been laid off over the past two years.

Amazon and other online sellers have decimated some sectors of the retail industry in the past few years. For instance, employment at department stores has plunged by 250,000 (or 14%) since 2012. Employment at clothing and electronics stores is down sharply from the earlier peaks as more sales move online. “Consumers’ affinity for digital shopping felt like it hit a tipping point in Holiday 2014 and has rapidly accelerated this year,” Ken Perkins, the president of Retail Metrics, wrote in a research note in December. And when he says “digital shopping,” he really means Amazon, which has increased its share of online purchases from about 10% five years ago to nearly 40% in the 2016 holiday season. It’s only going to go higher, as Amazon aggressively targets other sectors such as groceries and even restaurants with delivery services for restaurant-prepared meals.

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Important points by Simon Black.

Stiglitz Tells Davos Elite US Should “Get Rid Of Currency” (Black)

half a world away at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz made remarks earlier this week that the US should “get rid of currency.” He means paper currency, as in the US should not only get rid of $100 bills… but ALL paper currency– 50s, 20s, 10s, 5s, and even 1s. You guessed it. Stiglitz suggests that regular people don’t need paper money, and that it’s only useful for drug dealers, terrorists, tax evaders, and money launders. This thinking is so 20th century, and it’s simply wrong. ISIS is a great example. The US military has literally blown up more than a billion dollars worth of ISIS’s stockpiles of physical cash during airstrikes. But this hasn’t affected their terrorist activities one bit. That’s because the most notorious terrorist group on the planet famously uses both the world’s oldest currency (gold) and the world’s newest currency (Bitcoin).

Professor Stiglitz has likely never been anywhere near a terrorist, so he likely doesn’t have a clue how they conduct financial transactions. Stiglitz also relies on the old claim that cash facilitates illicit activity. Again, this thinking only highlights a Dark Ages mentality. In the today’s world, drug dealers and prostitutes accept credit cards. No matter what you’re selling on a street corner, whether it’s hot dogs or marijuana, there are plenty of solutions (like Stripe, Square, or PayPal) to easily allow anyone to accept credit card payments. But these intellectuals seem stuck in a Pablo Escobar fantasy that drug dealers have entire rooms filled with cash. What Stiglitz, and perhaps many law enforcement agencies, fail to realize is that one of the biggest tools in masking illegal activity is actually Amazon.com. Specifically, Amazon gift cards.

[..] These guys just don’t get it. Cash isn’t about tax evasion or illegal activity. It’s about having a choice. Any rational person who actually looks at the numbers in the banking system has to be concerned. In many parts of the world, banks are pitifully capitalized and EXTREMELY illiquid. This is especially the case in Europe right now where entire nations’ banking systems are teetering on insolvency. In the United States, liquidity is also quite low, and banks play all sorts of accounting games to hide their true financial condition. Plus, never forget that the moment you deposit funds at a bank, it’s no longer YOUR money. It’s the bank’s money. As a depositor, you’re nothing more than an unsecured creditor of the bank, and they have the power to freeze you out of your life’s savings without even giving you a courtesy call. Physical cash provides consumers another option. If you don’t want to keep 100% of your savings tied up in a system that’s rigged against you and has a long history of screwing its customers, you can instead choose to hold physical cash.

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Wonder what the new administration will make of this.

US Government Caught Massively Fabricating Student Loan Default Data (ZH)

Ever since 2012 we have warned that one of the biggest threats arising from the US student loan bubble – which is no longer disputed by anyone except perhaps members of the outgoing administration – is not that it is soaring at an unprecedented pace, that’s obvious for anyone with the latest loan total number over $1.4 trillion, rising at a pace of nearly $100 billion per year, but that the government – either on purpose or due to honest miscalculation – was not correctly accounting for the true extent of delinquencies and defaults. Today, we finally got confirmation that, as speculated, the US government was indeed fabricating student loan default data, making it appear far lower than it was in reality. An the WSJ reported overnight “many more students have defaulted on or failed to pay back their college loans than the U.S. government previously believed.”

The admission came last Friday, when the Education Department released a memo saying that it had overstated student loan repayment rates at most colleges and trade schools and provided updated numbers. This also means that the number of loan defaults in various cohorts is far greater than previously revealed. A spokeswoman for the Education Department said that the problem resulted from a “technical programming error.” And so, the infamous “glitch” strikes again. How bad was the data fabrication? When The Wall Street Journal analyzed the new numbers, the data revealed that the Department previously had inflated the repayment rates for 99.8% of all colleges and trade schools in the country. In other words, virtually every single number was made to appear better than it actually was. And people mock China for its own “fake data.”

According to an analysis of the revised data, at more than 1,000 colleges and trade schools, or about a quarter of the total, at least half the students had defaulted or failed to pay down at least $1 on their debt within seven years. This is a stunning number and suggests that the student loan crisis is far greater than anyone had anticipated previously. It also means that the US taxpayer will be on the hook for hundreds of billions in government-funded loans once attention finally turns to who is expected to foot the bill for years of flawed lending practices.

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Translation: the EU has no idea, none at all, where its hundreds of millions in taxpayer funds have gone. It’s how the aid industry is set up. And the refugees still suffer for no reason other than profit, politics and greed.

EU Migration Commissioner Urges NGOs To Manage Funds With Transparency (KTG)

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos urged non-governmental organizations involved in the care of refugees and migrants to manage funds with more transparency. “NGOs must manage available funds with transparency,” Avramopoulos said on Wednesday and called on international organizations operating in the country “to step up their efforts to provide immediate assistance to those in need in the islands.” Avramopoulos was visiting the hot spot of Moria and the refugee camp of Kara on Lesvos together with Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas and EU’s official responsible for NGOs funding, Philippe de Broers.

On his part, Mouzalas said “We covered 70% of the needs in the camps with less money than the money received by NGOs and institutional organizations.” Mouzalas added that the European Commission needed to take tight control of the funds given to NGOs for refugees and migrants. “We have asked the European Commission and the DG Echo (i.e. DG EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection)” for tighter control “and we have stated that we can not we control to this money” he said. Criticism against the NGOs and international organizations comes after a bad weather front left thousands of refugees and migrants exposed to extreme weather conditions with heavy snow fall and polar cold.

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Dec 232016
 
 December 23, 2016  Posted by at 9:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Ben Shahn Quick lunch stand in Plain City, Ohio 1938

Donald Trump Can’t Stop The Next Financial Crisis – Jim Rickards (MW)
“Russia Did It” – The Last Stand Of The Neocons (GEFIRA)
94% Of All New Jobs Created During Obama Era Were Part-Time Or Contract (IC)
World Trade Falls to 2014 Level, Trump “Trade War” Might Make it Worse (WS)
Central Banks Have Cut Interest Rates 690 Times Since Lehman Brothers (CNBC)
Italian Government Rides To Rescue Of Stricken Bank Monte Dei Paschi (R.)
Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse Agree Billion-Dollar Fines With US (CNBC)
US Sues Barclays For Alleged Mortgage Securities Fraud (R.)
Why The Chinese Are Still Snapping Up US Commercial Property (CNBC)
EU Plans To ‘Revitalize’ Complex Financial Products (EUO)
Ron Paul: “We Don’t Have Very Much Room For Condemning Anybody Else” (ZH)
Is Obama a Russian Agent? (Dmitry Orlov)
Air Pollution Cause Of One In Three Deaths In China (SCMP)
1000s Of Refugees Left In Greek Cold, UN And EU Accused Of Mismanagement (G.)
The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017 (Automatic Earth)

 

 

“Policies that could prevent the crisis [..] include reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall separation of investment and commercial banking, breaking up big banks, banning most derivatives, and tougher law enforcement of bank wrongdoing.”

Donald Trump Can’t Stop The Next Financial Crisis – Jim Rickards (MW)

James Rickards sees threats in many places. In his latest book, “The Road to Ruin: The Global Elites’ Secret Plan for the Next Financial Crisis,” he paints a picture of how that crisis will unfold. He argues that rather than pumping the financial system with liquidity, as happened in 2008, “elites” will freeze the financial plumbing until the crisis has passed. That means banks will close, as will exchanges. Money-market funds will be inaccessible. Forget trying to get your hands on money. Rickards, who was the principal negotiator of the 1998 bailout of Long-Term Capital Management as the hedge fund’s general counsel, calls this new world “ice-nine,” after a fictitious substance in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle.” Freezing customer funds in bank accounts is what happened in Cyprus is 2012 and Greece in 2015, he says. In the U.S., the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rule in 2014 that lets money-market funds suspend redemptions.

MarketWatch: Why do you believe a financial crisis is coming in 2018, and what do you see as the likely triggers? James Rickards: A financial crisis is certainly coming. In “The Road to Ruin,” I use 2018 as a target date and device because the two prior systemic crises, 1998 and 2008, were 10 years apart. I extended the timeline 10 years into the future from the 2008 crisis to maintain the 10-year tempo, and this is how I arrived at 2018. Yet I make the point in the book that the exact date is unimportant. What is most important is that the crisis is coming and the time to prepare is now. It could happen in 2018, 2019, or it could happen tomorrow. The conditions for collapse are all in place. It’s simply a matter of the right catalyst and array of factors in the critical state. Likely triggers could include a major bank failure, a failure to deliver physical gold, a war, a natural disaster, a cyber–financial attack and many other events. The trigger does not matter. The exact timing does not matter. What matters is that the crisis is inevitable and coming soon. Investors need to prepare.

MW : Is this likely to be on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis? Or what is a better comparison? J.R.: The new crisis will be of unprecedented scale. This is because the system itself is of unprecedented scale and interconnectedness. In complex dynamic systems that reach the critical state, the most catastrophic event that can occur is an exponential function of scale. This means that if you double the system, you do not double the risk; you increase it by a factor of five or 10. Since we have vastly increased the scale of the financial system since 2008, with larger banks, greater concentration of banking assets in fewer institutions, larger derivatives positions, and $70 trillion of new debt, we should expect the next crisis to be much worse than the last. There is no comparison short of wartime exigencies such as 1914. The next crisis will be of unprecedented scale and damage.

MW : On the flip side, what could prevent this crisis? And how do you respond to those who say this is just fear-mongering and a conspiracy theory? What are they missing? J.R.: Policies that could prevent the crisis are spelled out clearly in the book. These include reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall separation of investment and commercial banking, breaking up big banks, banning most derivatives, and tougher law enforcement of bank wrongdoing. The book also explains clearly why the dysfunctions in the system are not a “conspiracy” but the workings of like-minded individuals operating in a closed loop lacking cognitive diversity. I am not a fear-monger; people are already afraid, [and] I’m just trying to shed some light on the situation, which is why readers have responded so positively to the book. The critics do not have a firm grasp of the statistical properties of risk. They are clinging to obsolete equilibrium models instead of embracing more accurate models based on complexity theory and behavioral psychology.

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“..the European establishment is simultaneously bombing a country and importing the country’s inhabitants..”

“Russia Did It” – The Last Stand Of The Neocons (GEFIRA)

By the 2000s, Neocons had taken over the Republican Party in the US and the Labour Party in the UK and could count on allies in Italy (Berlusconi) and Spain (Aznar). In the following decade, Neocon ideology spread virulently, substituting for the failed experiment of military intervention to overthrow non-cooperating governments with covert operations funding and/or arming local groups in Libya, Syria,Tunisia Egypt, Georgia, and Ukraine. Neocon adherents took over the US state department, and their grip on it was strengthened by the appointment of Barack Obama as assistant to Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State for European affairs, wife of Robert Kagan, who is in turn a top Neocon ideologist alongside Paul Wolfowitz. They also created the narrative spread and reinforced by the mainstream media, which expose the alleged crimes of non-cooperating regimes in Syria, Russia and Libya, while ignoring the anti “democratic” behavior by friendly dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia’s kings.

The mission however never changed. What changed is the mood of Western citizens about the government changes and state-building projects of the Western leadership; as the economic and human cost grew endlessly, the Western public opinion has become fed up with interventionism around the world. The British Labour party was the first to face the malcontents: Blairites are being ousted in favour of anti-NATO, sworn pacifist Jeremy Corbyn. Then Donald Trump won the US election with his “America First” i.e. a policy of “non-interventionism and protectionism”, defeating Hillary’s hawkish one, publicly endorsed by Kagan and Wolfowitz; Sarkozy and Juppè were defeated in the primaries in France by Fillon, who is advocating the end of the trade war against big bad Neocon target Russia. The Neocon-backing Western establishment is facing political upheaval all over Europe and the US.

These revolutions are not mere popular movements. Trump’s election is the handing over of power from one influential group to another because a part of the establishment has become fully aware of the problems Europe and the US are facing. After a fourteen-year war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq the bloodshed spilled over into the streets of Paris and Berlin. The killing of civilians in the streets in Europe was not supposed to happen after the eradication of Al Qaeda and the alleged elimination of its leader Osama Bin Laden. Or should we rather say European insanity is spilling over, as the European establishment is simultaneously bombing a country and importing the country’s inhabitants? What do the Western leadership expect to have on their hands? Meanwhile Russia is reemerging as a more successful international actor.

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Echo chambers are us.

94% Of All New Jobs Created During Obama Era Were Part-Time Or Contract (IC)

A new study by economists from Harvard and Princeton indicates that 94% of the 10 million new jobs created during the Obama era were temporary positions. The study shows that the jobs were temporary, contract positions, or part-time “gig” jobs in a variety of fields. Female workers suffered most heavily in this economy, as work in traditionally feminine fields, like education and medicine, declined during the era. The research by economists Lawrence Katz of Harvard University and Alan Krueger at Princeton University shows that the proportion of workers throughout the U.S., during the Obama era, who were working in these kinds of temporary jobs, increased from 10.7% of the population to 15.8%.

Krueger, a former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, was surprised by the finding. The disappearance of conventional full-time work, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work, has hit every demographic. “Workers seeking full-time, steady work have lost,” said Krueger. Under Obama, 1 million fewer workers, overall, are working than before the beginning of the Great Recession. The outgoing president believes his administration was a net positive for workers, however. “Since I signed Obamacare into law (in 2010), our businesses have added more than 15 million new jobs,” said Obama, during his farewell press conference last Friday.

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It’s going to keep falling no matter what. And regaining some domestic manufacturing capacity is never a bad thing. If you focus of producing essentials, that is.

World Trade Falls to 2014 Level, Trump “Trade War” Might Make it Worse (WS)

“If you get into a trade war with China, sooner or later we’ll have to come to grips with that,” Carl Icahn, now special advisor to President-Elect Trump, told CNBC on Thursday. “I remember the day something like that would really knock the hell out of the market.” A trade war with China surely would be another wall of worry for stocks to climb. Trump’s rhetoric against China, each morsel packaged into 140 characters or less, has already recreated much-needed turbulence [read… Trump Tweets about China, US Businesses Freak out]. “But maybe if you’re going to do it,” Icahn said about the looming trade war with China, “you should get it over with, right?”

This comes after rumors emerged that Trump’s transition team is chewing over the idea to impose import tariffs of up to 10%, “according to multiple sources,” including a “senior Trump transition official,” CNN reported. The idea is to boost US manufacturing. The new tariffs could be imposed by executive order or by Congress as part of broader tax reform legislation. The 10% would be an uptick from the 5% tariff that incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had put on the table last week, in “meetings with key Washington players,” two sources “who represent business interests in Washington” told CNN. These tariffs would be in line with Trump’s campaign motto of “America First.” Other countries would, as they always do, retaliate. Hence the term “trade war.”

Countries will be careful not to escalate, but these things can escalate nevertheless, because no one wants to seem weak and back off. Either way, it would pull the rug out from under world trade. But world trade, a reflection of the health of the global goods-producing economy, is already in bad shape. For the past two years, it has been languishing in a condition we now call the Great Stagnation. The CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, a division of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, just released the preliminary data of its Merchandise World Trade Monitor for October. World trade isn’t falling off a cliff, as it had done during the Great Recession, when global supply chains froze up overnight. But since November 2014, it has gone absolutely nowhere:

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“Is There A Way Out?” Not for most. And do give the ECB a special place in this: they are responsible for setting one single rate in countries that need completely different rates.

Central Banks Have Cut Interest Rates 690 Times Since Lehman Brothers (CNBC)

The top 50 central banks around the world have seen a total of 690 interest rate cuts since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, according to data from JP Morgan. While this number means one rate cut every three trading days, analysts have warned that central banks may start to run out of ammunition soon. “Essentially these rate cuts came into effect to try and stimulate economic growth and to prop up economies post the financial crisis,” Alex Dryden, global market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management, told CNBC via email. However, he warned that central banks are running out of room to maneuver.

“The Bank of Japan, for example, own over 45% of the government bond market, over 65% of the domestic ETF market and are a top 10 shareholder in 90% of listed firms. They have also cut rates into negative territory. There isn’t much more they can do.” Markets, however, continue to ride the wave of uncertainty and speculation over whether the world’s central banks will either continue to pump in more and more cash into the economy through bond-buying programs known as QE or conventional ways such as lowering interest rates to stimulate borrowing. But as we delve deeper into this world of ultra-low interest rate and easy monetary policy, there are other areas of the economy that could see a knock-on effect.

This raises a very big question – will the global economy ever exit this low interest rate environment? “No easy way out. The world has changed and the level of neutral interest rates has fallen for most countries,” Jan von Gerich, chief economist at Nordea, told CNBC via email. Gerich further explained that the way inflation is responding to growth seems to have changed, which makes monetary policy considerations harder for central bankers. “The situation varies a lot, though. The Fed is gradually finding at least a partial way out while it is hard to see the ECB raising rates before the next recession arrives.”

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Oh, sweet Jesus: “..allow Italy’s third-largest bank to finally return to operate at full throttle to support the economy..”

Italian Government Rides To Rescue Of Stricken Bank Monte Dei Paschi (R.)

The Italian government approved a decree on Friday to bail out Monte dei Paschi di Siena after the world’s oldest bank failed to win investor backing for a desperately needed capital increase. Looking to end a protracted banking crisis that has gummed up the economy, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said his Cabinet had authorized a €20 billion fund to help lenders in distress – first and foremost Monte dei Paschi. Within minutes of the late-night Cabinet meeting ending, the country’s third largest lender issued a statement saying it would formally request state aid, opening the way for possibly the biggest Italian bank nationalization in decades. The government has said its long-awaited salvage operation will work within EU rules, meaning some Monte dei Paschi bondholders will be forced to accept losses to ensure the taxpayer does not pick up all of the bill.

However, the government and Monte dei Paschi promised protection for around 40,000 retail savers who had bought the bank’s junior debt. Many of the high street investors say they were unaware of the risks when they purchased the paper. “Today marks an important day for Monte dei Paschi, a day that sees it turn a corner and be able to reassure its depositors,” said Gentiloni, who only took office last week and has made the bank rescue his first priority. [..] The collapse of Monte dei Paschi would have threatened the savings of thousands of Italians and could have had devastated the wider banking sector, which is saddled with €356 billion of bad loans – a third of the euro zone’s total. [..] The government said full details of the rescue plan have yet to be worked out, but it outlined the contours in a statement.

It said the bank’s Tier 1 bonds, which are mostly held by professional investors, would be converted into shares at 75% of their nominal value. Tier 2 bonds, which are mostly in the hands of retail investors, will be converted instead at 100% of their face value. To further insulate small savers from losses, Monte dei Paschi will offer to swap the shares they end up with as a result of the forced conversion with regular bonds and sell the same shares to the state instead. “The rescue will require a (new) business plan that European authorities will need to approve and that will allow Italy’s third-largest bank to finally return to operate at full throttle to support the economy and with the full confidence of its depositors,” said Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan.

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Where are the indictments?

Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse Agree Billion-Dollar Fines With US (CNBC)

Deutsche Bank will be hoping for a fresh start in 2017 after reaching a $7.2 billion deal with U.S. authorities to settle allegations of the mis-selling of mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Germany’s largest lender said on Friday morning it had agreed ‘in principle’ to pay a $3.1 billion civil fine to be supplemented with the payment of $4.1 billion in consumer relief overtime. The announcement of the fine comes amid a raft of banking stories related to the mis-selling of MBS which hit the wires before Friday’s European market open. This included news that U.S. federal prosecutors would sue Britain’s Barclays bank and that Credit Suisse had reached a provisional $5.3 billion deal, meaning the Swiss bank will take a pre-tax charge of about $2 billion.

Of the total amount demanded of Credit Suisse, $2.48 billion would be an immediate fine to settle the claims and an additional $2.8 billion would be paid over five years for consumer relief. Deutsche Bank’s agreement follows months of negotiations with the U.S.’s Department of Justice (DoJ) and ranks as the third-highest penalty imposed to date on a bank to settle claims of mis-sold mortgage-backed instruments. Although the $7.2 billion payment is far from negligible, investors may take some cold comfort from the fact it is less than $16.7 billion that Bank of America was required to stump up in August 2014 and the $9.0 billion charged to JPMorgan Chase in November 2013. Furthermore, of the full amount, only the $3.1 billion civil fine component is required to be imminently delivered in cash.

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Again, where are the indictments?

US Sues Barclays For Alleged Mortgage Securities Fraud (R.)

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday sued Barclays for fraud in the sale of mortgage securities in the run-up to the financial crisis. The British bank deceived investors about the quality of loans underlying tens of billions of dollars of mortgage securities between 2005 and 2007, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. district court in Brooklyn, New York. Loans had been made to borrowers with no ability to repay and were based on inflated home appraisals, the complaint said. Barclays said in a statement that the claims in the lawsuit are “disconnected from the facts” and that it has an obligation to defend against “unreasonable allegations and demands.”

In terms of demands, Barclays was apparently referring to negotiations with the Justice Department to settle the claims without a case being filed. “Barclays will vigorously defend the complaint and seek its dismissal at the earliest opportunity,” the statement said. The bank’s U.S.-traded shares were down 1.7 percent at $11.08 shortly before the close of the market. Barclays is among a number of European banks that have been under investigation for misconduct in the sale of mortgage securities, which contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.

Read more …

One word: Dollar.

Why The Chinese Are Still Snapping Up US Commercial Property (CNBC)

Interest in U.S. commercial real estate is perking up, particularly from China, as expectations of pro-growth policies from President-elect Donald Trump spark demand for dollar-denominated assets. “(Investors) are seeing the U.S.commercial real estate marketplace as really standing out on a global basis,” said Hessam Nadji, president and chief executive at commercial real estate firm Marcus and Millichap. “It’s not being overbuilt; it’s been very well balanced in this particular cycle in terms of loans that are not going up, the leverage that was very well balanced. They’re at much lower risk at this stage of recovery than we’ve seen in the past,” he told CNBC’s The Rundown. Concerns over the dollar’s appreciation are also prompting some motivation for capital allocation into the U.S. “particularly because the Chinese economy is slowing” and as the yield profile of commercial real estate is competitive, Nadji added.

Read more …

We don’t solve our problems, we package them.

EU Plans To ‘Revitalize’ Complex Financial Products (EUO)

The EU is trying to “revitalise” a market for controversial financial products, but one of the goals appears to already have been achieved without the EU’s help. Securitisation is the packaging of loans, mortgages, or other contractual debts into securities that can then be sold on the market, together with the risk attached to those debts. It had an instrumental role in the financial crisis of 2008, but the European Commission says giving the securitisation market a boost can help the real economy. The commission has not given a target figure of when “revitalisation” will have been achieved, but spoke in a press release of going back to the “pre-crisis average”.

The commission did not want to comment on the record, but one commission official said that if the market would return to average pre-crisis issuance levels, this would generate €100-€150 billion in additional funding for the economy. “This would already be a major achievement for the securitisation markets,” the commission official said. EUobserver looked at how average issuance levels have done so far, and found that more securities have been created through securitisation since the crisis than before the crisis. This website collected data from the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME), a lobby group for the financial service sector, and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, its US-based counterpart.

Taking a very narrow view, the “pre-crisis” years are 1996-2006. The average issuance of securities in Europe was €168 billion. When including 2007, the average was €203 billion. When including 2008 – when the financial crisis was in full swing – the average was €251 billion. Last week, AFME released data for the third quarter of 2016. The first three quarters of 2016 were the best three quarters since 2012. Taking the most recent data into account, the average annual issuance of securitisation since 2009, is €270 billion. Last year the figure was €216 billion. Even when correcting for inflation, the post-crisis period is already better than the pre-crisis period. Converting the averages to today’s prices, the average since 2009 is €282 billion, compared to a 1996-2007 average of €244 billion.

Read more …

“I think the spying and interference is sort of the nature of our governments.”

Ron Paul: “We Don’t Have Very Much Room For Condemning Anybody Else” (ZH)

When asked whether all the “Russian hacking” allegations were just a simple “political stunt” or whether a serious investigation needed to be conducted, Ron Paul offered up a startling bit of reality pointing out that America has a long history of interfering with elections and even invading countries “to have our guy in.” We suspect the following response was a bit more truth than Fox Business News expected.

“I think it is politics more than anything else. It’s really is nothing new. It’s like, guess what – somebody might have done A, B, C.” “The very rarely, if ever, compare what we do with election around the world. We are interfering all the time.” “I’m sure the Russians are interfering. But when you lose, you can jump on that and make a big point of it. But I don’t think it made any difference. I think it’s insignificant.” “If you review the history of how many elections we’ve been involved with, how many countries we’ve invaded and how many people we’ve killed to have our guy in, I’ll tell you what – we don’t have very much room for condemning anybody else.” “I think the spying and interference is sort of the nature of our governments. That’s why I’d like to see government much smaller.”

Read more …

HA!

Is Obama a Russian Agent? (Dmitry Orlov)

Sometimes a case looks weak because there is no “smoking gun”—no obvious, direct evidence of conspiracy, malfeasance or evil intent—but once you tally up all the evidence it forms a coherent and damning picture. And so it is with the Obama administration vis à vis Russia: by feigning hostile intent it did everything possible to further Russia’s agenda. And although it is always possible to claim that all of Obama’s failures stem from mere incompetence, at some point this claim begins to ring hollow; how can he possibly be so utterly competent… at being incompetent? Perhaps he just used incompetence as a veil to cover his true intent, which was always to bolster Russia while rendering the US maximally irrelevant in world affairs. Let’s examine Obama’s major foreign policy initiatives from this angle.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of his eight years has been the destruction of Libya. Under the false pretense of a humanitarian intervention what was once the most prosperous and stable country in the entire North Africa has been reduced to a rubble-strewn haven for Islamic terrorists and a transit point for economic migrants streaming into the European Union. This had the effect of pushing Russia and China together, prompting them to start voting against the US together as a block in the UN Security Council. In a single blow, Obama assured an important element of his legacy as a Russian agent: no longer will the US be able to further its agenda through this very important international body.

Next, Obama presided over the violent overthrow of the constitutional government in the Ukraine and the installation of an American puppet regime there. When Crimea then voted to rejoin Russia, Obama imposed sanctions on the Russian Federation. These moves may seem like they were designed to hurt Russia, but let’s look at the results instead of the intentions. First, Russia regained control of an important, strategic region. Second, the sanctions and the countersanctions allowed Russia to concentrate on import replacement, building up the domestic economy. This was especially impressive in agriculture, and Russia now earns more export revenue from foodstuffs than from weapons. Third, the severing of economic ties with the Ukraine allowed Russia to eliminate a major economic competitor.

Fourth, over a million Ukrainians decided to move to Russia, either temporarily or permanently, giving Russia a major demographic boost and giving it access to a pool of Russian-speaking skilled labor. Most Ukrainians are barely distinguishable from the general Russian population.) Fifth, whereas before the Ukraine was in a position to extort concessions from Russia by playing games with the natural gas pipelines that lead from Russia to the European Union, now Russia’s hands have been untied, resulting in new pipeline deals with Turkey and Germany. In effect, Russia reaped all the benefits from the Ukrainian stalemate, while the US gained an unsavory, embarrassing dependent.

Read more …

Worse than smoking.

Air Pollution Cause Of One In Three Deaths In China (SCMP)

Smog is related to nearly one-third of deaths in China, putting it on a par with smoking as a threat to health, according to an academic paper based on the study of air pollution and mortality data in 74 cities and published in an international journal. The findings by Nanjing University’s School of the Environment, which were published in the November edition of the journal the Science of the Total Environment, provides the latest scientific estimates of the health cost of China’s notorious smog. The latest bout of smog began last Friday, affecting about half a billion people on the mainland, with the severest impact in the last three days. Previous research work have found equally alarming results about the country’s toxic air.

The International Energy Agency published its first study on air pollution in June and estimated that severe air pollution has shortened life expectancy in China by an average 25 months. An academic paper co-authored by researchers from MIT in the US, Tsinghua University and Peking University in China, plus the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2013 concluded that bad air has cut life expectancy by an average of 5.5 years in the north of the country. There are so far no concrete or widely agreed estimates on the impact of air pollution on health in China partly because it is scientifically complicated to measure and also because there is little historical precedent for prolonged exposure to such high levels of air pollution.

The six researchers from Nanjing University said they conducted the study because air pollution was the “most severe and worrisome environmental problem in China”, but knowledge of its health effects was insufficient. When they looked into 3.03 million deaths in 2013 in 74 cities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta, they found 31.8 per cent could be linked to PM 2.5 pollution – the tiny smog particles most hazardous to health.

Read more …

Yeah, it’s bitter. Still, as I said yesterday on FB: “Right up the alley of my -repeat- article and appeal yesterday. Only, the Guardian itself runs a fund now. So it has reason to publish this. The problem: the paper supports 3 NGOs, all British. As if they know better than Greeks what to do in Greece. It’s a broken record problem. Too much money gets wasted on hubris and 1001 -repeat- preventable fuck-ups.”

1000s Of Refugees Left In Greek Cold, UN And EU Accused Of Mismanagement (G.)

The UN refugee agency and the EU’s aid department have been accused by other aid groups of mismanaging a multimillion-pound fund earmarked for the most vulnerable refugees in Europe, leaving thousands sleeping in freezing conditions in Greece. The Greek government, which has ultimate jurisdiction over camp activities, has also been criticised for failing to use nearly €90m (£75m) of separate EU funding to adequately improve conditions at the camps before the onset of winter. No single actor has overall control of all funding and management decisions in the camps, allowing most parties to distance themselves from blame.

The EU aid department, known as Echo, has given UNHCR more than €14m since April to help prepare roughly 50 refugee camps for the winter in Greece, where an estimated 50,000 mainly Syrian refugees have been stranded since the adoption of new European migration policies in March. A further €24m has been given to UNHCR for other projects. Both organisations stand accused by other aid groups of squandering this money, after failing to properly “winterise” or evacuate dozens of camps before snow fell in Greece earlier in December. In addition to providing warmer bedding and clothes, UNHCR was expected to use this money to move people from tents to heated containers or formal housing; heat warehouses where other refugees are living; provide a consistent supply of hot water; and install insulated flooring for anyone still left in tents.

Months after the funds were dispersed, roughly half of those living in camps had yet to be transferred to formal housing by the onset of winter. Of the 45 camps that were still active at the start of the month, the Guardian visited or was made aware of at least 15 camps that had yet to be properly adapted by the time snow fell in northern Greece at the start of December. UNHCR admitted it was itself aware of only eight camps where all the residents have been moved out of tents and into prefabricated containers.

Read more …

Because of all that goes wrong in the NGO structure, we support this:

The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017 (Automatic Earth)

Both Konstantinos and myself -and all the other volunteers at O Allos Anthropos- want to thank you so much for all the help you’ve given over the past year -and in 2015-. We’re around $30,000 for 2016 alone, another $5000 since my last article 4 weeks ago. I swear, for as long as I live, this will never cease to amaze me. And then of course what happens is people start thinking and dreaming about what more they can do for those in peril. Wouldn’t you know…

A Merry Christmas to all of you, to all of us. Very Merry. God bless us, every one. Thank you for everything.

If I may make a last suggestion, please forward this ‘dream’ to anyone you know -and even those you don’t-, by mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, word of mouth, any which way you can think of. Go to your local mayor or town council, suggest they can help and get -loudly- recognized for it. There may be a dream involved for 2017, but that was our notion a year ago as well, and look what we’ve achieved a year later: it is very real indeed. And anyone, everyone can become part of that reality for just a few bucks. If the institutions won’t do it, perhaps the people themselves should. That doesn’t even sound all that crazy or farfetched. There’s a lot of us.


Konstantinos Polychronopoulos on Lesbos Dec 2015

Read more …

Dec 212016
 
 December 21, 2016  Posted by at 7:15 pm Food Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, Athens December 2016

 

Apologies, but I have to talk one more time before Christmas about why I’m in Greece, again. Some of what I am about to say will repeat earlier articles, but I promise, there’s plenty of new things. Because I’m coming to grips with the situation I’m in here, seeing the landscape, seeing things in their perspective.

I never had much use for -humanitarian- aid, I always had the same suspicion of what was going on in the field that just about everyone else has (where does the money go?). But then when I first went to Athens in June 2015, and asked Automatic Earth readers if they wanted to donate a little something for the poor in Greece, and that little something became $12,000 before I knew it, that all changed.

It meant I had to dig deeper and look closer, because this was me handing out other people’s money, and a lot of it. That’s how I met Konstantinos Polychronopoulos in July 2015, and I have since focused on him and his “O Allos Anthropos (The Other Human) ‘movement’, because in my view he represents the ideal fashion in which aid should be delivered. No overhead that gets subtracted from donations -other than equipment-, no salaries for anyone, just one on one aid.

There are about a dozen articles I’ve written over the past year and a half about him and his people at O Allos Anthropos, linked at the bottom of this article. And yes, I will also ask you once more to please donate to the Automatic Earth Fund for Athens (Paypal widget, top left hand column). Much as I don’t like asking anyone for anything when it comes to me, I simply can’t afford to be shy when it comes to this Greek Social Kitchen project.

Problem is, Konstantinos receives hardly any funding, except for the Automatic Earth. A bigger problem, as I’ve found out, is there’s a direct link between providing the most effective aid and not getting funded, strange as that may sound. And that’s what I want to talk about right here. That and what you and I could make possible for Konstantinos in 2017.

Look, I never cared for this kind of thing. I always felt that humanitarian aid is the responsibility of a government (still do, really). Not that I want a government to move into every nook and cranny of people’s lives, but when people in a society fall through the cracks and live in hunger or other forms of misery, their government should be there for them. It’s what we pay taxes for.

Moreover, I always thought that if you do get involved as a citizen, aid should be something you do close to where you live. And I don’t live in Athens. Where I do live is up for grabs, but it’s not Athens. Still, what I have become involved in here is a rare instance of what aid should be, and then it’s much less important where it takes place; besides, there’s a lot more need here than there is in either Holland or Canada, the closest I get to calling any place home.

 

 

In thinking about why it’s so hard to get proper funding for Konstantinos, as I told you end November, in The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas, a large role is reserved for the fact that aid has become an industry like so many others. And that is really unfortunate, for many reasons.

But the past few days something else cropped up in my mind as well, which I feel defines the problem even better. That is the concept of “institutionalization” as forwarded by Austrian philosopher and priest -in New York and Mexico- Ivan Illich in the 1970’s. What Illich meant was that ‘institutions’ in society monopolize entire fields within that society.

Schools, colleges, universities have a monopoly on education (doctors and hospitals have a similar monopoly on health care). Only the degrees that educational institutions hand out recognize you as being smart -or fit for a job-, and the only people who hand out these degrees are those who have spent years wrecking their brains to get such degrees themselves. You’re not smart because you have a brain, you’re smart because you follow a program preset by people who have followed -very- similar programs. That’s “Institutionalization”.

A few quotes from Illich’s book 1971 book “Deschooling Society” (please stick with me, you’ll see where I’m going):

“Institutional wisdom tells us that children need school. Institutional wisdom tells us that children learn in school. But this institutional wisdom is itself the product of schools because sound common sense tells us that only children can be taught in school. Only by segregating human beings in the category of childhood could we ever get them to submit to the authority of a schoolteacher.”

You couldn’t lock up adults in classrooms the way we do kids. But what can kids do, they’re largely defenseless.

“Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags.”

Your teachers went through the same brain-deafening torture that you now do, and they’re not about to admit that this was time wasted. Even if they realize it.

“A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.”

Why do children learn in school? Only because they’re locked up in them umpteen hours a day. They could -and would- learn wherever they go (children learn, period, they couldn’t help it if they tried), but they’re not allowed to go ‘anywhere’.

“School appropriates the money, men, and good will available for education and in addition discourages other institutions from assuming educational tasks. Work, leisure, politics, city living, and even family life depend on schools for the habits and knowledge they presuppose, instead of becoming themselves the means of education.”

You’re not supposed to learn at home or in the world around you, learning is the monopoly of the schooling institutions. Of course you learn most of what’s valuable and useful outside of school, but we don’t talk about that.

Illich was equally clear about medicine:

“Modern medicine is a negation of health. It isn’t organized to serve human health, but only itself, as an institution. It makes more people sick than it heals. We must rediscover the distinction between hope and expectation. Effective health care depends on self-care; this fact is currently heralded as if it were a discovery.”

This monopoly our societies have provided to schools, teachers, doctors and hospitals has gotten ‘certified’ by the fact that they are the only ones in their fields who are funded by society, leaving any and all others too poor to even challenge them for their monopoly positions. It’s a closed circle.

In short, institutionalization is good for institutions, but never for those people they are supposed to be serving.

 

 

So how does this connect to Greece, to Konstantinos, and to all the people he’s trying to -devoted his whole life to- feed, and help in other ways? Here’s how: aid has been institutionalized too. There’s a set of rules, and if you don’t comply, you don’t qualify for funding. The funds then go to less efficient sources who do comply.

Konstantinos and I sat down for another talk last week, always interrupted by his incessantly ringing phone, and always accompanied by our dear friend and translator Tassos, because I wanted to know what these guys see as their future, what they want 2017 to bring that 2016 hasn’t yet.

One of the things that was said, and that’s what reminded me of Illich and institutionalization, is that if Konstantinos would want O Allos Anthropos to be registered as an NGO, and apply for funding through ‘official channels’, not only would he face ream upon ream of paperwork, he would also be forced to demand that every single person he and his people all across Greece serve a meal to, show them an ID. Or else be refused, hungry or not.

And not only would that go against everything Konstantinos stands for, and every reason he wants to serve “Free Food For All” (the main English-language slogan they have), it would mean he’d be from then on in part of the ‘framework’, the ‘institution’. And that framework, as we have seen in earlier articles, is not functioning anywhere near the way it should.

If you see pictures of long waiting lines for food, that’s because of that ID obligation. Sign here please, so the NGO can cash in another $5 or $7 per meal (O Allos Anthropos does it for less than $1 per person, and their meals are better).

Aid for the poorest and most miserable has been institutionalized. The priority has become whether those providing the services follow the rules of the ruling institution (in this case the EU), not whether those services are the best and/or most efficient they can be. Not only is it a giant waste of taxpayer money, Brussels has turned this, as it has done with many things concerning Greece, into a power game.

Tsipras want to help pensioners and underfed schoolchildren for Christmas? How dare he. Meanwhile, new stats this week said 9 out 10 unemployed Greeks get no support from the state, and 350,000 families have no wage earner. 300,000 educated Greeks have emigrated to find work. Scorched earth.

 

 

The EU has transferred hundreds of millions of euros to dozens of NGOs, but conditions in refugee camps around Greece, and personal conditions of people who are either inside these camps or elsewhere, are often still deplorable. Part of the blame rests with the Greek government, undoubtedly, but they can’t even take care of their own people, and the EU gives them very little to deal with the refugees.

The official line is that the government in Athens is not efficient enough when dealing with the issue. But the reality is the government feels it’s easier to comply with Brussels, and the city of Athens feels it’s easier to comply with the government. And they’re all fine, thank you, the PM and the mayor live in nice abodes. But they leave the homeless and refugees in no man’s limbo.

This is the huge void in which Konstantinos operates. Trying to help those people that others can’t or too often won’t. To at the very least feed them, and do what he can in other ways. Which without funding is an impossibly frustrating thing to do.

Not that he will ever show it, anymore than I want to make this sound like some kind of lament. Let’s instead turn to the future. Because there are of course plenty of plans. How we’re going to pay for them is a whole other story…

 

 

But first, a few maps I made. The first one shows the -5- places where there were ‘kitchens’ (in pink) when I hooked up with Konstantinos in July 2015, with no. 1 the ‘Big House’ on Plateon Street, as well as the -‘subsidiary’- locations (in red) where food was served with assistance from the Big House. I left the island of Lesbos off the map, because it’s so out of the way. It’s one the second map though.

 


click map for full navigable version

 

The second map shows the 39(!) locations where food is served now (green are kitchens, yellow are ‘subsidiaries’), plus 9 other ones they would like to add in 2017 (in blue) . Click on the maps for a full, navigable version. I couldn’t embed them, sorry.

I should add that these are not all places where food is served 7 days a week, there is no money to do that. Often, unfortunately, it’s just once a week.

 


click map for full navigable version

 

This, I hope, gives you an idea of where your money has gone: the difference between the first map and the second is to a large extent due to your donations. Your money helps to feed people, in a very direct manner.

But that’s not nearly all yet. In the past few months, Konstantinos has traveled to Perugia, Italy, and to Barcelona, Spain. According to him, Social Kitchens are being set up as we speak in Barcelona and Alicante.

For 2017, he has invitations to visit – and help set up kitchens in- Manchester and London in the UK, The Hague in Holland, the Lebanon, Gaza -to let Israelis and Palestinians cook together, and a camp with 1 million refugees in Jordan. All with the Free Food For All principle in mind, not the Present Your ID or You’ll Go Hungry idea that the EU and NGOs adhere to.

 


Konstantinos in Barcelona: El Otro Hombre

 

2017: In Greece, as I said, 9 more kitchens are waiting to be opened. Moreover, there are advanced plans, for which again there is no money, to start a -mobile- medical (and food) service for elderly Greeks in remote areas, where there are no facilities that are ‘reasonably accessible’ to them. All the necessary volunteers, doctors, nurses, you name it, everyone is on board.

But it will still take €8,000 to arrange for a vehicle that is properly equipped. Yeah, that’s all, surprised me too; I don’t know how he does it, but Konstantinos is confident he can do it for that. Donated equipment, volunteer crew, just paying cost for the moderate conversion of the vehicle. He’s a master at shoestring.

Once that is done, of course Konstantinos is dreaming of adding more such vehicles. Greece is a large enough country, and ever fewer people have access to health care. Then after that, one Big House will not be enough if instead of the 5,000 meals now served daily, the amount would, say, double (which it really should). So he also dreams of more Big Houses, central kitchens.

One sad detail that was mentioned is that the present -only- Big House is also a facility where many people, mainly homeless, go to take a shower, and do laundry, make sure their kids get properly educated, etc etc. But per address in Greece, water is one price up to a limit; if you use more, you pay a lot more for that. So offering laundry and shower facilities for those who have none, ends up costing an arm and a leg. One of many problems.

I must admit I have no idea where we’re going to go from here. But I’m not going to stop trying to keep this movement moving. I may fail, but it won’t be for a lack of effort. Because Konstantinos and his people deserve that I do that, and all the people they help, deserve it even more. I’ll be sure to keep you posted in the new year.

 

Both Konstantinos and myself -and all the other volunteers at O Allos Anthropos- want to thank you so much for all the help you’ve given over the past year -and in 2015-. We’re around $30,000 for 2016 alone, another $5000 since my last article 4 weeks ago. I swear, for as long as I live, this will never cease to amaze me.

And then of course what happens is people start thinking and dreaming about what more they can do for those in peril. Wouldn’t you know…

A Merry Christmas to all of you, to all of us. Very Merry. God bless us, every one. Thank you for everything.

If I may make a last suggestion, please forward this ‘dream’ to anyone you know -and even those you don’t-, by mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, word of mouth, any which way you can think of. Go to your local mayor or town council, suggest they can help and get -loudly- recognized for it.

There may be a dream involved for 2017, but that was our notion a year ago as well, and look what we’ve achieved a year later: it is very real indeed.

And anyone, everyone can become part of that reality for just a few bucks. If the institutions won’t do it, perhaps the people themselves should. That doesn’t even sound all that crazy or farfetched. There’s a lot of us.

 

 

For donations to Konstantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos. Every penny goes where it belongs, no overhead. Guaranteed. It’s matter of honor.

 

Please give generously.

 

 

A list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

Nov 28 2016

The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas

 

 


Konstantinos and a happy refugee

Mar 242016
 
 March 24, 2016  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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John M. Fox National Peanut Corp. store on Broadway, NY 1947

Goldman to Fed: Stop Worrying So Much About the Stronger Dollar (BBG)
China Sends Fed A Warning: Devalues Yuan By Most In 2 Months (ZH)
Pimco Sees 7% Drop For Yuan, ‘No. 1 Risk For Global Economy This Year’ (BBG)
Kyle Bass Is Wrong On China: Policy Adviser Li (CNBC)
China’s Debt Bubble Threatens Global Economy (Nikkei)
China Online P2P Financing Firms Face More Regulation (WSJ)
There’s No Sign of a China Rebound (BBG)
China Exports Its Environmental Problems (BBG)
Liquidity Death Spiral Traps Credit Suisse (BBG)
Japan’s Bond Market Is Close to Breaking Point (BBG)
US Oil Falls After Big Jump In Stockpiles (Reuters)
Osborne’s Disability Cuts Are Devastating Families (G.)
Trump Is Right – Dump NATO Now (David Stockman)
Methane and Warming’s Terrifying New Chemistry (McKibben)
EU Border Agency Has Less Than A Third Of Requested Police (AFP)
Key Aid Agencies Refuse Any Role In ‘Mass Expulsion’ Of Refugees (G.)

Everybody knows a stronger dollar is inevitable. Priced in.

Goldman to Fed: Stop Worrying So Much About the Stronger Dollar (BBG)

It’s time for the Federal Reserve to end its dollar fixation. That’s the takeaway from a Goldman Sachs report Wednesday that suggests the U.S. currency poses little threat to the Fed’s inflation goals, challenging policy makers’ comments to the contrary. That’s good news for dollar bulls who are betting on expanded monetary-policy divergence between the U.S., Europe and Japan. Inflation is at the heart of the Fed’s debate about the timing of interest-rate increases as officials look to normalize monetary policy after seven years of near-zero interest rates. With a stronger dollar not translating into significantly cheaper import prices, Goldman Sachs suggests the central bank faces fewer headwinds to hiking rates than markets are currently pricing in.

“The majority of the effects of a stronger dollar on import prices have already been realized,” analysts Zach Pandl and Elad Pashtan wrote in the note. “Inflation data to date appears to be more closely tracking a path with less dollar pass-through to core inflation” than implied by the Fed’s projections for consumer prices. Investors agree. The gap between yields on Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities and nominal 10-year notes, known as the break-even rate, climbed to the highest since August earlier this week. The measure indicates inflation will average about 1.59% over the next decade, compared with 1.2% last month. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index, which tracks the currency versus 10 peers, advanced 0.7% on Wednesday, extending its longest streak of gains since the period ending Feb. 16.

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Fed must hike?!

China Sends Fed A Warning: Devalues Yuan By Most In 2 Months (ZH)

With the USD Index stretching to its longest winning streak of the year, jawboned by numerous Fed speakers explaining how April is ‘live’ (and everyone misunderstood the dovishness of Yellen), it appears that The PBOC wanted to send a message to The Fed – Raise rates and we will unleash turmoil on your ‘wealth creation’ plan. Large unexpected Yuan drops have rippled through markets in recent months spoiling the party for many and tonight, by devaluing the Yuan fix by the most since January 7th, China made it clear that it really does not want The Fed to hike rates and cause a liquidity suck-out again. The last 4 days have seen nearly a 1% devaluation in the Yuan fix with today’s drop the biggest in over 2 months…

 

And while everyone is quietly commenting on how “stable” the Yuan has been this year, the truth is that is only the case against the USD, the Yuan basket has been consistently devaluing since PBOC admitted it was more focused on that than the USD only…

The last time they sent a message, The Fed rapidly acquiesced and decided a rate hike was inadvisable due to global market turmoil… we wonder what happens this time.

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Only question is will it be voluntary.

Pimco Sees 7% Drop For Yuan, ‘No. 1 Risk For Global Economy This Year’ (BBG)

The offshore yuan dropped to a one-week low after China’s central bank weakened its daily fixing and Pimco. said it sees further depreciation for the currency. The People’s Bank of China lowered its reference rate by 0.33%, the most since Jan. 7, following an overnight advance in the dollar on comments from Federal Reserve officials on the possibility of an interest-rate increase as soon as April. The yuan, “by far the single biggest risk for the global economy and markets this year,” is expected to depreciate 7% against the dollar over the next year, according to a Pimco report issued Wednesday. “If the Fed raises interest rates in April, the dollar will rebound sharply and pressure the yuan weaker,” said Gao Qi at Scotiabank, who sees a June move as more likely. “We expect the yuan to depreciate modestly to 6.7 against the greenback by the end of this year” as capital leaves, the economy slows and the dollar advances.

The yuan’s share of global payments dropped to the lowest since October 2014, according to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, with data affected by the one-week Lunar New Year holiday. China’s growth will likely decelerate as a trend, with mini-cycles of weak recovery and slowdown led by policy swings, Morgan Stanley economists Chetan Ahya and Elga Bartsch wrote in a note. China won’t devalue the yuan to boost exports, and is confident that the nation’s economy will expand by more than 6.5% annually in the next five years, Premier Li Keqiang said in a speech in Boao, Hainan province, on Thursday. Although pressures for the yuan to depreciate do exist, the nation will be able to keep the exchange rate basically stable as long as the economy stays sound, PBOC adviser Huang Yiping said on Wednesday.

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Saying it does not inspire confidence.

Kyle Bass Is Wrong On China: Policy Adviser Li (CNBC)

Many assumptions about China held by global market players, such as thinking Beijing wants a weaker yuan or that low oil prices are caused by the mainland’s slowing growth, are simply wrong, according to a leading Chinese policy adviser. Li Daokui, director of the Center for China at Tsinghua University and former member of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) monetary policy committee, said prominent hedge fund managers, including the likes of Kyle Bass, have misunderstood the world’s second-largest economy. For one, focusing on the currency is “the biggest mistake in reading the Chinese economy,” said Li on the sidelines of Thursday’s Boao Forum for Asia conference. “There is no need for the Chinese economy to rely on a big boost of exports….the economy is still facing a big trade surplus.”

Ever since Beijing surprised the world by unexpectedly depreciating the renminbi in August, money managers such as Kyle Bass, David Tepper and Bill Ackman have ramped up bearish bets against the yuan. Goldman Sachs predicts the dollar will be fetching 7 yuan by the end of the year, from 6.5 currently, amid expectations for looser monetary policy and the government’s desire to boost sagging exports. But exports are no longer as important as before the global financial crisis, Li explained, adding that the sector now makes up 20% of GDP, compared with 35% previously. “The renminbi is already an international currency in the region, so when it devalues, everybody devalues. The net impact is almost zero,” he added.

Indeed, fears for an Asian currency war hit fever-pitch after August’s historic devaluation. Export-oriented economies, such as neighboring South Korea, are typically flagged as the most vulnerable to a weaker renminbi as their goods appear more expensive overseas, sparking worries that other central banks would weaken their own currencies to maintain trade competitiveness. “When the Chinese economy does devaluation, the momentum of financial markets will kick in to expect more devaluation. The game has no good ending for anyone,” Li said. Li’s views echo those of Premier Li Keqiang, who said on Thursday that depreciation would not help companies be more competitive, repeating that the government would not devalue the yuan to lift exports.

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Non-financial private debt is over 200% of GDP and counting. $21.5 trillion.

China’s Debt Bubble Threatens Global Economy (Nikkei)

Excessive debt held by Chinese companies and households is highlighting a grave reality behind the country’s economy. In a sign that this debt is being regarded as a risk to the global economy, it became a topic of discussion at a meeting of G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors held in February. China even appears to be taking steps similar to Japan’s moves in its own post-bubble era. Total credit to the Chinese private non-financial sector stood at $21.5 trillion at the end of September 2015, accounting for 205% of the country’s GDP, according to the Bank for International Settlements. In Japan, the figure accounted for more than 200% of the nation’s GDP at the end of September 1989, when the country was in the late stage of its economic bubble.

After that bubble burst, the number shot up to 221% by the end of December 1995. Japan had fallen victim to its own excessive debt, and banks wrestled with bad loans for the next 10 years. In the U.S., the boom in subprime housing loans for low-income borrowers evolved into a global financial crisis in 2008. At the end of September that year, total credit to the U.S. private sector reached its peak, accounting for 169% of the country’s GDP. It took U.S. banks about four years to overcome their bad loan problems. And now in China, the outstanding amount of total credit to the private sector has surged 300% from the end of December 2008. After the crisis triggered by the Lehman bankruptcy in 2008, Chinese companies began borrowing money and increasing investment, thanks to the Chinese government’s introduction of economic measures worth 4 trillion yuan (around $586 billion at the time).

That stimulus has helped the country to account for half of the world’s crude steel production. Now, however, China is facing the difficult task of making production adjustments, which is putting deflationary pressure on overseas economies. At the opening session of the 12th National People’s Congress, which ended on March 16, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced that the country will accelerate the development of a new economy. He also stated that China will address overcapacity in steel, coal and other industries. Despite the positive stance, though, total credit to Chinese non-financial companies stood at $17.4 trillion at the end of September 2015, accounting for 80% of the total.

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Beijing has let shadow banking grow so big that regulating it is a risk to the economy.

China Online P2P Financing Firms Face More Regulation (WSJ)

China’s online lending companies are bracing for an industry shake-up this year as competition heats up, the economy slows further and regulatory scrutiny tightens following a bevy of scandals. Operators of online lenders, a hot sector in Chinese finance just two years ago, bemoaned the tougher operating environment and the industry’s battered reputation. Speaking at a forum on Wednesday, executives cited rising credit risks and potential new government restrictions on their ability to accept public deposits. They said those firms that aren’t adaptable and lack proper risk controls will likely fail. “When these guys can’t get access to capital, what will they do?” Simon Loong of online financing platform WeLab said at the Boao Forum for Asia, a gathering of business and government leaders.

“They’ll slowly go bust,” and that in turn could rattle the financial system, Mr. Loong said without elaborating. Having made investing easy, major Chinese Internet companies are now competing to sell financial products. Here’s an introduction to some of the popular online investment platforms. Online lending boomed over the past half-decade. Peer-to-peer, or P2P, financing soared, raising capital from wealthier investors and routing it to smaller businesses and consumers often overlooked by commercial banks. P2P platforms numbered 2,595 at the end of last year, up from 880 at the start of 2014, while outstanding loans rose 14-fold to 440 billion yuan ($66.8 billion), according to data provider Wind Information. After the fast rise, however, business conditions deteriorated and some P2P platforms imploded.

Most spectacular was Ezubo Ltd., which collapsed last year, leaving investors short of $7.6 billion and causing regulators to vow to tighten supervision of the sector. While saying greater oversight is welcome, the online lenders at Wednesday’s panel said defended their business models. “The P2P word now seems to have a negative connotation now,” said Yang Fan, CEO of Iqianjin (Beijing) Information. “But P2P financing supplements the existing financial system. It can more effectively direct resources.” The executives said regulators should distinguish between shady operators and credible firms that are trying to manage the risks of loan default. “Those who were accused of illegal fundraising had just put on the hat of P2P” and weren’t genuine operators, said Zhang Shishi, co-founder of online platform Renrendai.

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But they’ll paint the rosy picture anyway.

There’s No Sign of a China Rebound (BBG)

China’s monetary and fiscal stimulus have yet to spur a rebound in the world’s second-largest economy, according to the earliest private economic indicators for March. A purchasing manager’s index focused on small businesses, a gauge of corporate confidence and a new reading of the economy derived from satellite imagery all remained at levels signaling deterioration, though the pace of declines moderated. Sales manager sentiment was unchanged. The reports follow mixed official data showing investment and property sales recovered in the first two months of the year as trade plummeted and manufacturing remained weak. Meanwhile, the newest data show government reforms to slash industrial capacity and shift to a greater reliance on consumption and services haven’t been able to offset the slump.

“Confidence of companies is still slowly bottoming,” Jia Kang, director of the China Academy of New Supply-side Economics, said in a statement. “As long as the supply-side reforms can push forward, the effects will gradually show up.” That’s more unwelcome news for top officials who are gathered this week at the Boao Forum for Asia on the southern island of Hainan to discuss the challenges facing the economy and goals of the reform. Premier Li Keqiang will deliver a keynote speech Thursday and People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan is scheduled to participate in a panel discussion with Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

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Obviously.

China Exports Its Environmental Problems (BBG)

One of the best pieces of news in years is that China’s finally getting serious about cleaning up its environment. Renewable energy use is growing rapidly while coal use is declining. Air pollution targets are being tightened. Contaminated farmland is finally getting high-level attention. Yet all that good could be undermined if China simply exports its environmental problems elsewhere. A case in point is China’s campaign to protect its forests. For years, logging ran rampant as the country transformed itself into the world’s biggest buyer of timber and wood products, including everything from furniture to paper. Denuded hillsides contributed to massive floods in 1998 that forced millions to evacuate their homes. Fortunately, according to a study published last week in Science, stricter enforcement of localized logging bans has reversed the trend: Between 2000 and 2010, tree cover increased over 1.6% of Chinese territory (and declined over .38%).

This year, China plans to cut its commercial logging quota another 6.8% and will expand a ban on logging natural forests nationwide. Here’s the problem, though: As China has quieted its chainsaws, the country has become the world’s largest importer of timber; the government predicts that by 2020 it will rely on imports for 40% of its needs. And as buyers, Chinese companies aren’t terribly discerning. According to the London-based think tank Chatham House, China’s purchases of illegally harvested timber nearly doubled between 2000 and 2013, growing to more than 1.1 billion cubic feet. The damage extends across the developing world. China buys up 90% of Mozambique’s timber exports, around half of which were harvested at rates too fast to sustain the forest over the long-term.

In 2013, the World Wildlife Fund declared that illegal logging in the Russian Far East had reached “crisis proportions” after finding that oak was being logged for export to China at more than twice the authorized volumes. That same year, Myanmar tripled the volume of endangered rosewood exported to China (where it’s particularly valued for its use in furniture). At those rates, some of Myanmar’s rosewood species could be extinct by 2017. Despite a total ban enacted in 2014, rosewood exports to China surged last year to levels reportedly not seen in a decade.

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This does not bode well for TBTF banks.

Liquidity Death Spiral Traps Credit Suisse (BBG)

Credit Suisse just got caught up in the same liquidity death spiral that has claimed a growing number of debt funds.Some of the bank’s traders increased holdings of distressed and other infrequently traded assets in recent months without telling some senior leaders, Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam said on Wednesday. This is bad on several levels. For one, it highlights some pretty poor risk management on the part of senior officers at the Swiss bank.But perhaps more important from a market standpoint, it exposes a trap in the current credit market: Traders are getting increasingly punished for trying to sell unpopular debt at the wrong time. The result has been a growing number of hedge-fund failures, increasing risk aversion by Wall Street traders and further cutbacks at big banks.

This all simply reinforces the lack of trading in less-common bonds and loans. At best, this spiral is inconvenient, especially for mutual funds and exchange-traded funds that rely on being able to sell assets to meet daily redemptions. At worst, it could set the stage for another credit seizure given the right catalyst – perhaps a sudden, unexpected corporate default or two, or the implosion of a relatively big mutual fund. To give a feeling for just how inactive parts of the market have become, consider this: About 40% of the bonds in the $1.4 trillion U.S. junk-debt market didn’t trade at all in the first two months of this year, according to data compiled from Finra’s Trace and Bloomberg. While corporate-debt trading has generally increased by volume this year, more of the activity is concentrated in a fewer number of bonds.

This has made it even harder for big banks to justify buying riskier bonds to make markets for their clients, the way they used to, because they could get stuck holding the bag. That’s what happened with Credit Suisse, apparently. The bank suffered $258 million of writedowns this year through March 11, and $495 million of losses in the fourth quarter, because of its holdings of distressed debt, leveraged loans and securitized products, including collateralized loan obligations [..] Credit Suisse is in a tough spot because it is trying to get out of its hard-to-trade assets at a bad time. It’s re-evaluating its business model under new leadership, higher capital requirements and the shadow of poor earnings. But it’s certainly not alone in feeling the pain from a brutal and unforgiving period in debt markets. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs are expected to report disappointing trading revenues in the first three months of the year, and Jefferies already reported its train wreck of a quarter.

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Abe’s run out of wiggle room. He can’t even turn around on a dime anymore.

Japan’s Bond Market Is Close to Breaking Point (BBG)

Signs of stress are multiplying in Japan’s government bond market, which is crumbling under pressure from the central bank’s unprecedented asset-purchase program and negative interest rates. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has repeatedly said his policies are having the desired effect on markets, including suppressing JGB yields. His success is driving frenzied demand for longer-dated notes as investors avoid the negative yields offered on maturities up to 10 years. And as buyers hang on to debt offering interest returns, the BOJ is finding it harder to press on with bond purchases of as much as 12 trillion yen ($107 billion) a month, sparking sudden price swings leading to yield curve inversions that have nothing to do with economic fundamentals. “We hold a lot, and we’re not selling,” said Yoshiyuki Suzuki, the head of fixed income at Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance, which has $59 billion in assets. “We can get interest income. If we sell, there are no good alternatives.”

Yields on 40-year JGBs dipped below those on 30-year securities Tuesday, and a BOJ operation to buy long-term notes last week met the lowest investor participation on record. Bond market functionality has deteriorated, with 41% of respondents last month rating it as “low,” the highest proportion since the BOJ began the quarterly survey more than a year ago. “It wouldn’t be surprising to see some BOJ operations fail,” said Yusuke Ikawa at UBS in Tokyo. “The biggest risk of that is in superlong bonds.” A dearth of liquidity has driven a measure of bond-market fluctuations to levels unseen since 1999.

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Back on the way to $30 and beyond.

US Oil Falls After Big Jump In Stockpiles (Reuters)

U.S. oil prices fell in Asian trading on Thursday, adding to a slump in the previous session, after stockpiles rose for the sixth week to another record, sapping the strength of a two-month rally in prices. U.S. crude futures were down 10 cents at $39.69 a barrel at 0302 GMT, trading further below the important $40 level. It closed down $1.66, or 4%, at $39.79 a barrel on Wednesday. That marked the sharpest one-day drop for the front-month contract in U.S. crude since Feb. 11. Brent crude futures were up 7 cents at $40.54 a barrel, after trading lower earlier in the session. They finished the last session down $1.32, or 3.2%, at $40.47 a barrel. Earlier this week, both benchmarks had risen by more than 50% from multi-year lows that hit in January.

The U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) said crude stockpiles climbed by 9.4 million barrels last week – three times the 3.1 million barrels build forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll. The continued rise in stockpiles is grinding away at the gains in prices that were largely driven by plans of major producers, including Saudi Arabia and Russia, to freeze production. “OPEC production is still high and Iran is expected to continue to ramp up,” said Tony Nunan at Mitsubishi in Tokyo. “I expect crude to come back down again and test the $35 level again if we continue to get builds,” he said. The market was also supported by a release showing crude stockpiles at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub – an important data point – fell for the first time in seven weeks.

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People die from austerity.

Osborne’s Disability Cuts Are Devastating Families (G.)

A few stabbings in SW1, a couple of careers seriously injured. Politicians and pundits are frantically trying to shrink the implications of Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation down to Westminster size. So it’s about cabinet feuds and leadership hopes, George Osborne’s snottiness and David Cameron’s way with a swearword. What the welfare secretary’s exit is not about, you understand, is a busted austerity programme that has missed nearly every goal and deadline set forward by its creators. It’s not about a benefits system in chaos – economic chaos being so much uglier a prospect than a flat-pack “Tory civil war”. And it’s certainly not about the people who actually have to use that benefits system.

People like Paul and Lisa Chapman. They won’t pop up in the coverage of the “great social reformer” – yet their story takes you to the heart of what’s wrong with our welfare system. It starts a decade ago when Paul, at only 39, started getting a tremor in his right hand. “Just a small one”, but then his eyes would swell up and his sense of smell disappeared. The doctors guessed what was wrong well before the scans picked it up, but a couple of years ago the diagnosis was confirmed: Parkinson’s disease. Incurable. Evil. Now Paul’s body won’t do what his brain tells it to. Miss any tablets and he shakes “really bad”. Even having taken them cramps still seize his neck, legs and arms. “My speech is going,” Paul begins. “I know what I want to say, but … ” Lisa picks up: “The words come out back to front.”

We were in the Chapmans’ small front room, gazing out on the same Northamptonshire town where Paul had worked for years. “I used to be the quickest postman in Irthlingborough!” He could knock off a round in two hours that would take his colleagues four. Even before taking medical retirement, he was slowing down, sometimes forgetting where he was. Now the same route would take “seven or eight hours”. Anyway, Lisa points out, he no longer has the strength to lift a letterbox. We met two days after Osborne’s announcement of the cuts to the personal independence payment (PIP). Disabilities such as Paul’s cost a lot, – in extra kit, travel and care – and PIP is meant to help. The Chapmans were worried that they’d lose out.

This, famously, was the cut too far for IDS. But the Chapmans told me another story, which underlined how this government’s welfare mess is so much bigger than just one line in a red book. Last summer they were summoned for a medical assessment, to be conducted by Capita for the Department for Work and Pensions. Capita employees apologised for not making a home visit, but said the £4.4bn multinational didn’t have sufficient staff to do one soon (Capita says it initially offered a home visit, which was rescheduled). Lisa asked the assessor if he was a GP. Yes, he said – but on the report he is described as a nurse. [..] The assessor found that Paul wasn’t as disabled as previously thought. He immediately lost £49 a week -a huge blow for the Chapmans.

In front of me, Paul remembered what he told Lisa: “The best thing we can do now is you go round your mum’s. I’ll clear off and I won’t take my tablets or my insulin. And it ll be over then. I won t be here. You go back to work and live your life as normal.” Paul: “I couldn’t face this much aggravation. I felt that bad. I’ve got something which anybody could get and I’m so used to doing 70-80 hours at work.” And now he was reduced to this. [..] A government assessment is made, a brown envelope of bad news is put in the post, and in a terraced house in a small town a sick man is driven to consider suicide.

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NATO does a lot of harm. Which makes a lot of sense given that it’s now 25 years over it’s best-by date.

Trump Is Right – Dump NATO Now (David Stockman)

If you want to know why we have a $19 trillion national debt and a fiscal structure that will take that already staggering figure to $35 trillion and 140% of GDP within a decade, just consider the latest campaign fracas. That is, the shrieks of disbelief in response to Donald Trump’s sensible suggestion that the Europeans pay for their own defense. The fact is, NATO has been an obsolete waste for 25 years. Yet the denizens of the Imperial City cannot even seem to grasp that the 4 million Red Army is no more; and that the Soviet Empire, which enslaved 410 million souls to its economic and military service, vanished from the pages of history in December 1991. What is left is a pitiful remnant -145 million aging, Vodka-besotted Russians who subsist in what is essentially a failing third world economy.

Its larcenous oligarchy of Putin and friends appeared to live high on the hog and to spread a veneer of glitz around Moscow and St. Petersburg. But that was all based on the world’s one-time boom in oil, gas, nickel, aluminum, fertilizer, steel and other commodities and processed industrial materials. Stated differently, the Russian economy is a glorified oil patch and mining town with a GDP the equivalent of the NYC metropolitan area. And that’s its devastating Achilles Heel. The central bank driven global commodity and industrial boom is over and done. As a new cycle of epic deflation engulfs the world and further compresses commodity prices and profits, the Russian economy is going down for the count; it’s already been shrunk by nearly 10% in real terms, and the bottom is a long way down from there.

The plain fact is Russia is an economic and military weakling and is not the slightest threat to the security of the United States. None. Nichts. Nada. Nope. Its entire expenditure for national defense amounts to just $50 billion, but during the current year only $35 billion of that will actually go to the Russian Armed Forces. On an apples-to-apples basis, that’s about 3 weeks of Pentagon spending! Even given its non-existent capacity, however, there remains the matter of purported hostile intention and aggressive action. But as amplified below, there has been none. The whole demonization of Putin is based on a false narrative arising from one single event. To wit, the February 2014 coup in Kiev against Ukraine’s constitutionally elected government was organized, funded and catalyzed by the Washington/NATO apparatus. Putin took defensive action in response because this supremely stupid and illegal provocation threatened vital interests in his own backyard.

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CH4 is some 22 times as powerful as CO2.

Methane and Warming’s Terrifying New Chemistry (McKibben)

Global warming is, in the end, not about the noisy political battles here on the planet’s surface. It actually happens in constant, silent interactions in the atmosphere, where the molecular structure of certain gases traps heat that would otherwise radiate back out to space. If you get the chemistry wrong, it doesn’t matter how many landmark climate agreements you sign or how many speeches you give. And it appears the United States may have gotten the chemistry wrong. Really wrong. There’s one greenhouse gas everyone knows about: carbon dioxide, which is what you get when you burn fossil fuels. We talk about a “price on carbon” or argue about a carbon tax; our leaders boast about modest “carbon reductions.” But in the last few weeks, CO2’s nasty little brother has gotten some serious press. Meet methane, otherwise known as CH4.

In February, Harvard researchers published an explosive paper in Geophysical Research Letters. Using satellite data and ground observations, they concluded that the nation as a whole is leaking methane in massive quantities. Between 2002 and 2014, the data showed that US methane emissions increased by more than 30%, accounting for 30 to 60% of an enormous spike in methane in the entire planet’s atmosphere. To the extent our leaders have cared about climate change, they’ve fixed on CO2. Partly as a result, coal-fired power plants have begun to close across the country. They’ve been replaced mostly with ones that burn natural gas, which is primarily composed of methane. Because burning natural gas releases significantly less carbon dioxide than burning coal, CO2 emissions have begun to trend slowly downward, allowing politicians to take a bow.

But this new Harvard data, which comes on the heels of other aerial surveys showing big methane leakage, suggests that our new natural-gas infrastructure has been bleeding methane into the atmosphere in record quantities. And molecule for molecule, this unburned methane is much, much more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. The EPA insisted this wasn’t happening, that methane was on the decline just like CO2. But it turns out, as some scientists have been insisting for years, the EPA was wrong. Really wrong. This error is the rough equivalent of the New York Stock Exchange announcing tomorrow that the Dow Jones isn’t really at 17,000: Its computer program has been making a mistake, and your index fund actually stands at 11,000.

These leaks are big enough to wipe out a large share of the gains from the Obama administration’s work on climate change—all those closed coal mines and fuel-efficient cars. In fact, it’s even possible that America’s contribution to global warming increased during the Obama years. The methane story is utterly at odds with what we’ve been telling ourselves, not to mention what we’ve been telling the rest of the planet. It undercuts the promises we made at the climate talks in Paris. It’s a disaster—and one that seems set to spread.

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This is an established pattern.

EU Border Agency Has Less Than A Third Of Requested Police (AFP)

EU border agency Frontex on Wednesday said member states have provided less than a third of the personnel it requested to deal with the record influx of migrants. Frontex, which coordinates border patrols and collects intelligence about the bloc’s frontiers, had called on European countries Friday to provide 1,500 police and 50 readmission experts “to support Greece in returning migrants to Turkey.” Only 396 police officers and 47 re-admission experts have been offered, according to a statement released Wednesday by the Warsaw-based agency. “I am grateful to the countries who have offered (personnel)… but I urge other member states to pledge many more police officers if we want to be ready to support readmission to Turkey as agreed by the EU Council,” Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri said.

Leggeri had earlier said: “It is important to stress that Frontex can only return people once the Greek authorities have thoroughly analyzed each individual case and issued a final return decision.” The European Union struck a landmark deal with Turkey last week to stem the massive influx of migrants. The European Commission has said the implementation of the deal will require the mobilization of some 4,000 personnel, including a thousand security staff and military officers, and some 1,500 Greek and European police. Frontex spokeswoman Ewa Moncure told AFP the officers requested by the agency were part of this figure.

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“Nobody knows. Every five minutes, the orders change. So who knows. Maybe God knows. If you have any communication with God, you can ask him.”

Key Aid Agencies Refuse Any Role In ‘Mass Expulsion’ Of Refugees (G.)

A triple blow has been dealt to the EU-Turkey migration deal after five leading aid groups refused to work with Brussels on its implementation, a Turkish diplomat ruled out changing Turkish legislation to make the deal more palatable to rights campaigners, and a senior Greek official said nobody knew how the agreement was supposed to work. The UN refugee agency said it was suspending most of its activities in refugee centres on the Greek islands because they were now being used as detention facilities for people due to be sent back to Turkey. UNHCR was later joined by Médecins Sans Frontières, the International Rescue Committee, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children. All five said they did not want to be involved in the blanket expulsion of refugees because it contravened international law.

The UNHCR spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, said: “UNHCR is not a party to the EU-Turkey deal, nor will we be involved in returns or detention. We will continue to assist the Greek authorities to develop an adequate reception capacity.” In a separate and stronger statement, Marie Elisabeth Ingres, MSF’s head of mission in Greece, said: “We will not allow our assistance to be instrumentalised for a mass expulsion operation and we refuse to be part of a system that has no regard for the humanitarian or protection needs of asylum seekers and migrants.” Over the past year, around 1 million people have crossed the narrow straits between Turkey and Greece to try to claim asylum in Europe. In an attempt to stop this flow, the EU and Turkey reached a deal last week that would see almost all asylum seekers returned to Turkish soil.

To do this, the EU has deemed Turkey a safe country for refugees; a decision strongly contested by rights groups. Turkey is not a full signatory to the UN refugee convention, and while it has accepted more Syrian refugees than any other country, it has sometimes forcibly returned Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan asylum seekers to their countries of origin. Just hours after the EU deal was signed, Amnesty International reported that 30 Afghan refugees were sent back to Afghanistan – in a sign, Amnesty said, of what could be to come. “The ink wasn’t even dry on the EU-Turkey deal when several dozen Afghans were forced back to a country where their lives could be in danger,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia director.

[..] The deputy mayor of Lesbos, the island where most migrants land, said no Greek official knew exactly how the deportation process would work, nor what to do with the refugees while they waited. When asked by the Guardian if he had received any concrete instructions about how refugees would be processed and returned to Turkey, Giorgos Kazanos said: “No, not yet.” “Nobody knows. Every five minutes, the orders change. So who knows. Maybe God knows. If you have any communication with God, you can ask him.”

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Mar 022016
 
 March 2, 2016  Posted by at 8:07 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Konstantinos Polychronopoulos On Lesbos (Mytilini) 2016

Monday morning I started to write a -long overdue, I know, and I apologize- article on what’s going on with the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund and with me, still here in Athens. But I was ‘cut short in my tracks’.

I found I just couldn’t go on in the vein I was in when I read that on one side of the European continent, refugees and their children were being bulldozed and sprayed with tear gas in the Calais ‘Jungle’, while at the very same moment, 2500 kilometers (1500 miles) away, tear gas was also being sprayed on refugee children, by Macedonia police, across their border with Greece. Rumors are there were Austrian and Czech troops on the scene as well.

It just seemed too crazy. Because what do you say to that? The obvious and inevitable questions, when seeing that, are: What are we, what have we become, what kind of civilization is this? Is it even a civilization at all? How does one define ‘civilization’? Shouldn’t perhaps a civilization be characterized and defined by the fact that acts and policies executed within it can be deemed ‘civilized’?!

And if that is so, what does this make us? Could we perhaps agree that a civilized society would never engage in -to name but a few examples- any of the following? That a civilized society does not bomb children, it does not let them drown without trying all it can to help, and it does not spray tear gas on them. Is it really such a stretch to accept that as minimum requirements to be labeled ‘civilized’?

Europe, have you completely lost it? How on earth can you tear gas infants? What is that? What’s that you said? They just got in the way? But that means you knew they were there, right?

And again, what does that make us? We do all of these things, and with impunity. None are forced upon us. We do them of our own free will. Or, rather, we elect people who then do them for us, in our name. But we know they do them, and we don’t protest, nor do we un-elect them. Once more, what does that make us? One thing’s for sure: it certainly does not make us civilized. Barbaric is more like it. Medieval, at best.

Now, while I think this is a global issue, if only because the entire world seems to be bombing Syria -just waiting for China to join in-, the immediate culpability and responsibility lies with Europe. But Europe has nothing. Yeah, promises to provide funds at some time in the future, to solve problems that are playing out today. That they can do.

And when those funds finally might arrive, you can bet they’ll largely be handed out to the wrong parties. I don’t want to rehash the complaints in Greece about NGOs, UN etc., but neither have I seen or heard much that will make those complaints go away.

The first and most pressing response needs to come from Angela Merkel, because she is the de facto leader of Europe. That this kind of power structure is very unfortunate since Merkel is more beholden to Germany than Europe is something I explained before. But even then. Merkel has mostly been AWOL. While the leader on paper, Jean-Claude Juncker, is even less visible.

The only thing Europe seems to have done, and do correct me if I’m wrong, is send armed forces to stop people who have come to Europe across perilous seas, losing thousands of their children, friends and neighbors in the process, because they were fleeing .. armed forces. That is bizarre from pretty much any angle.

One of the first things I wrote about the refugee crisis, it must have been about a year ago, was that the only proper response and approach to a situation like this is to put the people first. To make sure they don’t go hungry, they don’t get sick and die, and they don’t drown for no reason. But Europe, both as a whole and in its ‘separate units’, instead has put political issues ahead of the people. So 4000 drowned in 2015, and 400 already this year. And those are just the registered ‘cases’. How about we double those numbers?

And how about we let those numbers sink in? All those promising lives lost for no reason at all? How many potential Einsteins drowned in the Aegean? How many Florence Nightingales? How many loving and delicate mothers and fathers? You can take this from a humanitarian or a religious point of view, and you can pick your religion too while you’re at it, but there’s no philosophy or faith that justifies letting children drown while you’re sitting poolside with a Margarita or at home picking out your next best biggest TV screen.

This is not about opening one’s borders as widely as possible, or about allowing one’s own culture to be entirely submerged or overtaken, it’s about being civilized, about being recognized in history books as an actual civilization deserving of the label. About treating people like human beings, treating them the way you would want your children and your friends to be treated. The way you yourself want to be treated. And then take it from there, with your dignity and your humanity intact.

This is something I will never understand, I’m afraid. And that’s my angle back to the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund, and to my friend Konstantinos (Kostas) and his Social Kitchen (O Allos Anthropos) project. Because Kostas proves, and all the volunteers who cooperate with him do, that there are still humans in this world. I guess one might say that Kostas is what in Yiddish tradition would be called a ‘Mensch’, a term strongly associated with integrity, honor, valor.

I‘ve been going through some of the earlier pieces in which I talked about him, and I noticed the numbers I presented, on meals served per day etc., were sometimes a little off due to communication difficulties. Since I worked hard to get more accurate numbers now, let’s see if we can correct that. Do note that they are really in a constant state of flux these days.

At the moment, as per my latest meeting with Kostas and our -dear- mutual friend and translator Tassos on Friday, there are 10 different ‘chapters’ of the Social Kitchen active, most in the Athens (Attica) area, but also in Thessaloniki and on the islands. That’s up from 2 or 3 ‘kitchens’ 8 months ago. The total list: Athens, Mytilini Island, Egaleo, Haidari, Salamina Island, Ilion, Megara, Thessaloniki, Piraeus, Drapetsona. Yeah, it’s growing fast. They’re not all active 7 days a week, often – or partly- due to a lack of resources. Some cook once a week, some 2-3 times.

But the biggest change by a mile, since the beginning of February, is the 7 days a week Social Kitchen in Mytilini (the capital of what we know as Lesbos, which Greeks often just call Mytilini, Mitilene, Mitilini) in the government facility -don’t want to say ‘camp’- of Moria. The lady who runs the facility has asked Kostas to come cook every day because there were no other provisions. Which is pretty crazy given all the NGOs operating on the island.

A few months ago, he had to tell her he couldn’t afford to do it, but in the perhaps best part of this story, all the food now gets donated by the local population (I’ve said it before, Greeks do solidarity well). And this is no small feat. It means 2500-3000 meals every day, and since the Greek government has been forced to slow the transfer of refugees from Mytilini to Piraeus, the number is set to grow, perhaps fast. This comes on top of the perhaps 1000 meals provided every day in Athens and other places.

And it could be much more, if resources were available. There are 12(!) more locations on a ‘waiting list’ who have asked to join Kostas’ project but who have neither equipment nor funding: Patra, Pyrgos, Sparta, Kalamata, Korinthos, Ioannina, Larissa, Preveza, Nafpaktos, Zakynthos island, Heraklio Crete, Ierapetra Crete (time to go to Google Maps, I know).

When we were talking a few days ago, Kostas said he’s not so much pre-occupied with providing the food itself. That he can manage. Perhaps a bit optimistic, but if he’s anything, that’s it. And in his position, you would have to be. He carries a lot of weight and a lot of people, those who work with them and those they feed, on his shoulders.

What worries him at times are the fixed costs.

I walked over 24 hours ago to Monastiraki square, where a Social Kitchen team always cooks on Tuesday, in memory of a famous Greek musician, Antonis Vardis, who was a very early supporter of the Social Kitchen, but tragically died of cancer in 2014.

Only, this time, the team couldn’t start at 2pm -to serve food at 5pm-, because their equipment was not there. Kostas had decided, from a distance, he just got back from Thessaloniki, that using it to prepare 4000 (!) meals in ‘The House’ to be sent to the port of Piraeus had bigger priority (emergency, starving refugees), and the 300 or so homeless in the square would have to wait. 3 hours or so. Hungry and homeless. That’s where the need stands. That’s reality in Athens.

But to get back to the practical side of things, or let’s call it the fixed costs, here’s an overview.

There’s ‘The House’ as they call it, and so will I, a pretty simple apartment-sized location that has been the nerve center of the operation for a while now. Problem is, the rent used to be paid by supporters until January 1, but they couldn’t afford it any longer -there’s a million stories like that in Greece, of people who can no longer afford things. So now that’s what Kostas worries about. Losing the nerve center is like the worst thing that could happen.

It allowed for those 4000 meals to be cooked yesterday. It offers laundry, service, homework facilities to homeless and their children. The Social Kitchen couldn’t operate without it.

Anyway, on Friday, I paid that rent, with your donations, to the tune of €2054 for 3 months. And told him I’d guarantee the next 3-month payment, due May 15, as well. Because that takes worries away. From someone who must worry, whether he shows it or not, all the time. Here’s the receipt – we went to the bank together-:

Not that the rent for the nerve center is the only fixed cost. By a mile. In fact, the cost for gas for transport for all the kitchens is easily €2000 a month. The propane tanks they need for cooking come to at least €1000 a month. Breakfast, laundry and shower for the homeless in ‘The House’ comes to another €2500 a month (no kidding).

And if that doesn’t scare you away enough, the by far largest expense, as I found out this week, and I would never have thought of this -guess I’m not all that bright-, is in the containers the food is served in. It seems such an obvious thing, but it’s absolutely not. Kostas gets these things already at a steep discount from what even supermarket chains are paying, but even then, it’s -close to- killing the Social Kitchen. Here’s what we’re talking about, these simple thingies:

This may seem like nothing, but it’s something alright. The discount price he pays is €5 per 100 units. Now start multiplying. That urgent 4000 meals he had to do yesterday, just that one ‘shipment’, cost €200 just for the containers. Multiply that by 30 days a month and you get €6000. Times 12 is $72,000 a year. Yup, that is crazy. But the Social Kitchen can’t serve its food without containers either. And -flat- paper plates won’t work because most of the food has too much liquid in it.

Ergo, Kostas has come up with an -about 50% cheaper- alternative, one that if we could make it happen might save the Social Kitchen some $20,000 a year. But there are a few hooks. His alternative, made of ‘hard paper’, is not available in Greece. They would have to be imported from Romania. But you need import permissions for that. And that requires having a company. Something the Social Kitchen refuses to become.

And what’s more, these containers would have to be paid in advance. Something for which there is no money. Everything necessarily operates on a day-to-day shoestring basis. If there is some money, they go buy a few thousand of the aluminum containers down the road. The kind of advance planning that would be required for the -much cheaper- alternative is simply not possible, and therefore not an option.

I think I should just press ‘Publish’ now, because there is no end to what I could write about this. I’m here where it happens, finger on the pulse, and I’m afraid of what this might become. 70,000 or 100,000 or half a million stranded in Greece, all those numbers look possible right now. It’s impossible to say.

But at least there are people here doing what they humanly can to alleviate the misery, even as Europe is clearly not. But the fear of course is that there’ll be a breaking point in Greece, where the already severely strained government will simply run out of resources. And the citizens will, too.

EU promises don’t count for a thing, until they become a tangible reality. But things still happen, and move forward; thousand of refugees arrive here every day. And drowning them all in the Aegean is not an option. Merkel’s best hope is Turkey PM Erdogan, and that’s a terrible best hope to have.

It could all be simple. Just make the people your first priority, and everything else will fall into place. We’re human, and we’re a social animal. That’s what Greece, and the Greeks, prove on a daily basis. But not the rest of the continent.

So, much as I’m hesitant to ask you for support again, I must. ‘My people’ here provide the most basic of necessities: they feed the refugees and homeless. There was a report coming out of Idomeni, on the Macedonia/Greek border, yesterday, that mothers couldn’t breastfeed anymore because they themselves hadn’t eaten in days.

That’s what we, and you, can help prevent from happening.

The way to do it is the same as it has been for a while now: donate through our Paypal unit, top left corner at The Automatic Earth, an amount ending in either $0.99 or $0.37. That all goes straight towards the Social Kitchen. Other donations go to The Automatic Earth itself, which also runs on -and really needs- donations.

There is still some money left from the two donation ‘drives’ I’ve done, which totalled over $20,000 (!) -you guys are so fantastic-. In the past few weeks, I’ve given Kostas €7,550, and earlier I donated €5,000 to volunteer clinics, to Kostas and to Myrto Lemos’ Support Center for street children. That means there’s about $8,000, or €7000 left, and as I said, I promised to pay the rent for the nerve center on May 15.

That leaves about $5000. I have to say ‘about’ all the time, because between what they skim off donations, plus the conversion from USD into EUR, Paypal takes quite a bit, 7-8% in total, which I really don’t like, but it has a (quasi-) monopoly. Thing is, I’m hesitant to spend it all today because of might be coming to this country, and the people fleeing to it. It might be wise to have a war chest for when for instance Kostas really needs it.

Let’s finish for now with a personal thank you note from Kostas, as translated by Tassos:

I want to thank you deeply for the donations, all the people, the readers of the Automatic Earth, who have put their trust in me, without knowing me personally. Ilargi wrote about what we are doing after he met me and saw what we do. I thank all of you that you sent your money to support the fellow humans who are in need. But the most important as I see it, is that you heard and trusted your heart. For me this is solidarity, to hear and trust your heart, because your heart deeply knows and can’t be wrong.
 
I am Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, the man who has dedicated his life to the Social Kitchen -O Allos Anthropos- and I kindly invite you whenever you are in Greece to meet us, to eat with us and to have a coffee together at our Social Kitchen house in Athens, which is open for all Humans and that means you too!


Social Kitchen on Mytilini Island (Lesbos) 2016