May 132017
 
 May 13, 2017  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Fred Stein Subway Steps New York 1943

 

Hackers Hit Dozens of Countries Exploiting Stolen NSA Tool (NYT)
UK Health Service, Targeted in Cyberattack, Ignored Warnings for Months (NYT)
Hurricane Bearing Down on the Casino (Stockman)
$500 Trillion in Derivatives “Remain an Important Asset Class” – NY Fed (WS)
The Great Misconception of a Return to “Normal” (Econimica)
US Nears $100 Billion Arms Deal For Saudi Arabia (R.)
Wells Fargo Bogus Accounts Balloon To 3.5 Million (R.)
EU To Decide Future Of Uber, Airbnb In Europe (NE)
A Populist Storm Stirs in Italy (WSJ)
Macron To Visit Germany To Seek Support For A Beefed Up Eurozone (G.)
Blood Sports (Jim Kunstler)
Greece and the Bond Market. Friends Reunited? (BBG)
China’s Xi Offers Indebted Greece Strong Support (R.)
Varoufakis Accuses Tsipras, Tsakalotos Of Giving In To Creditors (K.)
IMF, Eurozone Say Need More Time To Reach Greek Debt Relief Deal (R.)

 

 

Edward Snowden @Snowden: “In light of today’s attack, Congress needs to be asking @NSAgov if it knows of any other vulnerabilities in software used in our hospitals.”

Hackers Hit Dozens of Countries Exploiting Stolen NSA Tool (NYT)

Hackers exploiting malicious software stolen from the National Security Agency executed damaging cyberattacks on Friday that hit dozens of countries worldwide, forcing Britain’s public health system to send patients away, freezing computers at Russia’s Interior Ministry and wreaking havoc on tens of thousands of computers elsewhere. The attacks amounted to an audacious global blackmail attempt spread by the internet and underscored the vulnerabilities of the digital age. Transmitted via email, the malicious software locked British hospitals out of their computer systems and demanded ransom before users could be let back in – with a threat that data would be destroyed if the demands were not met.

By late Friday the attacks had spread to more than 74 countries, according to security firms tracking the spread. Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity firm, said Russia was the worst-hit, followed by Ukraine, India and Taiwan. Reports of attacks also came from Latin America and Africa.[..] The hackers’ weapon of choice on Friday was Wanna Decryptor, a new variant of the WannaCry ransomware, which encrypts victims’ data, locks them out of their systems and demands ransoms. Researchers said the impact and speed of Friday’s attacks had not been seen in nearly a decade, when the Conficker computer worm infected millions of government, business and personal computers in more than 190 countries, threatening to overpower the computer networks that controlled health care, air traffic and banking systems over the course of several weeks.

One reason the ransomware on Friday was able to spread so quickly was that the stolen N.S.A. hacking tool, known as “Eternal Blue,” affected a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows servers. Hours after the Shadow Brokers released the tool last month, Microsoft assured users that it had already included a patch for the underlying vulnerability in a software update in March. But Microsoft, which regularly credits researchers who discover holes in its products, curiously would not say who had tipped the company off to the issue. Many suspected that the United States government itself had told Microsoft, after the N.S.A. realized that its hacking method exploiting the vulnerability had been stolen.

Privacy activists said if that were the case, the government would be to blame for the fact that so many companies were left vulnerable to Friday’s attacks. It takes time for companies to roll out systemwide patches, and by notifying Microsoft of the hole only after the N.S.A.’s hacking tool was stolen, activists say the government would have left many hospitals, businesses and governments susceptible. “It would be deeply troubling if the N.S.A. knew about this vulnerability but failed to disclose it to Microsoft until after it was stolen,” Patrick Toomey, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, said on Friday. “These attacks underscore the fact that vulnerabilities will be exploited not just by our security agencies, but by hackers and criminals around the world.”

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Don’t just blame the hospitals. Blame the government that squeezes them so dry they have to choose patients over computers.

UK Health Service, Targeted in Cyberattack, Ignored Warnings for Months (NYT)

Britain’s National Health Service ignored numerous warnings over the last year that many of its computer systems were outdated and unprotected from the type of devastating cyberattack it suffered on Friday. The attack caused some hospitals to stop accepting patients, doctor’s offices to shut down, emergency rooms to divert patients, and critical operations to be canceled as a decentralized system struggled to cope. At some hospitals, nurses could not even print out name tags for newborn babies. At the Royal London Hospital, in east London, George Popescu, a 23-year-old hotel cook, showed up with a forehead injury. “My head is pounding and they say they can’t see me,” he said. “They said their computers weren’t working. You don’t expect this in a big city like London.”

In a statement on Friday, the N.H.S. said its inquiry into the attack was in its early phases but that “at this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed.” Many of the N.H.S. computers still run Windows XP, an out-of-date software that no longer gets security updates from its maker, Microsoft. A government contract with Microsoft to update the software for the N.H.S. expired two years ago. Microsoft discontinued the security updates for Windows XP in 2014. It made a patch, or fix, available in newer versions of Windows for the flaws that were exploited in Friday’s cyberattacks. But the health service does not seem to have installed either the newer version of Windows or the patch.

“Historically, we’ve known that N.H.S. uses computers running old versions of Windows that Microsoft itself no longer supports and says is a security risk,” said Graham Cluley, a cybersecurity expert in Oxford, England. “And even on the newest computers, they would have needed to apply the patch released in March. Clearly that did not happen, or the malware wouldn’t have spread this fast.” Just this month, a parliamentary research briefing noted that cyberattacks were viewed as one of the top threats facing Britain. The push to make medical records systems more interconnected might also make the system more vulnerable to attack. Britain plans to digitize all patient records by 2020.

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The anti-Trump battle will be fought with financial weapons. And the Donald is walking into that trap.

Hurricane Bearing Down on the Casino (Stockman)

Yesterday I said the Donald was absolutely right in canning the insufferable James Comey, but that he has also has stepped on a terminal political land-mine. And he did. That’s because the entire Russian meddling and collusion narrative is a ridiculous, evidence-free attempt to re-litigate the last election. And now that the powers that be have all the justification they need. And what is already an irrational witch-hunt will be quickly turned into a scorched-earth assault on a sitting president. I have no idea how this will play out, but as a youthful witness to history back in 1973-1974 I observed Tricky Dick’s demise in daily slow motion. But the most memorable part of the saga was how incredibly invincible Nixon seemed in early 1973. Nixon started his second term, in fact, with a massive electoral landslide, strong public opinion polls and a completely functioning government and cabinet.

Even more importantly, he was still basking in the afterglow of his smashing 1972 foreign policy successes in negotiating detente and the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty with Brezhnev and then the historic opening to China on his Beijing trip. So I’ll take the unders from anyone who gives the Donald even the 19 months that Nixon survived. After all, Trump lost the popular vote, is loathed by official Washington, barely has a functioning cabinet and is a whirling dervish of disorder, indiscipline and unpredictability. To be sure, the terms of the Donald’s eventual exit from the Imperial City will ultimately by finalized by the 46th President in waiting, Mike Pence. But I’m pretty sure of one thing: Between now and then, there is not a snow ball’s chance in the hot place that Donald’s severance package will include the ballyhooed Trump Tax Cut and Fiscal Stimulus.

Markets slipped today because of carnage in the retail sector (which I’ve been warning readers about). But these fantasies are apparently still “priced-in” to a market that has now become just plain stupid. What is surely coming down the pike after the Comey firing, however, is just the opposite. That is, Washington will soon become a three-ring circus of investigations of Russia-gate and the “hidden” reasons for Trump’s action. The Imperial City will get embroiled in bitter partisan warfare and the splintering of the GOP between its populist and establishment wings. In that context, what passes for “governance” will be reduced to a moveable Fiscal Bloodbath that cycles between debt ceiling showdowns and short-term continuing resolution extensions.

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The swamp that can’t be drained without causing explosions.

$500 Trillion in Derivatives “Remain an Important Asset Class” – NY Fed (WS)

Economists at the New York Fed included this gem in their report on a two-day conference on “Derivatives and Regulatory Changes” since the Financial Crisis: “Though the notional amount [of derivatives] outstanding has declined in recent years, at more than $500 trillion outstanding, OTC derivatives remain an important asset class.” An important asset class. A hilarious understatement. Let’s see… the “notional amount” of $500 trillion is 25 times the GDP of the US and about 7 times global GDP. Derivatives are not just an “important asset class,” like bonds; they’re the largest “financial weapons of mass destruction,” as Warren Buffett called them in 2003.

Derivatives are used for hedging economic risks. And they’re used as “speculative directional exposures” – very risky one-sided bets. It’s all tied together in an immense and opaque market interwoven with the banks. The New York Fed: The 2007-09 financial crisis highlighted weaknesses in the over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives markets and the increased risk of contagion due to the interconnectedness of market participants in these markets. This chart from the New York Fed shows how derivatives ballooned 150% – or by $360 trillion – in less than four years before the Financial Crisis. They ticked down during the Financial Crisis, then rose again during the Fed’s QE to peak at $700 trillion. After the end of QE, they declined, but recently ticked up again to $500 trillion. I added in red the Warren Buffett moment:

The vast majority of the derivatives are interest rate and credit contracts (dark blue). Banks specialize in that. For example, according to the OCC’s Q4 2016 Report on Derivatives, JPMorgan Chase holds $47.5 trillion of derivatives at notional value and Citibank $43.9 trillion. The top 25 US banks hold $164.7 trillion, or 8.5 times US GDP. So even a minor squiggle could trigger some serious heartburn.

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Try use “normal” and “derivatives” in one sentence and put on a straight face.

The Great Misconception of a Return to “Normal” (Econimica)

Since 2009, there has been ongoing discussion of the size & composition of major central bank balance sheets (I’m focusing on the Federal Reserve Bank, European Central Bank, and the Bank of Japan) but little discussion of why these institutions felt (and continue to feel) compelled to “buy” assets. The chart below highlights the ongoing collective explosion of these bank “assets” since 2009 after a previous period of relative stability. These institutions clearly have the capability and willingness to digitally conjure “money” from nothing and have felt compelled to remove over $10 trillion worth of assets from the markets since 2009. This swap of illiquid assets for liquid cash had (and continues to have) the effect of squeezing the prices of the remaining assets higher (more money chasing fewer assets=price appreciation).

A prime example of that squeeze, the US stock market total valuation (represented by the Wilshire 5000, below) is $10 trillion higher than the “bubble” peak of 2008…and $11 trillion higher than the 2001 “bubble” peak. Likewise, US federal debt since 2008 has increased by…you guessed it, $10 trillion. The narrative seems to be that 2009 was a one off event and that the central banks role was and still is to “stabilize” the situation until things “normalize”. But right there…that idea that 2009 was a “one-off” or “abnormal” couldn’t be more wrong. So what is “normal” growth, at least from a consumption standpoint? Normal is never the same twice…it is ever changing and must be constantly rediscovered.

To determine “normal” growth in consumption, all we need do is figure the change in the quantity of consumers (annual population growth) and the quality of those consumers (their earnings, savings, and utilization of credit). The chart below details the ever changing “normal” that is the annual change in the under 65yr/old global population broken down by wealthy consuming nations (blue line) and the rest of the (generally poor) world (red line). The natural rate of growth in consumption has been declining ever since 1988 (persistently less growth in the population on a year over year basis)…but central banks and central governments have substituted interest rate cuts and un-repayable debt to maintain an unnaturally high consumption growth rate.

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If we don’t put a stop to this, we have no chance. This is where it all begins and ends.

US Nears $100 Billion Arms Deal For Saudi Arabia (R.)

The United States is close to completing a series of arms deals for Saudi Arabia totaling more than $100 billion, a senior White House official said on Friday, a week ahead of President Donald Trump’s planned visit to Riyadh. The official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the arms package could end up surpassing more than $300 billion over a decade to help Saudi Arabia boost its defensive capabilities while still maintaining U.S. ally Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors. “We are in the final stages of a series of deals,” the official said. The package is being developed to coincide with Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Trump leaves for the kingdom on May 19, the first stop on his maiden international trip.

Reuters reported last week that Washington was pushing through contracts for tens of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, some new, others already in the pipeline, ahead of Trump’s visit. The United States has been the main supplier for most Saudi military needs, from F-15 fighter jets to command and control systems worth tens of billions of dollars in recent years. Trump has vowed to stimulate the U.S. economy by boosting manufacturing jobs. The package includes American arms and maintenance, ships, air missile defense and maritime security, the official said. “We’ll see a very substantial commitment … In many ways it is intended to build capabilities for the threats they face.” The official added: “It’s good for the American economy but it will also be good in terms of building a capability that is appropriate for the challenges of the region. Israel would still maintain an edge.”

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How many executives in jail, you said?

Wells Fargo Bogus Accounts Balloon To 3.5 Million (R.)

Wells Fargo may have opened as many as 3.5 million unauthorized customer accounts, far more than previously estimated, according to lawyers seeking approval of a $142 million settlement over the practice. The new estimate was provided in a filing late Thursday night in the federal court in San Francisco, and is 1.4 million accounts higher than previously reported by federal regulators, in what became a national scandal. Keller Rohrback, a law firm for the plaintiff customers, said the higher estimate reflects “public information, negotiations, and confirmatory discovery.” The Seattle-based firm also said the number “may well be over-inclusive, but provides a reasonable basis on which to estimate a maximum recovery.”

Wells Fargo spokesman Ancel Martinez in an email said the new estimate was “based on a hypothetical scenario” and unverified, and did not reflect “actual unauthorized accounts.” Nonetheless, it could complicate Wells Fargo’s ability to win approval for the settlement, which has drawn opposition from some customers and lawyers who consider it too small. “This adds more credence to the fact there is not enough information to assess whether the settlement is fair and adequate,” Lewis Garrison, a partner at Heninger Garrison Davis in Birmingham, Alabama who represents some objecting customers, said in an interview. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco is scheduled to consider preliminary approval at a May 18 hearing. The accounts scandal mushroomed after Wells Fargo agreed last September to pay $185 million in penalties to settle charges by authorities including the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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They better be thorough, or individual countries must each formulate their own responses.

EU To Decide Future Of Uber, Airbnb In Europe (NE)

An opinion issued by the European Court of Justice on May 11 could prevent people from using or working for services such as Uber and Airbnb. The opinion from the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice follows a case that has been brought by Spanish taxi drivers against the ride sharing service Uber. It found that Uber should be regulated like a transportation company, not as an “information society service”. If the opinion is upheld, these services could be required to apply for specific licences or be restricted in number as is the case with taxis in various European cities in an attempt to keep prices artificially high.

The court is slated to deliver a final ruling on whether Uber should be classified as a transport company or as a passive internet intermediary, in the coming months. Usually, the judges follow the opinion of the Advocate General. It remains to be seen whether the case will impact other so-called sharing economy services as Airbnb. Speaking after the opinion was issued, Dan Dalton, European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) spokesman on the EU internal market said: “The opinion given today has huge implications for innovative, consumer driven digital services all across Europe… It is right that there are safeguards for consumers, but applying analogue era regulation to the digital world only strangles innovation and entrenches privileged monopolies.”

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Beppe always had one goal first: get rid of corruption. The WSJ can talk all it wants about M5S teething problems, but there are bigger issues here.

A Populist Storm Stirs in Italy (WSJ)

Europe’s establishment breathed a sigh of relief after the pro-European Union centrist Emmanuel Macron was elected French president this week. But another populist storm is brewing in Italy, where the euroskeptic 5 Star Movement has remained strong. Fueled by discontent with slow growth, high unemployment and disillusionment with mainstream politicians, 5-Star has won local elections in Rome, Turin and elsewhere, partly on the strength of its leaders’ call for a referendum on Italy’s use of the European single currency. Pollsters say about 30% of Italian voters support the movement founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, a level of popularity that has stood firm despite a series of high-profile stumbles, especially by its mayor in Rome.

The self-described association of free citizens has replaced the center-left Democratic Party at the top of most polls ahead of national elections to be held by May 2018. Now, the group that has flouted the rules of the game for establishment parties in Italy is experiencing growing pains as it prepares for the possibility of taking power. The prospect of Mr. Grillo and his supporters winning and forming a government has made investors nervous and pushed up yields on Italian bonds in recent months. On Friday, the spread between Italian and German 10-year sovereign bond yields was 1.85 percentage points, nearly five times the corresponding spread between French and German bonds.

Mr. Grillo and 5 Star waged a successful campaign to block constitutional changes sought by former Democratic Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, effectively forcing him from office in December. Since then, a caretaker government has run Italy. The movement has vowed to institute tougher anticorruption laws and deliver a minimum guaranteed income for all working-age and retired Italians if it emerges from upcoming elections as head of a minority government or in a governing coalition with other euroskeptic parties.

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There is no support for a beefed up EU or eurozone. Besides, Macron will be fighting the unions over the summer.

Macron To Visit Germany To Seek Support For A Beefed Up Eurozone (G.)

Emmanuel Macron will take power as French president on Sunday and immediately face the twin challenges of European Union reform and loosening strict labour laws in France. After walking up the red carpet to the Élysée Palace on Sunday morning, being briefed on the nuclear deterrent by the outgoing Socialist leader François Hollande, and making his first speech, Macron will on Monday fly to Berlin to meet the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. It is traditional for French leaders to make Berlin their first European trip. The pro-European centrist Macron wants to boost the French-German motor at the heart of Europe and press for closer cooperation, including creating a parliament and budget for the eurozone. Merkel welcomed Macron’s decisive election victory over the far-right Marine Le Pen, saying he carried “the hopes of millions of French people and also many in Germany and across Europe”.

But if Macron is to push for eurozone reform, he must also prove to Berlin and other European allies that he can deliver the changes he has promised on France’s sluggish economy and deficit problem. The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, in an interview with the weekly Spiegel, kept up his country’s pressure on France to reduce its budget deficit to the EU ceiling of 3%. “France can make it,” he said. Macron, 39, France’s youngest elected leader, vowed during his campaign that he would immediately loosen France’s rigid labour regulations, giving businesses more power over setting working hours and deciding working conditions. He said that if needed, he would push through these changes by decree soon after taking office. Trade unions and leftwing demonstrators are warning of street protests if changes are not handled carefully.

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Jim waxes nostalgic on Nixon.

Blood Sports (Jim Kunstler)

I remember that sweaty August day that he threw in the towel. (I was a young newspaper reporter when newspapers still mattered.) It was pretty much a national orgasm. “NIXON RESIGNS!” the headlines screamed. A moment later he was on the gangway into the helicopter for the last time. Enter, stage right, the genial Gerald Ford…. Forgive me for getting caught up in the very nostalgia I castigate. And now here we are in the mere early months of Trumptopia about to hit the replay button on a televised inquisition. In my humble opinion, Donald Trump is a far more troubling personality than Tricky Dick ever was, infantile, narcissistic, at times verging on psychotic, but the RussiaGate story looks pretty flimsy. At this point, after about ten months of NSA-FBI investigation, nothing conclusive has turned up about Trump’s people “colluding” with Russia to gain unfair advantage in the election against You-Know-Who.

Former NSA chief James Clapper has publicly stated twice in no uncertain terms that there’s no evidence to support the allegations (so far). And there remains the specter of the actual content of the “collusion” — conveniently ignored by the so-called “Resistance” and its water-carriers at The New York Times — the hacked emails that evince all kinds of actual misbehavior by Secretary of State HRC and the DNC. The General Mike Flynn episode seems especially squishy, since it is the routine duty of incoming foreign affairs officials to check in with the ambassador corps in Washington. Why do you think nations send ambassadors to other countries? The upshot of all this will be a political circus for the rest of the year and the abandonment of any real business in government, at a moment in history when some very weighty black swans circle above the clouds waiting to crash land. Enjoy the histrionics if you dare, and pay no attention to collapsing economy as it all plays out.

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Draghi need to buy Greek bonds, and bring down those rates.

Greece and the Bond Market. Friends Reunited? (BBG)

Greece is considering tapping the capital markets for the first time in three years. Let’s hope its second attempt to regain market access goes more smoothly for investors than its first. A bond sale in July or September is being considered – if a deal on debt relief is reached, and the ECB adds Greek debt to the shopping list of securities it can buy through its quantitative easing program, according to the Wall Street Journal. The news comes as the U.S. presses European officials to ease Greece’s debt burden at informal talks during the Group of Seven gathering currently taking place in Italy.Investors can be forgiven if they feel a sense of déjà vu.In April 2014, Greece sold €3 billion of 4.75% bonds repayable in 2019 in its first issue for almost four years.

The country had sought to raise €2.5 billion; orders from more than 550 investors, though, exceeded €20 billion, and, five months later, the bond was increased by a further €1 billion. The then PM Antonis Samaras called the sale “one more decisive step toward exiting the crisis.”Except … it turned out Greece was about to get worse, not better. The day after the sale, the price of the bonds slipped by a bit more than half a point. By the end of the year, they’d lost almost 20% of their value. And by the middle of 2015, they slumped to as low as 40% of face value as the government was forced to introduce capital controls in an effort to stanch the flood of money leaving the country’s banking system. The bond price recovered as the Greek government dropped its defiance against the terms demanded by its lenders, implemented pension and labor market reforms and accelerated the sale of government assets.

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Does Brussels really want China to buy up Greece?

China’s Xi Offers Indebted Greece Strong Support (R.)

Chinese President Xi Jinping offered the prime minister of deeply indebted Greece strong support on Saturday, saying the two countries should expand cooperation in infrastructure, energy and telecommunications. Xi told Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that Greece was an important part in China’s new Silk Road strategy. “At present, China and Greece’s traditional friendship and cooperation continues to glow with new dynamism,” China’s Foreign Ministry cited Xi as saying. Cooperation in infrastructure, energy and telecommunications should be “deep and solid”, Xi added, without giving details. Tsipras is in Beijing to attend a summit to promote Xi’s vision of expanding links between Asia, Africa and Europe underpinned by billions of dollars in infrastructure investment called the Belt and Road initiative.

Greek infrastructure development group Copelouzos has signed a deal with China’s Shenhua Group to cooperate in green energy projects and the upgrade of power plants in Greece and other countries, the Greek company said on Friday. The deal will involve total investment of €3 billion, Copelouzos said in a statement, without providing further details. China has been investing heavily in Greece in recent years. Its biggest shipping company, COSCO Shipping, bought a majority stake in Piraeus Port Authority last year under a plan to turn Greece into a transhipment hub for rapidly growing trade between Asia and Eastern Europe. Xi said China and Greece should focus their efforts on turning the Piraeus port into an important international transhipment hub and key part of the new Silk Road, the Chinese ministry said.

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Yanis says Greece’s future is Kosovo, Steve Keen said Somalia. They’re both right.

Varoufakis Accuses Tsipras, Tsakalotos Of Giving In To Creditors (K.)

In an interview Friday on Skai TV, former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis hit out at his erstwhile government colleagues, accusing both his successor Euclid Tsakalotos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of giving in to the country’s international creditors. “There is no new agreement, just a new surrender,” he said of the latest deal with Greece’s lenders. “The first memorandum burned Papandreou, the second Samaras, the third Tsipras. The fourth will require a new prime minister,” he said. As for Greece’s prospects, his prediction was bleak. “We will become Kosovo, a protectorate run by an employee of the European Union.”

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Never seen a more broken record.

IMF, Eurozone Say Need More Time To Reach Greek Debt Relief Deal (R.)

The IMF and eurozone government lenders need more time to reach an agreement on debt relief for Greece because the eurozone is still not sufficiently clear in its intentions, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said on Friday. Top eurozone officials and Lagarde met on Friday morning to discuss debt relief for Athens which eurozone finance ministers, or the Eurogroup, promised in May 2016, but under strict conditions. “We will carry on working on this debt relief package. There is not enough clarity yet. Our European partners need to be more specific in terms of debt relief, which is an imperative,” Lagarde told reporters in the city of Bari in Italy. German Finance Ministers Wolfgang Schaeuble, also at the meeting of the G7 advanced economies in Bari, asked if he would be prepared to ease the conditions for debt relief, said: “We are prepared to stick to what we have agreed in May 2016. That is the basis on which we are working … I am still in favor of getting a solution, at least a political solution, in the Eurogroup on the 22nd of May.”

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Jun 222016
 
 June 22, 2016  Posted by at 1:08 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Founding father of the EU, French economist and financier, Jean Monnet

I stumbled upon an article by Day of the Jackal author Frederick Forsyth, published last week in the Daily Express, that I think every Briton and European and everyone else should read. Forsyth doesn’t delve into the American pressure to form a European Union as a counterweight to the Soviet Union, he sticks with ‘founding father’ Jean Monnet and his reasoning behind the particular shape the Union took. And that is bad enough.

All Forsyth has to do is to quote from Monnet’s work, and I have to admit that while reading it I increasingly got the feeling that it’s quite remarkable that no-one, especially no journalist, does this. It’s there for everyone to see, but that means little if and when no-one actually sees it.

I have repeatedly talked about how the very structure of the EU self-selects for sociopaths and/or worse, but perhaps not enough about how that was deliberately built into the design. A feature not a flaw.

And I don’t think Monnet ever thought about how structures like that develop over time, in which the flaws in that design become ever more pronounced and the more severe cases of sociopathy increasingly take over the more powerful positions. A development that is well visible in present day Brussels.

For me, as I’ve written before, being here in Athens these days is plenty testimony to what the EU truly represents. Not only do we need to help feed many tens of thousands on a daily basis, depression levels are up 80% or so and life expectancy is plunging because proper health care is ever further away for ever more people in a country that not long ago had a health care system anyone would have been proud of.

That is the EU. And, yeah, Britons, do reflect on the NHS. Sure, you can argue it’s not the EU but Cameron and his people that are breaking it down, but it’s also Cameron who is pleading with you to vote to stay in the union.

If it can do this today to one of its member states, it will do it tomorrow to others, and more, if it sees fit. The benefits of the union flow to a select few countries, and to a select few within those countries. And ever fewer are selected as economic policies continue to fail.

It is frankly beyond me to see why anyone would want to be part of that. It’s not about Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage or George Osborne, that is just more deception. It’s about being ruled by midgets, as Forsyth puts it.

Here are some snippets from Frederick Forsyth’s article:

Birth of superstate: Frederick Forsyth on how UNELECTED Brussels bureaucrats SEIZED power

There was nothing base or inhumane about Jean Monnet, the French intellectual now seen as the founding father of the dream, nor those who joined him: De Gasperi the Italian, Hallstein the German, Spaak the Belgian and Schumann the Frenchman. In 1945 they were all traumatised men. Each had seen the utter devastation of their native continent by war and after the second they swore to try for the rest of their lives to ensure nothing like it ever happened again. No one can fault that ambition.

First Monnet analysed what had gone wrong and became obsessed by one single fact. The German people had actually voted the Austrian demagogue into the office of chancellor. What could he, Monnet, learn from this? What he learned stayed with him for the rest of his life and stays with us today in the EU.

The continent of Europe, from western Ireland to the Russian border, from Norway’s North Cape to Malta’s Valletta harbour, must be unified into one huge superstate. Politically, socially, economically, militarily and constitutionally.

There could be no war between provinces so war would be banished. (For a man who had witnessed the Spanish Civil War that was an odd conclusion but he came to it. And there was more).

As coal, iron and steel were the indispensable sinews of war machinery, these industries should be unified under central control. Thus would also be prevented any single state secretly rearming. That at least had the benefit of logic and the Coal and Steel Community was his first success.

But the big question remained: how should this Europe-wide single state be governed? Then he came to the conclusion that still prevails today. In the 1930s democracy had failed. In Germany, Italy and elsewhere desperate people had flocked to the demagogues who promised full bellies and a job in exchange for marching, chanting columns.

So democracy must go. It could not be the governmental system of the new Utopia. It was not fit to be. (He was already president of the Action Committee for the Superstate, his official title. There is nothing new about the word superstate).

Instead there would be a new system: government by an enlightened elite of bureaucrats . The hoi polloi (you and me) were simply too dim, too emotional, too uneducated to be safely allowed to choose their governments.

It never occurred to him to devise a way to strengthen and fortify democracy to ensure that what happened in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s could not happen again. No, democracy was unsafe and had to be replaced. (This is not propaganda, he wrote it all down).

He faced one last stigma as he sought the support of the six who would become the kernel of his dream: Germany (still ruined by war), France (fighting dismal colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria), Italy in her usual chaos, Holland, Belgium and tiny Luxembourg. How could the various peoples ever be persuaded to hand over their countries from democracy to oligarchy, the government of the elite? Let me quote from what he wrote:

“Europe’s nations should be guided towards the Super-state without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation.”

In other words he could not force them (he had no tanks). He could not bribe them (he had no money). He could not persuade them (his arguments were offensive). Hence the deliberate recourse to government by deception. Both nostrums continue to this day. Study the Remain campaign and the people behind it.

Almost without exception they are pillars of the establishment, London-based, accustomed to lavish salaries, administrative power and enormous privilege. None of this applies to 95% of the population. Hence the need for deception.

At every stage the Remain campaign has stressed the issue is about economics: trade, profits, mortgages, share prices, house values – anything to scare John Citizen into frightened submission. The gravy train of the few must not be derailed. Some of them are already sticking pins into a wax figurine of David Cameron for being soft enough to offer the proles a chance to recover their parliamentary democracy and thus their sovereignty.

Forsyth then continues with a bunch of typically British issues, and ends with:

[..] You have repeatedly been told this issue is all about economics. That is the conman’s traditional distraction. This issue is about our governmental system, parliamentary. Democracy versus non-elective bureaucracy utterly dedicated to the eventual Superstate.

Our democracy was not presented last week on a plate. It took centuries of struggle to create and from 1940 to 1945 terrible sacrifices to defend and preserve.

It was bequeathed to us by giants, it has been signed away by midgets.

Now we have a chance, one last, foolishly offered chance to tell those fat cats who so look down upon the rest of us: yes, there will be some costs – but we want it back.

Sep 202015
 
 September 20, 2015  Posted by at 9:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 20 2015
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DPC Government Street, Mobile, Alabama 1906

Human Migration Will Be A Defining Issue Of This Century (Alexander Betts)
5-Year Old Child Drowns Off Greece, Others Paddle Across From Turkey (Reuters)
30 Refugees Missing In New Boat Sinking Off Greece On Sunday (AFP)
Europe Needs To Take Big Numbers Of Refugees. Until Then Chaos Reigns (Guardian)
Greece Is Making America Look Bad (Pittsburgh Post-Gazatte)
Thousands Of Refugees Pour Into Austria As European Crisis Intensifies (AFP)
Exhausted Migrants Left With Few Options on Slovenian Border (WSJ)
UN Warns European Unity At Risk As Borders Close To Refugees (Guardian)
Bank of Finland Governor Supports Opening Door to Migrants (WSJ)
Do China’s Ghost Cities Offer A Solution To Europe’s Migrant Crisis? (Reuters)
Xi Jinping: Does China Truly Love ‘Big Daddy Xi’ – Or Fear Him? (Guardian)
How China Decided To Redraw The Global Financial Map (Reuters)
The US Federal Reserve Has Got It Wrong (Andrew Sentance)
A Divided Fed Pits World’s Woes Against Domestic Growth (Reuters)
Stuck At Zero: Global Risks Have Tied The Fed’s Hands (Forbes)
US Oil Tumbles 4.7% To Settle At $44.68 A Barrel (Reuters)
Jim Chanos on What Lies Ahead for Greece (Lynn Parramore)
Catalonia Separatists: Spanish State Has Failed. We Can Change This (Guardian)
UK’s NHS To Collapse Within Two Years, Warns Former Health Minister (Guardian)

Certainly of this decade. A whole century is a bit much. A harbinger of things to come sounds about right.

Human Migration Will Be A Defining Issue Of This Century (Alexander Betts)

This is the first time in its history that the European Union has faced a mass influx of refugees from outside the region. Each year, as UNHCR announced record numbers of displaced people, the general assumption – until recently – was that this is a problem for other parts of the world. However, rising displacement that had mainly affected the Middle East and Africa has finally reached Europe’s shores in significant numbers. Many are beginning to ask whether the current crisis represents a temporary peak in displacement or presages a new, long-term trend. On what basis can we know? Will the dystopian images we see at the Hungarian-Serbian border of desperate families being beaten back by armed guards or the shocking image of Alan Kurdi become “the new normal”? The simple answer is: it depends.

It depends significantly on us, and the policies we, and our leaders, choose to adopt – nationally, regionally, and globally. Asylum numbers do fluctuate over time depending on the state of the world, and Europe has witnessed significant spikes in numbers before. In 1992, the EU received 672,000 asylum seekers, and numbers remained high during the Bosnia conflict. In 2001, numbers again peaked at 424,000 following the Kosovo crisis and with many arriving from Somalia and Afghanistan. This year, numbers are likely to exceed those figures but not dramatically, especially when one considers that in 1992 there were 15 EU member states and today there are 28. In general terms, the number of refugees in the world is broadly a function of the number of wars and human-rights-abusing dictatorships at any given time.

Today, there are a series of internal and regional armed conflicts around the world. Most of these are in two regions, the Middle East and Africa. There are humanitarian emergencies in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Somalia, Nigeria and, closer to home, in Ukraine. The UN high commissioner for refugees, António Guterres, has described a “world at war”. If we were able to address the root causes of those conflicts, the number of refugees in the world would decline significantly. However, there are also grounds to believe that refugees and displacement are likely to become a defining issue of the 21st century. Two global trends in particular suggest this: fragility and mobility. In both cases, the international community is struggling to come up with viable collective responses.

Read more …

Without photographs, the reaction is completely different.

5-Year Old Child Drowns Off Greece, Others Paddle Across From Turkey (Reuters)

A girl believed to be five years died on Saturday and 13 other migrants were feared lost overboard after their boat sank in choppy seas off the Greek island of Lesbos, the Greek coastguard said. A second, exhausted group of around 40 people reached the island in a small boat following a traumatic journey from Turkey, having paddled through the night with their hands across 10 kilometers (six miles) of ocean after their engine failed. “When we were on the sea … I didn’t have any hope … I said: I am dead right now, nobody can help me,” Mohammed Reza, 18, said after being pulled ashore from the boat by foreign volunteers. Hundreds of thousands of mainly Syrian refugees have braved the short but precarious crossing from Turkey to Greece’s eastern islands this year, mainly in flimsy and overcrowded inflatable boats.

Reza, who fled from Afghanistan and left the rest of his family in Iran, told Reuters TV: “The water and fuel mixed up together … and we were on the sea for about seven or eight hours without any water or any food.” He said neither the Greek and Turkish coastguard had assisted the group of men, women and children. “At that moment, we, all of us, thought that we are useless, we are not human.” Greek coastguard spokesman Nikos Lagkadianos said 11 people were rescued from the boat that sank and a twelfth swam ashore in the early hours. The girl who died was found unconscious and was later declared dead in hospital, Lagkadianos said, adding that the coastguard and Greek navy were searching for survivors. Fifteen babies and children were among 34 refugees who died when their boat capsized off the small island of Farmakonisi last Sunday. Twenty-two others drowned and 200 were rescued two days later trying to reach Kos.

Read more …

To be continued.

30 Refugees Missing In New Boat Sinking Off Greece On Sunday (AFP)

Nearly 30 migrants were feared missing off the Greek island of Lesbos, the coastguard said Sunday, in the latest boat sinking in an ongoing Aegean Sea tragedy that has cost hundreds of lives. The coastguard said it had rescued 20 people spotted in the water by a helicopter from EU border agency Frontex, but the survivors said another 26 people had been in the boat. The state news agency ANA said there were children among those missing. On Saturday, a five-year-old Syrian girl died in another attempted crossing from Turkey to Greece, and there were no news on another dozen people who were in the boat with her. The accident again occurred east of the island of Lesbos, one of the Greek islands that has seen a heavy influx of refugees from war-torn Syria this year.

Many have perished trying to cross the Aegean Sea in search of a better future in Europe. Earlier this month, harrowing pictures of three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi, whose body was found washed up on a Turkish beach after the boat carrying his family to the Greek island of Kos sank, caused an outpouring of emotion around the world, pressuring European leaders to step up their response to the refugee crisis. The body of another four-year-old Syrian girl washed up on a beach in western Turkey on Friday. Migrants have in recent days turned to Turkey’s land borders with Greece and Bulgaria to avoid the sea voyage that has cost over 2,600 people their lives in the Mediterranean this year. Greece has seen over 300,000 refugees and migrants enter the country this year, most of them passing through to other European countries.

Read more …

Much as Europe is criminally negligent, this is a global issue, not a European one.

Europe Needs To Take Big Numbers Of Refugees. Until Then Chaos Reigns (Guardian)

Europe’s heads of government gather this week for a meeting billed as a last-ditch effort to resolve the refugee crisis sweeping the continent. But the pace of arrivals has accelerated so fast that the deal some are touting as a solution to the challenge is actually more of a stopgap measure to tackle an emergency. Politicians in Brussels have been arguing fiercely about where 120,000 refugees should be allowed to settle, even though tens of thousands more have already travelled into the continent. Borders are being sealed with bewildering speed, as columns of desperate people move from country to country in their attempt to find a haven. And winter is only likely to bring a pause, rather than an end, to the crisis.

The sea crossing from Turkey to Greece may soon be partly “sealed” by harsh weather, but migration groups have warned that many people will die in a desperate attempt to cross before the seas get too stormy. And when spring comes again, the exodus will almost certainly pick up. Claude Moraes, MEP and chair of the European parliament’s justice, civil liberties and home affairs committee, said: “My concern is that we have had this paralysis for so long that the numbers are now out of date. So even if we get [a deal] on Wednesday we are going to have to lift them again. The EU has worked hard on this. But these were figures for the start of the crisis, not now.” Countries from the Balkans to Denmark are sealing land borders, setting up a chain of obstacles that may eventually all but block passage for refugees to prosperous western European nations.

But the journeys from Turkey to Europe’s eastern edge will be almost impossible to stop. Franck Düvell, senior researcher at Oxford University’s migration observatory, said: “Along the sea border with Greece there are too many routes and beaches. [Turkish authorities] can launch operations like they are doing around Bodrum now, but people will find other routes and other beaches.” The long, irregular coastline will always be a challenge, and Turkish police and border guards have told Düvell they are stretched too thin by other emergencies to monitor it all now. “They are at the limits of what they can do, and at the moment their priority lies in the east, borders with Syria and Kurdish areas.” While sea crossings are possible, they will continue to be made.

The trip is relatively short, and although the odds of survival may seem terrifying to people watching from safety, many fleeing war or the endless suffocating limbo of refugee camps long ago decided that they are not unreasonable. “You can’t block the border with Turkey in any meaningful way,” said Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration. “There is the rise of expectation that you can do it, the push factor of people with Isis at their back, and the result is they put themselves at far greater risk than they would have before.” Only an unlikely peace, a moderation of the violence in Syria or far better conditions in regional refugee camps are likely to reduce the number of boats landing on Greek shores. Tighter border controls further north will only trap new arrivals in Greece, where they will still be a European responsibility.

Read more …

“If you scream about foreigners usurping the nation here, people might mistake you for a fascist. Back in America, you can be a frontrunner in a major political party.”

Greece Is Making America Look Bad (Pittsburgh Post-Gazatte)

More than 200,000 refugees fleeing mayhem in the Middle East already have worked their way this year from Turkey to Greece, site of the worst economic crisis to hit a developed country since World War II. About 100,000 illegal immigrants come each year from Mexico to the United States, which has 30 times as many people as Greece and a vastly more prosperous economy. So which country is witnessing the meteoric rise of an anti-immigrant political figure? Hint: It’s not Greece. It’s America, of course, where Donald Trump has shot to the top of the Republican presidential fold on an astoundingly nativist platform: Put up a wall between the United States and Mexico, deport anyone who is in America illegally and deny birthright citizenship to their offspring.

And that’s not because waves of Mexicans have been sneaking across our borders to steal jobs and commit crimes, as Mr. Trump would have you believe. Illegal immigration declined with the recession of 2007-2009 and remains a relative trickle. As for Mr. Trump’s fear-mongering, undocumented workers are less likely to engage in criminal activity than native-born citizens. It’s been especially depressing to watch Mr. Trump’s ascent from here in Greece, which has an actual — rather than imagined — flood of newcomers on its hands. On the islands closest to Turkey, especially Kos and Lesbos, 33,000 migrants have arrived in the last month alone. Despite their own economic crisis, however, Greeks have aided the refugees in every way they can.

Greece dispatched 60 extra coast guard officials to register refugees on the island of Lesbos, where an estimated 20,000 people were sleeping in streets and parks awaiting travel permits. The government also provided special ferries to transport refugees to Athens, where most of them will continue toward other destinations in Europe. In the wake of the debt deal signed earlier this summer, however, the government’s capacities are obviously limited. So ordinary citizens have stepped into the breach. Spurred by photos of a drowned Syrian child who was trying to reach Greece, vacationers in speedboats have rescued people cast adrift on the sea. Waves of volunteers have been providing food and clothing for refugees when they get to shore.

To be sure, there have also been reports of young thugs beating refugees. And the far-right Golden Dawn party has tried to capitalize on the crisis, spreading a rumor earlier this summer that Muslim immigrants had defecated in churches on Lesbos. “We will do everything we can to protect the Greek homeland against immigrants,” the party declared in response to the defecation story, which was later exposed as a lie. As Greece braces for elections Sunday, however, Golden Dawn’s popularity has remained in single digits. Its leader has denied the Holocaust, which took the lives of an estimated 60,000 Greek Jews. Its symbol is a slightly modified swastika. And whereas Donald Trump wants to build a wall on America’s southern border, Golden Dawn advocates putting land mines around Greece to kill illegal immigrants.

But Golden Dawn also helps to stigmatize anti-immigrant sentiment in Greece, in ways that might surprise Americans. If you scream about foreigners usurping the nation here, people might mistake you for a fascist. Back in America, you can be a frontrunner in a major political party.

Read more …

“Around 13,000 people entered Austria on Saturday, according to the Red Cross, after being forced away from to Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia”

Thousands Of Refugees Pour Into Austria As European Crisis Intensifies (AFP)

Thousands of refugees have streamed into Austria after being shunted through Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia as Europe’s divided nations stepped up efforts to push the migrants into neighbouring countries. The continent’s biggest migratory flow since 1945 has opened a deep rift between western and eastern members of the European Union over how to distribute the refugees fairly, and raised questions over the fate of the Schengen agreement allowing borderless travel within the 28-nation bloc. Several countries have imposed border controls, as recent figures have shown nearly half a million people have braved perilous trips across the Mediterranean to reach Europe so far this year, while the EU has received almost a quarter of a million asylum requests in the three months to June.

In Austria, up to 13,000 people entered the country over the course of Saturday alone, the head of the Austrian Red Cross told the APA news agency. The figure was not immediately confirmed by local police, who had said earlier they were readying for an influx of around 10,000 refugees and migrants. Austrian police said Hungary had shipped at least 6,700 people to the border, with more expected in the Burgenland border region by the end of Saturday. Hungary’s rightwing government has faced international criticism over violent clashes with migrants and a hastily-erected fence along its frontier with Serbia, but in a shift late Friday, Hungarian authorities began transporting thousands of migrants straight to the border with Austria, an apparent bid to move them through and out of their territory as quickly as possible.

There was no let-up in the stream of people making the gruelling journey across the Balkans into western Europe, with Croatia saying 20,700 had entered the country since Wednesday. Zagreb, which initially said it would allow migrants to pass through freely, announced it was swamped on Friday and began transporting hundreds to the Hungarian border by bus and train – sparking a furious reaction from Budapest. Despite the row, Croatian and Hungarian authorities appeared to be coordinating on the ground. An AFP journalist along the frontier between the two countries saw migrants board Croatian buses that took them to the border, before disembarking and crossing on foot then boarding Hungarian buses that quickly departed.

Read more …

Shifting disasters.

Exhausted Migrants Left With Few Options on Slovenian Border (WSJ)

In this small Croatian village, an army tent has been set up to cater for the hundreds of migrants stranded at the border crossing with Slovenia. Volunteers with the local Red Cross and Caritas are sorting through donated clothes and pouring hot ratatouille into plastic bowls. A sturdy, tattooed man is piling the fresh meals onto a large tray. “We delivered 600 meals yesterday and today we’re prepared for 2,000,” says Joakim Nilsson, a student from Sweden who traveled to the Balkans to help out wherever he could. “This is a world crisis,” he says about the thousands of migrants and refugees who have streamed daily from Serbia into Croatia after Hungary sealed its border.

At the border crossing, where a two-lane bridge is sealed off and guarded by a dozen of Slovenian riot police, the crowd is exhausted and angry. Many refuse Mr. Nilsson’s meals or prefer instead to walk back into the village where there is shade and stretchers for them to rest. Eventually, however, his tray is empty. “Good luck,” he tells one of the refugees. “And see you in Sweden.” The migrants, a mix of Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and Africans, have been waiting for three days, and only on Saturday morning did two buses arrive to take some of them to a registration center in Slovenia. “When is a bus coming—when?” they repeatedly ask police officers wearing helmets, shields, batons and cans with pepper spray. But the officers remain silent.

At least one of those cans was used the night before, around midnight, when tensions flared as a group of migrants started pelting the police cordon with plastic bottles and sticks. A spokeswoman from the Slovenian Interior Ministry, Vesna Drole, maintained that only one officer used pepper spray against “a single protester” who was part of a larger group trying to break through the police cordon. “Pepper spray is one of the milder means of coercion that police may use to maintain public order and ensure people’s safety,” she added.

Read more …

Time for UN to act, not talk.

UN Warns European Unity At Risk As Borders Close To Refugees (Guardian)

Europe’s biggest refugee crisis in 70 years atomised into a chaotic series of border confrontations and diplomatic disputes this weekend, as crowds of refugees were blocked from passing through a number of crossings in central Europe, prompting the UN to warn that the concept of European unity was at risk. Hungary sent armoured vehicles to its border with Croatia, while Slovenian police sealed several crossings after Croatia attempted to offload tens of thousands of refugees who are using it as an alternative entry point to the European Union.

Croatian policemen accompanying hundreds of migrants into Hungary were disarmed by their Hungarian counterparts and turned away, while Slovenian police used pepper spray to ward off hundreds, mostly Syrians and Afghans, trying to cross to reach the countries of northern Europe. The chaos had been sparked by Hungary’s decision to shut off its southern border with Serbia, blocking a well-trodden refugee railroad that has brought more than 170,000 refugees into the EU since the start of the year. In response, refugees flooded instead into Croatia, which immediately tried to move them back into Hungary and Slovenia, prompting quasi-military manoeuvres from its neighbours.

Croatia’s prime minister, Zoran Milanovic, called Hungary’s actions “incomprehensible”, given that no refugee wanted to stay in Hungary, and said the situation was “the ugliest thing I have seen in Croatia since the [Balkans] war”. He also refused to seal Croatia’s border, because “even if that were possible under the constitution – and it is not – it means killing people”. In response, Hungary’s foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, said Croatia had “lied in the face” of Hungary. He argued that Croatia had failed to show adequate solidarity with Hungary by sending refugees across their border, just days after the same refugees had rushed into Croatia after being blocked from crossing the Hungarian-Serbian border.

The UN warned that failure to agree on a united response to the crisis endangered the concept of European unity. Peter Sutherland, the UN’s special representative on international migration, said: “If there is no agreement to share refugees between the countries of the European Union, it risks undermining the very essence of the European project.” Sutherland was also surprised at how central and eastern European countries were undermining some of the EU’s key values so soon after joining its membership. “It’s amazing that this is the reaction of central and eastern Europe to the whole concept of solidarity, having only just joined,” Sutherland said.

Read more …

“..as new workers would help finance a generous set of welfare benefits..” Sure.

Bank of Finland Governor Supports Opening Door to Migrants (WSJ)

An influx of migrants into Finland could give the small Nordic nation’s shrinking economy a shot in the arm, as new workers would help finance a generous set of welfare benefits, Bank of Finland Governor Erkki Liikanen said Saturday. “More foreign workers would support our economic growth,” the central banker told Finnish television. Mr. Liikanen’s recommendation to open Finland’s doors to foreigners echo comments heard in Germany—where government and business leaders have said the large migrant stream into Europe represents an opportunity to rejuvenate a fast-aging population and boost the economy Finland has experienced three years of stagnation and is expecting gross domestic product growth of only 0.3% this year.

Although Mr. Liikanen cautioned the process of integrating refugees could be “difficult,” the central banker’s view contrasts sharply with the anti-immigration sentiment prevailing among Finns and the government they elected in June. Earlier on Saturday, the Finnish government introduced rules on processing asylum seekers in a bid to tighten Finland’s borders following an increasing number of refugees entering the country from Sweden through a northern checkpoint. The Finnish Interior Ministry said the new rules would see all refugees registered at the country’s border upon arrival. The Finnish Police and Immigration Service have tightened family reunification criteria, saying they aimed to make swift decisions on applications deemed unfounded.

Inside the government, the anti-immigrant camp is led by Timo Soini, leader of the populist Finns Party, who was named deputy prime minister and foreign minister in June. He serves in the government of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, who has pledged to repair the country’s recession-choked economy through deep spending cuts.

Read more …

Bigger priority than stocks?! “A full 39% of individual wealth in China is kept in housing, and, according to Nomura, 21% of China’s urban households possess more than one home.”

Do China’s Ghost Cities Offer A Solution To Europe’s Migrant Crisis? (Reuters)

Nearly 150,000 Syrian refugees have already claimed asylum in Europe and tens of thousands more are flooding the borders in search of places to live. Meanwhile, in China, there are millions of new apartments sitting completely empty and entire sections of freshly constructed cities that are virtually uninhabited. This disparity between unmet housing need and oversupply has not been lost on many around the world, and after writing a book about China’s ghost cities, I’ve recently found my email inbox getting flooded with suggestions such as this: Do you think the Ghost Cities could be used, even as a temporary situation, to accommodate those displaced from Syria? It seems that many of the cities are just waiting for a community and here is a community that needs a city.

This sentiment is widespread across popular social media platforms, and on Twitter alone roughly 7 out of 10 results for searches pertaining to China’s ghost cities reveal tweets recommending the mass movement of Syrian refugees to these under-populated urban terrains. Realistically speaking, this suggestion isn’t worth analyzing with much depth. The political quagmire of relocating masses of people across the planet — not to mention the fact that refugees need more than just housing — means that this is a far greater ordeal than simply assuaging demand with supply. It does shed light, though, on the gulf that exists between the predominant international opinion on China’s so-called ghost cities and their present reality.

Even though there are between 20 and 45 million unoccupied homes across China, which account for roughly 600 million square meters of uninhabited floor space — enough to completely cover Madrid — these places are not the urban wastelands they are often posited to be. While many of China’s new cities and urban districts are deficient in people they are not deficient in owners. Nearly every apartment that goes on the market in China is quickly purchased, often at exorbitant prices that commonly range into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Far from being unwanted infrastructure that could seamlessly be doled out to refugees, those arrays of vacant high-rises are actually the proud possessions of people who paid a lot of money for them.

So why would anyone spend incredible amounts of cash on houses they do not intent to use? All over the world, the value of property extends beyond the utilitarian function of being a place to live. Real estate is also a vital economic entity that presents an avenue for investment as well as a way of storing wealth — a use of property that is taken to the extreme in China. “Many Chinese investors are buying property based on expectations of appreciation, and that it is a solid, safe investment that they can easily understand,” said Mark Tanner, the founding director of China Skinny, a Shanghai based marketing research firm.

A full 39% of individual wealth in China is kept in housing, and, according to Nomura, 21% of China’s urban households possess more than one home. The reasons for this desire to invest in housing often results from a lack of better options. China’s banks pay negative interest and are becoming even more unattractive with the recent wave of currency devaluation. Wealth management products are not fully developed and are highly regulated by the government, and the stock market is viewed to be about as secure as a casino.

Read more …

Curious travel itinerary. Pope and XI are in US at the same time. Xi is due in Washington on Thursday, just two days after the Pope?!

Xi Jinping: Does China Truly Love ‘Big Daddy Xi’ – Or Fear Him? (Guardian)

[..] spin doctors have set about building a cult of personality around their leader with books, cartoons, pop songs and even dance routines celebrating Xi Dada’s rule. Earlier this month, thousands of troops goose-stepped through Tiananmen Square as part of a massive military parade proclaiming Xi’s unassailable position at the party’s helm. “There is this aristocratic flair which has now become more apparent, particularly after the military parade,” said Lam. “The word demi-god would be an exaggeration but after the military parade he looked like an emperor.” Many ordinary Chinese appear enamoured with their 21st century emperor. “He has the backing of the whole country,” claimed Zhang Jingchuan, the songwriter from Sichuan province, describing his leader as an approachable man of ideas.

Human rights activists, liberals and dissidents – some of whom will gather in the United States this week to protest the Chinese president’s visit – have been less impressed. Since Xi came to power, there has been a concerted effort to obliterate civil society in China, with moderate and once-tolerated critics including human rights lawyers, feminists, religious leaders and social activists harassed or thrown in prison. More than 200 lawyers have been detained or interrogated as part of a sweeping crackdown on their trade that began in July. At least 20 remain in detention or are missing, prompting calls for Barack Obama to cancel Xi’s visit to the US. “We had hoped for something different,” said Sophie Richardson, the China director of Human Rights Watch. “We are surprised by just how bad it is.”

MacFarquhar blamed the dramatic tightening on Xi’s obsession with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which followed Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempts at reform. “When he first came in he exhibited how much the Gorbachev phenomenon had spooked him. He is very conscious of long-term threats – and maybe he doesn’t see it as long-term. If he is only thinking in terms of 10 years, now is the time to solidify the country and he thinks he knows how to do it.” Yet for all Xi’s apparent muscle – one academic has dubbed him the Chairman of Everything – not everyone is convinced by the growing legend of Xi Dada. “I never bought the powerful leader narrative at all. But now it’s publicly displayed to be a fiction,” said Anne Stevenson-Yang, a respected observer of the Chinese economy and politics, who believes the recent stock market debacle and deadly Tianjin explosions exposed a president far weaker than many had thought.

Read more …

AIIB.

How China Decided To Redraw The Global Financial Map (Reuters)

Plans for China’s new development bank, one of Beijing’s biggest global policy successes, were almost shelved two years ago due to doubts among senior Chinese policymakers. From worries it wouldn’t raise enough funds to concerns other nations wouldn’t back it, Beijing was plagued by self-doubt when it first considered setting up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in early 2013, two sources with knowledge of internal discussions said. But promises by some Middle East governments to stump up cash and the support of key European nations – to Beijing’s surprise and despite U.S. opposition – became a turning point in China’s plans to alter the global financial architecture.

The overseas affirmation, combined with the endorsement of stalwart supporters, including a former Chinese vice premier and incoming AIIB President Jin Liqun, a former head of sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corp, enabled China to bring the bank from an idea to its imminent inception. The bank’s successful establishment is likely to bolster Beijing’s confidence that it can play a leading role in supranational financial institutions, despite the economic headwinds it is facing at home. “At the start, China wasn’t very confident,” one of the sources said in reference to Beijing’s AIIB plans. “The worry was that there was no money for this.”

A Finance Ministry delegation that called on Southeast Asian nations to gauge interest in the AIIB was not encouraging, the source said. Governments backed the idea, but were too poor to contribute heavily to the bank’s funding. But subsequent visits to the Middle East helped to win the day as regional governments informed China they needed new infrastructure and, crucially, were able to pay for it, a source said. “They are all oil-producing countries, they have foreign currencies, they were very enthusiastic, and they could shell out the cash,” he said. “That was when we thought ‘Ah, this can be done.'”

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“The key debate then should be around the pace and extent of this rise, not whether it should take place at all.”

The US Federal Reserve Has Got It Wrong (Andrew Sentance)

The US Federal Reserve decided not to raise the key policy rate in the US this week. That would be an understandable decision if rates were at or close to a normal level. But they are not. Interest rates of 0.5% in the UK and 0-0.25% in the US are the lowest recorded levels in history. Seven years into a recovery, central bankers need to explain why the interest rate playing field is still so heavily tilted to borrowers. Continuing with such low interest rates in the UK and the US, when unemployment rates are back to 5-5.5% and our economies are growing well, raises some more profound questions about monetary policy in the west. First, how independent are central banks? Since the 1990s, the Fed and the Bank of England have pursued policies similar to the ones any well-meaning government official would have chosen.

They have cut interest rates very readily, but when they have raised them (in 1994-5 and 2005-7) they have been behind the curve. Independent central banks were established precisely to avoid this “behind the curve” interest rate policy. But it has not worked. Once again, they are at serious risk of lagging behind in their interest rate decisions as the major western economies climb out of the post-crisis recession. Second, if interest rates cannot rise now, when will they increase? In the case of the US, growth has averaged over 2% for more than six years since the recovery started in mid-2009. Unemployment has halved from around 10% to 5% over roughly the same period. Yet interest rates remain stuck — close to zero. A similar position prevails in the UK.

A multitude of reasons have been advanced for delaying the first rate rise: sluggish growth in all the major western economies in 2011-12; the euro crisis in 2013-14; and now the Fed is citing weak economic growth in China and the impact this has on financial markets. If you look around hard enough, there can always be a reason for not raising interest rates. But that highlights the key problem. Monetary policymakers are very timid at the moment. They are lions who have lost their roar. The third problem is that central bankers appear to lack a clear strategy for monetary policy. Their implicit strategy is that interest rates will remain at current excessively low levels — until sufficient evidence accumulates to raise them. But a more realistic approach to keeping monetary policy on a steady and neutral course would involve a gradual rise in interest rates over the next few years. The key debate then should be around the pace and extent of this rise, not whether it should take place at all.

Read more …

Liar, liar, economy on fire.

A Divided Fed Pits World’s Woes Against Domestic Growth (Reuters)

Federal Reserve policymakers appeared deeply divided on Saturday over how seriously problems in the world economy will effect the U.S., a fracture that may be difficult for Fed Chair Janet Yellen to mend as she guides the central bank’s debate over whether to hike interest rates. Though last week’s decision to again delay an interest rate increase was near-unanimous, drawing only one dissent, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard called the session “pressure-packed” as members debated whether global uncertainty or the continued strength of the U.S. economy deserved more attention. In the end the committee felt that tepid global demand, a possible weakening of inflation measures, and recent market volatility warranted waiting to see how that might impact the U.S.

Bullard, who does not have a vote this year on the Fed’s main policy-setting committee, said he would have joined Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker’s dissent, and worried the central bank had paid too much attention to recent financial market gyrations. Markets sold off sharply this summer over concerns about a slowdown in China and weak world growth, leaving Fed officials to vet whether that reflected a short-term correction or more fundamental problems on the horizon. “Financial markets tend to wax and wane, sometimes suddenly. Monetary policy needs to be more stable,” said Bullard, who in prepared remarks here to the Community Bankers Association of Illinois said he did not think the Fed “provided a satisfactory answer” to why rates should stay near zero.

The economy is near full employment, and inflation will almost certainly rise, Bullard said, leaving the Fed’s near seven-year stay at near zero rates out of line with the broad economic picture. In a statement Lacker said he felt the current low rates “are unlikely to be appropriate for an economy with persistently strong consumption growth and tightening labor markets.”

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“Some people call this stealing economic activity from the future..”

Stuck At Zero: Global Risks Have Tied The Fed’s Hands (Forbes)

On the seventh anniversary of the implosion of Lehman Brothers, an event that rocked the global economy, it’s more than ironic that the main topic of global financial discussion has been a rate hike by the Federal Reserve, which just announced that it would leave rates unchanged yet again. Behind the scenes, more interesting is the growing list of risks which may be tying the FOMC’s hands behind their back. The Fed should have hiked rates in 2012, but every day they put off the rate raise, Lehman-like systemic risk is lurking and rising. It’s a Colossal Failure of Common Sense all over again. With all the debate about what exactly the Federal Reserve should do with short-term interest rates, historical perspective is something that’s being left behind.

The U.S. has had near zero short-term interest rates before. The period of 1932 to 1953 was defined by rates that were between zero and 2.1%. The last time we hit the zero bound, we stayed very close to it for upwards of 21 years. This is not something you hear often from economists these days. The main reason central banks raise and lower rates is to shift consumption around and smooth out periods of stagnation. The Fed’s dual mandate of non-accelerating inflation and full employment defines the characteristics of the smoothing that society wants to see. Low rates pull consumption and investment forward and allow projects to be undertaken that otherwise would have to wait. Some people call this stealing economic activity from the future, but we must keep our eye on the incentives created by Fed policy.

On the other hand, higher rates make debt more expensive and push consumption and investment out. This year, most economist have felt the Fed is looking to “tap the brakes” on the improving U.S. economy. The other pressing issue is high debt levels. The Fed is in no hurry to hike rates with debt levels so high in the post-Lehman era. The U.S. hit its debt ceiling in March, at $18.1 trillion, but the devil is in the details, or what’s called interest costs as a%age of federal spending. As you can see below, net interest outlays are on course to more than double by 2017 from 2005 levels. Interest costs on the staggering U.S. debt load, added together with government entitlement spending, is nearing 71% of Federal spending, compared to 26% in the early 1960s. Is this sustainable?

There’s a price to pay for six years of a zero interest rate policy, it’s not free. As the world’s most influential central bank has kept interest rates so low for so long, debt has piled up in all kinds of global pockets, especially in emerging markets. According to the Bank of International Settlements, emerging markets’ total debt to GDP ratio has surged to nearly 170%, up from 100% just before Lehman’s failure. Even more disturbing, according to Bloomberg data: there’s a strong correlation between the surge in emerging market debt levels and the cost of credit default protection. Investors wanting to insure themselves against the risk of EM defaults are paying up for the privilege these days.

U.S. Government Net Interest Outlays
2005: $150 billion
2009: $190 billion
2017: $335 billion
*Data from CBO

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The lower the price, the more producers will pump.

US Oil Tumbles 4.7% To Settle At $44.68 A Barrel (Reuters)

U.S. oil prices fell about 5% on Friday after U.S. energy firms cut oil rigs for a third week in a row this week, data showed on Friday, a sign the latest crude price weakness was causing drillers to put on hold plans announced several months ago to return to the well pad. The drop comes amid increased concerns about the outlook for energy demand. The U.S. central bank warned of the health of the global economy and bearish signs persisted that the world’s biggest crude producers would keep pumping at high levels. Drillers removed eight rigs in the week ended Sept. 18, bringing the total rig count down to 644, after cutting 23 rigs over the prior two weeks, oil services company Baker Hughes said in its closely followed report. Those reductions cut into the 47 oil rigs energy firms added in July and August after some drillers followed through on plans to add rigs announced in May and June when U.S. crude futures averaged $60 a barrel.

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“Can you imagine what would happen in the U.S. if you cut spending by 20 or 30% and cut Social Security? You’d have riots in the streets, more so than we ever saw in Greece.”

Jim Chanos on What Lies Ahead for Greece (Lynn Parramore)

Jim Chanos, the well-known hedge fund manager and president and founder of Kynikos Associates, is half Greek on his father’s side. He has been traveling to the country since 1970 and has also been active in the Greek community in the United States. A long-time observer of Greece, he became more involved in 2010 when he was part of a group that met with then-prime minister Papandreou to offer some pro bono advice. Since then, he has been watching closely from the sidelines with increasing levels of concern. In the following interview, he discusses how Greece reached this point of crisis, the upcoming elections, and what lies ahead.

LP: You’ve recently returned from a trip to Greece to visit family and friends. How did you find the mood in the country?

JC: It was grim — away from the vacation spots, of course, which are more international than domestic locations. I’d gotten there just after they’d finally agreed to sign the third memorandum. There was a general sense of resignation and not knowing what else they can do. The feeling of the people I spoke to — whether high level or people in restaurants and tavernas — was that they [the Troika] have them by the short hairs because of the banking system. And I think that was pretty clear. Really, there was no sense of any chance of this working out with an alternative currency. To this day we’re really not quite sure whether they had that planned — various reports differed as to whether they could have even done it — but I think that there’s just this general level of resignation coupled with despair amongst people worried about the long-term growth of the country and its well-being. People are worried about their kids, as they should be.

LP: I think pretty much everybody agrees that the negotiations with the Troika have been a fiasco. How do you assess what’s happened? Who is to blame?

JC: It’s important to understand that while Syriza may have botched the negotiations —and I do I think there’s a general consensus that they did or at least didn’t play it as well for their country as they could have — they didn’t cause this mess. When the first memorandum was signed and then agreed to by PASOK and Papandreou, and then the follow-on was agreed to by Samaras and New Democracy to the right, in effect they were the same types of understandings. But they couldn’t work from the get-go because, as we now know, there was no net new money in any meaningful way coming into Greece. Whatever new capital was coming in was just a way to keep the banks current. It was going in the front door and out the back door.

Greece really did a decent job from an austerity point of view. They brought down spending, they raised taxes. I know there’s this belief that the Greeks are just world-class tax evaders, but in fact, in terms of taxes collected as a%age of GDP, they’re now quite a bit higher than a number of European countries because a lot of the taxes are indirect: the Greeks couldn’t evade them if they wanted to. They also cut spending dramatically. Can you imagine what would happen in the U.S. if you cut spending by 20 or 30% and cut Social Security? You’d have riots in the streets, more so than we ever saw in Greece.

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This weekend Greece, next weekend Catalunya.

Catalonia Separatists: Spanish State Has Failed. We Can Change This (Guardian)

At the port of Tarragona recently, with the sun shining on the harbour, it became clear that Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes), the Catalan independence coalition which hopes to score a significant victory next weekend, is a pretty big tent. Asked about a controversial megacomplex of hotels, casinos and theme parks in the works, candidate Germà Bel was confident that the project would create wealth and jobs for the area. But Raül Romeva, charismatic leader of the Together for Yes list, doubted whether the project would actually go ahead. “It’s not a done deal,” he hedged. Spanish media seized on the moment as evidence of the uneasy bedfellows that had joined together for Catalonia’s forthcoming regional elections.

But Romeva, who leads the Junts pel Sí ticket, sees the unwieldy coalition backed by the conservative Democratic Convergence party, the leftwing Catalan Republican Left and grassroots independence activists, as a sign of the extraordinary moment Catalonia is experiencing. “This is a movement that goes from left to right, spanning conservatives, liberals, ecologists, sociologists and many others,” he told the Observer. “It’s a consequence of necessity.” For the past decade, he argued, the Spanish state has failed to represent the plurality of the country: “What we have is the opportunity to change all this.” His coalition seeks to turn the 27 September ballot into a de facto referendum on independence, segregating parties by their stance on the question and launching the region’s most ambitious move in recent years in the push to break away from Spain.

“If there is a majority, we will have to manage that result. If there is not a majority, we will have to accept that and move on.” Polls suggest that pro-independence parties could win a slim majority in the 135-seat regional parliament. If so, Catalan leader Artur Mas has pledged to lead a transitional government, lasting no longer than 18 months, which will begin drafting a Catalan constitution and work towards negotiating secession with the central government in Madrid. A leftist who dresses in jeans and wears bright yellow glasses, Romeva comes across as a bridge between the diverse groups that make up Junts pel Sí. Born in Madrid and raised in Catalonia, he said his position on independence was cemented in 2010, when Spain’s constitutional court ruled that Catalonia’s status and powers could not be considered tantamount to nationhood.

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Channel Greece: “The system will crash. Elderly people won’t get the care they need, and it will be people with mental ill health who suffer most, because that is where the squeeze always comes.”

UK’s NHS To Collapse Within Two Years, Warns Former Health Minister (Guardian)

The National Health Service will crash within two years with catastrophic consequences unless the government orders an immediate multibillion pound cash injection, the former minister in charge of care services says. The stark assessment from Norman Lamb, minister of state at the Department of Health until May’s general election, comes as fears mount among senior NHS officials, care providers and local authorities that NHS and care services are approaching breaking point. In an interview with the Observer, Lamb, a Liberal Democrat who was at the heart of policymaking during the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, accuses the government of dishonesty in failing to admit the scale of the problems.

He says that an increasing number of private companies and other organisations contracted to provide care by local authorities are refusing to tender again because cash-starved councils, already hit by budget cuts of more than 40% since 2010, cannot pay enough to let them run adequate services. Lamb says the result is that more elderly people in particular will end up in already overstretched hospitals, compounding the crisis. Pre-election promises by the Tories to provide an additional £8bn for the health service by 2020, on top of £2bn extra pledged at the end of last year, are insufficient and too vague to reassure anyone, he argues.

“If the investment is not made upfront and in the early period of this parliament, you could see serious failures in the system,” he said. “The system will crash. Elderly people won’t get the care they need, and it will be people with mental ill health who suffer most, because that is where the squeeze always comes.” While the promised extra money would help, it was nowhere near enough. “I don’t think anyone in the NHS believes that is enough. The government talks very vaguely about an extra £8bn by 2020, but it is needed now. If it comes in 2019-20, the system will have crashed by then. I think the next two years will make or break the NHS and the care system.”

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