May 032015
 


Harris&Ewing Hancock’s, the Old Curiosity Shop, 1234 Pennsylvania Avenue 1914

Gundlach’s Bet-Against-German-Debt Plan Has One Very Big Problem (Bloomberg)
Canada has the Most Overvalued Housing Market in the World (VC)
No New Bailout Needed If Greek Debt Restructured, Says Varoufakis (AFP)
Markets Waver As Greece Teeters On Edge Of Financial Tragedy (AFR)
Use Your Credit Card To Fight Tax Evasion, Greece Urges Visitors (Observer)
Greek Exit ‘Would Leave Western Alliance In Chaos’ (Telegraph)
Greece Braced For Weekend Of Unrest As Cash Crunch Nears (Telegraph)
German President Says Berlin Should Be Open To Greek War Reparations (Reuters)
What Does Putin Want? (Rostislav Ishchenko)
Insanity Grips The Western World (Paul Craig Roberts)
China Teaches Top Cadres Western Ideas Despite Backlash (AP)
Italy Rescues More Than 3,400 Europe-Bound Migrants At Sea (AFP)
Greece To Ask EU For Extra Funding For Migrant Influx (Kathimerini)
Many Displaced African Migrants Had No Plan to Land in Italy (NY Times)
Italian Army Growing Cannabis To Slash End User Prices (RT)
From Ukraine To Australia, Tributes Pour Out For Odessa Massacre Victims (RT)
Wildlife Decline To Lead To ‘Empty Landscape’ (BBC)

Europe’s bond markets are so distorted everything carries out-of-whack risks.

Gundlach’s Bet-Against-German-Debt Plan Has One Very Big Problem (Bloomberg)

So it turns out that Jeffrey Gundlach was really thinking out loud when he said he was looking to short negative-yielding German debt. Yes, it’s true he’d really like to. But, as he would subsequently acknowledge, it’s a very difficult trade to execute in today’s European markets. “The mechanics are challenging,” Gundlach wrote in an e-mail on April 29. Earlier this week, the chief executive officer of DoubleLine Capital said in an interview on Bloomberg TV that he’s thinking of amplifying a wager against 2-year German notes using leverage. “It seems to me there’s almost no way to lose,” he said in that interview. “I wonder why people don’t leverage up negative bonds.” There are legitimate reasons why everyone isn’t. For one, there appear to be no negative-yielding derivatives contracts tied to this debt.

And Europe closely regulates short-selling of government bonds. Then, even if you could do it, you may have to park cash at some point in European bank accounts, which make you pay to hold your money because the region’s deposit rates are negative. “You can actually lose money being short negative yielding debt,” said Ashish Shah at AllianceBernstein. “People charge you even more in the short term to hold cash.” Of course, this is an opportunity that seems too good to pass up, and traders are almost certainly trying to figure out the best way to make it happen.

The trade should be – again, in theory – very lucrative. While bonds are normally cushioned from losses due to their regular interest payments, it’s the opposite in this bizarro world of negative-yielding debt. Traders betting against bonds wouldn’t lose money if prices stayed about where they were, because there’s essentially no coupon payment. Yes, prices on this upside-down-inside-out debt could keep rising and yields could get even more negative, leading to some losses. But the chances of that happening appear to be getting smaller as economic data shows inflation and growth starting to pick up in the euro zone.

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Auckland wants that title.

Canada has the Most Overvalued Housing Market in the World (VC)

In every inflating bubble, there’s usually two camps. The first group points out various metrics suggesting something is inherently unsustainable, while the second reiterates that this time, it is different. After all, if everyone always agreed on these things, then no one would do the buying to perpetuate the bubble’s expansion. The Canadian housing bubble has been no exception to this, and the war of words is starting to heat up. On one side of the ring, we have The Economist, that came out last week saying Canada has the most overvalued housing market in the world. After crunching the data in housing markets in 26 nations, The Economist has determined that Canada’s property market is the most overvalued in terms of rent prices (+89%), and the third most overvalued in terms of incomes (+35%).

They have mentioned in the past that the market has looked bubbly for some time, but finally Canada is officially at the top of their list. Of course, The Economist is not the only fighter on this side of the ring. Just over a month ago, the IMF sounded a fresh alarm on Canada’s housing market by saying that household debt is well above that of other countries. Meanwhile, seven in ten mortgage lenders in Canada have expressed “concerns” that the real estate sector is in a bubble that could burst at any time. Deutsch Bank estimates the market is 67% overvalued and readily offers seven reasons why Canada is in trouble. Even hedge funds are starting to find ways to short the market in anticipation of an upcoming collapse. Canada’s housing situation could give rise to the world’s next Steve Eisman, Eugene Xu, or Greg Lippmann.

On the opposing side of the ring, who will contend that the Canadian housing market is just different this time? Hint: look to the banks and government. Stephen Harper, Canada’s Prime Minister, has tried to dispel fears. He recently told a business audience in New York that he didn’t anticipate any housing crisis in Canada. Just this week, the Bank of Canada also tried its best to deflate housing bubble fears. “We don’t believe we’re in a bubble,” says Stephen Poloz, the Bank’s Governor. “Our housing construction has stayed very much in line with our estimates of demographic demand.” Poloz suggested that housing costs do not necessarily have to contract to match the incomes of Canadians. Instead, he expects growth in the economy to raise wages and make housing more affordable.

Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist

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“..one thing to say we shouldn’t have joined the euro and it is another to say that we have to leave..”

No New Bailout Needed If Greek Debt Restructured, Says Varoufakis (AFP)

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis insisted Saturday that Greece would not require a new bailout from its international creditors if they would simply restructure its debt. Athens last week resumed talks with its creditors in a bid to unblock €7.2 billion from its EU-IMF bailout before state coffers run dry. But analysts believe that even if it manages to secure the last tranche of aid, Athens may have to obtain a new rescue package to stay afloat. Varoufakis said however that Greece could do without a new bailout. “One of the conditions for this to happen though, is an important restructuring of the debt,” he told the Efimerida ton Sindakton daily in an interview published Saturday.

The radical-left SYRIZA government came into power in January on a campaign promise that it would seek to get part of its debt written off. However, its creditors have reiterated that that is impossible. Varoufakis, whose negotiating style has grated his EU counterparts, also took a swipe at the eurozone in the interview, warning that if it “doesn’t change it will die.” He added that “no country, not only Greece, should have joined such a shaky common monetary system.” Nevertheless, Varoufakis said it was “one thing to say we shouldn’t have joined the euro and it is another to say that we have to leave” because backtracking now would lead to “an unforeseen negative situation.” Asked about reported insults from fellow Eurogroup finance ministers during a tense meeting in Riga on April 24, Varoufakis was also dismissive.

Media reports said he had been branded a “gambler,” an “amateur” and an “adventurist” by his peers. “Those would have surely been heavy offenses if they had been expressed. But they were not,” said Varoufakis. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had reshuffled the team handling negotiations with its creditors after relations between Varoufakis and the EU hit a new low during a stormy Eurogroup meeting in Riga last week. Athens is struggling to pay salaries and pensions without the promised loans. Almost a billion euros in debt and interest is also due for repayment to the IMF by May 12. Unless an agreement is reached to unlock the remaining EU-IMF bailout money, the debt-ridden country faces default and a possible exit from the euro. Technical experts from the Eurogroup and the Greek delegation are due to be in contact all weekend, trying to resolve differences concerning sweeping reforms required by Brussels and the IMF to secure the package.

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Who cares if markets waver?

Markets Waver As Greece Teeters On Edge Of Financial Tragedy (AFR)

In an attempt to address its liquidity crunch, Athens has directed 1500 state entities – including local authorities, hospitals and universities – to hand over surplus cash reserves to the central bank. But some entities are resisting this directed, fearing that their funds may not be returned. Meanwhile, the lack of progress in negotiations with Greece’s creditors is unnerving Greece’s households and businesses, who withdrew a further €2 billion from the country’s banks in March, according to the Bank of Greece. This follows withdrawals of more than €7.5 billion in February, just under €13 billion in January, and around €4 billion last December. As a result, household and business deposits fell to €138.55 billion in March, their lowest level in 10 years. Even more worrying, early figures for April suggest that deposit outflows are again accelerating.

To compensate for their dwindling deposit base, Greek banks have stepped up their use of emergency funding provided by the country’s central bank. Last week the ECB, which now reviews the amount which Greek banks can borrow on a weekly basis, raised the ceiling on emergency liquidity assistance by a further €1.4 billion, bringing it to €76.9 billion. This emergency liquidity is playing a crucial role in keeping the country’s banking system afloat. But financial markets – along with top officials in Paris, Berlin and Brussels – are all to well aware that Athens is moving ever closer to a position where it is no longer able to pay its debts, and is forced to “default”, potentially triggering an uncontrollable bank run and a collapse of the Greek banking system.

At that point, either European politicians resolutely adopt special emergency measures to rescue the country, or the situation spirals out of control, leaving Greece with no option but to introduce capital controls and quit the euro zone. Although some European politicians are in favour of allowing Greece to default, Paris and Berlin are fearful that “Grexit” risks destabilising the euro zone and encouraging speculators to target vulnerable countries such as Italy, Portugal or Belgium. For his part, Tsipras is betting that worries about the potential disruption from a “Grexit” will eventually cause the Europeans to back away from their demands for further reforms. Still, it’s a dangerous strategy, because in Greece’s precarious position, a financial accident could occur at any time.

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The benefits of plastic.

Use Your Credit Card To Fight Tax Evasion, Greece Urges Visitors (Observer)

Greece’s tourism chief has appealed to the millions of Britons planning to visit the crisis-hit country this year to use credit cards as much as possible. The move comes as the government in Athens has signalled that it plans to raise VAT rates on some holiday islands. Andreas Andreadis made the plea to what are expected to be record numbers of holidaymakers, saying plastic could play a key role in hindering tax evasion, a perennial drain on the Greek economy. “What we are saying is that on cash transactions above a certain level please use your credit cards,” he told the Observer. “That way it forces services and shops to declare it on the cash register and issue receipts.”

Greece is bracing itself for around 25 million foreign arrivals – more than twice its population – with the vast majority heading for resorts where tax collection is notoriously lax. An estimated 2.4 million Britons will be among them. “In a country where the tax collection system is so inefficient, credit cards are the easiest way of clamping down on evasion,” said Andreadis, who heads the Confederation of Greek Tourism (Sete). “We calculate that around 40% of receipts are not issued in tourist areas to avoid VAT.” The confederation, which represents more than 50,000 enterprises in the sector, was pressing for consumers to be given incentives to use cards. Greece is in a race against the clock to clinch a cash-for-reform deal with international creditors to keep bankruptcy at bay.

Fraught negotiations with the EU and International Monetary Fund have brought the nation close to insolvency with Athens’ radical left Syriza government, voted in on a pledge to end austerity, struggling last week to pay pensions. With Greece shut out of international markets and unable to issue short-term debt, a desperate lack of liquidity has exacerbated the problem. Over the next 10 days, the country must pay two loan instalments to the IMF – including €780m on 12 May – or face the spectre of potentially devastating default. The appeal came days after prime minister Alexis Tsipras suggested credit card use being made mandatory for transactions of more than €70. In his first wide-ranging interview since assuming power in January, he said payment cards made eminently more sense than the proposal of Yanis Varoufakis, his finance minister, to use tourists as undercover tax agents.

“It’s simpler than that other idea involving people with [hidden] cameras, etc,” he told Star TV on Monday. Greece loses up to €20bn in tax evasion every year, according to finance ministry officials. The new government has made cracking down on it a top priority. Taxpayers owe in excess of €70bn to the state – nearly a quarter of its debt. Under pressure to provide reforms to unlock an intermediate €7.2bn in bailout funds held up since August, the government has also signalled it will increase VAT on popular Aegean islands. Isles such as Mykonos and Santorini would see a surcharge on hotel rooms, services and goods. The measure would bring in an estimated €350m. But it has been strongly opposed by the tourist industry, which provides one in five jobs and is by far Greece’s biggest foreign earner.

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“..there’s a whole range of political ramifications in terms of market expectations if the euro proves to be reversible. The natural question is: who will be next?”

Greek Exit ‘Would Leave Western Alliance In Chaos’ (Telegraph)

A Greek exit from the eurozone would throw the bloc into chaos and put the “whole cohesion of the western alliance in doubt”, a key figure in the country’s private sector debt restructuring has warned. While banks had reduced their exposure to Greece, which represents less than 2pc of eurozone GDP, investors are being too complacent about the implications of a Greek exit, which could have far-reaching political ramifications and amplify the polarisation between the eurozone’s core and periphery, Hung Tran, executive managing director of the Institute of International Finance (IIF), said. Mr Tran, who helped represent private sector bondholders during Greece’s debt haircut in 2012, said he remained optimistic that there was “room for compromise” and that Greece would reach a “last minute deal” to remain in the 19 nation bloc.

However, he stressed that if the country was forced out of the euro, the consequences would be complex and were “not fully understood”. “In the short term, it probably is the case that financial contagion in terms of spreading to borrowing costs of peripheral countries like Spain and Portugal would be more limited this time compared with 2010 or 2012,” he said. “However, there’s a whole range of political ramifications in terms of market expectations if the euro proves to be reversible. The natural question is: who will be next? “If Greece exiting the euro area severely strains its relationship with the EU and the West, questions will arise about the alignment of Greece in terms of foreign policy, security policy and so on, and the whole cohesion of the western alliance would be put in doubt.”

Mr Tran said the European Central Bank’s €60bn a month quantitative easing programme had helped to create a false sense of security by “overwhelming” any sense of potential spillover from the Greek crisis and pushing down borrowing costs across Europe. However, he said a Greek exit would only serve to amplify the polarisation that we have already seen in Europe. “There has been a sharp polarisation both on the right and left of the mainstream arguing that the current austerity driven approach of economic policy hasn’t worked … so the failure of reaching an agreement in Greece leading to a exit from the eurozone would make this debate and this polarisation sharper and more problematic.”

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Telegraph wishful thinking?

Greece Braced For Weekend Of Unrest As Cash Crunch Nears (Telegraph)

Greece was braced for the biggest weekend of civil unrest since its radical Left government assumed power, as tensions over the country’s future in the eurozone are set to reach breaking point in May. Athens was gripped by a throng of anti-austerity protests on Friday, to mark the Labour Day holiday across the continent. Several members of the ruling Syriza party, including embattled finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, took part in rallies, repeating they would not forsake their people and cower to the demands of creditors. In a veiled barb aimed at his paymasters, a defiant Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras tweeted: “We will prevail in our struggles to bolster and protect our rights, our democracy and our dignity”.

Labour market reforms have emerged as one of the main stumbling blocks in Greece’s three-month bail-out impasse, as European powers have pushed the Leftist regime to reverse its promises to raise the minimum wage. But Greece’s Labour minister Panos Skourletis said the policy would go ahead, calling it a “deep and immovable red line” for the government. In a taste of the domestic turmoil that could ensue should the state withold funds from its citizens, hundreds of pensioners in Athens were forced to queue outside banks on Thursday, as pensions payments were temporarily delayed. The government is scrambling to find the funds it needs to avoid defaulting on the IMF on May 6, when it is due to repay a €200m loan. Panic over the pensions payment “suggests that this comparably small IMF payment will be a headache to scrape together and underlines that Greece might well struggle to stay financially afloat much beyond May,” said Robert Kuenzel of Daiwa Capital Markets.

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What do you say to that, Schäuble?

German President Says Berlin Should Be Open To Greek War Reparations (Reuters)

German President Joachim Gauck expressed support on Friday for Athens’ demands for reparations for the Nazi occupation of Greece in World War Two, even though the government in Berlin has repeatedly rejected the claims. Gauck, who has little real power in Germany but a penchant for defying convention, said in an interview to be published in Saturday’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that Germany should consider its historical responsibility to Greece. “We are not only people who are living in this day and age but we’re also the descendants of those who left behind a trail of destruction in Europe during World War Two – in Greece, among other places, where we shamefully knew little about it for so long,” Gauck said.

“It’s the right thing to do for a history-conscious country like ours to consider what possibilities there might be for reparations.” Greece’s demand for €278.7 billion in reparations for the brutal Nazi occupation have mostly fallen on deaf ears, but some legal experts say it may have a case. Many in Greece blame Germany, their biggest creditor, for the tough austerity measures and record unemployment that have followed from two international bailouts totaling €240 billion. Last month, economy minister and vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel called the demand “stupid”.

Gabriel said Greece wanted to squeeze some leeway out of its euro zone partners as they set conditions for further financial aid to help Greece avoid bankruptcy. “And this leeway has absolutely nothing to do with World War Two or reparation payments,” he said. German officials have previously argued that Germany has already honored its obligations, not least with a 115 million deutsche mark payment to Greece in 1960. Gauck, a former East German pastor, recently caused a stir by condemning the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces a century ago as “genocide”, a term that the Berlin government had long rejected. Turkey denies the charge.

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Good analysis of US-EU-Russia relations.

What Does Putin Want? (Rostislav Ishchenko)

To understand how, when and on what conditions military activity can end, we need to know what the politicians want and how they see the conditions of the postwar compromise. Then it will become clear why military action turned into a low-intensity civil war with occasional truces, not only in the Ukraine but also in Syria. Obviously, the views of Kiev politicians are of no interest to us because they don’t decide anything. The fact that outsiders govern the Ukraine is no longer concealed. It doesn’t matter whether the cabinet ministers are Estonian or Georgian; they are Americans just the same. It would also be a big mistake to take an interest in how the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) see the future.

The republics exist only with Russian support, and as long as Russia supports them, Russia’s interests have to be protected, even from independent decisions and initiatives. There is too much at stake to allow [Alexander] Zakharchenko or [Igor] Plotnitzky, or anyone else for that matter, to make independent decisions. Nor are we interested in the European Union’s position. Much depended on the EU until the summer of last year, when the war could have been prevented or stopped at the outset. A tough, principled antiwar stance by the EU was needed. It could have blocked U.S. initiatives to start the war and would have turned the EU into a significant independent geopolitical player. The EU passed on that opportunity and instead behaved like a faithful vassal of the United States. As a result, Europe stands on the brink of frightful internal upheaval.

In the coming years, it has every chance of suffering the same fate as the Ukraine, only with a great roar, great bloodshed and less chance that in the near future things will settle down – in other words, that someone will show up and put things in order. In fact, today the EU can choose whether to remain a tool of the United States or to move closer to Russia. Depending on its choice, Europe can get off with a slight scare, such as a breakup of parts of its periphery and possible fragmentation of some countries, or it could collapse completely. Judging by the European elites’ reluctance to break openly with the United States, collapse is almost inevitable. What should interest us is the opinions of the two main players that determine the configuration of the geopolitical front and in fact are fighting for victory in the new generation of war – the network-centric Third World War. These players are the United States and Russia.

The U.S. position is clear and transparent. In the second half of the 1990s, Washington missed its only opportunity to reform the Cold War economy without any obstacles and thereby avoid the looming crisis in a system whose development is limited by the finite nature of planet Earth and its resources, including human ones, which conflicts with the need to endlessly print dollars. After that, the United States could prolong the death throes of the system only by plundering the rest of the world. At first, it went after Third World countries. Then it went for potential competitors. Then for allies and even close friends. Such plundering could continue only as long as the United States remained the world’s undisputed hegemon. Thus when Russia asserted its right to make independent political decisions – decisions of not global but regional import –, a clash with the United States became inevitable. This clash cannot end in a compromise peace.

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“Clearly, the European Parliament is a great danger to life on the planet.”

Insanity Grips The Western World (Paul Craig Roberts)

The White Media claims, and has claimed since February 2014, that there are Russian tanks and troops in Ukraine. Putin has pointed out that if this indeed was the case, Kiev and Western Ukraine would have fallen to the Russian invasion early last year. Kiev has been unable to defeat the small breakaway republics in eastern and southern Ukraine and would stand no chance against the Russian military. Recently a brave news organization made fun of the White Media’s claim that Russian tanks have been pouring into Ukraine for 14 months. The parody pictured Ukraine at a standstill. All traffic on all roads and residential streets is blocked by Russian tanks. All parking places, including sidewalks and people’s front and rear gardens have tanks piled upon tanks. The entire country is immobilized in gridlock.

Although a few have fun making fun of the gullible people who believe the White Media, the situation is nevertheless serious as it concerns life on planet Earth. There is little sign that Washington and its vassals care about life on Earth. Recently, the largest political group in the European Parliament–the European People’s Party–expressed a cavalier opinion about life on Earth. We know this, because, if we can trust Euractiv, an online EU news source, the majority EU party believes that declaring the EU’s readiness for nuclear war is one of the best steps to deter Russia from further aggression. The aggression to be stopped by Europe’s declaration of its readiness for armageddon is the alleged Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the “further aggression” is Putin’s alleged intention of reestablishing the Soviet Empire.

It must be disappointing to the Russian government to see that leaders of the European Union prefer to endorse nuclear war than to challenge Washington’s propaganda. When I read that the governing party in the European Parliament thought non-existent aggression had to be stopped by a declaration of readiness for nuclear war, I realized that money could buy any and every thing, even the life of the planet. The European People’s Party was speaking in behalf of Washington’s propaganda, not in behalf of Europe. Europe’s nuclear war with Russia would end instantly with the destruction of every European capital. The crazed vice-president of the European People’s Party, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski revealed who the real aggressor is when he declared: “Time of talk and persuasion with Russia is over. Now it’s time for a tough policy.” Clearly, the European Parliament is a great danger to life on the planet.

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Breeding Chinese Goldmanites.

China Teaches Top Cadres Western Ideas Despite Backlash (AP)

In the still, early hours, cadres make their way down tree-lined paths. They walk through a polished lobby, down dim hallways and settle themselves in rows in plain, wood-paneled classrooms. Here, they sit at the vanguard of the Communist Party of China. These rising Communist Party members from across the country have come to the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (CELAP) in Shanghai as part of the party’s decade-long effort to introduce its own elite to foreign ideas. Outside these walls, President Xi Jinping’s government is campaigning to scrub Western influence from classrooms, but here some 10,000 party loyalists each year hear from top Western scholars and executives about management techniques, media relations, urban development and innovation.

“It does no harm for top leaders to get to know different ideas in the world,” said Zhang Xuezhong, who was barred from teaching at East China University of Political Science and Law in 2013, after publishing an article critical of the government. “The Communist Party expects the people it rules to be ignorant, but they would not expect themselves to be like this.” As China seeks to play a more decisive role on the global stage, such exposure is becoming more important — at least for those at the forefront of transforming China’s economy and international role. For everyone else, education has become an ideological battleground, where destabilizing Western values must be vanquished lest they weaken the party’s grip on power.

“Young teachers and students are key targets of infiltration by enemy forces,” Education Minister Yuan Guiren wrote in a January essay. Around the same time, he told university officials to bar “teaching materials that disseminate Western values,” state-run news agency Xinhua reported. His remarks came shortly after Beijing issued new guidelines ordering universities to promote loyalty to the party, core socialist values, and the teachings of Xi himself. Meanwhile, Westerners continue to march through CELAP, bringing with them an uncontrollable parade of ideas. [..] “It’s a very unusual institution in China,” said Oxford University’s Nicholas Morris, who has taught at CELAP for a decade. “This institution’s job is to help Chinese leaders understand Western practice.”

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In one day. Where was Europe?

Italy Rescues More Than 3,400 Europe-Bound Migrants At Sea (AFP)

More than 3,400 migrants were rescued at sea Saturday, mainly off Libya, as Europe seeks ways to deal with the flood of people trying to reach its shores following a series of deadly shipwrecks. A total of 3,427 people were picked up during the operation coordinated by the Italian coast guard. While they said it was a “very busy day”, it was not a record for the coast guard, which coordinated the rescue of 3,791 migrants on April 12 and another 2,850 the following day. French patrol boat Commandant Birot, which was sent to boost EU patrols to deal with the influx of migrant boats in the Mediterranean, picked up 217 people off the coast of Libya.

The migrants – all men – had been on board three boats, the authorities said, adding that two suspected people smugglers were also caught and would be handed over to Italian police. In Italy, the coast guard announced late at night that 16 vessels had rescued a total of 3,427 people on Saturday alone in an operation coordinated from their headquarters in Rome.

In addition to the French patrol boat, the rescue operation mobilised four Italian coast guard ships, two Italian navy vessels, two cargo ships, two Italian customs ships and two tugs. Most notably, the navy said on Twitter that the frigate Bersagliere had rescued 778 migrants while the patrol boat Vega had picked up another 675. Some of the rescued migrants were expected to arrive overnight on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the closest to the African coast, while most of the others are expected to arrive in Sicily or southern Italy on Sunday night. According to the Italian coast guard, the French patrol vessel should land its migrants at a port in Calabria.

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Should have been taken care of a long time ago.

Greece To Ask EU For Extra Funding For Migrant Influx (Kathimerini)

Greece is to ask the European Union for €30 million of emergency funds to deal with the growing number of undocumented migrants arriving in the country, sources have told Kathimerini. The EU is already due to give Greece €470 million by 2020 for immigration-related matters, such as covering the cost of an asylum service and reception centers. However, this money covers existing operations and cannot be used to tackle problems caused by the spike in migrants reaching Greece over the last few months.

One of the things the government wants to use the emergency funds for is to hire a ferry to transport migrants from islands to reception centers or other facilities on the mainland. The coalition submitted an amendment to Parliament last week allowing authorities to bypass until the end of the year the tender process for immigration-related projects. The government says this will speed up the implementation of schemes aimed at helping migrants.

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Oooh, in-depth reporting from the NYT…

Many Displaced African Migrants Had No Plan to Land in Italy (NY Times)

By now, the unceasing tides of migrants arriving at the ports of Sicily fall into loose national categories. The Syrians usually arrive with money, bearing broken lives in canvas bags, and are able to slip out of Italy, bound for affluent northern Europe. The Eritreans may be far less wealthy but they too are well organized, with networks that move them north as well. Then there are men like Agyemin Boateng and Prince Adawiah, who were scooped out of the Mediterranean this month by an Italian rescue ship. Both are from Ghana, and neither has a plan for a new life in Europe — nor, they say, did either of them ever plan to come to Italy. They were working as laborers in Libya, until life there became untenable and returning to Ghana became unfeasible.

“There are guns and bombs,” said Mr. Adawiah, 25, who worked in Tripoli for nearly three years. “Every day, there is shooting. I’m afraid. That is why I traveled to Italy.” Europe’s migration crisis escalated sharply in April, with the coming of warmer weather to the Mediterranean. Many more smugglers’ boats took to the sea, and a record number of migrants died attempting the crossing — more than 1,700 people so far in 2015, by some estimates. Conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia have shaped and reshaped Europe’s migrant flows in recent years, with none more transformative to the Mediterranean smuggling trade than the civil war in Syria. And the tumult in Libya is changing the migration equation once again.

Libyan lawlessness has allowed a haven for smugglers to operate along the country’s coastline, but it has also unmoored many African laborers who were working there as migrants. Many of these men now languish in Italian detention centers without contacts or plans for the future, and their growing numbers are frustrating some Italian mayors and other officials. “We don’t know anything,” said one migrant, Shamsudeen Sawud, 18, who arrived in Italy more than a week ago. “No one is telling us anything.”

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Yes, this is funny.

Italian Army Growing Cannabis To Slash End User Prices (RT)

Italy’s first medical marijuana crop – grown by the country’s military – is “coming along nicely,” according to officials at a government-funded greenhouse outside Florence. “The aim of the operation is to provide users with a product that is not always easily available on the market, at a more competitive price,” Colonel Antonio Medica, the director of the facility, told Italian daily Corriere della Sera. Medical marijuana has been legal in the country since 2013 as pain relief for conditions such as multiple sclerosis and cancer, and as treatment for others, such as glaucoma. However, as there have been no licensed producers, and the state would not pay for the treatment, those with prescriptions have had to purchase it abroad, from the Netherlands and Germany, at prices that reach up to €40 per gram.

This means many patients have simply been buying their drugs off the street, financing drug dealers, who do not pay taxes, and may be engaged in other illegal activities. By producing 100 kg of its own weed, the government hopes to undercut the street dealers. “We’re aiming to lower the price to under €15 euros ($17), maybe even around €5 euros per gram,’ said Medica, who noted that this would be similar to the black market price of the drug. The government chose a military lab, due to existing security and surveillance arrangements. While the innovations will help medicinal users, they are unlikely to undermine the illegal marijuana market in a country where one in five admitted to being smokers of the drug in a survey conducted in 2012.

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And not a word on an investigation.

From Ukraine To Australia, Tributes Pour Out For Odessa Massacre Victims (RT)

Thousands of people in Ukraine, Russia and around the world took to the streets to mark the first anniversary of the Odessa massacre. Last year, 48 activists were killed and over 200 injured as radicals set the local trade unions house on fire. The commemoration ceremonies for those who died in the fire on May 2, 2014 proceeded without serious incident in the Ukrainian port city of Odessa. A huge crowd, including the relatives of the victims, gathered in front of the Trade Unions building and released black balloons and doves in air. According to local media, the rally in Odessa was attended by around 5,000 people. The people held banners reading “fascism won’t pass” and “no to political repressions,” with some carrying photos of journalist Oles Buzina and politician Oleg Kalashnikov, who were assassinated in Kiev last month.

In the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, some 2,000 people marched to honor the victims of the tragedy in an action entitled ‘Kiev Remembers Odessa.’ The people were carrying photos of those who died in the fire, as well as pictures of Buzina and Kalashnikov. Several arrests were made during the demonstration, with the Kiev police saying that they “invited the men to a local police station”. They were later released. March to honor the victims of the Odessa massacre in Ukrainian capital Kiev on May 2, 2015.March to honor the victims of the Odessa massacre in Ukrainian capital Kiev on May 2, 2015. Earlier, reports emerged on social media that it was the organizers of the rally, who had been detained by the security officials. “The organizers of a peaceful rally have been arrested in Kiev! What for? Show me a single slogan, for which you can be arrested in a democratic ‘European’ country?” Yuri Kot, Ukrainian public figure and journalist, wrote on Facebook.

In Moscow, around 1,000 people gathered in front of the Ukrainian Embassy to Russia to commemorate the Odessa massacre victims. An outdoor photo exhibition, showcasing pictures of the burning Odessa Trade Union House, was organized together with the rally. “It was very hard to not to cry. I didn’t expect so many people to care and feel for the sorrow,” an eastern Ukrainian resident, who attended the event, told RIA-Novosti. At the end, the bell tolled 48 times to commemorate each victim of the last year’s tragedy. Remembrance events were also held in Australia, Poland, the Republic of Ireland, Switzerland, Morocco and other countries. In Italy, a monument to the Odessa tragedy was opened in the northern town of Ceriano Laghetto.

Ukraine authorities deployed over 3,000 law enforcers in Odessa ahead of the anniversary of mass killings on May 2. Odessa’s Kulikovo Field, the square where the bloodiest scenes in the last year’s confrontation unfolded, was cordoned off on Friday. People wishing to lay flowers in front of the Trade Unions building, where dozens of activists met their deaths, have had to pass through metal detectors. The streets are being patrolled by some 2,600 police officers, while 600 special service fighters are on alert, the Interior Ministry reported. Unarmed volunteer activists were also called to Odessa. “There cannot be too much police presence. It’s a demonstration of our presence and strength to those who want to shake the situation in Odessa. There will be a policeman in every square meter,” Ivan Katerhinchuk, the chief of Odessa region’s police force, told the media.

Earlier on Friday, police troops brought in from other regions and their local colleagues gathered in front of the building. CCTV footage showed dozens of trucks and patrol cars parked in rows and columns of security forces marching in the streets.

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“It’s no use having habitat if there’s nothing left to eat in it.”

Wildlife Decline May Lead To ‘Empty Landscape’ (BBC)

Populations of some of the world’s largest wild animals are dwindling, raising the threat of an “empty landscape”, say scientists. About 60% of giant herbivores – plant-eaters – including rhinos, elephants and gorillas, are at risk of extinction, according to research. Analysis of 74 herbivore species, published in Science Advances, blamed poaching and habitat loss. A previous study of large carnivores showed similar declines. Prof William Ripple, of Oregon State University, led the research looking at herbivores weighing over 100kg, from the reindeer up to the African elephant. “This is the first time anyone has analysed all of these species as a whole,” he said. “The process of declining animals is causing an empty landscape in the forest, savannah, grasslands and desert.”

Prof David Macdonald, of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, was among the team of 15 international scientists. “The big carnivores, like the charismatic big cats or wolves, face horrendous problems from direct persecution, over-hunting and habitat loss, but our new study adds another nail to their coffin – the empty larder,” he said. “It’s no use having habitat if there’s nothing left to eat in it.” According to the research, the decline is being driven by a number of factors including habitat loss, hunting for meat or body parts, and competition for food and resources with livestock. With rhinoceros horn worth more than gold, diamonds or cocaine on illegal markets, rhinos could be extinct in the wild within 20 years in Africa, said the researchers.

The consequences of large wild herbivore decline include: • Loss of habitat: for example, elephants maintain forest clearings by trampling vegetation. • Effects on the food chain: large predators such as lions, leopards, and hyena rely on large herbivores for food. • Seed dispersal: large herbivores eat seeds which are carried over long distances. • Impact on humans: an estimated one billion people rely on wild meat for subsistence while the loss of iconic herbivores will have a negative impact on tourism. The biggest losses are in South East Asia, India and Africa. Europe and North America have already lost most of their large herbivores in a previous wave of extinctions.

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May 022015
 
 May 2, 2015  Posted by at 10:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC National Service Co. front, 1610 14th Street N.W., Washington DC 1920

Grantham Says Fed “Bound And Determined” To Engineer “Full-Fledged Bubble” (ZH)
Our Banking System is a Giant House of Cards (Lynn Parramore)
For China To Start All Over, The Dinosaurs Will Have To Change (Satyajit Das)
Your No. 1 End-Of-The-World Investing Strategy (Paul B. Farrell)
How Ben Bernanke Let Down America (MarketWatch)
Quick Breakthrough At Brussels Group Looks Unlikely (Kathimerini)
The Coming Defaults Of Greece (Vox.eu)
FastTrack TPP: The Death of Sovereignty, Separation of Powers and Democracy (JF)
Iceland Pirate Party Popularity Rivals Government Coalition (RT)
Angela Merkel’s NSA Nightmare Just Got A Lot Worse (Don Quijones)
Rioters In Milan Smash Shopfronts, Throw Smoke Bombs As Expo Opens (CNBC)
Russia Preparing Offensive In Ukraine, NATO General Imagines (Zero Hedge)
Kiev Is Making No ‘Tangible Steps’ To Investigate Year-Old Odessa Massacre (RT)
Kim Dotcom Awarded Millions For Legal Bills And Living Expenses (TF)

I think people should stop calling this a ‘market’.

Grantham Says Fed “Bound And Determined” To Engineer “Full-Fledged Bubble” (ZH)

Back in November, we highlighted the accuracy of Jeremy Grantham’s predictions about the trajectory of the central bank liquidity-fueled equity rally. In terms of how far the market can run before reality and gravity finally reassert themselves, bursting the centrally planned bubble and prompting a 2008-style “correction”, Grantham defined a “full-fledged” bubble as S&P 2250 and warned that a retracement of some 50% was possible depending on how assertive the Fed’s response to its real favorite economic indicator (stocks) turns out to be.

In GMO’s latest quarterly letter, Grantham is out reiterating his view that although US stocks may not have reached their peak in what he accurately calls a “strange, manipulated world” (we prefer “new paranormal”), he’s sticking with the idea that “bubble territory” is likely just around the corner as the Yellen Fed is “bound and determined” to facilitate an inexorable rise in asset prices. He also notes that the Yellen seems no more inclined than her predecessor to take Jeremy Stein’s advice on being careful not to adopt an “implicit policy of inaction” when it comes to bubbles. Here’s more:

The key point here is that in our strange, manipulated world, as long as the Fed is on the side of a strong market there is considerable hope for the bulls. In the Greenspan/Bernanke/Yellen Era, the Fed historically did not stop its asset price pushing until fully- fledged bubbles had occurred, as they did in U.S. growth stocks in 2000 and in U.S. housing in 2006. Both of these were in fact stunning three-sigma events, by far the biggest equity bubble and housing bubble in U.S. history.

Yellen, like both of her predecessors, has bragged about the Fed’s role in pushing up asset prices in order to get a wealth effect. Thus far, she seems to also share their view on feeling no responsibility to interfere with any asset bubble that may form. For me, recognizing the power of the Fed to move assets (although desperately limited power to boost the economy), it seems logical to assume that absent a major international economic accident, the current Fed is bound and determined to continue stimulating asset prices until we once again have a fully-fledged bubble. And we are not there yet.

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“We are failing to take simple steps and at the same time undertaking extremely costly steps with doubtful benefits.”

Our Banking System is a Giant House of Cards (Lynn Parramore)

Anat Admati teaches finance and economics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and is co-author of The Bankers’ New Clothes, a classic account of the problem of Too Big to Fail banks. Admati warns that we are not doing nearly enough to confront a bloated, inefficient, and dangerous financial system. The system can’t fix itself. Here’s what you need to know.

Lynn Parramore: How would you describe the problem of Too Big to Fail banks. Whey does it matter to an ordinary person?

Anat Admati: Too Big to Fail is a license for recklessness. These institutions defy notions of fairness, accountability, and responsibility. They are the largest, most complex, and most indebted corporations in the entire economy. We all have to be really alarmed by the fact that not only do we still have such institutions, but many of them are ever-larger and more complex and at least as dangerous, if not more so, than they were before the financial crisis. They are too big to manage and control. They take enormous risks that endanger everybody. They benefit from the upside and expose the rest of us to the downside of their decisions. These banks are too powerful politically as well. As they seek profits, they can make wasteful and inefficient loans that harm ordinary people, and at the same time they might refuse to make certain business loans that can help the economy.

They can even break the laws and regulations without the people responsible being held accountable. Effectively we’re hostages because their failure would be so harmful. They’re likely to be bailed out if their risks don’t turn out well. Ordinary people continue to suffer from a recession that was greatly exacerbated or even caused by recklessness in the financial system and failed regulation. But the largest institutions, especially their leaders — even in the failed ones — have suffered the least. They’re thriving again and arguably benefitting the most from efforts to stimulate the economy. So there’s something wrong with this picture. And there’s also increasing recognition that bloated banks and a bloated financial system – these huge institutions—are a drag on the economy.

LP: Have we made any progress in dealing with the problem?

AA: The progress has been totally unfocused and insufficient. Dodd-Frank claims to have solved the problem and it gives plenty of tools to regulators to do what needs to be done (many of these tools they actually already had before). But this law is really complex and the implementation of it is very messy. The lobbying by the financial industry is a large part of the reason that the law has been implemented so poorly and inefficiently with so much difficulty. We are failing to take simple steps and at the same time undertaking extremely costly steps with doubtful benefits. So we’ve had far from enough progress. We are told things are better but they are nowhere near what we should expect and demand. Much more can be done right now.

LP: Banks, compared to other businesses, finance an enormous portion of their assets with borrowed money, or debt – as much as 95%. Yet bankers often claim that this is perfectly fine, and if we make them depend less on debt they will be forced to lend less. What is your view? Would asking banks to rely more on unborrowed money, or equity, somehow hurt the economy?

AA: Sometimes when I don’t have time to unpack everything I use a quote from a book called Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins by Jeff Connaughton. He relates something Paul Volcker once said to Senator Ted Kaufman: “You know, just about whatever anyone proposes, no matter what it is, the banks will come out and claim that it will restrict credit and harm the economy…It’s all bullshit.” Here’s one obvious reason such claims are, in Volcker’s vocabulary, bullshit: Lending suffered most when banks didn’t have enough equity to absorb their losses in the crisis — and then we had to bail them out. The loss they suffered on the subprime fiasco was relatively small by comparison to losses to investors when the Internet bubble burst, but there was so much debt throughout the system, and indeed in the housing markets, and so much interconnection that the entire financial system almost collapsed. That’s when lending suffered. So lending and growth suffers when the banks have too little equity, not too much.

Now, banks naturally have some debt, like deposits. But they don’t feel indebted even when they rely on 95% debt to finance their assets. No other healthy company lives like that, and nobody, even banks, needs to live like that — that’s the key. Normally, the market would not allow this to go on; those who are as heavily indebted feel the burden in many ways. The terms of the debt become too burdensome for corporations, and reflect the inefficient investment decisions made by heavily indebted companies. But banks have much nicer creditors, like depositors, and with many explicit and implicit guarantees, banks don’t face trouble or harsh terms. They only have to convince the regulators to let them get away with it. And they do. So the abnormality of this incredible indebtedness is that they get away with it. There’s nothing good about it for society. If they had more equity then they could do everything that they do better —more consistently, more reliably, in a less distorted fashion.

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This will not happen, because the leaders themselves are the biggest dinosaurs. And they’re not about to give up their grip on power.

For China To Start All Over, The Dinosaurs Will Have To Change (Satyajit Das)

Central to China’s agenda of driving growth through economic reform is a shift from debt-driven investment to consumption. Since the 1980s, investment has risen from 35% of GDP to 45 to 50%. China’s annual infrastructure spend is far greater than that of the US and Europe but also of other emerging markets. It is double that of India and around four times that of Latin America. The country’s investment levels are also running at 10 to 15% of GDP – higher than in comparable countries such as Japan and South Korea at the equivalent stages of their development. In recent years, Beijing has sought to rebalance the share of GDP contributed by consumption and investment, but the task is difficult.

First, as the analyst Michael Pettis has repeatedly stated, the level of consumption growth needed to rebalance China is formidable. That rate has not been static, running at around 8% a year over the past decade. But growth in consumer spending has been slower than that in the overall economy and the increase in gross fixed investment – an average annual growth of more than 13%, which resulted in the share of private consumption in GDP falling to 35% from 45 to 50%. If China grows at 8% a year, consumption needs to expand by around 11% (3% above growth) to increase the share of consumption from 35% to 36% of GDP in a year. Assuming a growth rate of 8% and consumption increases of 11%, it would take about five years to increase consumption to 40% of GDP. If growth slows, the difficulty of the task increases.

Second, legacy issues of rapid expansion and excessive investment will need to be managed. Many projects have dubious economics and will not generate sufficient revenues to repay the borrowings used to finance them, resulting in potential losses to lenders.

Third, boosting consumption will reduce savings, affecting the deposit base and cost of funding at Chinese banks, which will reduce their flexibility in managing rising losses on bad loans. It will also require a significant boost in household income, and this will affect the profitability of Chinese companies, which already operate on thin margins.

Fourth, the rebalancing will result in slower growth, at least during the period of transition. A move away from investment-driven growth also requires reform of China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs). China has around 150,000 SOEs, which control around 50% of industrial assets and employ around 20% of the workforce.

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Farrell misses out on the no. 1: people and communities.

Your No. 1 End-Of-The-World Investing Strategy (Paul B. Farrell)

Quarterly reports are hot news today. Listen: “While the end-of-the-world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors,” predicts the CEO of a major Wall Street bank at a shareholders meeting, “we believe that the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profit.” That message comes from one of Robert Mankoff’s popular New Yorker cartoons, and it accurately captures the winning strategy used by most successful Wall Street bankers. But the real successful strategists have both, balancing the two: short-term opportunities for profit plus a vision of the future, the long-term megatrends that impact returns today as well as tomorrow. Here’s an example of this strategy, hedging long risks while playing a winning short game.

Here’s one strategy based on the 12 megatrends in Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse: How Societies Chose to Fail Or Succeed.” So you’d be building a portfolio that balances short-term opportunities within Diamond’s megatrends structure, picking stocks that fit near-term the best investment parameters for success in a society that’s risking a collapse:

1. Water
Diamond warns: “Most of the world’s freshwater in rivers and lakes is already being used for irrigation, domestic and industrial water,” transportation, dams, fisheries and recreation. Water problems destroyed many earlier civilizations: “Today over a billion people lack access to reliable safe drinking water.” By 2015 two-thirds of the world will live in water-stressed countries. Water will trade like oil futures today. More and more wars will be fought over water and other basic resources concluded a 2003 Pentagon report predicting that “warfare will define human life by 2020.

2. Food
The United Nations says the global food crisis is a “silent tsunami.” Two billion people, mostly poor, depend on fish and other wild foods for protein. Their supplies have “collapsed or are in steep decline,” forcing use of costly animal proteins. The rise in food prices is making it worse for billions living below poverty levels. In “The End of Plenty,” National Geographic warns “synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation, supercharged by genetically engineered seeds” is failing. A joint World Bank/UN study “concluded that the immense production increases brought about by science and technology the past 30 years have failed to improve food access for many of the world’s poor.” Time warns that our “addiction to meat” has led to farming that’s “destructive of the soil, the environment and us.”

3. Farmland
Crop soils are “being carried away by water and wind erosion at rates between 10 to 40 times the rates of soil formation.” With forests, the soil-erosion rate is “between 500 and 10,000 times” the replacement rate, a trend accelerated by today’s new age of the 100,000-acre megafires. Ceres and Chess are hedge funds that own many small farms.

4. Forests
We are destroying natural habitats and rain forests at an accelerating rate. Half the world’s original forests have been converted to urban developments. A quarter of what remains will be converted in the next 50 years.

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How America lets down Americans.

How Ben Bernanke Let Down America (MarketWatch)

Don’t say Ben Bernanke didn’t do anything for unemployment. After all, the former Federal Reserve chairman now has three jobs. On Wednesday, Pacific Investment Management Co., or Pimco, announced — via Twitter, of course — that Bernanke had signed on as a senior adviser to the fund company known for its bond investing. Pimco joins the hedge fund Citadel and the Brookings Institution as Bernanke’s post-Fed effort to put food on the table. While Bernanke has sought to underplay or, more accurately, not disclose how much he’s being paid by these firms, it’s highly unlikely he will have to ask for public assistance. Speaking of which, just how good is that unemployment office near the Fed and Treasury Department?

We’re just teasing, of course. Bernanke, like any other public servant, has a right to work after he leaves government. And since the Fed is a quasi-governmental institution and has been accused of serving Wall Street’s interests, is this as much of a radical transition as it may appear at first glance? On the other hand, isn’t this endless pattern, known as the “revolving door” where senior regulators leave to join the firms they regulated only a few months or weeks ago, getting a little tired? Timothy Geithner, a regulator cozy with Wall Street, goes to head the Treasury Department where he’s criticized for bailing out Wall Street and almost no one else, and then leaves public service for a private equity firm, Warburg Pincus, with deep ties to banks.

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Get out, you Greeks!

Quick Breakthrough At Brussels Group Looks Unlikely (Kathimerini)

Greece’s hopes of an emergency Eurogroup being called as early as Monday to confirm the progress in Brussels Group talks, and thereby possibly prompting the European Central Bank to allow Athens to issue more treasury bills to relieve its liquidity problem, appear to be misplaced. Several European Union officials have told Kathimerini that it is unlikely eurozone finance ministers will be in a position to discuss the state of negotiations at the beginning of the week. Greece’s lenders insist that there must be a staff-level agreement on the range of measures being demanded in return for €7.2 billion in bailout funding before the matter can be referred to the Eurogroup.

Athens, though, hopes that there can be an initial agreement on a bare minimum of reforms that would prompt the ECB to increase its €15 billion ceiling on the level of Greek T-bills that can be issued and allow local banks to increase their exposure to this form of debt. The first two days of the Brussels Group deliberations, which began on Thursday, confirmed that there is a substantial distance separating Greece and its lenders. For instance, they differ on macroeconomic projections. Athens still believes growth this year can reach 1.2 to 1.4% and that this would lead to a primary surplus of 1.2%. Creditors see these projections as extremely optimistic.

Also, Athens is willing to go ahead with some but not all of the privatizations planned for this year, bringing in projected revenues of €1.5 billion, which the institutions also see as being overestimated. The target for revenues from sell-offs this year had been €2.2 billion The government looks set to keep the single property tax (ENFIA) this year despite its election pledge to scrap the highly unpopular levy, but there is still a disagreement over the value-added tax increase being demanded by creditors. The institutions believe that between €2 and €3 billion of new fiscal measures will be needed this year for Greece to hit its targets.

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“In the longer run, however, a much-depreciated drachma could lift the Greek economy and, of course, the country might appreciate monetary independence..”

The Coming Defaults Of Greece (Vox.eu)

When thinking about Greece’s dilemma, two facts from Reinhart and Rogoff (2009) research are highly relevant:
• Defaults on public debts are pretty mundane events; and
• Greece is historically the world’s leading serious defaulter.

What makes the coming event interesting is that it will be the first time that a default occurs within a monetary union. The crucial observation is that there is no automatic link between a default and monetary-union membership. As we know from previous experiments of government default within the dollar monetary union – the defaults of Orange County in California and Detroit in Michigan – a sub-central government can default and keep the currency. The unique characteristics of such events are that: 1) an exchange-rate depreciation cannot help shift expenditure to the defaulting region’s production; and 2) there is no local central bank to provide liquidity to both the government and commercial banks during the hard phase of the default. The Greek government might be tempted to recover its own currency but the short-run costs are likely to far exceed the short-run benefits.

An idea of what would await Greece is provided by Levy Yeyati (2011) in his description of how Argentina gave up its currency board link to the US dollar, an easier case given that the national currency was already in place. The Argentinian example should warn the Greek authorities of the political turmoil that could follow a default. In the longer run, however, a much-depreciated drachma could lift the Greek economy and, of course, the country might appreciate monetary independence following its wrenching experience inside the Eurozone. Basically, the trade-off is a major shock and one more year of misery versus the removal of Eurozone membership shackles forever. The balance of benefits is difficult to evaluate since it depends very much on institutional issues that are not clear now.

The key questions are:
• Will Greece be able to finally establish on its own fiscal discipline and will its central bank deliver high-quality monetary policy?
• Will the Eurozone draw all the lessons from a Grexit and amend its policies and governance?

In the short run, after a first default, even a partial one, the Greek government will have to balance its books because no one will lend anything any more. ‘Balancing the books’ can mean different things, however.

• One option is to run an overall balanced budget, thus continuing to service the debt after the initial wave of defaults.

The latest European Commission forecasts for 2015 are for a surplus of 1.1% of GDP, after a deficit of 2.5% last year. This might be optimistic as tax receipts seem to have slowed down. Another option is to balance the primary budget, which means no servicing of the debt.

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“..the death of National Sovereignty, State Sovereignty, Separation of Powers, and Democracy..”

FastTrack TPP: The Death of Sovereignty, Separation of Powers and Democracy (JF)

Ellen Brown has called the TPP “the death of the Republic.” It certainly is that. But, I think I’ve shown that it is the death of National Sovereignty, State Sovereignty, Separation of Powers, and Democracy, as well. These impacts on governance and politics are even more important, I believe, than its economic ones, since it from these that our benefits, both economic and non-economic flow. The elevation of the principle of “expectation of profits” above all other principles including the principles of “public purpose,” “consent of the governed,” “the general welfare,” and “separation of powers,” is tantamount to the overthrow of democracy, preserving its form in national level elections, but emptying its elections of meaningful content in mandating change and in conferring legitimacy on national authorities.

I’ve said previously that the rule of the TPP, even if passed over the mushrooming opposition from all segments of American society except the uncritical globalists, will never be viewed as legitimate in the United States and will also always be viewed as tyranny for as long as we live under it. This problem will become increasingly severe the larger, more frequent, and more outrageous ISDS awards defending the “expectations of profits” of multinational become. That makes those who want to pass the TPP guilty of conspiracy to create tyrannical rule of the international few over the people of the United States and other TPP member nations. Eventually, I believe that a vote for the TPP will be viewed as vote to betray the Constitution and a violation of the oath of office of any who vote that way.

How can there be any other outcome when an action taken in office destroys National Sovereignty, State Sovereignty, Separation of Powers, and Democracy with a single vote.

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A sudden surge.

Iceland Pirate Party Popularity Rivals Government Coalition (RT)

The Pirate Party of Iceland, which has the smallest faction in the national parliament after the 2013 election, is now almost as popular as the two ruling coalition parties combined, the latest opinion poll showed. The party would score 30.1% of votes in Iceland if a general election was held now, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RUV) reports citing a Gallup poll. Iceland’s two ruling parties – the Independent Party and the Progressive Party – have 22.9% and 10.1% support respectively, scoring less than 3% points ahead of the Pirates. The Pirate Party experienced an astounding surge of popularity in Iceland. In 2013, polls indicated it would barely score 5% of votes needed to win parliamentary seats. The party’s approval rating in January was roughly the same.

An early March Gallup poll showed its popularity had grown to over 15%, beating the Bright Future party. In less than two months the Pirate Party doubled its rating. “People are starting to realize that the whole system is corrupt, not just a few politicians,” Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson, Pirate Party’s chair and one of its three MPs told Vísir news website in March. “They don‘t trust it at all. I think they appreciate it when someone points this out.” Responding to the latest poll, Gunnarsson said he was glad to see such a result but expected it to rebound somewhat in the weeks to come. He added there is still some time to go to the next election in Iceland, which is scheduled for 2017. The same opinion poll showed a 32% approval of the government by Icelanders, compared to 37% in March. Among the latest big decisions of the government is the March withdrawal of its bid to join the European Union.

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“The phrase “shameless hypocrisy” comes to mind.”

Angela Merkel’s NSA Nightmare Just Got A Lot Worse (Don Quijones)


Angela Merkel, Germany’s most successful and popular politician, could be in serious trouble, after revelations that Germany’s national intelligence agency, the BND, has been spying on key European assets on behalf of US intelligence. Those “assets” include top French officials, the EU’s headquarters, the European defense corporation EADS, the helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter and even German companies. To wit, from Der Spiegel:

In 2008, at the latest, it became apparent that NSA selectors were not only limited to terrorist and weapons smugglers… But it was only after the revelations made by whistleblower Edward Snowden that the BND decided to investigate the issue. In October 2013, an investigation came to the conclusion that at least 2,000 of these selectors were aimed at Western European or even German interests.

Today, the German foreign intelligence agency is accused of processing over 40,000 spy requests from the NSA, many of which represent a clear violation of the Memorandum of Agreement that the US and Germany signed in 2002. Washington and Berlin agreed at the time that neither Germans nor Americans — neither people nor companies or organizations — would be among the surveillance targets. The scandal could be particularly damaging for the Minister of Interior Thomas de Maiziere, whose ministry is accused of misleading parliament after claiming, as recently as April 14, to have no knowledge of alleged US economic spying in Europe, and of Germany’s alleged involvement.

For Merkel, it is a dizzying reversal of roles and fortunes. In 2013 she was arguably the most high-profile victim of NSA surveillance when it was revealed that the NSA had targeted her cellphone. When confronted with Edward Snowden’s allegations of US National Security Agency mass surveillance of European citizens, Merkel famously said that “spying on friends is just not on.” According to official accounts, she even placed a “strongly worded phone call” to US President Barack Obama. At the time the scandal was a political boon for Merkel, with 62% of Germans approving of her “harsh reaction”, according to a survey by polling institute YouGov. Now the tables have turned. If Merkel’s government is found to have had prior knowledge of the BND’s spying on the French government, citizens, and companies, its behavior in the wake of the phone-tapping revelations will be cast in a starkly different light. The phrase “shameless hypocrisy” comes to mind.

While the BNS is taking most of the flak, with some pundits even questioning whose interests it serves, questions are being raised about just how much Merkel’s government knew about the surveillance program. “At least since the Snowden revelations in 2013, all those involved at all levels, including the Chancellery, should have been suspicious of the cooperation with the NSA,” Konstantin von Notz, the senior Green Party member on the NSA investigative committee, told Der Spiegel.

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Italy hates the Milan Expo. For good reason.

Rioters In Milan Smash Shopfronts, Throw Smoke Bombs As Expo Opens (CNBC)

Milan has been waiting since 2008 for this day and now it has finally come—but takeoff for the World Expo 2015 looks to be overshadowed by violent protests. The turnstiles and doors officially opened on Friday in Italy’s commercial and fashion capital. But opening day excitement for the six-month-long commercial event wasn’t necessarily present among the crowds on Friday. The wet weather may have dampened the number of visitors to the event on its first day—with noticeably empty entrances and security checkpoints. Meanwhile, thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Milan behind a banner reading “No Expo, Eat the Rich,” according to Reuters. The No-Expo movement has been critical of the amount of money the government has poured into the event, when there are fears of austerity and cuts to public services.

A large anti-expo march through the center of Milan was overtaken by anarchists groups that smashed shopfronts and clashed with police. There were several banks with smashed-in doors and windows and the streets were strewed with detritus. Teargas was used by riot police to try and disperse parts of the crowd. Although most of the march was peaceful, around 200 demonstrators threw rocks, in addition to setting off flare and smoke bombs. A large six-story building was torched, as well as the ground floor of a two-story building. At least six cars were burnt and fire crews were deployed at multiple spots across the city. AP television footage appeared to show police using water cannons on protesters.

Friday is Labor Day, also known as May Day, and is a traditional occasion for anti-capitalist protests. The Expo is bringing together 145 countries from around the world with the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” The organizers are expecting up to 20 million visitors during the length of the Expo and as many as 250,000 on a particularly busy day. However, estimates for attendee numbers on Friday were only in the tens of thousands. Italy is hoping for a big economic boost because of the Expo, which is held every five years in different world location and is designed to showcase innovation. Some say the Milan Expo could generate up to $10 billion. But the event has come under criticism, particularly for skyrocketing costs and a number of corruption scandals.

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“Note that Breedlove has managed to pull off what we thought was a linguistic impossibility: his statement is contradictory, vague, and definitive all at once.”

Russia Preparing Offensive In Ukraine, NATO General Imagines (Zero Hedge)

Just a day after the US Navy said it was prepared to escort US-flagged cargo ships through the Strait of Hormuz as a precautionary measure after Iran supposedly fired on and subsequently seized a ship flying the Marshall Islands flag, we get still more sabre rattling in what has become a global staring match between the US on one side and Russia, Iran, and China on the other, with points of contention ranging from territorial sovereignty in Eastern Europe, to man-made islands in the South China Sea, to nuclear energy, to cyber warfare. This time it’s U.S. Air Force General and NATO supreme allied commander Philip Breedlove ratcheting up the rhetoric (and perhaps suggesting that the Kremlin is correct in its assessment of US foreign policy) by suggesting to the Senate that Russia is planning to shatter what remains of the fragile ceasefire in Ukraine by launching an imminent offensive. Via Reuters:

Russia’s military may be taking advantage of a recent lull in fighting in eastern Ukraine to lay the groundwork for a new military offensive, NATO’s top commander told the U.S. Congress on Thursday. U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, the NATO supreme allied commander, said Russian forces had been seeking to “reset and reposition” while protecting battlefield gains, despite a fragile ceasefire agreed in February.

And while the general had trouble explaining exactly how he came to this conclusion based on the evidence he had observed, he did come prepared with plenty of vague soundbites which, although largely devoid of any real meaning, sounded scary enough to get the attention of the media and will probably play well with the 348 members of the House who not long ago voted to provide lethal aid to Kiev. Here are some excerpts from the DoD press release:

“Many [Russian] actions are consistent with preparations for another offensive,” he added. Russia is aggressive in all elements of national power – diplomatic, informational, economic, and its military, the general said. “It would not make sense to unnecessarily take any of our own tools off the table,” he said about the U.S. possibility of supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine. Russia’s aggression also is destabilizing neighboring states and the region, and its illegal actions are pushing instability closer to NATO’s boundaries, Breedlove told the senators. “We cannot be fully certain what Russia will do next, and we cannot fully grasp [Putin‘s] intent,” Breedlove he said. “What we can do is learn from his actions, and what we see suggests growing Russian capabilities, significant military modernization and an ambitious strategic intent.”

Got it. So summarizing, we cannot be certain about Putin’s intent, but based on his actions, we can be certain that his intent is both ambitious and strategic. Note that Breedlove has managed to pull off what we thought was a linguistic impossibility: his statement is contradictory, vague, and definitive all at once.

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Kiev and the west are determined that no-one ever finds out what happened in Odessa, on Maidan Square, with MH-17 etc etc.

Kiev Is Making No ‘Tangible Steps’ To Investigate Year-Old Odessa Massacre (RT)

Moscow has called on the international community to put pressure on Ukrainian authorities, which are not making any ‘tangible steps’ towards an independent and impartial investigation of last year’s Odessa massacre, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said. “With a deep concern we have to state that one year [since the tragedy], the Ukrainian justice system did not take any tangible steps toward an objective, independent and impartial investigation of this horrific crime in order to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry said, as cited by Sputnik news agency. On May 2 last year, the Ukrainian radicals set fire to the Trade Union House in Odessa, killing 48 and injuring over 200 anti-Kiev activists inside.

“As a result of these barbaric acts of intimidation, several dozen people, whose only fault was that they openly expressed their civic stance against the anti-constitutional coup in February 2014 and outburst of radical ultranationalists, were killed,” the Foreign Ministry’s statement reads. Moscow urged the international community, including human rights NGOs, to “decisively and honestly” demand Kiev stage a fair investigation into the Odessa massacre and correct the “glaring flaws” in Ukrainian judicial system. The ministry stressed that Kiev’s “carelessness” and passiveness in investigating the May 2 events is backed by the stance of its Western backers and some major global media outlets.

The little attention given to the Odessa massacre in European and American news is “yet another manifestation of information warfare and manipulation of the media,” the statement said. Meanwhile, the US also addressed Kiev with an appeal not to delay the investigation of deadly fire. “We reiterate the need for a thorough and transparent investigation so those responsible can ultimately be held accountable. We continue to urge the Ukrainian government to investigate and bring charges against those culpable for the events in Odessa and to do so as quickly as possible,” Marie Harf, US State Department spokeswoman, said on Thursday.

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Little bit crazy perhaps? My guess is if this comes out, he’s going to lose a lot of sympathy. Kiwi’s are sort of done with him anyway.

Kim Dotcom Awarded Millions For Legal Bills And Living Expenses (TF)

Kim Dotcom has succeeded in getting more of his seized funds released by the courts in New Zealand. In addition to millions for legal expenses, the entrepreneur will receive $128K per month including $60K to pay mansion rent, $25,600 to cover staff and security, plus $11,300 for grocery and other expenses.

How much does it cost to enjoy a reasonable standard of living in the modern world? A couple of thousand dollars a month? Three thousand? Four? For Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, none of these amounts scratch the surface, a problematic situation considering all of his assets were previously seized by the U.S. and New Zealand governments. In February a “broke” and “destitute” Dotcom appeared before Justice Patricia Courtney, asking for living expenses and a massive cash injection to pay historical and current legal fees. Dotcom was previously granted around US$15,000 per month to live on but high costs had left him “penniless”. Following the hearing Justice Courtney’s ruling is largely good news for Dotcom, with the Judge taking into consideration claims by authorities that the entrepreneur has funds in a trust that could help pay his expenses.

“The trust’s major asset is its shareholding in Mega Ltd, said to be worth more than $30m (US$22.6m). In evidence Mr Dotcom said that there were difficulties in selling Mega shares because they were blocked from being sold until the planned listing of Mega, which is now scheduled for late May 2015 (though it is possible that this date will be pushed back). There was no evidence to the contrary,” the Judge’s ruling reads. “I have concluded that Mr Dotcom does not have the ability to meet his legal and reasonable living expenses from trust assets because, on the evidence, those assets are not sufficiently liquid.” Noting that he still owes former lawyers around US$1.5m, the Judge said that Dotcom’s estimate for financing his legal battle against extradition is between US$1.5m and US$3m.

This amount will be released from currently restrained government bonds. Next up was the Dotcom family’s accommodation costs. Rent on the now-famous mansion amounts to US$754,000 per annum under a lease Dotcom signed in February 2013 and which expires in the same month 2016. The Judge decided that terminating that lease would result in additional costs. “If [Dotcom] were to terminate the lease in order to find a more modest home, he would immediately be exposed to a significant contractual liability for the existing rental in addition to the costs of any new accommodation,” the Judge writes.

“Little would be saved by requiring Mr Dotcom to move into more modest accommodation pending the expiry of the lease; it is more likely that the total amount required to house Mr Dotcom and his children and meet his lease commitment would actually prove greater than simply remaining where he is. “I therefore accept that, in the particular circumstances of this case, a figure of $80,000 (US$60,300) per month is reasonable for accommodation.”

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