Jul 052018
 


René Magritte The secret player 1927

 

There’s something wonderfully -though at the same time sadly- ironic in simultaneously contemplating America’s Independence Day and Greece’s NO! (OXI!) vote three years ago that was subsequently defeated by it own prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, at the behest of the European Union’s powers that be.

Where Americans managed to break free of their yoke in 1776, the Greeks did not. Indeed, they were betrayed by their own. There are certainly plenty of similarities with the Declaration of Independence to be made, plenty voices and forces that sought to defeat the Founding Fathers. In the end, the result is simple: the Americans succeeded in breaking free, the Greeks did not.

It’s just that this is not where the story halts; it’s not the whole story. You can say that the Greeks are not independent while the Americans are, but that is true in name only. What does that famous American independence consist of?

How free and independent are Americans really today? In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower famously talked about the military-industrial complex that the nation should beware of, but 62 years later is seems safe to say his warning was not heeded.

Donald Trump ran on a non-interventionist platform, but the military-industrial complex appears to have him gift-wrapped up and ready for delivery a year and a half into his presidency. Under Trump, the US have dropped more bombs than even under Obama, no small feat.

It is of course well understood that if you justify such action properly through the media, the people will buy about anything when it comes to waging war abroad, but it’s still not what people voted for. They are not independent of the war machine.

And you can take this one step further. You can ask how independent a nation can really be if its citizens never learn to have independent thought, if they are deliberately never taught how to think for themselves. How can you be independent if and when other people define your thought and views?

Every single American and European must recognize at least part of Caitlin Johnstone’s Babies. It may read as if it’s describing some Chinese or Soviet system, or even Huxley or Orwell, but there’s not really any plausible denial that at least some of what she says resonates with you:

 

Babies

When a baby is born, its parents teach it how to eat solid foods and walk and talk, which generally works out fine. Then they start teaching the baby all the lies their parents taught them, and things start to get messy. When the baby is old enough, they send it to school, where it spends twelve years being taught lies about how the world works so that one day it will be able to watch CNN and say “Yes, this makes perfect sense” instead of “This is ridiculous” or “Why does this whole entire thing seem completely fake?” or “I want to punch Chris Cuomo in the throat.”

The baby is taught history, which is the study of the ancient, leftover propaganda from whichever civilization happened to win the wars in a given place at a given time. The baby is taught geography, so that later on when its country begins bombing another country, the baby’s country won’t be embarrassed if its citizens cannot find that country on a globe. The baby is taught obedience, and the importance of performing meaningless tasks in a timely manner.

This prepares the baby for the half century of pointless gear-turning it will be expected to undertake after graduation. The baby is taught that it lives in a free country, with a legitimate electoral system which facilitates meaningful elections of actual representatives in a real government. It is never taught that those elections, representatives and government are all owned and operated by the very rich, who use them to ensure policies which make them even richer while keeping everyone else as poor as possible so that they won’t have to share political power.

And so you get to, have to, wonder if this is what the Founding Fathers would have wanted. Were they intending for America to be a nation filled with obedient sheeple? Since they themselves were revolting against a power that wanted for them to be just that, it doesn’t seem likely.

Beyond the issue of slavery, which would take another 90 years to come on the agenda, and another 90 after that to lead to the abolishment of racial separation (and likely another 90 for the next step), the Fathers appear to have sought actual independence. There are precious few signs that they would have looked kindly upon the military-industrial complex.

Or the existing political parties for that matter, replete with ‘life-long’ politicians who label themselves ‘public servants’ but whose careers depend entirely on lobbyists and the corporate powers they serve, which donate the campaign cash needed to get the ‘public servants’ elected and re-elected.

Power corrupts absolutely. And it crushes independence. Since all US politicians need corporate money to build and sustain their careers, isn’t it ironic that they, too, would celebrate Independence Day? Independent from what?

Sure, you can celebrate that you no longer depend on British rule, and their tea, but if and when you simply swap one dependency for another, what does the word independence even mean any more?

At least that’s something the Greeks have an answer to. They depend on Europe’s largest nations and their banks. They had a chance to break that dependency, and voted to do exactly that, only to see their Independence Day crushed by the first prime minister in decades who was not part of an age-old corrupt system.

Their quiet despair should be shared by Americans too, who are free and independent men and women in name only, and who depend on Washington and Wall Street’s deeply entrenched power brokers perhaps more then ever in their history.

The Greeks have no options left; they voted for the one independent party there was three years ago, and were betrayed with a kiss. America voted Trump into the White House and though he seemed independent, he also seems to have been eaten alive by the Deep State and the war machine.

Independence appears to mean, first of all, not relying on entrenched power blocks for your lives and livelihoods, the ability to make your own decisions, to reap the fruit of your own labor. Has America been further away from that at any time since 1776 than it is today?

 

 

Apr 052018
 
 April 5, 2018  Posted by at 12:11 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Herbert Ponting Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition, Antarctica 1911

 

Something must be terribly wrong with the world. A few days ago Elizabeth Warren agreed with Trump on China, now Bernie Sanders agrees with him about Amazon. What’s happening?

 

Bernie Sanders Agrees With Trump: Amazon Has Too Much Power

Independent Vermont senator and 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders echoed President Donald Trump in expressing concern about retail giant Amazon. Sanders said that he felt Amazon had gotten too big on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, and added that Amazon’s place in society should be examined.

“And I think this is, look, this is an issue that has got to be looked at. What we are seeing all over this country is the decline in retail. We’re seeing this incredibly large company getting involved in almost every area of commerce. And I think it is important to take a look at the power and influence that Amazon has,” said Sanders.

A backlash against Facebook, a backlash against Amazon. Are these things connected? Actually, yes, they are connected. But not in a way that either Trump or Sanders has clued in to. Someone who has, a for now lone voice, is David Stockman. Here’s what he wrote last week.

 

The Donald’s Blind Squirrel Nails An Acorn

It is said that even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn, and so it goes with the Donald. Banging on his Twitter keyboard in the morning darkness, he drilled Jeff Bezos a new one – or at least that’s what most people would call having their net worth lightened by about $2 billion:

“I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!” You can’t get more accurate than that. Amazon is a monstrous predator enabled by the state, but Amazon’s outrageous postal subsidy – a $1.46 gift card from the USPS stabled on each box – isn’t the half of it.

The real crime here is that Amazon has been exempted from making a profit, and the culprit is the Federal Reserve’s malignant regime of Bubble Finance. The latter has destroyed financial discipline entirely and turned the stock market into the greatest den of speculation in human history. That’s why Bezos can kill established businesses with impunity.

The casino allows him to run a pernicious business model based on “price to destroy”, rather than price for profit and a return on capital. Needless to say, under a regime of sound money and honest capital markets Amazon would be a far more benign economic creature. That’s because no real investors would value AMZN’s money-loosing e-Commerce business at $540 billion – nor even a small fraction of that after 25-years of profitless growth.

The bubble economy, the everything bubble, that we have been forced into, with QE, ultra-low rates, central banks buying trillions in what at least used to be assets, and massive buybacks that allow companies to raise their ‘value’ into the stratosphere, has enabled a company like Amazon to kill off its competition, which consists of many thousands of retailers, that do have to run a profit.

It’s a money scheme that allows many of the most ‘valuable’ tech companies to elbow their way into our lives, in ways that may seem beneficial to us at first, but in reality will only leave us behind with much less choice, far less competition, and many, many fewer jobs. Once it’s done someone will mention ‘scorched earth’. But for now they are everybody’s darlings; they are, don’t you know, the tech giants, the brainchildren of the best that the best among us have to offer.

They don’t all work the exact same way, which may make it harder to recognize what they have in common. For some it’s easier to see than for others. It’s also difficult to list them all. Here’s a few: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google (Alphabet), Tesla, Uber, Airbnb, Monsanto. Let’s go through the list.

 

Apple ? Yes, Apple too. But they make real things! Yes, but just as Apple CEO Tim Cook seeks to distance his company from the likes of Facebook on morals and ethics, he can’t deny that Apple sells a zillion phones to a large extent because everybody uses them to look at Facebook and Alphabet apps until their faces are blue. If data ethics are the only problem Cook sees, he’s in trouble.

Silicon Valley infighting shows that the industry does have an idea what is going wrong, in ways that should have already led to many more pronounced worries and investigations.

 

Silicon Valley Rivals Take Shots At Facebook

Mr. Cook, who has long sought to differentiate Apple on privacy matters, contrasted its focus on selling devices with Facebook and Google’s ad-based businesses that are built on user data. Asked what he would do if he were Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Cook replied: “I wouldn’t be in this situation.”

[..] Days earlier, François Chollet, an artificial intelligence engineer at Google, sought to draw a line between his company and Facebook. He tweeted that Google products like search and Gmail help users “to do more, to know more.” Facebook’s newsfeed, he wrote, “manipulates your worldview and seeks to maximally waste your time.”

[..] In January, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, whose company sells business software services, said that the addictive nature of social media means it should be regulated like a health issue.“I think that you do it exactly the same way that you regulated the cigarette industry,” Mr. Benioff told CNBC when asked how Facebook should be regulated. Some of the most cutting rebukes have come from people who know Facebook well.

In November, Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, said that Facebook executives, including himself, were “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” by designing a platform built on social validation. Mr. Parker didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Facebook generally hasn’t responded to the criticism, but it did after sharp comments from its former vice president of growth, Chamath Palihapitiya. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works,” Mr. Palihapitiya said at a talk at Stanford University in November.

I would expect to hear a lot more of that sort of thing. Big Tech is changing the world in more ways than one. And spying on people Facebook-style is merely one of a long list of them. So yes, Apple certainly also belongs in that list. Facebook doesn’t build the devices people use to see what their friends had for breakfast, Apple does that. Moreover, Apple profits hugely from stock buybacks, so it fits in Stockman’s bubble finance definition of Amazon, too.

The failure of politics to investigate, and act against, those dopamine-driven feedback loops which exploit a vulnerability in human psychology in order to maximally waste your time and sell you product after product that you never (knew you) wanted is downright bizarre. Politicians only started talking about Facebook when a topic connected to Trump and Russia was linked to it.

 

Amazon: Trump can’t act fast enough on the tax situation and the US Postal deal. Not that that will solve the issue. Amazon, like all the companies on my list, can only be cut down to size if and when the everything bubble is. They are, after all, its children.

The most pernicious aspect of the Amazon ‘business model’, which all these firms share, and all are able to live by thanks to the central banks and the “greatest den of speculation in human history” they have created, is the prospect of world domination in their respective fields. They all hold in front of speculators the promise that they can crush all competition, or nearly all. Scorched earth, flat earth.

 

Facebook: their place in the list is obvious. What is it, 2.5 billion users? And what they don’t have is divvied up between them and Google when they buy up apps like Instagram. Officially competitors, but they have the exact same goals. And, like me, you may think: what’s the problem, just ban them from collecting all that data. Facebook has no reason to know, at least not one that serves us, where you were last Friday, and with whom. And just in case you missed that bit, they do.

But there their connection to the intelligence world comes in. Their platforms are better than anything the NSA has ever been able to develop. So we can say we don’t want Zuckerberg and Alphabet spying on us, but our own spies do want to do just that. That makes any kind of backlash much harder to succeed. And it doesn’t matter if you delete your Facebook account, they’ll find you anyway. Friend of a friend. We all have friends who are on Facebook, rinse and repeat.

The only hope there is, with Facebook as with the other companies, is for investors and speculators to dump their holdings in massive numbers. And that will only happen when the central bank Ponzi collapses. And it will, but by then we have a whole new set of problems.

 

Google: largely the same set of issues that Facebook has. Its tentacles are everywhere. Former CEO Eric Schmidt’s connections to the Pentagon should be really all you need to know. The EU may have issued all sorts of complaints and fines on competition grounds, but that makes no difference.

The one country with an effective response to Google and Facebook is China, that has largely banned both and built its own versions of their products. Which allows Beijing to ban people from boarding planes, buying homes etc., if their ‘social credit’ is deemed too low. If you want to be scared about where Big Tech’s powers can lead, look no further.

 

Tesla: Elon Musk has built a fantasy (and maybe I should put Paypal in this list too) on what everyone thinks must be done to ‘save the planet’ (yeah, build cars…) by grossly overstating the number of cars he can build, and financing his growth on not only speculation, but also on spectacular amounts of government subsidies (politicians want to save the planet, too).

And now he needs additional financing again. He will probably get it, again, but the Amazon backlash might have people take another look. One fine day… Fits David Stockman’s complaint to a t(ee), doesn’t have to make a profit. Musk has perfected that model.

 

Uber and Airbnb: why anyone anywhere would want to send money generated in their community, by renting out cars and apartments in that same community, to a bunch of people in Silicon Valley, is beyond me. Someone should set this up as an international effort that makes it easy for a community, a city etc., to provide this kind of service and make the profits benefit their own cities.

But like Amazon, they are free to run any competition into the ground because no profits are required until they have conquered the world. And then they can go nuts. It may look like a business model, but it isn’t. It’s a soon to be orphaned bubble child..

 

Monsanto: less obvious perhaps as an entry in the Big Tech list, but very much warranting a spot. And of course it stands for the entire chemical-seeds field. From Agent Orange to your children’s dinner plate. Monsanto has more lawyers and lobbyists on its payroll than it has scientists, but then its lofty goals outdo even those of Google or Amazon.

Facebook may focus on your addiction to human contact, but Bayer, DuPont, Syngenta et al have decided to make your food so addicted to their chemicals that they will in the future profit from every bite served on your table. How they will grow that food long term without any insects, bees or birds left is unclear, but they don’t seem to care much. As for profits? Monsanto seeks to rule the world, and for now care as little about profits as they do about insects.

 

Zuckerberg may claim that he only wants to improve Facebook’s service, but when that is done through for instance the 2012 so-called Transmission of Anger experiment in which the company tried to alter their users’ emotional states -and succeeded-, by manipulating their friends’ postings, that claim becomes pure ridicule. Selling off user data to scores of developers doesn’t help either. But do you see Congress tackling him in any serious way next week? Neither do I.

Because there’s one huge catch to the scenario that David Stockman -and I- painted, of the whole tech bubble collapsing when the financial bubble does. It is the links tech companies have built to intelligence. A group of Google employees wrote a letter to their CEO Sundar Pichai to protest the company’s involvement in “weaponized AI”, in the shape of Project Maven, a military surveillance engine to-be.

These people undoubtedly mean well, but they’re far too late. They will have to leave the “don’t be evil” company to actually not be evil. Because it’s not a big step from weaponized AI to killer robots. Microsoft is also part of the project, and Amazon is. If you work there and don’t want to be evil, you know what to do.

Yeah, it’s about our safety, and security, and political and military and economic power. But it’s also about spying on people, in even worse ways than Facebook does. So even as the central bank bubble, and the tech bubble, go poof, some of these companies may be saved by their military ties.

That sound you hear is George Orwell turning in his grave.

 

 

Mar 212018
 
 March 21, 2018  Posted by at 2:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) German artist, philosopher, composer, mystic Cosmic Tree

 

All of a sudden, politicians in the EU, UK, and USA all want to talk to Mark Zuckerberg. That’s a bad enough sign all by itself. It means they all either have been asleep, complicit, or they’re not very bright. The media tries to convince us the Facebook ‘scandal’ is about Trump, Russia (yawn..) and elections. It’s not. Not even close.

If Zuckerberg ever shows up for any of these meetings with ‘worried’ politicians, he’ll come with a cabal of lawyers in tow, and they’ll put the blame on anyone but Facebook and say the company was tricked by devious parties who didn’t live up to their legal agreements.

After that, the argument won’t be whether Facebook broke any laws for allowing data breaches, but whether their data use policy itself is, and always was, illegal. Now, Facebook has been around for a few years, with their policies, and nobody ever raised their voices. Not really, that is.

And then it’ll all fizzle out, amid some additional grandstanding from all involved, face-saving galore, and more blame for Trump and Russia.

 

The new European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani said yesterday: “We’ve invited Mark Zuckerberg to the European Parliament. Facebook needs to clarify before the representatives of 500 million Europeans that personal data is not being used to manipulate democracy.”

That’s all you need to know, really. Personal data can be used to manipulate anything as long as it’s not democracy. Or at least democracy as the Brussels elite choose to define it.

First: this is not about Cambridge Analytica, it’s about Facebook. Or rather, it’s about the entire social media and search industry, as well as its connections to the intelligence community. Don’t ever again see Google or Facebook as not being part of that.

What Facebook enabled Cambridge Analytica to do, it will do ten times bigger itself. And it sells licences to do it to probably thousands of other ‘developers’. The CIA and NSA may have unlimited powers, but prior to Alphabet and Facebook, they never had the databases. They do now, and they’re using them. ‘Manipulate democracy’? What democracy?

Then: 50 million is nothing. Once the six degrees of separation giant squid gets going, there’s no stopping it. The Cambridge Analytica thing supposedly started with a few hundred thousand people who consented to having their data used for ‘academic’ purposes. From there it’s easy to get to 50 million. It’s harder to stop there than it is to go to hundreds of millions. It’s the six degrees of separation.

Facebook allegedly has over 2 billion user accounts, and their algorithms don’t stop there either. If anything, 50 million is a bit of a failure. What you should understand in this is that Cambridge Analytica are a bunch of loose cannons (yeah, yeah, those dark videos look so incriminating..) and nobody knows what they ever captured.

The real issue lies elsewhere. And we can figure it out. All we need is a few glances into the past. This first article is from June 30 2014. It contains all you read today, and more. Just a bit less Russia and Trump.

 

Facebook Reveals News Feed Experiment To Control Emotions

It already knows whether you are single or dating, the first school you went to and whether you like or loathe Justin Bieber. But now Facebook, the world’s biggest social networking site, is facing a storm of protest after it revealed it had discovered how to make users feel happier or sadder with a few computer key strokes. It has published details of a vast experiment in which it manipulated information posted on 689,000 users’ home pages and found it could make people feel more positive or negative through a process of “emotional contagion”.

In a study with academics from Cornell and the University of California, Facebook filtered users’ news feeds – the flow of comments, videos, pictures and web links posted by other people in their social network. One test reduced users’ exposure to their friends’ “positive emotional content”, resulting in fewer positive posts of their own. Another test reduced exposure to “negative emotional content” and the opposite happened.

The study concluded: “Emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks.”

The question is simple, isn’t it? Do you want to provide a bunch of, well, geeks, with the ability to change how you feel, just so their employers can make -more- money off of you? That is 1984. That is thought control. And Facebook is some modern honey trap.

Lawyers, internet activists and politicians said this weekend that the mass experiment in emotional manipulation was “scandalous”, “spooky” and “disturbing”. On Sunday evening, a senior British MP called for a parliamentary investigation into how Facebook and other social networks manipulated emotional and psychological responses of users by editing information supplied to them.

Jim Sheridan, a member of the Commons media select committee, said the experiment was intrusive. “This is extraordinarily powerful stuff and if there is not already legislation on this, then there should be to protect people,” he said. “They are manipulating material from people’s personal lives and I am worried about the ability of Facebook and others to manipulate people’s thoughts in politics or other areas. If people are being thought-controlled in this kind of way there needs to be protection and they at least need to know about it.”

Um, so 4 years ago, there was a call for a parliamentary investigation in Britain and a member of the Commons media select committee proclaimed there should be legislation to protect people. Wonder how that panned out? Read the news today. Time stood still.

But there’s of course much more going on. You can claim that people should know about their thoughts being controlled, but that’s nonsense. Nobody in their right mind would, provided the arguments are honestly laid out, permit any such thing.

Moreover, it’s not just their own emotions that are being manipulated, it’s those of their friends and family too. If you are deeply unhappy, they may not see you expressing your distress; it can be easily filtered out so you appear in great spirits. Your friends feel good but someone wants you sad? No problem.

And there’s yet another aspect, one that Facebook may try to use for legal reasons: ever since the days of Edward Bernays, advertisements, and media in a broader sense, are shaped to influence what you think and feel. It sells soda, it sells cars, and it sells wars.

So yeah, people should know about all this, but the role of politicians and parliaments must also be to eradicate it altogether and forever from the societies that vote them in power. Or to tell their voters that they think it’s acceptable, and by the way, they too use deception to get more votes.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the research, published this month in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US, was carried out “to improve our services and to make the content people see on Facebook as relevant and engaging as possible”. She said: “A big part of this is understanding how people respond to different types of content, whether it’s positive or negative in tone, news from friends, or information from pages they follow.”

But other commentators voiced fears that the process could be used for political purposes in the runup to elections or to encourage people to stay on the site by feeding them happy thoughts and so boosting advertising revenues. In a series of Twitter posts, Clay Johnson, the co-founder of Blue State Digital, the firm that built and managed Barack Obama’s online campaign for the presidency in 2008, said: “The Facebook ‘transmission of anger’ experiment is terrifying.”

He asked: “Could the CIA incite revolution in Sudan by pressuring Facebook to promote discontent? Should that be legal? Could Mark Zuckerberg swing an election by promoting Upworthy [a website aggregating viral content] posts two weeks beforehand? Should that be legal?”

The ‘transmission of anger’ experiment. This is the world you live in.

Well, no, none of it should be legal. And none of it would be if people knew what was going on.

It was claimed that Facebook may have breached ethical and legal guidelines by not informing its users they were being manipulated in the experiment, which was carried out in 2012. The study said altering the news feeds was “consistent with Facebook’s data use policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research”.

But Susan Fiske, the Princeton academic who edited the study, said she was concerned. “People are supposed to be told they are going to be participants in research and then agree to it and have the option not to agree to it without penalty.”

James Grimmelmann, professor of law at Maryland University, said Facebook had failed to gain “informed consent” as defined by the US federal policy for the protection of human subjects, which demands explanation of the purposes of the research and the expected duration of the subject’s participation, a description of any reasonably foreseeable risks and a statement that participation is voluntary. “This study is a scandal because it brought Facebook’s troubling practices into a realm – academia – where we still have standards of treating people with dignity and serving the common good,” he said on his blog.

Ah, academia, you unblemished child. We never knew you. Incidentally, what appears to be creeping through between the lines here is that Facebook’s data use policy was prepared from the start, 14+ years ago, for exactly these kinds of ‘experiments’. Which gives a whole new dimension to the discussion today.

It is not new for internet firms to use algorithms to select content to show to users and Jacob Silverman, author of Terms of Service: Social Media, Surveillance, and the Price of Constant Connection, told Wire magazine on Sunday the internet was already “a vast collection of market research studies; we’re the subjects”.

“What’s disturbing about how Facebook went about this, though, is that they essentially manipulated the sentiments of hundreds of thousands of users without asking permission,” he said. “Facebook cares most about two things: engagement and advertising.

If Facebook, say, decides that filtering out negative posts helps keep people happy and clicking, there’s little reason to think that they won’t do just that. As long as the platform remains such an important gatekeeper – and their algorithms utterly opaque – we should be wary about the amount of power and trust we delegate to it.”

Robert Blackie, director of digital at Ogilvy One marketing agency, said the way internet companies filtered information they showed users was fundamental to their business models, which made them reluctant to be open about it.

“To guarantee continued public acceptance they will have to discuss this more openly in the future,” he said. “There will have to be either independent reviewers of what they do or government regulation. If they don’t get the value exchange right then people will be reluctant to use their services, which is potentially a big business problem.”

Feel a bit more awake now? Remember, that was a 2012 study. Let’s move on to 2016, when Shoshana Zuboff penned the following for German paper Franfurter Allgemeine. Just in case you thought it was all about Facebook. This is a bit more abstract, but worth it, in all its length (which I don’t have space for).

 

The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism

[..] The game is no longer about sending you a mail order catalogue or even about targeting online advertising. The game is selling access to the real-time flow of your daily life –your reality—in order to directly influence and modify your behavior for profit. This is the gateway to a new universe of monetization opportunities: restaurants who want to be your destination. Service vendors who want to fix your brake pads.

Shops who will lure you like the fabled Sirens. The “various people” are anyone, and everyone who wants a piece of your behavior for profit. Small wonder, then, that Google recently announced that its maps will not only provide the route you search but will also suggest a destination.

This is just one peephole, in one corner, of one industry, and the peepholes are multiplying like cockroaches. Among the many interviews I’ve conducted over the past three years, the Chief Data Scientist of a much-admired Silicon Valley company that develops applications to improve students’ learning told me:

“The goal of everything we do is to change people’s actual behavior at scale. When people use our app, we can capture their behaviors, identify good and bad behaviors, and develop ways to reward the good and punish the bad.

[..] There was a time when we laid responsibility for the assault on behavioral data at the door of the state and its security agencies. Later, we also blamed the cunning practices of a handful of banks, data brokers, and Internet companies. Some attribute the assault to an inevitable “age of big data,” as if it were possible to conceive of data born pure and blameless, data suspended in some celestial place where facts sublimate into truth.

I’ve come to a different conclusion: The assault we face is driven in large measure by the exceptional appetites of a wholly new genus of capitalism, a systemic coherent new logic of accumulation that I call surveillance capitalism. Capitalism has been hijacked by a lucrative surveillance project that subverts the “normal” evolutionary mechanisms associated with its historical success and corrupts the unity of supply and demand that has for centuries, however imperfectly, tethered capitalism to the genuine needs of its populations and societies, thus enabling the fruitful expansion of market democracy.

[..] the application of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data science for continuous algorithmic improvement constitutes an immensely expensive, sophisticated, and exclusive twenty-first century “means of production.” [..] the new manufacturing process converts behavioral surplus into prediction products designed to predict behavior now and soon.

[..] these prediction products are sold into a new kind of meta-market that trades exclusively in future behavior. The better (more predictive) the product, the lower the risks for buyers, and the greater the volume of sales. Surveillance capitalism’s profits derive primarily, if not entirely, from such markets for future behavior.

And then we get to today. For more examples of the same, and for confirmation that even though all of this stuff was known -let alone knowable- years ago, nothing has changed.

 

Ex-Facebook Insider Says Covert Data Harvesting Was Routine

Hundreds of millions of Facebook users are likely to have had their private information harvested by companies that exploited the same terms as the firm that collected data and passed it on to Cambridge Analytica, according to a new whistleblower.

Sandy Parakilas, the platform operations manager at Facebook responsible for policing data breaches by third-party software developers between 2011 and 2012, told the Guardian he warned senior executives at the company that its lax approach to data protection risked a major breach. “My concerns were that all of the data that left Facebook servers to developers could not be monitored by Facebook, so we had no idea what developers were doing with the data,” he said.

[..] That feature, called friends permission, was a boon to outside software developers who, from 2007 onwards, were given permission by Facebook to build quizzes and games – like the widely popular FarmVille – that were hosted on the platform. The apps proliferated on Facebook in the years leading up to the company’s 2012 initial public offering, an era when most users were still accessing the platform via laptops and computers rather than smartphones.

Facebook took a 30% cut of payments made through apps, but in return enabled their creators to have access to Facebook user data. Parakilas does not know how many companies sought friends permission data before such access was terminated around mid-2014. However, he said he believes tens or maybe even hundreds of thousands of developers may have done so. Parakilas estimates that “a majority of Facebook users” could have had their data harvested by app developers without their knowledge.

[..] During the time he was at Facebook, Parakilas said the company was keen to encourage more developers to build apps for its platform and “one of the main ways to get developers interested in building apps was through offering them access to this data”. Shortly after arriving at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters he was told that any decision to ban an app required the personal approval of the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg…

OK, to summarize: Mark Zuckerberg will be fine, apart from some stock losses. Facebook’s data use policies may not conform to every single piece of legislation in every country Facebook operates in, but they’ve been there since 2004. So lawmakers are as culpable as the company is.

There’ll be big words, lots of them. And there may be people leaving Facebook. But the platform is addictive, and 2 billion addicts is a very large target group. Some other company may develop a competitor and promise ‘better’ policies and conditions, but the big money is in the very thing discussed today: manipulating people’s data, and thereby manipulating their behavior.

Perhaps if news media and advertizers were so inclined, they’d explain to their readers and viewers exactly that, but in the end they A) all do it to some extent, and B) are all connected to Facebook and Google to some extent.

But the main driving force is and will remain the intelligence agencies, who have come to depend on ‘social media’ for the one thing they themselves were incapable of providing, but saw Alphabet and Facebook incite gullible people themselves to provide: an artificial intelligence driven database that knows more about you than you know yourself.

That the intelligence community today is powered by artificial intelligence is pretty out there to start with. That AI would give it the means to predict your future behavior, and manipulate you into that behavior seemingly at will, is something that warrants reflection.

George Orwell could not have foreseen this.

 

 

Mar 172018
 
 March 17, 2018  Posted by at 2:16 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jacobello Alberegno The Beast of the Apocalypse 1360-90

 

The Guardian ran an article yesterday by one of its editors, David Shariatmadari, that both proves and disproves its own theme at the same time: “An Information Apocalypse Is Coming”. Now, I don’t fancy the term apocalypse in a setting like this, it feels too much like going for a cheap thrill, but since he used it, why not.

My first reaction to the headline, and the article, is: what do you mean it’s ‘coming’? Don’t you think we have such an apocalypse already, that we’re living it, we’re smack in the middle of such a thing? If you don’t think so, would that have anything to do with you working at a major newspaper? Or with your views of the world, political and other, that shape how you experience ‘information’?

Shariatmadari starts out convincingly and honestly enough with a description of a speech that JFK was supposed to give in Dallas right after he was murdered, a speech that has been ‘resurrected’ using technology that enables one to make it seem like he did deliver it.

 

An Information Apocalypse Is Coming. How Can We Protect Ourselves?

“In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason, or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality, and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”

John F Kennedy’s last speech reads like a warning from history, as relevant today as it was when it was delivered in 1963 at the Dallas Trade Mart. His rich, Boston Brahmin accent reassures us even as he delivers the uncomfortable message. The contrast between his eloquence and the swagger of Donald Trump is almost painful to hear.

Yes, Kennedy’s words are lofty ones, and they do possess at least some predictive qualities. But history does play a part too. Would we have read the same in them that we do now, had Kennedy not been shot right before he could deliver them? Hard to tell.

What’s more, not long before JFK was elected president America had been in the tight and severe grip of J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist campaign, in which lots of reality was replaced with rhetoric, something Kennedy undoubtedly had in mind while writing the speech. JFK was not just addressing future threats, he was talking about the past as well.

But the writer slips into a much bigger faux pas right after: injecting Trump into the picture. It’s fine if someone doesn’t like Trump, but naming him there and then, in an article about ‘information apocalypse’, also means confusing objectivity with regards to your topic with subjectivity concerning your political ideas. While the Kennedy speech item relates to -advancing(?)- technology, a valid part of the apocalypse, mentioning Trump has nothing to do with that apocalypse, at least not objectively. Back to David Shariatmadari:

The problem is, Kennedy never spoke these words. He was killed before he made it to the Trade Mart. You can only hear them now thanks to audio technology developed by a British company, CereProc. Fragments of his voice have been taken from other speeches and public appearances, spliced and put back together, with neural networks employed to mimic his natural intonation. The result is pretty convincing, although there’s a machine-like ring to some of the syllables, a synthetic stutter. Enough to recognise, if you already know, that this is a feat of technology, not oratory.

We like to think of innovation as morally neutral. We empower scientists and engineers to range freely in the hope they might discover things that save labour and lives. The ends to which these are put aren’t the responsibility of the researchers. The agile robots produced by Boston Dynamics might look like they could cheerfully pin you up against a wall and snap your neck, but do we really want to close off this avenue of research? After all, they might equally be capable of performing life-saving surgery. The methods used to resurrect JFK can also help people with illnesses such as motor neurone disease – like the late Stephen Hawking – that affect their ability to speak.

It’s certainly true that we are so ‘geared’ towards progress, we ‘conveniently’ forget and ignore that every next step carries its own shadow side, every yin comes with its yang. ‘Progress’ and ‘innovation’ – and related terms- ring so positive in our eyes and ears it borders on -wilful- blindness. That blindness is set to play a major role in our future, and in our acceptance as gospel of a lot of ‘information’.

“Dual use” of technology is not a new problem. Nuclear physics gave us both energy and bombs. What is new is the democratisation of advanced IT, the fact that anyone with a computer can now engage in the weaponisation of information; 2016 was the year we woke up to the power of fake news, with internet conspiracy theories and lies used to bolster the case for both Brexit and Donald Trump.

Ouch! See, he does it again. This is not an objective discourse on ‘information disinformation’, but a way to make people think -through a method he’s supposed to be exposing- that ‘fake news’ led to Brexit and Trump. That’s a political view, not a neutral one. Yes, there are many voices out there who connect ‘fake news’ directly to things they don’t like, but that’s just a trap.

And as I said, it may have to do with the fact that the writer works for a major newspaper, which of course he wants to, and wishes to, see as some kind of beacon against fake news, but if he lets his own personal views slip into an objective treatment of a topic this easily, it automatically becomes self-defeating.

There is no proof that Trump and Brexit’s success are down to fake news more than their opposite sides, ‘fake news’ is everywhere, and that very much includes the Guardian. The coverage of the UK government accusations against Russia in the poisoning case proves that more than ever.

You can be anti-Trump, anti-Brexit and anti-Putin all you want, but they don’t define fake news or an information apocalypse, any more than ‘commies’ did in the days of Hoover and McCarthy.

We may, however, look back on it as a kind of phoney war, when photoshopping and video manipulation were still easily detectable. That window is closing fast. A program developed at Stanford University allows users to convincingly put words into politicians’ mouths. Celebrities can be inserted into porn videos. Quite soon it will be all but impossible for ordinary people to tell what’s real and what’s not.

That is am almost bewildering line. Does the writer really think ‘ordinary people’ can today tell apart what’s real and what’s not? If his paper had honestly covered his country’s, and his government’s, involvement in the wars all over the Middle East and North Africa over the past decades, would his readers still be supportive of the politicians that today inhabit Westminster?

Or does the paper prefer supporting the incumbents over Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, because it owes its reputation and position and revenues to supporting the likes of Theresa May and Tony Blair? Yeah, I know, with a critical view, yada yada, but when has the Guardian labeled any UK politician a war criminal? Much easier to go after Farage, isn’t it? The question is: what part of this is fake, and what is not?

What will the effects of this be? When a public figure claims the racist or sexist audio of them is simply fake, will we believe them? How will political campaigns work when millions of voters have the power to engage in dirty tricks? What about health messages on the dangers of diesel or the safety of vaccines? Will vested interests or conspiracy theorists attempt to manipulate them?

This appears to make sense, but it does not really. We are way past that. ‘Ordinary people’ have already lost their capacity to tell truth from fiction. Newspapers and TV stations have long disseminated the views of their owners, it’s just that they now have -newfound- competition from a million other sources: the blessings of social media.

The core issue here is that 1984 is not some point in the future, as we for some reason prefer to think. We are living 1984. Perhaps the fact that we are now 34 years past it should give us a clue about that? People tend to think that perhaps Orwell was right, but his predictions were way early. Were they, though?

Also: Orwell may not have foreseen the blessings and trappings of social media, but he did foresee how governments and their media sympathizers would react to them: with more disinformation.

Unable to trust what they see or hear, will people retreat into lives of non-engagement, ceding the public sphere to the already powerful or the unscrupulous? The potential for an “information apocalypse” is beginning to be taken seriously.

This is a full-blown time warp. If it is true that people only now take the potential for an “information apocalypse” seriously, they are so far behind the curve ball that one must question the role of the media in that. Why didn’t people know about that potential when it was an actual issue? Why did nobody tell them?

The problem is we have no idea what a world in which all words and images are suspect will look like, so it’s hard to come up with solutions.

Yes, we do have an idea about that, because we see it around us 24/7. Maybe not with images as fully fabricated as the JFK speech, but the essence is manipulation itself, not the means by which it’s delivered.

Perhaps not very much will change – perhaps we will develop a sixth sense for bullshit and propaganda, in the same way that it has become easy to distinguish sales calls from genuine inquiries, and scam emails with fake bank logos from the real thing.

David, we ARE all bullshitters, we all lie all the time, for a myriad of reasons, to look better, to feel better, to seem better, to get rich, to get laid. It’s who we are. We lie to ourselves most of all. A sixth sense against bullshit and propaganda is the very last thing we will ever develop, because it would force us to face our own bullshit.

But there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to defend ourselves from the onslaught, and society could start to change in unpredictable ways as a result. Like the generation JFK was addressing in his speech, we are on the cusp of a new and scary age. Rhetoric and reality, the plausible and the possible, are becoming difficult to separate. We await a figure of Kennedy’s stature to help us find a way through. Until then, we must at the very least face up to the scale of the coming challenge.

We are not “on the cusp of a new and scary age”, we are in the smack middle of it. We haven’t been able to separate rhetoric and reality, the plausible and the possible, for ages. What’s different from 100 years ago, or 50 years ago, is that now we are faced with an information overload so severe that this in itself makes us less capable of separating chaff from wheat.

So yes, that perhaps is new. But bullshit and propaganda are not. And labeling Trump and Brexit the main threats misses your own topic by miles. You could make an equally valid point that they are the results of many years of bullshit and propaganda by old-style politics and old-style media.

Maybe they’re what happens when ‘ordinary people’ switch off from an overload of bullshit and propaganda forced upon them by people and institutions they grew up to trust. And then feel they were betrayed by. A sixth sense after all.

 

 

Nov 132017
 
 November 13, 2017  Posted by at 2:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jackson Pollock Man with knife 1940

 

There can be little doubt that the British, in general, have a sense of humor. And that’s perhaps the lens through which we should view the country these days. After all, what other options do we have? A comment yesterday to a Guardian article sums up the situation quite perfectly in just a few words (note: Dignitas has something to do with assisted dying):

Brexit is rapidly becoming like someone who booked a trip to Dignitas when they were told they were dying and has now been told there’s a cure. But they’re going to Switzerland anyway, because they can’t face dealing with Ryanair’s customer service team.

There are two main British political parties, Tories and Labour, which fight each other whenever and wherever they can. Moreover, each party has several camps that fight each other even more, if at all possible. The George W.- friendly Tony Blair Orchestra in the Labour Party seems to have lost out to the actually left-wing Jeremy Corbynistas for now, but they won’t give up without a fight (power is their only hobby). Blair is still commenting from the sidelines on Corbyn’s perceived follies while his faithful lament about how their Tone was misled by 43 into bombing Iraq.

The Tories have gone full-monty Monty Python. John Cleese et al must feel at least a pang of jealousy. 40 Tory MPs have allegedly gathered to demand for PM Theresa May to quit. A whole bunch of both Labour and Tory lawmakers threaten to tackle her over not allowing them a vote in any Brexit deal (which for now is entirely hypothetical). Other voices across party lines demand the resignation -or sacking- of foreign not-so-very-ministerial Boris Johnson.

One Tory MP, the Rt. Hon. John Redwood MP, who’s also Chief Global Strategist for Charles Stanley, wrote an op-ed in the FT telling investors to pull their money out of the UK. You can’t make that kind of stuff up. Or you can, but no-one would believe a word. The Python crew would have never made a dime if they had started out today, because life in Britain has now seriously trumped art. When the other guys are funnier without even trying, maybe comedy’s not your thing.

And that’s how we slide seamlessly right down into Theresa May and the Holy Grail, the probably best representation of what is going on. May never wanted a Brexit, but she’s so power hungry that she jumped at a chance of defending what she doesn’t believe in. By the way, apart maybe from Corbyn, all the actors in this comedy are in it not because they care for their country, but for themselves, exclusively. Brilliant video, by the way.

 

 

Not that Brexit is necessarily such a terrible thing. Putting distance between yourselves and the European Union may well be the most sensible thing there is. Because Brussels is now defined more than anything by what it has done -and failed to do- to Greece, to the refugees and to Catalonia. And it will never be able to shake that off. The EU, just like the UK, is ruled by people who care only about themselves. Our political systems self-select for sociopaths, with precious few exceptions.

Even if you see Brexit as a purely economical move, which most people do even though it’s very much not true, the British people should rejoice knowing that they won’t be the ones forking over for the next pan-European bank bailout. Then again, they’ll have to bail out their own banks. Which have grown way out of hand, the price paid for wanting to become a global finance center.

Nor will the British people be forced to pay up for the newly-revived, scary-as-hell and unholy idea of a European army, an idea that originated in the 1950s and has re-gained support the very moment Britain voted for Brexit:

 

EU To Sign Defense Pact, May Allow Limited British Role

France, Germany and 20 other EU governments are set to sign a defense pact on Monday they hope marks a new era of European military integration to cement unity after Britain’s decision to quit the bloc. In Europe’s latest attempt to lessen its reliance on the United States, the 22 governments will create a formal club that should give the European Union a more coherent role in tackling international crises.

“We’ve never come this far before,” said a senior EU official said of EU defense integration efforts that date back to a failed bid in the 1950s. “We are in a new situation.” The election of pro-European Emmanuel Macron as France’s president and warnings by U.S. President Donald Trump that European allies must pay more towards their security have propelled the project forward, diplomats said.

[..] A system to spot weaknesses across EU armed forces, in coordination with U.S.-led NATO, is due to start in a pilot stage, while a multi-billion-euro EU fund to support the pact is still under negotiation. Long blocked by Britain, which feared the creation of an EU army, defense integration was revived by France and Germany after Britons voted to leave the EU in June 2016.

[..] London is not part of the initiative but British officials have been pressing for third country involvement. Britain’s aerospace industry and its biggest defense firm BAE Systems fear losing out, diplomats said. Britain may be able to join in, but only on an exceptional basis if it provides substantial funds and expertise.

They don’t even know who’ll be the leader of this European Army. There are plenty of reasons this was voted down 60 years ago and left in the dustbin ever since. A German supreme commander, anyone? The female German minister of defence just yesterday let slip that she supports regime change in Poland. That’s all you should need to know.

This is presented in Brussels as a money saver. European countries have too many different weapons systems, is the reasoning, and need to become ‘more efficient’. I bet you right here and now that it will cost Europe an arm and an extra leg or two-three. But not Britain. Which can also, simultaneously, if and when sensible people are in office, ditch its grandiose notions of being an empire or world power, and cut its armed forces by 50 or 75%.

And while they’re at it, cut its arms industry into little pieces and flush them down the Thames. Brexit can be an opportunity, a chance for the country to fully re-invent itself. But first, the Python-styled tragic comedy starring Theresa and Boris will have to be played to its tragic finale. To that end, and since it just wouldn’t feel fair to leave him out, let’s make sure we reserve a role for George Orwell as well – it comes natural:

 

UK Government Tensions Rise After Leak Of ‘Orwellian’ Memo Sent To May

The tensions in Theresa May’s government intensified on Sunday night ahead of this week’s vital votes on the Brexit bill, as ministers accused Boris Johnson and Michael Gove of sending an “Orwellian” set of secret demands to No 10. As an increasingly weakened prime minister faces the possibility of parliamentary defeats on the bill, government colleagues have said they are aghast at the language used by the foreign secretary and the environment secretary in a joint private letter.

The leaked letter – a remarkable show of unity from two ministers who infamously fell out during last year’s leadership campaign – appeared to be designed to push May decisively towards a hard Brexit and limit the influence of former remainers. It complained of “insufficient energy” on Brexit in some parts of the government and insisted any transition period must end in June 2021 – a veiled attack on the chancellor, Philip Hammond.

A decision as big and defining as Brexit should always have been executed by a government, or a coalition, in which as broad a spectrum of the population as possible is represented. It’s crazy to let just one party push through their version, especially when views are so divergent and tensions run this high. The Tories have just a slight majority.

But really, all Labour have to do is wait until May and Boris and Gove and all the others run out of gas and their engine seizes. They lost two ministers in a week and more will follow. So Labour makes a peace offer, knowing full well it won’t be accepted, but has to be made just for form.

As per tomorrow, May’s EU Withdrawal Bill will be discussed in Parliament and the next episode of Theresa May and the Holy Grail can start. John Cleese will be watching, thinking every five minutes: “Why didn’t I think of that?”. The Bill will be ripped to shreds, between a Hard Brexit and a No Brexit side, and hundreds of amendments, and May will be ripped along with it.

Even her chances of lasting just the week are slim. She has to turn to Labour for support, but she can’t. If she does, Boris will smell his opportunity for the top post. He might even get it, but that would lead to something awfully close to civil war; still, maybe that’s inevitable anyway, and perhaps it would be a good thing. Cards on the table.

 

UK Labour Makes Brexit Offer to May as Future in Balance

Keir Starmer, the party’s Brexit spokesman, wrote to May on Monday telling her there was a “sensible majority” in Parliament to secure a two-year transition deal for after Brexit. That would allow Britain to stay inside the European Union’s single market and customs union after 2019 while it completes trade talks with the bloc. He said the opposition to such an arrangement came from Conservatives.

“Over recent weeks, it has become increasingly clear that you alone do not have the authority to deliver a transitional deal with Europe and to take the necessary steps to protect jobs and the economy,” Starmer wrote in the letter, which was released by his office.

May is unlikely to welcome Labour’s offer, which highlights the fragility of her position. The premier, who lost two cabinet ministers in a week to different scandals, has received a letter from pro-Brexit rival Boris Johnson demanding a bolder approach to the divorce, the Mail on Sunday reported. And 40 Conservative lawmakers back a challenge to her leadership, The Sunday Times said, just eight short of the number that triggers a vote.

[..] May’s landmark Brexit legislation, the EU Withdrawal Bill, returns to Parliament on Tuesday, where it faces hundreds of proposed amendments to be considered over eight days of debate. Even with the backing of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, May only has a slim majority. Tories who want to keep close ties to the EU have put their names on many of the measures, suggesting the government will have to back down or be defeated.

They’re talking about dates and timelines to present proposals to the EU, but they’ll never agree on any. And even if they do, Brussels will be ready to tear them to pieces. It’s hard to see how a Brexit will ever happen, but it’s easy to see that if it ever does, it’ll be an absolutely fabulous mess. And then even John Cleese won’t be laughing anymore.

 

 

Nov 132017
 
 November 13, 2017  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Mark Twain in Nikola Tesla’s lab 1894

 

John Hussman Forecasts A Decade Of Stock Losses (BI)
One In Five American Households Have ‘Zero Or Negative’ Wealth (MW)
Top Tech Stocks’ $1.7 Trillion Gain Eclipses Canada’s Economy (BBG)
Bitcoin Plunges 29% From Record High (BBG)
The End Of “The End Of History” (Luongo)
Warnings From the “China Beige Book” (Rickards)
UK Government Tensions Rise After Leak Of ‘Orwellian’ Memo Sent To May (G.)
More Than A Third Of UK Home Sellers Cut Asking Price (G.)
Fossil Fuel Burning Set To Hit Record High In 2017 (G.)
The Decisions Behind Monsanto’s Weed-Killer Crisis (R.)
Weed-Killer Prompts Angry Divide Among US Farmers (AFP)
Millions On Brink Of Famine In Yemen As Saudi Arabia Tightens Blockade (G.)

 

 

Big fall, big rise and an even bigger fall.

John Hussman Forecasts A Decade Of Stock Losses (BI)

As the equity bull market has climbed into rarefied air, investors have continuously come up with new ways to rationalize the rally. Right now, they like to cite earnings growth, which has expanded for several quarters after a prolonged rough patch. They also frequently mention interest rates that, despite hawkish signals from central banks, have remained low, supplying the market with a seemingly endless supply of cheap money. On the other side of the spectrum, John Hussman, the president of the Hussman Investment Trust and a former economics professor, thinks that the investment community is unwisely ignoring the most stretched valuations in history on the heels of a nearly 300% bull market run. Ever the outspoken bear, Hussman says investors are being willfully ignorant, which has stocks at risk of a drop that could reach 63% and send the market spiraling into a full decade of negative returns.

It wouldn’t be the first time in history this has happened. But Hussman thinks this crash will be different, because the reasons for market instability are “purely psychological” this time around, according to a recent blog post. At the root of Hussman’s pessimistic market view are stock valuations that look historically stretched by a handful of measures. According to his preferred valuation metric — the ratio of non-financial market cap to corporate gross value-added (Market Cap/GVA) — stocks are more expensive than they were in 1929 and 2000, periods that immediately preceded major market selloffs. “US equity market valuations at the most offensive levels in history,” he wrote in his November monthly note. “We expect that more extreme valuations will only be met by more severe losses.”

Those losses won’t just include the 63% plunge referenced above – it’ll also be accompanied by a longer 10 to 12 year period over which the S&P 500 will fall, says Hussman. He cites the chart below, which shows how closely 12-year expected returns for the benchmark have historically tracked Market Cap/GVA, which is shown in inverted fashion. Note that the expected trajectory for Market Cap/GVA shows the S&P 500 veering into negative territory. The psychology behind the market’s willingness to accept lofty stock valuations stems from the flawed rationale that prices are justified by low interest rates, says Hussman. To him, the US economy is growing too slowly for this to be true, and that any belief to the contrary gives people false confidence.

Read more …

While other reports say some 70% live paycheck to paycheck. Which one is true? At least it should be clear that the US is not doing well at all.

One In Five American Households Have ‘Zero Or Negative’ Wealth (MW)

Millions of Americans are living on the edge. One in five households has zero or negative wealth, according to a report released this week by the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C. What’s more, an even greater share of African-American (30%) and Latino (27%) households are “underwater” financially. The combined impact of $1 trillion in credit-card debt, $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, and stagnant wages are taking a toll. U.S. homes have regained value since the Great Recession, but many households have not. “Millions of American families struggle with zero or negative wealth, meaning they owe more than they own,” the report found. “This means that they have nothing to fall back on if an unexpected expense comes up like a broken down car or illness.” And inequality could get worse through new tax cuts for the wealthy.

President Trump’s tax proposals won’t give America’s middle class the reprieve they need to grow their wealth and recover from the financial crash, said Josh Hoxie, who heads up the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies. A recent analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation concluded that taxes would decline for all income groups, with the biggest percentage-point decline for millionaires. After-tax income would rise by nearly 7% for households earning over $1 million per year, compared to less than 2% for those earning between $50,001 and $1 million, as MarketWatch recently reported. And less than 1% for those earning less than $50,000, according to Ernie Tedeschi, an economist at Evercore IS investment banking advisory firm who worked in the Treasury Department under President Obama.

Looking at private income, such as earnings and dividends, and government benefits like Social Security, the income of families near the top increased roughly 90% from 1963 to 2016, while the income of families at the bottom rose less than 10%, according to a separate report released last month by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit policy group based in Washington, D.C., while most other groups have been left behind. And that gap between rich and poor is only going to get worse, Hoxie said. The wealthiest 25 individuals in the U.S., including co-founder Bill Gates, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, own $1 trillion in combined assets. These 25 — a group equivalent to the active roster of a major league baseball team — hold more wealth than the bottom 56% of the U.S. population.

Read more …

Completely nuts.

Top Tech Stocks’ $1.7 Trillion Gain Eclipses Canada’s Economy (BBG)

Between the FAANG quintet and China’s rivaling BAT companies, gains in the world’s top technology shares are nearing a whopping $1.7 trillion in market value this year. That’s more than Canada’s entire economy, and exceeds the worth of Germany’s biggest 30 companies put together. The eight tech giants – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google parent Alphabet, as well as their Asian peers Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent – have amassed as much money in 2017 as PIMCO, one of the world’s biggest fund managers, has done in about 46 years. While the stocks have seen a meteoric rise this year, their combined market value came off highs last week amid a global selloff in which the year’s high flyers had a bigger retreat. A recent breakdown in the correlation between high-yield bonds and the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 Index suggests the slide in junk may spread further.

Read more …

Confidence.

Bitcoin Plunges 29% From Record High (BBG)

Bitcoin plunged as the cancellation of a technology upgrade prompted some users to switch out of the cryptocurrency, spooking speculators who had profited from a more than 800% surge this year. The cryptocurrency has dropped 9.5% since late Friday, extending its slide from last week’s record to as much as 29%, according to data compiled by Coinmarketcap.com and Bloomberg. Bitcoin cash, a rival that split from the original bitcoin in August, has jumped nearly 40% since Friday. Bitcoin cash is gaining popularity because of its larger block size, a characteristic that makes transactions cheaper and faster than the original. When a faction of the cryptocurrency community canceled plans to increase bitcoin’s block size on Wednesday – a move that would have created another offshoot – some supporters of bigger blocks rallied around bitcoin cash.

The resulting volatility has been extreme even by bitcoin’s wild standards and comes amid growing interest in cryptocurrencies among regulators, banks and fund managers. While skeptics have called bitcoin’s rapid advance a bubble, it has become too big for many on Wall Street to ignore. Even after shrinking by as much as $38 billion since Wednesday, bitcoin boasts a market value of $101 billion. Supporters of bitcoin’s technology upgrade “are now switching support to bitcoin cash,” said Mike Kayamori, head of Tokyo-based Quoine, the world’s second most-active bitcoin exchange over the past day. “There’s a panic about what’s happening. People shouldn’t panic. Just hold on to both coins until we see how it plays out.”

Read more …

A different view from most.

The End Of “The End Of History” (Luongo)

The path to draining the swamp is a circuitous one but, in my mind, it’s hard to argue where things are headed. They are not headed towards confrontation with Iran but actually the opposite. The most rabidly anti-Iranian segment of the Saudi Royal house is impoverished and imprisoned. CNN will be sold and go out of business to allow for the Time-Warner/AT&T merger. Jeff Zucker is out. Add another scalp to Steve Bannon’s belt along with Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and so many to come. Will the vestiges of the neoconservative establishment in the U.S. and Israel continue to sabre-rattle and try to undermine what is happening? Yes.

They’ve been doing that since the day Trump was elected just over a year ago, but it hasn’t stopped the momentum. Why? Because Putin was on the job outmaneuvering them at every turn. Trump made a deal with the neocons back in August to cede them control of foreign policy and, in effect, outsourced cleaning up the Middle East to Putin. But, predictably they also didn’t follow through with their end of the bargain. Trump learned, like Putin did, the John McCain’s of the world don’t keep to their deals. They are ‘not agreement capable.’ And, as such, since the last failure to repeal Obamacare Trump has gone after every pillar of support these people had. It will end with Hillary Clinton’s indictment. But in the meantime it will look like the world is on the brink of world war.

Read more …

“Xi is ready to undertake reform of the financial system, which means shutting down insolvent companies and banks.”

Warnings From the “China Beige Book” (Rickards)

The China Beige Book, CBB, says that China had been covering up and smoothing over problems related to weak growth and excessive debt in order to provide a calm face to the world in advance of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which took place last month. CBB also makes it clear that the much-touted “rebalancing” of the Chinese economy away from investment and manufacturing toward consumption and spending has not occurred. Instead China has doubled down on excess capacity in coal, steel and manufacturing and has continued its policy of wasteful investment fueled with unpayable debt. It’s become obvious that the first cracks are starting to appear in China’s Great Wall of Debt. The Chinese debt binge of the past 10 years is a well-known story.

Chinese corporations have incurred dollar-denominated debts in the hundreds of billions of dollars, most of which are unpayable without subsidies from Beijing. China’s debt-to-equity ratio is over 300%, far worse than America’s (which is also dangerously high) and comparable to that of Japan and other all-star debtors. China’s trillion-dollar wealth management product (WMP) market is basically a Ponzi scheme. New WMPs are used to redeem maturing WMPs, while most of the market is simply rolled over because the underlying real estate and infrastructure projects cannot possibly repay their debts. A lot of corporate lending is simply one company lending to another, which in turns lends to another, giving the outward appearance of every company holding good assets, but in which none of the companies can actually pay its creditors.

It’s an accounting game with no real money behind it and no chance of repayment. All of this is well-known. What is not known is when it will end. When will confidence be lost in such a way that the entire debt house of cards crumbles? When will a geopolitical shock or natural disaster trigger a loss of confidence that ignites a financial panic? There was little prospect of this in the past year because President Xi Jinping was keeping a lid on trouble before the recently concluded National Congress of the Communist Party of China. With the congress behind him, Xi is ready to undertake reform of the financial system, which means shutting down insolvent companies and banks. Now the first bankruptcies have begun to appear.

Read more …

None of these people give one hoot about their country. They care about themselves only.

UK Government Tensions Rise After Leak Of ‘Orwellian’ Memo Sent To May (G.)

The tensions in Theresa May’s government intensified on Sunday night ahead of this week’s vital votes on the Brexit bill, as ministers accused Boris Johnson and Michael Gove of sending an “Orwellian” set of secret demands to No 10. As an increasingly weakened prime minister faces the possibility of parliamentary defeats on the bill, government colleagues have said they are aghast at the language used by the foreign secretary and the environment secretary in a joint private letter. The leaked letter – a remarkable show of unity from two ministers who infamously fell out during last year’s leadership campaign – appeared to be designed to push May decisively towards a hard Brexit and limit the influence of former remainers. It complained of “insufficient energy” on Brexit in some parts of the government and insisted any transition period must end in June 2021 – a veiled attack on the chancellor, Philip Hammond.

They urged the prime minister to ensure members of her top team fall behind their Brexit plans by “clarifying their minds” and called for them to “internalise the logic”. But the leak drew a bitter response from supporters of a soft Brexit, who suggested that May would now be forced to either discipline the pair or further weaken her position, which has already been tested by the recent resignations of Priti Patel and Michael Fallon and continuing pressure on Johnson and Damian Green. One cabinet minister told the Guardian: “It is not surprising that they [Gove and Johnson] would express their view. But what is surprising is that they would write this down and use this kind of language in a letter to the prime minister. “Some have described it as Orwellian, and it is. It is not helpful when people try and press their views in untransparent way.”

Read more …

It’s just starting. London falling.

More Than A Third Of UK Home Sellers Cut Asking Price (G.)

More than a third of home owners trying to sell their house have been forced to reduce their asking price, with the number of price cuts at their highest level since 2012, according to Rightmove. Traditionally house sellers are often forced to cut asking prices in the pre-Christmas period but this year the nation appears to be holding a collective autumn sale, said the property website. Rightmove, which claims to list 90% of the houses being sold in the UK, said 37% of current sellers had dropped their asking price, with a typical 0.8% or £2,392 price reduction. It also warned that those who recently put their property on the market were being too optimistic by not discounting by more. The mass price cut will be seen as further evidence that the market has slowed dramatically, particularly in London where prices have been falling.

Last week the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said the overall UK property market had stalled. Rics also warned that it expected the market to remain subdued in the coming months as sales stay flat or fall in most regions. Rightmove director, Miles Shipside, said the slowdown in the housing market, the recent interest rate rise and the prediction that further rises were on the horizon suggested bigger reductions in house prices in the near future. “Given that the market has been price-sensitive for a while and a five-year high proportion of sellers are slashing their prices, some sellers and their agents are over-pricing. These sellers may well be asking themselves if they could have saved some time and stress by pricing a lot more conservatively at the start.”

Read more …

As you’re being pleasantly entertained with that dumb Paris agreement.

Fossil Fuel Burning Set To Hit Record High In 2017 (G.)

The burning of fossil fuels around the world is set to hit a record high in 2017, climate scientists have warned, following three years of flat growth that raised hopes that a peak in global emissions had been reached. The expected jump in the carbon emissions that drive global warming is a “giant leap backwards for humankind”, according to some scientists. However, other experts said they were not alarmed, saying fluctuations in emissions are to be expected and that big polluters such as China are acting to cut emissions. Global emissions need to reach their peak by 2020 and then start falling quickly in order to have a realistic chance of keeping global warming below the 2C danger limit, according to leading scientists. Whether the anticipated increase in CO2 emissions in 2017 is just a blip that is followed by a falling trend, or is the start of a worrying upward trend, remains to be seen.

Much will depend on the fast implementation of the global climate deal sealed in Paris in 2015 and this is the focus of the UN summit of the world’s countries in Bonn, Germany this week. The nations must make significant progress in turning the aspirations of the Paris deal into reality, as the action pledged to date would see at least 3C of warming and increasing extreme weather impacts around the world. The 12th annual Global Carbon Budget report published on Monday is produced by 76 of the world’s leading emissions experts from 57 research institutions and estimates that global carbon emissions from fossil fuels will have risen by 2% by the end of 2017, a significant rise.

“Global CO2 emissions appear to be going up strongly once again after a three-year stable period. This is very disappointing,” said Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the UK’s University of East Anglia and who led the new research. “The urgency for reducing emissions means they should really be already decreasing now.” “There was a big push to sign the Paris agreement on climate change but there is a feeling that not very much has happened since, a bit of slackening,” she said. “What happens after 2017 is very open and depends on how much effort countries are going to make. It is time to take really seriously the implementation of the Paris agreement.” She said the hurricanes and floods seen in 2017 were “a window into the future”.

Read more …

Farmers are using dicamba because they get it on their crops anyway from the neighbors. There’s not much time left to stop Monsanto from effectively owning all our food.

The Decisions Behind Monsanto’s Weed-Killer Crisis (R.)

In early 2016, agri-business giant Monsanto faced a decision that would prove pivotal in what since has become a sprawling herbicide crisis, with millions of acres of crops damaged. Monsanto had readied new genetically modified soybeans seeds. They were engineered for use with a powerful new weed-killer that contained a chemical called dicamba but aimed to control the substance’s main shortcoming: a tendency to drift into neighboring farmers’ fields and kill vegetation. The company had to choose whether to immediately start selling the seeds or wait for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to sign off on the safety of the companion herbicide. The firm stood to lose a lot of money by waiting.

Because Monsanto had bred the dicamba-resistant trait into its entire stock of soybeans, the only alternative would have been “to not sell a single soybean in the United States” that year, Monsanto Vice President of Global Strategy Scott Partridge told Reuters in an interview. Betting on a quick approval, Monsanto sold the seeds, and farmers planted a million acres of the genetically modified soybeans in 2016. But the EPA’s deliberations on the weed-killer dragged on for another 11 months because of concerns about dicamba’s historical drift problems. That delay left farmers who bought the seeds with no matching herbicide and three bad alternatives: Hire workers to pull weeds; use the less-effective herbicide glyphosate; or illegally spray an older version of dicamba at the risk of damage to nearby farms.

The resulting rash of illegal spraying that year damaged 42,000 acres of crops in Missouri, among the hardest hit areas, as well as swaths of crops in nine other states, according to an August 2016 advisory from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The damage this year has covered 3.6 million acres in 25 states, according to Kevin Bradley, a University of Missouri weed scientist who has tracked dicamba damage reports and produced estimates cited by the EPA. The episode highlights a hole in a U.S regulatory system that has separate agencies approving genetically modified seeds and their matching herbicides.

Monsanto has blamed farmers for the illegal spraying and argued it could not have foreseen that the disjointed approval process would set off a crop-damage crisis. But a Reuters review of regulatory records and interviews with crop scientists shows that Monsanto was repeatedly warned by crop scientists, starting as far back as 2011, of the dangers of releasing a dicamba-resistant seed without an accompanying herbicide designed to reduce drift to nearby farms.

Read more …

“Farmers need it desperately,” said Perry Galloway. “If I get dicamba on (my products), I can’t sell anything,” responded Shawn Peebles.”

Weed-Killer Prompts Angry Divide Among US Farmers (AFP)

When it comes to the herbicide dicamba, farmers in the southern state of Arkansas are not lacking for strong opinions. “Farmers need it desperately,” said Perry Galloway. “If I get dicamba on (my products), I can’t sell anything,” responded Shawn Peebles. The two men know each other well, living just miles apart in the towns of Gregory and Augusta, in a corner of the state where cotton and soybean fields reach to the horizon and homes are often miles from the nearest neighbor. But they disagree profoundly on the use of dicamba. Last year the agro-chemical giant Monsanto began selling soy and cotton seeds genetically modified to tolerate the herbicide. The chemical product has been used to great effect against a weed that plagues the region, Palmer amaranth, or pigweed – especially since it became resistant to another herbicide, glyphosate, which has become highly controversial in Europe over its effects on human health.

The problem with dicamba is that it vaporizes easily and is carried by the wind, often spreading to nearby farm fields – with varying effects. Facing a surge in complaints, authorities in Arkansas early this summer imposed an urgent ban on the product’s sale. The state is now poised to ban its use between April 16 and October 31, covering the period after plants have emerged from the soil and when climatic conditions favor dicamba’s dispersal.

Read more …

This is who we are. This is caused by people we support, that we call our friends.

Millions On Brink Of Famine In Yemen As Saudi Arabia Tightens Blockade (G.)

Abdulaziz al-Husseinya lies skeletal and appears lifeless in a hospital in Yemen’s western port city of Hodeidah. At the age of nine, he weighs less than one and a half stone, and is one of hundreds of thousands of children in the country suffering from acute malnutrition. Seven million people are on on the brink of famine in war-torn Yemen, which was already in the grip of the world’s worst cholera outbreak when coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade on the country last week, stemming vital aid flows. Al-Thawra hospital, where Abdulaziz is being treated, is reeling under the pressure of more than two years of conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-allied Houthi rebels. Its corridors are packed, with patients now coming from five surrounding governorates to wait elbow-to-elbow for treatment.

Less than 45% of the country’s medical facilities are still operating – most have closed due to fighting or a lack of funds, or have been bombed by coalition airstrikes. As a result, Al-Thawra is treating some 2,500 people a day, compared to 700 before the conflict escalated in March 2015. [..] Aid agencies are now warning that Yemen’s already catastrophic humanitarian crisis could soon become a “nightmare scenario” if Saudi Arabia does not ease the blockade of the country’s land, sea and air ports – a move that the kingdom insists is necessary after Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile towards Riyadh’s international airport this month. United Nations humanitarian flights have been cancelled for the past week and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), along with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), have been prevented from flying vital medical assistance into the country.

More than 20 million Yemenis – over 70% of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance that is being blocked. Following international pressure, the major ports of Aden and Mukalla were reopened last week for commercial traffic and food supplies, along with land border crossings to neighbouring Oman and Saudi Arabia, but humanitarian aid and aid agency workers remained barred from entering the country on Sunday. UN aid chief Mark Lowcock has said if the restrictions remain, Yemen will face “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims”.

Read more …

Mar 162017
 
 March 16, 2017  Posted by at 2:53 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Marc Riboud Sur les Quais de Paris 1953

 

The Dutch elections on Wednesday have provided a whole bunch of Orwellian narratives. PM Mark Rutte’s right wing VVD party, actually the ‘business’ -or should we say ‘rent-seekers’ in 2017- party, who lost some 20% of the seats they had obtained in the previous parliamentary election in November 2012, down from 41 to 33 seats, is declared the big winner. While Geert Wilders’ very right wing party, PVV, won 25% more seats -it went from 16 to 20- and is the big loser.

Moreover, Rutte’s coalition partner, labor PvdA, gave up 29 out of 38 seats to end up with just 9. That’s a loss of over 75%. Together, the coalition partners went from 79 seats in the 2012 election to 42 in 2017. That’s an almost 50% less. Not that it could prevent Rutte from proudly declaring: “We want to stick to the course we have – safe and stable and prosperous..” Makes you wonder who the ‘we’ are that he’s talking about.

That course he wants to stick to had a finance minister named Dijsselbloem, and his party just lost by over 75%. So he won’t be back. But perhaps the EU can pull another ‘Tusk’, and leave him in place in Brussels as chairman of the Eurogroup no matter what voters in his own country think of him. Still, declaring your intention to ‘stick to the course’ when your coalition has just been sawed in half, it’s quite something.

 

The only reasons Rutte’s VVD ended up being the biggest party all have to do with Wilders. The anxiety over the election all had to do with polls. Wilders is a one man party and a a one trick pony. If he would leave, his party would dissolve. And his sole ‘message’ is that Islam is bad and should vanish from first Holland and then Europe. He doesn’t really have any other political program points. Ok, there’s Brussels. Doesn’t like that either.

Perhaps that’s why he largely shunned the pre-election debates. Problem with that is, these things attract a lot of TV viewers, crucial free air-time. All in all, since he’s his own worst enemy in many respects, it’s not that much of a surprise that Wilders’ support collapsed, and that’s just if we were to take Dutch pollsters more serious than their counterparts in the US and UK.

Talking of which, according to Rutte, those are the countries where ‘the wrong kind of populism’ has won and delivered Trump and Brexit. And of course there are lots of people who agree with that. What either they, or Rutte himself, would label ‘the right kind of populism’ is unclear. Maybe Rutte himself is the right kind of populist?

 

The row with Turkey over the weekend must have helped Rutte quite a bit. Not only were his actions in the row met with approval by a large majority of the Dutch population, including just about all other party leaders, the Dutch also got to think about what WIlders would do in such a situation. And there can be no doubt that Rutte is seen as much more of a statesman than Wilders.

Not that the row is over. After Turkey announced yesterday it would return 40 Dutch cows (?!) , today Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said Europe’s politicians are “taking Europe toward an abyss”, and: “Soon religious wars will break out in Europe. That’s the way it’s going.” There can be no doubt that a shouting war like this with Wilders as one of the participants would take on a whole different shape, and a different choice of words.

What Rutte’s going to do next is form a new coalition, this time not with the left but with the center-right, and no-one will be able to tell the difference. If Dutch, and European, and global, politics have one main problem, it’s that. Left is right and right is left and winners are losers. If a guy like Dijsselbloem can squeeze Greek society dry in his capacity as Eurogroup head, while he runs as a leftist candidate in his own country, and loses hugely, anything goes.

 

All those who think they can see in the Dutch experience, a sign that Marine Le Pen’s chances in France’s presidential elections in April and May have dropped a lot, would appear to be delusional. Judging from reactions in the financial markets, many seem to be. But Le Pen is much less of a fringe figure than Wilders is, and she certainly wouldn’t shun a debate. It’s true that her Front National is a one-woman operation, bit she has a much clearer political program than Wilders does.

And she doesn’t have an opponent like Rutte, who’s become a formidable presence domestically, as anyone would be who can be PM for many years and not be put out by the curb. The man who should be Le Pen’s main adversary is not; Hollande is out by that curb and doesn’t even dare run again. His Socialist party has become a joke. The next strongest opponent should be François Fillon, but he’s all but gone now he’s been placed under formal investigation.

That leaves only Emmanual Macron, an independent without a party and without a program. In France, you can be elected president in such a situation, but your hand are tied in all sorts of ways, because you need parliament to vote for things.

..the nuances of the French political system put Macron in a spot of bother. The president derives their power from the support of a majority in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly. Macron was a minister for the Socialist Party government but quit in 2016 to form his own political movement. Now he doesn’t even have a party, let alone a majority. Although the constitution of the French Fifth Republic, created by Charles De Gaulle in 1958, extended presidential powers, it did not enable the president to run the country.

There are only a few presidential powers that do not need the prime minister’s authorisation. The president can appoint a prime minister, dissolve the National Assembly, authorise a referendum and become a “temporary dictator” in exceptional circumstances imperilling the nation. They can also appoint three judges to the Constitutional Council and refer any law to this body. While all important tasks, this does not, by any stretch of the imagination, amount to running a country. The president can’t suggest laws, pass them through parliament and then implement them without the prime minister.

The role of a president is best defined as a “referee”. Presidential powers give the ability to oversee operations and act when the smooth running of institutions is impeded. So a president is able to step in if a grave situation arises or to unlock a standoff between the prime minister and parliament, such as by announcing a referendum on a disputed issue or by dismissing the National Assembly.

So, why does everyone see the president as the key figure? In a nutshell, it’s because the constitution has never been truly applied. There lies the devilish beauty of French politics. A country known since the 1789 revolution for its inability to foster strong majorities in parliament has succeeded, from 1962, in providing solid majorities.

Perhaps those who believe that what happened in Holland is also likely to happen in France are swayed by the notion that both are part of the EU. But they are very different countries and cultures, and different political systems. And Le Pen is no Wilders. She doesn’t say crazy things anymore, she’s cleansed the public image of her party by getting rid of her father, and she keeps any remaining extremists out of view.

There is still plenty suspicion in France about her, and about her party, but there are also a lot of people who agree with a lot of what she says. The perhaps most noteworthy statement she’s made recently is that she would step down if she loses the referendum about membership of the EU she intends to launch if elected president. That should keep Brussels on their toes. Marine means what she says. And a lot of French people may get to like her for that. In a political landscape in which the competition keeps shooting itself in the foot.

Another thing about Le Pen is that her political program contains quite a few bits and bolts that could be labeled leftist; a 35-hour work week, retirement at 60, lower energy prices. It’s just that she wants to reserve these things for the French. Foreigners, especially, Muslims, are not invited. And she is very much opposed to neo-liberalism and globalization:

They’ve made an ideology out of it. An economic globalism which rejects all limits, all regulation of globalization, and which consequently weakens the immune defences of the nation state, dispossessing it of its constituent elements: borders, national currency, the authority of its laws and management of the economy, thus enabling another globalism to be born and to grow: Islamist fundamentalism..

Le Pen’s popularity does not come from an overwhelming innate racism in France -though such a thing certainly exists-. It comes instead from the formidable failure that the country’s immigration policy has been for many decades. At the outskirts of major cities ghetto’s have been allowed to form in which those that come from former French colonies, especially in Africa, feel trapped with no way out. The French tend to feel superior to all other people, and the political system has let the situation slip completely out of hand.

Now France, and Europe is general, will have to deal with this mess. So far, the main European reaction is to turn Greece into a prison camp for a new wave of refugees and migrants. That can of course only make things worse. And it doesn’t solve any of the existing problems. Which makes the rise of Marine Le Pen inevitable.

And Wilders too; he’s the no. 2 party in Holland, because his party won 33% more seats than in 2012 to go from 15 to 20. That 33% gain, versus Rutte’s 20% loss, makes Wilders a loser in the eyes of many ‘relieved’ observers.

Winners are losers, and as is evident in Le Pen’s social policies for the French, in European coalition governments that contain Labor and right wing parties, and in the course of the Democratic party in the US, left is definitely the same as right.

Orwell always wins. Next problem: the actual left are not represented by anyone anymore.


MarcRiboud Sur les Quais de Paris 1953

 

The Dutch elections on Wednesday have provided a whole bunch of Orwellian narratives. PM Mark Rutte’s right wing VVD party, actually the ‘business’ -or should we say ‘rent-seekers’ in 2017- party, who lost some 20% of the seats they had obtained in the previous parliamentary election in November 2012, down from 41 to 33 seats, is declared the big winner. While Geert Wilders’ very right wing party, PVV, won 25% more seats -it went from 16 to 20- and is the big loser.

Moreover, Rutte’s coalition partner, labor PvdA, gave up 29 out of 38 seats to end up with just 9. That’s a loss of over 75%. Together, the coalition partners went from 79 seats in the 2012 election to 42 in 2017. That’s an almost 50% less. Not that it could prevent Rutte from proudly declaring: “We want to stick to the course we have – safe and stable and prosperous..” Makes you wonder who the ‘we’ are that he’s talking about.

That course he wants to stick to had a finance minister named Dijsselbloem, and his party just lost by over 75%. So he won’t be back. But perhaps the EU can pull another ‘Tusk’, and leave him in place in Brussels as chairman of the Eurogroup no matter what voters in his own country think of him. Still, declaring your intention to ‘stick to the course’ when your coalition has just been sawed in half, it’s quite something.

 

The only reasons Rutte’s VVD ended up being the biggest party all have to do with Wilders. The anxiety over the election all had to do with polls. Wilders is a one man party and a a one trick pony. If he would leave, his party would dissolve. And his sole ‘message’ is that Islam is bad and should vanish from first Holland and then Europe. He doesn’t really have any other political program points. Ok, there’s Brussels. Doesn’t like that either.

Perhaps that’s why he largely shunned the pre-election debates. Problem with that is, these things attract a lot of TV viewers, crucial free air-time. All in all, since he’s his own worst enemy in many respects, it’s not that much of a surprise that Wilders’ support collapsed, and that’s just if we were to take Dutch pollsters more serious than their counterparts in the US and UK.

Talking of which, according to Rutte, those are the countries where ‘the wrong kind of populism’ has won and delivered Trump and Brexit. And of course there are lots of people who agree with that. What either they, or Rutte himself, would label ‘the right kind of populism’ is unclear. Maybe Rutte himself is the right kind of populist?

 

The row with Turkey over the weekend must have helped Rutte quite a bit. Not only were his actions in the row met with approval by a large majority of the Dutch population, including just about all other party leaders, the Dutch also got to think about what WIlders would do in such a situation. And there can be no doubt that Rutte is seen as much more of a statesman than Wilders.

Not that the row is over. After Turkey announced yesterday it would return 40 Dutch cows (?!) , today Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said Europe’s politicians are “taking Europe toward an abyss”, and: “Soon religious wars will break out in Europe. That’s the way it’s going.” There can be no doubt that a shouting war like this with Wilders as one of the participants would take on a whole different shape, and a different choice of words.

What Rutte’s going to do next is form a new coalition, this time not with the left but with the center-right, and no-one will be able to tell the difference. If Dutch, and European, and global, politics have one main problem, it’s that. Left is right and right is left and winners are losers. If a guy like Dijsselbloem can squeeze Greek society dry in his capacity as Eurogroup head, while he runs as a leftist candidate in his own country, and loses hugely, anything goes.

 

All those who think they can see in the Dutch experience, a sign that Marine Le Pen’s chances in France’s presidential elections in April and May have dropped a lot, would appear to be delusional. Judging from reactions in the financial markets, many seem to be. But Le Pen is much less of a fringe figure than Wilders is, and she certainly wouldn’t shun a debate. It’s true that her Front National is a one-woman operation, bit she has a much clearer political program than Wilders does.

And she doesn’t have an opponent like Rutte, who’s become a formidable presence domestically, as anyone would be who can be PM for many years and not be put out by the curb. The man who should be Le Pen’s main adversary is not; Hollande is out by that curb and doesn’t even dare run again. His Socialist party has become a joke. The next strongest opponent should be François Fillon, but he’s all but gone now he’s been placed under formal investigation.

That leaves only Emmanual Macron, an independent without a party and without a program. In France, you can be elected president in such a situation, but your hand are tied in all sorts of ways, because you need parliament to vote for things.

..the nuances of the French political system put Macron in a spot of bother. The president derives their power from the support of a majority in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly. Macron was a minister for the Socialist Party government but quit in 2016 to form his own political movement. Now he doesn’t even have a party, let alone a majority. Although the constitution of the French Fifth Republic, created by Charles De Gaulle in 1958, extended presidential powers, it did not enable the president to run the country.

There are only a few presidential powers that do not need the prime minister’s authorisation. The president can appoint a prime minister, dissolve the National Assembly, authorise a referendum and become a “temporary dictator” in exceptional circumstances imperilling the nation. They can also appoint three judges to the Constitutional Council and refer any law to this body. While all important tasks, this does not, by any stretch of the imagination, amount to running a country. The president can’t suggest laws, pass them through parliament and then implement them without the prime minister.

The role of a president is best defined as a “referee”. Presidential powers give the ability to oversee operations and act when the smooth running of institutions is impeded. So a president is able to step in if a grave situation arises or to unlock a standoff between the prime minister and parliament, such as by announcing a referendum on a disputed issue or by dismissing the National Assembly.

So, why does everyone see the president as the key figure? In a nutshell, it’s because the constitution has never been truly applied. There lies the devilish beauty of French politics. A country known since the 1789 revolution for its inability to foster strong majorities in parliament has succeeded, from 1962, in providing solid majorities.

Perhaps those who believe that what happened in Holland is also likely to happen in France are swayed by the notion that both are part of the EU. But they are very different countries and cultures, and different political systems. And Le Pen is no Wilders. She doesn’t say crazy things anymore, she’s cleansed the public image of her party by getting rid of her father, and she keeps any remaining extremists out of view.

There is still plenty suspicion in France about her, and about her party, but there are also a lot of people who agree with a lot of what she says. The perhaps most noteworthy statement she’s made recently is that she would step down if she loses the referendum about membership of the EU she intends to launch if elected president. That should keep Brussels on their toes. Marine means what she says. And a lot of French people may get to like her for that. In a political landscape in which the competition keeps shooting itself in the foot.

Another thing about Le Pen is that her political program contains quite a few bits and bolts that could be labeled leftist; a 35-hour work week, retirement at 60, lower energy prices. It’s just that she wants to reserve these things for the French. Foreigners, especially, Muslims, are not invited. And she is very much opposed to neo-liberalism and globalization:

They’ve made an ideology out of it. An economic globalism which rejects all limits, all regulation of globalization, and which consequently weakens the immune defences of the nation state, dispossessing it of its constituent elements: borders, national currency, the authority of its laws and management of the economy, thus enabling another globalism to be born and to grow: Islamist fundamentalism..

Le Pen’s popularity does not come from an overwhelming innate racism in France -though such a thing certainly exists-. It comes instead from the formidable failure that the country’s immigration policy has been for many decades. At the outskirts of major cities ghetto’s have been allowed to form in which those that come from former French colonies, especially in Africa, feel trapped with no way out. The French tend to feel superior to all other people, and the political system has let the situation slip completely out of hand.

Now France, and Europe is general, will have to deal with this mess. So far, the main European reaction is to turn Greece into a prison camp for a new wave of refugees and migrants. That can of course only make things worse. And it doesn’t solve any of the existing problems. Which makes the rise of Marine Le Pen inevitable.

And Wilders too; he’s the no. 2 party in Holland, because his party won 33% more seats than in 2012 to go from 15 to 20. That 33% gain, versus Rutte’s 20% loss, makes Wilders a loser in the eyes of many ‘relieved’ observers.

Winners are losers, and as is evident in Le Pen’s social policies for the French, in European coalition governments that contain Labor and right wing parties, and in the course of the Democratic party in the US, left is definitely the same as right.

Orwell always wins. Next problem: the actual left are not represented by anyone anymore.

 

 

Oct 252016
 
 October 25, 2016  Posted by at 9:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle October 25 2016


NPC Grief monument, Rock Creek cemetery, Washington DC 1915

The Eurozone Is Turning Into A Poverty Machine (Tel.)
Barclays Warns ‘Politics of Rage’ Will Slow Global Growth (BBG)
China Capital Outflows Highest Since Data Publishing Began In 2010 (BBG)
Credit Card Lending To US Subprime Borrowers Is Starting To Backfire (WSJ)
Bank of England Optimism Evaporates in Long-Term Debt (BBG)
The Deficit Is Too Small, Not Too Big (McCulley)
Welcome to the George Orwell Theme Park of Democracy (Jim Kunstler)
How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul (Matt Stoller)
Hillary Clinton Is The Republican Party’s Last, Best Hope (Heat St.)
Clinton Ally Aided Campaign of FBI Official’s Wife (WSJ)
M5S Blasts Italian Constitutional Reform Proposed By PM Renzi (Amsa)
100 Million Canadians By 2100? Key Advisers Back Ambitious Goal (CP)
A 1912 News Article Ominously Forecasted Climate Change (Q.)
Refugee Camp On Lesbos Damaged In Riots As Rumors Fly (Kath.)
Ex-US Ambassador To Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt Now Ambassador To Greece (Kath.)

 

 

Why does this truth have to come from the right wing press?

The Eurozone Is Turning Into A Poverty Machine (Tel.)

There are constant bank runs. The bond markets panic, and governments along its southern perimeter need bail-outs every few years. Unemployment has sky-rocketed and growth remains sluggish, no matter how many hundreds of billions of printed money the ECB throws at the economy. We are all tediously aware of how the euro-zone has been a financial disaster. But it is now starting to become clear that it is a social disaster as well. What often gets lost in the discussion of growth rates, bail-outs and banking harmonisation is that the eurozone is turning into a poverty machine. As its economy stagnates, millions of people are falling into genuine hardship. Whether it is measured on a relative or absolute basis, rates of poverty have soared across Europe, with the worst results found in the area covered by the single currency.

There could not be a more shocking indictment of the currency’s failure, or a more potent reminder that living standards will only improve once the euro is either radically reformed or taken apart. Eurostat, the statistical agency of the European Union, has published its latest findings on the numbers of people “at risk of poverty or social exclusion”, comparing 2008 and 2015. Across the 28 members, five countries saw really significant rises compared with the year of the financial crash. In Greece, 35.7pc of people now fall into that category, compared with 28.1pc back in 2008, a rise of 7.6 percentage points. Cyprus was up by 5.6 points, with 28.7pc of people now categorised as poor. Spain was up 4.8 points, Italy up 3.2 points and even Luxembourg, hardly known for being at risk of deprivation, up three points at 18.5pc.

It was not so bleak everywhere. In Poland, the poverty rate went down from 30.5pc to over 23pc. In Romania, Bulgaria, and Latvia, there were large falls compared to the 2008 figures – in Romania for example the percentage was down by seven points to 37pc. What was the difference between the countries where poverty went up dramatically, and those where it went down? You guessed it. The largest increases were all countries within the single currency. But the decreases were all in countries outside it. It gets worse. “At risk of poverty” is defined as living on less than 60pc of the national median income. But that median income has itself fallen over the last seven years, because most countries inside the eurozone have yet to recover from the crash. In Greece, the median income has dropped from €10,800 a year to €7,500 now.

[..] Why should Greece and Spain be doing so much worse than anywhere in Eastern Europe? Or why Italy should be doing so much worse than Britain, when the two countries were at broadly similar levels of wealth in the Nineties? (Indeed, the Italians actually overtook us for a while in GDP per capita.) Even a traditionally very successful economy such as the Netherlands, which has not been caught up in any kind of financial crisis, has seen big increases in both relative and absolute poverty. In fact, it is not very hard to work out what has happened. First, a dysfunctional currency system has choked off economic growth, driving unemployment up to previously unbelievable levels. After countries went bankrupt and had to be bailed out, the EU, along with the ECB and the IMF, imposed austerity packages that slashed welfare systems and cut pensions. It is not surprising poverty is increasing under those conditions.

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If you ask me, they’ve got it the wrong way around. If growth hadn’t slowed down, there’d be much less rage.

Barclays Warns ‘Politics of Rage’ Will Slow Global Growth (BBG)

Brexit, rising populism across Europe, the ascent of Donald Trump in America, and the backlash against income inequality everywhere. A slew of political and economic forces have nurtured a growing narrative that globalization is now on life support—a potential game-changer for global financial markets, which have staged a rapid expansion since the end of the Cold War thanks to unfettered cross-border flows. No more: Trade volumes have stalled while the “politics of rage” has taken root in advanced economies, driven by a collapse in the perceived legitimacy of political and economic institutions, a new report from Barclays warns.

The result, the bank says, is an oncoming protectionist lurch—restrictions on the free movement of goods, services, labor, and capital—combined with an erosion of support for supranational bodies, from the EU to the WTO. “Even mild de-globalization likely will slow the pace of trend global growth,” Marvin Barth, head of European FX strategy at Barclays, writes in the report. “A sense of economic and political disenfranchisement due to imperfect representation in national governments and delegation of sovereignty to supranational and intergovernmental organisations” has generated the backlash, he said. He cites as a major factor the collapse in support for centrist parties in advanced economies and adds that the role of income inequality may be overstated.

The report echoes Harvard University economist Dani Rodrik’s earlier contention that democracy, sovereignty, and globalization represent a “trilemma.” Expansion of cross-border trade links—and the attendant increase in the power of supranational authorities to adjudicate economic matters—is a direct threat to representative democracy, and vice-versa. The veto Monday of the EU’s free trade deal with Canada by the Belgian region of Wallonia—whose leader said the deadline to secure backing for the deal was “not compatible with the exercise of democratic rights”—is a sharp illustration of this trilemma.

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Breaking the dollar peg is a dangerous game, given the amount of debt denominated in USD. It can get expensive quite fast.

China Capital Outflows Highest Since Data Publishing Began In 2010 (BBG)

The offshore yuan traded near a record low as Chinese policy makers signaled they are willing to allow greater currency flexibility amid a slump in exports and an advance in the dollar. The exchange rate was at 6.7836 a dollar as of 1:01 p.m. in Hong Kong, after dropping to 6.7885, the weakest intraday level in data going back to 2010. In Shanghai, the currency was little changed at 6.7760, close to a six-year low and past the 6.75 year-end median forecast in a Bloomberg survey. The Chinese currency has come under increased pressure on signs that investors are taking more money out of the country. A gauge of the dollar rose to a seven-month high versus major currencies Monday as traders bet that the Federal Reserve may raise borrowing costs soon.

Unlike the yuan selloff earlier this year which sparked a global market rout, there’s no sense of panic yet as policy makers maintain a steady exchange rate against other currencies. “The central bank is tolerating more orderly depreciation of the yuan,” said Gao Qi, a Singapore-based foreign-exchange strategist at Scotiabank. “But it will step in to avoid market panic arising from a sharp yuan depreciation. The 6.8 level is critical in the near term.” [..] The onshore yuan has weakened 4.2% this year, the most in Asia. It has declined in all but two sessions this month as some analysts speculated that the central bank has reduced support following the yuan’s inclusion in the IMF’s basket of reserves on Oct. 1.

A net $44.7 billion worth of payments in the Chinese currency left the nation last month, according to data released by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange. That’s the most since the government started publishing the figures in 2010. [..] Chinese policy makers have downplayed the importance of the yuan-dollar exchange rate, saying they aim to keep the yuan steady against a broad basket of currencies. A Bloomberg gauge mimicking China Foreign Exchange Trade System’s yuan index against 13 major currencies has been little changed around 94 since August after falling more than 6 percent in the previous eight months.

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Imagine my surprise.

Credit Card Lending To US Subprime Borrowers Is Starting To Backfire (WSJ)

Credit-card lending to subprime borrowers is starting to backfire. Missed payments on credit cards that lenders issued recently are higher than on older cards, according to new data from credit bureau TransUnion. Nearly 3% of outstanding balances on credit cards issued in 2015 were at least 90 days behind on payments six months after they were originated. That compares with 2.2% for cards that were given out in 2014 and 1.5% for cards in 2013. The poorer performance on newer cards pushed up the 90-day or more delinquency rate for all credit cards to 1.53% on average nationwide in the third quarter. That’s the highest level since 2012.

The recent increase in subprime lending is one of the big contributors. Lenders ramped up subprime card lending in 2014 and have been doling out more of these cards recently. They issued just over 20 million credit cards to subprime borrowers in 2015, up some 20% from 2014 and up 56% from 2013, according to Equifax. Separately, missed payments in states with large oil or energy sectors continue to worsen. The share of card balances that were at least 90 days past due increased 12% in Oklahoma, 10% in Texas and 20% in Wyoming in the third quarter from a year prior, according to TransUnion.

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Really? They thought Carney could save the day?

Bank of England Optimism Evaporates in Long-Term Debt (BBG)

Long-term sterling bonds suggest investors are quickly losing confidence in the Bank of England’s ability to support debt markets through the U.K.’s departure from the EU. Holders have lost about 10% in as little as seven weeks on long-dated notes issued by Vodafone, British American Tobacco and WPP. The bond sales took place after the central bank announced plans in August to buy corporate debt, sparking investor optimism. The mood has since soured because of concerns about a so-called hard Brexit, sterling’s tumble and the outlook for inflation. “With the benefit of hindsight, August was the best time to issue,” said Srikanth Sankaran, head of European Credit and ABS strategy at Morgan Stanley. “The market was more focused on the Bank of England’s support rather than the longer-term Brexit risk.”

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McCulley used to be something big at PIMCO. He’s right, but it’s doubtful a change of course would be sufficient at this point. Austerity has killed a lot.

The Deficit Is Too Small, Not Too Big (McCulley)

[..] while Clinton gets my vote, her insistence at the final debate that her proposed fiscal program will not “add a penny” to the national debt is fouling my wonk serenity this morning. Every penny of new expenditure, she says, will be “paid for” with a new penny of tax revenue. Her deficit-neutral fiscal proposal is, I readily acknowledge, better than the status quo, as her proposed new spending would add 100 cents on the dollar to the nation’s aggregate demand, while her proposed tax increases would not subtract 100 cents on the dollar. Why? Because she proposes getting the new tax revenue from those with a low marginal propensity to spend, or alternatively, a high marginal propensity to save. To wit, from the not poor, including yes, the rich.

Thus, in simple Keynesian terms, there is some solace in her deficit-neutral fiscal package: It would be net stimulative to the economy, because it would – in technical terms – drive down the private sector’s savings rate. In less technical terms, it would take money from people who don’t live paycheck to paycheck, who would still spend the same, but just have less left over to save. And I have no problem with that. What sends me around the bend is the notion that the only way to boost aggregate demand is to drive down the private-sector savings rate, in the context of holding constant the public sector’s savings rate. But, you retort: The public sector, notably at the federal level, has a negative savings rate; it runs a deficit! Are you nuts?

No, I am not. Unless faced with an incipient inflation threat, born of an overheated economy, there is no reason whatsoever that the public sector should ever have a positive savings rate. What it should have is a positive, a bigly positive, investment rate. And in fact, a higher public investment rate and a lower public savings rate are exactly what our economy presently needs. Yes, a larger fiscal deficit. [..] investment drives aggregate demand, which begets aggregate production and thus, aggregate income, the fountain from which savings flow. Thus, if and when there is insufficient aggregate demand to foster full employment at a just income distribution, the underlying problem is a deficiency of investment, not savings. More investment is the solution, and investment is constrained not by a shortage of savings, but literally a deficiency of investment itself.

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“..the demonization of Russia – a way more idiotic exercise than the McCarthyite Cold War hysteria..”

Welcome to the George Orwell Theme Park of Democracy (Jim Kunstler)

If Trump loses, I will essay to guess that his followers’ next step will be some kind of violence. For the moment, pathetic as it is, Trump was their last best hope. I’m more comfortable about Hillary — though I won’t vote for her — because it will be salutary for the ruling establishment to unravel with her in charge of it. That way, the right people will be blamed for the mismanagement of our national affairs. This gang of elites needs to be circulated out of power the hard way, under the burden of their own obvious perfidy, with no one else to point their fingers at. Her election will sharpen awareness of the criminal conduct in our financial practices and the neglect of regulation that marked the eight years of Obama’s appointees at the Department of Justice and the SEC.

The “tell” in these late stages of the campaign has been the demonization of Russia – a way more idiotic exercise than the McCarthyite Cold War hysteria of the early 1950s, since there is no longer any ideological conflict between us and all the evidence indicates that the current state of bad relations is America’s fault, in particular our sponsorship of the state failure in Ukraine and our avid deployment of NATO forces in war games on Russia’s border. Hillary has had the full force of the foreign affairs establishment behind her in this war-drum-banging effort, yet they have not been able to produce any evidence, for instance, in their claim that Russia is behind the Wikileaks hack of Hillary’s email.

[..] The media has been on-board with all this. The New York Times especially has acted as the hired amplifier for the establishment lies – such a difference from the same newspaper’s role in the Vietnam War ruckus of yesteryear. Today (Monday) they ran an astounding editorial “explaining” the tactical necessity of Hillary’s dishonesty: “In politics, hypocrisy and doublespeak are tools,” The Times editorial board wrote. Oh, well, that’s reassuring. Welcome to the George Orwell Theme Park of Democracy.

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Absolute must read by Stoller, American history you didn’t know.

How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul (Matt Stoller)

While not a household name today, Wright Patman was a legend in his time. His congressional career spanned 46 years, from 1929 to 1976. In that near-half-century of service, Patman would wage constant war against monopoly power. As a young man, at the height of the Depression, he challenged Herbert Hoover’s refusal to grant impoverished veterans’ accelerated war pensions. He successfully drove the immensely wealthy Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon from office over the issue. Patman’s legislation to help veterans recoup their bonuses, the Bonus Bill—and the fight with Mellon over it—prompted a massive protest by World War I veterans in Washington, D.C., known as “the Bonus Army,” which helped shape the politics of the Depression.

In 1936, he authored the Robinson-Patman Act, a pricing and antitrust law that prohibited price discrimination and manipulation, and that finally constrained the A&P chain store—the Walmart of its day—from gobbling up the retail industry. He would go on to write the Bank Secrecy Act, which stops money-laundering; defend Glass-Steagall, which separates banks from securities dealers; write the Employment Act of 1946, which created the Council of Economic Advisors; and initiate the first investigation into the Nixon administration over Watergate.

Far from the longwinded octogenarian the Watergate Babies saw, Patman’s career reads as downright passionate, often marked by a vitality you might see today in an Elizabeth Warren—as when, for example, he asked Fed Chairman Arthur Burns, “Can you give me any reason why you should not be in the penitentiary?” Despite his lack of education, Patman had a savvy political and legal mind. In the late 1930s, the Federal Reserve Board refused to admit it was a government institution. So Patman convinced the District of Columbia’s government to threaten foreclosure of all Federal Reserve Board property; the Board quickly produced evidence that it was indeed part of the federal government.

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Kind of like a second chapter to Stoller’s piece above.

Hillary Clinton Is The Republican Party’s Last, Best Hope (Heat St.)

While Trump has pushed a populist, anti-free trade message, Hillary champions the large multinational corporations that create jobs for everyday Americans. As secretary of state, she worked tirelessly to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the “gold standard” of trade agreements. As a candidate, she expertly silenced the gullible radicals supporting Bernie Sanders by pretending she won’t sign TPP into law as president. (She will.) Hillary’s disdain for left-wing agitators does not end there. She has also gone to bat for the heroes in America’s fracking industry, telling environmentalists to “get a life” in emails uncovered by Wikileaks. [..]

One of the greatest sources of frustration for Republicans during the Obama presidency has been his weak-sauce, isolationist foreign policy. In the absence of strong American leadership, the world has plunged into chaos. Trump shares Obama’s ideology of avoiding foreign entanglements, even going so far as to question the need for NATO as Putin runs amok unchecked. It is precisely at this moment that America needs the hawkish leadership of Hillary Clinton to defend American exceptionalism and reassert our hegemony on the world stage. Among her fellow neoconservative war hawks, Hillary is admired for her sterling record on foreign policy — from supporting the invasion of Iraq in 2002 to her valiant efforts as secretary of state to persuade Obama to stop being such a pushover on the world stage.

During the Arab Spring in 2011, Hillary impressed upon Obama the need for a U.S.-led “coalition of the willing” to help mold the future of the Middle East in the name of freedom. Muammar Gaddafi wound up dead in a ditch. Later, when the president sought input on Syria, Hillary recommended force and arming rebel groups. Obama’s failure to follow her advice led to the current migrant crisis and ongoing tragedy in Syria. Bashar al-Assad is still alive and well. Imagine our enemies cowering in the shade as President Hillary’s massive drone armada blocks out the sun en route to visit death upon the enemies of freedom. Slay Queen, indeed. Voters looking for a reliable pro-business, conservative hawk to undo eight years of Obama’s feckless progressivism and combat the cancer of Trumpism need look no further than Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is the GOP’s last, best hope.

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Incredible. Just incredible.

Clinton Ally Aided Campaign of FBI Official’s Wife (WSJ)

The political organization of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, an influential Democrat with longstanding ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, gave nearly $500,000 to the election campaign of the wife of an official at the FBI who later helped oversee the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email use. Campaign finance records show Mr. McAuliffe’s political-action committee donated $467,500 to the 2015 state Senate campaign of Dr. Jill McCabe, who is married to Andrew McCabe, now the deputy director of the FBI. The Virginia Democratic Party, over which Mr. McAuliffe exerts considerable control, donated an additional $207,788 worth of support to Dr. McCabe’s campaign in the form of mailers, according to the records.

That adds up to slightly more than $675,000 to her candidacy from entities either directly under Mr. McAuliffe’s control or strongly influenced by him. The figure represents more than a third of all the campaign funds Dr. McCabe raised in the effort. Mr. McAuliffe and other state party leaders recruited Dr. McCabe to run, according to party officials. She lost the election to incumbent Republican Dick Black. [..] Dr. McCabe announced her candidacy in March 2015, the same month it was revealed that Mrs. Clinton had used a private server as secretary of state to send and receive government emails, a disclosure that prompted the FBI investigation. At the time the investigation was launched in July 2015, Mr. McCabe was running the FBI’s Washington, D.C., field office, which provided personnel and resources to the Clinton email probe.

That investigation examined whether Mrs. Clinton’s use of private email may have compromised national security by transmitting classified information in an insecure system. [..] At the end of July 2015, Mr. McCabe was promoted to FBI headquarters and assumed the No. 3 position at the agency. In February 2016, he became FBI Director James Comey’s second-in-command. As deputy director, Mr. McCabe was part of the executive leadership team overseeing the Clinton email investigation, though FBI officials say any final decisions on that probe were made by Mr. Comey, who served as a high-ranking Justice Department official in the administration of George W. Bush.

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“Di Maio was also ironic about the endorsement of the reform received by Renzi from President Obama during a recent visit to Washington. “Let’s say it is not the first time Obama has intervened concerning a referendum in another country, he supported ‘Remain’ in England and ‘Brexit’ won. Now he is backing the Yes vote and so the No front should be reassured..”

M5S Blasts Italian Constitutional Reform Proposed By PM Renzi (Amsa)

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) will vote No in the December 4 referendum on Constitutional reform because the law “deprives us of democratic rights”, party bigwig and Deputy House Speaker Luigi Di Maio said on Monday. “In our opinion, the title of the law does not in any way reflect its content, in the same way that the title of the Good School law does not in any way reflect the content of that reform,” Di Maio told radio broadcaster Rtl 102.5. The M5S recently lost a legal challenge against the question in the consultative referendum, which echoes the wording of the title of the constitutional law, arguing it amounts to a “deceptive” advertisement for the government’s position in favour of a Yes vote.

On December 4, Italians will be called to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a question that reads: “Do you approve a constitutional law that concerns the scrapping of the bicameral system (of parliament), reducing the number of MPs, limiting the operating costs of public institutions, abolishing the National Council on Economy and Labour (CNEL), and amending Title V of the Constitution, Part II?”. The reform approved by parliament in April would turn the Senate into a leaner body of indirectly elected regional and local representatives with limited lawmaking powers. Critics of the reform, including M5S and a left-wing faction within Premier Matteo Renzi’s own Democratic Party (PD), say it will actually make procedures more complicated.

Di Maio was also ironic about the endorsement of the reform received by Renzi from US President Barack Obama during a recent visit to Washington. “Let’s say it is not the first time Obama has intervened concerning a referendum in another country, he supported ‘Remain’ in England and ‘Brexit’ won. Now he is backing the Yes vote and so the No front should be reassured,” he said.

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There is a reason why Canada is sparsely populated. Let’s not tell them. Don’t spoil the fun.

100 Million Canadians By 2100? Key Advisers Back Ambitious Goal (CP)

Imagine Canada with a population of 100 million — roughly triple its current size. For two of the most prominent voices inside the Trudeau government’s influential council of economic advisers, it’s much more than a passing fancy. It’s a target. The 14-member council was assembled by Finance Minister Bill Morneau to provide “bold” advice on how best to guide Canada’s struggling economy out of its slow-growth rut. One of their first recommendations, released last week, called for a gradual increase in permanent immigration to 450,000 people a year by 2021 — with a focus on top business talent and international students. That would be a 50% hike from the current level of about 300,000.

The council members — along with many others, including Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains — argue that opening Canada’s doors to more newcomers is a crucial ingredient for expanding growth in the future. They say it’s particularly important as more and more of the country’s baby boomers enter their golden years, which eats away at the workforce. The conviction to bring in more immigrants is especially significant for at least two of the people around the advisory team’s table. Growth council chair Dominic Barton, the powerful global managing director of consulting firm McKinsey, and Mark Wiseman, a senior managing director for investment management giant BlackRock, are among the founders of a group dedicated to seeing the country responsibly expand its population as a way to help drive its economic potential.

The Century Initiative, a five-year-old effort by well-known Canadians, is focused on seeing the country of 36 million grow to 100 million by 2100. Without significant policy changes on immigration, the current demographic trajectory has Canada’s population on track to reach 53 million people by the end of the century, the group says on its website. That would place it outside the top 45 nations in population size, it says.

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It goes back quite a bit further.

A 1912 News Article Ominously Forecasted Climate Change (Q.)


Published Aug. 14, 1912. (The Rodney and Otamatea Times and Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette)

A short news clip from a New Zealand paper published in 1912 has gone viral as an example of an early news story to make the connection between burning fossil fuels and climate change. It wasn’t, however, the first article to suggest that our love for coal was wreaking destruction on our environment that would lead to climate change. The theory—now widely accepted as scientific reality—was mentioned in the news media as early as 1883, and was discussed in scientific circles much earlier than that. The French physicist Joseph Fourier had made the observation in 1824 that the composition of the atmosphere is likely to affect the climate. But Svante Arrhenius’s 1896 study titled, “On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature on the ground” was the first to quantify how carbon dioxide (or anhydrous carbonic acid, by another name) affects global temperature.

Though the study does not explicitly say that the burning of fossil fuels would cause global warming, there were scientists before him who had made such a forecast. The earliest such mention that Quartz could find was in the journal Nature in December of 1882. The author HA Phillips writes: “According to Prof Tyndall’s research, hydrogen, marsh gas, and ethylene have the property to a very high degree of absorbing and radiating heat, and so much that a very small proportion, of say one thousandth part, had very great effect. From this we may conclude that the increasing pollution of the atmosphere will have a marked influence on the climate of the world.” Phillips was relying on the work of John Tyndall, who in the 1860s had shown how various gases in the atmosphere absorb heat from the sun in the form of infrared radiation.

Now we know that Phillips was wrong about a few scientific details: He ignored carbon dioxide from burning coal and focused more on the by-products of mining. Still, he was drawing the right conclusion about what our demand for fossil fuels might do to the climate. Newspapers around the world took those words published in a prestigious scientific journal quite seriously. In January 1883, the New York Times published a lengthy article based on Phillips’ letter to Nature, which said: “The writer who has partially discussed the subject in the columns of Nature has fixed upon 1900 as the date when the earth’s atmosphere will become entirely irrespirable. This is probably a misprint, for unless the consumption of cigarettes increases unlooked-for rapidly the atmosphere ought to remain respirable until 1910, or even 1912. At the latter date all mankind will have perished, and nothing except the hardier plants will be living on the surface of the earth.”

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The EU is a failure of historical proportions economically, politically and above all morally.

Refugee Camp On Lesbos Damaged In Riots As Rumors Fly (Kath.)

Migrants on Monday attacked the premises of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) inside the Moria hot spot on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos, completely destroying four container office units and damaging another two during a protest that was contained by riot police. Officials said the protesters, most of them men from Pakistan, threw rocks and burning blankets at the EASO facilities, allegedly frustrated at delays in processing their asylum applications. Riot police were called in to contain the riot. The blaze was put out by the fire service before it could cause further damage. There were no reports of injuries.

The violence at Moria prompted authorities on other migrant-hosting islands, including Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros, to beef up their security measures. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a local government official told Kathimerini that migrant riots were often triggered by rumors. “Refugees and migrants are told that if their facilities are destroyed they will have nowhere to stay and so they will be transferred to the mainland,” the source said.

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Victoria Nuland’s neocon and Kiev coup instigator buddy. Bad news for Greece. Wonder what the pressure on Tsipras has been.

Ex-US Ambassador To Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt Now Ambassador To Greece (Kath.)

The official welcome ceremony for new US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey R. Pyatt took place on the US 6th Fleet command and control ship USS Mount Whitney, in the port of Piraeus south of Athens, Monday. Earlier in the day, Pyatt presented Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos with his diplomatic credentials at the Presidential Mansion. The ceremony was attended by Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias. Nominated by President Obama, Pyatt is widely regarded as an experienced diplomat. He previously served as US ambassador in Kiev and had to deal with the fallout of the Ukrainian crisis. His appointment comes at a key time for both Athens and Washington. Recent developments in the wider region have created challenges as well as opportunities for the two NATO allies. Obama is expected to visit Athens in November. Political and military officials have been exchanging visits ahead of the trip.

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 July 11, 2016  Posted by at 8:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


G.G. Bain Auto polo, somewhere in New York 1912

Will Merkel Hand Over The Keys To The Helicopter? (Napier)
Black Hole of Negative Rates Is Dragging Down Yields Everywhere (WSJ)
70% Of German Bonds Are No Longer Eligible For ECB Purchases (ZH)
Wall Street Monkeyshines – Look Ma, No Hands! (David Stockman)
China Pension Readies $300 Billion Warchest for Stock Market (BBG)
Massive Stockpile Means Oil Rebound Is Over: Barclays (CNBC)
Japan PM Abe To ‘Accelerate Abenomics’ After Huge Election Win (BBG)
Deutsche Bank Chief Economist Calls For €150 Billion Bailout Of EU Banks (ZH)
Bank Born Out of Black Death Struggles to Survive (BBG)
Australia First-Home Buyers Hit Lowest Level In A Decade (Domain)
The Great New Zealand Housing Down-Trou (Hickey)
The Media Against Jeremy Corbyn (Jacobin)
How the Corporate Food Industry Destroys Democracy (Hartmann)
10 Years (Or Less): Orwell’s Vision Coming True (SHTF)

 

 

Either Draghi gets to fly the chopper, or the EU falls to bits. Wait, it’ll do that anyway. So why give him the keys?

Will Merkel Hand Over The Keys To The Helicopter? (Napier)

Now only one question matters for global investors – Wo ist der Hubschrauber? (Where is the helicopter?). The decline of European commercial bank share-prices before Brexit made it clear that a monetary reflation of Europe was failing. The collapse in these same share-prices post-Brexit means that even the politicians now realise that the ECB acting alone cannot stabilize the European economy. Indeed, given the evident political strains in the European Union, saving the economy from recession is now key to saving the European political union project itself. So, will Mrs Merkel abolish fiscal austerity across Europe and permit each of the states of the European political union expand their debt mountains at the same time that the ECB is buying that debt?

Are the keys to der Hubschrauber to be handed over? To save the European political union Germany must now confront its greatest fear and enfranchise the political union’s central bank to conduct outright monetary financing of all its constituent governments. Investors need to remain very cautious indeed as it is in no way clear that Mrs Merkel will hand over the keys to der Hubschruaber. Should she do so, however, major changes in investment allocation are necessary as helicopter money will be raining from the skies in Japan, the Eurozone, the UK and even in the USA if President Clinton also wins the House and the Senate.

This form of reflation will likely work and in due course work too much. Few things are binary in investment, but this huge decision to be taken in Berlin is the biggest binary event for investors this analyst has yet come across. The repercussions will reverberate throughout this century. This analyst would like to present you with a firm forecast as to the possibility of ‘helicopter money’ coming to the European political union. However, it is too close to call. Even if that assertion is correct, this is truly dire news for financial markets.

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What? “..the global yield grab is raising questions about whether rates can prove reliable economic indicators.” That’s an actual question?

Black Hole of Negative Rates Is Dragging Down Yields Everywhere (WSJ)

The free fall in yields on developed-world government debt is dragging down rates on global bonds broadly, from sovereign debt in Taiwan and Lithuania to corporate bonds in the U.S., as investors fan out further in search of income. The ever-widening rush for yield could create problems if interest rates snap back, which would cause losses on investors’ low-yielding portfolios, or if credit quality falls. And the global yield grab is raising questions about whether rates can prove reliable economic indicators. Yields in the U.S., Europe and Japan have been plummeting as investors pile into government debt in the face of tepid growth, low inflation and high uncertainty, and as central banks cut rates into negative territory in many countries.

Even Friday, despite a strong U.S. jobs report that helped send the S&P 500 to nearly a record, yields on the 10-year Treasury note ultimately declined to a record close of 1.366% as investors took advantage of a brief rise in yields on the report’s headlines to buy more bonds. Yields move in the opposite direction of price. As yields keep falling in these haven markets, investors are looking for income elsewhere, creating a black hole that is sucking down rates in ever longer maturities, emerging markets and riskier corporate debt. “What we are seeing is a mechanical yield grab taking place in global bonds,” said Jack Kelly at Standard Life Investments. “The pace of that yield grab accelerates as more bond markets move into negative yields and investors search for a smaller pool of substitutes.”

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Self-fulfilling perversity.

70% Of German Bonds Are No Longer Eligible For ECB Purchases (ZH)

Back in April of 2015, we warned that the biggest risk facing the ECB is running out of eligible securities which the central bank can monetize. Draghi’s recent launch of the CSPP, in which the ECB has been buying not only investment grade but also junk bonds, is an indirect confirmation of that. A direct one comes courtesy of a Bloomberg calculation according to which following a seventh straight week of gains in German bunds, the yields on securities of all maturities has plunged to unprecedented lows, which has left about $801 billion of debt out of the statutory reach of the ECB. As noted earlier, there is now $13 trillion of global negative-yielding debt. That compares with $11 trillion before the Brexit vote.

The surge in sovereign debt since Britain’s vote to exit the European Union last month has pushed yields on about 70% of the securities in the $1.1-trillion Bloomberg Germany Sovereign Bond Index below the ECB’s -0.4% deposit rate, making them ineligible for the institution’s quantitative-easing program. For the euro area as a whole, the total rises to almost $2 trillion. As Bloomberg adds, following a rush for safety and a scramble for capital appreciation ahead of more ECB debt purchases, the yield on German 10-year bunds to a record-low, and those on securities due in up to 15 years below zero, even though – paradoxically – the rush to buy these bonds has made them no longer eligible for direct ECB purchases as they now have a yield lower than the ECB’s deposit rate threshold.

Or rather, they are ineligible for the time being. As a result, the rally has boosted the same concerns we warned about for the first time in the summer of 2014, namely that the ECB’s Public Sector Purchase Programme could run into scarcity problems well before its completion date of March 2017, prompting speculation policy makers may tweak their plan.

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“..the economic gods created market-based price discovery for a reason. It was to insure that in the great arena of financial market supply and demand, the forces of fear and greed would contend on a level playing field..”

Wall Street Monkeyshines – Look Ma, No Hands! (David Stockman)

The boys and girls on Wall Street are now riding their bikes with no hands and eyes wide shut. That’s the only way to explain Friday’s lunatic buying spree in response to another jobs report that proves exactly nothing about an allegedly resurgent economy. When the S&P 500 first hit 2130 back in May 2015, reported LTM earnings were $99.25 per share, and that was already down 6.4% from the cyclical high of $106 per share in September 2014. Thus, stocks were being valued at a nosebleed 21.5X in the face of falling earnings. During the four quarters since then, reported LTM earnings have slumped by a further 12.3% to $87 per share. So that brings the “cap rate” to 24.5X earnings that have shrunk by 18% over the last six quarters. Wee!

You have to use the parenthetical because the casino is not capitalizing anything rational. It’s just drifting higher in daredevil fashion until something big and nasty stops it. That something would be global deflation and US recession. Both are racing down the pike at accelerating speed. Needless to say, when these lethal economic forces finally hit home, the puppy pile-up on Wall Street is going to be one bloody mess. But that’s the price you pay when you have destroyed honest price discovery entirely, and have transformed the money and capital markets into robo-machine driven venues of rank speculation. Janet Yellen and the other 100 clowns who run the world’s central banks, of course, have no clue as to the financial doomsday machine they have enabled. Indeed, they apparently think efficient pricing and allocation of capital doesn’t matter.

After all, their entire modus operandi is to peg the price of money, bonds and the yield curve sharply below market-clearing levels – so that households and business will borrow and spend more than otherwise. Likewise, they aim to goose stock prices to ever higher levels. That’s so the top 10% and the top 1%, who own the preponderant share of equities, will feel the wealth(effects) and then spend-up and invest-up a storm. But the economic gods created market-based price discovery for a reason. It was to insure that in the great arena of financial market supply and demand, the forces of fear and greed would contend on a level playing field. Short-sellers and contrarians heading south were to intercept the lemmings of greed heading north before they reached the edge of the cliff. Now there is nothing but cliff.

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The idea is that simply because pensions buy stocks, these will go up in ‘value’. Yeah, that should work.. For a week.

China Pension Readies $300 Billion Warchest for Stock Market (BBG)

China’s pension funds are about to become stock investors. The country’s local retirement savings managers, which have about 2 trillion yuan ($300 billion) for investment, are handing over some of their cash to the National Council for Social Security Fund, which will oversee their investments in securities including equities. The organization will start deploying the cash in the second half, according to China International Capital and CIMB Securities. Chinese policy makers announced the change last year in a bid to boost yields for a pension system that has long suffered low returns by limiting its investments to deposits and government bonds.

For the nation’s equity markets – which are dominated by retail investors and among the world’s worst performers this year – the state fund’s presence is even more valuable than its cash, said Hao Hong, chief China strategist at Bocom International Holdings. The NCSSF has “such a good reputation in being a value investor that if they take the lead, the signaling effect is actually quite strong,” said Hong, who had predicted the start and peak of China’s equity boom last year. “It’s almost like Warren Buffett saying he is buying a stock.” The NCSSF, which oversees 1.5 trillion yuan in reserves for China’s social security system, has returned an average 8.8% a year since 2000, the Securities Daily reported earlier this year, citing official data. The larger pension system, on the other hand, has been locally managed and made just 2.3% annually through 2014, the newspaper said.

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Is someone overestimating demand perhaps?

Massive Stockpile Means Oil Rebound Is Over: Barclays (CNBC)

A massive global stockpile of oil could mean trouble ahead for the global crude market, according to Barclays. Crude oil prices dropped to a two month low on Thursday, after the Energy Information Administration reported a smaller-than-expected decrease in oil stockpiles. That may be a canary in the coalmine, a top energy market watcher explained. “For the last 6 quarters there’s been this discrepancy between global supply and global demand,” Michael Cohen, head of energy commodities research at Barclays, said last week on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” Cohen said Barclays is bearish on oil for the next six to eight months, because the current stockpile could increase in an economic downturn, likely to drive prices lower.

In the summer months, increased travel often increases the demand for gasoline, and drags up crude oil by default. Yet once that season ends, inventory levels may continue to rise. Looking at a chart of the expected crude oil supply compared with the current amount, Cohen said the disconnect is staggering. The chart accounts for oil supply from the 38 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which includes the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Canada, among others. During the recent financial crisis, crude production overhang was 138 million barrels. Now, the overhang is twice that, at 383 million barrels among the OECD, Cohen said.

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Given what a disaster Abenomics is, one wonders: how inept can Japan’s opposition be? Abe wins a two-thirds majority?! Can also change the constitution so Japan can go back to war.

Japan PM Abe To ‘Accelerate Abenomics’ After Huge Election Win (BBG)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative coalition scored a convincing upper house election win, putting it on course for a two-thirds majority that would allow Abe to press ahead with plans to revise the country’s pacifist constitution. The Liberal Democratic Party secured 56 of the 121 seats in contention, public broadcaster NHK said, while junior coalition partner Komeito had 14. Alongside others who support Abe’s view on constitutional revision, plus uncontested seats, the prime minister is set for a super majority, it said. The results raise questions over whether Abe will switch his focus to altering the postwar U.S.-imposed constitution, a potentially time-consuming process that could expend his political capital and distract the government from its economic program.

Abe vowed during the campaign to focus on policies aimed at expanding the size of the economy to 600 trillion yen ($6 trillion) from 500 trillion yen. “If Prime Minister Abe’s coalition scores a hot, two-thirds majority on Sunday, it might be tempted to pass constitutional changes, draining political capital away from urgently needed economic reforms,” Frederic Neumann at HSBC in Hong Kong, wrote in an e-mailed note before the election. Tokyo shares headed for their biggest gain in almost three months after the upper house election result and as jobs data eased concerns over the U.S. economy. The Topix index added 2.8% to 1,243.93 at 9:43 a.m. in Tokyo.

“Abe said he’ll continue to put together his economic policy package, so that optimism is going to continue to support Japanese shares,” said Shoji Hirakawa, chief global strategist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center. Abe’s coalition, which previously held 136 of the 242 seats in the chamber, fended off a challenge from opposition parties that had sought to unify the anti-government vote by avoiding running candidates against one another in many districts. “I think this means I am being told to accelerate Abenomics, so I want to respond to the expectations of the people,” Abe told TBS television after early results were announced.

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But EU demands bail-ins these days?

Deutsche Bank Chief Economist Calls For €150 Billion Bailout Of EU Banks (ZH)

The cards have been tipped, and it appears Italy’s Prime Minister may have been right. In the aftermath of Brexit, much of the investing public’s attention has turned to Italian banks which are in desperate need of a bailout as a result of €360 billion in bad loans growing worse by the day (and not a bail-in, as European regulations mandate, as that would lead to an immediate bank run) to avoid a freeze and/or collapse of Italy’s banking sector. This has pushed stock prices – and default risk – on Italian banks to record levels. So far Italy’s bailout requests have mostly fallen on deaf ears, as Germany’s political leaders have resisted Renzi’s recurring pleas for a taxpayer funded rescue.

However, as we have alleged, and as the Italian Prime Minister admitted last week, the core risk for Europe is not just the Italian banking sector but the biggest bank of all in Europe: Deutsche Bank. Recall last Thursday, when Matteo Renzi said other European banks had much bigger problems than their Italian counterparts. “If this non-performing loan problem is worth one, the question of derivatives at other banks, at big banks, is worth one hundred. This is the ratio: one to one hundred,” Renzi said. He was, of course, referring to the tens of trillions of derivatives on Deutsche Bank’s books. Today, we got the most definitive confirmation yet that the noose is tightening not only around Italy, but Germany itself [..], when none other than David Folkerts-Landau, the chief economist of Deutsche Bank, has called for a multi-billion dollar bailout for European banks.

Speaking to Germany’s Welt am Sonntag, the economist said European institutions should get fresh capital for a recapitalization following a similar bailout in the US. What he didn’t say is that the US bailout took place nearly a decade ago, in the meantime Europe’s financial sector was supposed to be fixed courtesy of “prudent” fiscal and monetary policy. It wasn’t. As Landau says the US helped its banks with $475 billion dollars, and such a program is now needed in Europe, especially for Italian banks. In other words, just because the US did it, now it’s Europe’s turn to ask for more of the same.

“In Europe, the bailout does not need to be so large. A €150 billion program should be enough to help European banks recapitalize,” said David Folkerts-Landau. He adds that the decline in bank stocks is only the symptom of a much larger problem, namely a fatal combination of low growth, high debt and a “dangerous” deflation. “Europe is seriously ill and needs to address very quickly the existing problems, or face an accident,” said the chief economist.

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Good read. “It’s the inevitable consequence of medieval governance falling prey to the fangs of Wall Street..”

Bank Born Out of Black Death Struggles to Survive (BBG)

Siena, the medieval city renowned for its Palio horse races, is home to the world’s oldest bank. Within its aging walls lies a distinctly 21st-century tale of devastation wrought by local politicians and global financiers. Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Italy’s third-largest lender, is struggling to survive as it seeks to repay a second bailout or face nationalization. Its downfall proved a boon to global investment banks. They offered merger and investment advice to executives beholden to politicians that helped wipe out 93 percent of Monte Paschi’s value. Then they sold it complex derivatives that hid, even worsened the losses. Efforts to rescue the 541-year-old lender have cost Italian taxpayers €4.1 billion.

The investment banks, including Merrill Lynch, JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank, earned more than $200 million in fees from 2008 through 2011, filings and deal memos show. “These international banks come to exploit, and Italy is vulnerable,” said former Senator Elio Lannutti, who heads Adusbef, a consumer group for Italian bank customers. “On one side, there’s the local incompetence, and on the other side the bad faith of the international investment banks.” Franco Debenedetti, a former CEO of Olivetti, was even blunter. “It’s the inevitable consequence of medieval governance falling prey to the fangs of Wall Street,” said Debenedetti, now chairman of Italy’s Bruno Leoni Institute, a pro-free-market research group in Turin.

[..] ..the heritage of a bank with 2,300 branches and 28,500 employees that traces its origins to combating excessive loan rates. Siena officials founded Monte Paschi in 1472, after the Black Death wiped out more than half the city’s population. They modeled it on the pawnshops Franciscan monks had set up to counter usury. As it grew, the lender helped fuel the Renaissance in Tuscany that pulled Europe from the Middle Ages.

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Well, they did it. Congrats! Young people can’t afford to live in their own communities any more. Is there a govenment responsibility here somewhere?

Australia First-Home Buyers Hit Lowest Level In A Decade (Domain)

First-home buyers are now at their lowest levels in more than a decade, data released on Monday shows. As a proportion of all home buyers, first-home buyers dropped to 13.9% in May, according to housing finance data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Down from 14.4% in April, this latest result is the lowest since 2004. At that time, the proportion fell to a record low 12.8% as grants for first-home buyers came to an end. For first-home buyers to make a significant return prices would have to fall, BIS Shrapnel senior manager of residential Angie Zigomanis said. “A drop in prices of some sort is needed, but we’ll also need a reduction in expectations in terms of what [first-home buyers] are looking for,” Mr Zigomanis said.

“At some point they have to come back, in theory … but for now the market is tough.” And a slowdown might be on the cards. While month-to-month figures can be volatile, overall lending figures are slowing from the frenzied levels of 2015, HSBC chief economist Paul Bloxham said. “We’re seeing a pullback in [housing finance] that has been going on since late last year, which is consistent with the idea that the housing market is set to cool,” he said. “[It’s a result of] tighter prudential settings and is also a sign that the exuberance has come out of the market … there was concern that strong activity from investors was overheating the market.”

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Same in Kiwiland: “The leader of the Government is more worried about the short-term fates of leveraged-up speculators and developers than the long-term fate of Generation Rent.”

The Great New Zealand Housing Down-Trou (Hickey)

Former Reserve Bank Chairman Arthur Grimes essentially undressed our politicians in front of us this week when he challenged them to embrace a 40% fall in Auckland house prices. He exposed them as emperors without clothes. “What I do is whenever I find a politician who says they want affordable housing, I ask them a very simple question: ‘How much do you want house prices to fall by overall?’ “And not one of them has been able to answer that very simple question,” Grimes said this week. He was talking about the extraordinary response to his suggestion 150,000 houses be built in six years to push Auckland prices down. Prime Minister John Key’s response was immediate – and betrayed where he stands on the issue of using a supply shock to make housing affordable.

It was “crazy”, would leave people in the market with huge losses and put pressure on developers. So there we have it. The leader of the Government is more worried about the short-term fates of leveraged-up speculators and developers than the long-term fate of Generation Rent. Despite years of saying the only way to improve housing affordability is to increase supply, his position is any increase in supply that hurts the investors who have bought in the past couple of years is out of the question. The Prime Minister who boasts his Government is aspirational had this to say about going for a really big response to the challenge: “Where you’d get 150,000 homes from overnight, I don’t know.”

Key said he hoped house-price inflation could be slowed by the Government’s measures, with the implication affordability would somehow creep up on everyone with wage increases. The Treasury forecasts wages will rise by an average of 2.2% over the next six years. It also forecasts house prices will rise by an average of 5.7% over the same period. The Government’s own forecasts show this magical affordability catch-up is not going to happen – and is expected to get much worse. Auckland houses cost nearly 10 times household income. That’s double what it was in the early 2000s and almost double the rest of the country. The accepted model for affordability around the world is closer to three times income.

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British media are anti-journalism.

The Media Against Jeremy Corbyn (Jacobin)

The British media has never had much time for Jeremy Corbyn. Within a week of his election as Labour Party leader in September, it was engaging in a campaign the Media Reform Coalition characterized as an attempt to “systematically undermine” his position. In an avalanche of negative coverage 60% of all articles which appeared in the mainstream press about Corbyn were negative with only 13% positive. The newsroom, ostensibly the objective arm of the media, had an even worse record: 62% negative with only 9% positive. This sustained attack had itself followed a month of wildly misleading headlines about Corbyn and his policies in these same outlets. Concerns about sexual assaults on public transport were construed as campaigning for women-only trains.

Advocacy for Keynesian fiscal and monetary policies was presented as a plan to “turn Britain into Zimbabwe.” An appeal to reconsider the foreign policy approach of the last decade was presented as an association with Putin’s Russia. In the months which followed the attacks continued. Particularly egregious examples, such as the criticism of Corbyn for refusing to “bow deeply enough” while paying his respects on Remembrance Day, stick in the memory. But it is the insidious rather than the ridiculous which best characterizes the British media’s approach to Corbyn. One example of this occurred in January when it was revealed that the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg had coordinated the resignation of a member of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet so that it would occur live on television. Planned for minutes before Corbyn was due to engage in Prime Minister’s Questions, it was a transparent attempt to inflict the maximum damage possible to his leadership.

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“..political bribes aren’t free speech and corporations aren’t persons.”

How the Corporate Food Industry Destroys Democracy (Hartmann)

On July 1, Vermont implemented a law requiring disclosure labels on all food products that contain genetically engineered ingredients, also known as genetically modified organisms or GMOs. Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, hailed the law as “the first law enacted in the US that would provide clear labels identifying food made with genetically engineered ingredients. Indeed, stores across the country are already stocking food with clear on-package labels thanks to the Vermont law, because it’s much easier for a company to provide GMO labels on all of the products in its supply chain than just the ones going to one state.”

What that means is that the Vermont labeling law is changing the landscape of our grocery stores, and making it easier than ever to know which products contain GMOs. And less than a week later after that law went into effect, it is under attack. Monsanto and its bought-and-paid-for toadies in Congress are pushing legislation to override Vermont’s law. Democrats who oppose this effort call the Stabenow/Roberts legislation the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” Act, or DARK Act. This isn’t the first time that a DARK Act has been brought forward in the Senate, and one version of the bill was already shot down earlier this year. The most recent version of the bill was brought forward by Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, both recipients of substantial contributions from Big Agriculture.

Stabenow has received more than $600,000 in campaign contributions since 2011 from the Crop Production and Basic Processing Industry, and Pat Roberts has received more than $600,000 from the Agricultural Services and Products industry. When Senator Stabenow unveiled the industry-friendly legislation, she boasted that, “For the first time ever, consumers will have a national, mandatory label for food products that contain genetically modified ingredients.” Which sounds great, and it would be great, if it were true. But the fact is, the DARK Act would set up a system of voluntary labeling that would overturn Vermont’s labeling law and replace it with a law that’s riddled with so many loopholes and exemptions that it would only apply to very few products, and there’s no enforcement mechanism and no penalties or consequences of any kind for defying the bill.

[..] If our democracy actually worked, this bill never would have seen the light of day, because people overwhelmingly want to know what’s in their food and support GMO labeling. But our democracy doesn’t work, because our lawmakers are bought and paid for by special interests like Monsanto. If we want our lawmakers to pass popular laws that actually work, we need to get money out of politics, we need to overturn Citizens United and we need to amend the Constitution to make it clear that political bribes aren’t free speech and corporations aren’t persons.

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” It’s not the independence of Britain from Europe, but the independence of Europe from the USA.”

10 Years (Or Less): Orwell’s Vision Coming True (SHTF)

In the wake of all of the Brexit vote, a chilling blurb made headlines and it went largely unnoticed and uncommented upon. The line was couched within comments made by Boris Titov, an economic policy maker for Russia’s Kremlin. Actually all of the following merits attention, but one line stands out. The source for this excerpt is a Facebook post by Titov. Here it is: “…it seems it has happened — UK out!!! In my opinion, the most important long-term consequence of all this is that the exit will take Europe away from the anglo-saxons, meaning from the USA. It’s not the independence of Britain from Europe, but the independence of Europe from the USA. And it’s not long until a united Eurasia — about 10 years.”

This is a very revealing post to show how unfavorably the past 50 years of post-World War II American imperialism has been viewed. The tipping point, as mentioned in a previous article was the outright 180º that George H.W. Bush pulled on Mikhail Gorbachev: the promise of NATO membership upon reunification of the two Germany’s and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and then not fulfilling that promise.

The American corporate interests inserted themselves, as the communist government shattered, leaving in its wake oligarchs, the Russian mafia, and a “Wild West” environment within Russia proper and the ex-SSR’s, the former Soviet satellite nations. A tremendous amount of chaos occurred for a decade that was both enabled and further fostered by the United States. The perception in Russia even before the Soviet Union came into being was that Russians were in an economic war with Great Britain, and the United States was looked upon as an “extension” of Britain: a country with language, law, and cultural parallels,especially in terms of expansion.

As of the past several years, the United States has been encroaching upon Russian territory and economic interests. That encroachment has intensified into a U.S.-created “Cold War Resurrection” stance with the bolstering of NATO forces in the Baltic states. The U.S. is virtually thumbing its nose at Russia with the distribution of the “anti-ballistic missile systems” emplaced in places such as Moldova. As Putin pointed out, it takes not even a sneeze and a couple of hours to convert those platforms into use for Tomahawks with nuclear capability. The Russians did not exercise “en passant” with such an opener, and are placing missiles of their own to face the U.S. assets.

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Sep 022015
 
 September 2, 2015  Posted by at 8:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Family leaving South Dakota drought for Oregon Jul 1936

Global Stock Markets Begin September With More Losses (Guardian)
Central Banks To Dump $1.5 Trillion FX Reserves By End 2016 -Deutsche (Reuters)
Investors Wake Up To Emerging Market Currency Risk (FT)
IMF’s Lagarde Sees Weaker Than Expected Global Economic Growth (Reuters)
2015: The Year China Goes Broke? (Gordon G. Chang)
China Risks An Economic Discontinuity (Martin Wolf)
Alibaba Is the Canary in China’s Coal Mine (Pesek)
China Turns Up Heat On Market Participants (FT)
Huge Purchases By Chinese Oil Trader Raise Prices, Confusion (WSJ)
A Corner of the Oil Market Shows Why It’s So Tough to Read China (Bloomberg)
Hit By Cheap Oil, Canada’s Economy Falls Into Recession (Reuters)
Alberta Issues Bleak Economic Report (Globe and Mail)
Say Goodbye to Normal (Jim Kunstler)
France ‘Intimidated’ By Germany On Economic Policy: Stiglitz (AFP)
Grexit May Be Better For Greece: Euro Architect (CNBC)
Democratizing the Eurozone (Yanis Varoufakis)
Inability To Unite On Major Challenges May Pull The EU Apart (EurActiv)
Bid For United EU Response Fraying Over Refugee Quota Demands (Guardian)
Hungarian TV ‘Told Not To Broadcast Images Of Refugee Children’ (Guardian)
Greece’s Ionian Islands To Hold Plebiscite Over Airport Privatization (Kath.)
The Price of European Indifference (Bernard-Henri Lévy)
This Is What Greece’s Refugee Crisis Really Looks Like (Nation)
Greek Island Lesvos Registers 17,500 Refugees Just Over The Past Week (Kath.)
Orwell Rules: EU Task Force To Take On Russian Propaganda (New Europe)
Is The World Running Out Of Space? (BBC)

Plunge protection saved Shanghai from bigger losses overnight. Tomorrow’s China’s big parade day, got to look good for that. Will they let markets do their own thing after tomorrow?

Global Stock Markets Begin September With More Losses (Guardian)

Global stock markets staged a dramatic start to September as rising worries about China’s economic slowdown sparked fresh sell-offs in Asia, Europe and on Wall Street. After suffering their worst month in three years in August, US shares tumbled after Tuesday’s opening bell. At close, the Dow Jones industrial average had dropped 469 points, or 2.8%, to 16,058 and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 58 points, or 3%, to 1,913. News that US manufacturing activity slowed in August added to pressure on share prices. The sell-off on Wall Street mirrored losses in Asia overnight, and later on European bourses, in the wake of more weak data on China’s manufacturing sector, suggesting output slumped to a three-year low in August.

Worries about waning demand from the world’s second biggest economy left Japan’s Nikkei down a hefty 3.8%, taking it close to a six-month low last week. China’s Shanghai composite index suffered a smaller 1.3% loss. As the sell-off rippled out to Europe, the FTSE 100 closed down more than 3% at 6,058.54 on Tuesday afternoon, extending last month’s sharp losses. A 6.7% drop during August marked the worst month for UK’s leading share index since May 2012. The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 shed 9% over the same period, the worst monthly performance for four years. On Tuesday it was down 3%. Investor confidence has been rattled by a combination of factors.

Alongside signs China’s economy is slowing, the country’s stock market has tumbled from multi-year highs in June and interventions by policymakers have done little to stem the rout. At the same time, markets are bracing for the prospect of the first US interest rate rise since before the global financial crisis. Despite the recent market turmoil, there is still some expectation that the US Federal Reserve could hike as soon as this month, especially after its vice-chair Stanley Fischer said over the weekend that it was too soon to decide on a September move. The likelihood of higher borrowing costs in the US is undermining already fragile confidence in emerging markets from Latin America to Asia.

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Could be much faster.

Central Banks To Dump $1.5 Trillion FX Reserves By End 2016 -Deutsche (Reuters)

Central banks will sell $1.5 trillion foreign exchange reserves by the end of next year as they try to counter capital outflows stemming from slowing growth in China, low oil prices and an impending rise in U.S. interest rates, Deutsche Bank said on Tuesday. This would mark a major shift in global capital flows, ending two decades of reserve accumulation by emerging markets and potentially forcing the Federal Reserve into slowing down the unwinding of its “quantitative easing” crisis-fighting stimulus. George Saravelos, currency strategist at Deutsche and co-author of the report, said the $1.5 trillion estimate is based on the pace that emerging markets – especially China – have been drawing down their FX reserves recently to counter capital flight. “The risks are it’s actually faster than that,” Saravelos said.

Also on Tuesday, analysts at Dutch bank Rabobank published a report estimating that China sold up to $200 billion of reserves in the last few weeks of August alone. China is by far the biggest holder of FX reserves in the world with around $3.65 trillion, mostly thought to be in dollar-denominated assets like U.S. government bonds and bills. Last year, it had almost $4 trillion. China and emerging markets led the build up in global FX reserves following the 1997 Asian crisis to a peak of $12 trillion last year. This cash pile shielded them from the 2007-08 crisis, and looks like it is once again being deployed. The Deutsche estimate is the latest of many from analysts trying to determine just how much China’s slowdown and recent currency devaluation, low commodity prices, the prospect of higher U.S. rates and recent market volatility will deplete global reserves.

Bond and currency markets will feel the impact. “The peak in bond demand is probably behind us. QE in the U.S. has stopped, and the shift in global reserve accumulation has started too,” he said. The Fed could be forced to delay the unwinding of its QE programme because of the “significant amount of pressure” reserves selling could put on the Treasuries market. Saravelos said the upward pressure on U.S. yields from the selling of large quantities of bonds should also put upward pressure on the dollar, with every $100 billion reduction in reserves pushing the euro down three cents against the dollar.

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But deny it at the same time.

Investors Wake Up To Emerging Market Currency Risk (FT)

If there is a mood of anxiety across the US and Europe over the impact of China catching a cold, there is an air of déjà vu for investors who deal in emerging markets. The panicked market reaction to “Black Monday” in Chinese equities suggests much of the developed world has only just woken up to the risk that a slowing Chinese economy poses around the globe. But it is nothing new for EM countries. “The biggest surprise [about last week’s market panic] was not that China has slowed but that it’s come as such a surprise,” says Paul McNamara, EM portfolio manager at GAM Holding. China’s slowdown has been worrying EM countries throughout 2015.

It has been a year of falling commodity prices, brought lower, thanks in part, to drip-drip evidence that the Chinese investment drive — which fuelled growth in commodity countries and investor interest in their economies — was being checked. Black Monday, says Mr McNamara, was “a pretty intense dose of what we’ve been seeing all year”. It has been a year of consistent weakness, “a lot of which has been sourced in China”. Take Colombia, a big oil producer. Its peso currency had fallen 24% from the beginning of the year up until Black Monday, when it fell a further 4%. EM countries have been pummelled by double blows to the solar plexus all through the year. Punch one: the Chinese slowdown. Punch two: the continuous market focus on when the US would raise rates, which has driven dollar strength and so weakened EM currencies.

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The repetitive empty void of words like these will come back to hurt Lagarde. The IMF is nothing without credibility. The window of credibility is narrowing.

IMF’s Lagarde Sees Weaker Than Expected Global Economic Growth (Reuters)

Global economic growth is likely to be weaker than earlier expected, the head of the IMF said on Tuesday, due to a slower recovery in advanced economies and a further slowdown in emerging nations. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde also warned emerging economies like Indonesia to “be vigilant for spillovers” from China’s slowdown, tighter global financial conditions, and the prospects of a U.S. interest rate hike. “Overall, we expect global growth to remain moderate and likely weaker than we anticipated last July,” Lagarde told university students at the start of a two-day visit to Indonesia’s capital. The IMF in July forecast global growth at 3.3% this year, slightly below last year’s 3.4%.

Lagarde said China’s economy was slowing, although not sharply or unexpectedly, as it adjusts to a new growth model. “The transition to a more market-based economy and the unwinding of risks built up in recent years is complex and could well be somewhat bumpy,” she said. “That said, the authorities have the policy tools and financial buffers to manage this transition.” Lagarde, who is visiting Indonesia for the first time in three years, said Southeast Asia’s largest economy had the “right tools to actually react” to the global volatility. “You have very sound public finances with overall government debt in the range of 20%-ish relative to GDP, you have a relatively small deficit,” she said before meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

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“..the government has already shelled out $1.3 trillion.”

2015: The Year China Goes Broke? (Gordon G. Chang)

China, the Financial Times noted Friday, could exhaust its foreign exchange reserves within a year as it defends the value of its plunging currency, the renminbi. The paper’s arithmetic is correct of course, but the projection, which at first sounds alarming, is actually optimistic. Beijing might be broke in months—and maybe by the end of this year—despite now holding the world’s largest foreign exchange reserves. At the same time, the Chinese central government has been supporting stock valuations through various means, especially the direct purchases of shares. Beijing’s efforts to defend both stocks and the currency are severely straining its finances. China’s problems were a long time in the making, but they became evident this spring, when the main indexes measuring the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets peaked on June 12 and then fell precipitously.

In early July, Beijing, in a series of announcements, unveiled its rescue program, which included the government buying of shares. The ill-conceived effort was largely abandoned, it appears. As a result, shares fell hard last Monday, now known in China as “Black Monday,” and the following two days. The Shanghai Composite, the most widely followed index of Chinese stocks, ended trading on last Wednesday down 43.3% from its June 12 peak. Chinese leaders, however, took markets by surprise on Thursday, when shares snapped their five-day losing streak. The Shanghai Composite was down 0.7% entering the last hour of trading of the afternoon session. Massive government purchases of large-cap stocks sent prices soaring in the final minutes, and the index closed up 5.3%.

Sources told Bloomberg that Beijing’s buying was intended to prevent stocks from plunging during the run up to the September 3-4 holiday to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, what China has renamed the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression. Beijing repeated the trick Friday, engineering an impressive rally in the last 90 minutes of trading. The Shanghai index posted a 4.8% gain for the day. Late buying was also evident Monday, although it was not quite enough to completely erase the sharp drop in the morning session. Are happy times here again? About a year ago, Chinese technocrats created a stock market boom by doing nothing more than talking up the market.

Unsupported by fundamentals—either a robust economy or rising corporate earnings—the market is inevitably coming back down unless the Chinese central government purchases more shares. Beijing’s so-called “national team”—a collection of state entities—appears to be the only big buyer in the market. The government has a large “war chest,” believed to be between 2 and 5 trillion yuan (about $322 billion to $807 billion). Whatever its size, the fund has been rapidly depleted since officials started buying stock in large quantities. In the middle of this month, Goldman Sachs estimated the government had spent 800-900 billion yuan to acquire shares. Christopher Balding of Peking University’s HSBC Business School, taking a more expansive view of Beijing’s market-supporting initiatives, believes the government has already shelled out $1.3 trillion.

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More on China’s frantic ‘market support’.

China Risks An Economic Discontinuity (Martin Wolf)

David Daokui Lee, an influential Chinese economist, has argued that: “The stock market sell-off is not the problem… the problem — not a huge one, but a problem nonetheless — is the Chinese economy itself.” I agree with both points, with one exception. The problem may prove huge. Market turmoil is not irrelevant. It matters that Beijing has spent $200bn on a failed attempt to prop up the stock market and that foreign exchange reserves fell by $315bn in the year to July 2015. It matters, too, that a search for scapegoats is in train. These are indicators of capital flight and policymaker panic. They tell us about confidence — or the lack of it. Nevertheless, economic performance is ultimately decisive. The important economic fact about China is its past achievements.

Gross domestic product (at purchasing power parity) has risen from 3% of US levels to some 25% (see chart). GDP is an imperfect measure of the standard of living. But this transformation is no statistical artefact. It is visible on the ground. The only “large”(bigger than city state) economies, without valuable natural resources, to achieve something like this since the second world war are Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam. Yet, relative to US levels, China’s GDP per head is where South Korea’s was in the mid-1980s. South Korea’s real GDP per head has since nearly quadrupled in real terms, to reach almost 70% of US levels. If China became as rich as Korea, its economy would be bigger than those of the US and Europe combined.

This is a case for long-run optimism. Against it is the caveat that “past performance is no guarantee of future performance”. Growth rates usually revert to the global mean. If China continued fast catch-up growth over the next generation it would be an extreme outlier .
In emerging economies growth tends to be marked by “discontinuities”. But what Chinese policymakers call the “new normal” is not itself such a discontinuity. They believe they have overseen a smooth slowdown from annual growth of 10% to still-fast growth of 7%. Is a far bigger slowdown possible? More important, would this be a temporary interruption, as in South Korea in the late 1990s crisis — or more permanent, as in Brazil in the 1980s or Japan in the 1990s?

There are at least three reasons why China’s growth might suffer a discontinuity: the current pattern is unsustainable; the debt overhang is large; and dealing with these challenges creates the risks of a sharp collapse in demand. The most important fact about China’s current pattern of growth is its dependence on investment as a source of supply and demand (see charts). Since 2011 additional capital has been the sole source of extra output, with the contribution of growth of “total factor productivity” (measuring the change in output per unit of inputs) near zero. Moreover, the incremental capital output ratio, a measure of the contribution of investment to growth, has soared as returns on investment have tumbled.

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Looks like a smart view.

Alibaba Is the Canary in China’s Coal Mine (Pesek)

It turns out investors were right about Alibaba: No company is more on the front lines of China’s economic shifts than Jack Ma’s juggernaut. And that’s just where the problems begin. Alibaba’s shares slide with each new report of middle-class Chinese who are dumping apartments to raise cash, delaying weddings, canceling vacations, terminating automobile orders and cutting up credit cards. A social media app called “Guide on Safe Passage Through the Economic Crisis” is all the rage as hundreds of millions of mainlanders encounter their first bear market. All that most Chinese younger than 50 know is annual growth of more than 10%. Crashing stocks and recession are Western maladies, not China’s. Ma has hitched the fortunes of his e-commerce behemoth to these people, and the value of his company is falling in sync with them.

After surging as much as 75% from their initial offering price of $68 each last September, the company’s American depositary receipts plunged 16% in August, to $66.12, the third consecutive monthly decline in New York. Anyone who doubts that China won’t experience a negative wealth effect as Shanghai cracks hasn’t looked at Alibaba’s numbers. Skeptical investors have shaved $65 billion from its market value since last year’s euphoric initial public offering. Things are about to get worse — both for the economy and Ma’s investors. Five interest-rate cuts since November aren’t boosting factory activity, which is the weakest in at least three years. The 49.7 reading on the August Purchasing Managers’ Index confirmed the worst fears of China bulls: Domestic and external demand is sliding with the Shanghai Composite Index.

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Li and Xi will do anything to keep the blame of their own shoulders.

China Turns Up Heat On Market Participants (FT)

Beijing intensified its clampdown on stock market impropriety and rumour-mongering on Tuesday as the whereabouts of one of China’s leading hedge fund managers remained unclear. The husband of Li Yifei, Man Group China head, denied that she was in detention. An earlier Bloomberg report saying she had been taken into custody by police in connection with the stock market probe into market volatility was “not accurate”, Wang Chaoyong, Ms Li’s husband, told the Financial Times. “Li is in a meeting with [financial industry] authorities at the moment in the suburbs of Beijing,” he said, adding that the meeting was continuing from Monday and that “it sounds like there are a lot of people attending from foreign financial institutions”.

Mr Wang said he did not know the purpose of the meeting, adding “it’s confidential, they are not allowed to turn on their phones”. But he said such encounters between foreign businesses and the Chinese market authorities were normal and he did not appear distressed about his wife’s situation. “I talked to her yesterday morning and the day before,” he said. “I haven’t talked to her today.” Questions over Ms Li’s whereabouts come after Chinese authorities turned up the heat on other prominent figures, including four senior executives of Citic Securities, a respected financial journalist and an official of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, the market watchdog.

Authorities have blamed market manipulation and foreign forces as the market slumps lower. The Shanghai Composite index is down more than 40% from its June 12 peak, prompting a slew of detentions alongside technical measures designed to reverse the slide. Ms Li leads the China business of London-listed Man Group, the world’s largest publicly traded hedge fund. A kung fu expert who once worked as a stunt double in martial arts, she previously held senior roles in China for MTV and Viacom. But Man Group does not run a trading desk or make investments from its Chinese office, and fewer than five people are employed there. Ms Li’s role is to sell Man Group funds to Chinese institutional investors. The group first received permission to market in China from the government under the so-called QDLP programme, which was launched in 2013. The programme allowed approved foreign hedge funds to raise up to $50m in assets in mainland China.

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The rally explained.

Huge Purchases By Chinese Oil Trader Raise Prices, Confusion (WSJ)

A Chinese oil-trading company bought record volumes of oil on a regional cash market for Middle Eastern crude last month, pushing up benchmark prices and causing confusion among crude buyers and sellers in Asia about the company’s motives. Chinaoil, the trading arm of state-run China National Petroleum, bought nearly 90% of the oil cargoes on the Dubai spot market in August, setting a record for the number of cargoes traded on the small marketplace in a single month. Chinaoil has engaged in heavy crude-buying in Dubai periodically over the past year, during which time global oil prices have fallen by roughly half. China’s oil imports have held up this year despite a slowdown in the country’s economic growth, with much of the crude believed to have gone toward building up the country’s strategic oil reserves.

China is expected to surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest oil importer this year on an annual basis, and its net oil imports were up 9.4% over the first seven months of this year. Still, traders involved in the Dubai market have questioned Chinaoil’s motives, saying its market dominance is distorting prices by making them higher than they would otherwise be. “The Dubai oil price is detached from actual supply and demand. There is a very clear disconnect from the market,” said one Singapore-based oil trader. Dubai crude prices are widely used by Asian oil producers and sellers when fixing contracts, as much of the region’s crude is sourced from the Middle East. The benchmark is assessed by price-reporting agency Platts, a unit of McGraw Hill, which bases its assessment on trades done during a 30-minute window each day.

Platts assessed the price of Dubai crude cargoes for loading in October at $48.41 a barrel on Monday, and at an average of $47.691 a barrel over August. Brent crude was trading at $52.16 a barrel on Monday. The Dubai market is now in a situation called backwardation, in which current prices are higher than future prices, because of Chinaoil’s large purchases. For global benchmarks such as Brent and West Texas Intermediate, by contrast, the price for oil to be delivered in a month is sharply lower than future prices, a situation called contango. “If you look at the physical market it is not tight. So [Chinaoil’s buying] is kind of distorting the market,” said Tushar Bansal at Facts Global Energy. Oil traders offered several theories for Chinaoil’s large purchases. Some said the company could be engaged in opportunistic stockpiling, while others said it could be profiting by taking an offsetting position in the oil futures market.

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This will cost a lot of people a lot of money. A huge headfake in oil prices.

A Corner of the Oil Market Shows Why It’s So Tough to Read China (Bloomberg)

Glencore Plc’s Ivan Glasenberg has lamented the difficulty of reading China’s commodity demand. The nation’s oil traders aren’t helping. State-run China National United Oil Corp., a unit of the country’s biggest energy company, bought 36 million barrels of Middle East crude last month as part of a pricing process in Singapore used to determine commodity benchmarks around the world. While the purchases by the trader known as Chinaoil were unprecedented, what’s more unusual is that the seller of most of those cargoes was another government-owned trading company called Unipec. “It’s unsettling and confusing for other players, and defies market logic,” Victor Shum at IHS said by phone from Singapore.

China has surpassed the U.S. as the world’s biggest buyer of overseas oil, driven by an ambition to keep a strategic stockpile of supplies. As global markets convulse after the surprise devaluation of the yuan in August, one state company buying from another underscores the challenge of determining demand in the largest user of energy, metals and grains. Glasenberg, the chief executive officer of leading commodity trader Glencore, said last month that “none of us know what is going on” currently in the world’s second-largest economy.

The record buying in Singapore was part of the market-on-close price assessment process run by Platts, a unit of McGraw Hill Financial Inc., where bids, offers and deals are reported by traders through e-mails, instant messages and phone conversations in a fixed period each day. These are used to create end-of-day price assessments for various commodities and form benchmarks for transactions globally. “Chinaoil and Unipec each have their own trading book and strategy,” Ehsan Ul-Haq, a senior market consultant at KBC Advanced Technologies, said by phone from London. “The Chinese government will not hinder free trading.”

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These boyos are talking about a technical recession. Wait till home prices start plummeting, then we’ll talk again.

Hit By Cheap Oil, Canada’s Economy Falls Into Recession (Reuters)

The Canadian economy shrank again in the second quarter, putting the country in recession for the first time since the financial crisis, with a plunge in oil prices spurring companies to chop business investment. The confirmation on Tuesday of a modest recession will figure heavily into the election campaign as Canadians head to the polls Oct. 19 and poses a challenge to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is seeking a rare fourth consecutive term. Still, there was a silver lining as growth picked up for the first time in six months in June, underscoring expectations the recession will be short-lived. Harper was quick to downplay what some supporters and economists have dismissed as a “technical” recession, pointing to the upbeat June figures during a campaign stop. “The Canadian economy is back on track,” he said.

But politicians from the opposition New Democrats and Liberals said the numbers were evidence Harper’s economic policies were failing. Economists mostly agreed the 0.5% pickup in June put Canada on good footing for a better third quarter. “Despite the technical recession materializing, it does look like the Canadian economy is jumping back, is rebounding strongly in the third quarter,” said Derek Burleton at Toronto-Dominion Bank. The Canadian dollar initially rallied to a session high against the greenback following the data before giving up ground later in the day as oil prices fell. The last time Canada was in recession was in 2008-09, when the U.S. housing market meltdown triggered a global credit crisis.

This time around, Canada has been primarily hit by the slump in crude prices, with weakness concentrated in energy-related sectors. Oil-exporting provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan have been particularly hard-hit. GDP contracted at an annualized 0.5% rate in the second quarter, Statistics Canada said. That was better than forecast, though revisions showed the first quarter’s contraction was steeper than first reported. Two consecutive quarters of contraction are typically considered the textbook definition of a recession. But some economists have argued that such a definition is too narrow. They note unemployment has remained relatively subdued at 6.8%, and housing markets outside of Alberta and retail sales have been reasonably strong.

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Hear that distant rumble over the prairies?

Alberta Issues Bleak Economic Report (Globe and Mail)

Alberta’s economy is sliding into recession and its deficit for this year could top $6.5-billion, the province’s NDP government says in an economic update. It is a dramatic change from March, when the previous government forecast a deficit of nearly $5-billion and was expecting the economy to grow in 2015. Monday’s bleak new numbers came as neighbouring Saskatchewan announced it is forecasting a $292-million deficit this year due to low oil prices and the cost of fighting forest fires. The Prairie province had projected a surplus of $107-million in March. Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci avoided using the word “recession” on Monday, but confirmed the update’s findings that the economy of the province, Canada’s economic engine for much of the past decade, will contract by 0.6% this year and grow by only 1.3% in 2016.

“The last month has been volatile for the energy sector,” he said. “It is clear that revenues have dipped even further these past few weeks. If current conditions continue, the final deficit will be in the range of $6.5-billion.” Alberta’s new projected deficit is the second-largest in the country as a proportion of its economy, after that of Newfoundland and Labrador. “There is no doubt many Alberta families and businesses are feeling the effects of the dramatic drop in oil prices,” Mr. Ceci said. On Tuesday, Statistics Canada will report on whether the national economy shrank for a second consecutive quarter. The Federal Balanced Budget Act defines two consecutive quarters of negative growth as a recession. “Almost certainly, all the headlines on Tuesday will be ‘Canada in recession,’” said ATB Financial chief economist Todd Hirsch.

“But over the last five years, all of Canada’s growth has been coming from Alberta. We’ve been doing our share of the heavy lifting, but in 2015, we’re a drag on the national economy.” His forecast for this year fits with the government’s latest numbers. However, he is expecting zero growth next year. Alberta’s government finances are closely tied to the price of a barrel of oil, with royalties paying for as much as one-third of provincial spending during times of high energy prices. Recent fluctuations in oil prices have made forecasting difficult. Over the past week, oil prices have surged from $38.24 (U.S.) a barrel to $49.20 on Monday. “The situation over the month of August has changed so dramatically, I don’t want to say that the forecast is inaccurate, but we might see some revision,” Mr. Hirsch said. “Anything could happen in the next few months. We could be at $20 oil or $60-per-barrel oil.”

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“Put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.”

Say Goodbye to Normal (Jim Kunstler)

The tremors rattling markets are not exactly what they seem to be. A meme prevails that these movements represent a kind of financial peristalsis — regular wavelike workings of eternal progress toward an epic more of everything, especially profits! You can forget the supposedly “normal” cycles of the techno-industrial arrangement, which means, in particular, the business cycle of the standard economics textbooks. Those cycles are dying. They’re dying because there really are Limits to Growth and we are now solidly in grips of those limits. Only we can’t recognize the way it is expressing itself, especially in political terms. What’s afoot is a not “recession” but a permanent contraction of what has been normal for a little over two hundred years.

There is not going to be more of everything, especially profits, and the stock buyback orgy that has animated the corporate executive suites will be recognized shortly for what it is: an assest-stripping operation. What’s happening now is a permanent contraction. Well, of course, nothing lasts forever, and the contraction is one phase of a greater transition. The cornucopians and techno-narcissists would like to think that we are transitioning into an even more lavish era of techno-wonderama — life in a padded recliner tapping on a tablet for everything! I don’t think so. Rather, we’re going medieval, and we’re doing it the hard way because there’s just not enough to go around and the swollen populations of the world are going to be fighting over what’s left.

Actually, we’ll be lucky if we can go medieval, because there’s no guarantee that the contraction has to stop there, especially if we behave really badly about it — and based on the way we’re acting now, it’s hard to be optimistic about our behavior improving. Going medieval would imply living within the solar energy income of the planet, and by that I don’t mean photo-voltaic panels, but rather what the planet might provide in the way of plant and animal “income” for a substantially smaller population of humans. That plus a long-term resource salvage operation.

[..] I have to say it again: prepare to get smaller and more local. Things on the grand level are not going to work out. Get your shit together locally, and do it in place that has some prospect for keeping on: a small town somewhere food can be grown and especially places near the inland waterways where some kind of commercial exchange might continue in the absence of the trucking industry. Sound outlandish? Okay then. Keep buying Tesla stock and party on, dudes. Hail the viziers in their star-and-planet bedizened Brooks Brother raiment. Put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.

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You would almost hope Marine Le Pen takes over.

France ‘Intimidated’ By Germany On Economic Policy: Stiglitz (AFP)

France has been intimidated by Germany into pursuing an economic policy that isn’t working, Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told AFP in an interview on Monday. “There is a kind of intimidation,” Stiglitz, an outspoken opponent of austerity policy, said of the influence of Germany over the economic policy pursued by President Francois Hollande. Stiglitz also said he agreed with former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis that Germany’s intransigence against Athens was aimed at striking fear in Paris and convincing the French government to continue austerity policies. “The centre-left government in France has not been able to stand up against Germany” on its budget policy, eurozone policy, or on the response to the Greek crisis, said the former World Bank chief economist and advisor to US president Bill Clinton.

Regarding the EU, he criticised Brussels for focusing on nominal deficits of member states rather than those adjusted for the economic cycle, as well as the policy response. “Cutting taxes and expenditures contracts the economy, just the opposite to what you need,” said Stiglitz. “I do not understand why Europe is now trying that after all the evidence, all the theory says it does not work,” he added. He said the “totally discredited” policy now only has support in Germany and a few people in France. Stiglitz, who is in France to promote the translation of his latest book, “The Great Divide”, said the “centre-left has lost confidence in its progressive agenda”. He noted that former British prime minister Tony Blair, ex-German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and US President Barack Obama all supported the “banking system, have supported deregulation, trade agreements that are bad for ordinary workers”.

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Contradictio in terminus: “The euro is irreversible – but if it is irreversible for every country has become an open question..”

Grexit May Be Better For Greece: Euro Architect (CNBC)

Leaving the euro might help struggling Greece, according to Otmar Issing, the former ECB board member and chief economist who is known as one of the euro currency’s architects. “The euro is irreversible – but if it is irreversible for every country has become an open question,” Issing told CNBC on Tuesday. Issing raised eyebrows earlier this summer when he said that the euro’s irreversibility was an “illusion,” contradicting current ECB members who have insisted that there is no going back from the single currency. However, economists and politicians away from the ECB have questioned whether highly indebted Greece can remain in the euro zone and whether it might in fact do better economically outside the currency union.

“For Greece, there are very good arguments that it would do well outside the euro area for some time to come, but it all depends on the Greek government’s reactions” Issing told CNBC. Greece has just begun a third much-needed bailout, after months of negotiations, which looked like they might result in a disorderly exit from the single currency region. Since then, China has replaced Greece as the economy causing most worry to the global financial system. Issing, who is currently president of the Center for Financial Studies at Goethe University, spoke of the “high degree of uncertainty” that remains and forecast an era of “moderate growth but not stagnation.”

“We are heading for a time of high uncertainty in which governments still have many measures in hand to sustain the situation,” he said. He cautioned the ECB, which meets later this week, against any further extension of its quantitative easing program, arguing that the “danger of creating bubbles in fixed income markets” outweighed any advantages.

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It’s no use trying to democratize the EU. Or rather: the only way to democratize the EU is to dismantle the union. Yanis should know that better than just about anyone.

Democratizing the Eurozone (Yanis Varoufakis)

Like Macbeth, policymakers tend to commit new sins to cover up their old misdemeanors. And political systems prove their worth by how quickly they put an end to their officials’ serial, mutually reinforcing, policy mistakes. Judged by this standard, the eurozone, comprising 19 established democracies, lags behind the largest non-democratic economy in the world. Following the onset of the recession that followed the 2008 global financial crisis, China’s policymakers spent seven years replacing waning demand for their country’s net exports with a homegrown investment bubble, inflated by local governments’ aggressive land sales. And when the moment of reckoning came this summer, China’s leaders spent $200 billion of hard-earned foreign reserves to play King Canute trying to hold back the tide of a stock-market rout.

Compared to the European Union, however, the Chinese government’s effort to correct its errors – by eventually allowing interest rates and stock values to slide – seems like a paragon of speed and efficiency. Indeed, the failed Greek “fiscal consolidation and reform program,” and the way the EU’s leaders have clung to it despite five years of evidence that the program cannot possibly succeed, is symptomatic of a broader European governance failure, one with deep historical roots. In the early 1990s, the traumatic breakdown of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism only strengthened the resolve of EU leaders to prop it up. The more the scheme was exposed as unsustainable, the more doggedly officials clung to it – and the more optimistic their narratives. The Greek “program” is just another incarnation of Europe’s rose-tinted policy inertia.

The last five years of economic policymaking in the eurozone have been a remarkable comedy of errors. The list of policy mistakes is almost endless: interest-rate hikes by the European Central Bank in July 2008 and again in April 2011; imposing the harshest austerity on the economies facing the worst slump; authoritative treatises advocating beggar-thy-neighbor competitive internal devaluations; and a banking union that lacks an appropriate deposit-insurance scheme. How can European policymakers get away with it? After all, their political impunity stands in sharp contrast not only to the United States, where officials are at least accountable to Congress, but also to China, where one might be excused for thinking that officials are less accountable than their European counterparts. The answer lies in the fragmented and deliberately informal nature of Europe’s monetary union.

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If finance doesn’t implode the union, we have other flavors.

Inability To Unite On Major Challenges May Pull The EU Apart (EurActiv)

French Socialist Party leaders have warned that the multitude of crises currently buffeting the European Union could deal a death blow to the European project. EurActiv France reports. The economic crisis, the Greek crisis and the refugee crisis are subjects of grave concern for the French Socialists. “This is a time when the European construction could actually disappear,” the MEP Pervenche Bérès warned at the French Socialist Party’s summer university in La Rochelle last week. Between the economic crisis that has rumbled on since 2008, the threat of a “Grexit” earlier in the summer, security concerns and the rise of terrorism and now the humanitarian crisis unfolding on Europe’s borders with the arrival of so many refugees, there is no shortage of reasons to be worried.

The political unity of Europe is at stake. For Guillaume Bachelay, a French Socialist MP, “the risk is that generations to come will have to suffer the deconstruction of the European project”. The Greek crisis is an open wound. For many, the fact that high ranking politicians in countries like Germany had called for Greece’s eviction from the eurozone caused damage to the Union that is not easily repaired. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the socialist camp has nothing but praise for French President, François Hollande, whose unwavering support for Greece certainly helped them avoid this fate.

“If France succeeded in playing this role, it was not in the name of a currency or the interests of the Greeks, Europe, or France. It was in the name of a political idea. When Europe moves forward, there is no way back. We refused to let the EU crumble,” said Michel Sapin, the French finance minister and a close ally of François Hollande.

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Too late now for leaders to stand up.

Bid For United EU Response Fraying Over Refugee Quota Demands (Guardian)

Europe’s fragmented attempts to get to grips with its worst ever migration crisis are disintegrating into a slanging match between national capitals ahead of what is shaping up to be a major clash between eastern and western Europe over a common response. Berlin has won plaudits for seizing the moral high ground and opening its doors unconditionally to Syrian refugees but Austria and Hungary attacked it on Tuesday for stoking chaos at their railway stations, on their roads and at their borders as thousands of people seek transit to Germany. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, rejected the criticism and stepped up her campaign to pressure reluctant EU partners into relieving the load on Germany and taking part in a more equitable system of sharing refugees across the EU.

“We must push through uniform European asylum policies,” she said. With Germany expecting to process 800,000 asylum applications this year – more than four times the figure for 2014 and more than the rest of the EU combined – Merkel insisted that there had to be a fairer distribution. “The criteria must be discussed,” she said. Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, stood alongside Merkel in Berlin as she spoke, but he rejected the German pressure for a new system of binding quotas for refugees spread across the EU. “Some countries don’t want refugees,” he said. “You can’t force anyone [to take them].” “It’s not the time to be pointing fingers at each other,” said Natasha Bertaud, the European commission’s spokeswoman on immigration.

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Hungary has no idea what to do, and receives as little aid as Greece does.

Hungarian TV ‘Told Not To Broadcast Images Of Refugee Children’ (Guardian)

Employees of Hungarian state television have been instructed not to include children in footage of news pieces about migrants and refugees, a leaked screenshot of editorial advice to journalists at news channel M1 reveals. Hungary’s government-appointed Media Authority, MTVA, denied state media outlets have been told to limit public sympathy towards refugees, arguing that the memo was designed to protect children, while a pro-government journalist, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Guardian this had only been one-off instruction. “They do show children sometimes: actually the%age of children registered in Hungary this year is quite low, so in some opposition media they are somewhat overrepresented,” the source said.

Hungary has become a major transit country for migrants and refugees in recent months, but while M1 was quick to broadcast footage showing demonstrations outside the overcrowded transit zone at Budapest’s Keleti station over the weekend, protests against government policies on refugees have received scant coverage in state media. Refugee solidarity group MigSzol has held mass protests against the Hungarian government’s “national consultation” on immigration and the construction of a fence along the country’s border with Serbia. However, the pro-government journalist argued that these protests have been overlooked because “MigSzol tends to campaign against some Hungarian and even EU laws regarding migration.”

The civic aid initiatives that have sprung up in lieu of co-ordinated state help have also been largely ignored by state media. The journalist said: “The NGOs helping the migrants are very political: people known from the opposition scene take part and they mix pro-migration content with criticism of the government, so pro-government, more rightwing media won’t really give (a platform) for these people … even if their work to help migrants is okay.”

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Democracy in action.

Greece’s Ionian Islands To Hold Plebiscite Over Airport Privatization (Kath.)

The Regional Authority of the Ionian Islands has said that it is planning to hold a referendum over government plans to privatize 14 airports around the country, including the popular holiday islands of Corfu and Cephalonia. “The decision… for the concession of 14 regional airports to the German consortium of Fraport is a particularly negative development for the Ionian islands,” Regional Governor Theodoros Galiatsatos told the state-run Athens-Macedonian News Agency on Tuesday, following a meeting of the regional council, which agreed to organize a plebiscite following the September 20 general elections. “The impact on the region’s economy is expected to be extremely negative as four of the 14 airports that are up for sale have a direct effect on the region’s socio-economic life,” Galiatsatos said, referring to the airports of Corfu, Aktaio, Cephalonia and Zakynthos.

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I think it’s more sinister than mere indifference.

The Price of European Indifference (Bernard-Henri Lévy)

Europe’s migration debate has taken a disturbing turn. It began with the creation of the catch-all concept (a legal freak) of a “migrant,” which obscures the difference, central to the law, between economic and political migration, between people escaping poverty and those driven from their homes by war. Unlike economic migrants, those fleeing oppression, terror, and massacre have an inalienable right to asylum, which entails an unconditional obligation by the international community to provide shelter. Even when the distinction is acknowledged, it is often as part of another sleight of hand, an attempt to convince credulous minds that the men, women, and children who paid thousands of dollars to travel on one of the rickety boats washing up on the islands of Lampedusa or Kos are economic migrants.

The reality, however, is that 80% of these people are refugees, attempting to escape despotism, terror, and religious extremism in countries like Syria, Eritrea, and Afghanistan. That is why international law requires that the cases of asylum-seekers are examined not in bulk, but one by one. And even when that is accepted, when the sheer number of people clamoring to get to Europe’s shores makes it all but impossible to deny the barbarity driving them to flee, a third smokescreen goes up. Some, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, claim that the conflicts generating these refugees rage only in Arab countries that are being bombed by the West. Here again, the figures do not lie.

The top source of refugees is Syria, where the international community has refused to conduct the kinds of military operations required by the “responsibility to protect” – even though international law demands intervention when a mad despot, having killed 240,000 of his people, undertakes to empty his country. The West also is not bombing Eritrea, another major source of refugees. Yet another damaging myth, perpetuated by shocking images of refugees swarming through border fences or attempting to climb onto trains in Calais, is that “Fortress Europe” is under assault by waves of barbarians. This is wrong on two levels. First, Europe is far from being the migrants’ primary destination. Nearly two million refugees from Syria alone have headed to Turkey, and one million have fled to Lebanon, whose population amounts to just 3.5 million.

Jordan, with a population of 6.5 million, has taken in nearly 700,000. Meanwhile, Europe, in a display of united selfishness, has scuttled a plan to relocate a mere 40,000 asylum-seekers from their cities of refuge in Italy and Greece. Second, the minority who do choose Germany, France, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, or Hungary are not enemies who have come to destroy us or even to sponge off of European taxpayers. They are applicants for freedom, lovers of our promised land, our social model, and our values. They are people who cry out “Europe! Europe!” the way millions of Europeans, arriving a century ago on Ellis Island, learned to sing “America the Beautiful.”

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A portrait.

This Is What Greece’s Refugee Crisis Really Looks Like (Nation)

In the baking midday August heat on the Greek island of Lesbos, Ziad Mouatash bounces out of an overcrowded inflatable raft and touches EU soil for the first time. The 22-year-old from Yarmouk—the Palestinian refugee camp on the edge of Damascus that has been besieged and bombed since 2012 by Bashar al-Assad’s forces and recently invaded by ISIS and the Al Qaeda–affiliated Nusra Front—hugs everyone around him, ecstatic to be alive. From the Greek shore, activists and locals had looked on helplessly as the boat’s motor broke down two miles away, water pouring into the barely floating rubber dinghy. Children and adults alike cried desperately for help, until they were towed to Greece by another boat of refugees coming from Turkey.

Mouatash paid human traffickers in Turkey over 1,000 euros for this near-death experience, but as far as he’s concerned, it was a far less risky choice than continuing to hide out in deteriorating Damascus, which he’d abandoned for Turkey two weeks before. As a Palestinian who grew up in Syria’s refugee camps, he is stateless, but he has a brother in Paris and hopes to start a new life in France. He paces up and down the shoreline, unsure of which direction to go, while local activists try to bring the new arrivals together to tell them that they need to start a 40-mile walk to a registration center on the other side of the island. “Thanks to God I have made it here. I am free, I am alive!” Mouatash exclaims, overcome with emotion.

Although he has escaped the horrors of Syria’s grinding civil war, Mouatash is just beginning the difficult journey through Europe. He will have to cross more borders illegally; rest in filthy, makeshift camps; pay traffickers to help him cross those borders; dodge border police; and sleep in parks and fields, before he can reunite with his brother. Still, Mouatash is one of the lucky ones. Four days after his arrival, a raft off the Greek island of Kos capsized and six Syrians—including a baby—drowned. According to Lt. Eleni Kelmani, a spokesperson for the Lesbos Coast Guard, up to 2,000 refugees are now arriving daily on the island. She notes that this sunny tourist haven has seen the arrival of 75,000 of the estimated 120,000 refugees who have landed in Greece this year. Outside her office, hundreds of them sleep next to parked cars or in tents on the edge of the port.

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Kathimerini, too, persists in using the term ‘migrants’. That’s called a political agenda.

Greek Island Lesvos Registers 17,500 Refugees Just Over The Past Week (Kath.)

More than 4,200 refugees were due to arrive in Piraeus on two ships from Lesvos Tuesday, only temporarily easing the pressure on scant resources on the island but at the same time increasing concern in Athens about the fate of those who would disembark. Authorities on Lesvos have registered some 17,500 refugees and migrants over the past week but the transfer to Athens of many of those people would only provide brief respite as hundreds more are arriving each day. While many refugees head for Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), some end up stranded in Athens. Victoria Square in the city center has become a popular gathering point for refugees.

Athens Mayor Giorgis Kaminis is due to meet caretaker Immigration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas Thursday to discuss the issue. European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos is also due in Greece Thursday. Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos called his French counterpart Francois Hollande to discuss the issue. Pavlopoulos took the opportunity to explain to Hollande the size of the problem Greece is facing. More than 350,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean this year and 2,600 have died while making the journey, the International Organization for Migration said Tuesday.

The latest figures from IOM show that 234,778 migrants had landed in Greece and another 114,276 in Italy, with most of the other arrivals split between Spain (2,166) and the island of Malta (94). The figure from 2015 already dwarfs that of 2014, when 219,000 made the crossing throughout the entire year.

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Orwell reigns supreme in Brussels. New Europe equals newspeak.

EU Task Force To Take On Russian Propaganda (New Europe)

The European Commission is launching a small ‘start-up’ team, composed of ten experts, in efforts to respond to the misleading Russian information system. The step comes in reaction to the conclusions of the March European Council, which stressed “the need to challenge Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns”. The spokesperson for foreign and security policy of the European Commission, Catherine Ray, told journalists that, “We indeed put a team in place a team within the EEAS to work on it, and they will start working on it as of September. They are now in full shape.” As requested by the March Council, An Action Plan on Strategic Communication was prepared.

The focus of the Action Plan, the EU source described to New Europe, “is on proactive communication of EU policies and values towards the Eastern neighbourhood. The measures cover not only EU Strategic Communication, but also wider EU efforts aimed at strengthening the media environment and supporting independent media. Some of the actions are for the EU institutions to take forward; others are more relevant to the Member States.” It remains to be seen how the different efforts will be divided between Institutions and Member States, and indeed what the impact on the media landscape will be. The decision to create such a team has been considered a reaction to growing concern in eastern Europe and the Baltic states about the destabilizing influence of Russian propaganda.

The EU Official told New Europe that “This is not about engaging in counter-propaganda. However, where necessary the EU will respond to disinformation that directly targets the EU and will work with partners to raise awareness of these activities.“ The special team will be part of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and will be based in its headquarters in Brussels. According to the source, the tasks of the team include “media monitoring” and “the development of communication products and media campaign focused on explaining EU policies in the region.” The mission will also support independent media and work with partner governments. With the goal to effectively communicate the EU policies in the the Eastern neighborhood, the task force will monitor, analyze and respond to reports on EU activities. In regards to expanding the missions, the task force, the EU source said, is “only one element of a wide range of EU activities aimed at communicating on EU policies.”

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Not very useful exercise if manmade disasters are not part of the discussion.

Is The World Running Out Of Space? (BBC)

Sometimes it’s difficult to fathom that the world could actually become even more crowded than it is today – especially when elbowing through a teeming Delhi market, hustling across a frenetic Tokyo street crossing or sharing breathing space with sweaty strangers crammed into a London Tube train. Yet our claustrophobia-inducing numbers are only set to grow. While it is impossible to precisely predict population levels for the coming decades, researchers are certain of one thing: the world is going to become an increasingly crowded place. New estimates issued by the United Nations in July predict that, by 2030, our current 7.3 billion will have increased to 8.4 billion. That figure will rise to 9.7 billion by 2050, and to a mind-boggling 11.2 billion by 2100.

Yet even today, it’s difficult enough to get away from one another. Drive a few hours outside of New York City or San Francisco, into the Catskill Mountains or Point Reyes National Seashore, and you’ll find crowds of city-dwellers clogging trails and beaches. Even more remote and supposedly idyllic spaces are feeling the crush, too. Backcountry permits for the Grand Tetons in Wyoming sell out months in advance, while Arches National park in Utah had to shut down for several hours last May due to a traffic gridlock. For those who can afford the luxury of occasionally escaping other members of our own species, doing so often requires getting on a plane and travelling to increasingly far-fetched locales.

Yet humanity’s footprint extends even to the most seemingly isolated of places: you’ll find nomadic herders in Mongolia’s Gobi desert, Berbers in the Sahara and camps of scientists in Antarctica. This begs the question: as the world becomes even more crowded, will it become practically impossible to find a patch of land free from human settlement or presence? Will we eventually overtake all remaining habitable space?

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