Nov 122018
 
 November 12, 2018  Posted by at 8:26 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Ivan Kramskoy Christ in the desert 1920

 

If and when a former Rothschild banker starts telling us what the words in our respective languages actually mean, beware. Even if he has dozens of professional speech writers and spin doctors to do it for him. And even if the meaning and interpretation of words, though they may seem easily translatable, differ between English, French, German, Russian, Chinese to such an extent that Lost in Translation may appear to be an understatement.

But if you’re that Rothschild banker who became president of France through a process that nobody will ever understand, and you host the 100th commemoration of perhaps the worst war ever in history, to be ‘celebrated’ with ‘leaders’ none of whom have exhibited any memory through their actions of the ‘This must never happen again’ that the war ended with, you can expect to get away with bending both history and language.

Macron’s entire audience was ready for, and willing to absorb, a message that seemed so benevolent and sincere and loving, and that perhaps most of all was yet another jab at one of his guests, the American president. They were eating it up. As long as they can appear to stand together against Trump, they can make their people, their voters, and perhaps even each other forget how divided they themselves are.

It was nothing but one more circus, one more theater piece, albeit this one extremely carefully scripted for many months and by many of the finest directors and script writers France has to offer. The underlying theme: the EU is good, so is the UN, NATO is good etc. The list would include the IMF, World Bank and on and on. Big global institutions are good, the bigger the better, and criticism of them is not.

Macron’s spin doctors had come up with a few choice lines to express these sentiments. And since I couldn’t find anyone who had looked at those lines with anything but silent and blind admiration (undoubtedly only due to the solemn occasion) , please allow me. Here’s some of the things Macron said, the way they were translated into English, according to Anglo media:

 

“The old demons are rising again, ready to complete their task of chaos and of death.” “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.

“In saying, ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others’, you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: its moral values.”

 

Well, yes, the old demons are rising again. Or rather, they have been for years. French arms sales to countries and their often dictatorial leaders who one could classify as ‘nationalists’ have never really abated in the past 100 years. As a country, as a society, at least on the leadership level, nothing has been learned. The only ‘excuse’ Paris could provide for this is that all the other countries who sent away their young and strong to be slaughtered never learned a thing either.

But the spin doctors’ finest hour comes after this: “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.” I’m not a linguist, but I know enough about languages -and so do you- to know this is utter nonsense. You may attempt to find some differences between nationalism and patriotism, if you want, but they will never be each other’s opposite. Unless you either are Macron looking for a catchy line or you write his speeches for him.

Obviously, Macron said this because Trump declared himself a nationalist recently. And Macron could now claim that this means Trump is not a patriot. Which we all know is hollow talk. Because Trump said it while speaking about trade, about the US economy. Which does nothing to ‘prove’ he doesn’t love his country. But that is what Macron suggests. He claims patriots love their country, and since nationalism is the opposite of patriotism, Trump does not love America.

Also, and again referring to Trump without mentioning him (if only he had the guts), Macron alleged that nationalists don’t care one bit about what happens to anyone who’s not a citizen of their country. Whereas it is much more likely to mean -I’m treading softly here- that there are people who look out for their own people first, and others after, and they expect all countries to do the same. Macron does the same. A long way away from “whatever happens to others”.

 

Trump was elected because many Americans feel shortchanged, because jobs have disappeared, because they can’t make ends meet. Macron was elected for largely similar reasons: the existing political system failed to protect people. In many other countries, the exact same dynamics are playing out. Macron’s answer to this is to emphasize -make that celebrate- the importance of the exact institutions that have been instrumental in making it all happen.

Ergo: Macron is a globalist. Or maybe I should say he believes in globalism, before someone chimes in to link this to Judaism. Macron believes in global economies and global institutions, whereas Trump does not. The Donald recognizes that global banks and multinationals are responsible to a large extent for the loss of American jobs to low-wage countries. His tariffs, especially on China, address exactly that. Even if he’s clearly conflicted when it comes to US companies who profit from the exact same thing.

Still, that doesn’t mean Trump is not a patriot. But that is precisely what Macron insinuated on Sunday. According to him, one can’t be both a nationalist and a patriot. He might have done better to let the millions who died a 100 years ago, and whom he commemorated, have their own say on that. Did the unfortunate frail forms bleeding to death in the trenches see themselves as nationalists or patriots? Wouldn’t that have been the last thing on their minds? And doesn’t that question tell the entire story?

Doesn’t it put into perspective Macron’s veiled attacks on Trump while the latter was sitting right there? The wonderboy banker trying to gain some sort of moral superiority over the real estate mogul over the heads and rotten bodies and memories of the French and British AND American troops who died deaths the western world can no longer even imagine (while they actively help inflicting them on Yemen) ? And then the entire media run with how beautiful Macron’s words, nay dedications, were?

100 years after the ‘Never Again’, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and the US are still selling billions worth of arms to regimes they know will abuse them. As long as they get their cut, right? The suggestion that Trump is somehow worse than the rest is ludicrous. If anything Trump is a little better on the warmonger front. He still has to prove that, true. The rest have proven their role already though.

Last thought: Xi Jinping is going out of his way to claim China is opening up its economy. That makes him a globalist, right? And globalists can only be nationalists, according to Macron, never patriots? Can we get someone to ask Xi how he sees this? And what about Vladimir Putin? Russia’s been bounced off the global stage through sanctions and allegations, but perhaps he would still like to be a globalist. So is Putin a nationalist or a patriot? Asking for a friend.

Again, according to Macron, you can’t be both. You think about that. What are you?

 

 

Nov 122018
 
 November 12, 2018  Posted by at 10:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Burning weeds 1883

 

Macron: Nationalism Is A “Betrayal Of Patriotism” (Ind.)
Putin Says Had Good Conversation With Trump In Paris (AFP)
Eastern Ukraine Elects Separatist Leaders As West Rejects Polls (AFP)
May Says Britain Open To ‘Different Relationship’ With Russia (R.)
Boris Johnson Says Britain On Verge Of ‘Total Surrender’ In Brexit Talks (R.)
May Shelves Crunch Brexit Talks With Cabinet (Ind.)
Alibaba Has Record $30.8 Billion In Sales In 24 Hours On Singles Day (CNBC)
Foreign Capital Has Propped Up China’s Currency. What If It Leaves? (CFR)
What Plunging Oil Prices Tell Us About The Stock Market And Global Economy (MW)
A Worldwide Debt Default Is A Real Possibility (Mauldin)

 

 

As Macron nears record low approval rating for a French president, he lectures the world through a game of semantics. The ‘brilliance’ is that while not many could have told you the difference between nationalism and patriotism, Macron claims to have it down. Even if it has to be translated into dozens of languages, each of which may have slightly different interpretations of the -local- meaning of the words. Macron has good speech writers, but they don’t write in all the languages involved. So it’s merely semantics. The terms mean to everyone what they want them to mean.

The take-away: according to Macron, patriotism can exist along globalism, nationalism cannot. A jibe against Trump. Which also means that because Xi Jinping touts globalism all the time, we must accept, if we follow Macron, that he is not a nationalist, but a patriot.

Macron: Nationalism Is A “Betrayal Of Patriotism” (Ind.)

Emmanuel Macron has issued a hard-hitting warning about the dangers of nationalism and of countries that put their interests before the collective good – in front of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. The French president denounced those who evoke nationalist sentiment to disadvantage others, calling it a “betrayal of patriotism” and moral values. The US and Russian leaders listened in silence as Mr Macron took a swipe at the rising tide of populism in the US and Europe, warning: “The old demons are rising again, ready to complete their task of chaos and of death.” During a gathering of dozens of world leaders to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War, the French president went on: “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.

“In saying, ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others’, you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: its moral values.” [..] In a speech lasting nearly 20 minutes, Mr Macron also called on fellow leaders to fight for peace. “Ruining this hope with a fascination for withdrawal, violence or domination would be a mistake for which future generations would rightly find us responsible,” he said. The French leader also defended the European Union and the United Nations, which he said guaranteed peace and enshrined “a spirit of cooperation to defend the common property of a world whose destiny is inextricably linked”.

Read more …

Okay, is Putin a nationalist or a patriot? He seems to like globalism, but he likes Russia better. And he’s been pushed out of globalism through sanctions and tall tales.

Putin Says Had Good Conversation With Trump In Paris (AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had a brief but good conversation with US leader Donald Trump at World War I centenary events in Paris, Russian media reported. When journalists asked Putin whether he managed to speak to Trump on Sunday, he said: “Yes,” Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported. Asked how it went, Putin said: “Well.” He did not provide further details, but the French presidency said the pair had a wide-ranging discussion during lunch after the commemoration. Host and French President Emmanuel Macron was there and German Chancellor Angela Merkel took part in some of the exchanges, the presidency said.

Subjects discussed included the situation in the Middle East, notably Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and North Korea. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump had sat with world leaders including Putin, Macron and Merkel at lunch and the group had held “very good and productive discussions”. “The leaders discussed a variety of issues, including the INF (nuclear treaty), Syria, trade, the situation in Saudi Arabia, sanctions, Afghanistan, China, and North Korea,” she said. Expectations have been growing for a new Trump-Putin meeting as tensions pile up over the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and US sanctions against Moscow.

Read more …

Macron and Merkel: “These so-called elections undermine the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine..”

Wasn’t it John McCain and Vcitoria Nuland who undermined it back in 2014 on Maidan Square?

Eastern Ukraine Elects Separatist Leaders As West Rejects Polls (AFP)

People in Russian-backed areas of eastern Ukraine re-elected separatist leaders at the weekend, according to results released Monday of polls condemned as illegal by Kiev and Western countries. Elections in the Donetsk and Lugansk “People’s Republics”, controlled by separatists since breaking away from Ukraine’s pro-Western government in 2014, took place after the killing of the rebel Donetsk “president” in a bomb attack in August. Security was tight for Sunday’s vote with gun-toting, camouflage-clad guards deployed to ensure order. Denis Pushilin, the 37-year-old acting Donetsk leader, was elected with 61 percent of the vote with almost all ballots counted, the local electoral commission said. Leonid Pasechnik, the acting Lugansk leader, took 68 percent of the vote.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel branded the vote “illegal and illegitimate” following a meeting with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko on the sidelines of World War I commemorations also attended by Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Sunday. “These so-called elections undermine the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine,” the pair said in a joint statement. Washington and Brussels had asked Russia not to allow the polls to go ahead, arguing they would further hamper efforts to end a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014. “The people in eastern Ukraine will be better off within a unified Ukraine at peace rather than in a second-rate police state run by crooks and thugs, all subsidized by Russian taxpayers,” tweeted Kurt Volker, the US special envoy to Ukraine, on the day of the polls.

Read more …

if only they confess to the narratives Britain has spouted without evidence.

May Says Britain Open To ‘Different Relationship’ With Russia (R.)

Prime Minister Theresa May will say on Monday Britain is “open to a different relationship” with Russia if Moscow takes a new path and stops “attacks” that undermine international treaties and security. Just a year ago, May used her annual speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet to accuse Moscow of military aggression and of meddling in elections, some of her strongest criticism even before the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Salisbury. This year, she will tell London’s financial center that the action taken since – including the largest ever coordinated expulsion of Russian intelligence officers – has deepened her belief in a “collective response” to such threats.

“We will continue to show our willingness to act, as a community of nations, to stand up for the rules around the world,” May will say, according to excerpts of her speech. Describing evolving threats, May will say the past year, including Salisbury, has “shown that while the challenge is real, so is the collective resolve of likeminded partners to defend our values, our democracies, and our people.” “But, as I also said a year ago, this is not the relationship with Russia that we want … We remain open to a different relationship – one where Russia desists from these attacks that undermine international treaties and international security,” she will say.

Read more …

Boris still wants to be King.

Boris Johnson Says Britain On Verge Of ‘Total Surrender’ In Brexit Talks (R.)

Former British foreign minister Boris Johnson accused Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday of forcing through a deal that would keep the country locked in the European Union’s customs union after Brexit in what he described as a “total surrender”. “I really can’t believe it but this government seems to be on the verge of total surrender,” he wrote in his weekly column in the Telegraph newspaper. “I want you to savour the full horror of this capitulation … we are on the verge of signing up for something even worse than the current constitutional position. These are the terms that might be enforced on a colony.”

Read more …

Unsolved issues.

May Shelves Crunch Brexit Talks With Cabinet (Ind.)

Theresa May has been forced to abandon plans for an emergency cabinet meeting to approve a Brexit deal, after fresh opposition at home and abroad plunged her timetable into turmoil. The prime minister shelved the meeting, pencilled in for Monday, slamming on the brakes after fierce resistance in her cabinet and in Brussels threatened to derail the path to an agreement. A government source conceded that an outline deal might not be ready by Tuesday – making it increasingly unlikely that a special EU summit to sign it off can be held in November, as hoped.

That would leave the UK having to ramp up hugely expensive no-deal preparations and in danger of being unable to pass all necessary legislation before the Brexit deadline next March. At home, Ms May faced an open challenge to her plans from Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader, who vowed the UK “cannot be held against its will” by the backstop plan for the Irish border. Ms Leadsom became the second cabinet minister to insist on a unilateral power to escape being bound in the EU customs union – something explicitly ruled out by Brussels.

Read more …

1.35 billion packages delivered.

Alibaba Has Record $30.8 Billion In Sales In 24 Hours On Singles Day (CNBC)

Alibaba on Sunday tore through last year’s Singles Day sales record, racking up more than $30.8 billion in the 24-hour shopping event. Gross merchandise value (GMV), a figure that shows sales across the Chinese e-commerce giant’s various shopping platforms, surpassed last year’s $25.3 billion record at around 5:34 p.m. SIN/HK (4:34 a.m. ET) on Sunday, and kept marching higher through the rest of the day. In Chinese currency terms, GMV totaled 213.5 billion yuan, easily beating last year’s figure of 168.2 billion yuan and representing a nearly 27 percent year-on-year rise. That was, however, smaller than the 39 percent year-on-year growth recorded in 2017.

Alibaba’s Singles Day GMV beat last year’s figure in yuan terms earlier than it toppled the dollar record. The Chinese currency is weaker against the greenback from a year ago, which means more sales in yuan are required to get the same dollar amount. It was the 10th edition of the annual Singles Day event, which is also called the Double 11 shopping festival because it falls on Nov. 11. During the 24-hour period, Alibaba offered huge discounts across its e-commerce sites such as Tmall. Alibaba’s Singles Day sales haul easily exceeded the spending by consumers during any single U.S. shopping holiday.

Read more …

Wait! Shadows?

Foreign Capital Has Propped Up China’s Currency. What If It Leaves? (CFR)

“I think China’s manipulating their currency, absolutely,” President Trump said back in August. Yet the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) was, and has been, intervening to keep the RMB up, and not to push it down, as Trump was alleging. And we believe such interventions are about to get much larger. Here is why. Over the past two years, as our left-hand figure below shows, foreign portfolio investors have piled prodigiously into Chinese assets, helping to support the RMB. But history suggests this trend is about to reverse. While inflows have been rising, Chinese stocks have been tumbling—they are down over 20 percent from their January peak. Dreadful performance like this typically drives funds out of emerging markets. We may be seeing the beginning of such outflows in China.

Repatriation of liquid foreign capital will make it far more challenging for China to keep its currency up. Of course, China could change course and let it fall, but that risks exacerbating the foreign-debt burden of its highly leveraged corporates. It could raise interest rates, but that would further slow a slowing economy. It could, to keep capital at home, demand higher returns on its foreign lending, but that would mean sacrificing its efforts to subsidize its companies operating abroad, as well those aimed at putting dollars to the service of geostrategic objectives—like Belt and Road. n short, then, there is every reason to expect that the PBoC will boost its support for the RMB by selling dollar reserves.

This is what it did back in 2015, when a plunging stock market scared away foreign capital. So in spite of President’s Trump’s repeated charges that China is manipulating its currency for competitive advantage in trade, all evidence suggests that it will continue to do the opposite. But if China were to sell reserves at the same pace as in 2015, its reserve levels would, by mid-2020, actually fall below the safety threshold implied by the IMF’s framework for reserve adequacy—as shown in the right-hand figure above.

Read more …

Not much for now. Oil rising this morning on Saudi cuts promised.

What Plunging Oil Prices Tell Us About The Stock Market And Global Economy (MW)

What the heck happened to oil prices? But more significantly, what does it mean for the broader stock market and the global economy? That is what has some Wall Street investors scratching their noggins, as crude futures and U.S. stocks staged a tandem tumble this week, just when investors thought the worst was over following a bruising October for risk assets. Now, oil futures are unraveling, down at least 20% after putting in a 52-week high early last month. And it isn’t so much the descent into bear-market territory—as the recent slump for crude can be characterized—as it is the celerity of the selloff that has market participants unsettled.

About five weeks: That’s all it took for bulls to pivot from cavalierly pondering if $100-a-barrel oil was a genuine possibility before the end of 2018 on the back of Iranian oil export sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Nov. 4, to wondering how ugly the current implosion in black gold could get before finding a bottom. On Friday, West Texas Intermediate crude for December delivery lost 48 cents, or 0.8%, to settle at $60.19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, for the lowest front-month contract settlement since March 8, according to FactSet data. Prices lost 4.7% for the week, tallying their fifth straight weekly drop. The 10th session decline in a row matched the longest skid since 1984.

But beyond that, the most important question is this: What does oil’s decline really mean? That is the query that Yves Lamoureux, president of macroeconomic research firm Lamoureux & Co., posed to MarketWatch via email last week as the decline in oil was gaining steam. “Very large monthly down moves in crude oil has often heralded something more ominous,” he wrote on Nov. 1. “Most market observers think there is enough damage to see a bottom in stocks. Consensus therefore looks for new record highs or a solid bounce back. We strongly disagree with this perspective.”

Read more …

No doubt there. But it’ll start somewhere.

A Worldwide Debt Default Is A Real Possibility (Mauldin)

Is debt good or bad? The answer is “Yes.” Debt is future spending pulled forward in time. It lets you buy something now for which you otherwise don’t have cash yet. Whether it’s wise or not depends on what you buy. Debt to educate yourself so you can get a better job may be a good idea. Borrowing money to finance your vacation? Probably not. The problem is that many people, businesses, and governments borrow because they can. It’s been possible in the last decade only because central banks made it so cheap. It was rational in that respect. But it is growing less so as the central banks start to tighten. Earlier this year, I wrote a series of articles predicting a debt “train wreck” and eventual liquidation. I dubbed it “The Great Reset.”

I estimated we have another year or two before the crisis becomes evident. Now I’m having second thoughts. Recent events tell me the reckoning could be closer than I thought just a few months ago. Central banks enable debt because they think it will generate economic growth. Sometimes it does. The problem is they create debt with little regard for how it will be used. That’s how we get artificial booms and subsequent busts. We are told not to worry about absolute debt levels so long as the economy is growing in line with them. That makes sense. A country with a larger GDP can carry more debt. But that is increasingly not what is happening. Let me give you two data points.

Lacy Hunt tracks data that shows debt is losing its ability to stimulate growth. In 2017, one dollar of non-financial debt generated only 40 cents of GDP in the US. It’s even less elsewhere. This is down from more than four dollars of growth for each dollar of debt 50 years ago. This has seriously worsened over the last decade. China’s debt productivity dropped 42.9% between 2007 and 2017. That was the worst among major economies, but others lost ground, too. All the developed world is pushing on the same string and hoping for results. Now, if you are used to using debt to stimulate growth, and debt loses its capacity to do so, what happens next? You guessed it: The brilliant powers-that-be add even more debt.

Read more …

Sep 242017
 
 September 24, 2017  Posted by at 6:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Robert Frank London 1952-53

 

‘Tis the jolly time of elections, referendums, flags and other democracy-related issues. They are all linked in some way or another, even if that’s not always obvious. Elections, in New Zealand and Germany this weekend, referendums in Catalonia and Kurdistan the coming week, a looming Party Congress in China, quarrels about a flag in the US and then there’s always Brexit.

About China: the Congress is only in October, Xi Jinping looks sure to broaden his powers even more, and it ain’t all that democratic, but we should still follow it, if only because party officials will be either demoted or promoted, and some of them govern more people than most kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers. They say everything’s bigger in Texas, but in China everything really is. Including debt.

New Zealand: the election very early this morning didn’t bring a much hoped for win for Labour, or any clear winner at all, so don’t expect any grand changes in policy. New Zealand won’t wake up till its economy dives and the housing bubble pops.

Germany: Angela Merkel has set up today’s election so that she has no competition. Though she will see the ultra-right AfD enter parliament. Still, her main ‘rival’, alleged left wing Martin Schulz, is a carbon copy of Merkel when it comes to the main issues, i.e. immigration and the EU. An election that is as dull as Angela herself, even though she’ll lose 10% or so. The next one won’t be, guaranteed.

As for the US, no elections there, but another round of big words about nationalism, patriotism and the flag. Donald Trump is well aware that 75% or so of Americans say the flag must be respected, so criticizing people for kneeling instead of standing when the anthem gets played is an easy win for him. No amount of famous athletes is going to change that.

It all doesn’t seem very smart or sophisticated. But then, the US is the only western country I know of that plays the anthem at domestic sports games and has children vow a Pledge of Allegiance to it every single day. Other countries can’t even imagine doing that. They keep their anthems for special occasions. And even then only a few people stand up when it’s played. For most, it’s much ado about nothing but a strip of cotton.

What is perhaps interesting is that a whole list of NFL team owners donated a million dollars to Trump, and now speak out against him and ‘side with their players’, even though not one of them has offered Colin Kaepernick a job since he got fired for going down on one knee. Should I add ‘allegedly’? The only right way to handle the issue would seem to be to talk about why Kaepernick and others do what they do, not that they do it. There’s more than enough division in the country to warrant such talks.

Let Trump invite Kaepernick and Stephen Curry, maybe even Lebron and Stevie Wonder, to the White House with the very intention to talk about that. In the current hostile climate that is not going to happen though, even if Da Donald might want to. There’s a group of people who after 30 years of a deteriorating economy said ‘this is not my country anymore’, and voted for the only -apparent- alternative available, Trump, and another group who then said ‘this is not my president’.

And never the twain shall have a conversation. Somebody better find a way to get them to talk about it, or worse is to come. Far too many Americans identify themselves solely as not being someone else. Yeah, Trump too, but he’s been under constant siege from all sides, and of course he’ll fight back. No, that does not make me a Trump cheerleader, as some have suggested, but what’s happening today threatens to blow up the entire nation, after first having eroded the whole political system. This is a serious risk.

Now spymaster James Clapper is saying again that the whole Russia thing, for which there still is zero proof, could make the election invalid. Well, not without proof, Jimbo. And until you do have that proof, shut up, it’s poisonous (he knows). Instead, go help the 3.5 million literally powerless Americans in Puerto Rico. There are plenty issues to deal with that don’t involve bashing your president. Keep that for later.

 

(Proposed) referendums (referenda?) in Catalunya and ‘Kurdistan’ raise interesting questions about sovereignty and self determination. We’ll see a lot more of that going forward. I’ve repeatedly mentioned the issue of sovereignty when it comes to Greece, which cannot really be called sovereign anymore because others, foreigners, make all main decisions about its economy.

There may be plenty different definitions of sovereignty, but there can be no doubt it means that a domestic authority has control over a country. That also means that possible changes to that authority can only be made domestically. To come back to Greece briefly, I’m surprised that no constitutional lawyers or scholars have questioned respective governments handing de facto control to ‘outsiders’.

But that can be both deepened and broadened to the decision to join both first the EU, and later the euro. Have all 27 EU countries run these decisions by their constitutional lawyers and highest courts? I’ve never seen an opinion like that from any country. Does a country’s ruling authority have the power to sign away its sovereignty? I would bet in most cases it does not, or the constitution involved was/is either shoddily written or not worth much to begin with.

That any elected US president -or Congress, Senate- would have the power to sell the country to the highest bidder -or any part of it- sounds preposterous, even if I’m no constitutional lawyer or scholar. What countries CAN do, of course, is sign treaties and other agreements concerning defence or trade, among others. But any possible sovereignty violations would always need to be scrutinized at the highest domestically available level of judicial power.

Moreover, I would argue that sovereignty is not something that can be divided, split up or broken into separate parts. You’re either sovereign or you’re not. One country, indivisible, as the US Pledge of Allegiance states (but that doesn’t mean a group of people inside a country can’t seek its own sovereignty).

 

The ‘composition’ of the EU raises a lot of questions. Many countries have given up their rights to control over their currencies, and therefore their entire economic policies, and though the euro is undoubtedly beneficial in some areas, it has turned out to be a straight-jacket in others, when less sunny economic times arrived.

So what happens if those less sunny times are here to stay? Will countries like Greece continue to bend over for Germany, and for the ECB it controls, or will some of these countries (re-)examine their rights to sovereignty? How is this defined in the EU charter anyway? It has to be there, or many constitutions were violated to begin with when countries signed up. Sovereignty that is not properly defined is meaningless.

Another, non-economic, example concerns the Visegrad countries, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. It’s wonderfully ironic that Wikipedia says the Visegrad alliance (est. in 1991) was formed “for the purposes of furthering their European integration”, ironic because one might be tempted to think it does the opposite. The Visegrad countries refuse to be part of the EU’s scheme to resettle refugees.

And Brussels tries to force them to comply with that scheme, with threat after threat. But that too, no matter how one views the issue or where one’s sympathies lie, is in the end a sovereignty issue. And what use is it to force refugees upon a country that doesn’t want them? The bigger question is of course: why were they ever invited into the EU when they think that way, and that way is fundamentally different from that prevalent in Brussels and other member countries?

Or perhaps the even bigger question should be: how do you combine a country’s sovereignty with a political and economic union of nations that must sign away parts of their sovereignty -and therefore all of it, as argued before-. If you ask me, it’s not nearly as easy -let alone legal- as they try to make it look.

 

Catalunya and ‘Kurdistan’ are good examples – albeit from a different angle- of that same conundrum. A topic closely linked to sovereignty is self-determination. Wikipedia:

The right of people to self-determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law (commonly regarded as a jus cogens rule), binding, as such, on the United Nations as authoritative interpretation of the {UN] Charter’s norms. It states that a people, based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity, have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no interference.

[..] on 11 February 1918 US President Woodrow Wilson stated: “National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent.

‘Self determination’ is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.

The Kurds have been denied that right for a very long time. For reasons related to divide and rule policies in a whole slew of different global powers both in the region and outside of it, and reasons related to oil. After being a major force in the fight against ISIS, and after seeing Turkey get ever more agressive against them -again-, the Kurds have -not for the first time- planned a referendum for a sovereign state. As the UN charter unequivocally says is their right.

The problem is, they want to establish their state on land that other countries claim is theirs. Even if the Kurds have lived there for a long time. And that’s a common theme in most of these ‘events’. Catalunya, Palestina, ‘Kurdistan’, they’re told they can perhaps have independence and sovereignty, but not on land where their people have lived for 1000s of years, because that land ‘belongs to us’.

And holding a referendum is therefore unconstitutional, says Spain, or whatever legal term is thrown out. But if the UN charter makes the international community’s position as clear as it does, how can it contradict a member nation’s constitution? Was that member not paying attention when it signed up to the Charter, or did the UN itself let that one slip?

 

 

Catalunya (Catalonia) is the northeast tip of Spain. Its people have long wanted independence and never gotten it. When present day Spain was formed, it was made part of Spain. And now the people want their own nation. It is not hard. But then again it is. We are now one week before October 1, the date the referendum was planned, and the Spanish government has done everything it could and then some to frustrate the referendum, and therefore the will of the people of Catalunya.

As the politicians who inhabit the EU and UN sit by idly, scared silly of burning their fingers. After arresting Catalan politicians and confiscating anything that could be used to hold the referendum, Spain has sent cruise ships full of police to Catalan harbors, and tried to take over control of the Catalan police force. But Catalan politicians and harbor crew have refused to let the ships dock, and Catalan police won’t obey Spanish orders.

It’s starting to look like Spain PM Rajoy wants to provoke a violent Catalan reaction, so he can send in his army and blame Barcelona and environs. What he doesn’t want to understand is that this will be the end of his government, his career, and of any chance Catalunya will remain part of Spain other than in the short term. It feels like Franco’s military, who, don’t forget, only relinquished control some 40 years ago, are still there in spirit if not physically.

For everybody’s sake, we can only hope someone does something to stop Rajoy and whoever’s behind his decisions, because if anyone ever wondered why the Catalans wanted to be independent, after those decisions there can be no question anymore. If he sends in the army, Spain as a whole will be something of the past. But first the referendum result, which was very doubtful all along, has now been settled: nearly all Catalans stand united against Rajoy today.

And Catalans are a mixed people. Many do not have their roots there, or even speak the language. But they will not turn on their friends and neighbors.

 

Kurdistan’s situation is even a lot more convoluted than Catalunya’s. Borders in the Middle East were drawn more or less at random by the French and British after the fall of the Ottoman Empire nearly 100 years ago. And the Kurds never got their independence, or their country. But now they want it. However, they live spread over 4 different countries, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. And some of the land they live on has oil. Lots of it. And the cradle of civilization, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

 

 

Just about everyone, including the US, all countries in the region, and the old colonial powers, have declared their resistance to the Kurdish referendum. Getting back to the UN charter et al, isn’t that a curious position? Politicians sign lofty declarations, but when their successors are called upon to uphold them, nobody’s home. And it’s not as if self-determination is such a difficult topic to understand.

The referendum will be held on September 25 in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, so not in other Kurdish regions. Therefore only 900,000 people, out of some 35 million Kurds, get to vote. But the question on the ballot will be:

“Do you want the Kurdistan region and the Kurdistani areas outside the region’s administration to become an independent state?”

And that of course means something much more, and much bigger. There’s a ‘Kurdistan’ in Iran, Syria and Turkey as well. Kurds there don’t get to vote, though.

Quoting Bloomberg: “The vote will be held in the three governorates officially ruled by the KRG, as well as in disputed areas currently controlled by Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga. The Kurds expanded their domain in 2014 when, faced with Islamic State attacks, the Iraqi army deserted the oil-rich city Kirkuk.”

Here’s where the Kurds were living according to the 2014 CIA World Factbook:

 

 

As is the case in Catalunya, Iraq’s parliament and top court have declared the vote unconstitutional. That again raises the question: how can a vote violate a country’s constitution if and when that country has signed the UN charter which explicitly defines every people’s right to self-determination? Who’s been asleep when both documents were signed?

How could the UN let countries sign its charter whose constitutions violated that same charter? Have we all just been playing fast and loose all along? Or, more interestingly, what are we all going to do now that we know about this? Are we going to take self-determination away from people, and sign that into a whole new UN charter? Or are we going to make sure the charter is upheld and make countries change their constitutions to comply with it?

 

There is a third option (very much in favor): to not do anything. But that gets more dangerous all the time. The days that people could just be ignored are gone. Social media have probably played a large role in that. And so have changing power relationships.

The EU is blowing itself up through increasing calls for more Europe just as people want less. I’ve said it often before: centralization stops when and where economic growth does. And despite all the creative accounting we see, economic growth is definitely gone in Europe. Just ask Greece, Spain. Ask the people, not the politicians. People will only accept their decisions being made by far away ‘leaders’ if they perceive them as beneficial to their lives, the lives of their children.

Those days are gone, no matter the propaganda. That’s true all over Europe, and it’s true all across the US. The refusal by incumbent powers to recognize this, admit to it, is what gives us the likes of Trump and Brexit and countless other challengers. That Marine Le Pen and others have failed to date doesn’t mean the status quo wins; others will follow. In that vein I was surprised to see Yanis Varoufakis, whom I hold in very great esteem, declare in name of his DiEM 25 movement that:

“I am not taking sides on whether Catalonia should be independent or not” and “What we’re promoting in DiEM25 would solve the problem. We want a real European Union that becomes a single jurisdiction, a country if you want to call it that. In that scenario, it doesn’t matter if Catalonia is part of Spain!”

Europe will not be one country. Nor should it want to be. Europe has 1000 different ways to work together, and the EU has been an utter failure at that. While it has done a ton of good, it is being -predictably- destroyed by the power politics at its top levels. Nobody ever told Europeans that they would wind up living as German provinces. But that is what they are.

As Varoufakis himself makes abundantly clear is his book Adults in the Room. That’s why Germans have no real choice in today’s election: they have such utter control of the EU they would be crazy to vote against it. But at the same time, the rest of the ‘Union’ would be crazy to let them hold that power.

And I know that DiEM25 wants to change and reform the EU, but how will they do that knowing they need Germany, more than all other countries, to accomplish it, as Germany is sitting so pretty? Calls for a one-country Europe seem at the very least irresponsibly premature. That’s very far from reality. First things first. No cheating. You can’t say it doesn’t matter what happen to the Catalans today because ‘we’ have bigger plans for tomorrow. That means abandoning them. That’s not a new Europe: that’s what they already have today.

 

As for ‘Kurdistan’, what can we do but hope and pray? Hope that the old European colonial powers, as well as Turkey, Iraq and Iran, plus Russia and China, live up to the UN Charter they signed, and let the Kurds show they can be a force for peace in the region, which needs one so badly?! They have shown in no uncertain terms they can defend themselves, and their land, against anyone who threatens them. The Kurdish women army, YPJ, is all you need to know when it comes to that. They are the bravest amongst us.

If they had their own country, they would continue to do just that, and better. Which just goes to show that nationalism and patriotism are not of necessity negative emotions. It gives people an identity. Which is exactly why brighter heads than the present ones put the right to self-determination in the UN Charter, at a time, 1945, when the world had seen indescribable destruction.

There’s a lesson there. That we seem to have forgotten already. And now have to learn all over again. Through Colin Kaepernick, through the unbelievable Kurdish women’s YPG army, though the streets of Barcelona. Our world is screwed up, and we need to unscrew it.

 

 

Sep 242017
 
 September 24, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Elliott Erwitt Gateway Center Demolition Area Pittsburgh 1950

 

All The Bubbles That Are About To Pop In One Chart (Dillian)
America’s $20 Trillion Debt In Global Context (HowMuch)
Accounting Error Spells Chaos For Global Economy (Graeber)
The American Golden Calf (PL)
Boobs on Credit (Jim Quinn)
Bernanke Past the Point of No Return (AM)
Janet Yellen’s 78-Month Plan for US National Monetary Policy (AM)
A Private Solution For China’s Zombie Company Problem? Unlikely (R.)
More Chinese Cities Impose Property Control Measures (R.)
The Tide Is Starting To Turn Against The World’s Digital Giants (G.)
Why Uber’s Fate Could Herald Backlash Against ‘Digital Disruptors’ (G.)
France’s Far-Left Leader Urges French ‘Resistance’ Against Macron (R.)
Spain Rebuffed in Boosting Control Over Catalonia’s Police (BBG)
No Storm Ever Destroyed a Grid Like Maria Ruined Puerto Rico’s (BBG)

 

 

It’s big graphs day today. This is Jared Dillian’s.

All The Bubbles That Are About To Pop In One Chart (Dillian)

It wasn’t always this way. We never used to get a giant, speculative bubble every seven to eight years. We really didn’t. In 2000, we had the dot-com bubble. In 2007, we had the housing bubble. In 2017, we have the everything bubble. I did not coin the term “the everything bubble.” I do not know who did. Apologies (and much respect) to the person I stole it from. Why do we call it the everything bubble? Well, there is a bubble in a bunch of asset classes simultaneously. And the infographic below that my colleagues at Mauldin Economics created paints the picture best. I don’t usually predict downturns, but this time I bet my reputation that a downturn is coming. And soon.

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Private debt would be more useful. But okay…

America’s $20 Trillion Debt In Global Context (HowMuch)

The U.S. federal government just passed a record $20 trillion in publicly held debt. That’s bigger than the entire economy of every country in the European Union, combined. The debt will only grow higher unless President Trump and the U.S. Congress can agree to unprecedented spending cuts combined with tax increases. Don’t count on that happening anytime soon. Most people think that an eye-popping $20+ trillion debt is insurmountable, and in fact, it is the largest in the world by far. But when you look at another fiscal measure—the ratio of debt-to-GDP—the U.S. is not in the worst situation. Our visualization allows you to quickly see how the U.S. government’s debt compares to other countries around the world. The size of the country correlates to the size of the debt. The U.S. and Japan stand out because they have the highest debts in the world ($20.17T and $11.59T, respectively).

Other countries, like Germany and Brazil, appear much smaller because their debts are comparatively tiny ($2.45T and $1.45T, respectively). We then color-coded each country according to its debt-to-GDP ratio. Green countries have a healthy margin, but dark red and fuchsia countries have debts that are even bigger than their entire economies. The debt-to-GDP ratio is a critical metric for evaluating a country’s fiscal health. It makes a lot of sense for the American government to have a higher debt than a much smaller country, like Germany. That’s why it’s important to consider the GDP of each country, a number which represents the sum of all transactions occurring in the economy. Once you understand the public debt as a percentage of GDP, you get a level playing field for countries on different economic scales. When you think about it like this, the U.S. isn’t even among the ten worst sovereign debts in the world.

Top 10 countries with the Worst Debt-to-GDP Ratios
1. Japan (245% at $11.59B)
2. Greece (173% at $338B)
3. Italy (138% at $138B)
4. Portugal (133% at $274B)
5. Belgium (111% at $111B)
6. Spain (106% at $106B)
7. Canada (106% at $106B)
8. Ireland (105% at $105B)
9. France (98% at $98B)
10. Brazil (82% at $82B)

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Dave Graeber suggests (strongly) that official UK numbers miss -intentionally or not- a huge chunk of household debt. Government debt could be involved, but even then.

Accounting Error Spells Chaos For Global Economy (Graeber)

The thing that always struck me is how much the morality of debt—that anyone in debt has only themselves to blame, that deadbeats are contemptible—stubbornly refuses to die. Even now, when the situation is largely engineered by government policy, the first impulse of pundits and other popular moralists is invariably to assume the real problem must, somehow, be a bunch of lazy freeloaders, living beyond their means. As a result, by the standards of public discourse that exist today—that is, the sort of things it’s considered acceptable coming from the mouth of a politician or TV commentator or government economist—it’s not really legitimate to worry about rising levels of household debt simply because it causes misery or deprivation, if it means millions of actual flesh and blood human beings will be living lives of fear, anxiety, and constant humiliation.


Illustration Rachel Bolton

It’s only really legitimate to worry about rising levels of household debt insofar as it might be likely to cause another financial crisis. (Such a crisis, after all, might well affect the lives of the rich and upper reaches of the professional and managerial classes, that is, the kind of lives that policy-makers feel they have to take account of.) And even then, it must be posed as a moral problem caused by irresponsible self-indulgence—as one Daily Mail headline recently put it: “Your neighbour’s shiny new SUV is about to crash the economy!” Yet the two impulses are clearly in tension. To look at debt in macro-economic terms does make it easier to see it as a structural problem, as the result of self-conscious policy decisions. As a result, everyone seems to want to minimise the problem. Here are the numbers that they published in 2017, which a friend of mine who works in the City translated into handy tabular form:

The attentive reader will note that the image is symmetrical. Up to around 2014, at least, the top and bottom half exactly mirror one another. This is exactly as things should be: it’s an “accounting identity”, as in a ledger sheet, debits and credits have to add up. The remarkable thing is that after 2014, they don’t, and in the projected future, the top and bottom are actually quite different. When I first saw this diagram I was startled and confused. Was I missing something? Was there something about the math I didn’t understand? I passed the image on to two different economists and asked just that: isn’t there something wrong with the numbers here?

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A version of the ugly duckling. Behind Trump’s words on athletes and the anthem. Many people like the athletes, but some 75% of Americans think they should respect the flag. Trump thought this through.

The American Golden Calf (PL)

As a young boy, I enjoyed my family’s bantam chickens that laid very small eggs and hatched very small chicks. Theirs was a small and miniature world. One day one of my bantams started sitting on eggs to hatch its chicks. Something happened to her eggs but she continued to sit, so I decided to put a duck egg under her. Duck eggs are at least three times bigger than bantam eggs and take a few days longer to hatch, but she dutifully sat on the egg several days longer. She hatched the duckling and, as you can imagine, it thought that his world was normal and that the bantam hen was his mother. The duckling eventually grew into a full sized mallard duck, probably five or six times the size of its bantam mother. The full-grown duck would follow its hen mother around as would normal chicks. It was a funny sight to watch.

But I remember thinking, even as a small boy, that the duck’s entire reality was that the bantam hen was his mother and that was the way the world worked. He had no need to consider anything else. This is the world of the American people today. Their perceptions of reality control them and they who control their perceptions control the American people. Our perception of America has always been that she is the mother country and ordained by God, good and just and a beacon of freedom. This is hammered into our psyches from our early days. From pre-school up, we are taught to worship the state. I don’t know if it is still done, but in the public (non)education system, for many years, schoolchildren across the South — and elsewhere, I suppose — recited the Pledge of Allegiance each morning.

Political rallies and government meetings are still often begun with a recitation of the pledge. People say it with patriotic fervor, with their hands placed dutifully on their hearts. Sporting events, political rallies and other public venues are often kicked off with the playing and/or singing of the Star Spangled Banner. Before the song begins, people are instructed to rise, men to remove their hats,and people place their hands over their hearts. They don’t realize its value as a propaganda tool. We have come to equate the flag, the pledge and the national anthem with patriotism, and patriotism with government, country and support for government, support for foreign wars and veterans. Anything less is “un-American.”

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“What happens when a bimbo defaults on her boob loan? How narrow minded of me.”

Boobs on Credit (Jim Quinn)

As I was driving to work yesterday morning on the Schuylkill Expressway a commercial comes on the radio from a plastic surgeon advertising for anyone looking for a better set of boobs. I had never heard a plastic surgeon commercial before, so I thought that was unusual. But, that wasn’t the best part. This plastic surgeon was offering no money down 18 month interest free financing on your new boobs. I wonder if they are moving boobs with subprime debt the same way the auto companies have used subprime debt to move cars. Of course, when a deadbeat defaults on an auto loan the car is easily repossessed. What happens when a bimbo defaults on her boob loan? How narrow minded of me. What happens when some dude who wants to be a bimbo defaults on his/her loan? I guess it was just a matter of time before breast enhancement met debt enhancement in this warped world of materialism, narcissism, financialization, and delusions.

Now that revolving credit has reached a new all-time high of $1 trillion and total consumer debt outstanding has exceeded it’s 2008 peak at $12.8 trillion, the Fed has completed its job of helping the average American again in-debt themselves up to their eyeballs. This is considered a success story in this twisted, perverted, bizarro world we call America today. The solution to an epic debt induced global financial catastrophe caused by Federal Reserve easy money, Wall Street fraud, and Washington DC corruption has been to increase global debt by 50% since 2007, with virtually all of it created by central bankers and the governments they control. In what demented Ivy League educated academic mind would piling $68 trillion more debt on the backs of taxpayers as a cure for a disease caused by the initial $149 trillion of debt be considered rational and sustainable? It’s like having pancreatic cancer and trying to cure it with a self inflicted gunshot.

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The following two pieces are fom the same article.

Bernanke Past the Point of No Return (AM)

In late November 2008, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke put in place a fait accompli. But he didn’t recognize it at the time. For he was blinded by his myopic prejudices. Bernanke, a self-fancied Great Depression history buff with the highest academic credentials, gazed back 80 years, observed several credit market parallels, and then made a preconceived diagnosis. After that, he picked up his copy of A Monetary History of the United States by Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz, turned to the chapter on the Great Depression, and got to work expanding the Fed’s balance sheet. Now here is something all those “Great Depression experts” always neglect to mention: the Fed’s holdings of government securities expanded my more than 400% between late 1929 and early 1933.

Friedman’s often repeated assertion that the Fed “didn’t pump enough” in the early 1930s – which is held up as the gospel truth by nearly everyone – is simply untrue. It is true that the money supply collapsed anyway – but not because the Fed didn’t try to pump it up. Many contingent circumstances mitigated against money supply expansion: too many banks went bankrupt, taking all their uncovered deposit money to money heaven, as there was no FDIC insurance; only 50% of all banks were even members of the Federal Reserve system; no-one wanted to borrow or lend in view of the massive economic contraction and the Hoover administration’s ill-conceived interventionism. We can also tentatively conclude that the economy’s pool of real funding was under great pressure, which was exacerbated as a result of the trade war triggered by the protectionist Smoot-Hawley tariff enacted in June 1930.

The collapse in international trade and investment meant that the pool of savings of the rest of the globe was no longer accessible. Bernanke’s dirty deed commenced with the purchase of $600 billion in mortgage-backed securities, using digital monetary credits conjured up from thin air. By March 2009, he’d run up the Fed’s balance sheet from $900 billion to $1.75 trillion. Then, over the next five years, he ballooned it out to $4.5 trillion. All the while, Bernanke flattered his ego with platitudes that he was preventing Great Depression II. Did it ever occur to him he was merely postponing a much-needed financial liquidation and rebalancing? Did he comprehend that his actions were distorting the economy further and setting it up for an even greater bust?

Perhaps Bernanke understood exactly what he was doing. As many readers have insisted over the years, the Fed works for the big banks and big money interests. Not Main Street. Regardless, the Fed recognizes that the optics of its $4.5 trillion balance sheet have become a bit skewed. The Great Recession officially ended over eight years ago. Why is the Fed’s balance sheet still extremely bloated?


US broad true money supply TMS-2 and assets held by the Federal Reserve

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A 6.5 year plan.

Janet Yellen’s 78-Month Plan for US National Monetary Policy (AM)

By our back of the napkin calculation, starting with October’s initial $10 billion reduction, then incrementally increasing the reduction by $10 billion each quarter until hitting $50 billion per month, and then contracting by $50 billion a month from there, it will take 78-months for the Fed to get its balance sheet back to $900 billion (i.e., where it was before Bernanke’s act of depravity). Thus, in roughly six and a half years, or in March 2024, monetary policy will be back to normal. If you recall, the Soviets operated under five-year plans for the development of the national economy of the USSR. Now, Yellen, an ardent central planner and control freak, has charted the Fed’s 78-month plan for the national monetary policy of the United States. Have you ever heard of something so ridiculous?

However, while the Soviets were zealous believers in their plans, we suspect the Fed will be as committed to the cause as a fat person to a New Year’s Day diet. In truth, the Fed will never, ever reduce its balance sheet to $900 billion. They won’t even get close; they are well past the point of no return. In the early 1930s the Soviet planners under Stalin had a great idea: why not fulfill the 5 year plan in four years? This showed that nothing was impossible for the “new Soviet man” and two plus two was henceforth five. As Marxists will explain, this is in perfect keeping with the rules of polylogism. Even the laws of mathematics must bend to proletarian logic. For starters, financial markets will not allow the Fed to execute its 78-month tightening program according to plan. At some point, credit markets will have a severe reaction.

This would ripple through stock markets and nearly all assets that are propped up by cheap credit. What’s more, if this doesn’t panic the Fed from its master 78-month monetary policy plan, the economy will. No doubt, at some point within the next 78-months the U.S. economy will shrink. What will the Fed do then? Will they continue to tighten in the face of a contracting economy? No way. They will ease, and then they will ease some more. They won’t stop until it is near impossible for an honest person to work hard, save their money, and pay their way in life. Many fine fellows were already pickled over by the Fed in the last easing cycle and lost their way. More are bound to follow.


Guess who’s lying in wait… it will be found out that a creature long held to be extinct was merely hibernating in its cave, sharpening its claws.

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China’s just shifting debt around, hoping it’ll end up under a carpet some place. But the zombies merely start infecting healthy businesses.

A Private Solution For China’s Zombie Company Problem? Unlikely (R.)

China’s latest push to revive its bloated state-owned sector is set to pick up pace this year, with bankers and investors expecting possible spin-offs and asset sales to follow a key Communist Party Congress in October. But the effort is likely to only involve a limited role for private money, even as Beijing has been promoting it as crucial for reforming state-owned enterprises (SOEs), according to people familiar with China’s plans. Beijing would likely lean on cash-rich SOEs like China Life Insurance and Citic Group to bail out the largest of the struggling companies, the people said. They cited China Life stepping in to help China Unicom raise $12 billion last month. A limited role for private capital would raise questions about the depth of any overhaul of the SOEs.

China hopes to speed up the reforms in order to meet ambitious economic growth targets and manage its corporate debt burden. “The current model allows winners, companies doing better, to partially own those doing worse,” said Alicia Garcia-Herrero, chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis. “In other words, this is a reshuffling of profit, loss among SOEs to a large extent.” China Life is in talks with China Three Gorges New Energy, a unit of the country’s top hydropower developer, according to sources familiar with the matter. China’s state-run companies dominate the country’s key industries, from banking to insurance, energy, and telecoms. They retain an edge over their private rivals in investing both locally and overseas, in part thanks to easier financing.

But they also produce lower returns than their private counterparts and account for the biggest proportion of the bad loans on the books of the country’s banks. The fund raising by Unicom, a state-owned telecoms group, had sparked hopes for the mixed ownership effort, as outlined in a 2015 government plan. The partial privatization of Unicom in August, involving 14 investors, including the tech giants Alibaba and Tencent, was welcomed by markets. But, as Beijing balanced the need for cash with the need for control, China Life ended up with a 10.6 percent stake in the company, nearly a third of the total sold. New investors, including China Life, were given three of 15 board seats.

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Feels half ass.

More Chinese Cities Impose Property Control Measures (R.)

A number of second-tier cities in China have rolled out property speculation curbs in an effort to cool home property sales, according to the official Xinhua News Agency and documents published by some municipal governments. The city of Shijiazhuang, southwest of Beijing, has banned investors from selling newly bought homes for up to five years, while Changsha in Hunan province banned homeowners from buying a second property for up to three years from the time of their first home purchase, Xinhua said. Changsha has also limited property sales to non local residents to one unit per person. The city of Chongqing, as well as Nancang in the southern province of Jiangxi, meanwhile, banned transactions of new and second-hand homes for two years after purchase.

The various measures took effect last week. Additionally, Xian in Shaanxi province has asked real estate developers from Monday to report home prices to local price-monitoring departments before sale and reiterated its pledge to crack down on property price manipulation and speculation. The latest property clampdowns follow moves in June by two Chinese cities, Xian in Shaanxi and Zhenzhou in Henan province, to cool their property markets. Average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 0.2 percent in August from a month ago, data from the statistics bureau showed.

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I’m not convinced. Besides, Google and Facebook already are branches of the intelligence industry.

The Tide Is Starting To Turn Against The World’s Digital Giants (G.)

In his wonderful book The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began, the literary historian Stephen Greenblatt traces the origins of the Renaissance back to the rediscovery of a 2,000-year-old poem by Lucretius, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). The book is a riveting explanation of how a huge cultural shift can ultimately spring from faint stirrings in the undergrowth. Professor Greenblatt is probably not interested in the giant corporations that now dominate our world, but I am, and in the spirit of The Swerve I’ve been looking for signs that big changes might be on the way. You don’t have to dig very deep to find them. Some are pretty obvious. In 2014, for example, the European Court of Justice decided that EU citizens had the so-called “right to be forgotten” and that Google would have to comply if it wanted to continue to do business in Europe.

In May this year, the European commission fined Facebook €110m for “providing misleading information” about its takeover of WhatsApp. And in June the commission levied a whopping €2.4bn fine on Google for abusing its monopoly in search. Since the European commission is the only regulator in the world that seems to have the muscle and inclination to take on the internet giants, these developments were relatively predictable. What’s more interesting are various straws in the wind that show how digital behemoths are losing their shine. Many of these relate to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, and to the dawning of a realisation that Google and Facebook in particular may have played some role in these political earthquakes.

This was not because the leadership of the two companies actively sought these outcomes, but because people began to realise that the infrastructure they had built for their core business of extracting users’ data and selling it to companies for ad-targeting purposes could be – and was – “weaponised” by political actors in order to achieve political goals. Public concern about these discoveries was not exactly mollified by the responses of the companies’ bosses – which were variously dismissive, evasive (“it’s just the algorithms – nothing to do with us”), disingenuous, inept and politically naive. They had to be like that, because a franker response would reveal that taking responsibility for what happens on their platforms would vaporise the business model that has made them so rich and powerful.

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Why let Uber grow as big as it has and only then act?

Why Uber’s Fate Could Herald Backlash Against ‘Digital Disruptors’ (G.)

In the mind of many Uber supporters, the Transport for London (TfL) decision – coming a few days before Khan’s appearance at the Labour party conference – revealed an organisation in thrall to established labour interests. Sources told the Observer that the decision was communicated to Uber only two minutes before it was announced and that there had been only one meeting in the last year between the company and the senior team at TfL who insisted that the licence renewal could not be discussed. “TfL has once again caved into pressure from unions who never miss an opportunity to rip off passengers,” said Alex Wild, research director at the rightwing pressure group Taxpayers’ Alliance. The pushback against the laissez-faire philosophy of the US west coast’s tech community is being waged on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the US, calls to regulate technology companies have made strange bedfellows of Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren and ex-White House aide and Breitbart chief Steve Bannon. Last week the former chief strategist to Donald Trump reiterated his view that firms such as Facebook and Google should be regulated like “public utilities”. Meanwhile progressives such as Warren warn of the monopolistic behaviour of Google, Amazon, and Apple while pushing for a renewed debate over antitrust laws. “Silicon Valley is going from being heroes to villains,” said Vivek Wadhwa, a distinguished fellow and adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University. “It’s been brewing for quite a while, but there’s a big shift happening.” But, still, the speed of this shift has surprised many. “In our wildest dreams we didn’t think TfL would refuse the licence,” said Maria Ludkin, legal director at the GMB union. “We thought they’d attach conditions to make sure Uber would improve passenger and driver safety.”

[..] Ironically, while many drivers like Abdul have leapt to Uber’s defence, it was the company’s treatment of them that drew attention to the aggressive corporate culture which brought about its downfall in the capital. Last October, following a case brought by the GMB that has wide-ranging implications for all companies in the gig economy, an employment tribunal ruled that Uber’s UK drivers should be classed as workers rather than as self-employed. “We’d had an epidemic of companies saying their people are self-employed when in fact, when you examine their rights and responsibilities, the way they’re acting each day, it’s pretty clear they’re either fully employed or are workers entitled to sickness pay, etc,” Ludkin said. “We brought the Uber case because we had so many drivers coming to us. We looked at their contracts and thought it was a ludicrous idea that 30,000 of them were self-employed, which was Uber’s position.”

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Let’s see what’s left of the famed French protests. Note: the US is not alone in contesting crowd sizes.

France’s Far-Left Leader Urges French ‘Resistance’ Against Macron (R.)

French far-left opposition party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon drew tens of thousands to a rally on Saturday against President Emmanuel Macron’s labor reforms, aiming to reinforce his credentials as Macron’s strongest political opponent. Trade union protests against Macron’s plan to make hiring and firing easier and give companies more power over working conditions seem to be losing steam, but Melenchon said his “France Unbowed” party was calling on unions to join them and together “keep up the fight”. “The battle is not over, it is only starting,” Melenchon told the crowd gathered on the Place de la Republique where the rally against what Melenchon has called “a social coup d‘etat” ended.

In a warning to Macron, who has said he will not bow to street pressure, Melenchon said: “It is the street that defeated the kings, it is the street that defeated the Nazis,” while the crowd chanted “Resistance! Resistance!” It remains to be seen whether Melenchon and his party have the capacity to mobilize the kind of street resistance which forced the last two presidents to dilute their own attempts to loosen the labor code. Melenchon tweeted that over 150,000 demonstrators had turned up while police put the number at 30,000. A campaign rally in March, weeks before the presidential election, drew some 130,000 people, party officials had said.

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Pitting police forces against each other is a recipe for trouble. Peaceful resistance is teh way to go for Catalonia. But…

Spain Rebuffed in Boosting Control Over Catalonia’s Police (BBG)

Police in Spain’s rebel region of Catalonia rejected giving more control to the central government in defiance of authorities in Madrid who are trying to suppress an independence referendum on Oct. 1. The SAP union, the largest trade group for the 17,000-member Mossos d’Esquadra regional force, said it would resist hours after prosecutors Saturday ordered that it accept central-government coordination. The rejection echoed comments by Catalan separatist authorities. “We don’t accept this interference of the state, jumping over all existing coordination mechanisms,” the region’s Interior Department chief Joaquim Forn said in brief televised comments. “The Mossos won’t renounce exercising their functions in loyalty to the Catalan people.”

The disobedience may fuel speculation the Mossos aren’t committed to work with the national Civil Guard in Spain’s largest regional economy. The standoff came a day after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government acknowledged it’s sending more reinforcements to help control street demonstrations and carry out a separate court order to halt the vote. Officials in Madrid have quietly rented cruise ships including the Rhapsody and moored them in Catalan ports as temporary housing for riot police and other security officials being sent to the region in what El Correo newspaper said may ultimately exceed the number of Mossos by the referendum date.

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“100% of the system run by the Puerto Rico Power Authority is offline”. How long till people will start dying in hospitals?

No Storm Ever Destroyed a Grid Like Maria Ruined Puerto Rico’s (BBG)

You don’t even have to leave the airport to see that Hurricane Maria has laid waste to Puerto Rico’s power grid. On Friday, the San Juan airport was abandoned. No electricity meant no air conditioning, and no air conditioning meant hot and muggy air wafting through the terminals. Ceilings were leaking. Floors were wet. Only the military, relying on its own sight and radar systems, was landing planes. The airport is one of the first places crews will restore power – whenever they can get to it. Hundreds are still waiting for the all-clear to move in and start the arduous task of resurrecting Puerto Rico’s grid. The devastation that Maria exacted on Puerto Rico’s aging and grossly neglected electricity system when it slammed ashore as a Category 4 storm two days ago is unprecedented – not just for the island but for all of the U.S.

100% of the system run by the Puerto Rico Power Authority is offline, because Maria damaged every part of it. The territory is facing weeks, if not months, without service as utility workers repair power plants and lines that were already falling apart. “I have seen a lot damage in the 32 years that I have been in this business, and from this particular perspective, it’s about as large a scale damage as I have ever seen,” said Wendul G. Hagler II, a brigadier general in the National Guard, which is assisting in the response. No federal agency dared on Friday to estimate how long it’ll take to re-energize Puerto Rico. If it’s any indication of how far they’ve gotten, the island’s power authority known as Prepa is only now starting to assess the damage.

“We are only a couple of days in from the storm – there could be lots of issues and confusion at the beginning of something like this,” said Kenneth Buell, a director at the U.S. Energy Department who is helping lead the federal response in Puerto Rico. “We are in the phase where we have people queued up and lining up resources.” What Buell does know is Puerto Rico’s power plants seem inexplicably clustered along the island’s south coast, a hard-to-reach region that was left completely exposed to all of Maria’s wrath. A chain of high-voltage lines thrown across the island’s mountainous middle connect those plants to the cities in the north.

Puerto Rico’s rich hydropower resources have also taken a hit. On Friday, the National Weather Service pleaded for people to evacuate an area in the northwest corner of the island after a dam burst. “All areas surrounding the Guajataca River should evacuate NOW. Their lives are in DANGER!,” the service said on Twitter. And that’s not to mention the state of Puerto Rico’s grid before the storm. Government-owned Prepa, operating under court protection from creditors, has more than $8 billion in debt but little to show for it. Even before the storm, outages were common, and the median plant age is 44 years, more than twice the industry average.

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