Jan 072017
 
 January 7, 2017  Posted by at 10:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Arthur Rothstein Highway marker in Polk County, Florida 1937

Here Is The US Intel Report Accusing Putin Of Helping Trump Win (ZH)
A Case Study in the Creation of False News (Paul Craig Roberts)
Obama Set For Pardon Frenzy As He Leaves Office (AFP)
Worst. Recovery. Ever. (ZH)
How Many Bombs Did the United States Drop in 2016? (CFR)
Le Pen Says Brexit Isn’t a Disaster and France Should Be Next (BBG)
Economics Is Driven By Ideology, Not Science (Pettifor)
The Labor Market: The End Of The Innocence? (DiMartino Booth)
Canadian Woman Arrested In Turkey For Saying Erdogan Jails Journalists (CBC)
Giant Iceberg Poised To Break Off From Larsen C Antarctic Shelf (G.)

 

 

I’m so tired of this. No, ‘trust us’ is not good enough anymore. That is why Trump won, because it’s no longer enough to say ‘because we say so’. People don’t trust CIA et al. And you can’t turn that back on its head and demand trust now. You lost! I get so frustrated they even locked up my Facebook account again. There’s always people who want to complain about those who don’t toe lines.

Here Is The US Intel Report Accusing Putin Of Helping Trump Win (ZH)

The farce is complete. One week after a joint FBI/DHS report was released, supposedly meant to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Russia intervened in the US presidential election, and thus served as a diplomatic basis for Obama’s expulsion of 35 diplomats, yet which merely confirmed that a Ukrainian piece of malware which could be purchased by anyone, was responsible for spoofing various email accounts including that of the DNC and John Podesta, moments ago US intelligence agencies released a more “authoritative”, 25-page report, titled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”, and which not surprisingly only serves to validate the media narrative, by concluding that Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘ordered’ an effort to influence U.S. presidential election.

Specifically, the report concludes the following: “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” What proof is there? Sadly, again, none. However, as the intelligence agencies state, “We have high confidence in these judgments”… just like they had high confidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And while the report is severely lacking in any evidence, it is rich in judgments, such as the following:

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments. “We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment.”

At this point a quick detour, because the intel agencies responsible for drafting the report then explain how “confident” they are: “CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.” What do these distinctions mean? High confidence generally indicates judgments based on high-quality information, and/or the nature of the issue makes it possible to render a solid judgment. However, high confidence judgments still carry a risk of being wrong. Moderate confidence generally means credibly sourced and plausible information, but not of sufficient quality or corroboration to warrant a higher level of confidence. In other words, while not carrying the infamous DHS disclaimer according to which last week’s entire joint FBI/DHS report is likely garbage, the US intel agencies admit they may well be “wrong.”

Read more …

“Trump is supposed to side with the CIA which is trying to destroy him.”

A Case Study in the Creation of False News (Paul Craig Roberts)

For many weeks we have witnessed the extraordinary attack by the CIA and its assets in Congress and the media on Donald Trump’s election. In an unprecedented effort to delegitimize Trump’s election as the product of Russian interference in the election, the CIA, media, senators and representatives have consistently made wild accusations for which they have no evidence. The CIA’s message to Trump is clear: Get in line with our agenda, or we are going to mess you over. It is clear that the CIA is warring against Trump. But the CIA’s media assets have turned the facts on their head and are blaming Trump for having a negative view of the CIA. Consider the January 4 Wall Street Journal article by Damian Paletta and Julian E. Barnes, which begins: “President-elect Donald Trump, a harsh critic of U.S. intelligence agencies . . .”

The two presstitutes set up their false news story by putting the shoe on the other foot. It is Trump who is the harsh critic rather than the victim of the CIA’s harsh accusations. Set up this way, the story continues: “White House officials have been increasingly frustrated by Mr. Trump’s confrontations with intelligence officials. ‘It’s appalling,” the official said. “No president has ever taken on the CIA and come out looking good.’” Now that the story is Trump taking on the CIA and not the CIA taking on Trump, the case can be built against Trump: Analysts accustomed to more cohesion with the White House are “jarred” by Trump’s skepticism of the CIA’s assessment that Putin got him elected. Trump is supposed to respond to the allegation by saying: I am not legitimate. Here take back the presidency.

WikiLeaks’ Assange has stated unequivocally that there was no hack. The information came to WikiLeaks as a leak, which suggests that it came from inside the Democratic National Committee. That Trump sees it this way means, according to one unidentified official that “It’s pretty horrifying to me that he’s siding with Assange over the intelligence agencies.” You see, Trump is supposed to side with the CIA which is trying to destroy him. Has the CIA shot itself in both feet? How can the agency control policy by manipulating the information fed to the President when the President does not trust the agency?

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Leonard Peltier has been in jail for 40 years for a set-up. Forget about Snowden and Chelsea. Not going to happen.

Obama Set For Pardon Frenzy As He Leaves Office (AFP)

A Rastafarian prophet, a former Taliban captive and thousands of minor drug traffickers have one thing in common: Their names have been submitted to President Barack Obama for clemency before he leaves office in two weeks. Some US presidents have used this regal power of leniency in a pointed way near the end of their term in office. On the last day of his term in 2001, Democratic president Bill Clinton granted pardon in a highly controversial move to late fugitive trader Marc Rich, whose ex-wife had been a major donor to Democrats. Sixteen years later, Obama is fielding pressure from all sides to grant unlikely pardons or commutations of sentences to people whose supporters say have been unjustly sentenced or sought out by the justice system.

Among them is Bowe Bergdahl, a US Army sergeant held captive for five years by the Taliban before his release in a prisoner swap, who is due to be court-martialed for desertion. Leonard Peltier, a Native American activist convicted for the 1975 deaths of two FBI agents in what his supporters say was a setup, is also hoping to enjoy Obama’s good graces. Then there’s Edward Snowden, who made the shattering revelation in 2013 of a global communications and internet surveillance system set up by the United States. The 33-year-old, a refugee in Russia, is backed by numerous celebrities like actress Susan Sarandon and singer Peter Gabriel, as well as Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union. If Obama fails to pardon Snowden, his supporters say he may face the death penalty under the incoming administration of Republican Donald Trump, who has called him a “terrible traitor.”

In another leak case, Chelsea Manning is serving a 35-year sentence in solitary confinement for handing 700,000 sensitive military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, some of them classified. Activists say her sentence is excessive and point to the psychological frailty of the transgender soldier who has already made two suicide attempts. Even though the White House has dismissed a possible pardon for Snowden and Manning, their supporters are still hoping for a final magnanimous gesture from a president about to leave the constraints of his high office on January 20.

Read more …

We know.

Worst. Recovery. Ever. (ZH)

As the champagne glasses clink in Washington over a record-breaking streak of job growth on record (as the percent of the population employed slumped), and the fastest wage growth since the start of the recovery (for managers), we just wanted to remind a few blinkered media types that Obama’s “recovery” has officially been the worst recovery in US history (despite adding almost $10 trillion to the national debt)… When ‘fake news’ and ‘peddling fiction’ meet fact… Not quite as rosy an economic handover to Trump as The White House would like everyone to believe.

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Peace, man!

How Many Bombs Did the United States Drop in 2016? (CFR)

As President Obama enters the final weeks of his presidency, there will be ample assessments of his foreign military approach, which has focused on reducing U.S. ground combat troops (with the notable exception of the Afghanistan surge), supporting local security partners, and authorizing the expansive use of air power. Whether this strategy “works”—i.e. reduces the threat posed by extremists operating from those countries and improves overall security and governance on the ground—is highly contested. Yet, for better or worse, these are the central tenets of the Obama doctrine.

In President Obama’s last year in office, the United States dropped 26,171 bombs in seven countries. This estimate is undoubtedly low, considering reliable data is only available for airstrikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and a single “strike,” according to the Pentagon’s definition, can involve multiple bombs or munitions. In 2016, the United States dropped 3,027 more bombs—and in one more country, Libya—than in 2015.

Most (24,287) were dropped in Iraq and Syria. This number is based on the percentage of total coalition airstrikes carried out in 2016 by the United States in Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the counter-Islamic State campaign. The Pentagon publishes a running count of bombs dropped by the United States and its partners, and we found data for 2016 using OIR public strike releases and this handy tool.* Using this data, we found that in 2016, the United States conducted about 79% (5,904) of the coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, which together total 7,473. Of the total 30,743 bombs that the coalition dropped, then, the United States dropped 24,287 (79% of 30,743).

To determine how many U.S. bombs were dropped on each Iraq and Syria, we looked at the percentage of total U.S. OIR airstrikes conducted in each country. They were nearly evenly split, with 49.8% (or 2,941 airstrikes) carried out in Iraq, and 50.2% (or 2,963 airstrikes) in Syria. Therefore, the number of bombs dropped were also nearly the same in the two countries (12,095 in Iraq; 12,192 in Syria). Last year, the United States conducted approximately 67% of airstrikes in Iraq in 2016, and 96% of those in Syria.

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Quick, Carney, cause chaos, or Le Pen will win…

Le Pen Says Brexit Isn’t a Disaster and France Should Be Next (BBG)

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said the U.K. economy is weathering Brexit, giving her confidence to seek an immediate renegotiation of France’s relationship with the European Union if elected. “Brexit has not been a disaster,” Le Pen said at a meeting with English-language reporters in Paris on Friday. “The economic signals are good.” National Front leader Le Pen, who polls suggest will reach the presidential runoff in May, said she would seek talks with France’s EU partners “the day after my election” and put the result to a national referendum. She said the goal is to take back what she called “the four sovereignties”: control of borders, economic policy, money and legislation. France should dump the euro and return to a national currency, though the exchange rate could be linked to some sort of European currency mechanism, Le Pen said.

“I’ll give six months to these talks, and if at the end we have won back our sovereignty, I will tell the French to vote to stay in this Europe of nations and liberty,” she said. “If we don’t, I’ll suggest that they vote to leave.” Polls suggest Le Pen would finish second in the first round of France’s presidential elections on April 23, and lose a May 7 runoff to center-right candidate Francois Fillon. An Elabe poll released Thursday showed independent Emmanuel Macron gaining on Le Pen, taking second place in some hypothetical matchups. Le Pen, whose party received a $8.5 million loan from a Russian bank in 2014, said she doesn’t fear Russian meddling in France’s election. That follows U.S. intelligence findings that Russian officials directed hacking attacks to help elect Trump, whom she said she supports because his anti-globalist views were better for France.

“Every time big corporations, big finance don’t get what they want, they say it’s a conspiracy of the Russians,” she said. “It makes one laugh.” While the U.S. shouldn’t lecture anyone given its history of spying on allies, improved ties between Russia and the U.S. are in France’s interest, especially if they can cooperate on combating Islamic militants, Le Pen said. “I think that Mr. Trump and Putin can repair ties, and I hope so,” she said. “We don’t want to see an increase in tensions between the U.S. and Russia for a very selfish reason: we are in the middle.”

Read more …

Should we let economists ‘heal’ their own field, or is it too late for that?

Economics Is Driven By Ideology, Not Science (Pettifor)

As someone who correctly predicted the financial crisis (first in 2003 and later in a 2006 book) I support Andy Haldane’s assertion that the economics profession is “to some degree in crisis”. He is not the first to argue this. The retiring head of the UK Treasury admitted in 2016 that economists failed to spot the build-up of risk before 2007 and were guilty of what he called “a monumental collective intellectual error”. It is a collective intellectual failure that I believe has played a key role in the rise of political populism. The Bank of England’s chief economist was also right to compare the challenges facing economists to the famous “Michael Fish” moment, where everyone was assured that a hurricane wouldn’t hit before it did, bringing with it much devastation, in 1987.

Meteorologists have since transformed their field and improved forecasts. But that is not true of the economics profession. The dominant economic model of financial liberalisation, monetary policy dominance and fiscal austerity remains intact. In their defence, economists can’t be faulted for getting forecasts wrong. Political events such as Brexit are not easy to predict. But unlike economists, meteorologists have a deep understanding of the major forces shaping outcomes in their fields, even when they get precise forecasts wrong. Mainstream economists, by contrast, lack that deep understanding of the economic forces driving outcomes. The reason is not hard to understand. The field of meteorology is not underpinned by policy or by an agenda. Economics, by contrast, is dogged by ideology.

It is ideology, not science, that leads economists to wrongly assert that the market in money is like the market in widgets, and must not be regulated or tampered with by governments. That financial flows across borders must be “free”, regardless of whether they cause instability. That bankers are simply intermediaries between savers and borrowers – and do not create credit out of thin air. That monetary and fiscal policies that serve the finance sector with bailouts are tolerable, while those that serve the poor must be resisted. That the reasoning that informs the micro-economy can be extrapolated to reach conclusions about the macro-economy. In other words, the fallacy that the budgets of households (the micro-economy) can be aggregated and compared to the budgets of governments (the macro-economy).

Unsurprisingly, these flawed theories and models are a great comfort to financial elites – which is why so many economists are hired and funded by big banks, corporations and the wealthy. And it explains why their words and ideas are repeated by the media outlets that faithfully serve the status quo or “the establishment”. Very little has been done to transform the dominant economic model of financial and trade liberalisation or to limit economists’ almost religious belief in the efficiency of markets and hostility to public intervention.

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“Let me take a long last look, before we say goodbye..”

The Labor Market: The End Of The Innocence? (DiMartino Booth)

One of the first of life’s lessons we all learned is that we need not rush life; it will do that for us and in the end against our will. The inspiration for this wisdom could well have sprung from Ecclesiastes wherein we read these peaceful words: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. Co-writers Don Henley and Bruce Hornsby embraced the spirit of this message as the 1980’s were coming to a close. You must agree 1989’s The End of the Innocence, that haunting and mournful ballad, was just the coda needed to move on to the last decade of the last century. “Let me take a long last look, before we say goodbye,” the song asks of the listener who can’t help themselves but to listen.

Many veteran investors, those who don’t need to be reminded about the Reagan era because they were there, may be feeling a bit more wistful as they peer over the horizon. They have lived through extraordinary economic times and maybe even recall the early 1970’s, the last time initial jobless claims were at their current historically low levels. They know, in other words, this can’t go on forever, that we are nearing the end of our own innocence. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has been adamant that economic cycles can’t die of old age. At the end of this month, we can proclaim to be living through the third longest expansion in postwar times. The parlor game occupying those on the Street these days entails devising scenarios that can push us into the second, or dare we dream, longest expansion of all.

The Wall Street Journal perfectly captures the infectious optimism, the yearning to keep that dream alive, by asking this in a headline: How Low Can the Unemployment Rate Go? Rather than keep you in suspense, the article’s answer is as follows: “Assuming the economy adds around 200,000 jobs a month in 2017 and the labor-force participation rate stays relatively constant, the unemployment rate would fall to 3.9% by the end of the year, according to a model maintained by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.” If we do get there, a big if, we are sure to be staring down the barrel of appreciably higher interest rates and a flat, if not by then, inverted yield curve. The only precedent is, you guessed it, that which occurred in 2000, when the unemployment rate hit 3.6% as the longest cycle of all time was finally flaming out. Economics 101 teaches one tenet above all – that the unemployment rate is the most lagging within the data universe.

A recent visit with Dr. Gates, that steel-eyed sleuth, corroborated this maxim. “The unemployment rate is the single, most visible economic indicator for households. It’s easy to understand, black and white. Up is bad, down is good,” Gates observed. “If we keep getting downside surprises, it will feed even more consumer optimism. That happens late in the cycle.” What goes hand in hand with these late cycles guideposts? Since you asked, that optimism Gates cites tends to correlate with households overreaching their paychecks, which is exactly what we’re seeing. When adjusted for inflation, credit card borrowing is up 4.5% over last year, a full two percentage points above wage income, which is up 2.5% over the same period. That’s a new high for the current cycle. At 2.9%, inflation-adjusted spending is also running ahead of wage income.

These data are validated by separate data that shows state withholding tax collections are way off last year’s figures. “Vulnerabilities in household demand don’t happen overnight; they take time to rise to the surface,” Gates cautioned. “Households aren’t overstretched yet, but they’re getting there. Just like corporations substitute debt for profits late in the cycle, households also are starting to do just as they ride the wave of Trump optimism. Eventually this will run its course.”

Read more …

So is Canada going to stand up to him?

Canadian Woman Arrested In Turkey For Saying Erdogan Jails Journalists (CBC)

A Canadian woman has been arrested in Turkey for allegedly insulting the country’s president in comments posted on Facebook, her Turkish lawyer said Thursday. Ece Heper, 50, was arrested in the city of Kars in northeastern Turkey, and charged on Dec. 30, Sertac Celikkaleli told The Canadian Press. Heper, a dual Canadian-Turkish citizen, had been in the country since mid-November, according to her friends. “She is intense and opinionated, for sure,” Birgitta Pavic said from her Toronto home. “But everything is intense over there right now, especially criticizing the government.” At issue, her friends and lawyer said, are several recent Facebook posts about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In one posted on Dec. 28, Heper accused Erdogan of jailing journalists who suggest there is evidence Turkey is supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIS or ISIL. Global Affairs Canada said they are aware of a Canadian citizen detained in Turkey and are providing consular assistance, but wouldn’t divulge further information, citing privacy laws. Heper has a log home in Norwood, Ont., about 150 kilometres northeast of Toronto, Pavic said, where she lives with five dogs she rescued from Turkey “that are like her children.” Her parents are dead and she is estranged from her brother, Pavic said, so her friends are taking up the cause to help her out.

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We’re just going to watch it happen, ain’t we? That’s all we’re capable of.

Giant Iceberg Poised To Break Off From Larsen C Antarctic Shelf (G.)

A giant iceberg, with an area equivalent to Trinidad and Tobago, is poised to break off from the Antarctic shelf. A thread of just 20km of ice is now preventing the 5,000 sq km mass from floating away, following the sudden expansion last month of a rift that has been steadily growing for more than a decade. The iceberg, which is positioned on the most northern major ice shelf in Antarctica, known as Larsen C, is predicted to be one of the largest 10 break-offs ever recorded. Professor Adrian Luckman, a scientist at Swansea University and leader of the UK’s Midas project, said in a statement: “After a few months of steady, incremental advance since the last event, the rift grew suddenly by a further 18km during the second half of December 2016. Only a final 20km of ice now connects an iceberg one quarter the size of Wales to its parent ice shelf.”

The separation of the iceberg “will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula” and could trigger a wider break-up of the Larsen C ice shelf, he added. “If it doesn’t go in the next few months, I’ll be amazed,” Luckman told BBC News. Ice shelves are vast expanses of ice floating on the sea, several hundred metres thick, at the edge of glaciers. Scientists fear the loss of ice shelves will destabilise the frozen continent’s inland glaciers. And while the splitting off of the iceberg would not contribute to rising sea levels, the loss of glacial ice would. Martin O’Leary, also of Swansea University, said: “It just makes the whole shelf less stable. If it were to collapse there would be nothing holding the glaciers up and they would start to flow quite quickly indeed.”

Read more …

Aug 052016
 
 August 5, 2016  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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G.G. Bain Three-ton electric sign blown into Broadway, New York. 1912

New Tool for Central Banks: Buying Corporate Bonds (WSJ)
UK Interest Rate Cut Is A ‘Hammer Blow’ For Workplace Pensions (G.)
UK Labor Market Enters “Freefall” After Brexit Vote (R.)
China Regulator Tells Banks to Evergreen Loans of Troubled Companies (ET)
For Europe’s Elite the Party Lives On After Brexit (BBG)
Tsipras Eyes Southern EU Alliance To Back Debt Deal (Kath.)
The 60-Year Decay of American Politics (Bacevich)
US Unlikely To Extradite Imam Turkey Blames For Coup (CNBC)
How Europe Is Getting Rich by Fueling Its Own Terror Epidemic (TAM)
War Or Peace: The Essential Question For American Voters On November 8th (RI)

 

 

Maybe we need to remind ourselves from time to time that we do NOT have functioning markets. Central banks buying up corporate bonds is of course about as distorting for markets as it comes.

We will yet take debt to its inevitable conclusion.

New Tool for Central Banks: Buying Corporate Bonds (WSJ)

Central banks have a new favorite tool for boosting lackluster growth: corporate-debt purchases. Two months after the ECB started buying corporate bonds, the Bank of England said Thursday that it would adopt a similar strategy. It will buy as much as £10 billion ($13.33 billion) of U.K. corporate debt starting in September as part of a larger package of stimulus measures, including £60 billion of additional government-bond purchases. The move, investors and analysts say, is likely to drive down borrowing costs even further around the globe for large companies already benefiting from ultralow interest rates.

But the decision again raises concerns about possible side effects of unconventional monetary policies, including excessive risk taking by investors, and faces substantial skepticism from investors who doubt such programs meaningfully address the global economy’s core deficiencies, centering on soft demand for goods and services. Already this year, negative-interest-rate policies and aggressive bond buying by central banks in Japan and Europe have helped create trillions of dollars of negative-yielding government bonds. That in turn has driven down corporate-bond yields, leading to robust debt issuance among companies in the U.S., if not all developed countries.

In the U.S., the average yield of investment-grade corporate bonds was 2.85% Wednesday, compared with 3.67% at the end of 2015, according to Barclays data. The average spread to Treasury yields also has shrunk, to 1.48 percentage points from 1.72. Companies have issued $519.2 billion of investment-grade corporate bonds this year, just below their pace at this time last year when issuance ultimately reached a record $794.6 billion, according to Dealogic.

Read more …

Wait till the stock market crashes, that’s when pensions will be hit.

UK Interest Rate Cut Is A ‘Hammer Blow’ For Workplace Pensions (G.)

Pension savers could be big losers from the Bank of England rate cut, as critics warned of a “hammer blow” to workplace schemes and forecast that pension payouts would fall to record lows. Within minutes of the Bank’s decision to cut the base rate to 0.25%, yields on government bonds, otherwise known as gilts, dived to all-time lows. Companies that still offer final salary pension schemes will as a result see the cost of maintaining them soar. Hymans Robertson, a pensions consultancy, said the rate cut meant a £70bn increase in the amount company schemes needed to meet their commitments to scheme members, to a total of £2.4trn. “To put this in context, UK GDP currently stands at £1.8trn. This has pushed the aggregate UK [company scheme] deficit up to £945bn – the worst it has ever been,” it said.

Companies will have to find the money to fill the gap in their pension schemes, or like most already have, close them to new members. In extreme cases, some may attempt to redraw pension contracts to cap their future liabilities. Patrick Bloomfield of Hymans Robertson said: “Pension schemes are being hit hard by recent events, but we need to remember that the impact will not be felt equally by all … There are schemes with robust funding plans that don’t take more risk than they need to, which will be able to weather this. The gap between pension schemes that hedged their risks and those that haven’t is starker than ever before.”

Read more …

A forced reset is not necessarily a bad thing.

UK Labor Market Enters “Freefall” After Brexit Vote (R.)

Britain’s labour market entered “freefall” after the vote to leave the European Union, with the number of permanent jobs placed by recruitment firms last month falling at the fastest pace since May 2009, a survey showed on Friday. The monthly report from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) showed starting salaries for permanent jobs rose in July at the slowest pace in more than three years. Overall, the survey added to evidence that business confidence and activity slowed sharply after the June 23 vote to leave the European. “The UK jobs market suffered a dramatic freefall in July, with permanent hiring dropping to levels not seen since the recession of 2009,” said REC chief executive Kevin Green. “Economic turbulence following the vote to leave the EU is undoubtedly the root cause.”

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Different countries have different ways of hiding their debt.

China Regulator Tells Banks to Evergreen Loans of Troubled Companies (ET)

On the surface, China is talking the reform talk. But is it also walking the walk? There are many examples to demonstrate it isn’t. The most recent one is a directive from the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) to not cut off lending to troubled companies and evergreening bad loans. This first reported by The Chinese National Business Daily on Aug. 4. “A Notice About How the Creditor Committees at Banks and Financial Institutes Should Do Their Jobs” tells banks to “act together and not ‘randomly stop giving or pulling loans.’ These institutes should either provide new loans after taking back the old ones or provide a loan extension, to ‘fully help companies to solve their problems,’” the National Business Daily writes.

“It’s big news. A couple of weeks ago they were threatening Liaoning Province to cut off all lending to them if they didn’t tighten loan standards,” said Christopher Balding, a professor of economics at Peking University in Shenzen. “This is a pretty significant turn-around for them to do and it indicates how significant the problem is.” The official reform narrative is espoused in this Xinhua piece which claims China has to reform because there is no Plan B. “Supply-side structural reform is also advancing as the country moves to address issues like industrial overcapacity, a large inventory of unsold homes and unprofitable ‘zombie companies.’” Clearly resolving the bad debt of zombie companies is not high on the priority list.

Goldman Sachs complained in a recent note to clients that companies can default on payments and often nothing happens. The investment bank notes that companies like Sichuan Coal default on payments of interest and principal for weeks or months and then maybe pay creditors later. The company in question defaulted on 1 billion yuan ($150 million) worth of commercial paper in June but made full payments later during the summer, a somewhat arbitrary process. Another case is Dongbei Special Steel, which missed at least five payments on $6 billion of debt since the beginning of the year, but has done nothing to resolve the problem. This is why creditors wrote an angry letter to the local government to help resolve the issue.

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Why the EU can’t be reformed.

For Europe’s Elite the Party Lives On After Brexit (BBG)

Europe’s political elite may have missed the Brexit memo. Six weeks since U.K. voters rebuked the ruling class by choosing to leave the European Union, the region’s establishment has reacted by carrying on as before. The revolving door of former policy makers joining the finance industry has spun again, with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso signing up with Goldman Sachs and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King joining Citigroup. Meanwhile departed Prime Minister David Cameron is facing criticism for nominating numerous aides for honors, including his wife’s stylist.

The perception of elite coziness risks further disenfranchising those backing Brexit, and peers across the continent who share the feeling of being left behind by the powerful and wealthy in the era of globalization and financial crises. A potential upshot is more support for populist parties that tap into alienation such as the U.K. Independence Party or France’s National Front. “Anything that doesn’t show government or public institutions in a good light merely confirms some of the attitudes that probably contributed to the Brexit vote,” said Chris Roebuck, a visiting professor at London’s Cass Business School. For some voters, “there is a group of people out there who aren’t normal people like you or me, who have benefited since the financial crisis – because they’re an elite.”

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Tsipras already lost the ‘fight’. Beppe Grillo may lead such an alliance, not Tsipras.

Tsipras Eyes Southern EU Alliance To Back Debt Deal (Kath.)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is planning to forge an alliance with the leaders of other countries in Southeastern Europe in a bid to bolster Greece’s bid for a debt restructuring and lower the primary surplus targets set by creditors. Tsipras is expected to explore the prospects for such an alliance at a meeting of European socialist heads of state scheduled to take place in Paris on August 25, particularly with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and French President Francois Hollande. The meeting had originally been planned for May 20 in Rome but was postponed after an Egyptian passenger plane crashed in the Mediterranean. The Greek premier’s aim, according to sources, is to arrange a subsequent meeting in Athens, probably on September 9, and in any case before a scheduled European Union leaders’ summit on September 16, to further explore the prospect of forming a Southeastern European alliance.

Tsipras and Renzi had agreed at their last meeting on the sidelines of an EU summit on June 28 on the need for southern states to create their own growth-focused agenda, compared to the austerity prescribed by Northern European countries. At the time, Hollande and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa had appeared open to the prospect of such an alliance. In Athens, sources close to Tsipras believe the time is right to pursue the creation of a strong southern “axis” to counter the stance of countries in Northern Europe. The idea of a united front of Southern European countries was first mooted by leftist SYRIZA before the general elections of January 2015 that brought it to power.

At the time, Tsipras thought Athens would attract the solidarity of Southern European countries in SYRIZA’s rhetoric against austerity and that those countries would stand by Greece in its negotiations with international creditors. That solidarity did not transpire then. However, sources close to Tsipras believe the current situation is potentially more beneficial for Athens as the protracted imposition of austerity on Greece and elsewhere has increased the pressure on countries in Southern Europe. Athens is also hopeful about forming a common front on another crucial issue that has divided Southern and Northern European countries: the ongoing refugee crisis. Indications by Turkey that it might not honor a migrant deal with the EU have fueled concerns in Greece that a slowed migrant influx could pick up again.

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Nostalgia. “And don’t kid yourself that things really can’t get much worse. Unless Americans rouse themselves to act, count on it, they will.”

The 60-Year Decay of American Politics (Bacevich)

Presidential campaigns today are themselves, to use Boorstin’s famous term, “pseudo-events” that stretch from months into years. By now, most Americans know better than to take at face value anything candidates say or promise along the way. We’re in on the joke — or at least we think we are. Reinforcing that perception on a daily basis are media outlets that have abandoned mere reporting in favor of enhancing the spectacle of the moment. This is especially true of the cable news networks, where talking heads serve up a snide and cynical complement to the smarmy fakery that is the office-seeker’s stock in trade. And we lap it up. It matters little that we know it’s all staged and contrived, as long as — a preening Megyn Kelly getting under Trump’s skin, Trump himself denouncing “lyin’ Ted” Cruz, etc., etc. — it’s entertaining.

This emphasis on spectacle has drained national politics of whatever substance it still had back when Ike and Adlai commanded the scene. It hardly need be said that Donald Trump has demonstrated an extraordinary knack — a sort of post-modern genius — for turning this phenomenon to his advantage. Yet in her own way Clinton plays the same game. How else to explain a national convention organized around the idea of “reintroducing to the American people” someone who served eight years as First Lady, was elected to the Senate, failed in a previous high-profile run for the presidency, and completed a term as secretary of state? The just-ended conclave in Philadelphia was, like the Republican one that preceded it, a pseudo-event par excellence, the object of the exercise being to fashion a new “image” for the Democratic candidate.

The thicket of unreality that is American politics has now become all-enveloping. The problem is not Trump and Clinton, per se. It’s an identifiable set of arrangements — laws, habits, cultural predispositions — that have evolved over time and promoted the rot that now pervades American politics. As a direct consequence, the very concept of self-government is increasingly a fantasy, even if surprisingly few Americans seem to mind.

At an earlier juncture back in 1956, out of a population of 168 million, we got Ike and Adlai. Today, with almost double the population, we get — well, we get what we’ve got. This does not represent progress. And don’t kid yourself that things really can’t get much worse. Unless Americans rouse themselves to act, count on it, they will.

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Can’t see US handing Gulen over on a platter, but Turkey is not done demanding his head. And many others.

US Unlikely To Extradite Imam Turkey Blames For Coup (CNBC)

U.S. officials weren’t likely to extradite Fethullah Gulen, an imam Turkey blames for plotting the recent failed coup, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the discussion. Those people said the evidence presented so far by Turkey wasn’t convincing and U.S. officials were also concerned about Turkish officials’ threatening public statements, which made the fairness of his potential treatment questionable, the report said. Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied wrongdoing, the report said.

Separately, Reuters reported that Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan pledged on Thursday to cut off revenues from businesses tied to the 75-year-old Gulen, which include schools, firms and charities. Even before the failed coup, authorities in Turkey had seized Islamic lender Bank Asya, closed media businesses and arrested businessmen on accusations of funding the imam’s movement, Reuters reported. The failed coup, which took place on July 15, left more than 230 dead. Since then, more than 60,000 people across various branches of government have been detained, suspended or put under investigation, Reuters reported. That’s spurred concerns Erdogan was cracking down on all dissent.

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“68 flights that took place within 13 months transported weapons and ammunition to the Middle East, including to NATO member Turkey, which in turn “funnelled arms into brutal civil wars in Syria and Yemen.”

How Europe Is Getting Rich by Fueling Its Own Terror Epidemic (TAM)

Though Europe does not have the rates of gun violence the United States continues to grapple with, European governments have made over a billion euros by fueling gun violence in the Middle East and North Africa. A report conducted by a team of reporters from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) found a group of European nations has been funneling arms into the Middle East region since 2012, making at least 1.2 billion euros in the process. According to the report, 68 flights that took place within 13 months transported weapons and ammunition to the Middle East, including to NATO member Turkey, which in turn “funnelled arms into brutal civil wars in Syria and Yemen.”

The report also notes that these flights make up only a small portion of the 1.2 billion euros in arms deals between Europe and the Middle East since 2012. The report’s conclusions are horrifying, to say the least. The report states: “Arms export licenses, which are supposed to guarantee the final destination of the goods, have been granted despite ample evidence that weapons are being diverted to Syrian and other armed groups accused of widespread human rights abuses and atrocities.” Considering Europe is battling a continually rising terrorist threat, they seem to be going about tackling this issue the wrong way. Surely the best way to counter terrorism is to cease funding it in the first place.

One astounding aspect of the report is that the lucrative war-profiteering business involves nations the world would not usually regard as overly-interested in war. The countries contributing to the rising terror threat, as identified by the report, are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Romania, among others. This report adds to the already glaring problem of European countries making billions of dollars off the death and destruction of Middle Eastern civilian life. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found the United Kingdom was second only to the United States in arms sales, making up 10.4% of the total $401 billion worth of arms sold around the world for the 2014 period.

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Trump for Peace. We have 3 months left to get used to that.

War Or Peace: The Essential Question For American Voters On November 8th (RI)

In matters of substance as opposed to character assassination that both parties’ candidates have engaged in freely, what separates the candidates and makes it worthwhile to register and vote on November 8th is the domain of international relations. This, as a general rule, is the only area where a president has free hands anyway, whatever position his party holds in the Congress. Here the choice facing voters is stark, I would say existential: do we want War or Peace? Do we want to pursue our path of global hegemony, which is bringing us into growing confrontation with Russia, meaning a high probability of war, (the policy of Hillary Clinton), or do we want a harmonious international order in which the U.S. plays its role at the board of governors, just like other major world powers (the policy of Donald Trump).

Let me go one step further and explain what “war” means, since it is not something that gets much attention in our media, whereas it is at the top of the news each day in Russia. “War” does not mean Cold War-II, a kind of scab you can pick to indulge a pleasure in pain that is not life threatening. War means what our military like to call “kinetics” to mask the horror of it all. It means live ammunition, ranging from conventional to thermonuclear devices that can devastate large swathes of the United States if we play our hand badly, as would likely be the case for reasons I explain below should Hillary and her flock of Neocon armchair strategists take the reins of power in January 2017.

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Dec 262015
 
 December 26, 2015  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Andreas Feininger Production B-17 heavy bomber at Boeing plant, Seattle Dec 1942

Christmas 2015 – Why There Is No Peace On Earth (Stockman)
China State Firms’ Profits Down 9.5% Year-on-Year In January-November (Reuters)
China Says AIIB Up And Running Early In The New Year
US Oil Bankruptcies Reach Highest Quarterly Level Since Recession (BBG)
Why Not People’s Quantitative Easing? (Steve Keen on Keiser Report)
Commerzbank Sues BNY Mellon, Wells Fargo, HSBC Over Mortgage Losses (Reuters)
Huge Leap In Number Of People Cashing In And Moving Out Of London In 2015 (G.)
The Sneaky Way Austerity Got Sold to the Public Like Snake Oil (Lynn Parramore)
Beijing Raises Smog Alert -Again- as Airport Cancels 227 Departures (BBG)
Pope Condemns ‘Monstrous Evil’ Fuelling Refugee Crisis (Guardian)
Remember That Christmas Is A Story Of Middle Eastern Refugees (Quartz)
Two Dead As Hundreds Of Migrants Storm Spanish Enclave in Morocco (AFP)

Because of Pax Americana. Long expose by Stockman.

Christmas 2015 – Why There Is No Peace On Earth (Stockman)

After the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 and the death of the Soviet Union was confirmed two years later when Boris Yeltsin courageously stood down the red army tanks in front of Moscow’s White House, a dark era in human history came to an end. The world had descended into what had been a 77-year global war, incepting with the mobilization of the armies of old Europe in August 1914. If you want to count bodies, 150 million were killed by all the depredations which germinated in the Great War, its foolish aftermath at Versailles, and the march of history into the world war and cold war which followed inexorably thereupon. To wit, upwards of 8% of the human race was wiped-out during that span.

The toll encompassed the madness of trench warfare during 1914-1918; the murderous regimes of Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism that rose from the ashes of the Great War and Versailles; and then the carnage of WWII and all the lesser (unnecessary) wars and invasions of the Cold War including Korea and Vietnam. I have elaborated more fully on this proposition in “The Epochal Consequences Of Woodrow Wilson’s War“, but the seminal point cannot be gainsaid. The end of the cold war meant world peace was finally at hand, yet 25 years later there is still no peace because Imperial Washington confounds it.

In fact, the War Party entrenched in the nation’s capital is dedicated to economic interests and ideological perversions that guarantee perpetual war; they ensure endless waste on armaments and the inestimable death and human suffering that stems from 21st century high tech warfare and the terrorist blowback it inherently generates among those upon which the War Party inflicts its violent hegemony. So there was a virulent threat to peace still lurking on the Potomac after the 77-year war ended. The great general and president, Dwight Eisenhower, had called it the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address, but that memorable phrase had been abbreviated by his speechwriters, who deleted the word “congressional” in a gesture of comity to the legislative branch.

So restore Ike’s deleted reference to the pork barrels and Sunday afternoon warriors of Capitol Hill and toss in the legions of beltway busybodies that constituted the civilian branches of the cold war armada (CIA, State, AID etc.) and the circle would have been complete. It constituted the most awesome machine of warfare and imperial hegemony since the Roman legions bestrode most of the civilized world. In a word, the real threat to peace circa 1990 was that Pax Americana would not go away quietly in the night.

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With numbers like those, statements like these are ludicrous: “The government has been struggling to reach its economic growth target of around 7% this year..”

China State Firms’ Profits Down 9.5% Year-on-Year In January-November (Reuters)

Profits at China’s state firms dipped 9.5% in the first 11 months of 2015 from a year earlier, after a 9.8% drop in the first 10 months, the Ministry of Finance said on Friday. Combined profits of state-owned enterprises totaled 2.04 trillion yuan ($315.18 billion) in the January-November period, the ministry said in a statement on its website. “The downward pressure on economic operations remains relatively big, although there are signs of warming up in some indicators,” the ministry said.

Excluding financial firms, combined revenues of state-owned firms fell 6.1% in the first 11 months from a year earlier to 40.66 trillion yuan, the ministry said. Companies in transportation, chemical and power sectors reported a rise in profit in the January-November period, while firms in oil, petrochemicals and building materials saw a drop in earnings. Firms in steel, coal and non-ferrous metal sectors continued to suffer losses. The government has been struggling to reach its economic growth target of around 7% this year, which would be the weakest pace in a quarter of a century.

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A foreign policy success is not the same as a financial success.

China Says AIIB Up And Running Early In The New Year

The China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has been formally established and is expected to be operational early next year, the official Xinhua news agency said on Friday. The bank’s establishment came after 17 funding members of the AIIB, which account for just over 50% of its share capital, ratified an agreement on the bank, state television quoted Finance Minister Lou Jiwei as saying. The bank will hold its opening ceremony in mid-January and formally elect its president, state television said. The bank will initially focus on financing projects in power, transportation, and urban infrastructure in Asia, the television quoted the bank’s president-elect, Jin Liqun, as saying. First proposed by President Xi Jinping less than two years ago, the bank has become one of China’s biggest foreign policy successes. Despite the opposition of Washington, major U.S. allies such as Australia, Britain, Germany, Italy, the Philippines and South Korea have joined.

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You ain’t seen nothing yet. On January 1, all previous bets are off.

US Oil Bankruptcies Reach Highest Quarterly Level Since Recession (BBG)

Bankruptcies among oil and gas companies have reached quarterly levels last seen in the Great Recession, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. At least nine U.S. oil and gas companies that accounted for more than $2 billion in debt have filed for bankruptcy in the fourth quarter, the bank said Wednesday in its energy economic update for the final three months of the year. “Lower oil prices have taken a significant financial toll on U.S. oil and gas producers, in part because many face higher costs of production than their international counterparts do,” according to the note written by Navi Dhaliwal, a research assistant, and Martin Stuermer, a research economist. “If bankruptcies continue at this rate, more may follow in 2016.” Since peaking in October 2014, U.S. oil and gas employment has fallen by 70,000 jobs, the analysts wrote in the report.

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Bit confusing at the start on differences between people’s QE and basic income. And the entire topic already confuses people with all the varying definitions. But it’s good to get the discussion going. And Steve’s Modern Debt Jubilee is still the most sensible thing out there.

Why Not People’s Quantitative Easing? (Steve Keen on Keiser Report)

In this special Winter Why Not? episode of the Keiser Report, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert talk to Professor Steve Keen about solutions to our unpayable debts, including: basic income, a People’s Quantitative Easing and a global debt jubilee. Professor Keen explains why a modern debt jubilee could please both debtors and creditors, savers and spenders.

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Deals with deals that are almost a decade old.

Commerzbank Sues BNY Mellon, Wells Fargo, HSBC Over Mortgage Losses (Reuters)

Commerzbank has sued four banks in the United States, claiming that they failed to properly monitor billions of dollars in toxic mortgage-backed securities acquired by the German lender before the 2008 financial crisis. Bank of New York Mellon and units of Deutsche Bank, Wells Fargo and HSBC were named in the lawsuits filed on Wednesday and Thursday in Manhattan federal court. BNY Mellon was the trustee for over $1 billion in mortgage-backed securities bought by Commerzbank and $1.3 billion of investments tied to a collateralized debt obligation, Millstone II CDO, court documents showed. BNY Mellon “abandoned its obligations to protect the rights of investors” and did nothing to protect the collateral underlying the CDO, Commerzbank said, noting that it suffered $750 million in losses. Commerzbank made similar claims involving mortgage-backed securities of $640 million in the Deutsche Bank case; $290 million for Wells Fargo; and $204 million for HSBC.

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Ghost town.

Huge Leap In Number Of People Cashing In And Moving Out Of London In 2015 (G.)

The number of people selling up and moving out of London rose by two-thirds in 2015, figures showed on Saturday, as homeowners cashed in on the capital’s high house prices or escaped to more affordable parts of the country. More Londoners bought homes outside the capital than at any point since 2007, according to the property firm Hamptons International, purchasing 63,000 properties during the year. Almost nine out of 10 bought elsewhere in the south of England, but the Midlands saw a 165% increase in the number of Londoners moving into the area. Throughout 2014 house price growth in London outstripped that in other parts of the country, and although it has been less rapid this year, the gap between prices in the capital and outside is wider than ever. Johnny Morris, head of research at Hamptons International, said homeowners were taking advantage of this.

“As the gap between prices in London and the south-east has grown, so has the temptation for Londoners to cash in on record house prices and move out of the capital,” he said. “With expectations of future house price growth in London easing, many have chosen 2015 to make their move out of London.” High costs in London where, according to the Office for National Statistics, the average price of a home is now above half a million pounds, have also forced first-time buyers and those looking for more space to move out. The Hamptons research, based on figures from the UK’s largest estate agency, Countrywide, which it owns, found that the number of people moving out to buy their first home was up by 70%, or 11,000, over 2014’s figure. The most recent data from Nationwide building society on first-time buyer affordability shows that relative to earnings a home in London is at a record 9.6 times average pay.

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“Austerity is so powerful today because it feeds off of itself. It makes people uncertain about their lives, their debts, and their jobs. They become afraid. It’s a strong disciplinary mechanism.”

The Sneaky Way Austerity Got Sold to the Public Like Snake Oil (Lynn Parramore)

Orsola Costantini, Senior Economist at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, is the author of a new paper, “The Cyclically Adjusted Budget: History and Exegesis of a Fateful Estimate,” which exposes the fascinating — and disturbing — history of how a budget approach cloaked in a scientific and technical aura became a tool to manipulate public opinion and serve the interests of the powerful. In the following conversation, she reveals how austerity has been sold to the public through a process that damages the lives of ordinary people, consolidates knowledge and power at the top, and compromises democracy. As economic inequality reaches new heights and austerity programs are debated around the world (most recently, in Spain and Portugal), understanding how a lie becomes political and economic “truth” has never been more critical.

Lynn Parramore: Your recent work deals with something called the “cyclically adjusted budget.” What is it and what does it mean in the lives of ordinary people?

Orsola Costantini: The Cyclically Adjusted Budget (CAB) is a statistical estimate that aids government officials when they decide what to spend money on and how much they’re going to tax you. It is mostly federal governments that use it, but also international institutions like the IMF. Economists will tell you this tool is imprecise. Yet national and international institutions still rely on it to justify important decisions about government spending and taxation. But there’s something the experts aren’t telling you: the cyclically adjusted budget can be easily maneuvered depending on which way the political winds are blowing. And it appears technical and obscure enough so that regular people tend to look at it as objective and undisputable. That’s where the trouble comes in.

Politicians and government officials using the CAB can limit the range of political choices that appear viable to a community. Policymakers can avoid the hassle of taking political responsibility for these choices, too. We had to do it! The budget says so! Look at what happened all over Europe in 2008: It’s one thing to say to students in the streets that their education and economic wellbeing are not a priority for the government while saving banks is. It’s quite another to say that politics has nothing to do with it and the economy requires taking certain actions, sometimes painful.

LP: You indicate that this approach to budgeting was invented as a way of making the New Deal acceptable to the business community. How did that work? Over time, who has benefitted from it? Who has lost?

OC: Back in the 1940s, workers were fighting for their rights, class struggle was heating up, and soldiers would soon be returning from the fronts. At that point, a new business organization, the Committee for Economic Development (CED), came together. Led by Beardsley Ruml and other influential business figures, the CED played a crucial role in developing a conservative approach to Keynesian economics that helped make policies that would help put all Americans to work acceptable to the business community.
The idea was that more consumers would translate into more profits — which is good for business. After all, the economic experts and budget technicians said so, not just the politicians. And the business leaders were told that economic growth and price stability would go along with this, which they liked.

But things changed progressively over the 1970s and early 1980s. Firms went global. They became financialized. The balance of power between workers and owners started to shift more towards the owners, the capitalists. People were told they needed to sacrifice, to accept cuts to social spending and fewer rights and benefits on the job — all in the name of economic science and capitalism. The CAB was turned into a tool for preventing excessive spending — or justifying selected cuts. Middle class folks were afraid that inflation would erode their savings, so they were more keen to approve draconian measures to cut wages and reduce public budgets. People on the lower rungs of the economic ladder felt the pain first. But eventually the middle class fell on the wrong side of the fence, too. Most of them became relatively poorer. I suppose this shows the limits of democracy when information, knowledge, and ultimately power are unequally distributed.

LP: You’re really talking about birth of austerity and the way lies about public spending and budgets have been sold to the public. Why is austerity such a powerful idea and why do politicians still win elections promoting it?

OC: Austerity is so powerful today because it feeds off of itself. It makes people uncertain about their lives, their debts, and their jobs. They become afraid. It’s a strong disciplinary mechanism. People stop joining forces and the political status quo gets locked down. Even the name of this tool, the “cyclically adjusted budget,” carries an aura of respect. It diverts our attention. We don’t question it. It creates a barrier between the individual and the political realm: it undermines democratic participation itself. This obscure theory validates, with its authority, a big economic mistake that sounds like common sense but is actually snake oil — the notion that the federal government budget is like a household budget. Actually, it isn’t. Your household doesn’t collect taxes. It doesn’t print money. It works very differently, yet the nonsense that it should behave exactly like a household budget gets repeated by politicians and policymakers who really just want to squeeze ordinary people.

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Beijing has closed down thousands of companies. But how long can it do that for?

Beijing Raises Smog Alert -Again- as Airport Cancels 227 Departures (BBG)

Beijing issued an alert for severe air pollution Friday, warning children and the elderly to avoid outdoor activities as limited visibility from the thick smog forced the airport to cancel 227 departures. Officials in the capital raised their air pollution alert to orange, the second-highest on the city’s four-grade scale. The concentration of PM2.5 – the particles that pose the greatest health risks – was 503 micrograms per cubic meter near Tiananmen Square at 2 p.m. after reaching 647 in the morning, according to the municipal air-monitoring website. The World Health Organization recommends PM2.5 exposure of no more than 25 over 24-hours.

Beijing Capital International Airport, the world’s second-busiest by passengers, reported the cancellations on its website Friday and said another 12 departures were delayed as of 4 p.m. local time because of poor visibility. The canceled flights accounted for about 12% of scheduled departures Friday, according to the site. The chronic air pollution has renewed calls for the government to make better forecasts and act faster to help clear the skies over the city of 21.5 million. Beijing this year has imposed two red alerts, the highest on the scale, prompting measures including school closures, traffic restrictions and factory operation limits. The latest ended Tuesday. Smog also blanketed China’s eastern and central regions Friday.

PM2.5 levels were as high as 260 micrograms per cubic meter in Zibo and 322 in Jinan of Shandong province, data from the China National Environment Monitoring Center showed. The readings were 277 in Wuhan and 255 in Huanggang of Hubei province. Shanghai issued a yellow alert for air pollution, the third-highest of four levels. Children and the elderly were warned to avoid outdoor activities, with the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center reporting PM2.5 levels of 154 micrograms per cubic meter as of 2 p.m. About 50 cities in northern and eastern China have issued air pollution alerts, the China Daily reported on Friday. Smog across the eastern, northern and central parts of the country will weaken or disperse from north to south from Saturday, the China Meteorological Administration said.

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If “Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil..”, are we off the hook?

Pope Condemns ‘Monstrous Evil’ Fuelling Refugee Crisis (Guardian)

Pope Francis has praised the generosity of countries which have accepted Syrian refugees and condemned the “monstrous evil” which has forced increasing numbers of people to flee their homes in the Middle East. Delivering his Christmas Day homily at St Peter’s in Rome amid heavy security, the pontiff said he was praying for an end to human suffering in a world afflicted by war, poverty and extremist attacks. Francis referred to “brutal acts of terrorism” in Paris in November as well as conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine. “Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst,” he told worshippers gathered in St Peter’s Square.

Thousands of people underwent airport-style security screening as they entered St Peter’s Square. Police armed with machine guns discreetly patrolled the area. Security around the Vatican has stepped up since the terrorist attacks in Paris last month. At the end of a year in which more than a million people have sought sanctuary in Europe, Francis asked God to “repay all those, both individuals and states, who generously work to provide assistance and welcome to the numerous migrants and refugees”. The pope called for “encouragement … to all those fleeing extreme poverty or war, travelling all too often in inhumane conditions and not infrequently at the risk of their lives”. He praised those who are helping migrants “to build a dignified future for themselves and for their dear ones, and to be integrated in the societies which receive them”.

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“..the responsibility to offer refuge is ours until the least of us have shelter.”

Remember That Christmas Is A Story Of Middle Eastern Refugees (Quartz)

As your social media contacts must have reminded you by now, Christmas truly is the story of a Middle Eastern family seeking refuge. Recent forensic research suggests that Jesus looked very much like the men that so many in the predominantly Christian Western world are frightened to let into their countries. Even in photos of the refugees, there are striking echoes of biblical iconography. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” This is at the very core of Christian values: love your neighbor as yourself—and as your god.

And yet Westerners are, by and large, keeping refugees at bay, bargaining their quotas down, as if the world’s 2.2 billion Christians had never been taught the story of Joseph and Mary being refused accommodation because they were poor strangers. Perhaps instead we can show mercy for mothers breastfeeding their children on a cold beach, for men who nearly drown trying to swim to shore, for children who have no choice but to follow their parents in chasing a future—any future, anywhere. These people are the real-life versions of the icons that Christians have come to associate with the passion of god as a human. Let us recognize them as such. Let us acknowledge, once and for all, that being a refugee—of war, poverty, or discrimination—is a sheer function of luck, and we did nothing to deserve our better fate. Whenever and wherever humanity is suffering, we are involved, and the responsibility to offer refuge is ours until the least of us have shelter.

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Contradictory reports in the media. Some say everyone swam, or that Ceuta is an island.

Two Dead As Hundreds Of Migrants Storm Spanish Enclave in Morocco (AFP)

Two migrants drowned and 12 others were injured Friday when they tried to enter into the tiny Spanish territory of Ceuta in North Africa by swimming from Morocco or scaling a barbed-wire fence, officials in both nations said. Just before 4:00 am (0300 GMT) a group of over 300 migrants tried to get into the Spanish city which borders Morocco and is located across the Strait of Gibraltar from mainland Spain, the Spanish government authority in Ceuta said in a statement. Moroccan forces intercepted over 120 migrants but 182 others managed to get into Ceuta by climbing over the fence or swimming into the territory, it said. “Three of them needed to be reanimated by Spanish police officers who rescued them from the sea.”

Twelve migrants were taken to hospital by the Red Cross to be treated for various injuries, it added. Two people were recovering from near-drowning, one had an open leg fracture and the rest had deep cuts, some requiring stitches, the Red Cross said. Morocco recovered two bodies in the waters near the border post, local officials told Moroccan state news service MAP. The would-be migrants threw stones and used sticks against police, injuring several officers, they added. The Spanish Red Cross said it gave clothes and shoes to the migrants before they were taken to a temporary detention centre in Ceuta. It published photos of Red Cross volunteers helping and feeding migrants, many of them covered in blankets.

Ceuta along with Melilla to the east are two Spanish territories on the northern coast of Morocco that together form the European Union’s only land borders with Africa. Spain fortified fences in the two territories last year in response to a rise in the number of migrants trying to jump over the barriers from neighbouring Morocco. Last year 15 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean after dozens tried to enter Ceuta by swimming from a nearby beach. Human rights groups and migrants said the Spanish police tried to keep them from crossing into Spanish territory by firing rubber bullets and spraying them with tear gas. Madrid has since said that its guards are now banned from using rubber bullets to repel migrants.

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