Jan 292017
 
 January 29, 2017  Posted by at 11:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Michael Andrews A Shadow 1974


Donald Trump’s Cruel Ban On Refugees Sets A Chilling Precedent (Robert Fisk)
Judges Block Parts of Trump’s Order on Muslim Nation Immigration (BBG)
Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence (Wittes)
Trump’s Muslim Ban Triggers Chaos, Heartbreak, And Resistance (IC)
Science Can Decode the Laws of History and Predict US Political Violence (PT)
UK Agrees £100m Fighter Jet Deal With Turkey Despite Human Rights Abuse (Ind.)
Canada’s Justin Trudeau Takes A Stand On US Refugee Ban (BBC)
Centralization and the Decline of Europe (IL)
Muslims Make A Pitch For Populist Vote As Dutch Politics Turns Sharp Right (G.)
How Great the Fall Can Be (Greer)
This Could Be Greece’s Last Chance To Save Itself (CNBC)
Greece’s Best-Selling Daily To Cease Publication Due To Debts (AFP)
Second Man Dies At Lesbos Refugee Camp Within Days (Kath.)

 

 

Strong from Fisk: “It’s OK to use pilotless planes to assault men and women in other countries. It’s OK if your allies steal land from others for their own people, if you support Arab dictatorships that emasculate and execute and rape their prisoners, as long as they are “allies” of the USA.”

But do note: none of these things have occurred under Trump. So where were you when Obama became the Drone King? When Hillary said We Came We Saw He Died? Do you feel those things are less important or less cruel than what happened yesterday in US airports? Now is the time to speak.

Donald Trump’s Cruel Ban On Refugees Sets A Chilling Precedent (Robert Fisk)

So Donald Trump is going to f**k them all. No excuses for such filthy words today. I’m only quoting the man whose Pentagon offices he just used to disgrace himself – and America. For it was Secretary of Defence James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis who told Iraqis in 2003 that he came “in peace’ – he even urged his Marines to be compassionate – but said of those who might dare to resist America’s illegal invasion of their country: “If you f**k with me, I’ll kill you all.” There’s no getting round it. Call it Nazi, Fascist, racist, vicious, illiberal, immoral, cruel. More dangerously, what Trump has done is a wicked precedent. If you can stop them coming, you can chuck them out. If you can demand “extreme vetting” of Muslims from seven countries, you can also demand a “values test” for those Muslims who have already made it to the USA.

Those on visas. Those with residency only. Those – if they are American citizens – with dual citizenship. Or full US citizens of Muslim origin. Or just Americans who are Muslims. Or Hispanics. Or Jews? Refugees one day. Citizens the next. Then refugees again. No, of course, Trump would never visit such obscene tests on Jewish immigrants – for they would be obscene, would they not? – and nor will he stop Christians from Muslim countries. America has always condemned sectarian states, but now Trump declares that he approves of sectarianism. Minorities will be welcome – the Alawites of Syria, to whom Bashar al-Assad belongs, will presumably not count, and I guess we can expect all US embassies to have three queues for visa applicants. One for Muslims, one for Christians, and a third marked ‘Other’. That’s where most of us will be standing in line. And by doing so, we will automatically give approval to this iniquitous system – and to Trump.

There’s no point in wasting time over the obvious: that America has bombed, directly or indirectly, five of the seven nations on Trump’s banned list. Sudan just escapes, but the US blew a packed Iranian passenger airliner out of the sky in 1988 and has raised no objections to Israel’s bombing of Iranian personnel in Syria. So that makes six. There’s nothing to be gained by reiterating that the four countries whose citizens participated in the international crimes against humanity of 9/11 – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Emirates and Lebanon – do not feature on the list. For the Saudis must be loved, cosseted, fawned over, approved, even when they chop off heads and when their citizens funnel cash to the murderers of Isis. Egypt is ruled by Trump’s “fantastic guy” anti-‘terrorist’ president al-Sisi. The glisteningly wealthy Emirates won’t be touched. Nor will Lebanon, although its tens of thousands of dual-national Syrians may have a tough time in the future.

But no, this vile piece of legislation is not aimed at nations. It’s targeting refugees, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The Muslim ones, that is, not the Christians. How can they ever withstand a “values test”? And what are America’s “values” anyway? It’s OK to attack sovereign states. It’s OK to use pilotless planes to assault men and women in other countries. It’s OK if your allies steal land from others for their own people, if you support Arab dictatorships that emasculate and execute and rape their prisoners, as long as they are “allies” of the USA. It’s OK to fast-track Saudi visas – as the Brits have been doing for years – even if they are members of the most inspirational Wahhabi cult in the world: membership includes the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Isis, you name it.

There’s even no value in touting our own participation in this charade. Having just patted the killer governments of the Gulf on the head – and heading off to do the same to Turkey’s autocrat-in-chief – our poodlet prime minister, fresh out of Washington, hasn’t uttered a word about Trump’s wickedness. Wasn’t it Britain – and America, for heaven’s sake – that was weeping copious tears, buckets of the stuff, for the 250,000 (or 90,000) Muslim refugees of eastern Aleppo a couple of months ago? And now, so much do we care for them, that they are being well and truly f****d.

Read more …

More of this please.

Judges Block Parts of Trump’s Order on Muslim Nation Immigration (BBG)

Two judges temporarily blocked President Donald Trump’s administration from enforcing parts of his order to halt immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries, after a day in which students, refugees and dual citizens were stuck overseas or detained and some businesses warned employees from those countries not to risk leaving the U.S. A nationwide ruling in Brooklyn, New York, barring refugees and visa holders already legally in the U.S. from being turned back came hours after the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued to halt the Jan 27 order. A separate order in Alexandria, Virginia, forbid the government from removing about 60 legal permanent residents of the U.S. who were being detained at Dulles International Airport.

Neither ruling strikes down the executive order, which will now be subject to court hearings. White House officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment late Saturday night. There were wrenching scenes – and angry protests – at major airports across the country before the court orders were issued. At Los Angeles International Airport, a lawyer reported that an 80-year-old insulin-dependent visitor was being held by officials and had no contact with her worried family. Shane Moss, a 38-year-old from Missouri, was returning from Thailand with his girlfriend, a dietician and joint Canadian-Iranian citizen with a valid work visa, when they were forced to separate. Hours later, he had not heard from her. “They won’t tell me anything,” Moss said. “I’m worn out. I’ve been up for 20-something hours and we’ve still got to get home to Kansas City.”

[..] The executive order, issued on Friday, bars citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, from entering the U.S. for the next three months in an effort to stop terrorists and gain hold of the immigration system. White House officials told reporters, before the court orders were issued, that green card holders from those countries who found themselves abroad and trying to come back would be evaluated case by case. Last year there were nearly 32,000 immigrant visas issued in the U.S. to the seven affected countries. The order also halts refugee resettlement to the U.S. for 120 days, and orders that refugee admissions for 2017 be cut to 50,000 from the planned limit of 110,000.

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This is from what I would call a decidedly right wing lawyer (though he also says he’s ‘pro-refugees’). “I believe in strong counterterrorism powers. I defend non-criminal detention. I’ve got no problem with drone strikes. I’m positively enthusiastic about American surveillance policies. I was much less offended than others were by the CIA’s interrogations in the years after September 11.” But who says: “It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.”

Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence (Wittes)

Put simply, I don’t believe that the stated purpose is the real purpose. This is the first policy the United States has adopted in the post-9/11 era about which I have ever said this. It’s a grave charge, I know, and I’m not making it lightly. But in the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don’t marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don’t target the wrong people in nutty ways when you’re rationally pursuing real security objectives. When do you do these things? You do these things when you’re elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. You do them when you’ve made a deliberate decision to burden human lives to make a public point. In other words, this is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.

[..] I think we can, without drawing any kind of equivalence between this order and Jim Crow, make a similar point here: Is this document a reasonable security measure? There are many areas in which security policy affects innocent lives but within which we do not presumptively say that the fact that some group of people faces disproportionate burdens renders that policy illegitimate. But if an entire religious grouping finds itself irrationally excluded from the country for no discernible security benefit following a lengthy campaign that overtly promised precisely such discrimination and exactly this sort of exclusion, if the relevant security agencies are excluded from the policy process, and if the question is then solemnly propounded whether the reasonable pursuit of security is the purpose, I think we ought to exercise one of the sovereign prerogatives of philosophers—that of laughter.

So yes, the order is malevolent. But here’s the thing: Many of these malevolent objectives were certainly achievable within the president’s lawful authority. The president’s power over refugee admissions is vast. His power to restrict visa issuances and entry of aliens to the United States is almost as wide. If the National Security Council had run a process of minimal competence, it could certainly have done a lot of stuff that folks like me, who care about refugees, would have gnashed our teeth over but which would have been solidly within the President’s authority. It could have all been implemented in a fashion that didn’t create endless litigation opportunities and didn’t cause enormous diplomatic friction. How incompetent is this order? An immigration lawyer who works for the federal government wrote me today describing the quality of the work as “look[ing] like what an intern came up with over a lunch hour. . . . My take is that it is so poorly written that it’s hard to tell the impact.”

I would wax triumphant about the mitigating effect of incompetence on this document, but alas, I can’t do it. The president’s powers in this area are vast, as I say, and while the incompetence is likely to buy the administration a world of hurt in court and in diplomacy in the short term, this order is still going take more than a few pounds of flesh out of a lot of innocent people. Moreover, it’s a very dangerous thing to have a White House that can’t with the remotest pretense of competence and governance put together a major policy document on a crucial set of national security issues without inducing an avalanche of litigation and wide diplomatic fallout. If the incompetence mitigates the malevolence in this case, that’ll be a blessing. But given the nature of the federal immigration powers, the mitigation may be small and the blessing short-lived; the implications of having an executive this inept are not small and won’t be short-lived.

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It started at least a week ago.

Trump’s Muslim Ban Triggers Chaos, Heartbreak, And Resistance (IC)

Following an executive order signed late Friday, President Donald Trump on Saturday launched a sweeping attack on the travel rights of individuals from more than a half dozen Muslim majority countries, turning away travelers at multiple U.S. airports and leaving others stranded without answers — and without hope — across the world. Trump’s order triggered waves of outrage and condemnation at home and abroad, prompting thousands of protesters to flood several American airports and ultimately culminating in a stay issued by a federal district judge in New York City on the deportation of people who were being detained by immigration officials. Similar stays were issued by judges in Washington, Massachusetts, and Virginia.

The administration’s assault on civil liberties explicitly targeted the world’s most vulnerable populations – refugees and asylum seekers fleeing devastating wars – as well as young people with student visas pursuing an education in the United States, green card holders with deep roots in the country, and a number of citizens of countries not included in the ban. It also impacted American children traveling with, or waiting to meet, their non-citizen parents. With an estimated 500,000 people in the crosshairs, Trump’s order was carried out swiftly and sowed confusion among the nation’s immigration and homeland security agencies – which were excluded from the drafting process and were scrambling to understand how to implement it, according to media reports and two government officials who spoke to The Intercept.

Days before the executive order was signed, reports began to emerge that valid visa holders were suddenly being prevented from reentering the country after taking trips abroad. A senior U.S. immigration official, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, confirmed to The Intercept that the rash of unusual student visa revocations began roughly a week before the official order was signed. Many of the stories the official heard about were anecdotal. Others, however, the official was able to review via internal Department of Homeland Security monitoring systems. While visas are revoked every day with little explanation afforded to those affected, the backgrounds of the individuals in these cases raised no red flags, the official said.

On the contrary, the impacted individuals whose files the official reviewed included a young mother of a U.S. citizen child, and students at some of the nation’s top universities publicly recognized for their outstanding achievement. These students had already undergone rigorous U.S. government vetting before being admitted to the country, and had only traveled abroad briefly over their winter break. The Intercept has independently verified two of these stories by speaking to those denied entry, who asked that their names not be used because they are attempting to appeal the decisions.

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Interesting notion: “elite overproduction”.

Science Can Decode the Laws of History and Predict US Political Violence (PT)

Consider the “structural-demographic theory” that was first proposed by the sociologist Jack Goldstone and subsequently developed and tested with data by others, including myself. The theory explains major outbreaks of political violence, such as the French Revolution or American Civil War, by focusing on several interrelated processes. One is the falling or stagnating living standards of the general population. But contrary to the widely held view, popular discontent by itself is not a sufficient cause of a civil war or a revolution. A more important factor is what has been called “elite overproduction” – that is, the appearance of too many elite candidates vying for a limited supply of power positions within the government and the economy. As written about in my book War and Peace and War, elite overproduction results in intense intra-elite competition, polarisation, and conflict that ultimately takes violent forms.

[..] The structural-demographic theory has been tested by several investigators on many historical societies. The theory predicts very long-term cycles in which periods when societies are internally at peace are succeeded by waves of unrest. Both of these “integrative” and “disintegrative” phases are about a century long. The theory focuses entirely on the dynamics of political instability within states as external wars have a logic of their own (in fact, it is typically societies which are in their integrative phases that prosecute successful wars of external conquest). Our empirical investigations of a variety of historical societies confirm that they go through structural-demographic cycles. But on top of the long cycles are often superimposed shorter oscillations with periods of roughly 50 years.

It appears that people eventually tire of incessant fighting, so during the disintegrative phases human generations experiencing a lot of fighting tend to alternate with relatively peaceful ones. Recently the Journal of Peace Research published my article in which I tested the predictions of the theory on American data. Constructing and analysing a database on US political violence (between 1780 and 2010), I found that the dynamics of violent incidences were just as predicted by the theory: a long structural-demographic cycle with a 50-year cycle superimposed on it:

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This is really the worst news of all. Money, and the military-industrial complex, still rule supreme. Nothing at all will improve until we root it out.

UK Agrees £100m Fighter Jet Deal With Turkey Despite Human Rights Abuse (Ind.)

The UK has signed a £100m deal to design new fighter jets for Turkey, despite the country’s President undertaking a severe crackdown on his regime’s opponents. Theresa May said it could open the way to billions of pounds worth of business, as she became the first foreign leader to visit Turkey since Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered a wave of arrests and sackings in the wake of last summer’s coup. Questioned over human rights concerns, Downing Street officials said the deal to design the TF-X jets was sealed in light of Turkey’s status as a Nato ally and claimed Ms May could approach human rights as a “separate” issue. The PM did warn the President it was “important” for him to uphold human rights, as the stony faced Turkish leader looked on.

The UK is already mired in controversy regarding some £3bn worth of licences granted to export arms to Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom embarked on a deadly bombing campaign in Yemen. The announcement in Ankara yesterday means BAE Systems and Turkish Aerospace Industries have signed a “heads of agreement”, establishing a partnership for the development of the Turkish Fighter Programme or TF-X. Downing Street sources said the £100m contract has the potential to facilitate multibillion pound contracts between the UK and Turkish firms over the project’s 20-year lifetime. Ms May added: “It marks the start of a new and deeper trading relationship with Turkey and will potentially secure British and Turkish jobs and prosperity for decades to come.”

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How will Justin avoid a major battle with Washington? Build a wall?

Canada’s Justin Trudeau Takes A Stand On US Refugee Ban (BBC)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken a stand on social media against the temporary US ban on refugees and immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries Mr Trudeau underscored his government’s commitment to bringing in “those fleeing persecution, terror & war”. The US Department of Homeland Security said the entry ban would also apply to dual nationals of the seven countries. However, Mr Trudeau’s office says Canadian dual nationals are exempt. “We have been assured that Canadian citizens travelling on Canadian passports will be dealt with in the usual process,” a spokeswoman for Mr Trudeau said in an emailed statement.

US President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser Mike Flynn “confirmed that holders of Canadian passports, including dual citizens, will not be affected by the ban,” the statement said. Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is a dual national who arrived as a Somali refugee. Within hours, Mr Trudeau’s tweets had been shared more than 150,000 times. “Welcome to Canada” also became a trending term in the country. Mr Trudeau, who gained global attention for granting entry to nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees to Canada over the past 13 months, also sent a pointed tweet that showed him greeting a young refugee at a Canadian airport in 2015.

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Growth, centralization and decline. I’ve made the connection many times.

Centralization and the Decline of Europe (IL)

The famous French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand supposedly said that a weakness of the Bourbon monarchs was that they learned nothing and forgot nothing. If so, the genetic descendants of the Bourbons are now in charge of Europe. But before explaining why, let’s first establish that Europe is in trouble [..] because of statism and demographic change. What’s far more noteworthy, though, is that even the Europeans are waking up to the fact that the continent faces a very grim future. For instance, the bureaucrats in Brussels are pessimistic, as reported by the EU Observer. “…the report warns of a longer term risk for the EU economy. “As expectations of low growth ahead affect investment today, there is potential for a vicious circle,” the commission’s director general for economic and financial affairs writes in the report’s foreword. “In short, the projected pace of GDP growth may not be sufficient to prevent the cyclical impact of the crisis from becoming permanent (hysteresis), ” Marco Buti writes.”

The people of Europe share that grim assessment. Pew has some very sobering data on angst across the continent. Support for European economic integration – the 1957 raison d’etre for creating the European Economic Community, the EU’s predecessor – is down over last year in five of the eight EU countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2013. Positive views of the European Union are at or near their low point in most EU nations, even among the young, the hope for the EU’s future. The favorability of the EU has fallen from a median of 60% in 2012 to 45% in 2013.

Establishment-oriented voices in the United States also agree that the outlook is rather dismal. Writing in the Washington Post, Sebastian Mallaby offers a grim assessment of Europe’s future. “…since 2008…, the 28 countries in the European Union managed combined growth of just 4%. And in the subset consisting of the eurozone minus Germany, output actually fell. …most of the Mediterranean periphery has suffered a lost decade. …The unemployment rate in the euro area stands at 9.8%, more than double the U.S. rate. Unemployment among Europe’s youth is even more appalling: In Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus and Portugal, more than 1 in 4 workers under 25 are jobless.” The bottom line is that there’s widespread consensus that Europe is a mess and that things will probably get worse unless there are big changes.

But the key question, as always, is whether the changes are positive or negative. And this is why I started with a reference to the Bourbon kings. European leaders today also are infamous for learning nothing and forgetting nothing. [..] As Nassim Nicholas Taleb has sagely observed, it is centralization and harmonization that creates systemic risk. And all this talk about “common resources” and “public risk sharing” is simply the governmental version of co-signing a loan for the deadbeat family alcoholic. Yet Europe’s ideologues can’t resist their lemming-like march in the wrong direction. What makes this especially odd is that there is so much evidence that Europe originally became rich for the opposite reason.

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Elections in (7?) weeks and everyone turns right. Pragmatism, politicians call it.

Muslims Make A Pitch For Populist Vote As Dutch Politics Turns Sharp Right (G.)

Nourdin el Ouali has grown used to far-right attacks on Dutch Muslims, and to dog-whistle politics. But when the country’s prime minister wrote an open letter last week, in effect demanding that minorities integrate or “go away”, he was still shocked. Mark Rutte’s letter comes less than two months before a national election, and after months of watching populist Geert Wilders rising into the top position in national polls. If the election were held tomorrow his far-right party would probably be the largest in parliament. The letter did not directly mention Muslims, and began instead by attacking people who drop litter or spit on buses. However, in his warning of “something wrong” in Dutch society, the message was clear.

Rutte’s naked bid to woo far-right voters for the 15 March election prompted scathing criticism across mainstream society, and worry among Dutch Muslims, who have already endured a sharp rise in hate crime and say they face regular discrimination in daily life. “It concerns me a lot, because it’s the prime minister who wrote the letter,” says Ouali, a Rotterdam native, founder and city councillor for the progressive Nida party. “You would expect a different role from someone in this position, to rise above it all, bring people together – not writing this kind of letter where he really in a sneaky way talks about Dutch identity, implying there are groups [of Dutch citizens] that are a threat to the Dutch way of life.”

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“..those of my readers who have worked themselves up to the screaming point about the comparatively mild events we’ve seen so far may want to save some of their breath for the times ahead when it’s going to get much, much worse.

How Great the Fall Can Be (Greer)

What kinds of meltdowns are we going to get when internet service or modern health care get priced out of reach, or become unavailable at any price? How are they going to cope if the accelerating crisis of legitimacy in this country causes the federal government to implode, the way the government of the Soviet Union did, and suddenly they’re living under cobbled-together regional governments that don’t have the money to pay for basic services? What sort of reaction are we going to see if the US blunders into a sustained domestic insurgency—suicide bombs going off in public places, firefights between insurgent forces and government troops, death squads from both sides rounding up potential opponents and leaving them in unmarked mass graves—or, heaven help us, all-out civil war?

This is what the decline and fall of a civilization looks like. It’s not about sitting in a cozy earth-sheltered home under a roof loaded with solar panels, living some close approximation of a modern industrial lifestyle, while the rest of the world slides meekly down the chute toward history’s compost bin, leaving you and yours untouched. It’s about political chaos—meaning that you won’t get the leaders you want, and you may not be able to count on the rule of law or even the most basic civil liberties. It’s about economic implosion—meaning that your salary will probably go away, your savings almost certainly won’t keep its value, and if you have gold bars hidden in your home, you’d better hope to Hannah that nobody ever finds out, or it’ll be a race between the local government and the local bandits to see which one gets to tie your family up and torture them to death, starting with the children, until somebody breaks and tells them where your stash is located.

It’s about environmental chaos—meaning that you and the people you care about may have many hungry days ahead as crazy weather messes with the harvests, and it’s by no means certain you won’t die early from some tropical microbe that’s been jarred loose from its native habitat to find a new and tasty home in you. It’s about rapid demographic contraction—meaning that you get to have the experience a lot of people in the Rust Belt have already, of walking past one abandoned house after another and remembering the people who used to live there, until they didn’t any more. More than anything else, it’s about loss. Things that you value—things you think of as important, meaningful, even necessary—are going to go away forever in the years immediately ahead of us, and there will be nothing you can do about it.

It really is as simple as that. People who live in an age of decline and fall can’t afford to cultivate a sense of entitlement. Unfortunately, [..] the notion that the universe is somehow obliged to give people what they think they deserve is very deeply engrained in American popular culture these days. That’s a very unwise notion to believe right now, and as we slide further down the slope, it could very readily become fatal—and no, by the way, I don’t mean that last adjective in a metaphorical sense. History recalls how great the fall can be, Roger Hodgson sang. In our case, it’s shaping up to be one for the record books—and those of my readers who have worked themselves up to the screaming point about the comparatively mild events we’ve seen so far may want to save some of their breath for the times ahead when it’s going to get much, much worse.

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Greece can not save itself by agreeing to more cuts; it can only doom itself.

This Could Be Greece’s Last Chance To Save Itself (CNBC)

Despite decisive action proposed by the IMF to ease Greece’s financial burden, more turbulence lies ahead for the debt-ridden European nation, reveals the latest IMF report, which was delivered to the Fund’s board members for consultation. CNBC has received the report through a close source to the IMF. According to IMF deputy spokesman William Murray, the report will be discussed at the IMF’s board meeting on Feb.6. Among the reforms they are pressing are further cuts to pension programs and an increase in income taxes. Without a substantial pace of reforms, Greece will be unable to narrow the gap in its real per-capita income relative to the euro zone and remain prosperous and competitive. This has prompted the euro zone’s finance ministers to demand that Greece proceed with these necessary reforms until Feb. 20 or risk the IMF dissolving support of the Greek financial program.

In the latest report, the IMF claims the Greek banks have a weak capital structure and are exposed to the risk of nonperforming loans. The Greek banks’ current strategies require a reduction in the aggregate nonperforming loans ratio to 48, 42 and 34% by 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively, but these backloaded NPL reductions “do not appear consistent with the Greek authorities’ ambitious investment and growth assumptions.” Among the measures included in the IMF report is the push to rebalance the policy mix toward growth-friendly and equitable policies and to lower the threshold of tax-free income. “Greece’s revenue yields lag behind peers as high marginal tax rates applied on narrow bases encourage tax evasion, discourage labour participation in the formal economy and provide incentives for firms to relocate to low tax neighbouring countries,” the IMF report said.

In addition, the IMF supports a further reduction to Greece’s pensions, which in recent years have fallen by 40%. The report stresses that “while recent pension reforms have helped address expected long-run pressures from population aging, pensions for current retirees remain unaffordably high.” At this point, the IMF is very critical, claiming that “the Greek authorities did not see a need to reduce pension spending or the income tax credit.” The IMF is hardening its stance not only against Greece but also across the euro zone countries seeking greater debt relief for Greece. Yet even with with full implementation of policies agreed to under the ESM program, a debt sustainability analysis included in the report reveals that Greece’s public debt is “highly unsustainable.” It further emphasizes that Greece’s public debt and financing needs will become “explosive” in the long run if Greece is unable to replace highly subsided official sector financing with market financing at rates consistent with sustainability.

The IMF projects Greek debt will reach 170% of GDP by 2020 and 164% of GDP by 2022 but will rise thereafter, reaching around 275% of GDP by 2060. (This is based on the cost of debt rising over time as market financing replaces highly subsidized official sector financing. It should more than offset the debt-reducing effects of growth and the primary balance surplus. ) The country’s gross financing needs (defined as the sum of budget deficits and funds required to roll over debt that matures in the course of the year) will be higher: a 15% of GDP threshold by 2024 and a 20% of GDP threshold by 2031, reaching around 33% by 2040 and about 62% of GDP by 2060.

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It all falls apart.

Greece’s Best-Selling Daily To Cease Publication Due To Debts (AFP)

Two historic Greek newspapers, including the country’s best-selling daily, will cease publication, the debt-ridden Lambrakis Press Group announced on Saturday. “‘To Vima’ weekly and ‘Ta Nea’ daily are forced to cease their publication within days due to financial reasons,” the company said in a statement. Lambrakis Press Group (DOL) “is lacking any available resources and as a result it can’t support the printing of its newspapers and, of course, can’t ensure the unhampered operation of the other media outlets it owns,” it added. Besides the two newspapers DOL owns numerous magazines, news sites and the Vima FM radio. DOL failed to pay its €99 million ($106-million) debt obligations in December, Antonis Karakoussis, director of the Vima newspaper and Vima FM radio said on January 11.

He added that this situation was the result of the economic crisis Greece has faced since 2010 which has already led to the closure of many media outlets. In Saturday’s statement DOL accused the creditor banks of putting the press group in a special management regime without providing for the continuation of its publications. DOL says the creditor banks are withholding all its earnings “whether these come from newspaper sales or from advertisements”. Lambrakis Press Group, one of the shareholders of the Mega Channel TV station that is also heavily indebted, has also faced legal turmoil over the past months, with its president, Stavros Psycharis, being prosecuted for tax evasion and money laundering. With its particularly critical stance against Greece’s leftist Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras since his election in 2015, DOL has been, along with other Greek media moguls, the target of the government’s effort to “reestablish transparency” in what it calls a sector “of oligarchs”.

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Yes, it’s come to this. Lesbos resident Eric Kempson has more in the video.

Second Man Dies At Lesbos Refugee Camp Within Days (Kath.)

A 46-year-old Syrian man was found dead in his tent in the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos on Saturday morning. He was the second person to die at the facility last week, after the death of a 22-year-old Egyptian man a few days earlier. The deaths have highlighted the poor conditions that refugees face at camps on the Greek islands, especially during the current cold weather. The government is making efforts to create new facilities and move some migrants to the mainland but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees accused Athens last week of failing to respond to its proposals about improving conditions at the existing camps.

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Jan 212017
 
 January 21, 2017  Posted by at 4:59 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  17 Responses »
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Workmen next to the screws of the RMS Titanic at Belfast shipyard, 1911

 

The people at Conflicts Forum, which is directed by former British diplomat and MI6 ‘ranking figure’ Alastair Crooke, sent me an unpublished article by Alastair and asked if the Automatic Earth would publish it. Since I like his work and I (re-)published two of his articles last year already, ‘End of Growth’ Sparks Wide Discontent in October 2016 and Obstacles to Trump’s ‘Growth’ Plans in November 2016, I’m happy to.

His arguments here are very close to much of what the Automatic Earth has been advocating for years, both when it comes to our financial crisis and to our energy crisis. Our Primers section is full of articles on these issues written through the years. It’s a good thing other people pick up too on topics like EROEI, and understand you can’t run our modern, complex society on ‘net energy’ as low as what we get from any of our ‘new’ energy sources. It’s just not going to happen.

Here’s Alastair:

 

 

Alastair Crooke: We have an economic crisis – centred on the persistent elusiveness of real growth, rather than just monetised debt masquerading as ‘growth’ – and a political crisis, in which even ‘Davos man’, it seems, according to their own World Economic Forum polls,is anxious; losing his faith in ‘the system’ itself, and casting around for an explanation for what is occurring, or what exactly to do about it. Klaus Schwab, the founder of the WEF at Davos remarked  before this year’s session, “People have become very emotionalized, this silent fear of what the new world will bring, we have populists here and we want to listen …”.

Dmitry Orlov, a Russian who was taken by his parents to the US at an early age, but who has returned regularly to his birthplace, draws on the Russian experience for his book, The Five Stages of Collapse. Orlov suggests that we not just entering a transient moment of multiple political discontents, but rather that we are already in the early stages of something rather more profound. From his perspective that fuses his American experience with that of post Cold War Russia, he argues, that the five stages would tend to play out in sequence based on the breaching of particular boundaries of consensual faith and trust that groups of human beings vest in the institutions and systems they depend on for daily life. These boundaries run from the least personal (e.g. trust in banks and governments) to the most personal (faith in your local community, neighbours, and kin). It would be hard to avoid the thought – so evident at Davos – that even the elites now accept that Orlov’s first boundary has been breached.

But what is it? What is the deeper economic root to this malaise? The general thrust of Davos was that it was prosperity spread too unfairly that is at the core of the problem. Of course, causality is seldom unitary, or so simple. And no one answer suffices. In earlier Commentaries, I have suggested that global growth is so maddeningly elusive for the elites because the debt-driven ‘growth’ model (if it deserves the name ‘growth’) simply is not working.  Not only is monetary expansion not working, it is actually aggravating the situation: Printing money simply has diluted down the stock of general purchasing power – through the creation of additional new, ‘empty’ money – with the latter being intermediated (i.e. whisked away) into the financial sector, to pump up asset values.

It is time to put away the Keynesian presumed ‘wealth effect’ of high asset prices. It belonged to an earlier era. In fact, high asset prices do trickle down. It is just that they trickle down into into higher cost of living expenditures (through return on capital dictates) for the majority of the population. A population which has seen no increase in their real incomes since 2005 – but which has witnessed higher rents, higher transport costs, higher education costs, higher medical costs; in short, higher prices for everything that has a capital overhead component. QE is eating into peoples’ discretionary income by inflating asset balloons, and is thus depressing growth – not raising it. And zero, and negative interest rates, may be keeping the huge avalanche overhang of debt on ‘life support’, but it is eviscerating savings income, and will do the same to pensions, unless concluded sharpish.

But beyond the spent force of monetary policy, we have noted that developed economies face separate, but equally formidable ‘headwinds’, of a (non-policy and secular) nature, impeding growth – from aging populations in China and the OECD, the winding down of China’s industrial revolution,  and from technical innovation turning job-destructive, rather than job creative as a whole. Connected with this is shrinking world trade.

But why is the economy failing to generate prosperity as in earlier decades?  Is it mainly down to Greenspan and Bernanke’s monetary excesses?  Certainly, the latter has contributed to our contemporary stagnation, but perhaps if we look a little deeper, we might find an additional explanation. As I noted in a Comment of 6 January 2017, the golden era of US economic expansion was the ‘50s and ‘60s – but that era had begun to unravel somewhat, already, with the economic turbulence of the 70s. However, it was not so much Reagan’s fiscal or monetary policies that rescued a deteriorating situation in that earlier moment, but rather, it was plain old good fortune. The last giant oil fields with greater than 30-to-one, ‘energy-return’ on ‘energy-cost’ of exploitation, came on line in the 1980s: Alaska’s North Slope, Britain and Norway’s North Sea fields, and Siberia. Those events allowed the USA and the West generally to extend their growth another twenty years.

And, as that bounty tapered down around the year 2000, the system wobbled again, “and the viziers of the Fed ramped up their magical operations, led by the Grand Vizier (or “Maestro”) Alan Greenspan.”  Some other key things happened though, at this point: firstly the cost of crude, which had been remarkably stable, in real terms, over many years, suddenly started its inexorable real-terms ascent.  And from 2001, in the wake of the dot.com ‘bust’, government and other debt began to soar in a sharp trajectory upwards (now reaching $20 trillion). Also, around this time the US abandoned the gold standard, and the petro-dollar was born.

 


Source: Get It. Got It. Good, by Grant Williams

 

Well, the Hill’s Group, who are seasoned US oil industry engineers, led by B.W. Hill, tell us – following their last two years, or so, of research – that for purely thermodynamic reasons net energy delivered to the globalised industrial world (GIW) per barrel, by the oil industry (the IOCs) is rapidly trending to zero. Note that we are talking energy-cost of exploration, extraction and transport for the energy-return at final destination. We are not speaking of dollar costs, and we are speaking in aggregate. So why should this be important at all; and what has this to do with spiraling debt creation by the western Central Banks from around 2001?

The importance? Though we sometimes forget it, for we now are so habituated to it, is that energy is the economy.  All of modernity, from industrial output and transportation, to how we live, derives from energy – and oil remains a key element to it.  What we (the globalized industrial world) experienced in that golden era until the 70s, was economic growth fueled by an unprecedented 321% increase in net energy/head.  The peak of 18GJ/head in around 1973 was actually of the order of some 40GJ/head for those who actually has access to oil at the time, which is to say, the industrialised fraction of the global population. The Hill’s Group research  can be summarized visually as below (recall that these are costs expressed in energy, rather than dollars):

 


Source: http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.it/2016/07/some-reflections-on-twilight-of-oil-age.html 

 

But as Steve St Angelo in the SRSrocco Reports states, the important thing to understand from these energy return on energy cost ratios or EROI, is that a minimum ratio value for a modern society is 20:1 (i.e. the net energy surplus available for GDP growth should be twenty times its cost of extraction). For citizens of an advanced society to enjoy a prosperous living, the EROI of energy needs to be much higher, closer to the 30:1 ratio. Well, if we look at the chart below, the U.S. oil and gas industry EROI fell below 30:1 some 46 years ago (after 1970):

 


Source: https://srsroccoreport.com/the-coming-breakdown-of-u-s-global-markets-explained-what-most-analysts-missed/ 

 

“You will notice two important trends in the chart above. When the U.S. EROI ratio was higher than 30:1, prior to 1970, U.S. public debt did not increase all that much.  However, this changed after 1970, as the EROI continued to decline, public debt increased in an exponential fashion”. (St Angelo).

In short, the question begged by the Hill’s Group research is whether the reason for the explosion of government debt since 1970 is that central bankers (unconsciously), were trying to compensate for the lack of GDP stimulus deriving from the earlier net energy surplus.  In effect, they switched from flagging energy-driven growth, to the new debt-driven growth model.

From a peak net surplus of around 40 GJ  (in 1973), by 2012, the IOCs were beginning to consume more energy per barrel, in their own processes (from oil exploration to transport fuel deliveries at the petrol stations), than that which the barrel would deliver net to the globalized industrial world, in aggregate.  We are now down below 4GJ per head, and dropping fast. (The Hill’s Group)

Is this analysis by the Hill’s Group too reductionist in attributing so much of the era of earlier western material prosperity to the big discoveries of ‘cheap’ oil, and the subsequent elusiveness of growth to the decline in net energy per barrel available for GDP growth?  Are we in deep trouble now that the IOCs use more energy in their own processes, than they are able to deliver net to industrialised world? Maybe so. It is a controversial view, but we can see – in plain dollar terms – some tangible evidence fo rthe Hill’s Groups’ assertions:  

 


Source: https://srsroccoreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Top-3-U.S.-Oil-Companies-Free-Cash-Flow-Minus-Dividends.png 

(The top three U.S. oil companies, ExxonMobil, Chevron andConocoPhillips: Cash from operations less Capex and dividends)

 

 
Briefly, what does this all mean? Well, the business model for the big three US IOCs does not look that great: Energy costs of course, are financial costs, too.  In 2016, according to Yahoo Finance, the U.S. Energy Sector paid 86% of their operating income just to service the interest on the debt (i.e. to pay for those extraction costs). We have not run out of oil. This is not what the Hill’s Group is saying. Quite the reverse. What they are saying is the surplus energy (at a ratio of now less than 10:1) that derives from the oil that we have been using (after the energy-costs expended in retrieving it) – is now at a point that it can barely support our energy-driven ‘modernity’.  Implicit in this analysis, is that our era of plenty was a one time, once off, event.

They are also saying that this implies that as modernity enters on a more severe energy ‘diet’, less surplus calories for their dollars – barely enough to keep the growth engine idling – then global demand for oil will decline, and the price will fall (quite the opposite of mainstream analysis which sees demand for oil growing. It is a vicious circle. If Hills are correct, a key balance has tipped. We may soon be spending more energy on getting the energy that is required to keep the cogs and wheels of modernity turning, than that same energy delivers in terms of calorie-equivalence.  There is not much that either Mr Trump or the Europeans can do about this – other than seize the entire Persian Gulf.  Transiting to renewables now, is perhaps too little, too late.

And America and Europe, no longer have the balance sheet ‘room’, for much further fiscal or monetary stimulus; and, in any event, the efficacy of such measures as drivers of ‘real economy’ growth, is open to question. It may mitigate the problem, but not solve it. No, the headwinds of net energy per barrel trending to zero, plus the other ‘secular’ dynamics mentioned above (demography, China slowing and technology turning job-destructive), form a formidable impediment – and therefore a huge political time bomb.

Back to Davos, and the question of ‘what to do’. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of  JPMorgan Chase, warned  that Europe needs to address disagreements spurring the rise of nationalist leaders. Dimon said he hoped European Union leaders would examine what caused the U.K. to vote to leave and then make changes. That hasn’t happened, and if nationalist politicians including France’s Marine Le Pen rise to power in elections across the region, “the euro zone may not survive”. “The bottom line is the region must become more competitive, Dimon said, which in simple economic terms means accept even lower wages. It also means major political overhauls: “I say this out of respect for the European people, but they’re going to have to change,” he said. “They may be forced by politics, they may be forced by new leadership.”

A race to the bottom in pay levels?  Italy should undercut Romanian salaries?  Maybe Chinese pay scales, too? This is politically naïve, and the globalist Establishment has only itself to blame for their conviction that there are no real options – save to divert more of the diminished prosperity towards the middle classes (Christine Lagarde), and to impose further austerity (Dimon). As we have tried to show, the era of prosperity for all, began to waver in the 70s in America, and started its more serious stall from 2001 onwards. The Establishment approach to this faltering of growth has been to kick the can down the road: ‘extend and pretend’ – monetised debt, zero, or negative, interest rates and the unceasing refrain that ‘recovery’ is around the corner.

It is precisely their ‘kicking the can’ of inflated asset values, reaching into every corner of life, hiking the cost of living, that has contributed to making Europe the leveraged, ‘high cost’, uncompetitive environment, that it now is.  There is no practical way for Italians, for example, to compete with ‘low cost’ East Europe, or  Asia, through a devaluation of the internal Italian price level without provoking major political push-back.  This is the price of ‘extend and pretend’.

It has been claimed at Davos that the much derided ‘populists’ provide no real solutions. But, crucially, they do offer, firstly, the hope for ‘regime change’ – and, who knows, enough Europeans may be willing to take a punt on leaving the Euro, and accepting the consequences, whatever they may be. Would they be worse off? No one really knows. But at least the ‘populists’ can claim, secondly, that such a dramatic act would serve to escape from the suffocation of the status quo. ‘Davos man’ and woman disdain this particular appeal of ‘the populists’ at their peril.
 

 

 

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West.

 

 

Jul 252016
 
 July 25, 2016  Posted by at 2:08 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Warren K. Leffler Ku Klux Klan members supporting Barry Goldwater, San Francisco 1964

John McDonnell, UK Shadow Chancellor of the Treasury (at least it sounds important) appealed to his -Labour- party on Sunday morning TV to “stop trying to destroy the party”, and of course I’m thinking NO, please don’t stop, keep at it, it’s so much fun. When you watch a building collapse, you want it to go all the way, not stop somewhere in the middle and get patched up with band-aids.

It’s alright, let it crumble, it’s had its day. And if it’s any consolation, you’re not alone. Nor is that some freak coincidence. ‘Labour’-like parties (the ‘formerly left’) all over the world are disintegrating. Which is no surprise; they haven’t represented laborers for decades. They’ve become the left wing -and even that mostly in name only- of a monotone bland centrist political blob.

The other ‘half’ of that blob, the ‘conservative’ side, is disintegrating just as rapidly, as evidenced by the rise of Trump and a motley crew of Boris Johnson ilk.

The spontaneous self-immolation of the US Democratic Party mirrors that of the British Labour Party, but admittedly, it has even more entertainment value. America does entertainment like nobody else can.

In both cases, we see entire parties turn on their own candidates, it truly is a sight to behold. Especially since people like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are the only ones who do have a tangible connection to the people left that they represent.

One might even say Donald Trump falls in that category too, though in a slightly different way. The others, whether they are from the supposed left or right -and it really makes no difference anymore- rely on pure hubris. The WikiLeaks files on the DNC make that so clear it hurts.

And if one thing exemplifies what’s going wrong, it’s that the DNC in all its superciliousness seeks to blame the fact that there were leaks for the mess, not the content of what was leaked. And replaces one chair with another who was just as guilty as the first one of trying to bring down one of their own candidates. As the leaks show.

The reason all this high value entertainment is presented to us is that the political system is toppling over in line with the economic one. As I’ve argued before, this is inevitable, because they are one and the same system. If one part falls, so must the other. I wrote 7 weeks ago:

The Only Thing That Grows Is Debt

What we have is a politico-economic system, with the former media establishment clinging to (or inside?!) its body like some sort of embedded parasite. A diseased triumvirate.

With the economy in irreversible collapse, the politico part of the Siamese twin/triplet can no longer hold. That is what is happening. That is why all traditional political parties are either already out or soon will be. Because they, more than anything else, stand for the economic system that people see crumbling before their eyes. They represent that system, they are it, they can’t survive without it.

Of course the triumvirate tries as hard as it can to keep the illusion alive that sometime soon growth will return, but in reality this is not just another recession in some cycle of recessions. Or, at the very minimum this is a very long term cycle, Kondratieff style. And even that sounds optimistic. The system is broken, irreparably. A new system will have to appear, eventually. But…

‘Associations’ like the EU, and perhaps even the US, with all the supranational and global entities they have given birth to, NATO, IMF, World Bank, you name them, depend for their existence on an economy that grows. The entire drive towards globalization does, as do any and all drives toward centralization. But the economy has collapsed. So all this will of necessity go into reverse, even if there are very powerful forces that will resist such a development.

And here’s the graph that I said depicts very well what is the problem with the economic system, in an ‘all you need to know’ kind of way:

 

 

We’d already be well aware of what’s wrong with our economies if our governments and media hadn’t consistently lied to us about it for all these years. These lies make sense from their point of view; they’d be out of a job and out of power once they would stop lying.

Outside of the media, in people’s own experience, there is no recovery, it’s a fairy tale. And there is no growth the way stock exchanges portray, or employment numbers. You can’t lie to all of the people all of the time. Again, though, the attempts are often good for many hours of solid amusement.

Take the way a word like populist is (ab-)used. Grab a handful of names of people who’ve been labeled populist recently, like Putin, Trump, Tsipras, Varoufakis, Sanders, Corbyn, Chávez, Maduro, Morales, Le Pen, Beppe Grillo, Wilders, etc etc, and you notice they are very different people in more ways than one.

But they have one thing in common: they reject the western establishment, at least to a degree (many merely want to ‘tweak’ it). Which makes it tempting for establishment media to slap the populist label on them, because it has such a bad connotation. Courtesy of the same media, of course.

Still, that’s only mildly funny, more in a subtle kind of way. There are better ones. Where do you think these buttons, for example, find their origin?:

 

 

 

Even better, Zero Hedge and Bryan MacDonald have a nice set of ‘plagiarized’ headlines. Altogether now on the all time favorite whipping boy, Vlad V. Putin. The DNC was at him again today as well, even though by the looks of it they don’t seem to need any help at self-destructing. That’s the one thing left they’re really good at.

 


 

 

And this one here is excellent as well, taking on America’s other favorite enemy no. 1. Again, altogether:

 

 

 

Everybody thought of the word ‘dark’ at the same time! A country full of kindred spirits. Telepathy. Yeah. In China original content is now banned in the media. But China has nothing on the west. Where the system clings together to paint a picture they all want you to believe in. A kind of propaganda Putin wouldn’t dream of. And Goebbels only considered in his wildest nightmares.

These are the death throes of a system. All parts, as separate as they may seem, or want to seem, fall apart together. Maybe not at the same time, but certainly in rapid succession. Still, it’s a bit surprising to see how fast alleged journalists -and the media they work for- have turned from reporting to endless repetition of opinions, most often not even their own.

The media feel they are under threat, and for good reason. Namely, the same reason politicians are. They’ve all been painting fake pictures, and people start to see through that for the simple reason that these pictures look nothing like what goes on in their own lives.

There’s no amount of Kardashians or other Walking Dead that can change that, and unless you let people watch this stuff 24/7, they are bound to notice sooner or later.

I see people saying the system is unstable. Fine, as long as they realize it has no chance of regaining stability, not with its present components. There will have to be a big clean-up. But it will be messy. A very limited number of people, with all of their minions, control the entire now unstable edifice, and they’ll fight tooth and nail to keep their power.

Nevertheless, they’ll lose. It’s just that they’ll drag a lot of other people down with them. They’re fully prepared to go to war just to keep the illusion of power alive. The ultimate hubris.

 

 

Jul 312015
 
 July 31, 2015  Posted by at 10:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Preparations for inauguration of Woodrow Wilson 1913


September Is Looking Likelier for Fed’s First Rate Increase (NY Times)
SYRIZA To Hold ‘Emergency’ Congress In September (DW)
China’s Stocks Extend Slump in Worst Monthly Decline Since 2009
Corporate Giants Sound Profits Alarm Over China Slowdown (FT)
“The Virtuous Emerging Market Cycle Is Turning Vicious” (Albert Edwards)
Italy Is The Most Likely Country To Leave The Euro (WaPo)
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion (Ellen Brown)
Greece Crisis Escalates As IMF Witholds Support For New Bail-Out (Telegraph)
IMF Won’t Help Finance Greece Without Debt Relief (Bloomberg)
Will The IMF Throw The Spanner In The Works? (Varoufakis)
The Lethal Deferral of Greek Debt Restructuring (Varoufakis)
A Most Peculiar Friendship (Varoufakis)
The Defeat of Europe – my piece in Le Monde Diplomatique (Varoufakis)
The Last Thing the Eurozone Needs Is an Ever Closer Union (Legrain)
Bailout Money Goes to Greece, Only to Flow Out Again (NY Times)
German FinMin Schäuble Wants To Reduce European Commission Remit (DW)
The IMF’s Euro Crisis (Ngaire Woods)
Deutsche Bank’s Hard Road Ahead (WSJ)
Deutsche Bank Didn’t Archive Chats Used by Employees Tied to Libor Probe (WSJ)
US Spied On Japan Government, Companies: WikiLeaks (AFP)
Europe Could Solve The Migrant Crisis – If It Wanted (Guardian)
Why The Language We Use To Talk About Refugees Matters So Much (WaPo)

Two big events in September?!

September Is Looking Likelier for Fed’s First Rate Increase (NY Times)

The Federal Reserve remains on track to raise interest rates later this year, and perhaps as soon as its next policy meeting in mid-September, as economic growth continues to meet its expectations. The Fed issued an upbeat assessment of economic conditions on Wednesday after a two-day meeting of its policy-making committee. While growth remains disappointing by past standards, the Fed said the economy continued to expand at a “moderate” pace, which is driving “solid job gains and declining unemployment.” The statement suggested officials didn’t need to see much more progress before they started to increase their benchmark rate, which they have held near zero since December 2008.

The Fed, which said after the last meeting, in June, of the Federal Open Market Committee that it wanted to see “further improvement” in labor markets, said on Wednesday that “some further improvement” would now suffice. “The addition of the word ‘some’ may appear minor, but the Fed doesn’t add words willy-nilly to the F.O.M.C. statement,” wrote Michael Feroli at JPMorgan Chase. “It leaves the door wide open to a September liftoff, but still retains the optionality to delay hiking if the jobs reports disappoint between now and mid-September.” The decision to keep rates near zero for at least a few more weeks was unanimous, supported by all 10 voting members of the committee. But a number of those officials have said in recent months that they do not think the Fed should wait much longer.

The Fed’s policy committee next meets Sept. 16 and 17. Surveys of economic forecasters show that most expect the Fed to start raising interest rates at that September meeting. But measures of market expectations point to a December liftoff.[..] The Fed has kept its benchmark interest rate near zero as the main element in its campaign to revive economic growth and increase employment after the Great Recession. And it has repeatedly extended that stimulus campaign in the face of disappointing economic news, to avoid raising rates too soon. In recent months, however, officials including Janet L. Yellen, the Fed’s chairwoman, have suggested they are growing more worried about waiting too long. Economic growth has increased after a rough winter, and employment expanded by an average of 208,000 jobs a month during the first half of the year, dropping the unemployment rate to 5.3%.

Read more …

Number 2.

SYRIZA To Hold ‘Emergency’ Congress In September (DW)

The SYRIZA party is seen as sliding toward a split prompted by a rebellion by about a quarter of the party’s Left Platform legislators who voted against austerity measures that were part of the conditions agreed on July 13 in Brussels to secure up to €86 billion in new financing. According to analysts the party differences challenge Tsipras’ authority and complicate Greece’s bailout negotiations. It began when a faction of left wing SYRIZA legislators turned against Tsipras when Parliament voted on the bailout, which passed only with support from opposition parties. Thus the party congress that has been proposed by Prime Minister Tsipras is seen as a test of his leadership.

In a televised address to the central committee, Tsipras warned that the government could fall if it was not supported by its leftist deputies. “The first leftist government in Europe after the Second World War is either supported by leftist deputies, or it is brought down by them because it is not considered leftist,” he said. As conflicts arose in the central committee, a meeting was called to attempt to settle those differences over whether Tsipras should have accepted Greece’s third bailout from international creditors. The central committee meeting coincided with the arrival in Athens of the IMF’s head of mission, Delia Velculescu. According to a report in Thursday’s Financial Times, an internal document showed the IMF board had been told that Greece’s levels of debt and past record of slow or non-existent reform disqualify it for a third.

According to the leaked IMF document, the Washington based lender could take months to decide whether it will take part in a fresh bailout. The IMF’s Velculescu was due to join the other international creditors: the EC, the ECB and the European Stability Mechanism. The four institutions are due to meet Friday with Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and Economy Minister Giorgos Stathakis.

Read more …

..and drag everything down with them..

China’s Stocks Extend Slump in Worst Monthly Decline Since 2009

China’s stocks fell, with the benchmark index heading for its worst monthly drop in almost six years, as the government struggles to rekindle investor interest amid a $3.5 trillion rout. The Shanghai Composite Index slid 0.8% to 3,677.83 at 1:02 p.m., dragged down by energy and industrial companies. The gauge has tumbled 14% this month, the biggest loss among 93 global benchmark gauges tracked by Bloomberg, as margin traders cashed out and new equity-account openings tumbled amid concern valuations are unsustainable. While unprecedented state intervention spurred a 18% rebound by the Shanghai Composite from its July 8 low, volatility returned on Monday when the gauge plunged 8.5%.

Outstanding margin debt on mainland bourses has fallen about 40% since mid-June, while the number of new stock investors shrank last week to the smallest since the government started releasing figures in May. Individuals account for more than 80% of stock trading in China. “The support measures may have been less effective than what Beijing imagined,” said Bernard Aw, a strategist at IG Asia. The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index of mainland shares in Hong Kong has tumbled 14% this month, poised for its worst loss since September 2011. The gauge rose 0.4% Friday, while the Hang Seng Index advanced 0.4%. The CSI 300 Index added 0.1%. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China has been the biggest drag on the Shanghai Composite this month, sinking 9.9%. China Petroleum & Chemical has tumbled 14%, while Ping An Insurance plunged 18%.

Turnover has fallen as volatility surged. The value of shares traded on the Shanghai exchange on Thursday was 53% below the June 8 peak, while a 100-day measure of price swings on the Shanghai Composite climbed to its highest in six years on Friday. Valuations remain elevated after a 29% drop by the benchmark equity gauge. The median stock on mainland bourses trades at 66 times reported earnings, higher than in any of the world’s 10 largest markets, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That compares with a multiple of 13 in Hong Kong. “The volatility in A-share markets, which was boosted by the surge in margin financing, has made share price performance deviate from the value of stocks in unpredictable ways,” said June Lui, portfolio manager at LGM Investments. “We have been cautious on investing in A shares.”

Read more …

“Companies thought that China was the land of opportunity, but it’s not living up to that promise..”

Corporate Giants Sound Profits Alarm Over China Slowdown (FT)

Some of the world’s largest companies have sounded the alarm about the slowdown in the Chinese economy, warning that weaker growth would hit profits in the second half of the year. Car companies such as PSA Peugeot Citroën, Audi and Ford have slashed growth forecasts while industrial goods groups such as Caterpillar and Siemens have all spoken out on the negative impact of China. The warnings are a sign that China’s weaker growth and its stock market rout this month are creating a headache for global corporates that have long relied heavily on the world’s second-largest economy to drive revenues. Audi and France’s Renault both cited China as they cut their global sales targets on Thursday, with Christian Klingler at Audi parent Volkswagen, predicting “a bumpy road” in the country this year.

Peugeot slashed its growth forecast for China from 7% to 3% while earlier this week Ford predicted the first full-year sales fall for the Chinese car market since 1990. US companies have also been affected. “In Asia, the China market has clearly slowed,” said Akhil Johri, chief financial officer at United Technologies, the US industrial group at the company’s earnings call last week. “Real estate investment, new construction starts and floor space sold are all under pressure.” “Companies thought that China was the land of opportunity, but it’s not living up to that promise,” says Ludovic Subran, chief economist at Euler Hermes. “They realise the business environment is changing for the worse.”

China’s slowdown, which follows years of extraordinary growth, has been particularly startling in recent months, with figures last week showing that the country’s factory activity contracted by the most in 15 months in July. The poor figures coincide with a time of turbulence on the Chinese stock market. The Shanghai Composite shed 8.5% on Monday, its steepest drop since 2007. The fall came despite a string of interventions by Beijing to stem the slide in equities, including a ban on short selling and an interest-rate cut. In the consumer goods sector, brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev said on Thursday that volumes fell 6.5% in China as a result of “poor weather across the country and economic headwinds”. Among industrial goods companies, Schneider Electric, one of the world’s largest electrical equipment makers, reported a 12% fall in first-half profit and cut guidance because of “weak construction and industrial markets” in China.

Read more …

As predicted here.

“The Virtuous Emerging Market Cycle Is Turning Vicious” (Albert Edwards)

Investors are right to feel that the recent rout in commodity prices differs from that seen in the second half of last year. Back then there was more of a feeling that the decline in the oil price was just partly a catch-up with the weakness seen in other commodities earlier in the year and partly due to a very sharp rise in the dollar, most notably against the euro. Indeed the excellent Gerard Minack in his Downunder Daily points out that US$ strength and expanding supply have been headwinds over the past four years. But the recent sharp decline in prices has been noteworthy for its breadth: prices have fallen in all major currencies, and across all major commodity groups. This suggests that global growth has slowed.” But why?

One theme that has played out as we expected over the last year has been the rapidly deteriorating balance of payments (BoP) situation of emerging market (EM) countries, as reflected in sharply declining foreign exchange (FX) reserves (the BoP is the sum of the current account balance and private sector capital flows). We like to stress the causal relationship between swings in EM FX reserves and their boom and bust cycle. The 1997 Asian crisis demonstrated that there is no free lunch for EM in fixing a currency at an undervalued exchange rate. After a few years of export-led boom, market forces are set in train to destroy that artificial prosperity. Boom turns into bust as the BoP swings from surplus to deficit. Why?

When an exchange rate is initially set at an undervalued level, surpluses typically result in both the current account (as exports boom) and capital account (as foreign investors pour into the country attracted by fast growth). The resultant BoP surplus means that EM authorities intervene heavily in the FX markets to hold their currency down. We saw that both in the mid-1990s and before and after the 2008 financial crisis. Heavy foreign exchange intervention to hold an EM currency down creates money and is QE in all but name and underpins boom-like conditions on a pro-cyclical basis. Eventually this boom leads to a relative rise in inflation and a chronically rising real exchange rate even though the nominal rate might be fixed.

EM competitiveness is lost and the trade surplus declines or in extremis swings to large deficit. The capital account can also swing to deficit as fixed direct investment flows reverse as EM countries are no longer cost effective locations for plant. Ultimately as the BoP swings to deficit and FX reserves fall, QE goes into reverse, slowing the economy and exacerbating capital flight. As a virtuous EM cycle turns vicious (like now), commodity prices, EM asset prices and currencies come under heavy downward pressure – at which point it is difficult to discern any longer the chicken from the egg. In my view the egg was definitely laid a few years back as EM real exchange rates rose sharply and the rapid rises of FX reserves began to stall.

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The MSM sets the tone of the debate by calling refugees ‘migrants’, and by calling SYRIZA and M5S ‘populist’. And no, Matt, Greece did not get to choose between Grexit and austerity, but obliteration and austerity.

Italy Is The Most Likely Country To Leave The Euro (WaPo)

What do you call a country that has grown 4.6%—in total—since it joined the euro 16 years ago? Well, probably the one most likely to leave the common currency. Or Italy, for short. It’s hard to say what went wrong with Italy, because nothing ever went right. It grew 4% its first year or so in the euro, but almost not at all in the 15 years since. Now, that’s not to say that it’s been flat the whole time. It hasn’t. It got as much as 14% bigger as it was when it joined the euro, before the 2008 recession and 2011 double-dip erased most of that progress. But unlike, say, Greece, there was never much of a boom. There has only been a bust. The result, though, has been the same. As you can see below, Greece and Italy have both grown a meager 4.6% the past 16 years, although they took drastically different paths to get there.

Part of it is that Italy, as the IMF points out, has real structural problems. It’s hard to start a business, hard to expand one, and hard to fire people, which makes employers wary about hiring them in the first place. That’s led to a small business dystopia, where nobody can achieve the kind of economies of scale that would make them more productive. But, at the same time, Italy had these problems even before it had the euro, and it still managed to grow back then. So part of the problem is the euro itself. It’s too expensive for Italian exporters, and too restrictive for the government that’s had to cut its budget even more than it otherwise would have. This doesn’t make Italy unique—the euro has hurt even the best-run countries—but what does is that Italy’s populists have noticed.

Why is that? Well, more than anything else, the common currency has given Europe a severe case of cognitive dissonance. People hate austerity, but they love the euro even more—they have an emotional attachment to everything it stands for. The problem, though, is that the euro is the reason they have to slash their budgets so much in the first place (at least as long as the ECB will force their banks shut if they don’t). So anti-austerity parties have felt like they have to promise the impossible if they want any hope of gaining power: that they can end the budget cuts without ending the country’s euro membership.

But as Greece’s Syriza party found out, that strategy, if you want to call it one, only gives your people unrealistic expectations and Europe no reason to help you out. The other countries, after all, don’t want to reward what, in their view, is bad budgetary behavior, if not blackmail. And so Greece was all but given an ultimatum: either leave the euro or do even more austerity than it was originally told to do. It chose austerity.

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Good piece by Ellen, and certainly not only because she quotes me.

The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion (Ellen Brown)

In the modern global banking system, all banks need a credit line with the central bank in order to be part of the payments system. Choking off that credit line was a form of blackmail the Greek government couldn’t refuse. Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis is now being charged with treason for exploring the possibility of an alternative payment system in the event of a Greek exit from the euro. The irony of it all was underscored by Raúl Ilargi Meijer, who opined in a July 27th blog:

The fact that these things were taken into consideration doesn’t mean Syriza was planning a coup . . . . If you want a coup, look instead at the Troika having wrestled control over Greek domestic finances. That’s a coup if you ever saw one. Let’s have an independent commission look into how on earth it is possible that a cabal of unelected movers and shakers gets full control over the entire financial structure of a democratically elected eurozone member government. By all means, let’s see the legal arguments for this.

So how was that coup pulled off? The answer seems to be through extortion. The ECB threatened to turn off the liquidity that all banks – even solvent ones – need to maintain their day-to-day accounting balances. That threat was made good in the run-up to the Greek referendum, when the ECB did turn off the liquidity tap and Greek banks had to close their doors. Businesses were left without supplies and pensioners without food. How was that apparently criminal act justified? Here is the rather tortured reasoning of ECB President Mario Draghi at a press conference on July 16:

There is an article in the [Maastricht] Treaty that says that basically the ECB has the responsibility to promote the smooth functioning of the payment system. But this has to do with . . . the distribution of notes, coins. So not with the provision of liquidity, which actually is regulated by a different provision, in Article 18.1 in the ECB Statute: “In order to achieve the objectives of the ESCB [European System of Central Banks], the ECB and the national central banks may conduct credit operations with credit institutions and other market participants, with lending based on adequate collateral.” This is the Treaty provision. But our operations were not monetary policy operations, but ELA [Emergency Liquidity Assistance] operations, and so they are regulated by a separate agreement, which makes explicit reference to the necessity to have sufficient collateral. So, all in all, liquidity provision has never been unconditional and unlimited.

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Don’t forget there is a fourth ‘institution’ that’s party to the talks now, the ESM. It really is a quadriga.

Greece Crisis Escalates As IMF Witholds Support For New Bail-Out (Telegraph)

Talks over an €86bn bail-out for Greece have been thrown into turmoil after just four days as the IMF said it would have no involvement in the country until it receives explicit assurances over debt sustainability. An IMF official said the fund would withhold financial support unless it has guarantees Greece can carry out a “comprehensive” set of reforms and will be the beneficiary of debt relief from its European creditors. The comments came after the IMF’s executive board was told that the institution could no longer continue pumping more money into the debtor nation, according to a leaked document seen by the Financial Times. The Washington-based Fund has been torn over its involvement in Greece – its largest ever recipient country.

The world’s “lender of last resort’ said it would continue talks with its creditor partners and the Leftist government of Athens, but made it clear the onus of keeping Greece in the eurozone now fell on Europe’s reluctant member states. “There is a need for difficult decisions on both sides… difficult decisions in Greece regarding reforms, and difficult decisions among Greece’s European partners about debt relief,” said the official. “One should not be under the illusion that one side of it can fix the problem.” The delay could last well into next year, forcing the other two-thirds of the Troika – the ECB abd EC – to bear the full costs of keeping Greece afloat.

Athens was forced to request a new IMF rescue package last week after its existing programme – which expired in March 2016 – no longer satisfied IMF conditions to ensure growth and a return to the financial markets for the crisis-ridden economy. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde escalated calls for a “significant debt restructuring” this week. Debt forgiveness has long been the institution’s key condition for extending its involvement in the country after five years of bail-outs. But Europe’s creditor powers – led by Germany – have resisted write-offs, insisting that talks on debt relief can only proceed once the Greek government has satisfied demands to raise taxes, cut pensions spending and privatise assets.

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I’m wondering how much of this was preconceived.

IMF Won’t Help Finance Greece Without Debt Relief (Bloomberg)

The IMF reiterated its unwillingness to provide more financing to Greece without debt relief by euro-member states and further reforms from the Greek government. The Washington-based lender’s management won’t support a new loan program unless Greece’s debt is sustainable in the medium term and the country’s budget is fully financed for 12 months, an IMF official told reporters Thursday on a conference call. The official spoke on condition of anonymity. The IMF will require an explicit, concrete commitment of debt relief from euro-member countries before moving forward with a new loan, the official said. European countries haven’t had detailed discussions with the IMF on a debt restructuring, according to the official.

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos asked the IMF for a new loan in a letter dated July 23 addressed to fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde. Greece has an active loan program with the IMF that expires in March and has about €17 billion that could still be disbursed. In agreeing to a bailout this month that could give Greece as much as €86 billion, most of it financed by euro-zone countries, Greece agreed to seek continued IMF financing beyond March. IMF staff told the fund’s executive board on Wednesday that Greece doesn’t currently qualify for a loan, the Financial Times reported Thursday, citing a confidential summary of the meeting.

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And did it know this when Tsipras signed the latest agreement? Moreover, what does that mean legally?

Will The IMF Throw The Spanner In The Works? (Varoufakis)

“IMF cannot join Greek rescue, board told”… reports Peter Spiegel from Brussels in today’s Financial Times. He adds:“Some Greek officials suspect the IMF and Wolfgang Schäuble, the hardline German finance minister, are determined to scupper a Greek rescue despite this month’s agreement to move forward with a third bailout. In a private teleconference made public this week, Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister, said he feared the Greek government would pass new rounds of economic reforms only for the IMF to pull the plug on the programme later this year. “According to its own rules, the IMF cannot participate in any new bailout. I mean, they’ve already violated their rules twice to do so, but I don’t think they will do it a third time,” Mr Varoufakis said. “Dr Schäuble and the IMF have a common interest: they don’t want this deal to go ahead.”

The key issue, of course, is not so much whether the IMF will be part of the deal – a typical fudge could, for instance, be concocted with the IMF providing ‘technical assistance’ to an ESM-only program. The issue is whether the promised debt relief which, astonishingly will be discussed only after the new loan agreement is signed and sealed, will prove adequate – assuming it is granted at all. Or whether, as I very much fear, the debt relief will be too little while the austerity involved proves catastrophically large.

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4 different articles by Yanis today; he’s getting very prolific.

The Lethal Deferral of Greek Debt Restructuring (Varoufakis)

The point of restructuring debt is to reduce the volume of new loans needed to salvage an insolvent entity. Creditors offer debt relief to get more value back and to extend as little new finance to the insolvent entity as possible. Remarkably, Greece’s creditors seem unable to appreciate this sound financial principle. Where Greek debt is concerned, a clear pattern has emerged over the past five years. It remains unbroken to this day. In 2010, Europe and the International Monetary Fund extended loans to the insolvent Greek state equal to 44% of the country’s GDP. The very mention of debt restructuring was considered inadmissible and a cause for ridiculing those of us who dared suggest its inevitability. In 2012, as the debt-to-GDP ratio skyrocketed, Greece’s private creditors were given a significant 34% haircut.

At the same time, however, new loans worth 63% of GDP were added to Greece’s national debt. A few months later, in November, the Eurogroup (comprising eurozone members’ finance ministers) indicated that debt relief would be finalized by December 2014, once the 2012 program was “successfully” completed and the Greek government’s budget had attained a primary surplus (which excludes interest payments). In 2015, however, with the primary surplus achieved, Greece’s creditors refused even to discuss debt relief. For five months, negotiations remained at an impasse, culminating in the July 5 referendum in Greece, in which voters overwhelmingly rejected further austerity, and the Greek government’s subsequent surrender, formalized in the July 12 Euro Summit agreement.

That agreement, which is now the blueprint for Greece’s relationship with the eurozone, perpetuates the five-year-long pattern of placing debt restructuring at the end of a sorry sequence of fiscal tightening, economic contraction, and program failure. Indeed, the sequence of the new “bailout” envisaged in the July 12 agreement predictably begins with the adoption – before the end of the month – of harsh tax measures and medium-term fiscal targets equivalent to another bout of stringent austerity. Then comes a mid-summer negotiation of another large loan, equivalent to 48% of GDP (the debt-to-GDP ratio is already above 180%). Finally, in November, at the earliest, and after the first review of the new program is completed, “the Eurogroup stands ready to consider, if necessary, possible additional measures… aiming at ensuring that gross financing needs remain at a sustainable level.”

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Funny story.

A Most Peculiar Friendship (Varoufakis)

Crises sever old bonds. But they also forge splendid new friendships. Over the past months one such friendship has struck me as a marvellous reflection of the new possibilities that Europe’s crisis has spawned. When I was living in Britain, between 1978 and 1988, Lord (then Norman) Lamont represented everything that I opposed. Even though I appreciated Margaret Thatcher’s candour, her regime stood for everything I resisted. Indeed, there was hardly a demonstration against her government that I failed to join; the pinnacle being the 1984 miners’ strike that engulfed me on a daily basis, in all its bitterness and glory.

For Lord Lamont, a stalwart conservative politician, an investment banker, and long standing Treasury and cabinet minister under both Margaret Thatcher and John Major, my ilk surely represented everything that was objectionable in the youth of the day. And yet since I became minister, and especially after my resignation, Lord Lamont has been steadfast in his support and extremely generous with his counsel. Indeed, I would be honoured if he allowed me to count him as a good friend. Fascinatingly, neither Lord Lamont nor I have changed our political spots much. He remains a solid conservative thinker and politician. And I continue to hold on to my erratic Marxism. Which brings me to the fascinating question: How is such a friendship possible?

The answer is simple: A common commitment to democracy and to the indispensability of Parliament’s sovereignty. Tories like Lord Lamont and lefties of my sort may disagree strongly on society’s ends. But we agree that rules and markets are means to social ends that can only be determined by a sovereign people through a Parliament in which that sovereignty is vested. We may disagree on the functioning, capacity and limits of markets, or even on the precise meaning of freedom in a social context. But we are as one in the conviction that monetary policy cannot de-politicised, not be allowed to determine the limits of a nation’s sovereignty. The notion that a people’s sovereignty ends when insolvency beckons is anathema to both.

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Posted this yesterday as a pic, and awkward format. Here’s the text as Varoufakis posted it.

The Defeat of Europe – my piece in Le Monde Diplomatique (Varoufakis)

Perhaps the most dispiriting experience was to be an eyewitness to the humiliation of the Commission and of the few friendly, well-meaning finance ministers. To be told by good people holding high office in the Commission and in the French government that “the Commission must defer to the Eurogroup’s President”, or that “France is not what it used to be”, made me almost weep. To hear the German finance minister say, on 8th June, in his office, that he had no advice for me on how to prevent an accident that would be tremendously costly for Europe as a whole, disappointed me. By the end of June, we had given ground on most of the troika’s demands, the exception being that we insisted on a mild debt restructure involving no haircuts and smart debt swaps.

On 25th June I attended my penultimate Eurogroup meeting where I was presented with the troika’s ‘take it or leave it’ offer. Having met the troika nine tenths of the way, we were expecting them to move towards us a little, to allow for something resembling an honourable agreement. Instead, they backtracked in relation to their own, previous position (e.g. on VAT). Clearly they were demanding that we capitulate in a manner that demonstrates our humiliation to the whole world, offering us a deal that, even if we had accepted, would destroy what is left of Greece’s social economy. On the following day, Prime Minister Tsipras announced that the troika’s ultimatum would be put to the Greek people in a referendum. A day later, on Friday 27th June, I attended my last Eurogroup meeting.

It was the meeting which put in train the foretold closure of Greece’s banks; a form of punishment for our audacity to consult our people. In that meeting, President Dijsselbloem announced that he was about to convene a second meeting later that evening without me; without Greece being represented. I protested that he cannot, of his own accord, exclude the finance minister of a Eurozone member-state and I asked for legal advice on the matter. After a short break, the advice came from the Secretariat: “The Eurogroup does not exist in European law. It is an informal group and, therefore, there are no written rules to constrain its President.” In my mind, that was the epitaph of the Europe that Adenauer, De Gaulle, Brandt, Giscard, Schmidt, Kohl, Mitterrand etc. had worked towards. Of the Europe that I had always thought of, ever since I was a teenager, as my point of reference, my compass.

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It may be the best recipe for blowing up the Union, though.

The Last Thing the Eurozone Needs Is an Ever Closer Union (Legrain)

‘Fuite en avant’ is a wonderful French expression that is hard to translate into English. Literally, it means “forward flight.” Better approximations include “headlong rush,” “panicky compulsion to exacerbate a crisis,” or even “unconsciously throwing oneself into a dreaded danger.” Faced with Berlin’s power grab to reshape the eurozone along German lines, Paris’s response has been quintessential fuite en avant: proposing even closer ties with Germany in order to try to mitigate the damage done by existing ones. But if a marriage is miserable and divorce is not yet in the cards, might it not be better to have separate bedrooms? To be fair to France’s president, François Hollande, a headlong rush toward greater intimacy has been the default response to previous crises thrown up by European integration, so it is the most common prescription now.

If a fiscal and political union is truly necessary for the eurozone to survive, as many argue, his proposal of a democratically elected eurozone government that would act as a fiscal counterpart to the ECB and – whisper it softly – curb German power may make sense. Italy’s finance minister has suggested something similar. But creating a eurozone government to bridge the economic and political divisions exacerbated by the crisis would be putting the cart before the horse. Or to put it differently, it would be seeking an institutional fix to a much deeper political conflict. Yes, well-functioning common institutions would make Europe’s dysfunctional monetary union work better: Federalism works fine in the United States and elsewhere.

But that is because there is broad political acceptance of those federal institutions’ legitimacy — which, in turn, is because the United States is a nation-state with enough of a sense of shared political community to accept majoritarian democratic rule. Unlike the eurozone. Germany and France sharing a government? Hard to imagine. Germany and Greece? Impossible. Huge numbers of Europeans are unhappy with how the eurozone works. Many don’t trust national elites, let alone European ones. Regrettably, the crisis has revived old stereotypes, such as lazy southerners, and has created new grievances, notably the Troika’s usurping national democracy. Is the solution really to concentrate more powers in Brussels, with France and others giving up even more control over their economic destiny? Is that what French people are clamoring for? Eurozone governance isn’t working, so let’s have more of it. Brilliant.

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Even the NYT wakes up to reality.

Bailout Money Goes to Greece, Only to Flow Out Again (NY Times)

Since 2010 other eurozone countries and the IMF have given Greece about €230 billion in bailout funds. In addition, the ECB has lent about €130 billion to Greek banks. The latest financial aid package is following a similar pattern to the previous ones. Only a fraction of the money, should Greece get it, will go toward healing the economy. Nearly 90% would go toward debts, interest and supporting Greece’s ailing banks. The European Commission has offered to set aside an additional €35 billion development aid package to jump-start the economy. But the funds are difficult to obtain and will become available only in small trickles later in the year. Greeks understandably feel that the latest bailout package is not likely to benefit them very much.

[..] Growth was never the primary consideration when Greece first started receiving bailouts. Back in 2010, political leaders in the eurozone as well as top officials of the IMF were terrified that Greece would default on its debts, imposing huge losses on banks and other investors and threatening a renewed financial crisis. The debt was largely held by Greek and international banks. And Greece, officials feared, could be another Lehman Brothers, the investment bank that collapsed in 2008, setting off a global panic. Forcing banks to take losses on Greek debt “would have had immediate and devastating implications for the Greek banking system, not to mention the broader spillover effects,” said John Lipsky, first deputy managing director of the I.M.F. at the time, during a contentious meeting of the organization’s executive board in May 2010, according to recently disclosed minutes.

To prevent Greece from defaulting on debts, creditors granted Athens a €110 billion bailout in May 2010. But that did not calm fears that other heavily indebted countries might also default. The Greek lifeline was soon followed by bailouts for Ireland and Portugal. When Greece again veered toward a default in summer of 2011, it got a second bailout worth €130 billion, not all of which has been disbursed. Instead of writing off those countries’ debts — standard practice when a country borrows more than it can pay — other eurozone countries and the I.M.F. effectively lent them more money. One of the main goals was to protect European banks that had bought Greek, Irish and Portuguese bonds in hopes of making a tidy profit.

The banks and investors did not escape the pain. In 2012, when Greece was again at risk of default, investors accepted a deal that paid them only about half the face value of their holdings. Much of the aid dispensed to Greece has revolved around banks. Since 2010, Greece has received €227 billion from other eurozone countries and the I.M.F. Of that, €48.2 billion went to replenish the capital of Greek banks. More than €120 billion went to pay debt and interest, and around €35 billion went to commercial banks that had taken losses on Greek debt.

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Whether he said it or not, surely no FinMin should have any say in such matters. it’s utterly ridiculous that at least Merkel doesn’t tell him to shut up.

German FinMin Schäuble Wants To Reduce European Commission Remit (DW)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble wants to see the executive body of the EU, the European Commission (EC), lose some of the core fields of responsibility it has previously borne, such as the legal supervision of the EU domestic market, a newspaper reported on Thursday. The “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” quoted Brussels diplomats as saying that at a meeting of EU finance ministers two weeks ago, Schäuble had called for a quick discussion between EU states about how the EC could fulfil its original functions, which also include monitoring competition within the EU. Schäuble was concerned that the body’s increasing political activities made it incapable of carrying out its function of watching over the correct implementation of the European treaties, according to the report.

The paper said Schäuble has proposed setting up new, politically independent bodies to take over monitoring tasks in view of the EC’s increasing political activity as a “European government.” According to the paper’s report, Schäuble feels that EC president Jean-Claude Juncker exceeded the body’s remit in recent negotiations over new loans for Greece. The German finance minister has often stated that the EC was not empowered to negotiate over Greek loans, but that this was the task of the Eurogroup – made up of eurozone finance ministers – as the representative of European creditors, the paper said. Schäuble attracted much criticism during the recent negotiations on a third bailout for Greece because of his proposal for Greece to temporarily leave the common euro currency.

Juncker has often emphasized that he wants to lead a “political commission.” The German Finance Ministry has dismissed the report, saying that Schäuble merely thought it “important for the Commission to find the right balance between its political function and its role as guardian of the treaties.” This had nothing to do with a “disempowerment of the Commission,” the ministry said.

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Having no morals eventually comes back to haunt.

The IMF’s Euro Crisis (Ngaire Woods)

Over the last few decades, the IMF has learned six important lessons about how to manage government debt crises. In its response to the crisis in Greece, however, each of these lessons has been ignored. The Fund’s participation in the effort to rescue the eurozone may have raised its profile and gained it favor in Europe. But its failure, and the failure of its European shareholders, to adhere to its own best practices may eventually prove to have been a fatal misstep. One key lesson ignored in the Greece debacle is that when a bailout becomes necessary, it should be done once and definitively. The IMF learned this in 1997, when an inadequate bailout of South Korea forced a second round of negotiations. In Greece, the problem is even worse, as the €86 billion ($94 billion) plan now under discussion follows a €110 billion bailout in 2010 and a €130 billion rescue in 2012.

The IMF is, on its own, highly constrained. Its loans are limited to a multiple of a country’s contributions to its capital, and by this measure its loans to Greece are higher than any in its history. Eurozone governments, however, face no such constraints, and were thus free to put in place a program that would have been sustainable. Another lesson that was ignored is not to bail out the banks. The IMF learned this the hard way in the 1980s, when it transferred bad bank loans to Latin American governments onto its own books and those of other governments. In Greece, bad loans issued by French and German banks were moved onto the public books, transferring the exposure not only to European taxpayers, but to the entire membership of the IMF.

The third lesson that the IMF was unable to apply in Greece is that austerity often leads to a vicious cycle, as spending cuts cause the economy to contract far more than it would have otherwise. Because the IMF lends money on a short-term basis, there was an incentive to ignore the effects of austerity in order to arrive at growth projections that imply an ability to repay. Meanwhile, the other eurozone members, seeking to justify less financing, also found it convenient to overlook the calamitous impact of austerity. Fourth, the IMF has learned that reforms are most likely to be implemented when they are few in number and carefully focused. When a country requires assistance, it is tempting for lenders to insist on a long list of reforms. But a crisis-wracked government will struggle to manage multiple demands.

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Split it up already.

Deutsche Bank’s Hard Road Ahead (WSJ)

There’s an old joke in which a tourist asks the way to some pleasant town and gets the answer: “Well, I wouldn’t start from here.” Deutsche Bank’s new leadership should appreciate that more than most. John Cryan, the new chief executive, and the equally new chief financial officer, Marcus Schenck, have one of the biggest jobs among global banks in terms of the cuts needed to both its balance sheet and its cost base. They also, like many other big, global banks must wrestle with a business model in which investors seemingly have lost faith—Deutsche’s stock hasn’t traded above book value since the financial crisis.

Investors will be updated in late October on how these two think they can reshape the bank. Investors will hope for something better than a return on tangible equity of more than 10% in the medium term, which was the miserable target announced before the leadership change in April. One thing investors were told by Mr. Cryan in his first results briefing Thursday is that they shouldn’t have to stump up yet more equity following the bank’s €8 billion rights issue last year. This could prove a challenge to fulfill, though, despite the healthier activity seen in the first half. This pushed Deutsche’s revenues up 20% from a year earlier. Unfortunately, the bank’s costs remain stubbornly high. In the first half, these were equal to 70% of revenue, even excluding hefty legal charges related to the interbank lending rate scandal.

Meanwhile, cutting the bank’s complexity and inefficiencies could take years by Mr. Cryan’s admission. Until this is done, Deutsche will struggle to generate much capital. The bank is actually in a reasonable position on the risk-based capital measure: its core equity tier one capital ratio is 11.4%. However, its leverage ratio is just 3.6% against a target of 5%. And in its largest unit, the investment bank, the leverage ratio is even worse at less than 3%. Changing that will still require a big cut in the investment bank’s assets and liabilities. Mr. Cryan says he will change the bank’s fortunes by weaning it off an overreliance on the balance sheet to generate revenues.

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Fine it $100 billion, see what’s left after that.

Deutsche Bank Didn’t Archive Chats Used by Employees Tied to Libor Probe (WSJ)

A month after reaching a $2.5 billion settlement over interest rate rigging, Deutsche Bank AG told regulators its disclosures may have been incomplete because it accidentally failed to archive electronic chats involving its employees, people familiar with the matter said. The bank is working to recover the records from its systems but might have permanently lost an unknown number of chats dating back to 2005, the people said. The disclosure poses a new regulatory headache for the German lender. Deutsche Bank already has been criticized by regulators for shortcomings in retaining data, including the destruction of hundreds of audiotapes that U.K. regulators said could have been relevant to their investigation into manipulation of the London interbank offered rate, or Libor.

Deutsche Bank disclosed the problem to regulators, including the New York Department of Financial Services, in May, a month after the bank entered into the settlement with a handful of authorities in the U.S. and the U.K., the people familiar with the matter said. “After we discovered this software defect in one of our internal messaging systems, we reported it to our regulators and are presently working with them to rectify it,” the bank said in an emailed statement. “We have been able to recover a majority of the chats via a backup system.” The bank expects the recovery process to be complete in about a month, one of the people familiar with the matter said.

Deutsche Bank so far hasn’t found any communications the bank considers new or relevant to the Libor investigation, one of the people said. The Department of Financial Services, New York state’s top banking regulator, has begun a probe of the incident. It is examining whether potential violations that should have been covered by the Libor settlement weren’t reported because of the error, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. The office is also investigating whether or not the error was intentional and when the bank discovered it.

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Think Abe was surprised to see this?

US Spied On Japan Government, Companies: WikiLeaks (AFP)

The US spied on senior Japanese politicians, its top central banker and major companies including conglomerate Mitsubishi, according to documents released Friday by WikiLeaks, which published a list of at least 35 targets. The latest claim of US National Security Agency espionage follows other documents that showed snooping on allies including Germany and France. There is no specific mention of wiretapping Prime Minister Shinzo Abe but senior members of his government, including Trade Minister Yoichi Miyazawa and Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda were targets of the bugging by US intelligence, WikiLeaks said.

Japan is one of Washington’s key allies in the Asia-Pacific region and they regularly consult on defence, economic and trade issues. The spying goes back at least as far as Abe’s brief first term, which began in 2006, WikiLeaks said. Abe swept to power again in late 2012. “The reports demonstrate the depth of US surveillance of the Japanese government, indicating that intelligence was gathered and processed from numerous Japanese government ministries and offices,” it said. “The documents demonstrate intimate knowledge of internal Japanese deliberations” on trade issues, nuclear and climate change policy, among others, it added.

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Europe has no morals.

Europe Could Solve The Migrant Crisis – If It Wanted (Guardian)

Refugees from many countries – not just Sudan but Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and beyond – are taking clandestine journeys across Europe in search of a country that will give them the chance to rebuild their lives. Living in Britain and watching what unfolds in Calais – such as the revelation that in recent days there have been 1,500 attempts by migrants to enter the Channel tunnel – it can seem as if they’re all heading here, but in reality Britain ranks mid-table in the proportion of asylum claims it receives relative to population. The number of refugees at Calais has grown because the number of refugees in Europe as a whole has grown. For the most part, their journeys pass unseen, until they hit a barrier – the English Channel; the lines of police at Ventimiglia on the Italy-France border; the forests of Macedonia – that creates a bottleneck and leads to scenes of destitution and chaos.

The political rhetoric that surrounds these migrants makes it harder to understand why they take such journeys. Often when government ministers are called on to comment, they will try to make a distinction between refugees (good) and “economic migrants” (bad). But a refugee needs to think about more than mere survival – like the rest of us, they’re still faced with the question of how to live. What they find when they reach Europe is a system best described as a “lottery”. In theory the EU has a common asylum system; in reality it varies hugely, with different countries more or less likely to accept different nationalities and with provisions for asylum seekers ranging from decent homes and training to support integration in some countries, to tent camps or detention centres, or being left to starve on the street, in others.

Countries that bear the brunt of new waves of migration, such as Italy, Bulgaria or Greece, find little solidarity from their richer neighbours. The EU spends far more on surveillance and deterrence than on improving reception conditions. For as long as these inequalities continue, refugees will keep on moving. This is a crisis of politics as much as it is one of migration, and I think it will develop in one of two ways. Either Europe will continue to militarise its borders and squabble over resettlement quotas of refugees as if they were toxic waste; or we will find the courage and leadership to create a just asylum system where member states pull together to ensure that refugees are offered a basic standard of living wherever they arrive.

The first option, though alluring to many, will only intensify the chaos it’s supposed to protect us from: we put up a fence at Greece’s land border with Turkey, so refugees take to the Mediterranean instead. Britain and France accuse each other of being a soft touch on asylum seekers, so they allow the situation in Calais to fester. For as long as refugees are treated as a burden, they will be the target of racism and violence.

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I repeat: the MSM sets the tone of the debate by calling refugees ‘migrants’, and by calling SYRIZA and M5S ‘populist’.

Why The Language We Use To Talk About Refugees Matters So Much (WaPo)

In an interview with British news station ITV on Thursday, David Cameron told viewers that the French port of Calais was safe and secure, despite a “swarm” of migrants trying to gain access to Britain. Rival politicians soon rushed to criticize the British prime minister’s language: Even Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-immigration UKIP party, jumped in to say he was not “seeking to use language like that” (though he has in the past). Cameron clearly chose his words poorly. As Lisa Doyle, head of advocacy for the Refugee Council puts it, the use of the word swarm was “dehumanizing” – migrants are not insects. It was also badly timed, coming as France deployed riot police to Calais after a Sudanese man became the ninth person in less than two months to die while trying to enter the Channel Tunnel, an underground train line that runs from France to Britain.

Much of the outrage over the British leader’s comments misses an important point, however: Cameron is far from alone when it comes to troubling use of language to describe the world’s current migration crisis. Language is inherently political, and the language used to describe migrants and refugees is politicized. The way we talk about migrants in turn influences the way we deal with them, with sometimes worrying consequences. Consider even the most basic elements of the language about migration. Writing in the Guardian earlier this year, Mawuna Remarque Koutonin asked why white people were often referred to as expatriates. “Top African professionals going to work in Europe are not considered expats,” Koutonin wrote. “They are immigrants.” [..]

There are worries that even “migrant,” perhaps the broadest and most neutral term we have, could become politicized. Trilling pointed out that Katie Hopkins, a controversial British writer and public figure, likened migrants to “cockroaches” in a column published in the Sun. “As both government policy and political rhetoric casts these people as undesirables — a threat to security; a criminal element; a drain on resources — the word used to describe them takes on a new, negative meaning,” Trilling says. Words such as “swarm” or “invasion” can also have implications just as negative when used in connection to refugees. James Hathaway at the University of Michigan Law School, says that these words are “clearly meant to instill fear.” That’s dangerous because the situation in Calais is already inflamed and full of fear: British tabloids are even calling for Cameron to send in the army, as if the migrants represented a foreign power preparing to invade.

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