Jun 102016
 June 10, 2016  Posted by at 8:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »

Lewis Wickes Hine Workers in Maryland packing company 1909

Marc Faber: Brexit Would Be Best Thing To Happen in Britain’s History (CNBC)
Brexit Might Trigger Run On Britain’s Record Financial Debts, S&P Warns (AEP)
Heavy Cost Of UK’s Access To The Single Market In Europe (Connolly)
Germans Get Richer While Southern Europe Lags (R.)
Bill Gross Says Negative Rates Are Like ‘Supernova’ That Will Explode (BBG)
It Took The US $10 In New Debt To Create $1 Of Growth In Q1 (ZH)
Global Investors Are Fleeing US Stocks at a Record Pace (BBG)
US Tax Receipts Signaling Recession? (Mish)
Ready, Set, Crash – Could New Zealand Be Next To Fall? (NZ Herland)
Pity Poor China: There’s No Easy Fix to the S-Curve (CH Smith)
China’s Propaganda Department Not Good Enough At Propaganda (AFP)
How Mishandling Classified Info Affects People Not Named Clinton (USA T.)
They Died of Progress (Greer)
The Money Cult (Dmitry Orlov)
In Greek Refugee Camps, Wait For Asylum Fuels Unrest (R.)
3,000 Migrants Rescued Off Italian Coast; Two Bodies Found (R.)

Not a fan of the Union.

Marc Faber: Brexit Would Be Best Thing To Happen in Britain’s History (CNBC)

As investors wring their hands over the impact of Britain’s potential withdrawal from the European Union, otherwise known as “Brexit,” one of the market’s biggest bears delivered a surprising message. “I happen to think that a Brexit would be bullish for global economic growth,” Marc Faber told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Wednesday. “It would give other countries incentive to leave the badly organized EU.” The editor and publisher of The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report emphasized that a vote on June 23 by Britain to leave the EU would be an ideal course of action for the country. Additionally, Faber expressed the belief that small countries like Croatia, Estonia and Malta would also prosper as independent nations versus being a part of a larger system.

Currently, the EU has 28 members that operate within a single market with the goal of encouraging the free movement of goods and services. British Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed disdain for leaving the bloc, explaining in a piece for The Telegraph that doing so would “be the gamble of the century.” However, that’s a risk that Faber says Britain should be willing to take and noted that the EU is an “empire that is hugely bureaucratic.” Faber further reasoned that a Brexit would not be a disaster. “On the contrary, it would be the best thing for Britain that would ever happen!” Faber defended his case by citing Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU nor the European Economic Area, but instead operates in the “single” market. That enables the Swiss to have rights in the U.K., but theoretically allows them to operate independently of both groups.

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“The level of debt coming due over the next 12 months is 755pc of the country’s external receipts..”

Brexit Might Trigger Run On Britain’s Record Financial Debts, S&P Warns (AEP)

Britain is the world’s most vulnerable state on a key measure of short-term debt and credit markets might suddenly seize up if voters opt for Brexit, Standard & Poor’s has warned. The US credit rating agency is crystal clear that Britain will be stripped of its coveted AAA status immediately and may face a double-barrelled downgrade if the country takes a leap in dark, jeopardizing its trading and financial ties to its biggest market. “We are categorical about this,” said Moritz Kraemer, the agency’s head of sovereign ratings. “There is no clear ‘Plan B’ in the UK and we are not going to wait until we find out what the British position actually is. We could potentially see a two-notch downgrade,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

Mr Kraemer said the British financial system is extremely dependent on external financing. This is the Achilles Heel for an economy that relies so heavily on the City of London, and has a current account deficit above 5pc of GDP – the highest in Britain’s peace-time history. The level of debt coming due over the next 12 months is 755pc of the country’s external receipts, the highest for all 131 sovereign states rated by S&P. This compares to 318pc for the US and 316pc for France, the next two states most exposed. Much of this short-term debt is owed by banks operating in the City, some of them American, Japanese, European, or Mid-East institutions.

In theory, the liabilities are matched by assets and therefore simply ‘net out’ if stress forces banks to shrink their operations, but crises have a nasty habit of revealing skeletons in the cupboard. “If there is no currency and maturity mismatch, then there is no big issue. But we don’t know that for sure,” Mr Kraemer said. “These sums are very large and have to be rolled over constantly. Nobody has ever hesitated in the past because it was always assumed that Britain is a safe haven and there is no risk,” he said.

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Bernard Connolly was never a fan of the EU. He sees Germany take over if Britain remains in the Union.

Heavy Cost Of UK’s Access To The Single Market In Europe (Connolly)

We are told that Britain’s net contribution to the EU budget, about 0.5pc of our GDP after the rebate (our gross contribution is much bigger; what we “get back” is EU payments to universities and interest groups as part of the EU’s subversion strategy) is the entry fee we must pay for “access” to the EU single market. Why do numerous other countries, with equal access to the single market, receive substantial net payments from the EU – that is, from us and a few other countries? Jean-Claude Juncker has said that France gets away with breaking the budgetary rules “because it’s France”. Britain is gleefully given the rough end of the stick by our partners “because it’s Britain”.

What access brings to Britain is the enormous cost of single market regulations imposed on all firms, not just the very small minority of exporters to the EU. It also brings higher prices in the shops because we are forced to apply the EU’s common external tariff to imports from third countries. Importantly, it brings a massive deficit with the EU on trade in goods and services – reducing the amount we can spend without borrowing from abroad by close to a massive 4pc of our GDP. But we do borrow. The trade deficit with the EU is the biggest single contributor to Britain’s unsustainable current-account position.

We do not yet have much net debt to the rest of the world. But if the current account deficit continues at anything like its present rate it will not be long before we build up foreign debt that leaves us with four choices: default; an economic depression like that in Greece; substantial sterling depreciation; and total political submission to Germany in the hope of getting permanent transfers from that country. The last option is far-fetched beyond science fiction. The first and second are obviously unthinkable for a country such as Britain, at least if we restore control over our own affairs by leaving the EU. That leaves just sterling depreciation, and the sooner it happens the less disruptive it will be. The more Leave thrives in the opinion polls, the better it is for the prospect of avoiding default and depression.

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Why the eurozone should fall. Everything moves towards the center. Design flaw, intentional or not, can’t be fixed.

Germans Get Richer While Southern Europe Lags (R.)

The wealth disparity in the euro zone is increasing, with rising property prices helping Germans get richer while southern European countries lag behind, a study has found. While the gap between northern countries, such as the Netherlands, and southern states like Portugal has long been a feature of the euro bloc, the study by an arm of German fund manager Flossbach von Storch shows it is getting ever wider. Taking a basket of items including property, stocks, art and expensive wine, the research concluded that wealth in Germany and Austria jumped more than 7% at the end of 2015 compared to a year earlier.

That was roughly twice the growth rate of Italy and Spain, while Greeks saw their wealth drop by more than 4%. Property prices, which, for example, jumped by more than 6% in Germany, are the biggest driver of wealth. This difference leads to political tension in the 19-member euro zone, while weak property prices in southern countries hit their banks, which hold homes and commercial property as security for loans. “Until 2006 when the bubble burst, countries in the south were really taking off. Now they are in a Japan-like situation,” said Thomas Mayer, founder of the research institute that carried out the study.

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Bill Gross Says Negative Rates Are Like ‘Supernova’ That Will Explode (BBG)

Bill Gross, the manager of the $1.4 billion Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, warned central bank policies that pushed trillions of dollars into bonds with negative interest rates will eventually backfire violently. “Global yields lowest in 500 years of recorded history,” Gross, 72, wrote Thursday on the Janus Twitter site. “$10 trillion of neg. rate bonds. This is a supernova that will explode one day.” A supernova is a star at the end of its life that suddenly increases greatly in brightness because of a catastrophic explosion that ejects most of its mass. Gross has argued for some time that the economy is at the end of a decades-long cycle of expanding credit that has culminated in negative interest rates, a situation he said is unsustainable.

Rather than spurring economic growth, low rates are promoting asset bubbles as investors reach for higher yields while punishing individual savers and industries that rely on interest rates, such as bank and insurance companies, according to Gross. He said in a June 2 note that the era of 7.5% annualized investment gains is history and that investors should eventually take positions to protect principal or profit from market declines. Returns will be low, risk will be high and at some point the ‘Intelligent Investor’ must decide that we are in a new era with conditions that demand a different approach,” he wrote. “Negative durations? Voiding or shorting corporate credit? Buying instead of selling volatility? Staying liquid with large amounts of cash? These are all potential ‘negative’ carry positions that at some point may capture capital gains or at a minimum preserve principal.”

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You can neither purchase nor borrow growth. When China reaches this phase, watch out.

It Took The US $10 In New Debt To Create $1 Of Growth In Q1 (ZH)

today we had a chance to update the total US credit following the release of the Fed’s Flow of Funds (Z.1) statement, which is usually parsed for its tracking of changes to household wealth. And while it showed that in  the first quarter the net worth of US residents, mostly the wealthy ones as the bulk of financial assets is held by a small fraction of the total population, rose by $837 billion to $88 trillion mostly as a result of a change in real estate holdings, we were more interest in the aggregate picture. It wasn’t pretty.

As a reminder, according to the latest BEA revision, nominal Q1 GDP was $18.23 trillion, an increase of just $65 billion from the previous quarter or an annualized 0.7% rate, the question is how much credit had to be created to generate this growth. Well, according to the Z.1, total credit rose to a new record high $64.1 trillion. This was an increase of $645 billion from the previos quarter. It means that in the first quarter, it “cost” $10 in new debt to generate just $1 in new economic growth!


And here are the two other key charts: the first, showing total credit (debt and loans) vs GDP growth since 1950. The trend is hardly anyone’s friend, except for those who create the debt out of thin air to pocket the ever lower cash flows associated with it (and await the next inevitable bailout):


More importantly, on a leverage ratio basis, the US economy is now at a level of 352% total credit/GDP, the highest since Q1 2013, and a level which has been relatively flat since it peaked at 380% just before the crash. One way to read this chart perhaps is that the “carrying debt capacity” of the US economy is roughly 380% at which point something “unexpected” happens. At the current rate of surging credit relative to slowing GDP, the US economy should be there in the not too distant future.

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This supposes people merely switch their money somewhere else, but some may simply need it fr other purposes.

Global Investors Are Fleeing US Stocks at a Record Pace (BBG)

The most determined seller of U.S. stocks may not be in the U.S. at all. Investors outside the country dumped $128 billion in American shares over the past year, data from the U.S. Treasury International Capital System show. Despite the higher quality of companies in the U.S., long-term investors may be drawn to the faster pace of growth in other economies, said Stewart Warther, an equity strategist at BNP Paribas.

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There’s those nasty pesky withholding taxes again.

US Tax Receipts Signaling Recession? (Mish)

US federal personal tax receipts receipts are falling fast. So is the Evercore ISI State Tax Survey. The last two times the survey plunged this much, the US was already in recession. Is it different this time?

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Boy oh boy.

Ready, Set, Crash – Could New Zealand Be Next To Fall? (NZ Herland)

“We’ve almost got the perfect storm,” says veteran fund manager Brian Gaynor as he reels off the many reasons New Zealand house prices and debt levels are soaring to precipitous heights. There are many ingredients. But right now, New Zealand seems to have them all: not enough building, restrictions on development, surging migration, baby boomer savings, low interest rates and banks that are all too happy to lend for property investment. “When you get the perfect storm like we did in the 1980s with the sharemarket, you see things just go up and up. People start to believe they will never fall,” he says.

“People didn’t believe the sharemarket would fall in the 80s. I’d come in from a trip to Australia and the guy at customs wouldn’t let me in unless I gave him sharemarket tips. It was just euphoria. Everyone was talking about the sharemarket. Now everyone is talking about the property market.” New Zealand’s gross debt is a whopping half trillion dollars; housing now accounts for $218 billion of that. As of April that housing debt was growing at an annualised rate of 8.3% – and that rate is accelerating. The median price of an Auckland house has almost doubled since the bottom of the last cycle in 2009, in the depths of the global financial crisis. The boom has now spilt over into the regions, with places like Hamilton and Tauranga surging 26 and 23% respectively in the past 12 months.

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We should think about how scary this is.

Pity Poor China: There’s No Easy Fix to the S-Curve (CH Smith)

The fundamental context of China’s economy is that it has traced out an S-Curve – as did previous fast-developing nations such as Japan and South Korea. The S-Curve can be likened to a rocket’s trajectory: first, there’s an ignition phase, as the fuel of financialization, cheap labor and untapped productive capacity is ignited. The boost phase lasts as long as credit-fueled production and consumption expand rapidly. In the boost phase, investors and financial authorities can do no wrong. The high growth rate of credit and production overwhelms all other factors, as the virtuous cycle of expanding profits and production increases wages which then support further expansion of credit and consumption which then supports more production, and so on.

A vast tide of foreign investment fuels an equally vast expansion of fixed capital assets such as factories and new homes. But then the fuel of financialization is consumed, and the previously fast-growing economy slows to stall speed. Depending on how much leverage, corruption and wealth has piled up in the boost phase, this phase may last a few years. This is the top of the S-Curve. As the economy weakens, everything that worked in the boost phase no longer works: expanding credit no longer boosts growth, inflating yet another real estate bubble no longer generates a widespread wealth effect, and every effort to shift from being an export-dependent economy to a self-supporting consumer economy fails to achieve liftoff.

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Study western media to see how it’s done?!

China’s Propaganda Department Not Good Enough At Propaganda (AFP)

hina’s propaganda department, tasked with controlling the media and arts, has been given a slap on the wrist for not being good enough at shaping public opinion, according to a report on a government website. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) posted an article on its website Wednesday that described findings from its two-month-long probe of the ruling Communist party’s propaganda department, which began in February. Leaders in the department did not feel a sufficient sense of responsibility for undertaking ideological work, the piece cited CCDI member and investigation spokesman Wang Huaichen as saying. Art was not directed clearly enough towards socialist aims and political thought not emphasised enough in universities, he was quoted as saying.

News propaganda was not targeted or effective enough, especially in the field of new media, where the department had failed to fully implement the principle of “the party controlling the media”, the post cited him as saying. Wang called upon the department to make propaganda appear more valid by enhancing its attractiveness and appeal, it said. The Communist party tolerates no opposition to its rule and newspapers, websites, and broadcast media are strictly controlled. An army of censors patrols social media and many Western news websites are blocked. President Xi Jinping reminded top state media outlets to “strictly adhere to the orders of the Chinese Communist Party” during a series of high-profile visits to their headquarters in February.

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How Hillary stands out against the US Marine Corps. Click the link to read a young man’s sense of duty and honor. Perhaps a bit overcharged, but what Clinton tries to get away with drags down the entire nation. She’s not the only one to flaunt the rules, but if the commander-in-chief -supposing she’s elected- does this, what does that tell everyone else? I can’t see the military and the FBI accepting it. Maybe the higher-ups would, but you don’t want widespread unrest in the ranks.

How Mishandling Classified Info Affects People Not Named Clinton (USA T.)

Clinton is the antithesis of that young captain, someone with no honor, little courage and commitment only to her endless ambition. This has nothing to do with gender, party affiliation, ideology or policy. It is a question of character — not just hers, but ours. Electing Clinton would mean abandoning holding people accountable for grievous errors of integrity and responsibility. What we already know about her security infractions should disqualify her for any government position that deals in information critical to mission success, domestic or foreign. But beyond that, her responses to being found out — dismissing its importance, claiming ignorance, blaming others — indict her beyond anything the investigation can reveal. Those elements reveal her character. And the saddest thing is that so many in America seem not to care.

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The downfall of the tech religion?!

They Died of Progress (Greer)

[..] the unspeakable has become the inescapable in today’s world. It’s become a running joke on the internet that the word “upgrade” inevitably means poorer service, fewer benefits, and more annoyances for those who have to deal with the new and allegedly improved product. The same logic can be applied equally well across the entire landscape of modern technology.  What’s new, innovative, revolutionary, game-changing, and so on through the usual litany of overheated adjectives, isn’t necessarily an improvement. It can be, and very often is, a disaster. Examples could be drawn from an astonishingly broad range of contemporary sources, but I have a particular set of examples in mind. 

To make sense of those examples, it’s going to be necessary to talk about military affairs. As with most things in today’s America, the collective conversation of our time provides two and only two acceptable ways to discuss those, and neither of them have anything actually useful to say. The first of them, common among the current crop of American pseudoconservatives, consists of mindless cheerleading; the second, common among the current crop of pseudoliberals all over the industrial world, consists of moralizing platitudes. I don’t particularly want to address the moralizing platitudes just now, other than to say that yes, war is ghastly; no, it’s not going away; and it’s not particularly edifying to watch members of the privileged classes in the countries currently on top of the international order insist piously that war ought to be abandoned forever, just in time to keep their own nations from being displaced from positions they won and kept at gunpoint not that many decades ago. 

The cheerleading is another matter, and requires a more detailed analysis. It’s common among the pseudoconservative right these days to insist that the United States is by definition the world’s most powerful nation, with so overwhelming a preponderance of military might that every other nation will inevitably have to bow to our will or get steamrollered. That sort of thinking backstops the mania for foreign intervention that guides neoconservatives such as Hillary Clinton on their merry way, overthrowing governments and destabilizing nations under the fond delusion that the blowback from these little adventures can never actually touch the United States. 

In America these days, a great deal of this sort of cheerleading focuses on high-tech weapons systems—inevitably, since so much of contemporary American pop culture has become gizmocentric to the point of self-parody. Visit a website that deals with public affairs from a right-of-center viewpoint, and odds are you’ll find a flurry of articles praising the glories of this or that military technology with the sort of moist-palmed rapture that teenage boys used to direct to girlie-mag centerfolds. The identical attitude can be found in a dizzying array of venues these days, very much including Pentagon press releases and the bombastic speeches of politicians who are safely insulated from the realities of war. There’s only one small difficulty here, which is that much of the hardware in question doesn’t work. 

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Lovely from Dmitry.

The Money Cult (Dmitry Orlov)

are there any unintended consequences of negative interest rates? Unintended consequences are hard to think about, and most people get a headache even trying. How can it be that clean, plentiful nuclear energy will eventually pollute the whole planet with long-lived radionuclides, resulting sky-high cancer rates? How can it be that wonderful genetically modified seeds will render us sickly and infertile in just a few generations? And how can it be that ingenious mobile computing technology has turned our children into zombies who are constantly twiddling their smartphones as they sleepwalk through life? It s hard to think about any of this without taking some happy pills; and how can it be that taking those happy pills has… you get the idea.

The unintended consequence of negative interest rates is that they destroy money. This is true in an entirely trivial sense: if you deposit x dollars at -p% annual, then a year later you will only have x(1-p) dollars because xp dollars has been destroyed. (In case you prefer to count on your fingers and toes, if you deposit $10 at -10% annual, then a year later you will only have $9 because $1 has been destroyed.) But what I mean is something slightly more profound: negative interest rates erode the very concept of money. To get at the reason for this, we have to ask a slightly more profound question: What is money? I think that money is the cult of the god Mammon.

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“Despite its intention to process all cases, Greece lacks the manpower to deal with the volume of applications. It says it needs more help from EU institutions. As many as 6,656 people applied for asylum in March and April this year, up from 1,899 in those months last year. Even if it could hire more people, they would need to be highly qualified legal experts, government officials say.”

In Greek Refugee Camps, Wait For Asylum Fuels Unrest (R.)

Tents were set on fire, punches were thrown, children cried through the night and families were forced to flee the burning detention camp and sleep in open fields. The tension is palpable on Greece’s islands, where about 8,000 asylum seekers feel stranded by a European Union deal with Turkey to stem the arrival of refugees and other migrants on European shores from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. The deal, hailed a success by its European architects, prevents migrants from going beyond Greece – or even its islands – in their search for a new home in Europe, until their asylum claims are processed and those rejected are sent back to Turkey, from where they arrived. But some European officials say the assessment has been slow, and the wait long for those confined to often overcrowded camps.

In June, the most violent month yet, dozens were injured in clashes on three islands, police said. Videos in Greek media showed clouds of smoke rising over the centers on three occasions. In clashes on Lesvos the night of June 1-2, families with young children had to flee and spend the night in nearby fields or Mytilene town, several kilometers away, Amnesty International said. Many returned to burned down tents and destroyed belongings. Women told Amnesty they “live in constant fear” in camps where fights break out in food queues. Journalists are barred from entering the camps on the islands. But humanitarian organizations and police officials on the ground speak of people on edge. “They’re reacting. They want to leave the islands,” said a police official for the northern Aegean region which includes the islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios where rival migrant groups brawled. “We’re bracing for all eventualities.”

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We will never know how many people drown unnoticed. If a tree falls in a forest…

3,000 Migrants Rescued Off Italian Coast; Two Bodies Found (R.)

More than 3,000 boat migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean over the past two days and two bodies have been recovered, Italy’s coastguard said on Thursday. The coastguard coordinated rescues of migrants from 15 different boats on Thursday, bringing 1,950 people to safety. Two bodies were recovered from a rubber boat. Some 1,100 migrants were rescued at sea on Wednesday. The coastguard had no details about the nationalities of the migrants, nor about the two deaths.

All the rescues took place between Italy and Libya, where people-smugglers operate with impunity amid the chaos of civil war. Britain’s HMS Enterprise and Germany’s FGS Frankfurt, patrolling the area as part of the European Union’s anti-people-smuggling operation, together rescued migrants from seven boats, a coastguard spokesman said. A Doctors without Borders vessel, the Dignity 1, rescued almost 500 from four boats, while the Phoenix, run by humanitarian group Migrant Offshore Aid Station, took 243 people from two boats.

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Jun 142015
 June 14, 2015  Posted by at 7:09 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »

Milton Greene “Actress Marilyn Monroe in bed” 1955

Through the last decades, as we have been getting ever more occupied trying to be what society tells us is defined as successful, we all missed out on a lot of changes in our world. Or perhaps we should be gentle to ourselves and say we’re simply slow to catch up.

Which is somewhat curious since we’ve also been getting bombarded with fast increasing amounts of what we’re told is information, so you’d think it might have become easier to keep up. It was not.

While we were busy being busy we for instance were largely oblivious to the fact the US is no longer a beneficial force in the world, and that it doesn’t spread democracy or freedom. Now you may argue to what extent that has ever been true, and you should, but the perception was arguably much closer to the truth 70 years ago, at the end of WWII, then it is today.

Another change we really can’t get our heads around is how the media have turned from a source of information to a source of – pre-fabricated – narratives. We’ll all say to some extent or another that we know our press feeds us propaganda, but, again arguably, few of us are capable of pinpointing to what extent that is true. Perhaps no big surprise given the overdose of what passes for information, but duly noted.

So far so good, you’re not as smart as you think. Bummer. But still an easy one to deny in the private space of your own head. If you get undressed and stand in front of the mirror, though, maybe not as easy.

What ails us is, I was going to say perfectly human, but let’s stick with just human, and leave perfection alone. What makes us human is that it feels good to be protected, safe, and prosperous. Protected from evil and from hard times, by a military force, by a monetary fund, by a monetary union. It feels so good in fact that we don’t notice when what’s supposed to keep us safe turns against us.

But it is what happens, time and again, and, once again arguably, ever more so. What we think the world looks like is increasingly shaped by fiction. Perhaps that means we live in dreamtime. Or nightmare time. Whatever you call it, it’s not real. Pinching yourself is not going to help. Reading Orwell might.

The Sunday Times ran a story today -which the entire world press parroted quasi verbatim- that claimed MI6 had felt compelled to call back some of its operatives from the ‘field’ because Russia and China had allegedly hacked into the encrypted files Edward Snowden allegedly carried with him to Russia (something Snowden denied on multiple occasions).

Glenn Greenwald’s take down of the whole thing is – for good reasons- far better than I could provide, and it’s blistering, it leaves not a single shred of the article. Problem is, the die’s been cast, and many more people read the Times and all the media who’ve reprinted its fiction, than do read Greenwald:

The Sunday Times’ Snowden Story Is Journalism At Its Worst

Western journalists claim that the big lesson they learned from their key role in selling the Iraq War to the public is that it’s hideous, corrupt and often dangerous journalism to give anonymity to government officials to let them propagandize the public, then uncritically accept those anonymously voiced claims as Truth. But they’ve learned no such lesson. That tactic continues to be the staple of how major US and British media outlets “report,” especially in the national security area. And journalists who read such reports continue to treat self-serving decrees by unnamed, unseen officials – laundered through their media – as gospel, no matter how dubious are the claims or factually false is the reporting.

We now have one of the purest examples of this dynamic. Last night, the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times published their lead front-page Sunday article, headlined “British Spies Betrayed to Russians and Chinese.” Just as the conventional media narrative was shifting to pro-Snowden sentiment in the wake of a key court ruling and a new surveillance law, the article claims in the first paragraph that these two adversaries “have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services.”

Please read Greenwald’s piece. It’s excellent. Turns out the Times made it all up. At the same time, it’s just one example of something much more expansive: the entire world view of the vast majority of Americans and Europeans, and that means you too, is weaved together from a smorgasbord of made-up stories, narratives concocted to make you see what someone else wants you to see.

Last week, the Pew Research Center did a survey that was centered around the question what ‘we’ should do if a NATO ally were attacked by Russia. How Pew dare hold such a survey is for most people not even a valid question anymore, since the Putin as bogeyman tale, after a year and change, has taken root in 99% of western brains.

And so the Pew question, devoid of reality as it may be, appears more legit than the question about why the question is asked in the first place. NATO didn’t really like the results of the survey, but enough to thump some more chests. Here’s from an otherwise wholly forgettable NY Times piece:

Poles were most alarmed by Moscow’s muscle flexing, with 70% saying that Russia was a major military threat. Germany, a critical American ally in the effort to forge a Ukraine peace settlement, was at the other end of the spectrum. Only 38% of Germans said that Russia was a danger to neighboring countries aside from Ukraine, and only 29% blamed Russia for the violence in Ukraine. Consequently, 58% of Germans do not believe that their country should use force to defend another NATO ally. Just 19% of Germans say NATO weapons should be sent to the Ukrainian government to help it better contend with Russian and separatist attacks.

Do we need to repeat that Russia didn’t attack Ukraine? That if after all this time there is still zero proof for that, perhaps it’s time to let go of that idea?

Over the past week, there have been numerous reports of NATO ‘strengthening’ its presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. Supposedly to deter Russian aggression in the region. For which there is no evidence. But if you ask people if NATO should act if one of its allies were attacked, you put the idea in people’s heads that such an attack is a real risk. And that’s the whole idea.

This crazy piece from the Guardian provides a very good example of how the mood is manipulated:

US And Poland In Talks Over Weapons Deployment In Eastern Europe

The US and Poland are discussing the deployment of American heavy weapons in eastern Europe in response to Russian expansionism and sabre-rattling in the region in what represents a radical break with post-cold war military planning. The Polish defence ministry said on Sunday that Washington and Warsaw were in negotiations about the permanent stationing of US battle tanks and other heavy weaponry in Poland and other countries in the region as part of NATO’s plans to develop rapid deployment “Spearhead” forces aimed at deterring Kremlin attempts to destabilise former Soviet bloc countries now entrenched inside NATO and the EU.

Warsaw said that a decision whether to station heavy US equipment at warehouses in Poland would be taken soon. NATO’s former supreme commander in Europe, American admiral James Stavridis, said the decision marked “a very meaningful policy shift”, amid eastern European complaints that western Europe and the US were lukewarm about security guarantees for countries on the frontline with Russia following Vladimir Putin’s seizure of parts of Ukraine. “It provides a reasonable level of reassurance to jittery allies, although nothing is as good as troops stationed full time on the ground, of course,” the retired admiral told the New York Times.

NATO has been accused of complacency in recent years. The Russian president’s surprise attacks on Ukraine have shocked western military planners into action. An alliance summit in Wales last year agreed quick deployments of NATO forces in Poland and the Baltic states. German mechanised infantry crossed into Poland at the weekend after thousands of NATO forces inaugurated exercises as part of the new buildup in the east. Wary of antagonising Moscow’s fears of western “encirclement” and feeding its well-oiled propaganda effort, which regularly asserts that NATO agreed at the end of the cold war not to station forces in the former Warsaw Pact countries, NATO has declined to establish permanent bases in the east.

It’s downright borderline criminally tragic that NATO claims it’s building up its presence in the region as a response to Russian actions. What actions? Nothing was going on until ‘we’ supported a coup in Kiev, installed a puppet government and let them wage war on their own citizens. That war killed a lot of people. And if Kiev has any say in the matter, it ain’t over by a long shot. Poroshenko and Yats still want it all back. So does NATO.

When signing a post-cold war strategic cooperation pact with Russia in 1997, Nato pledged not to station ground forces permanently in eastern Europe “in the current and foreseeable security environment”. But that environment has been transformed by Putin’s decision to invade and annex parts of Ukraine and the 1997 agreement is now seen as obsolete.

Meanwhile, Russia re-took Crimea without a single shot being fired. But that is still what the western press calls aggression. Russia doesn’t even deem to respond to ‘our’ innuendo, they feel there’s nothing to be gained from that because ‘our’ stories have been pre-cooked and pre-chewed anyway. Something that we are going to greatly regret.

There are all these alphabet soup organizations that were once set up with, one last time, arguably, good intentions, and that now invent narratives because A) they can and B) they need a reason to continue to exist. That is true for NATO, which should have been dismantled 25 years ago.

It’s true for the IMF, which was always only a tool for US domination. It’s true for the CIA and FBI, which might keep you safe if that was their intent, but which really only function to keep themselves and their narrow group of paymasters safe.

It’s also true for political unions, like the US and EU. Let’s leave the former alone for now, though much could be said and written about the gaping distance between what the Founding Fathers once envisioned for the nation and what it has since descended into.

Still, that is a story for another day. When we can find our way through the web of narratives that holds it upright. Like the threat from Russia, the threat from China, the threat from all the factions in the Middle East the US itself (helped) set up.

The EU is much younger, though its bureaucrats seem eager to catch up with America in fictitious web weaving. We humans stink at anything supra-national. We can have our societies cooperate, but as soon as we invent ‘greater’ units to incorporate that cooperation, things run off the rails, the wrong people grab power, and the weaker among us get sacrificed. And that is what’s happening once again, entirely predictably, in Greece.

That Spain’s two largest cities, Barcelona and Madrid, have now sworn in far-left female mayors this week will only serve to make things harder for Athens. Brussels is under siege, and it will defend its territory as ‘best’ it can.

What might influence matters, and not a little bit, is that Syriza’s Audit Commission is poised to make public its findings on June 18, and that they yesterday revealed they have in their possession a 2010 IMF document that allegedly proves that the Fund knew back then, before the first bail-out, that the Memorandum would result in an increase in Greek debt.

That’s potentially incendiary information, because the Memorandum -and the bailout- were aimed specifically at decreasing the debt. That -again, allegedly- none of the EU nations have seen the document at the time -let’s see how the spin machine makes that look- doesn’t exactly make it any more acceptable.

Nor of course does the fact that Greece’s debt could and should have been restructured, according to the IMF’s own people and ‘standards’, but wasn’t until 2012, when the main European banks had been bailed out with what was subsequently shoved onto the shoulders of the Greek population, and had withdrawn their ‘assets’ from the country, a move that made Greece’s position that much harder.

The narrative being sold through the media in other eurozone nations is that Greece is to blame, that for instance German taxpayers are on the hook for Greek debts, while they’re really on the hook for German banks’ losing wagers (here’s looking at you, Deutsche!). And that is, no matter how you twist it, not the same story. It’s again just a narrative.

Once more, and we’ve said it many times before, Brussels is toxic -and so is the IMF- and Greece should leave as soon as possible, as should Italy, Spain, Portugal. And we should all resist the spin-induced attempts to demonize Putin, Athens and China any further, and instead focus on the rotten apples in our own basket(s).

In short, the propaganda we should be worried about is not Russia’s, it’s our own. And it comes from just about every news article we’re fed. We’re much less than six degrees removed from Orwell.

Jun 052015
 June 5, 2015  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »

Russell Lee Tracy, California. Gasoline filling station 1942

In Greek Debt Puzzle, the Game Theorists Have It (NY Times)
Greece Misses IMF Payment In Warning Shot, Showdown With Europe Escalates (AEP)
A Speech of Hope for Greece (Yanis Varoufakis)
EU/IMF Lenders Demand Asset Sales, Pension Cuts In Greek Proposal (Reuters)
Greece’s IMF Repayment Delay Smacks Of Both Desperation And Defiance (Guardian)
Greek Finance Ministry: German WWII Debt €280 To €340 Billion (Kathimerini)
Stay Out Of Harm’s Way – The Casino Is Fixing To Blow (David Stockman)
The Lawsuit Machine Going After Student Debtors (Bloomberg)
Bernie Sanders: Let’s Spend $5.5 Billion to Employ 1 Million Young People (BBG)
Housing Bubble Was Built By JP Morgan, Barclays (MarketWatch)
The Real Reason Why There Is No Bond Market Liquidity Left (Zero Hedge)
US Workers Ask: Where’s My Raise? (WSJ)
Levels Of UK Household Debt At Record High (Independent)
There’s a Big Decision Looming for Chinese Stocks (Bloomberg)
We Are The Propagandists: US Turns Truth In Ukraine On Its Head (Salon)
Kiev Allows Foreign Armed Forces, ‘Potential Carriers Of Nukes’ In Ukraine (RT)
US Knowingly Conceals Ceasefire Violations By Kiev (RT)
Global Dairy Costs Drop to 5-Year Low on Record Milk Output (Bloomberg)
Californians Urged To Rip Out Their Lawns (Guardian)
The Rewilding Plan That Would Return Britain To Nature (BBC)
Number of Migrants Trying to Reach Europe via Greece Has Surged by 500% (Vice)

“It would be as if Delaware brought down the United States economy. That would be the fault of the U.S., not Delaware.”

In Greek Debt Puzzle, the Game Theorists Have It (NY Times)

That Yanis Varoufakis, the rakish Greek finance minister, would meet with senior European officials wearing a leather motorcycle jacket and open-collar shirt would probably have fascinated John F. Nash Jr., the Nobel prize -winning mathematician, game theorist and Princeton professor who was thrown from a taxi and killed last month. Is Mr. Varoufakis really a radical, or simply acting like one to increase Greece’s negotiating leverage — what game theorists mean when they say it can be rational to behave irrationally? Mr. Varoufakis is himself a noted game theorist, co-author of the textbook “Game Theory: a Critical Introduction” and a longtime admirer of Dr. Nash. The two met in Athens in June 2000 after Dr. Nash delivered a lecture on money.

After learning of Dr. Nash’s death, Mr. Varoufakis wrote on Twitter: “Reading your work was inspirational. Meeting you, and spending time together, was an unearned bonus, Farewell John Nash Jr.” The intense and hard-fought negotiations between Greece and its creditors, which have roiled global financial markets for months and appear to be nearing a climax, are the sort of high-stakes game that fascinated Dr. Nash, who won the Nobel in economic science, and lend themselves to the analysis he pioneered. On Thursday, markets were rattled when Greece deferred a payment to the IMF as it continued to seek a new debt deal. “It’s exactly the kind of game that Nash had in mind,” said Sylvia Nasar, author of the definitive Nash biography “A Beautiful Mind,” which was the basis for the Academy Award-winning movie. “There are more than two players. They have common as well as opposing interests. Not making a deal leaves everybody worse off.”

Unfortunately for the financial markets and the future of the European Union, that’s no guarantee that Greece and its creditors will reach a deal that averts the doomsday scenario — a debt default by Greece that could cause it to lose its membership in Europe’s currency union and set off another crisis. I asked Mr. Varoufakis this week how it felt to have the fate of the global economy to a large extent resting on him. “I don’t really feel the weight of the world economy,” he said. “I feel the weight of the Greek people resting on my shoulders. If little Greece, in order to survive, brings down the financial world, it can’t be our fault. It would be as if Delaware brought down the United States economy. That would be the fault of the U.S., not Delaware.”

Virtually everyone agrees that a default by Greece is the least desirable outcome for both Greece and its creditors — among them Germany and France; the European Central Bank; and the I.M.F. Yet one of Dr. Nash’s critical insights is that there may be many possible outcomes — so-called Nash equilibriums — that produce suboptimal results. A Nash equilibrium exists when each side’s strategy is optimal given what they believe to be the others’ strategy. For example, if Germany and other creditors don’t believe Greece’s threat to default, and underestimate the severity of such an outcome, they might see their optimal strategy as remaining firm in their demands for Greek fiscal austerity and structural reforms. If, on the other hand, Germany believes Mr. Varoufakis to be ideologically motivated to reject further austerity, it might well cave to Greek demands for leniency.

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“In a strange way we are all breathing a sigh of relief. We were afraid of a bad deal that would split the party but this is so atrocious it makes life easier. None of us can accept it..”

Greece Misses IMF Payment In Warning Shot, Showdown With Europe Escalates (AEP)

Greece is to take the drastic step of skipping a €300m payment to the IMF on Friday, invoking an obscure mechanism in abeyance since the 1970s to bundle all debts due in June and pay them at the end of the month. It is the first time that a developed country has ever missed a payment to the IMF since the creation of the Bretton Woods institutions at the end of the Second World War. The news broke after the Athens stock exchange had closed but a bloodbath is feared when the bourse opens on Friday. Yields on two-year Greek bonds spiked 63 basis points to 21.8pc amid mounting fears of a deposit run on Greek banks and the imposition of capital controls as soon as this weekend. The IMF said it had been notified by the Greek authorities that they would pay the entire €1.6bn due this month on June 30, dusting down a procedure last used by Zambia in the 1980s.

The shock move came as leaders of the ruling Syriza movement were locked in a series of emergency meetings to vent their fury over the latest austerity demands by the European creditor powers. Senior figures in the party lined up to denounce the “ultimatum” from Brussels as another wasted moment after four months of acrimonious talks. “It cannot form the basis of an agreement,” said Tassos Koronakis, the party secretary. Alexis Mitropoulos, the deputy speaker of parliament, called it “the most vulgar and murderous plan” that shattered hopes of a deal just as everybody was expecting a breakthrough. Others daubed their war paint and vowed angrily that there would be no “surrender”.

The skipped payment is the clearest sign to date that the crisis is escalating to a dangerous level as Syriza refuses to buckle. It will not be resolved without European statesmanship of a high order, so far lacking. While the authorities sought to play down the Greek decision, it was clearly intended as a warning shot. Syriza had the money at hand. It chose not to pay as a conscious political choice. The Greeks accuse the IMF of violating its own rules by colluding in an EMU-led policy that leaves the country with unsustainable debts. Athens is implicity threatening to escalate the situation all the way to a full default to the IMF, setting off a grave institutional and political crisis within the Fund itself.

Syriza leaders say they are unwilling to burn any more of the country’s dwindling cash reserves to pay creditors until there is a credible offer on the table, insisting that their priority is to pay pensions and salaries and avoid default to their own people. One cabinet minister told The Telegraph that the proposals by creditors seemed designed to bring about a deliberate rupture. “They want to force us into a position where we can’t sign,” he said. “In a strange way we are all breathing a sigh of relief. We were afraid of a bad deal that would split the party but this is so atrocious it makes life easier. None of us can accept it,” he said.

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“..once President Harry Truman’s administration decided to rehabilitate Germany, there was no turning back.”

A Speech of Hope for Greece (Yanis Varoufakis)

On September 6, 1946 US Secretary of State James F. Byrnes traveled to Stuttgart to deliver his historic “Speech of Hope.” Byrnes’ address marked America’s post-war change of heart vis-à-vis Germany and gave a fallen nation a chance to imagine recovery, growth, and a return to normalcy. Seven decades later, it is my country, Greece, that needs such a chance. Until Byrnes’ “Speech of Hope,” the Allies were committed to converting “…Germany into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in character.” That was the express intention of the Morgenthau Plan, devised by US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. and co-signed by the United States and Britain two years earlier, in September 1944.

Indeed, when the US, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom signed the Potsdam Agreement in August 1945, they agreed on the “reduction or destruction of all civilian heavy-industry with war potential” and on “restructuring the German economy toward agriculture and light industry.” By 1946, the Allies had reduced Germany’s steel output to 75% of its pre-war level. Car production plummeted to around 10% of pre-war output. By the end of the decade, 706 industrial plants were destroyed. Byrnes’ speech signaled to the German people a reversal of that punitive de-industrialization drive. Of course, Germany owes its post-war recovery and wealth to its people and their hard work, innovation, and devotion to a united, democratic Europe. But Germans could not have staged their magnificent post-war renaissance without the support signified by the “Speech of Hope.”

Prior to Byrnes’ speech, and for a while afterwards, America’s allies were not keen to restore hope to the defeated Germans. But once President Harry Truman’s administration decided to rehabilitate Germany, there was no turning back. Its rebirth was underway, facilitated by the Marshall Plan, the US-sponsored 1953 debt write-down, and by the infusion of migrant labor from Italy, Yugoslavia, and Greece. Europe could not have united in peace and democracy without that sea change. Someone had to put aside moralistic objections and look dispassionately at a country locked in a set of circumstances that would only reproduce discord and fragmentation across the continent. The US, having emerged from the war as the only creditor country, did precisely that.

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Insane demands that they know will not be accepted: “..increasing value-added tax to 11% (from 6%) for items including drugs and 23% for items including electricity.”

EU/IMF Lenders Demand Asset Sales, Pension Cuts In Greek Proposal (Reuters)

Greece’s EU/IMF lenders have asked Athens to commit to sell off state assets, enforce pension cuts and press on with labour reforms, two sources familiar with the plan said on Thursday, demands that would cross the Greek government’s “red lines”. If Greece were to accept the plan, lenders would aim to unlock €10.9 billion in unused bank bailout funds that were returned to the European Financial Stability Fund. This would enable Greece to cover its financial needs through July and August, the sources said. Meanwhile, a debate regarding progress of ongoing negotiations with Greece’s lenders would take place in Greek Parliament on Friday at 6 p.m. following a decision by premier Alexis Tsipras, it emerged on Thursday.

In a five-page proposal presented to Tsipras in Brussels on Wednesday, EU/IMF lenders asked Athens to reduce spending on pensions by 1% of gross domestic product and promise not to reverse any legislated reforms, the sources said. They also demanded Athens raise €1.8 billion – or 1% of GDP – by increasing value-added tax to 11% for items including drugs and 23% for items including electricity, the sources told Reuters. They want Greece to scrap a benefit for low income pensioners, called EKAS, to save €800 million by 2016 – a move that if accepted, would force Tsipras to violate his pledge to avoid any new pension cuts. The proposal also calls for a hike in healthcare contributions by Greeks and a cut in the fuel subsidy.

The lenders have also demanded Tsipras not make any unilateral move to restore collective bargaining rights and raise minimum wage level to pre-crisis levels – pledges he made before coming to power in January. The proposal also asks Athens to commit to privatising Grid operator ADMIE, Greece’s major ports in Piraeus and Thessaloniki, the former airport complex of Hellenikon, Greece’s biggest oil refinery Hellenic Petroleum and Greek telecoms operator OTE. Some of the asset sales mentioned – like ADMIE and Hellenikon – have been staunchly opposed by Tsipras’s Syriza party. The proposal does not make any mention of offering debt relief to Athens .

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People have strange views. As soon as the IMF said Greece had the permission to delay, it was clear that they would unless a deal had been made. It doesn’t matter if they announce it at the last moment.

Greece’s IMF Repayment Delay Smacks Of Both Desperation And Defiance (Guardian)

You could almost hear the gritted teeth through which the IMF issued its terse statement acknowledging that Athens planned to miss Friday’s deadline for making a €300m debt repayment. The Washington-based lender, which was always wary about being dragged into Europe’s debt crisis, didn’t condemn Greece’s actions, let alone suggest that deferring the payment was tantamount to default. It simply restated that in a little-known loophole adopted in the late 1970s, “country members can ask to bundle together multiple principal payments falling due in a calendar month”. But it was clear that the IMF had received little warning of Greece’s plans.

Yanis Varofakis, the country’s pugnacious finance minister, has long argued that the end of June, when the four-month extension to the country’s bailout programme the Syriza government won in February expires, is the real deadline for reaching an agreement. But the lastminute decision to delay the payment, just hours after IMF managing director, Christine Lagarde, said she fully expected it to arrive, smacked of both desperation and defiance. Greece’s stance is likely to infuriate the IMF, which doesn’t want to shoulder the blame for pushing Greece into default, but reportedly believes current plans for tackling its debt burden remain unrealistic.

Even with the rest of the month now apparently available to secure a deal, the distance between Greece and its creditors remains considerable, as leaked negotiating texts from both sides suggested on Thursday. Meanwhile, both the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, who faces an uphill struggle selling any deal to his party, and Varoufakis, who has been sidelined from the talks but remains finance minister, have continued to make pungent public statements about the sacrifices of the Greek people.

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In parliament. Wonder what the next step will be.

Greek Finance Ministry: German WWII Debt €280 To €340 Billion (Kathimerini)

Members of a special committee at the Finance Ministry’s General Accounting Office told the parliamentary inquiry into Germany’s unpaid reparations to Greece that Athens is owed between €280 and €340 billion by Berlin. Five officials from the General Accounting Office appeared before the committee, which is chaired by Parliament Speaker Zoe Constantopoulou. The head of the Finance Ministry panel that investigated Germany’s war debt, Panayiotis Karakousis, said that his team found no evidence that Greece had waived its right to claim Second World War reparations. On a visit to Berlin earlier this year, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that her country had a moral duty to settle the matter but he did not refer to any specific figures.

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Absolutely. Thar she blows.

Stay Out Of Harm’s Way – The Casino Is Fixing To Blow (David Stockman)

Shock waves have been rumbling through the global bond market in the last few days. On April 17 the yield on the 10-year German bund pierced through the 5bps level, but yesterday it tagged 100bps. That amounted to a 20X move in 39 trading days. It also amounted to total annihilation if you were front running Mario Draghi’s bond buying campaign on 95% repo leverage and didn’t hit the sell button fast enough. And there were a lot of sell buttons to hit. The Italian 10-year yield has soared from a low of 1.03% in late March to 2.21% last night, and the yield on the Spanish bond has doubled in a similar manner. Needless to say, this is not by way of a lamentation in behalf of the euro-bond speculators who have had their heads handed to them in recent days.

After harvesting hundreds of billions of windfall gains since Draghi’s mid-2012 “whatever it takes ukase” they were overdue to get slapped around good and hard. Instead, what we have here is just one more striking demonstration that financial markets are utterly broken. The notion of honest price discovery might as well be relegated to the museum of financial history. The exact catalyst for yesterday’s panicked global bond sell-off, apparently, was Draghi’s public confession that although the ECB would stay the course on its $1.3 trillion QE program, it cannot prevent short-run “volatility” in the trading pits.

Why that should be a surprise to anyone is hard to fathom, but it does crystalize the “look ma, no hands” essence of today’s markets. The trading herd goes in the direction enabled by the central banks until a few dare devils finally fall off their bikes, causing an unexpected pile-up and inducing the pack to temporarily reverse direction. Thus, it is not surprising that a few traders got caught flat-footed in recent days. In the case of the insanely over-valued Italian 10 year bond, for instance, the price went straight up (and the yield straight down) for nearly 33 months.

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Creating an even dumber generation.

The Lawsuit Machine Going After Student Debtors (Bloomberg)

Student loans have eclipsed credit cards to become the second-largest source of outstanding debt in the U.S., after mortgages. Since 2007 the federal student loan balance has more than doubled, to almost $1.2 trillion from $516 billion. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that students, former students, and their parents owe an additional $150 billion in loans from banks and other private lenders. With defaults climbing, lenders have turned to the courts to collect. Many of their suits are marred by missing documents and procedural errors, say consumer advocates and lawyers defending debtors. “Our office is seeing an uptick in abusive loan debt-collection tactics that leave no room for relief,” wrote Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

The paperwork problems echo the “robosigning” scandals that followed the housing bust. Like mortgages, student loans were bundled into packages and sold to investors. “This is robosigning 2.0 with student loans,” says Robyn Smith, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center, a nonprofit advocacy group. “You have securitized loans in these large pools; you have the sloppy record keeping,” as in the mortgage crisis.

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“.. it might as well propose taxing churches to pay for sex reassignment surgeries on a moon base.”

Bernie Sanders: Let’s Spend $5.5 Billion to Employ 1 Million Young People (BBG)

The Employ Young Americans Now Act is the sort of legislation that would have struggled even in a Democratic Congress. In a Capitol controlled by Republicans, it might as well propose taxing churches to pay for sex reassignment surgeries on a moon base. The legislation, introduced by Michigan Representative John Conyers, would create a $5.5 billion fund, $4 billion earmarked for the employment of people between 16 and 24, $1.5 billion for job training grants. There are no pay-fors. It would ask a Congress that is dead-set against “big government” to employ people, with the help of big government.

Yet the bill’s Senate sponsor is Vermont’s Bernie Sanders. That matters quite a lot in June 2015. On Thursday morning, Sanders joined Conyers on a visit to the H.O.P.E. Project in southeast Washington. The presidential candidate toured a small but busy office, located above a strip mall, that had successfully trained 375 people in the IT field, and seen 315 of those people get jobs that paid an average of $42,000—far above the median income locally. Ninety-three% of graduates were African-American, and when Sanders entered a computer room—pausing to greet every student—the only white faces belonged to journalists and staffers. The room was crowded with TV cameras and iPhones, some pointed at four words on the wall: “HARVARD OF THE HOOD.”

“In America now we spend nearly $200 billion on public safety, including $70 billion on correctional facilities each and every year,” said Sanders from the front of the room. “So, let me be very clear: in my view it makes a lot more sense to invest in jobs, in job training, and in education than spending incredible amounts of money on jails and law enforcement.”

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And the rating agencies.

Housing Bubble Was Built By JP Morgan, Barclays (MarketWatch)

If I had to depend on Wall Street or Washington for an explanation of what ails the U.S. financial economy, I’d probably pick neither one. My choice would be John Griffin, a cowboy boots-wearing University of Texas financial professor, who has been on something of a roll. Six years before Standard & Poor’s agreed to pay $1.4 billion to settle state and federal government lawsuits alleging it inflated credit ratings on securitized mortgage debt, Griffin revealed—with mathematical precision—how S&P degraded its own analytical model to issue puffed-up grades. Seven months before J.P. Morgan Chase agreed to pay $13 billion to resolve state and federal claims that it misled investors on toxic mortgage securities—the largest financial settlement with a single entity in U.S. history—Griffin showed how the bank had originated a disproportionate share of securitized mortgages flawed by undisclosed second liens (among other reporting problems).

Today, Griffin is advancing a new argument: that housing prices were more inflated—and the crash even more violent—in markets where lenders who misreported mortgages held concentrated market shares. He concludes that big banks with bad practices drove the credit bubble, and the misreporting deepened it. “I just want to know the truth,” says Griffin, 45, who grew up playing high school football in Texas and today delivers some of his hardest hits on Wall Street. In his latest forensic work, Griffin and co-author Gonzalo Maturana, an assistant professor of finance at Emory University in Atlanta, combed through 3.1 million mortgages originated between 2002 and the end of 2007. More than one-quarter of these loans subsequently defaulted.

While looking for inconsistencies in appraisal values and owner-occupancy status, the most interesting part of the investigation exposes how some mortgage securities were riddled with undisclosed second liens. These hidden debts reduced the borrowers’ incentive to repay their obligations. Griffin and Maturana found the gaps by comparing bank securities documents to county courthouse records. No fewer than 10.2% of the securitized mortgages in their sample contained an undisclosed second lien. Some lenders, such as Barclays and J.P. Morgan, produced nearly double the overall number of missing debts. This is startling for two reasons: first, loans with an unreported lien were 97% more likely to become seriously delinquent than were correctly reported loans; and second, the same lender originated both liens more than two-thirds of the time.

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The Real Reason Why There Is No Bond Market Liquidity Left (Zero Hedge)

Back in the summer of 2013, we first commented on what we called “Phantom Markets” – displayed quotes and prices, in not only equities, FX and commodities but increasingly in government bonds, without any underlying liquidity. The problem, which we first addressed in 2012, had gotten so bad, even the all important Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee to the US Treasury had just sounded an alarm on the topic. Since then we have sat back and watched as our prediction was borne out, as bond market liquidity slowly devolved then sharply and dramatically collapsed recently to a level that is so unprecedented, not even we though possible, leading first to the October 15 bond flash crash and countless “VaR shock” events ever since.

And while we urge those few carbon-based life forms who still trade for a living to catch up on our numerous posts on market “liquidity” and lack thereof, here is a quick and dirty primer on just why there is virtually no bond market left, courtesy of the man who, weeks ahead of the Lehman collapse when nobody had any idea what is going on, laid out precisely what happens in 2008 and onward in his seminal note “Are the Brokers Broken?”, Citigroup’s Matt King. Here is the gist of his recent note on the liquidity paradox which is a must read for everyone who trades anything and certainly bonds, while for the TL/DR crowd here is the 5 word summary: blame central bankers and HFTs.

The more liquidity central banks add, the less there is in markets
• Water, water, everywhere — On many metrics, liquidity across markets seems abundant. Bid-offers are tight, if not always back to pre-crisis levels. Notional traded volumes in credit and rates have reached all-time highs. The rise of e-trading is helping to match buyers and sellers of securities more efficiently than ever before.
• Nor any drop to drink — And yet almost every institutional investor, in almost every market, seems worried about liquidity. Even if it’s here today, they fear it will be gone tomorrow. They say that e-trading contributes much volume, but little depth for those who need to trade in size. The growing frequency of “flash crashes” and “air pockets” – often without obvious cause – adds weight to their fears.
• Yes, street regulation has played a role — The most frequently cited explanation is that increased regulation has driven up the cost of balance sheet and reduced the street’s appetite for risk, and hence ability to act as a warehouser between buyers and sellers.
• But so too have the central banks — And yet this fails to explain why even markets like FX and equities, which do not consume dealers’ balance sheets, have been subject to problems. We argue that in addition to regulations, central banks’ distortion of markets has reduced the heterogeneity of the investor base, forcing them to be the “same way round” over the past four years to a greater extent than ever previously. This creates markets which trend strongly, but are then prone to sudden corrections. It also leaves investors more focused on central banks than ever before – and is liable to make it impossible for the central banks to make a smooth exit.

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Record low productivity.

US Workers Ask: Where’s My Raise? (WSJ)

The unemployment rate in metropolitan regions across the U.S. is below where it was when the financial crisis blew a hole in the U.S. economy in 2008. Now, many American workers are asking: Where’s my raise? Questions about the slow pace of wage growth aren’t only stumping workers, but also economists and policy makers at the Federal Reserve—with the answers weighing on households and the larger U.S. economy. When U.S. unemployment rates fall, conventional notions of supply and demand predict wages will go up as firms bid for increasingly scarce workers, and there are signs of that, for example, in building trades and restaurants.

“Basic economics hasn’t gone out the window,” Loretta Mester, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said in an interview. “When employment grows, wages will start to grow.” But a Wall Street Journal analysis of Labor Department data points to persistent constraints on worker pay, even as the economy approaches full employment. The Journal found 33 U.S. metropolitan areas—from the small to the sizable—where unemployment rates and nonfarm payrolls last year returned to prerecession levels. In two-thirds of those cities—including Columbus; Houston; Oklahoma City; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.; and Topeka, Kan.—wage growth trailed the prerecession pace. Among the reasons:

• Companies tapping pools of workers who have disappeared from the U.S. unemployment tallies, creating what economists describe as hidden slack in the economy. Until this invisible labor supply is spent, these men and women, including part-timers, temporary workers and discouraged labor-market dropouts, could hold wages down.

• The blunt force of overseas competition makes companies reluctant to raise pay over fears they will lose sales to cheaper-priced foreign firms.

• Lingering psychological scars of a recession long past. Robert Gordon, an economics professor at Northwestern University, said his research found that wages and inflation were subject to inertia. That means unemployment could drop well below 5.5% for years before wages go up much.

• Meager growth in productivity, which limits the incentive of companies to offer raises.

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What the recovery looks like.

Levels Of UK Household Debt At Record High (Independent)

Levels of household debt have soared to record highs and a new way of lending aimed at the poor is needed, according to a new released report by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). The right wing think tank, founded by Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, warns that household debt has risen by more than £34 billion in less than three years and is £1.47 trillion – the highest ever. Some 8.8 million people are “over-indebted.” And borrowing on credit cards, bank overdrafts, and pay day loans amounts to more than £170 billion – the highest in four years. Fifteen million Britons are going into debt just to cover their bills, says the report – based on research commissioned by JPMorgan Chase Foundation.

It argues that those on low incomes should have financial services and products specifically aimed at their needs. Writing in the preface, Dr Alex Burghart, policy director at the CSJ, says: “Without access to financial services that meet their needs, families are forced to take out expensive loans that they then struggle to pay off.” He argues that while more needs to be done to create jobs and improve pay, “there is also a need for financial services that serve the needs of low-income families.” Dr Burghart adds: “By helping to develop a new marketplace for socially responsible Alternative Financial Institutions (AFIs) we can build a new generation of financial services specifically tailored to meet the needs of low-income families.”

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So the foreigners come in just as the facade topples over?!

There’s a Big Decision Looming for Chinese Stocks (Bloomberg)

A New York-based company is getting ready to make a call on China that will determine whether billions of dollars flow into the nation’s world-beating stock market. The June 9 decision by MSCI Inc. on the possible inclusion of China’s locally traded shares in the index-provider’s equity benchmarks comes after a year of consultation with banks and funds. MSCI is faced with a situation where it’s getting harder to ignore the Chinese equity market, already the world’s second-largest with a total value of more than $9 trillion. Yet for most international investors, mainland-listed stocks remain out of reach due to limitations on their tradability.

Foreigners own only 5.9% of the yuan-denominated A shares because of regulatory restrictions even as the government moves to open up access to the exchanges in Shanghai and Shenzhen. MSCI, whose emerging-market gauge is tracked by $1.7 trillion of funds, could help change that. “It’s a big deal,” Sebastien Lieblich, Global Head of Index Management Research at MSCI, said by phone from Geneva. China’s market is “relatively untapped,” and an inclusion would suggest it be “elevated to be part of the major radar screen of international institutional investors,” he said. Being added to MSCI’s indexes would mark the integration of China’s locally traded stocks into the world’s financial markets after being largely off limits to foreigners until recently.

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Patrick Smith and truth to power.

We Are The Propagandists: US Turns Truth In Ukraine On Its Head (Salon)

A couple of weeks ago, this column guardedly suggested that John Kerry’s day-long talks in Sochi with Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, looked like a break in the clouds on numerous questions, primarily the Ukraine crisis. I saw no evidence that President Obama’s secretary of state had suddenly developed a sensible, post-imperium foreign strategy consonant with a new era. It was force of circumstance. It was the 21st century doing its work. This work will get done, cleanly and peaceably or otherwise. Sochi, an unexpected development, suggested the prospect of cleanliness and peace. But events since suggest that otherwise is more likely to prove the case. It is hard to say because it is hard to see, but our policy cliques may be gradually wading into very deep water in Ukraine.

Ever since the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, reality itself has come to seem up for grabs. Karl Rove, a diabolically competent political infighter but of no discernible intellectual weight, may have been prescient when he told us to forget our pedestrian notions of reality—real live reality. Empires create their own, he said, and we’re an empire now. The Ukraine crisis reminds us that the pathology is not limited to the peculiar dreamers who made policy during the Bush II administration, whose idea of reality was idealist beyond all logic. It is a late-imperial phenomenon that extends across the board. “Unprecedented” is considered a dangerous word in journalism, but it may describe the Obama administration’s furious efforts to manufacture a Ukraine narrative and our media’s incessant reproduction of all its fallacies.

At this point it is only sensible to turn everything that is said or shown in our media upside down and consider it a second time. Who could want to live in a world this much like Orwell’s or Huxley’s—the one obliterating reality by destroying language, the other by making historical reference a transgression? Language and history: As argued several times in this space, these are the weapons we are not supposed to have. Ukraine now gives us two fearsome examples of what I mean by inverted reason. One, it has been raining reports of Russia’s renewed military presence in eastern Ukraine lately. One puts them down and asks, What does Washington have on the story board now, an escalation of American military involvement? A covert op? Let us watch.

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And we all pretend this is normal.

Kiev Allows Foreign Armed Forces, ‘Potential Carriers Of Nukes’ In Ukraine (RT)

The Ukrainian parliament has adopted amendments to state law allowing “admission of the armed forces of other states on the territory of Ukraine.” The possible hosting of foreign weapons of mass destruction is also mentioned in the documents. Amendments to Ukrainian law were adopted on Thursday by the Verkhovna Rada, receiving a majority of 240 votes (the required minimum being 226). The bill was submitted to the parliament in May by PM Arseny Yatsenyuk. It focuses on the provision of “international peacekeeping and security” assistance to Ukraine at its request. Peacekeeping missions are to be deployed “on the basis of decision of the UN and/or the EU,” the bill published on the parliament’s official website says.

Previously, the presence of any international military forces on the territory of Ukraine not specifically sanctioned by state law was only possible by adopting a special law initiated by the president. Implementation of the new amendments “will create necessary conditions for deployment on the territory of Ukraine international peacekeeping and security” missions without the need for additional legal authorization, the explanatory note to the draft bill said. The presence of such armed forces in Ukraine “should ensure an early normalization of situation” in Donbass, the note added, saying that they would help “restore law and order and life, constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens” in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

In a comparative table, published among the accompanying documents to the bill, “potential carriers of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction are permitted under international agreement with Ukraine for short-term accommodation,” with Kiev providing proper control during the period that such forces were stationed there.

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US Knowingly Conceals Ceasefire Violations By Kiev (RT)

The US and its Western allies are well aware of all the ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine but, deliberately turn a blind eye to Kiev’s actions, hackers said after obtaining the emails of top Ukrainian official overseeing the truce. The anti-Kiev hacktivist group, CyberBerkut, claims to have hacked the emails of Major-General Andrey Taran, Chief of the Joint Centre for Ceasefire Control and Coordination in Ukraine. The correspondence contained satellite images proving multiple violations of the Minsk peace agreements between Kiev and the rebels by the Ukrainian military, they said. The pictures, dating March, April and May 2015, showed Kiev’s heavy artillery stationed in the immediate vicinity of the borders of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

Ukrainian 100-millimeter field artillery guns, 122-millimeter D-30 and 2S1 Gvozdika howitzers, 152-millimeter Hyacinth-S howitzers and Grad multiple rocket launchers were placed less than 20 kilometers away from the contact line, CyberBerkut said. According to the Minsk ceasefire agreement signed in February, both sides were to pull-out of all heavy weapons and create a security zone from 50 to 140 kilometers, depending on the range of the guns. The hacktivists stressed that Washington knew of the violations by Kiev as the hacked emails came from a staff member of the US Embassy in Ukraine, Tetyana Podobinska-Shtyk.

“[I am] sending you pictures which can become a serious problem for you! Think about how you can explain them, if the [OSCE] monitoring mission obtains them. Consult the team leader and think about a possible action plan, how you can justify them or present them as fake,” Podobinska-Shtyk wrote in a hacked email.

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The end of EU quota slams New Zealand. Which shouldn’t have all those cows to begin with.

Global Dairy Costs Drop to 5-Year Low on Record Milk Output (Bloomberg)

An abundance of milk from New Zealand to Europe is driving global dairy costs to the lowest in five years. Prices have plunged almost 40% from a record in February 2014 as farmers ramped up production and Chinese demand slowed, according to a United Nations measure of dairy products. Global production of milk, cheese and butter will rise to records this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. European farmers are increasing output after the government ended production limits in April, while supply from New Zealand, the biggest milk powder exporter, has been better-than-expected during a drought, according to INTL FCStone, a commodities brokerage.

Average prices on New Zealand’s GlobalDairyTrade auction, the global benchmark, fell to $2,412 a metric ton on Tuesday, the lowest since August 2009. “Supply is relatively strong,” John Lancaster, a dairy analyst at FCStone in Dublin, said by phone Thursday. “With the quotas gone, there’s no restriction on farmers.” At the same time, there are signs of weaker demand. China may reduce purchases of whole milk powder this year, while imports of non-fat milk powder will grow at a slower rate than previous years, according to the USDA. China, which uses milk powder in infant formula, has been a driver of global demand in the past. The EU is also exporting less whole milk powder and cheese after Russia banned food imports from the region in retaliation for sanctions related to its policies in Ukraine.

Milk was 20% cheaper in April than a year ago, according to data released last week from the Dutch Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture, known as LTO. The FAO’s gauge of global dairy costs fell to 167.5 points in May, the lowest since October 2009. Milk futures in Chicago have dropped 22% in the past 12 months. Lower prices may pinch farmer profits, leading to less production later this year, Lancaster said. While they’ve benefited from lower feed costs, adverse weather, such as too much or too little rain, would hurt pasture growth and result in less milk production, he said. “If milk prices come down further in Europe, we’d expect to see some kind of a response from production side,” he said. “We could see more culling from herds, depending on how low prices go and potential cash flow issues.”

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What a waste it would be if they don’t seize the opportunity to start growing their own food instead.

Californians Urged To Rip Out Their Lawns (Guardian)

Would you rather give up your lawn or your shower habit? Can you deal with spray-painting your parched garden green? Can you see the beauty in a front yard filled with cacti and rocks? Low-flushing lavatories and recycled wastewater may not be subject matters you would usually associate with a generally more glamorous and decisively sexier California, but as the reality of drought hits urban areas, these are the questions millions of Californians are having to ask. On 1 April, following the announcement of a fourth year of drought, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order demanding a 25% reduction of water usage in urban areas statewide beginning 1 June. That meant that from Monday, around 90% of Californians were faced with reducing their water consumption by a quarter compared to 2013 levels.

In high-consumption areas, water companies have been given targets as high as 36%. Customers have been told they must reconsider their entire way of life. But how to achieve such a feat? Rules have been devised by local water boards, ranging from carrots (discounts on high-efficiency lavatories and washing machines) to sticks (fines for watering your lawn more than twice a week, or for watering the pavement). Residents have taken to drought-shaming one another, reporting water wasters to the authorities or on social media. In places like Sacramento, such finger-pointing has been encouraged – to great effect. But above all else, there is pressure to take things one step further and turn to lawns. More precisely, to the ripping out of them.

In his executive order, Brown called for the replacement of 50m sq ft of lawns with “drought-tolerant landscapes”, a goal to be achieved with the help of local subsidies and partial funding from the state’s water department. “Over 50% of household water usage is outdoors,” said Stephanie Pincetl, a professor and director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at University of California, Los Angeles.

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Nice Monbiot-supported plan, but what difference will it make?

The Rewilding Plan That Would Return Britain To Nature (BBC)

Britain once looked very different. In place of sheep-strewn fields and treeless uplands, there were vast natural forests, glades and wild spaces. Within them, wolves, bears and lynx roamed the land. The first Britons lived alongside woolly mammoths, great auks and wild cows called aurochs. All that is now gone. Humans chopped down the trees to make space for farms, and hunted the large animals to extinction, leaving plant-eaters to decimate the country’s flora. Britain is now one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have top predators. No matter how much we may think England’s green and pleasant countryside is “natural”, it is a pale shadow of what once was – and what could be again. If some conservationists have their way, parts of the UK could be restored to a truly wild state.

This “rewilding” would bring back animals and plants that have been lost, and allow them to roam freely. In these new wild spaces, people could reconnect with animals and plants in a way no park or zoo could ever manage. But it’s also a hugely controversial idea. There are various interpretations of rewilding. The word was coined in 1990 by an American environmentalist named Dave Foreman, who went on to found the Rewilding Institute. Then in 1998, Michael Soulé and Reed Noss set out the core ideas in an article for Wild Earth magazine. The key to rewilding is creating large protected areas in which animals and plants are left to their own devices. The new wildernesses have to be large to support top predators like wolves, which need space and lots of prey.

The top predators are crucial, because they keep down the populations of their prey. These are normally plant-eating animals like deer, which would otherwise run riot and decimate trees and other plant life – and in turn destroy the habitats for many other animals. By keeping plant-eaters in check, top predators allow many more species to flourish. These ripple effects are called “trophic cascades”. Soulé and Noss argued that ecosystems cannot function as they should without top predators or carnivores.

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It’ll take horrible disasters for Brussels to act.

Number of Migrants Trying to Reach Europe via Greece Has Surged by 500% (Vice)

The number of migrants and refugees crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece has increased by 500% since last year, according to European border control agency Frontex. In comparison, the number of migrants attempting the perilous journey across of the Mediterranean to Italy has gone up just 5%, Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri said Wednesday. “When you close off a migration route, another one opens up elsewhere,” Thibaut Jaulin, a research fellow at the Center for International Studies and Research (CERI) at Sciences Po in Paris, told VICE News. European authorities have beefed up surveillance along the Libya-Italy migrant route in an effort to prevent the recurring tragedies in the Mediterranean.

In April, naval border monitoring operation Triton saw its budget tripled from €3 million to €9 million a month. The European Council is also considering launching a military operation in Libyan waters to destroy boats used by Libyan people smugglers. The EU is due to vote on the issue on June 22. The move will also need to be approved by Libya or by the UN Security Council. According to Frontex, the “Eastern Mediterranean Route” – described as “the passage used by migrants crossing through Turkey to the European Union via Greece, southern Bulgaria or Cyprus” – is not a new path for migrants. Since 2008, the route has become the second biggest “migratory hot spot” in the EU, and it was Europe’s “second largest area for detections of illegal border-crossings” in 2014.

Leggeri told French daily Les Échos on Wednesday that some 37,000 migrants had arrived on Europe’s shores through Italy since the beginning of 2015, versus 40,000 through Greece.

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May 032015
 May 3, 2015  Posted by at 1:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  5 Responses »

Jack Delano Near Shawboro, North Carolina, Florida migrants on way to Cranberry, NJ 1940

With US GDP growth ‘officially’ back where it belongs, in the Arctic zone close to freezing on the surface but much worse in real life, for reasons both Albert Edwards and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (not exactly a pair of Siamese twins) remarked this week; that is, excluding the “biggest inventory build in history, the economy contracted sharply”, it’s time for everyone to at long last change the angle from which they view the world, if not the color of their glasses.

But ‘everyone’ will resist, refuse and refute that change, leaving precious few people with an accurate picture of the – economic – world. Still, for you it’s beneficial to acknowledge that very little of what you read holds much, if any, truth or value. This is true when it comes to politics, geopolitics and economics. That is, the US is not a democracy, it is not the supreme leader of the world, and the American economy is not in recovery.

Declining business investment, a record inventory build and extreme borrowing to hold share prices above water through buybacks, it all together paints a picture of a very unhealthy if not outright dying economy, and certainly not one in which anything at all is recovering. But how are you supposed to know?

The entire financial media should change its angle of view, away from the recovery meme (or myth), but the media won’t because the absurd one-dimensional focus on that perpetuated myth is the only thing that makes the present mess somewhat bearable, palatable and, more importantly, marketable, to the general public.

This has the added simultaneous benefit of keeping that same general public from understanding how sinister the myth really is; it can only be upheld by greatly increasing the debt levels which burden their shoulders, in hidden ways. If the media can no longer keep the consequences of the debt increases hidden, the game is up.

And there are undoubtedly many people who find it more important right now to profit from the whole scale distortion by central banks of what were once the financial markets, than they find it to know the truth and understand the system they owe their gains to. But that may no be all that smart; they risk losing their gains again overnight. You can’t rely on what you don’t understand. So here are a notes:

1 – There are no markets anymore (and therefore no investors either).

There are ways to make money, but that’s not the same thing. Markets must of necessity reflect – the performance of – underlying economies, and to even pretend today’s markets do that is preposterous. Financial markets these days exclusively reflect central banks’ pumping money into their respective bankrupt banking systems, a practice poetically known as QE. Markets need to be functional in order to be called markets and if they don’t we should find another term to label them with.

Or, in other words, present day western economies – and their former markets – are being artificially propped up by either making already poor people poorer today, making them poorer tomorrow, or both. It’s the only way left to make things look passable. And those who still desire in these non-markets to call themselves ‘investors’ are merely little piglets sucking spoilt milk oozing from the teats of their mother sow’s long-dead bloated corpse.

2 – You have no idea what anything is truly worth.

Central bank stimulus across the globe has fully demolished price discovery. And whether you like it or not, financial markets can not and do not function without it. Lots of people try to make us believe that central bank announcements have momentarily taken the place of price discovery, but that is nonsense. And if you don’t know what any asset is really worth, how can you be sure you want to own it other than for myopic short-term reasons?

3- There is no recovery now, and there’s not one around the corner.

The weight of our debt, just to name one thing, has kept us from turning that corner for 7-8 years now, and the weight is getting more forbidding, not less. Publishing falling unemployment numbers while out-of-labor-force data rise (to a record 93 million working age Americans today) is an insult to everyone’s intelligence, not a sign of economic health. Whatever is seen as recovery or expansion is a testament to the power of illusion and propaganda, not the power of the economy. If you choose to look at the world from a point of view that focuses only on recovery, you’re not going to understand what is happening, because there is no recovery anywhere in sight.

4- You can’t trust anything your government and media say.

The entire apparatus is geared towards selling you a doctored image of the world you live in, instead of presenting you with reality. Not because as Jack Nicholson said “You can’t handle the truth”, but because you knowing the truth is not in the interest of those who run governments, nations and supranational organizations. You’re caught in a trap somewhere between Goebbels and Orwell, and it takes a lot of energy to escape it, energy you will be inclined and tempted to instead use to improve your position inside the trap. Just like everyone else does. We are social animals, we are disposed to do as those around us do.

As I said above, you can’t trust anything you hear or read about politics, geopolitics and economics:

• The US is not a democracy. You can’t have a democracy and SuperPacs at the same moment. For the hundredth time: if you allow money into your political system, it will end up buying the entire system. And if you allow endless amounts of money to enter it, that process is greatly accelerated.

• The US is not the supreme leader of the world. Today’s world doesn’t allow for a supreme leader. Neither does it need one. Countries like Russia and China will not tolerate American supremacy to dictate what they do. Not economically, and not militarily. This is very hard to stomach for parts of American society, but they’re going to have to get used to it. Going to war over these issues is pointless. Unfortunately, it increasingly looks like the entire globe will have to find that out the hard way. The very hard way.

• The American economy is not in recovery. I already mentioned the creative jobs numbers accounting. Also, without Fed intervention, asset prices (bonds, stocks, real estate..) would be much lower. This would have been a lot healthier for everyone, except for banks and their shareholders. But once QE is unleashed, there is no smooth exit possible. It will need to continue until it self-implodes.

At present, Japan is leading the way to economic self-immolation, but the US and Europe must inevitably follow. The only thing that helps is what the banks most resist: restructuring, cutting the leverage from the debt. But all we get is fantasy stories about how the crisis was left behind. Stories that of course all 42 million or so Americans on foodstamps and tens of millions of otherwise underpaid can confirm. Why am I even trying to show that, and why, there is no recovery?

We need to start thinking from the perspective of what we can and must do if and when that elusive and illusionary recovery is not going to happen. Decisions made from that point of view will substantially differ from those taken in order to ‘produce’ the recovery, which is the only perspective that exists in politics, media and indeed the minds of 99% of the population today.

We need to think about how we’re going to lay a foundation, as solid as we can, under our societies now, with the means we still possess to achieve that, knowing there will be times when those means will be increasingly less available. We’re not doing that, because we focus only on a world that does manage to attain a recovery. We truly think the world is one-dimensional.

Which is why, among other things, we strive to make individuals richer, and fail to see that this makes communities and societies poorer. Everything seems fine as long as we deny the bigger picture, and because we like things to look fine, we stick to that one dimension of our world that is ourself. And ignore each other.

Apr 282015

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

The New Nothingness (Steen Jakobsen)
The Real War On The Middle Class (Ron Paul)
Over Half Of Americans Killed By Police Each Year Are Mentally Ill (Economist)
Who Is Really Choosing America’s Next President? (ProPublica)
If Greece Falls, No One Wants Their Prints On The Murder Weapon (Reuters)
Greece Shakes Up EU-IMF Talks Team But Keeps Varoufakis (AFP)
Greece PM Leaves Referendum Option Open, Rules Out Elections (Reuters)
Grexit, Grimbo, now Grexhaustion, Acropolis Now?
Greek President Promises Repayment of all Debt (Spiegel)
The Limits Of Propaganda (Dmitry Orlov)
Leaking CIA Secrets Leads To Severe Punishment, Unless You Are The Boss (RT)
Maryland Governor Declares State of Emergency, Activates National Guard (CBS)
The Hidden Lives Of Chernobyl’s Wildlife (BBC)
Norway’s Shift From Oil Starts With Two Left Feet (Bloomberg)
BP Oil Hunt Off Australia Coast Causes Fear of Another Deepwater Horizon (BBG)
East Australia 1 Of 11 Areas Good For 80% Of World Forest Loss (Guardian)
Is The Universe Really A 2-D Hologram? (Science Daily)

Best line in a while: “..I am normally introduced as someone who has predicted five of the last two crises.”

The New Nothingness (Steen Jakobsen)

“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.” – Churchill

I have noticed a very troubling trend recently – everywhere I go, I’m the optimist. This concerns me and should concern you as well as I am normally introduced as someone who has predicted five of the last two crises. I write this on the Copenhagen-bound plane that brings me back from a visit to Slovenia and Croatia, where everyone has given up on the future. I found the same on a recent trip to Hong Kong and Australia, and on another occasion in Turkey before that. We have zero growth, zero inflation and zero hope. That combination has left the countries of this circumstance in total apathy as zero rates are being interpreted as meaning that no reforms are needed. No inflation means no new margins as well as no new wage bargaining, and zero hope means politics and elections may change the affiliation of countries’ leaders, but not their politics and certainly not their vision for the future.

This is one of the unintended consequences of zero-bound economies and policies. This apathy has, however, reached a zenith-point that needs to be addressed. Media and policymakers continue to talk about what we can’t do, leaving no room for talk of we can do and characterising dreams as mere fantasies, things best left to children. This new nothingness is creating a youth, a political system and an economic outlook which is based more in peoples’ heads and minds than it is in reality. Every country I visit has terrible macro policies, and features a political class who are mainly interested in maintaining the status quo (as well as a dynamic micro economy). There are always business people and students who are willing to do more and better – to go higher, longer and further – but they are drowned in this “nothingness reality”.

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“These politicians also disregard the harm US foreign policy inflicts on Americans.”

The Real War On The Middle Class (Ron Paul)

One of the great ironies of American politics is that most politicians who talk about helping the middle class support policies that, by expanding the welfare-warfare state, are harmful to middle-class Americans. Eliminating the welfare-warfare state would benefit middle-class Americans by freeing them from exorbitant federal taxes, including the Federal Reserve’s inflation tax. Politicians serious about helping middle-class Americans should allow individuals to opt out of Social Security and Medicare by not having to pay payroll taxes if they agree to never accept federal retirement or health care benefits. Individuals are quite capable of meeting their own unique retirement and health care needs if the government stops forcing them into one-size-fits-all plans.

Middle-class families with college-age children would benefit if government got out of the student loan business. Government involvement in higher education is the main reason tuition is skyrocketing and so many Americans are graduating with huge student loan debts. College graduates entering the job market would certainly benefit if Congress stopped imposing destructive regulations and taxes on the economy. Politicians who support an interventionist foreign policy are obviously not concerned with the harm inflicted on the middle-class populations of countries targeted for regime change. These politicians also disregard the harm US foreign policy inflicts on Americans. Middle- and working-class Americans, and their families, who join the military certainly suffer when they are maimed or killed fighting in unjust and unconstitutional wars.

Our interventionist foreign policy also contributes to the high tax burden imposed on middle-class Americans. Middle-class Americans also suffer from intrusions on their liberty and privacy, such as not being able to board an airplane unless they submit to invasive and humiliating searches. Even children and the physically disabled are not safe from the Transposition Security Administration. These assaults are justified by the threat of terrorism, a direct result of our interventionist foreign policy that fosters hatred and resentment of Americans.

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So are their killers.

Over Half Of Americans Killed By Police Each Year Are Mentally Ill (Economist)

To the sound of electric guitars, heavily armed police officers fire assault rifles, drive squad cars fast and pull their guns on fleeing crooks. “Are you qualified to join the thin blue line?” asks a narrator, in the sort of breathless voice you might expect in a trailer for “Fast & Furious 7”. The advert’s aim is not to sell movie tickets, however, but to recruit police officers in Gainesville, a city of 127,000 in Florida. Would-be cops who take this video seriously are likely to be disappointed. The reality of the job, as one officer from a large west-coast agency explains, is far less glamorous. “The public want us to come up and deal with a neighbour who is mowing their lawn at 3am. They want us to deal with their disruptive child. They want us to deal with the crazy person who is walking down the street shouting.”

As crime has fallen across America since the 1990s, policing has shifted more towards social work than the drama seen on TV. Police culture, however, has not caught up. The gap may help to explain why American police are so embattled. The latest controversy is the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man from Baltimore who died on April 19th after being arrested (six officers have since been suspended). That followed the killing on April 4th in South Carolina of a 50-year-old man, Walter Scott, who was shot in the back by a police officer after running away from his car (the officer was charged with murder after a video of the killing emerged). In another case in Tulsa on April 2nd, a 73-year-old reserve police officer killed a man when he accidentally fired his gun instead of his taser. All three victims were black.

No one knows how many people die in contact with America’s roughly 18,000 law-enforcement agencies. The FBI publishes reports, but police forces are not required to submit data. The incomplete FBI figures show that at least 461 people died in “justifiable homicides” in 2013, an increase of 33% since 2005. Other sources suggest the true number could be as high as twice that. In Britain, by contrast, police shot and killed precisely no one in 2013. American police resort to violence more partly because they meet it more. “We’ve never had a population who are so well-armed,” points out Ron Teachman, the chief of police in South Bend, Indiana. Twenty-six police officers were killed with guns in the line of duty in 2013, far more than in any other rich country.

“When you go to a police academy, the first thing they say to you is that it’s dangerous and you could get killed out there,” says Jim Bueermann, a retired police chief and the head of the Police Foundation, a think-tank. Yet fewer police officers are killed now than in the past, and the number who are shot is less than the number who die in traffic accidents. Over time, suggests Mr Bueermann, a justified alertness to danger may have warped into a belief that the swift use of force is the only thing keeping cops safe. At its worst, this manifests itself in a fiercely defensive culture. For example, in Seattle last year more than 100 cops sued the Department of Justice to protest against a revised use-of-force policy, arguing that it would cripple morale and endanger cops (the case, which was not supported by the city’s police union, was thrown out).

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The amounts are stunning. Democracy?

Who Is Really Choosing America’s Next President? (ProPublica)

Super PACS that get nearly all of their money from one donor quadrupled their share of overall fund-raising in 2014. The wealthiest Americans can fly on their own jets, live in gated compounds and watch movies in their own theaters. More of them also are walling off their political contributions from other big and small players. A growing number of political committees known as super PACs have become instruments of single donors, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal records. During the 2014 election cycle, $113 million – 16% of money raised by all super PACs – went to committees dominated by one donor. That was quadruple their 2012 share. The rise of single-donor groups is a new example of how changes in campaign finance law are giving outsized influence to a handful of funders.

The trend may continue into 2016. Last week, National Review reported that Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination would be boosted not by one anointed super PAC but four, each controlled by a single donor or donor family. The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling helped usher in the era of super PACs. Unlike traditional political action committees, the independent groups can accept donations of any dollar size as long as they don’t coordinate with the campaign of any candidate. Previously, much of the focus in big-money fundraising was on “bundlers” – volunteers who tap friends and associates for maximum individual contributions of $5,400 to a candidate, then deliver big lump sums directly to the campaigns. Former president George W. Bush awarded his most prolific bundlers special titles such as “Ranger” and “Pioneer.”

While bundling intensified the impact of wealthy donors on campaigns, the dollar limits and the need to join with others diluted the influence of any one person. With a super PAC, a donor can single-handedly push a narrower agenda. Last year, National Journal profiled one such donor – a California vineyard owner who helped start the trend by launching his own super PAC and becoming a power player in a Senate race across the country. Beyond the single-donor groups, big donations are dominant across all kinds of super PACs, according to the analysis. Six-figure contributions from individuals or organizations accounted for almost 50% of all super PAC money raised during the last two cycles. “We are anointing an aristocracy that’s getting a stronger and stronger grip on democracy,” said Miles Rapoport, president of Common Cause, an advocacy group that seeks to reduce the influence of money on politics.

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They can’t escape it.

If Greece Falls, No One Wants Their Prints On The Murder Weapon (Reuters)

While Greece’s leaders insist Europe must heed and respect the democratic will of the Greek people, its creditors reply that they too have democratic mandates from their voters. In Varoufakis’ narrative, euro zone countries did not lend all that money to save Greece in the first place but to protect their own banks, which had imprudently lent Athens billions. Nonsense, say euro zone officials. Those banks took losses in 2012 when Greek debt to private bondholders was restructured. Varoufakis has widened the circle of blame to the ECB, accusing it of «asphyxiating» Greece by starving its banks of liquidity and severely limiting their short-term lending to the government.

That prompted an indignant response from ECB President Mario Draghi, who told the European Parliament the central bank’s support for Greece amounted to some €110 billion, but it was barred by treaty from monetary funding of governments. For weeks Greek officials have been telling their euro zone counterparts they have run out of money, only to find spare cash to make the next debt payment. “They have cried wolf so often that when they are really going bust, no one will believe them,” one EU negotiator said on condition of anonymity. Insiders say the ECB is determined that the central bank will not be the institution that pulls the plug. If it considers support for Greek banks is no longer tenable, it will seek a political decision by European Union governments. “This is not something unelected central bankers should decide,» a source in the Eurosystem of central banks said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is eager to hold Tsipras’ hand until the last minute in the hope that he will impose an unpalatable economic reform deal on left-wingers in his Syriza party before it is too late. For Juncker, one of the fathers of Europe’s single currency, the departure of a single member from the 19-nation euro zone would be a grievous blow to the bloc’s global standing and could set a dangerous precedent, encouraging investors to speculate against other member states in future crises. Even if it stayed in the euro zone, a Greek default on other European governments or the ECB would be one of the most acrimonious moments in the history of the EU. Amid mutual recrimination over ruined Greek savers and cheated European taxpayers, some fear demonstrations by Greek pensioners or hospital patients and violence in Athens. If it happens, there will be plenty of blame to go around, but no one to take responsibility.

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Lot of goal-seeked mis-reporting on this.

Greece Shakes Up EU-IMF Talks Team But Keeps Varoufakis (AFP)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras shook up the team handling crucial talks with its creditors Monday after relations between his embattled finance minister and the EU hit a new low. A government statement said a “political negotiation team” would be formed under junior foreign minister Euclid Tsakalotos, a 55-year-old Dutch-born economics professor, to assist the troubled talks after months of fruitless discussions on Athens’ new loan deal. While some see the move as an attempt to sideline Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose negotiating style has infuriated Brussels, the radical left government insisted that it would continue to support the maverick economics professor against “manipulated” media attacks.

A government source claimed that the changes did not affect Varoufakis, who will be in charge of Tsakalotos’ “political team”. “This changes nothing as far as Varoufakis is concerned,” the official told AFP. “He will continue to represent Greece at Eurogroup meetings.” The move on Monday came after a stormy Eurogroup meeting in Riga last week where Varoufakis was reportedly “isolated” by his fellow finance European ministers. He reacted by quoting former American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), who spurred major reforms in the United States after the Great Depression. “FDR, 1936: ‘They are unanimous in their hate for me; and I welcome their hatred,'” Varoufakis tweeted on Sunday.

Analysts saw Greece’s reshuffling of its negotiators, with another co-ordinating team to be formed to support talks with EU-IMF officials in Athens, as a bid to placate its creditors. “To bypass Varoufakis and make clear the seriousness of the situation to the Prime Minister directly following the Riga shouting match between finance ministers, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem reportedly phoned Tsipras after the meeting,” Christian Schulz, a senior economist at Berenberg said. “Tsipras called German chancellor Merkel on Sunday, with German sources describing the tone of the talk as ‘positive’. However, as long as the institutions and Eurozone finance minister can’t certify that Greece is doing the requested reforms, Greece can’t get fresh money,” he added.

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Greece PM Leaves Referendum Option Open, Rules Out Elections (Reuters)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday said he would have to resort to a popular referendum if lenders insist on demands that the government deems unacceptable but was confident of striking a deal to avoid such a scenario. Athens is weeks away from running out of cash, but talks with EU and IMF lenders on more aid have been deadlocked over reform measures including pension cuts and labour market liberalisation that Greece must implement. Speculation has grown that Tsipras could call elections or a referendum to break the impasse. In his first major television interview since being elected in January, Tsipras said he expected a deal with creditors by May 9, three days before a debt payment to the IMF of about €750 million falls due.

He ruled out a default but stressed that the government’s priority was to pay wages and pensions. Pressed on what the government’s options were if no deal was found, Tsipras ruled out snap elections, saying it had only been a few months since the government had been voted in. But he said the government did not have the right to accept demands from lenders that fell outside the limits of its mandate to end austerity cuts and would have to ask Greeks to decide. “If the solution falls outside our mandate, I will not have the right to violate it, so the solution to which we will come to will have to be approved by the Greek people,” Tsipras told Star television in the interview. “But I am certain we will not reach that point. Despite the difficulties, the possibilities to win in the negotiations are large. We should not give in to panic moves. Whoever gets scared in this game loses.” [..]

Some of his sharpest comments were reserved for the previous government and certain unnamed quarters in Europe, which he accused of laying a “trap” for his government when it took power in the hope of tripping it up. “They derive pleasure from the prospect of a failure in the talks,” he said, saying his government took over a “minefield” when it came to power in January. “We received a country that was in a situation of financial asphyxiation.” He also hit out at the ECB, calling its decision to place a cap on Treasury bill purchases by banks – which prevented banks from financing the government – a “politically and ethically unorthodox” decision.

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“I’m sure it’ll get worse as the days go by..”

Grexit, Grimbo, now Grexhaustion, Acropolis Now?

The standoff between Greece and its creditors has spawned another bit of rivalry: the battle among analysts to coin the latest buzzword for the painfully protracted drama. “There’s definitely an element of who can come up with the best word to fit the scenario,” said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG. Word play on Greece has been picking up this month. Last week brought the word “Grimbo,” or Greece in limbo, coined by a group of Citigroup economists – led by Chief Economist Willem Buiter. They are the same people responsible for the now widely-used “Grexit” term in February 2012, when the idea Greece might leave the euro zone first became a possibility. On Friday, economists at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch decided they wanted in on the game as well, coining “Grexhaustion.”

“There is always a deadline after the final deadline (contributing to the Grexhaustion),” economists Gilles Moec and Ruben Segura-Cayuela wrote, noting that the continual confrontation between Greece and its creditors has had one major casualty: the country’s economy. “Traders have gotten fairly comfortable with the idea of where Greece is, so there’s a bit of mocking and complacency,” said Weston, who suggested “Gretch” as a potential entrant. “Outside of the pain clearly evident in Greece, the rest of the world is quite happy to coin these great phrases as long as it doesn’t see a pickup in [market] volatility.” The Greece situation remains a Sisyphean mire. Over the weekend, media reports said the country’s colorful finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, faced a tough crowd and numerous snubs at a Latvian meeting with his euro zone counterparts.

The country is running out of cash and it needs a last tranche of bailout aid in order to meet debt repayments and to pay its domestic wages and pension bill this month. On Monday, Greece revamped its negotiating team, taking Varoufakis off the field and tapping Deputy Foreign Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, an economist well liked by officials representing creditors, as coordinator. Fresh entrants to the Greek vocabulary one-upsmanship are likely already lurking in the wings. “I’m sure it’ll get worse as the days go by,” said Richard Jerram, chief economist at Bank of Singapore, noting that the first two letters of the country’s name lend themselves well to word play. “A lot of countries couldn’t really do that,” Jerram noted, although he added that he finds other vocabulary plays more amusing than the ones that involve just “shoving ‘Gr’ in front,” such as “Acropolis Now,” a play on the movie title “Apocalypse Now.”

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And next up, we have….

Greek President Promises Repayment of all Debt (Spiegel)

Time is running out for Greece and its international creditors. If an agreement isn’t found by June, the country will face insolvency. The new Greek president, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, has now told SPIEGEL ONLINE his views on the conflict: He rules out the possibility of a Grexit and promises that all the loans made to Greece will be paid back, but he is also critical of past austerity programs. “Some of the measures imposed on us go beyond EU law,” Pavlopoulos said to SPIEGEL ONLINE at his official residence in Athens. “We want to be equal members of Europe. Among other things, the law professor feels that international lenders’ criticisms of the minimum wage and other labor rights in his country are problematic.

Pavlopoulos pointed out that in Germany, too, there is a minimum standard of living. “We are not asking for anything more than for the Greek people to enjoy what Germany’s Constitutional Court considers as an established social right for the German people,” Pavlopoulos said. He also claimed that parts of the austerity programs “were not at all growth friendly, but rather would lead the Greek economy to a recessionary course.” Pavlopoulos is a member of the conservative Nea Dimokratia party and has been in office since March. Earlier in his career, he served as an advisor to former Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis, who led Greece as it transitioned from a military dictatorship to a European democracy. The comments mark the first time the new president has expressed his views on the euro debt dispute to any German media organization.

“Greece in the late 1970s fought a great battle to join Europe,” the president noted. For him, he said, it was “not conceivable to see Greece outside of Europe.” He also said that he views a Grexit, Greek’s possible exit from the euro zone, as unthinkable. “The thought of Grexit does not even enter my mind,” he said. Although Greece is under tremendous financial stress, with the government now forcing hospitals, universities and public agencies to hand over their savings to the central bank. Pavlopoulos stated that his country would fulfill all of its obligations. “We pay everything we owe to the last euro,” he said. “We need to keep a balanced budget and gradually decrease our debt.” The president also expressed optimism that the dispute over Greece’s debt can still be resolved. Pavlopoulos said negotiations for a new bailout program are “entering the home stretch.”

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“..their only option is to try to squelch every voice except their own.”

The Limits Of Propaganda (Dmitry Orlov)

As Paul Craig Roberts has recently reported, the US government is in the process of launching an all-out war on truth. Those who express views contrary to the party line out of Washington will be labeled a threat. Eventually they may find themselves carted to one of the concentration camps which Halliburton (Dick Cheney’s old company) has constructed for $385 million. But that may take a while. In the meantime, we can expect lots of other, less dramatic developments.

Indeed, some of these are already happening. Here they are, listed in order of severity.

1. Self-censorship. Those who have previously tried to get the truth out no matter out become more reticent and prone to equivocation when reporting on “hot” issues.

2. Topic-avoidance. They start avoiding certain “hot” issues that they feel are most likely to get them into trouble.

3. Response to harassment. A few incidents of mild official harassment cause certain blogs to start watering down their content, or pulling down content in response to harassment.

4. Blacklisting. The officials start censoring content on a case-by-case basis, blocking or shutting down certain internet sites that they consider seditious.

5. Blocking communications. The officials start dealing with the “hard cases” of uncooperative individuals who remain, shutting down their communications by disabling their cell phones, shutting down internet access, and by imposing travel restrictions so that the “hard cases” are forced to remain in places where they can be watched.

6. Detention. Those found to be truly uncooperative, who try to circumvent the restrictions, are rounded up and shipped off to the above-mentioned camps.

This may seem like a dire prognosis, but actually I just want to present a relatively complete list of public measures for your consideration. Yes, there will be a few “hard cases” who will insist on getting right in the face of Washington officialdom in futile hopes of somehow affecting the political process or winning over a few of their compatriots. But at some point such individuals become indistinguishable from people with mental problems. That is because if you live in the US, actually know how the political system there operates, and still think that the US is a democracy, then you DO have a mental problem. You can’t have it both ways: either you buy into the official propaganda, or you don’t.

Also, it bears pointing out that the vast majority of people in the US are quite happy listening to Washington’s propaganda, be it from Fox or NPR, don’t consider it propaganda, and have been conditioned to consider anyone who attempts to tell them the truth to be tin hat-wearing conspiracy theorist nut case. And that means that tin hat-wearing conspiracy theorist nut cases have a role to play. They are important to have, in the same way that a village idiot is important to have, so that children can learn what idiocy looks and sounds like. So, why bother sending them to a concentration camp? And so it seems likely that the village idiots… ahem, truth-tellers will remain free-range for the time being, unless they really lose it and start tilting at windmills. But then that becomes a bona fide mental health issue.

Unless, of course, full-on war hysteria breaks out. In that case, while the external goons are busy pretending to be “not winning, not losing” but somehow “keeping America safe” in yet another wretched part of the world, the internal goons have to be kept busy. Rounding up undesirables would give them something to do. That’s the state of affairs in the United States and its subservient territories: Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and a few others. But Washington’s propaganda isn’t working at all well in the rest of the world, be it Russia or China or Latin America.

In all of these places, Washington’s message control has more or less failed. This is why the people in Washington are in a bit of a panic, and labeling internal dissidents as a “threat” is just them flailing in search of an answer. They can’t stop lying, and they can’t even pretend to rule the world if everyone knows that they are lying, so their only option is to try to squelch every voice except their own. They may succeed at this within the US (some would say they already have) but as far as the rest of the world—good luck!

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Aint’ that the truth.

Leaking CIA Secrets Leads To Severe Punishment, Unless You Are The Boss (RT)

The problem with the lenient treatment of former CIA Director, David Petraeus, isn’t that he was lightly punished for his leaks. It is that other whistleblowers are punished at all. It’s a tale of two CIA employees. The first, Jeffrey Sterling, has just been convicted of leaking information about a bungled agency sortie to James Risen, a reporter. The operation took place almost 20 years ago, around the time everyone was doing the Macarena and Tom Cruise’s first Mission Impossible movie was released. Federal prosecutors are calling for a 24-year prison sentence for Sterling. The second, David Petraeus, has already learned his fate. He received a $100,000 fine and two-years probation. The six-figure sum may seem like a lot to you, but it’s less than the former 4-star general earns for a single speech.

Petraeus was the boss, Sterling an underling. However, Sterling’s so-called misdemeanor pales into insignificance when compared to Petraeus’ actions. The latter handed his lover, Paula Broadwell, information on the identities of covert officers, diplomatic discussions, war strategy and even private chats with the current US President, Barack Obama. This is about as top-level as it gets. Petraeus’ apologists emphasize that the difference between the two cases is that the public never learned the information that Broadwell was given. They use this to justify the leniency shown to the almost four-decade military veteran. Nevertheless, the case of John Kiriakou rather knocks this defense on the head. In 2007, Kiriakou admitted that the CIA had a secret torture program.

The following year, authorities issued criminal charges against him for slipping a journalist the name of a covert agent. As in Petraeus’ case, this name wasn’t published. Regardless, in 2012 Kiriakou was handed a 30-month federal prison sentence. He was partially released in February. Kiriakou freely admitted to his mistakes and those of the CIA. It’s pretty certain that his honesty was his downfall. On the contrary, Petraeus initially lied to FBI officials when they quizzed him about his, probably inadvertent, whistleblowing activities. Lying to federal agents is a felony that carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. For reasons unknown, the former CIA Director wasn’t charged with lying.

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Long time coming.

Maryland Governor Declares State of Emergency, Activates National Guard (CBS)

Governor Larry Hogan has declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard to address the growing violence and unrest in Baltimore City. “I have not made this decision lightly. The National Guard represents a last resort in order to restore order,” Hogan said during a news conference Monday night. “People have the right to protest and express their frustration, but Baltimore City families deserve peace and safety in their communities and these acts of violence and destruction of property cannot and will not be tolerated.” Hogan said he executed the request 30 seconds after it was made by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “When the mayor called me, which quite frankly we were glad that she finally did, we signed the executive order,” he said.

“It’s obviously very disappointing to us as Marylanders and people who love the city of Baltimore. What started out as a peaceful protest … I would say 95% of the people involved were conducting themselves in a very peaceful manner, it was well under control. We had a lot of outside agitators come in from around the country, and we had some rogue gangs and young people that were just out looking to cause problems.” Major General Linda Singh, the adjutant general of the Maryland Army National Guard, said during the news conference that the guard would be out in activation beginning Monday night. Up to 5,000 troops were available to patrol the streets and protect property. Hogan said he spoke to President Obama at length about the violence.

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Curious phenomenon. You’d need to check disease rates, though.

The Hidden Lives Of Chernobyl’s Wildlife (BBC)

Automatic cameras in the Ukrainian side of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone have provided an insight into the previously unseen secret lives of wildlife that have made the contaminated landscape their home Throughout 2015, the cameras will be positioned at 84 locations, allowing a team of scientists to record the type of animals passing through the area and where they make their home. In the first four months since the cameras were deployed, the team has “trapped” more than 10,000 images of animals, suggesting the 30km zone, established shortly after the April 1986 disaster when a nuclear reactor exploded, ejecting radioactive material across the surrounding terrain and high into the atmosphere, is now home to a rich diversity of wildlife.

The network of cameras is gathering data that will help scientists choose the most appropriate species to fit with collars that will then record the level of radioactive exposure the animal receives as it travels across the zone. “We want an animal that moves over areas of different contamination – that’s the key thing we need,” explained project leader Mike Wood from the University of Salford, UK. “So we would consider some of the larger animals, such as wolves, because they would be ideal because the way the animal moves through the areas actually affects its contamination levels.” Commenting on the herds of Przewalski’s horses, Dr Wood observed: “They seem to have adapted quite well to life within the zone. “From the images from our cameras, they are clearly moving around in quite large groups,” he told BBC News.

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“This is hardly a good starting point for a major transition.”

Norway’s Shift From Oil Starts With Two Left Feet (Bloomberg)

Norway’s prime minister is fond of saying the nation is facing a “new normal” as a decade-long boom in its petroleum industry starts to fade. Erna Solberg has given little explanation of what that means, except to say that “knowledge is the next oil” and “fish will be Norway’s Ikea,” ideas she echoed in a speech on Friday at her party’s annual convention in Oslo. It’s no wonder then that economists are scratching their heads as to what will fill the gap in the economy once oil takes up less space. The biggest element crippling the oil and non-oil industry is the exorbitant price of labor. Average hourly wage costs in Norway were 47% higher than those in the European Union last year, according to government statistics.

“And that’s after taking into account the considerable weakening of the krone through 2013 and 2014,” said Kari Due-Andresen, chief economist at Svenska Handelsbanken. “This is hardly a good starting point for a major transition.” Rising oil and gas prices over the last 15 years kept Norway afloat, even during the financial crisis when the rest of the world was suffering. As western Europe’s biggest crude producer, the country relies on oil and gas for more than one-fifth of its gross domestic product. With oil investments set to drop and Brent crude stuck around $65 per barrel, politicians, economists and the central banker agree the nation’s economy needs some remodeling. So if the oil economy is slowing, what’s Norway left with?

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There’ll be many.

BP Oil Hunt Off Australia Coast Causes Fear of Another Deepwater Horizon (BBG)

Five years after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill poured millions of barrels of crude into the sea, BP Plc is being challenged over its hunt for oil in the pristine waters off southern Australia. Just over a year before the U.K.-based company has said it expects to start drilling, environmentalists say the company hasn’t yet disclosed its full emergency-response plans for a potential spill in the Great Australian Bight, home to about 18 threatened species from whales to turtles. BP’s initial models show a less than 10% chance that a worst-case incident would lead to oil threatening areas where whales are likely to feed. It’s clear the project will face significant scrutiny before drilling begins.

“The Gulf of Mexico scenario was an absolute disaster, but the stakes are much higher out here,” said Peter Owen, the Wilderness Society’s South Australia director. “This is an undeveloped, non-industrialized part of the world, and the risks are high. It’s very deep, very rough and very remote.” BP said that it has “the technological capability and expertise to safely explore the Great Australian Bight,” according to an e-mailed statement. The company had initially planned to begin drilling in early 2016 and pushed that out because of potential delays with the rig.

More than 85% of species in the Bight aren’t found anywhere else, according to Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization. Species in the Bight include the southern right, sperm and blue whales as well as sea lions and sharks. BP estimated last year it would spend more than A$1 billion ($785 million) to drill 400 kilometers (250 miles) west of Port Lincoln, in a region it describes as “pretty much the last big unexplored basin in the whole world.” About 250 kilometers to the north, endangered southern right whales gather to give birth, drawing visitors to cliff-top lookouts on the nearby coast.

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Let’s get to number 1!

East Australia 1 Of 11 Areas Good For 80% Of World Forest Loss (Guardian)

Eastern Australia is one of the world’s 11 deforestation hotspots that together will account for 80% of global forest loss by 2030, a new report has warned. Between 3m hectares and 6m hectares of rainforest and temperate forest, mainly stretching across New South Wales and Queensland, could be lost between 2010 and 2030 on current trends, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Forests report. This deforestation is part of a wider loss that could reach 170m hectares of forest worldwide by 2030 in 11 key areas, including the Amazon, Borneo, Sumatra, the Congo Basin and East Africa. Ten of the 11 areas are found in the tropics and contain some of the greatest biodiversity in the world, including animals such as tigers, orangutans and gorillas, as well as Indigenous communities.

About 70% of the eastern forests of Australia have already been cleared or disturbed, with just 18% of the area under any sort of protection, the WWF report states. Australia’s forestry loss has primarily been caused by land clearing for livestock, with unsustainable logging and mining also blamed for tree felling. WWF said the watering down of environmental protections by the previous LNP government in Queensland led to a sharp rise in land clearing, with 275,000ha torn down in the past financial year – a tripling of vegetation loss rates since 2010.

While the new Labor state government has promised to reverse this loss, the New South Wales government is set to amend land-clearing protections, despite pledging $100m to protect the state’s threatened plants and animals. “We are deeply concerned about NSW,” said Dermot O’Gorman, chief executive of WWF Australia. “These are laws that have been shown to have been effective in saving hundreds of thousands of animals, so it’s important that biodiversity continues to be protected. “Maintaining forest protections is vital at state level. We’ve lost the large majority of the eastern Australian forest, which means the remaining forests are even more important to maintain. “If business as usual continues, we will see more Australian species disappear, as well as the continuing decline of our water, topsoil and local and regional climate.”

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“Our universe, in contrast, is quite flat – and on astronomic distances, it has positive curvature..”

Is The Universe Really A 2-D Hologram? (Science Daily)

At first glance, there is not the slightest doubt: to us, the universe looks three dimensional. But one of the most fruitful theories of theoretical physics in the last two decades is challenging this assumption. The “holographic principle” asserts that a mathematical description of the universe actually requires one fewer dimension than it seems. What we perceive as three dimensional may just be the image of two dimensional processes on a huge cosmic horizon. Up until now, this principle has only been studied in exotic spaces with negative curvature. This is interesting from a theoretical point of view, but such spaces are quite different from the space in our own universe. Results obtained by scientists at TU Wien (Vienna) now suggest that the holographic principle even holds in a flat spacetime.

Everybody knows holograms from credit cards or banknotes. They are two dimensional, but to us they appear three dimensional. Our universe could behave quite similarly: “In 1997, the physicist Juan Maldacena proposed the idea that there is a correspondence between gravitational theories in curved anti-de-sitter spaces on the one hand and quantum field theories in spaces with one fewer dimension on the other,” says Daniel Grumiller (TU Wien). Gravitational phenomena are described in a theory with three spatial dimensions, the behaviour of quantum particles is calculated in a theory with just two spatial dimensions – and the results of both calculations can be mapped onto each other.

Such a correspondence is quite surprising. It is like finding out that equations from an astronomy textbook can also be used to repair a CD-player. But this method has proven to be very successful. More than ten thousand scientific papers about Maldacena’s “AdS-CFT-correspondence” have been published to date. For theoretical physics, this is extremely important, but it does not seem to have much to do with our own universe. Apparently, we do not live in such an anti-de-sitter-space. These spaces have quite peculiar properties. They are negatively curved, any object thrown away on a straight line will eventually return. “Our universe, in contrast, is quite flat – and on astronomic distances, it has positive curvature,” says Daniel Grumiller.

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Mar 302015

Gottscho-Schleisner Fulton Market pier, view to Manhattan over East River, NY 1934

Increasingly over the past year or so, when people ask me what I do, and that happens a lot on a trip like the one I’m currently on in the world of down under, I find myself not just stating the usual ‘I write about finance and energy’, but adding: ‘it seems to become more and more about geopolitics too’. And it’s by no means just me: a large part of the ‘alternative finance blogosphere’, or whatever you wish to call it, is shifting towards that same orientation.

Not that no-one ever wrote about geopolitics before, but it used to be far less prevalent. Much of that, I think, has to do with a growing feeling of discontent with the manner in which a number of topics are handled by the major media and the political world. Moreover, as would seem obvious, certain topics lay bare in very transparent ways how finance and geopolitics are intertwined.

In the past year, we’ve seen the crash of the oil price, which will have – financial and political – effects in the future that dwarf what we’ve seen thus far. We’ve seen Europe and its banks stepping up their efforts to wrestle Greece into – financial and political – submission. And then there’s the nigh unparalleled propaganda machine that envelops the Ukraine-Crimea-Russia issue, which has bankrupted the economy of the first and imposed heavy economic sanctions on the latter, for political reasons.

And while there are plenty people out there all across the west who may feel convinced that Greece had it coming, that waging wars in far away lands is the only way to keep the west safe, and that Putin is the biggest and meanest bogeyman this side of Stalin, if not worse, many also have come to question the official version(s) of events. Something that, if you ask me, is always good, even if it doesn’t mean the conclusions arrived at are always top notch.

For that matter, even Société Générale does geopolitical commentary, as evidenced in a note published by Tyler Durden:

Western sanctions have exerted a broad-based negative impact on Russian businesses. The cost of borrowing has climbed considerably not just for sanctioned institutions, but also for other Russian entities. Risk management departments across global enterprises are likely to continue erring on the side of caution, continually assessing the risk of sanctions materializing for counterparties in Russia. Normalization of business practices may only reemerge long after the removal of sanctions. Although this does not mean completely avoiding interactions with Russian entities, businesses and investors are increasingly cautious and selective in their participation…

Western sanctions against Russia may persist indefinitely. Some locals believe in the likelihood of de-escalation later this year, pointing to the lack of political cohesion and unanimity among Europe’s political leaders, and increasing calls for easing of sanctions. Russian businesses believe that escalation of sanctions may be hard to implement, given that they will also hurt European counterparties.

Some local asset managers are optimistic on the performance of Russian assets later this year, based on a perceived high likelihood of improvement in geopolitics. Although locals differ in their assessment of the timeline when sanctions may be lifted, they appear united in their support and admiration of President Putin. Few care to speculate on President Putin’s ultimate game plan, or whether one exists, citing the opacity of the situation. With that said, locals broadly concur that Russia would never (again) relinquish Crimea. In this light, Western sanctions against Russia based on its annexation of Crimea may persist indefinitely…

While in my opinion the conclusions in the note leave to be desired, which may be an indication that the boys are somewhat new to the topic, the very fact that SocGen issues notes about geopolitics, and uses the term itself, is interesting and – to an extent – solidifies the link about finance and geopolitics I noted before.

Still, I’, inclined to think that when it comes to Greece, the bank’s analysts are capable of leaving their narrow finance perch behind for a broader vista that allows for a view that makes Greece a political instead of a financial issue. Because that’s what is has become, whether the parties involved wish to acknowledge it or not.

Greece, like Ukraine, is about power politics, executed at about the same level of intelligence and sophistication that you and I had when we are still playing in a sandbox. And finance, economics, is one of the very favorite weapons to try and get the side perceived as weaker to say Uncle.

And that in and of itself is still far from the worst thing. The worst is that what reaches the general public about these power games – which are far from innocent, they kill, maim, hurt real people – is a distorted and simplified precooked storyline, so hardly anyone can make up their own mind about what happens. That is why the ‘alternative finance blogosphere’ feels increasingly compelled to cover that part of the story as well.

This is also a major problem in the more domestic issue of economic recovery. Unless we would agree, which we really shouldn’t, that making a small group of the population richer while the much larger rest is made poorer, is how we define ‘recovery’, we have no recovery. But it is still accepted and proclaimed like a gospel: our economies are in recovery.

If you take a step back and watch things from a distance, it’s truly too silly to be true, but endless repetition of the same lines, be they true or not, has them accepted as being cast in stone. It’s like selling detergent. It’s exactly like that: say something often enough and people start to believe it, connect to it. Of course it doesn’t hurt that people very much want to believe a recovery is here. Just as they want to believe product X will turn them into shiny happy people dressed in ultra white shirts.

And of the best pieces I’ve seen in a while on the illusionary recovery topic comes from Scott Minerd at Guggenheim Partners, writing in the FT:

QE Will Lower Living Standards Long Term

New monetary orthodoxy is likely to permanently impair living standards for generations to come, while creating a false perception of reviving prosperity. As economic growth returns again to Europe and Japan, the prospect of a synchronous global expansion is taking hold. Or, then again, maybe not. In a recent research piece published by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, global economic growth, as measured in nominal US dollars, is projected to decline in 2015 for the first time since 2009, the height of the financial crisis.

In fact, the prospect of improvement in economic growth is largely a monetary illusion. No one needs to explain how policy makers have made painfully little progress on the structural reforms necessary to increase global productive capacity and stimulate employment and demand. Lacking the political will necessary to address the issues, central bankers have been left to paper over the global malaise with reams of fiat currency. [..]

What I decidedly do not like about Minerd’s piece is the suggestion that if only policy makers had made more progress on ‘structural reforms necessary to increase global productive capacity’, things would have been fine, or better at least. Like if someone came up with a better way towards growth, that would solve our problems.

In my view, this is not about failing to find the right way towards more growth, it’s that more growth itself is not the right way to solve the issues. When he says policy makers and central bankers are ‘lacking the political will necessary to address the issues’, I can only hope he means the will needed to restructure the entire financial system, force bankrupt banks into bankruptcy and break up what’s left into pieces too small to ever again threaten an economy, let alone the entire financial system. But I don’t see him say it, so I’m left doubting that’s what he means.

Essentially, monetary authorities around the globe are levying a tax on investors and providing a subsidy to borrowers. Taxation and subsidies, as well as other wealth transfer payment schemes, have historically fallen within the realm of fiscal policy under the control of the electorate. Under the new monetary orthodoxy, the responsibility for critical aspects of fiscal policy has been surrendered into the hands of appointed officials who have been left to salvage their economies, often under the guise of pursuing monetary order.

The consequences of the new monetary orthodoxy are yet to be fully understood. For the time being, the latest rounds of QE should support continued U.S. dollar strength and limit increases in interest rates. Additionally, risk assets such as high-yield debt and global equities should continue to perform strongly.

Despite ultra-loose monetary policies over the past several years, incomes adjusted for inflation have fallen for the median U.S. family. With the benefits of monetary expansion going to a small share of the population and wage growth stagnating, incomes have been essentially flat over the past 20 years.

That last bit is the same as saying there is no recovery. Which is a tad curious, because Minerd started out saying, in his first paragraph: ‘As economic growth returns again to Europe and Japan’. Pick one, I’d say.

In the long run, however, classical economics would tell us that the pricing distortions created by the current global regimes of QE will lead to a suboptimal allocation of capital and investment, which will result in lower output and lower standards of living over time.

In fact, although U.S. equity prices are setting record highs, real median household incomes are 9% lower than 1999 highs. The report from BoA Merrill Lynch plainly supports the conclusion that QE and the associated currency depreciation is not leading to higher global output. The cost of QE is greater than the income lost to savers and investors. The long-term consequence of the new monetary orthodoxy is likely to permanently impair living standards for generations to come while creating a false illusion of reviving prosperity.

It’s by no means the first time I bring this up, but I’ll do it again until there’s no more need. The stories we are bombarded with 24/7 under the quite hilarious misnomer ‘News’ have been prepared, pre-cooked and pre-chewed for our smooth and painless digestion, and as such they contain only tiny little flakes of reality. They are designed to make us feel good, not understand the world around us.

It’s up to sites like the Automatic Earth – and there’s quite a few others – to expose these storylines and narratives for what they really are: tools to sell detergents. Their purpose is not to inform people, but to manipulate them into forming opinions about their world that serve the intentions of one or more groups of people hungry enough for power to occupy themselves with this sort of scheming.

Somewhere on the not so sharp edge between money and power, there are lots of people who devote their entire lives towards devising ways to make up your mind for you. And if you’re like most people, you like that, because it absolves you from having to think for yourself. But the price to pay doesn’t come with the commercials: if you let others think for you, you or your children may be called into war at any time of somebody else’s choosing.

And, as Scott Minerd says, the economic future for your entire families will look utterly bleak. Because that recovery they talk about? It’s not for you.

Dec 262014
 December 26, 2014  Posted by at 9:23 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  27 Responses »

Dorothea Lange Drought hit OK farm family on way to CA Aug 1936

From just about as early in my life as I can remember, growing up as a child in Holland, there were stories about World War II, and not just about Anne Frank and the huge amounts of people who, like her, had been dragged off to camps in eastern Europe never to come back, but also about the thousands who had risked their lives to hide Jewish and other refugees, and the scores who had been executed for doing so, often betrayed by their own neighbors.

And then there were those who had risked their lives in equally courageous ways to get news out to people, putting out newspapers and radio broadcasts just so there would be a version of events out there that was real, and not just what the Germans wanted one to believe. This happened in all Nazi – and Nazi friendly – occupied European nations. The courage of these people is hard to gauge for us today, and I’m convinced there’s no way to say whom amongst us would show that kind of bravery if we were put to the test; I certainly wouldn’t be sure about myself.

Still, without wanting to put myself anywhere near the level of those very very real heroes, please don’t get me wrong about that, that’s not what I mean, I was thinking about them with regards to what is happening in our media today. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think Joseph Goebbels had anything on US and European media today.

That propaganda as a strategic and political instrument has been refined to a huge extent over the past 70-odd years since Goebbels first picked up on Freud’s lessons on how to influence the unconscious mind, and the ‘mass-mind’, as a way to ‘steer’ an entire people, not just as a means to make them buy detergent. These days, the media can make people believe just about anything, and they have the added benefit that they can pose as friends of the people, not the enemy.

But there is a reason why such a large ‘industry’ has developed on the web with people writing articles that don’t say what the mass media say. That reason for is, obviously, first and foremost that not everybody believes whatever they are told. The problem is equally obvious: not nearly enough people are being reached to make a true difference, and to question the official narratives.

Me, I have no claim to fame outside of the appreciation I get from first, my readers and second, from my colleagues and peers. I get a lot of both, and I thank you for that, but this certainly is not about me. If anything, it’s about trying to live up to the desire for truth in the face of odds squarely stacked against it, and against the people I try to reach out to. Trying to do just 0.1% of what the WWII underground press was about.

A few days ago, I wrote in About That Interview :

The FBI claims they are certain the hackers are North Korean, but they have provided no proof of that claim. We have to trust them on their beautiful blue eyes. I think if anything defines 2014 for me, it’s the advent of incessant claims for which no proof – apparently – needs to be provided. Everything related to Ukraine over the past year carries that trait. The year of ‘beautiful blue eyes’, in other words. Never no proof, you just have to believe what your government says.

And that truly defines 2014 for me. A level of propaganda I don’t recognize, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. 2014 has for me been the year of utter nonsense. To wit, it just finished in fine form with a 5% US GDP growth number, just to name one example. Really, guys? 5%? Really? With all the numbers presented lately, the negative Thanksgiving sales data – minus 11% from what I remember -, the so-so at best Christmas store numbers to date, shrinking durable goods in November and all? Plus 5%?

It really doesn’t matter what I say, does it? You have enough people believing ridiculous numbers like that to make it worth your while. After all, that’s all that counts. It’s a democracy, isn’t it? If a majority believes something, it becomes true. If you can get more than 50% of people to believe whatever you say, that’s case closed.

With well over 90 million working age Americans counted as being out of the labor force, and with 43 million on food stamps, you can still present a 5% GDP growth number, if only you can get a sufficiently large number of people to ‘believe’. And you do, I’ll give you that. As far as the media goes, we have achieved the change we can believe in. We may not have that change, but we sure do believe we have, don’t we? And isn’t that what counts? Are congratulations in order?

Well, not where I’m at, they’re not. I should do a shout out to the likes of Zero Hedge, Yves Smith, David Stockman, Wolf Richter, Mish, Steve Keen, Jim Kunstler, and so many others, we’re a solid crowd by now even if we’re neglected, and please don’t feel left out if you’re not in that list, I know who you are. The problem is, we’re all completely neglected by the mass media, even though there are a ton of very sharp minds in this ‘finance blogosphere’. And perhaps we should make it a point to break through that ridiculous black-out in 2015.

2014, in my eyes, has been the year of propaganda outdoing even its own very purpose, and succeeding too. We are supposed to be living in a time of the best educated people in the history of mankind, and everyone thinks (s)he’s mighty smart, but precious few have even an inkling of a clue of what transpires in the world they live in. Talk about a lost generation. Or two.

We really need to question the value of higher education, if all we get for it is a generation of people so easily duped by utter blubber. What do they teach people at our universities these days? Certainly not to think for themselves, that much is clear. And then what is the use? Why spend all that time raising an entire generation of highly educated pawns, sheep and robots? I can think of some people liking that, but for society as a whole, it’s devastating if that’s all higher education is.

And if you would like to raise doubts here, the very existence of finance blogosphere I mentioned before is proof that we indeed have raised a generation of sheep. If we had functioning media, there’d be no need for that blogosphere. We are the people who keep on pointing out where the mass media fail, let alone the politicians, simply by being there and being supported to the extent we are by the few people who escape the sheep mentality.

But that’s not nearly enough. Journalists, reporters, whatever they call themselves, working for Bloomberg, Reuters, CNBC etc. should at the very least quote Zero Hedge on a daily basis, and Mish, and Steve, and Yves, and perhaps even me – though it’s fine if they continue to ignore me, as long as they give the rest their rightful place.

There are many people in the blogosphere who are many times smarter than the people who write for the mass media, and that’s a very simple and hardly disputable fact that needs to be recognized. When you read something in your paper or at your online news provider, it should be second nature to ask yourself: but what would Tyler Durden say, or the Automatic Earth, or Naked Capitalism, or David Stockman?

But we’re nowhere near that, are we? We’ve been fooled with economic stats for years, not just in the US, not even just in the west, but all over, they all grabbed on to the potential of providing people with numbers that have little to do with reality, but that simply feel good. Or even just look good.

Still, boy, have we been, and are we being, fooled. Then again, most of you wouldn’t know, would you? We people tend to discount the future, to see today as more important than tomorrow, and in the same manner we find our children’s future much less important than our own. Because that feels good too. If we are comfy right now, screw them. Not that we’d ever put it into those terms.

But you know, that’s really all old hack by now. 2014 brought us a whole other class of nonsense. And we swallowed it all hook line and entire sinker.

2014 gave us Ukraine. And you just try and find anyone today who doesn’t think Vladimir Putin is and was the evil genius mind behind the whole thing, including the 4500+ people who died there over the past 10 months. Why is it so hard to anyone who doubts that narrative? Because our media told us Putin is the bogeyman. And ‘we’ never asked for any proof. That is, except for those of us in that same blogosphere.

Meanwhile, round after round of sanctions against Russia have been set up and activated by EU and US, causing hardship for both Russian people and European businesses. But why, what exactly is Putin allegedly guilty of?

The US/EU installed a government in Kiev in February (yeah, yap about it), which is still in place, with a bunch of US citizens recently added for good measure – and for profit-. The chocolate prince president was indeed elected months later, but the prime minister – Yats – was handpicked by America, and is still -amazingly – in place. That’s the same government that had it own army murder thousands of its own citizens, and not a thing has been resolved so far.

The whole thing came to a head when MH17 was shot down over the summer. That too was blamed on Putin. Or was it? Well, not directly, nobody said Putin ordered that plane to be shot. Nor did anyone say Russia shot it. There is the accusation that Russian speaking Ukrainian ‘rebels’ did it, but proof for that was never provided in the 6 months since the incident. And there must be a best before date in there somewhere.

Is it possible the ‘rebels’ did it? We can’t exclude it, but that’s for the same reason we can’t exclude the option that little green Martians did it: we don’t know. But even then, even if they did, there’s the question whether that would have been on purpose. Which seems really stretching it: nothing they want would be served by shooting down a plane full of European, Malaysian and Australian holiday goers.

But here we are: no proof and layer upon layer of sanctions. And nary a voice is raised in the west. If one is, it’s to denounce the Russians as bloodthirsty barbarians. Even though there is no proof they did anything other than protecting what they see as their own people. Something we all would do too, no questions asked.

Ukraine defines 2014 as the year western propaganda came into its own. Not just fictional stories about an economic recovery anymore, no, we had our politico-media establishment ram an entire new cold war down our throats. And we swallowed it whole. We may have had a million more years of higher education than our parents and grandparents, but we sure don’t seem to have gotten any smarter than them.

There is a lot of information out there, written by people inspired by things other than monetary incentives or job security or anything like that, people who simply want to get information out that your trusted media won’t give you anymore than Goebbels’ media did in occupied Europe in the 1940s. And you don’t even have to risk your lives to access that information. All you have to do is to get off your couch.

The Automatic Earth is but a small part of a very valuable and fast growing resource that warrants a lot more attention than it’s been receiving to date. A reported 5% US GDP growth print is one reason why, the entire Ukraine fantasy story is another. The blogosphere is full of functioning neurons, which is more than you can say for your papers and online MSM.

As far as media is concerned, 2014 has been downright scary in its distortion of reality. Let’s try and move 2015 a little bit closer towards what’s actually happening.

Nov 162014
 November 16, 2014  Posted by at 10:25 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »

Dorothea Lange Negro woman carrying shoes home from church Mississippi Delta July 1936

Dumb and Dumber To, the sequel after 20 years, was released recently. Unfortunately for Jim and Jeff and the Farrelly brothers, unintended humor will always be funnier than the scripted kind, no matter how hard Hollywood tries. Case in point: the Dumber slapstick was easily upstaged over the past few days by the G20 summit in Brisbane.

Not only did the pedantic Anglo-Saxon power hungry freak show of Harper, Cameron and Abbott (nobody even noticed Obama) give Vladimir V. Putin a good laugh with their empty chest thumping, entirely spin doctor scripted and entirely aimed at their domestic media and audiences, these so-called leaders also came up with no less than 800(!) measures they claim will boost global economic growth by 2.1%, or $2 trillion. Over 5 years, or some useless and opaque number like that (2018?).

It would seem to be painfully obvious that what the world needs really urgently badly today is not so much economic growth, but growth in the dendrites, synapses and neurons in the heads of both our leaders and of those who put them where they are, ourselves. No use holding your breath. As things are, none of us are any smarter than either Dumb or Dumber.

As Brussels and the leaders of the allegedly healthy economies in the North sacrifice southern Europe on the altar of their megalomania, the G20 does the same with emerging economies and the even poorer rest of the world. The formerly rich part of the world has gotten stuck in its own dreams and faulty models, and the only place left to eke out any semblance of growth is weaker nations. The Roman empire revisited.

If the G20 nations could have ‘grown’ growth at a 2.1% clip with the sort of ease with which their reports were issued this weekend, they would have done so already, all along, long ago. The fact that they haven’t, it doesn’t get any simpler, implies that they can’t this time either. It’s all hot air, and perhaps that’s too positive still, make that tepid.

Still, when the Anglo-Saxon dipshits are together they have the guts to make such claims, just as when they’re together they have the guts to ‘shirtfront’ Putin. Canada’s Harper reportedly shook hands with Putin and told him to get out of Ukraine. Nobody present wanted to quote the reaction he got, but I’m thinking a simple ‘You first’ is a distinct possibility. None of these guys have anything on Putin, and they all know it. So does he.

Meanwhile, their home media have cooked up the Putin is Bad story to such heights that they can’t be seen as doing nothing, even if proof for any of the allegations concerning what Russia is supposed to be guilty of is still sorely lacking. The Anglo-Saxons need enemies to make their stories stick, so the ‘he probably shot down that plane’ line is awfully helpful.

And that dumber-ass approach is the same one they use for their economic, what shall we call it, ‘policies'(?), it’s the exact same thing. It’s the surface that counts, not what’s underneath it. It’s the storyline, not the veracity of it. Who in the west still doubts that Putin is a bad man? Very few. Though he hasn’t done anything for which the west has provided any proof.

It’s a tale in the spirit of Little Red Riding Hood, and just as credible. The 2.1% growth story doesn’t even attain that level of credulity, because it’s made up out of nothing at all. It would sound cute to say that the nonsense that emanated from the G20 summit is unrivaled, but it’s not. These boyos rival their own emptiness at every single occasion they get.

All they do is make sure that their access to the public (our) coffers is used to garner profit for their paymasters, at the cost of the taxpayer (again, us). That’s both their mission and their MO. And we all know that once you’ve been PM or FM and you served your superiors well, your life will be comfortable ever after.

That said, there is no vision, there is nothing. There’s a desire to amass power, and then to hold on to it and serve the bankrupt system, but none of it has anything to do with the people these guys and dolls are supposed to represent. And it can only lead to things like what the London School of Economics claims in a new report:

How The UK Coalition Has Helped The Rich By Hitting The Poor

A landmark study of the coalition’s tax and welfare policies six months before the general election reveals how money has been transferred from the poorest to the better off, apparently refuting the chancellor of the exchequer’s claims that the country has been “all in it together”. According to independent research to be published on Monday and seen by the Observer, George Osborne has been engaged in a significant transfer of income from the least well-off half of the population to the more affluent in the past four years.

That whole growth target is nothing but a way to justify more of what the LSE has noticed. A way to take away more money from the poor, through austerity, and through so-called reform IMF-style, after which the conclusion will be that the policies have failed, but the reality will be that the poor have gotten poorer and the rich have gotten richer. In the eyes of the G20 policy makers that will mean a success, even if it will be 180º different from what their public utterances have been.

We’re not only being fooled all the time and wherever we look, we’re being fooled by a bunch of stupid spin-scripted programmed assclowns. But we are the ones who put them where they are. As long as we hang on to our existing procedures for electing our leaders, only megalomaniac assclowns will float to the surface.

And they will, to a man, use their positions to rob us blind while pretending to have our best interests at mind. It’s what allowing money to enter your political system will always lead to: you can elect only made men. Which leads to Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Obama, and Jeb Bush or Hillary. What about how this works is not clear?

The OECD even wants to do the G20 one better, they want 4% growth. I’ll tell you one thing: the western world will NEVER have a 4% growth rate again. Or at least not this century. And not before many millions of Europeans and Americans have gone down in hunger and misery.

We Need To Ramp Up Global Growth: OECD

The global economy should be growing at a much faster pace, the chief economist of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warned on Sunday, as world leaders agreed on hundreds of measures they hope will boost expansion. “As the emerging markets become a greater share of the global economy, we really ought to be seeing the global economy growing at 4% or more, so the tone is dour,” said OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann, speaking to CNBC at the G-20 summit in Brisbane over the weekend.

Growth of 4% is well behind the group’s projected global gross domestic product (GDP) of 3.3% for this year. In its latest Economic Outlook, published earlier this month, the OECD warned of “major risks on the horizon” for the world’s economy, such as further market volatility, high levels of debt and a stagnation in the euro zone recovery.

Mann’s comments come as world leaders at the G-20 agreed on measures they said will equate to 2.1% new growth, inject $2 trillion into the world economy and create millions of jobs. The Paris-based OECD has previously outlined a target of adding around 2 percentage points to global GDP by 2018, relative to the 2013 level. [..]

Mann was optimistic that job creation would increase in tandem with global growth, as countries ramped up infrastructure investment. “We know that there’s usually a relationship between growth and jobs. It’s not always a tight relationship. There’s always an issue about the distribution, where the jobs are being created, what sectors, what countries and some of the disconnect there can be,” she said. “Mismatch can be a problem, but I do think we are going to see job creation go hand in hand with global growth.”

Need I say more after reading that? The lunatics are guiding us off the cliff. I know most people feel there’s nothing they can do to change the course their countries and governments have taken, but I also think that perhaps all these people need to realize they don’t have much of a choice anymore. If getting up from your couch for your own sake isn’t enough of a incentive, how about doing it for your kids and grandkids? How about doing it just because it feels right, because silently supporting assclowns while gobbling up cheese doodles in your comfy chair should never have been your thing? Didn’t you once have promise?

Nov 092014
 November 9, 2014  Posted by at 7:56 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »

Wyland Stanley Peerless touring car, Bay Area 1923

As I was writing The Broken Model Of The Eurozone yesterday, I already knew there would have to be a sequel, because doing everything in one go would have been too much. And then, considerably less than two seconds later, it dawned on me that if I wanted to cover broken models and systems, a book would be the very least. But I don’t want to write a book, or, certainly, not here and now. Therefore, the best I think I can do is to sit down and let it flow, train of thought, stream of consciousness, probably the approach that suits me best to begin with.

There’s no question that the eurozone is by no means the only broken model, design, system, structure, in our world, though its built-in fatal flaws are perhaps easier to pinpoint than they are in other models. Everyone can see why having no mechanism to keep poor member nations from getting poorer must of necessity doom the eurozone, and the euro. Everyone, that is, but the people with the most vested interests.

That said, when you get to think about it, it’s hard to find a model, a system, in our ‘modern’ societies that is not broken, through similar design flaws. Just the past few days, we had the US midterm elections, and it doesn’t come more broken than that. As Ron Paul stated once again, US politics is a monopoly system, not a democracy. That part exists only in people’s dreams and in media stories. In reality, it’s pick your favorite identical twin. Yet for some reason, people still vote. Go figure.

Then there was the BLS unemployment report, which is no longer even a joke, but such an outright insult to Americans that it’s difficult to see why anyone looks at it anymore, other than for propagandistic reasons. A model designed to ignore the combined erosion in labor participation, wages and benefits that has taken place in the US since 2007, and the number of people who can’t make enough to pay their bills and feed their kids, is useless as a gauge for the American economy.

What these, and just about any other model I can think of that we use to run our world, have in common, is/are a number of flaws:

First, they were designed to operate exclusively in growing economies. Perhaps not even on purpose, but they sure don’t function in less glorious days, if only because no provisions were made for such days. It’s at least one reason why protagonists are so eager to point to growth even where there is none.

Second, whether in days of growth or of non-growth, they offer no protection from destructive exploitation of the natural world, either by nations, by corporations or by ourselves. A self defeating model.

Third, they are so far removed from the ‘human scale’ that we can’t internalize the ways they work and don’t work, other than perhaps in abstract theory. We can’t understand how the systems work that govern our lives, and therefore not why they fail.

These three characteristics guarantee inherent self limitation, self defeat and eventual self destruction. Sort of like the spy message that destroys itself 10 seconds after being read.

I was reading John Michael Greer’s recent Dark Age America: The End of the Market Economy, in which he reiterates how an increase in complexity of a society means ever more intermediaries take position in between productive economic participants, skimming off the fruits of other people’s daily labor. And how a decrease in complexity, such as the one we’re seeing today in our world, forced by diminishing economic returns, will lead to those intermediary positions disappearing, and a renewed form of feudalism taking the helm.

There are many shapes and sizes of these intermediaries active in our present societies, but none are more powerful, in more than one way, than politicians and traders/investors. The political world and financial world don’t produce anything of value, they owe their wealth and power solely to others who do.

The past century – or two – of ultra cheap fuels, which have enabled one single human being to produce as much as a thousand of her ancestors, created the space in which the financial and political intermediate powerholders operate. The debt machine gone haywire of the last few decades either created even more of that space or made up for what was lost due to rising fuel prices. Both fossil fuels and debt now stumble on their last legs, and society will need to be remolded, along principles that may indeed well resemble feudalism more than anything else.

To be sure, Greer doesn’t define feudalism along the lines of the bad rap it has gotten, but simply as a system in which rights and obligations for both lords and servant are clearly defined.

What he doesn’t specify, but I will, is that the feudal model operates on a human scale. That points to another aspect: the servant – for lack of a better word – in a balanced feudal system knows his master. We, today, do not. We only know a bunch of people pushed forward for their gift of gab and telegenic faces. The way our leaders are (pre-) selected is not much different from seeing how many second hand cars or tupperware bowls they can sell on a TV sales channel.

But then those leaders are (s)elected to head entities so far beyond the human scale it should be obvious to anyone that they cannot function properly no matter how much growth there is. Leaders of entities like the US, the EU or China have little in common with the people they supposedly represent, and they don’t have to, nobody expects them to. The US midterms were mostly a a battle of the bulge, as in candidates’ bulging wallets.

And on top large scale national politics we have created yet another, even more anonymous layer of power. UN, World Bank, IMF, NATO, there’s an ever growing collection of supra-national organizations that keep on guzzling up more power and more money every single day.

Like ‘smaller’ entities such as the US and EU, only more, the supra-nationals attract a certain kind of people, those that like to assert power without being held directly accountable. In structures that far exceed the human scale, they are like fish in water. And that’s why we should never accept having them in those positions. IMF and World Bank have a history of at best disputable and at worst very bloody interventions in nations across the globe.

We should have today celebrated the end of NATO along with that of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. But it’s still there, and playing an active role in the flaring up of the Ukraine civil war. As for the UN, there should be a place for an organization like it, but not with the money gobbling corporate structure, serving shady interests, that it has today.

Our political systems don’t work. Our economic systems don’t work. We live on a steady – but hardly nutritious – diet of debt and propaganda. Our societies are no longer productive enough to allow for the numbers of intermediaries they have given birth to. But it’s the intermediaries who have more often than not taken up the most powerful positions in our societies. So they will fight, and initially often successfully, to keep their positions, at the cost of the more productive segments. It’s a mechanism that’s much easier to understand than it is to fight.

I tend to think that it’s easier to make the effort to get rid of things like models and systems and structures when you know they will need to go soon anyway. But that’s without counting in propaganda. Without including Freud and spin doctors and Edward Bernays and why detergent commercials work so well. When you do take all those into account, things don’t look so easy anymore.

What the EU has in common with all present day political and financial structures, bar none, is that it can, and indeed was built to, function only in times of growth. Take away growth and inherent flaws become exposed. Take away growth and panic ensues. Well, we no longer have growth, other than in our dreams and spin.

Or more accurately, there is indeed one thing that does still grow: our debt. It’s all we have left to keep up the pretense that we’re still growing. That and a pack of lies that grows more outrageous as time goes by. We run our societies on debt and propaganda. To a large extent, propaganda about why and how debt, and more debt, can’t hurt us.

Because as long as we believe that, we’ll leave our political and financial structures and power holders keep their plush seats. And as long as we believe it, they’re free to take more and more away from us. Something we feel powerless to stop, because we’re scared of what may happen when we stop believing. In broken models.

Aug 142014
 August 14, 2014  Posted by at 6:37 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , ,  5 Responses »

Marjory Collins Italian-American banner parade, Mott Street, NY Aug 1942

The UN said earlier this week that in east Ukraine over 1000 people – a conservative estimate – were killed during the last fortnight in the battles over Donetsk and Luhansk. Today, there are again reports of more heavy shelling by the Ukraine “army”, and dozens more deaths, while the Russian aid convoy is still not – allowed – anywhere near the cities.

At this rate, who’s going to be left to receive any of the food and generators and sleeping bags? I have a dark suspicion that if we don’t resolve this issue, and fast, we’re going to regret that for a very long time.

For “us” to be subsidizing this sort of military operation, a policy largely underwritten and justified by unsubstantiated blame claims in a media-wide campaign about a tragic plane crash 4 weeks ago to the day, is not something even a single one of us should be proud about, let alone happy.

We should all feel deep shame and guilt. How can we at the same time denounce one genocide and sponsor another? Our leaders may not care about a dead body or two more or less, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t either.

And how many hundreds of American soldiers are already back on the ground in Iraq again, while their army commanders emphasize the limited scope of air strikes? Are we supposed to just wait for the PR spin to serve up the justification for boots on the ground in their thousands? What’s it going to be this time? And how wrong is Ron Paul in suggesting this is a trap?

Whatever it is, we better make it fast, and step on the gas, or Europe will no longer be of much help. Well, either that or their domestic problems will; become the very driver for their involvement in warfare abroad. Even the Germans are sending support in Iraq now, right after the US announced they found there are far less Yazidi people on Mount Sinjar than someone told them there were. Perhaps they should all ask Putin to help. With both aid and intelligence.

And grout. The Mosul dam was built on gypsum and needs daily injections of grout – a liquified cement – or it falls to pieces. No need to bomb it. And that would mean flooding Baghdad – and the US multi-billion Green Zone. Mission accomplished.

However that may be, 6-7 years into the famed recovery, of which we’ve, come to think of it, seen about as little evidence as of the alleged rebel/Russian involvement in the plane crash, Germany’s GDP drops. Now, you’re thinking, so did US GDP earlier this year, and we spun our way out of that without a glitch. All under control, Captain, my Captain.

But Germany has 27 weaker vassal states on its back, and if it can’t even carry its own weight anymore, then what’s next? Obviously, there are plenty of experts claiming it’s a temporary thing, but when temporary gets to mean 6 years and more, it becomes meaningless.

Then again, so much in the propaganda machine we live in, that dictates what we think about the economy and about politics, is devoid of any real meaning, and the machine’s still going strong, fueled by the people’s unquestioning ignorance and their fear of losing their comfy plush caves. Baby, it’s cold outside. Older than Rome.

Spain was supposed to be the leading example of what weaker European brothers could do. Turns out, that was also just spin. Industrial production does not fall in economies recovering from gutter scraping circumstances. France is a basket case. A basket increasingly filled with stale bread and cheap wine.

Other EU nations report actual growth, but why should we believe any of them? Why should we believe any of this has to do with anything but appearances?

One country where keeping up appearances simply doesn’t work anymore – and that’s saying a lot these days – is Italy. A new young prime minister was elected on big promises – and already failed miserably. Nothing can save Italy as long as it’s part of the Eurozone. Or Greece, or Portugal, or Spain. Policies will be set according to what the richer nations want and need, and while the disadvantages of that can be hidden in times of plenty, they stand out all the more in poorer days.

On the surface, Italy doesn’t even seem to do that bad. It has a primary surplus, for one thing. It’s just that, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes:

Output has collapsed by 9.1% from the peak, back to levels last seen 14 years ago. Industrial production is down to 1980 levels. [..] Bank loans to business are still falling at a rate of 4.5%. [..] The debt ratio may test 140% by the end of the year, uncharted waters for a country that effectively borrows in D-Marks.

It’s the debt that does in Italy, at least as long as it’s denominated in euros. Tempted by manufactured low yields on its bonds, Rome lets the debt soar on:

Ambrose calls for spending, he’s a Keynes man. To him, the failure is the resistance to more spending, in the spirit of the Fed, and Tokyo and Beijing, by Brussels – or Berlin.

But I think it would be, and would always have been, borderline lethal, since it would be like throwing debt on top of the debt Himalayas. There is a limit beyond which more spending cannot possibly be of any help, and the entire western world passed that limit many years and many trillions of dollars and yen and euros and liras ago. What’s left is the interest payments that are certain to burden us like so many Quasimodo’s for many years to come.

No, Ambrose has it right in some of his other comments

Mr Renzi is on his own. He faces an ECB that has fundamentally violated its contract with Italy, letting EMU-wide inflation fall to 0.4% knowing that this causes the Italian crisis to metastasise.

Italy must look after itself. It can recover only if it breaks free from the EMU trap, retakes control of its sovereign policy instruments and renominates its debts into lira, with capital controls until the dust settles. Italy would not face an immediate funding crisis since it has a primary budget surplus. Its net international investment position is -32% of GDP, compared with -92% for Spain and -100% for Portugal.

There is no easy way to leave the euro. The interlocking structures of monetary union have gone much further than a fixed exchange peg. Vested interests are powerful and merciless. But it is not impossible either.

The matter will surely come to a head as Italy’s debt trajectory hits the danger zone. This time it may not be quite so clear that the country wishes to be rescued on European terms. Mr Renzi may appropriately conclude that the only possible way to deliver on his Risorgimento for Italy, and to craft his own myth, is to gamble all on the lira.

I don’t see Matteo Renzi crafting his own myth, I don’t see him sticking around long enough. Someone’s got to take the blame, and no matter how much choice Italy has by now, there’s always room for one more.

But I do think that at some point Italy will see there are no other choices left but to be its own boss.

It’s just that the sooner it does, the better it would be by far. It’ll be much harder when everyone else is running for cover too.

It would seem however, that Italy’s own propaganda machine needs to be silenced first. And that’s never easy.

Japan And Italy Break New Sovereign Debt Load Records (Zero Hedge)

With Japanese and Italy 10Y bond yields hitting all-time record lows (0.505% and 2.626% respectively), one could be forgiven for thinking that all-is-well as term or devaluation premia are oddly missing. However, as the following two charts show, Japan and Italy just broke another record – sovereign debt loads (1.038 quadrillion JPY and 2.17 trillion EUR respectively). Japan – having topped 1 Quadrillion early in the year – is marching ahead…

and Italy is not looking back – just look at that ‘austerity’…

Keynes would be proud…

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Italy’s Renzi Must Bring Back The Lira To End Depression (AEP)

Italy has been in depression for almost six years. The slump has been punctuated by false dawns, overwhelmed each time by the monetary amateurs in charge of EMU policy. The latest recovery fizzled after a single quarter. The economy is in technical recession again. Output has collapsed by 9.1% from the peak, back to levels last seen 14 years ago. Industrial production is down to 1980 levels. It takes spectacular policy errors to bring about such an outcome in a modern economy. Italy did not suffer anything like this during the Great Depression, clocking up growth of 16% between 1929 and 1939. But not even Mussolini was maniacal enough to pursue his Gold Standard delusions until the bitter end. The Italian authorities discern flickers of recovery, like fortress guards in Dino Buzzati’s Desert of the Tartars, deceived by optical illusions on the lifeless horizon. Bank loans to business are still falling at a rate of 4.5%. Moody’s says the economy will contract by 0.1% this year. Societe Generale is pencilling in -0.2%.

The property slump has not yet touched bottom. The Bank of Italy said the number of months needed to sell a house has risen to 9.4, from 8.8 late last year. The number reporting worsening market conditions has jumped from 19.6% to 34.7% in three months. “We can’t keep going any longer,” said the Taranto branch of Italy’s business lobby, Confindustria, in an open letter to the country’s president. The region is becoming an “industrial desert”, it warned, with small companies on the brink of mass closures and lay-offs. The lethal mix of economic contraction and zero inflation is causing Italy’s debt trajectory to spiral upwards, despite austerity and a primary surplus of 2% of GDP. Public debt jumped to 135.6% in the first quarter from 130.2% a year earlier. This is a mechanical effect, the result of a compound interest burden on a static nominal base. Real interest rates on Italy’s €2.1 trillion stock of debt – with an average maturity of 6.3 years – is actually rising as deflation draws closer.

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German GDP Contracts as French Economy Stagnates (WSJ)

Germany’s economy contracted while France’s stagnated in the second quarter, indicating the euro zone’s yearlong recovery may have stalled, and likely pressuring policy makers to come up with some new ideas for boosting growth. The euro zone’s largest economy contracted 0.2% in the three months to June, Germany’s federal statistics office said, the first decline in output since the start of 2013. Compared with the second quarter of 2013, output was up 1.2%. Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal last week said they expected the economy to shrink 0.1% on the quarter and grow 1.4% in annual terms. Destatis said that net trade was a drag on growth, as import growth outpaced export growth. Construction investment declined, but Destatis said this was due to projects being pushed forward because of the unusually mild winter. Both private and public consumption rose compared with the first quarter, the statistics office said.

Earlier on Thursday, figures from France’s statistics agency showed the euro zone’s second-largest economy failed to record any growth for the second successive quarter in the period April through June. Economists polled by the Journal had expected a 0.1% expansion in gross domestic product in the second quarter from the first. Compared with the same period of 2013, GDP was up just 0.1%. Figures published earlier this month showed Italy’s economy also contracted in the second quarter, by 0.2%. The data released Thursday mean that none of the euro zone’s three largest economies—which account for two thirds of the currency area’s output—expanded in the three months to June, making it unlikely that the euro zone as a whole managed to generate any growth.

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Eurozone Woes Deepen As Spain’s Industry Slumps (Guardian)

Hopes for a recovery in the eurozone suffered another blow on Wednesday with figures showing industrial output fell for a second successive month. Production declined across the 18 eurozone members by an average 0.3%, with a return to growth in France and Italy offset by falls in Ireland and the Netherlands and slow progress in Germany, which struggled to 0.2% growth. Spain was the worst hit of the currency bloc’s major economies with a 0.8% drop in industrial production. It also suffered the sharpest drop in shop prices for five years, undermining Madrid’s claim that a rebound in employment last month was a clear indication of the country’s return to sustained growth. Spanish consumers have proved reluctant to spend on the high street while unemployment remains at around 25%, forcing shops to offer bigger discounts in July than June.

Weakness across the manufacturing, energy and mining sectors will pose a problem for Brussels and the European Central Bank (ECB), ahead of second-quarter GDP figures on Thursday that are expected to show a further slowdown from the 0.2% growth in the first three months of the year. The €9.6tn economy is struggling to gain momentum with its recovery a year after exiting recession. High unemployment, sluggish reforms and the fallout from conflict in Ukraine, Gaza and Iraq are holding it back. The latest sign of just how fragile the eurozone’s economic rebound remains came this week, after German investor sentiment dropped to its lowest level since December 2012 on concerns that European sanctions against Russia will harm exports.

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A worldwide new metric?!

German GDP Set To Swell On Sex, Drugs And Weapons (DW)

What do research and development, prostitution, drug smuggling and arms trafficking have in common? They are all seen as economic activities, and starting Sept. 1, they will be counted as part of Germany’s annual economic performance, or gross domestic product, in line with new calculation standards. The new figures include revenues from prostitution and the sale and smuggle of illegal drugs. “All relevant economic activities should be counted without any moral judgement,” Norbert Räth from Germany’s statistical office, Destatis, told DW. According to official estimates, there are around 400,000 prostitutes in Germany, 20,000 of whom are men. Altogether they earn €14.6 billion ($19.5 billion) a year. Minus various expenses, such as rent in brothels, work attire and condoms, and the statisticians get a gross value added of roughly €7.3 billion. For drugs, it is the same story. Surveys commissioned by the Federal Health Ministry allow officials to estimate the prevalence of drug use in Germany.

This figure is then multiplied by the respective prices on the black market – something Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office knows very well. Even the amount of money the state spends on armaments is now subject to the new rules. “The production of weapons has, of course, always been included,” Räth said. But until now those costs had always been written off as a state expense. Now they are considered an investment. Now countries in the EU have a uniform method of calculating their GDPs. And when new items are added to GDP calculations, it grows. One could speculate that there is an ulterior motive behind the new system, namely one that sugarcoats Europe’s sovereign debt. Even if overall debt is not reduced, the debt ratio sinks when GDP increases. “We are going to have to categorically deny that,” said Norbert Räth from Germany’s statistical office, Destatis. “The whole process is not politically motivated. It hasn’t been all along.”

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“Could debt diabetes be right around the corner?”

The Shale Sugar Lick (EnergyPolicyForum)

A well known American comedian, Ron White, quips about the amount of sugar Americans eat by suggesting that certain restaurants install a sugar lick. Patrons can “belly up” and take their fill at the trough. Such an analogy might be apropos of some shale operators with regard to their addiction to debt. A useful metric when evaluating a company is to look at the ratio between interest expense and operating income. A low ratio means that the company has not needed to borrow great sums of money to keep going. It generates sufficient cash to fund future operations without exorbitant levels of debt or shareholder dilution from issuing more stock. Examining a selection of shale operators who are active in various plays in the US, one sees an interesting pattern. Perhaps it would be useful to define operating income. Operating income is gross income minus day to day costs of running the business including salaries and then subtracts depreciation. It is a metric that investors use to determine how much potential profit a company might generate.

Obviously it gives a more accurate picture of a firm’s profitability than simply gross income because costs have been removed. But not interest expense. Recently, the oil and gas industry’s appetite for debt has exploded primarily because cash is not being generated by the underlying business proportional to its needs. This is particularly true of some shale operators. EIA, the forecasting arm of the US Department of Energy, quantified this appetite for debt. EIA stated: “The gap between cash from operations and major uses of cash has widened in recent years from a low of $18 billion in 2010 to $100 billion to $120 billion during the past three years.” To demonstrate how this phenomenon translates to a company’s financial statement, one need only to examine the ratio between interest expense and operating income. The following chart shows the percentage of total operating income, or potential profit, that is being eaten up by nothing more than interest paid on debt at Range Resources, Devon Energy, Quicksilver Resources, Encana and Exco.

Shale operators have, indeed, parked themselves at the sugar lick debt trough for quite some time now. Could debt diabetes be right around the corner?

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Ron Paul: “This Is Exactly What Osama Bin Laden Wanted” (RT)

Even if the US abandons its efforts, Paul added, assistance provided to other groups throughout the region may end up sabotaging attempts to dismantle the Islamic State if weaponry trickles downs into the hands of militants. Firepower already provided by the Pentagon in and around Iraq has found itself in the wrong hands, Paul said, and the only solution to prevent further unintended consequences is to keep America out of international conflicts altogether. “I would stick to the basic principle that we have a strong national defense, we defend our national security, we don’t get involved in fights around the world, we don’t get involved in civil strife and civil wars and especially what was going on in the middle east,” he said, “so no, I think the argument stands on its own merits that we shouldn’t be involved in doing this.”

“I think the sooner we get out of there the better,” Paul told David. “We don’t have a moral responsibility; we don’t have a constitutional responsibility. It has nothing to do with our national security. It in jeopardizes our national security and is bankrupting our country.” What’s more, Paul added, is that the US government’s ongoing meddling in the Iraqi affair and other incidents is falling exactly in line with Al-Qaeda. According to Paul, terrorists have long intended to take the US down by wasting its resources on campaigns, the likes of which have been called fodder for some by further fanning the flames of anti-American sentiments through military action carried out in far apart countries. “This is exactly what Osama bin Laden wanted,” Paul said. “He wanted to engage us over there because he said, ‘I’ll bring you down like I brought the Soviets down.’ We are doing the same thing because we flat out can’t afford it. It’s a failed policy. I think after so many years and so many decades we ought to admit the truth.”

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Another War In Iraq Won’t Fix The Disaster Of The Last (Guardian)

The media and political drumbeat is growing louder for Britain to move from humanitarian aid drops to join the military campaign. France has announced it will be arming Iraqi Kurdish forces. There are already 800 US troops back on Iraqi territory. Without a trace of irony, Colonel Tim Collins, who famously claimed on the eve of the 2003 invasion that British troops were occupying Iraq to “liberate” it, yesterday led the call for yet another military intervention. If ever there was a case for another Anglo-American bombing campaign, some say, this must surely be it. Graphic reports of the suffering of tens of thousands of Yazidi refugees on Mount Sinjar and the horrific violence that has driven the Christians of Qaraqosh from their homes have aroused global sympathy. The victims of this sectarian onslaught need urgent humanitarian aid and refuge.

But the idea that the states that invaded and largely destroyed Iraq at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives should claim the cause of humanitarianism for yet another military intervention in Iraq beggars belief. If the aim were solely to provide air cover for the evacuation of Yazidis from Sinjar, there are several regional powers that could deliver it. The Iraqi government itself could be given the means to do the job – something its US sponsors have denied it until now. In fact, the force that has done most so far to rescue Yazidis has been the Kurdish PKK, regarded as a terrorist organisation by the US, EU and Turkey. But after decades of lawless unilateralism, any armed intervention for genuine humanitarian protection clearly has to be authorised by the United Nations to have any credibility. As the Labour MP Diane Abbott put it, that’s what the UN is for – and authorisation could be quickly agreed by the security council. But of course it’s not just about the Yazidis or the Christians.

As Obama has made clear, they’re something of a side issue compared with the defence of the increasingly autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan – long a key US and unofficial Israeli ally – and American interests in its oil boom capital Irbil, in particular. The US is back in Iraq for the long haul, the president signalled, spelling out that his aim is to prevent IS establishing “some sort of caliphate through Syria and Iraq” – which is exactly what the group regards itself as having done. The danger of the US, Britain and others being drawn again into the morass of a disintegrating state they themselves took apart is obvious. IS, then known as al-Qaida in Iraq, itself effectively arrived in the country in 2003 on the backs of US and British tanks. The idea that the states responsible for at least 500,000 deaths, 4 million refugees, mass torture and ethnic cleansing in Iraq over the past decade should now present themselves as having a “responsibility to protect” Iraqis verges on satire.

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Iraq’s Mosul Dam Demands 24/7 Maintenance (Zero Hedge)

Last week, the barbaric Islamic State (IS) seized the vitally important Mosul dam, dramatically impacting tactical options against them and potentially changing the future of the Middle East. When the US coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003, military intelligence developed invasion scenarios. One scenario included Iraqi forces placing detonation charges at the vitally important dam. If US forces were able to safely secure the dam, then they had a contingency plan to operate it and ensure critically important maintenance. The US quickly discovered the necessity for $27 million worth of frantically urgent repairs. Since the dam was completed in the mid-1980’s it has required continuous (daily) maintenance, because it was built on top of gypsum, a soft mineral which dissolves when in contact with water. More than 50,000 tons of materials have been injected into the dam since 1986. The ‘sink hole’ type of cavities that constantly form have to be expeditiously plugged with “grout”, a liquefied mixture of cement and other additives.

A dam break does not require sabotage. Maintenance failure has the same result. In December of 2006, the US Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) detailed a comprehensive report on the dam’s structure. The report called it, “the most dangerous dam in the world”, stating that even water pressure could buckle the flimsy foundation. The Mosul dam is the fourth largest in terms of reservoir capacity in the Middle East with a capacity of 3 trillion gallons or 11.1 billion cubic meters. It is a key component of Iraq’s power grid and source of water for irrigation. It is located 31 miles north of the city of Mosul whose population is 1.7 million and 200 miles north of Bagdad. A dam collapse would release the 360 feet high waterline and reach Mosul in 2 hours. A USACE official wrote a report in 2011 that was published in Water Power magazine estimating that dam failure could lead to as many as 500,000 civilian deaths.

In 2007, General Petraeus wrote a letter to the Iraqi PM warning of the safety concerns in the report and the consequences should the dam fail. In paraphrasing the USACE report, his letter said that “despite continuous grouting… the safety of the dam cannot be assured”. He went on to say that “…an instantaneous failure….could result in a flood wave 65 feet deep at the city of Mosul… and produce flooding all the way to Baghdad”. President Obama recently authorized limited airstrikes in Iraq against IS. He said they were to prevent a humanitarian crisis and to protect American lives and assets in Erbil and Baghdad. He determined that there was risk of ‘genocide’ of the tens of thousands of Yazidis people trapped by IS in the mountains, as well as, risks to the consulate and American workers there, should Erbil be toppled. There is still hope on both fronts.

However, the greatest foreign policy failure to date in trying to prevent a potential ‘genocide’ is arguably allowing IS to take over the dam in the first place. The US has always known the importance of the dam. Furthermore, just as we had the ability to get Bin Laden at Tora Bora and failed to act, US officials knew that the IS leadership was assembled in one place and decided not to take them out.

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Iraq’s Mosul Dam Needs US Boots On The Ground (Kotok)

History is replete with examples of bridges and dams threatened by warfare. The winning side wants to hold them. The losing side wants to destroy them. Or they can be used to gain a military advantage. In the August 12 issue of the Wall Street Journal, there is a map of Iraq that illustrates the situation with Mosul Dam, as reported in “Limits of Airstrikes Hinder U.S. Policy in Iraq.” Think about what happens if IS (Islamic State) loses and has to withdraw from the dam. Their actions will be just what we can contemplate, unless there is an intervention by skilled ground forces that can overwhelm them prior to their blowing the dam. The alternative is that IS prevails and holds the dam, in which case there are very serious implications for the region, including the danger that the dam will fail simply because it is not being maintained properly.

This is a catch-22. In psychological terms, it is an avoidance-avoidance conflict. There are no easily determined good outcomes. Think about oil production in the broader region, the populations imperiled downstream from the dam, and this murderous and merciless foe called IS. We confront a high probability of an adverse outcome regardless of the actions of the combatants on both sides. There is no easy out. A 2006 report by the US Army Corps of Engineers called Mosul Dam “the most dangerous dam in the world.” The dam was so poorly constructed, on such problematic (gypsum-rich) ground, that it requires daily injections of a mixture of cement, sand, and water – grout – into the voids that are forming under the dam. These injections ceased nearly a week ago when IS captured the dam and nearly all dam personnel fled.

So even if IS does not blow the dam, or even if Kurdish or Iraqi forces recapture it, the dam may be so compromised that it ruptures, sending a 65-foot wave down the Tigris River to smash the city of Mosul (just 30 miles downstream) and flood large portions of Baghdad (the US says its embassy there is threatened). The time for easy outs passed some time ago, when the US might still have been able to assert air superiority over the region before IS strengthened. At this point IS is using captured American weapons and financial assets in order to grow even stronger. We can use our targeted bombing to help rescue thousands of civilians. We can attempt to supply and arm the apparent alliances that are anti-IS and that reside in the Kurdish areas. But without the commitment of highly skilled American ground troops in large numbers, we cannot safeguard dams, rivers, or bridges – or the people of Mosul and Baghdad.

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Of course.

Stated Income Loans Make Comeback As Mortgage Lenders Seek Clients (Reuters)

Mortgage applicants who can’t provide tax returns or pay stubs to show their income are getting stated income loans again as companies such as Unity West Lending and Westport Mortgage chase customers they can no longer afford to ignore. Lenders say these aren’t the same products as the so-called “liar loans” that were pervasive before the housing bust. Instead, the loans are going to borrowers such as small business owners or investors buying properties they intend to rent who can demonstrate an ability to repay, verifiable through bank or brokerage statements. Lenders said they look for enough assets to pay six to 12 months of payments, while also demanding high down payments to reduce the chance of default. “This is not a return to the wild and wooly days of, if you fogged the mirror, you can have a loan,” said Paul Lebowitz, founder of Westport Mortgage. “They have a smarter edge to them now.”

Some rival lenders said the stated income loans on offer could be abused if borrowers fudge bank statements or don’t have enough money to repay the loan. None of the three biggest banks offer them. Sam Gilford, a spokesman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said the agency is concerned, though he wouldn’t say whether it is investigating them. The CFPB’s rules don’t give specific minimums for assets required to demonstrate an ability to repay a mortgage, but critics said a year’s worth of payments for a three-decade loan may not be enough. “It’s easier to falsify bank statements than income tax returns,” said Julia Gordon, director of housing finance and policy at the Center for American progress. To avoid the housing-bust taint, the new stated income loans are being called such things as “alternative documentation loans,” “portfolio programs,” “alternative-income verification loans” and “asset-based loans.”

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The banks rule in Japan as much as in Europe and the US.

Japan Megabanks’ $800 Billion Cash Pile Shows Abe Task (Bloomberg)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has succeeded in wrestling down the yen and snapping a 15-year deflationary spiral. The challenge of spurring lending by the country’s cash-hoarding megabanks remains. The nation’s three largest lenders increased their cash and deposits with other financial institutions 5.7 percent in the quarter to June to 82 trillion yen ($800 billion) from the previous three-month period, earnings data show. New loans by Mitsubishi UFJ, Mizuho Financial Group and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group fell 329 billion yen to 239.1 trillion yen. Abe needs to spur lending after the world’s third-largest economy shrank at an annualized 6.8 percent in the second quarter due to an April sales-tax increase aimed at curbing the world’s biggest debt burden.

While the banks can no longer park excess cash in sovereign debt amid expectations for higher yields, falling loan rates have narrowed the spread over deposit payments to levels that discourage extending credit, according to Moody’s Investors Service. “The big three are at a turning point,” said Graeme Knowd, an associate managing director who oversees corporate and financial institutions at Moody’s in Tokyo, in an interview. “They haven’t really taken credit risk for a long time. If Abenomics works, they need to reorient the business model.” Deposits at Japanese financial institutions exceeded loans by 192.5 trillion yen last month, according to Bank of Japan data. The surplus reached a record high 194.2 trillion yen a month earlier.

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Not stagflation, deflation.

Stagflation Stalks Abenomics (Bloomberg)

Maybe it’s time to stop dismissing the risk of stagflation in Japan. I’ve raised this risk a couple of times during the last 12 months as inflation rose without commensurate increases in wages or productivity. But yesterday’s ugly gross domestic product report suggests it’s a clear and present threat to Japan’s best chance at economic recovery in more than a decade. The collective reaction yesterday to the 6.8% plunge in second-quarter growth seemed to be: “Relax, it could’ve been worse.” After all, many economists were braced for a 7%-plus contraction following an ill-timed and ill-conceived consumption-tax increase in April. Yet the detail of the report – and the balance of other recent data – point toward a period of sluggish growth, at best, and continued inflation gains.
Thanks to the Bank of Japan’s unprecedented easing and the yen’s 16 percent drop during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s term, consumer prices rose 3.6% in June from a year earlier. That wouldn’t be a problem if incomes and productivity weren’t walking in place.

The 5% drop in inflation-adjusted consumption in the second quarter, meanwhile, was even greater than the recession-causing sales-tax hike of 1997, observes Richard Katz, publisher of the Oriental Economist Report. There’s evidence, too, that the gains in corporate profits that the weaker yen delivered to manufacturers is fading. Last week, Toyota stuck with a forecast for net income to drop from last year’s record $17.8 billion. Now, Japan’s largest carmakers are hunkering down for slumping domestic sales, highlighting the damage to demand by the 3 percentage point increase in the sales levy. Panasonic also is struggling as its fixed costs rise and demand for electronics in Japan wanes. Optimism that deflation has been defeated ignores the sources of today’s price increases. With the nation’s nuclear reactors switched off for safety reasons, Japan is importing expensive energy with devalued yen. This, along with doubts about the trajectory for household demand, helps explain why companies aren’t increasing wages to offset the effects of inflation.

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Sounds good, but …

Small Chinese Cities Swap GDP For Quality Of Life Metrics (FT)

More than 70 Chinese smaller cities and counties have dropped gross domestic product as a performance metric for government officials, in an effort to shift the focus to environmental protection and reducing poverty. The move, which follows a directive issued by top leaders last year, is among the first concrete signs of China switching its blind pursuit of economic growth at all costs towards measures that encourage better quality of life. Analysts say that adherence to GDP as a performance metric – thus linking it to local officials’ promotion – has contributed to environmental degradation and urban sprawl as officials encouraged heavy industry and bulldozed agricultural land to build housing developments.

“Using GDP as the main assessment method has caused a lot of problems, like unequal income distribution, problems with the social welfare system and environmental costs,” said Xie Yaxuan, head of macroeconomic analysis at China Merchants Securities in Shenzhen. Hebei, a steelmaking province north of Beijing, and Ningxia, an impoverished ethnic minority region in northwest China, have cancelled GDP-based assessment for poor counties and cities, the official Xinhua news has reported in recent months. Evaluation will instead be based on raising living standards for poor residents and reducing the number of people living in poverty.

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Does Beijing control it all? I think not.

China’s Credit Slowdown: A Default Risk? (CNBC)

China’s sharp credit growth slowdown in July may signal rising default risks in some parts of the economy, analysts said. “The phase of unchecked shadow banking growth is over, while the housing downturn is not,” Wei Yao, an economist at Societe Generale, said in a note Wednesday. China’s debt levels – which soared to 250 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) according to some estimates – have been a major concern for years, spurring fears that the borrowing surge is fueling a dangerous property bubble and overcapacity in many industries, including steel, mining and solar energy, any of which could face collapse as the economy slows and Beijing tries to choke off overinvestment. In July, the total social financing (TSF) aggregate fell to 273.1 billion yuan ($44.34 billion), indicating the amount of money flowing into China’s economy slowed to the lowest monthly reading since the October 2008 depths of the global financial crisis.

Some are concerned about the decline in new shadow banking, particularly for the trust funds. “The trust fund industry is the single largest funding provider behind the wave of leveraging up among the local governments and property developers over the recent years,” Dong Tao, an economist at Credit Suisse, said in a note Wednesday. Tao cited data from the China Trust Industry Association which showed the trust industry’s assets under management hit a record high of 12.48 trillion yuan in the second quarter, but asset growth was only 6.4 percent from the previous quarter, the slowest since data became available. “The decline in capital influx for trust funds will likely have direct implications on funding for infrastructure and property projects,” Tao said. “It also threatens the ability of debt repayment of these players when the debt matures.”

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They already have new loan provisions, just more sneaky ones.

China Seen Taking Steps to Aid Growth After Credit Plunge (Bloomberg)

China’s plunge in credit expansion last month and unexpected slowdown in investment spending flashed warnings on growth that investors and economists bet will spur policy makers to expand stimulus. Barclays is forecasting two second-half interest-rate cuts, while Australia & New Zealand Banking Group said a reduction in banks’ reserve requirements is imminent. A front page story today in the official China Securities Journal said monetary policy will continue to “lean towards relaxation amid a stable stance.” A property slump and dangers from rising bad loans are making it tougher for Premier Li Keqiang to sustain the fastest growth in the Group of 20 nations. Any stimulus would build on measures this year to expedite railway spending, free up money for loans for small businesses and channel funds toward building low-income housing.

“The top concern right now is to make sure the economy can be reasonably smooth in its growth, rather than controlling the risks,” said Li Daokui, a former PBOC academic adviser who’s a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Aggregate financing was 273.1 billion yuan ($44.4 billion) in July, the central bank said yesterday, contrasting with a Bloomberg LP gauge that showed China loosened monetary conditions last quarter at the fastest pace in almost two years. The PBOC measure includes bank loans, corporate bonds and shadow-finance categories such as entrusted loans. The credit number compared with the 1.5 trillion yuan median estimate of economists, while new local-currency loans of 385.2 billion yuan were half of projections. M2 money supply grew a less-than-anticipated 13.5 percent from a year earlier. “It is important for both monetary and fiscal policy easing to continue in the coming months,” Shen Jianguang, chief Asia economist at Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd. in Hong Kong, said in an e-mail.

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Not surprised.

1 in 3 US Soldiers May Not Get Post-Trauma Help Under New Rules (Bloomberg)

Some U.S. soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after service in Iraq and Afghanistan may not be diagnosed with the condition because of new guidelines to assess the illness, a study found. About 1 in 3 soldiers found to have PTSD under the previous diagnostic standards were missed by the new criteria, according to today’s research in the journal the Lancet Psychiatry. About 5.2 million adults in the U.S. suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder each year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Today’s study, one of the first to compare the two sets of diagnostic standards in infantry soldiers, shows that more research is needed to determine how the new rules will affect patient care, said Charles Hoge, the lead study author and a senior scientist at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“For military service members and veterans if they’ve been treated for PTSD or are in treatment for PTSD according to the old criteria, their diagnosis isn’t going to change,” Hoge said in a telephone interview. “New people coming into treatment now, it is possible some of those individuals would’ve gotten a diagnosis of PTSD but they are not receiving that diagnosis now.” People who have post-traumatic stress disorder experience flashbacks, nightmares and mood swings that disrupt their daily lives. The disorder is best known for occurring in veterans of war or victims of an assault.

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We’ll get wet feet denying it.

Antarctic Melt May Lift Sea Level Faster in Threat to Megacities (Bloomberg)

Antarctica glaciers melting because of global warming may push up sea levels faster than previously believed, potentially threatening megacities including New York and Shanghai, researchers in Germany said. Antarctica’s ice discharge may raise sea levels as much as 37 centimeters (14.6 inches) this century if the output of greenhouse gases continues to grow, according to a study led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The increase may be as little as 1 centimeter, they said. “This is a big range, which is exactly why we call it a risk,” Anders Levermann, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “Science needs to be clear about the uncertainty so that decision makers at the coast and in coastal megacities can consider the implications in their planning processes.”

NASA estimates the glaciers in the Amundsen Sea region contain enough water to raise global sea levels by 4 feet (1.2 meters) and in May said the glacier melt may have become “unstoppable.” The Potsdam institute’s projections for this century’s sea level contribution are “significantly higher” than the latest upper-end projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it said. “Earlier research indicated that Antarctica would become important in the long term,” Levermann said. “But pulling together all the evidence it seems that Antarctica could become the dominant cause of sea level rise much sooner.”

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Death toll is probably much higher.

African Nations Apply Medieval Measures To Halt Ebola Spread (NY Times)

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is so out of control that governments there have revived a disease-fighting tactic not used in nearly a century: the “cordon sanitaire,” in which a line is drawn around the infected area and no one is allowed out. Cordons, common in the medieval era of the Black Death, have not been seen since the border between Poland and Russia was closed in 1918 to stop typhus from spreading west. They have the potential to become brutal and inhumane. Centuries ago, in their most extreme form, everyone within the boundaries was left to die or survive, until the outbreak ended. Plans for the new cordon were announced on Aug. 1 at an emergency meeting in Conakry, Guinea, of the Mano River Union, a regional association of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the three countries hardest hit by Ebola, according to Agence France-Presse. The plan was to isolate a triangular area where the three countries meet, separated only by porous borders, and where 70 percent of the cases known at that time had been found.

Troops began closing internal roads in Liberia and Sierra Leone last week. The epidemic began in southern Guinea in December, but new cases there have slowed to a trickle. In the other two countries, the number of new cases is still rapidly rising. As of Monday, the region had seen 1,848 cases and 1,013 deaths, according to the World Health Organization, although many experts think that the real count is much higher because families in remote villages are avoiding hospitals and hiding victims. Officials at the health organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which have experts advising the countries, say the tactic could help contain the outbreak but want to see it used humanely. “It might work,” said Dr. Martin S. Cetron, the disease center’s chief quarantine expert. “But it has a lot of potential to go poorly if it’s not done with an ethical approach. Just letting the disease burn out and considering that the price of controlling it — we don’t live in that era anymore. And as soon as cases are under control, one should dial back the restrictions.”

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Not good.

Ebola A ‘High Risk’ In Kenya, East Africa, WHO Warns (RT)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that Kenya is at “high risk” of the spread of the deadly Ebola virus because it is a major transport hub, with several flights a day to West Africa where the disease is running riot. This is the most serious warning to date that the disease could spread to East Africa. So far it has been limited to West Africa, where it has ravaged Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, killing more than 1,000 people. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is the latest to be hit. The country of over 150 million people has now seen three deaths from Ebola. Although health checks have been stepped up in Nairobi airport in recent weeks, the Kenyan government has said it will not ban flights from the four countries hit by Ebola, because of the porous borders between African countries. There more than 70 flights a week between Kenya and West Africa. “We do not recommend a ban of flights because of porous borders,” said Kenyan health cabinet secretary James Macharia.

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