Feb 172017
 
 February 17, 2017  Posted by at 11:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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John Collier Workmen at emergency office construction job, Washington, DC Dec 1941

 


Global Growth is All About China…Nothing but China (Econimica)
US Household Debt Is Dangerously Close To 2008 Levels (CNN)
“Seriously Delinquent” US Auto Loans Surge (WS)
3 Reasons The US Could Be Headed For A Fresh Debt Crisis (MW)
Fed President Says US Banks Have “Half The Equity They Need” (Black)
Harward Turns Down National Security Adviser Job Over Staffing Dispute (CBS)
The Swamp Strikes Back (Escobar)
Who’s Sucking Up All the World’s Safest Bonds? (WSJ)
Mary Jo White Seriously Misled the US Senate to Become SEC Chair (Martens)
European Financial Centres After Brexit (E.)
Putin Orders Russian Media To “Cut Back” On Positive Trump Coverage (ZH)
‘Bank Run’ under Capital Controls: Greeks withdraw €2.5bn in 45 days (KTG)

 

 

Let this sink in. Then realize how reliable Chinese numbers are. And that’s where all the ‘growth’ is in the world.

Global Growth is All About China…Nothing but China (Econimica)

Since 2000, China has been the nearly singular force for growth in global energy consumption and economic activity. However, this article will make it plain and simple why China is exiting the spotlight and unfortunately, for global economic growth, there is no one else to take center stage. To put things into perspective I’ll show this using four very inter-related variables…(1) total energy consumption, (2) core population (25-54yr/olds) size and growth, (3) GDP (flawed as it is), and (4) debt. First off, the chart below shows total global energy consumption (all fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro, renewable, etc…data from US EIA) from 1980 through 2014, and the change per period. The growth in global energy consumption from ’00-’08 was astounding and an absolute aberration, nearly 50% greater than any previous period.

Of that growth in energy consumption, the chart below breaks down the sources of that growth among China (red), India/Africa (gold) and the rest of the world (blue). It’s plain to see the growth of Chinese energy consumption, the decelerating growth among the rest of the world, and the stagnant growth among India / Africa.

But here is the money chart, pointing out that the growth in energy consumption (by period) has shifted away from “the world” squarely to China. From 2008 through 2014 (most recent data available), 2/3rds or 66% of global energy consumption growth was China. Also very noteworthy is that India nor Africa have taken any more relevance, from a growth perspective, over time. The fate of global economic growth rests solely upon China’s shoulders.

The chart below shows China’s core population (annual change) again against total debt, GDP, and energy consumption. The reliance on debt creation as the core population growth decelerated is really hard not to see. This shrinking base of consumption will destroy the meme that a surging Chinese middle class will drive domestic and global consumption…but I expect this misconception will continue to be peddled for some time.

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Fewer delinquencies, says the Fed. But then look at the next article: “Seriously Delinquent” US Auto Loans Surge

US Household Debt Is Dangerously Close To 2008 Levels (CNN)

Total household debt climbed to $12.58 trillion at the end of 2016, an increase of $266 billion from the third quarter, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. For the year, household debt ballooned by $460 billion — the largest increase in almost a decade. That means the debt loads of Americans are flirting with 2008 levels, when total consumer debt reached a record high of $12.68 trillion. Rising debt hints that banks are extending more credit. Mortgage originations increased to the highest level since the Great Recession. Mortgage balances make up the bulk of household debt and ended the year at $8.48 trillion. However, growth in non-housing debt – which includes credit card debt and student and auto loans – are key factors fueling the rebound in debt.

Student loan debt balances rose by $31 billion in the fourth quarter to a total of $1.31 trillion, according to the report. Auto loans jumped by $22 billion as new auto loan originations for the year climbed to a record high. Credit card debts rose by $32 billion to hit $779 billion. At these rates, the New York Fed expects household debt to reach its previous 2008 peak sometime this year. But while that may sound alarming, there is one big difference between now and 2008, according to the Fed: Fewer delinquencies. At the end of 2016, 4.8% of debts were delinquent, compared to 8.5% of total household debt in the third quarter of 2008. There were also less bankruptcy filings – a little more than 200,000 consumers had a bankruptcy added to their credit report in the final quarter of last year, a 4% drop from the same quarter in 2015.

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“There’s nothing like loading up consumers with debt to make central bankers outright giddy.”

“Seriously Delinquent” US Auto Loans Surge (WS)

Bank regulators have been warning, now it’s happening. The New York Fed, in its Household Debt and Credit Report for the fourth quarter 2016, put it this way today: “Household debt increases substantially, approaching previous peak.” It jumped by $226 billion in the quarter, or 1.8%, to the glorious level of $12.58 trillion, “only $99 billion shy of its 2008 third quarter peak.” Yes! Almost there! Keep at it! There’s nothing like loading up consumers with debt to make central bankers outright giddy. Auto loan balances in 2016 surged at the fastest pace in the 18-year history of the data series, the report said, driven by the highest originations of loans ever. Alas, what the auto industry has been dreading is now happening: Delinquencies have begun to surge.

This chart – based on data from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, which varies slightly from the New York Fed’s data – shows how rapidly auto loan balances have ballooned since the Great Recession. At $1.112 trillion (or $1.16 trillion according to the New York Fed), they’re now 35% higher than they’d been during the crazy peak of the prior bubble. Note that during the $93 billion increase in auto loan balances in 2016, new vehicle sales were essentially flat. No way that this is an auto loan bubble. Not this time. It’s sustainable. Or at least containable when it’s not sustainable, or whatever. These ballooning loans have made the auto sales boom possible.

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Not a new topic, but some useful numbers.

3 Reasons The US Could Be Headed For A Fresh Debt Crisis (MW)

Subprime car loansThe amount of total open car loans just topped $1 trillion, according to credit ratings firm Experian. But is that a sign of consumer confidence … or a cause for alarm? According to the latest data, from the third quarter of 2016, about 1 in 5 car loans are made to subprime borrowers, at an average interest rate of almost 11%. And broadly speaking, the average car loan in the U.S. is for a balance of almost $30,000 and a monthly payment of about $500. With stats like that, it’s no wonder the default rate on car loans is rising. A study by lending analysis firm Lending Times recently found that auto loan delinquencies are up over 21% compared with 2012 levels. A senior vice president at TransUnion, one of the three major credit rating bureaus, recently said he expects “a modest increase in delinquency” for auto loans going forward, too.

Just image what would happen if rates tick a bit higher. After all, if homeowners who were “underwater” on their homes in 2007 could shrug off the impact of a foreclosure on their credit report and simply walk away from a big mortgage, then why in the world would they stick with a double-digit interest rate on a car loan — especially as that car ages or breaks down? The real weight of these loans continues to hit the balance sheets of lenders, with net subprime losses continuing to march upward in December to 8.52%. Standard & Poor’s U.S. Auto Loan Tracker noted that while some of the acceleration was seasonal, “the year-over-year increases indicate that 2017’s losses could surpass last year’s levels.” No wonder the New York Fed called subprime auto debt a “significant concern” at the end of last year.

Student loans Hedge-fund guru Bill Ackman has said “I think that the government’s going to lose hundreds of millions of dollars” on student loans. And while that may sound like hysterics, when you consider that there is roughly $1.4 trillion in outstanding student debt, according to the Federal Reserve, that number doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Most of that is owned by the federal government via subsidized loans, too, with a recent Bloomberg report estimating the government owned some $850 billion in student loan debt as of 2014. Even a modest default rate would quite literally eat up hundreds of millions of dollars in a hurry. The losses for the government are disturbing, but at least can be made up with higher taxes or cuts elsewhere in the budget. There’s no relief for the millions of young Americans who are stuck paying for their college degree instead of spending on consumer goods.

Government-insured mortgagesAfter the collapse of subprime mortgages during the financial crisis, banks learned a hard lesson about these risky home loans. But if you think that means they avoided all loans to less-than-stellar borrowers, think again. The New York Fed recently juxtaposed the rise of government-insured mortgages vis-à-vis the decline in subprime lending to find that “government insurance programs rapidly expanded and more than filled the void.” That mirrors a report from ProPublica back in 2012 that estimated 9 in 10 mortgages issued at the time were being guaranteed by taxpayers via government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And while standards are moderately higher for loans with this government backstop than precrisis loans to subprime borrowers, “they are not low-risk loans,” write the New York Fed economists. “The combination of high leverage and low credit scores documented above translates into extremely high default rates.”

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It’s all about political power.

Fed President Says US Banks Have “Half The Equity They Need” (Black)

In a scathing editorial published in the Wall Street Journal today, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Neel Kashkari, blasted US banks, saying that they still lacked sufficient capital to withstand a major crisis. Kashkari makes a great analogy. When you’re applying for a mortgage or business loan, sensible banks are supposed to demand a 20% down payment from their borrowers. If you want to buy a $500,000 home, a conservative bank will loan creditworthy borrowers $400,000. The borrower must be able to scratch together a $100,000 down payment. But when banks make investments and buy assets, they aren’t required to do the same thing. Remember that when you deposit money at a bank, you’re essentially loaning them your savings.

As a bank depositor, you’re the lender. The bank is the borrower. Banks pool together their deposits and make various loans and investments. They buy government bonds, financial commercial trade, and fund real estate purchases. Some of their investment decisions make sense. Others are completely idiotic, as we saw in the 2008 financial meltdown. But the larger point is that banks don’t use their own money to make these investments. They use other people’s money. Your money. A bank’s investment portfolio is almost entirely funded with its customers’ savings. Very little of the bank’s own money is at risk. You can see the stark contrast here. If you as an individual want to borrow money to invest in something, you’re obliged to put down 20%, perhaps even much more depending on the asset.

Your down payment provides a substantial cushion for the bank; if you stop paying the loan, the value of the property could decline 20% before the bank loses any money. But if a bank wants to make an investment, they typically don’t have to put down a single penny. The bank’s lenders, i.e. its depositors, put up all the money for the investment. If the investment does well, the bank keeps all the profits. But if the investment does poorly, the bank hasn’t risked any of its own money. The bank’s lenders (i.e. the depositors) are taking on all the risk. This seems pretty one-sided, especially considering that in exchange for assuming all the risk of a bank’s investment decisions, you are rewarded with a miniscule interest rate that fails to keep up with inflation. (After which the government taxes you on the interest that you receive.) It hardly seems worth it.

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Murky.

Harward Turns Down National Security Adviser Job Over Staffing Dispute (CBS)

Vice Admiral Robert Harward has rejected President Trump’s offer to be the new national security adviser, CBS News’ Major Garrett reports. Sources close to the situation told Garrett Harward and the administration had a dispute over staffing the security council. Two sources close to the situation confirm Harward demanded his own team, and the White House resisted. Specifically, Mr. Trump told Deputy National Security Adviser K. T. McFarland that she could retain her post, even after the ouster of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Harward refused to keep McFarland as his deputy, and after a day of negotiations over this and other staffing matters, Harward declined to serve as Flynn’s replacement.

Harward, a 60-year-old former Navy SEAL, served as deputy commander of U.S. Central Command under now-Defense Secretary James Mattis. He previously served as deputy commanding general for operations of Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Harward has also commanded troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan for six years after the 9/11 attacks. Under President George W. Bush, he served on the National Security Council as director of strategy and policy for the office of combating terrorism.

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As I said: the New Cold War is being fought INSIDE the US.

The Swamp Strikes Back (Escobar)

The tawdry Michael Flynn soap opera boils down to the CIA hemorrhaging leaks to the company town newspaper, leading to the desired endgame: a resounding victory for hardcore neocon/neoliberalcon US Deep State factions in one particular battle. But the war is not over; in fact it’s just beginning. Even before Flynn’s fall, Russian analysts had been avidly discussing whether President Trump is the new Victor Yanukovich – who failed to stop a color revolution at his doorstep. The Made in USA color revolution by the axis of Deep State neocons, Democratic neoliberalcons and corporate media will be pursued, relentlessly, 24/7. But more than Yanukovich, Trump might actually be remixing Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping: “crossing the river while feeling the stones”. Rather, crossing the swamp while feeling the crocs.

Flynn out may be interpreted as a Trump tactical retreat. After all Flynn may be back – in the shade, much as Roger Stone. If current deputy national security advisor K T McFarland gets the top job – which is what powerful Trump backers are aiming at – the shadowplay Kissinger balance of power, in its 21st century remix, is even strengthened; after all McFarland is a Kissinger asset. Flynn worked with Special Forces; was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA); handled highly classified top secret information 24/7. He obviously knew all his conversations on an open, unsecure line were monitored. So he had to have morphed into a compound incarnation of the Three Stooges had he positioned himself to be blackmailed by Moscow.

What Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak certainly discussed was cooperation in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, and what Moscow might expect in return: the lifting of sanctions. US corporate media didn’t even flinch when US intel admitted they have a transcript of the multiple phone calls between Flynn and Kislyak. So why not release them? Imagine the inter-galactic scandal if these calls were about Russian intel monitoring the US ambassador in Moscow. No one paid attention to the two key passages conveniently buried in the middle of this US corporate media story. 1) “The intelligence official said there had been no finding inside the government that Flynn did anything illegal.” 2) “…the situation became unsustainable – not because of any issue of being compromised by Russia – but because he [Flynn] has lied to the president and the vice president.” Recap: nothing illegal; and Flynn not compromised by Russia. The “crime” – according to Deep State factions: talking to a Russian diplomat.

Vice-President Mike Pence is a key piece in the puzzle; after all his major role is as insider guarantor – at the heart of the Trump administration – of neocon Deep State interests. The CIA did leak. The CIA most certainly has been spying on all Trump operatives. Flynn though fell on his own sword. Classic hubris; his fatal mistake was to strategize by himself – even before he became national security advisor. “Mad Dog” Mattis, T. Rex Tillerson – both, by the way, very close to Kissinger – and most of all Pence did not like it one bit once they were informed.

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A big way in which central banks distort markets.

Who’s Sucking Up All the World’s Safest Bonds? (WSJ)

The world is running out of safe financial assets. One reason may be regulators’ push to make trading safer. A scarcity of safe collateral can create bouts of volatility in the markets where investors fund their purchases. Economists also worry that a lack of quality public-sector assets leads the private sector to create less reliable and riskier substitutes. Global rules increasingly require that investors deposit cash as security, called margin, when they trade with each other. This money is often left at clearinghouses, which are intermediaries that stand between buyers and sellers and step in if one of the parties won’t make good on a transaction. Regulators are trying to give these clearinghouses more heft to make the financial system safer.

The clearinghouses, in turn, have to do something with the cash, and they frequently take it to repurchase, or “repo,” markets, where they lend it out in exchange for high-quality assets such as German bunds or U.S. Treasurys. That has the effect of vacuuming up safe assets. Paradoxically, cash—at least its electronic form—isn’t ultrasafe: It needs to be left in bank deposits, and even the strongest banks have some risk. Treasurys and bunds don’t. Europe’s dearth of safe assets is especially acute. According to a semiannual survey released Tuesday by the International Capital Market Association, demand for collateral in the eurozone increased significantly in the second half of 2016. The ECB and other central banks across the developed world have been blamed for this safe-asset scarcity because they have bought trillions of dollars worth of government bonds in a bid to boost economic growth.

However, during a speech last month, ECB official Yves Mersch pointed to clearinghouses as a key culprit, and warned that “the requirements for trades to be centrally cleared are still being introduced, so the demand from market infrastructure to exchange cash for collateral will rise.” Data are scarce, but the latest figures from the Bank for International Settlements show that more than half of the notional amount outstanding of derivatives transactions was centrally cleared by the end of 2014, after new regulation was enacted—twice as much as in 2009.

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“Americans will continue to be relegated to the status of dumb tourist in their own country.”

Mary Jo White Seriously Misled the US Senate to Become SEC Chair (Martens)

Less than two weeks after Mary Jo White was nominated to become Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission by President Barack Obama on January 24, 2013, White filed an ethics disclosure letter advising that she would “retire” from her position representing Wall Street banks at the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. White wrote on this subject in great detail, stating:

“Upon confirmation, I will retire from the partnership of Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP. Following my retirement, the law firm will not owe me an outstanding partnership share for either 2012 or any part of 2013. As a retired partner, I will be entitled to the use of secretarial services, office space and a blackberry at the firm’s expense. For the duration of my appointment, I will forgo these three benefits, though I may pay for some secretarial services at my own expense. Pursuant to the Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP Partners Retirement Program, I will receive monthly lifetime retirement payments from the firm commencing the month after my retirement. However, within 60 days of my appointment, the firm will make a lump sum payment, in lieu of making monthly retirement payments for the next four years. Within 60 days of my appointment, I also will receive payouts of my interest in the Debevoise & Plimpton LLP Cash Balance Retirement plan and my capital account.”

Yesterday it was widely reported in the business press that Mary Jo White is returning to her former law firm as a partner representing clients who face government investigations. She will also fill the newly created position of Senior Chair of the law firm. This news is highly significant because it would appear that the U.S. Senate was seriously misled by White’s ethics letter in its deliberations to confirm her as the top cop of Wall Street. The news is also highly significant because it will mark the fourth time in four decades that Mary Jo White has spun through the revolving doors of Debevoise & Plimpton (where she represented serial law violators) to government service (prosecuting serial law violators).

[..] Until there is meaningful legislative reform of political campaign financing and revolving door appointments, Americans will continue to be relegated to the status of dumb tourist in their own country.

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Bankers have too much money and too much power.

European Financial Centres After Brexit (E.)

“WHEN the vote took place,” says Valérie Pécresse, “it was an opportunity for us to promote Île de France”, the region around Paris of which she is the elected head. Two advertising campaigns were prepared, depending on the result of Britain’s referendum last June on leaving the European Union. The unused copy ran: “You made one good decision. Make another. Choose Paris region.” Brexit has made Paris bolder. Once Britain leaves Europe’s single market, the many international banks and other firms that have made London their EU home will lose the “passports” that allow them to serve clients in the other 27 states. Possibly, mutual recognition by Britain and the EU of each other’s regulatory regimes will persist. But no one can rely on the transition to Brexit being smooth, rather than a feared “cliff edge”. Best to assume the worst.

Britain is expected to start the two-year process of withdrawal next month. Given the time needed to get approval from regulators, find offices and move (or hire) staff, financial firms have long been weighing their options. London will remain Europe’s leading centre, but other cities are keen to take what they can. The Parisians are pushing hardest, pitching their city as London’s partner and peer. “I don’t see the relationship with London as a rivalry,” says Ms Pécresse. “The rivalry is not with London but with Dublin, Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Frankfurt.” Especially, it seems, Frankfurt. Paris has more big local banks, more big companies and more international schools than its German rival. London apart, say the French team, it is Europe’s only “global city”. When, they smirk, did you last take your partner to Frankfurt for the weekend?

This month the Parisians were in London, briefing 80 executives from banks, asset managers, private-equity firms and fintech companies. They are keen to dispel France’s image as an interventionist, high-tax, work-shy place. The headline corporate-tax rate is 33.3% but due to fall to 28% by 2020. A scheme giving income-tax breaks to high earners who have lived outside France for at least five years will now apply for eight years after arrival or return, not five. The Socialists, who run the city itself, and Ms Pécresse’s Republicans are joined in a business-friendly “sacred union”, says Gérard Mestrallet, president of Paris Europlace, which promotes the financial centre. Ms Pécresse and others play down the risk that Marine Le Pen, of the far-right, Eurosceptic National Front will win the presidential election this spring.

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“Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?” the U.S. president tweeted.

Putin Orders Russian Media To “Cut Back” On Positive Trump Coverage (ZH)

Trump’s honeymoon with capital markets is on the rocks, kept alive only by the occasional soundbite about “massive” or “phenomenal” tax cuts; it now appears that the US president’s – until recently – amicable relationship with Russia is also quickly souring. According to Bloomberg, the Kremlin has ordered Russian state media to cut “way back” on their fawning coverage of President Donald Trump, in what three sources told BBG is a “reflection of growing concern among senior Russian officials that the new U.S. administration will be less friendly than first thought.” The Russian president has defended his decision saying it is the result of declining interest among the Russian viewers in Trump’s rise to power, but Bloomberg adds that some of the most popular TV segments on Trump touched on ideas the Kremlin would rather not promote, such as his pledge to “drain the swamp.”

The suggestion is that since Trump is looking to end governmental corruption, the “authoritarian” Putin should be worried; and yet instead of “draining the swamp” Trump has filled it by surrounded himself with precisely those bankers he used as populist examples of all that is wrong with the government. As such, Putin should greet Trump’s failed “swamp draining” although that part did not make it into the Bloomberg report. Putin’s decree comes at a time of rising anti-Russian sentiment in Washington, where U.S. spy and law-enforcement agencies are conducting multiple investigations to determine the full extent of contacts Trump’s advisers had with Russia during and after the 2016 election campaign.

According to Bloomberg, the order marks a stark turnaround from just a few weeks ago when Russia hailed Trump’s presidential victory as the beginning of a new era of cooperation between the former Cold War foes. “Trump’s campaign was watched with rapture as news anchors gushed over the novelty of hearing an American presidential candidate praise Putin. But the wall-to-wall coverage went too far for the Kremlin’s liking.” In January, Trump reportedly received more mentions in the media than Putin, relegating the Russian leader to the No. 2 spot for the first time since he returned to the Kremlin in 2012 after four years as premier, according to Interfax data.”

That said, there has certainly been a chilling in relations between Trump and Putin. In recent weeks, numerous White House officials, including Trump, have criticized Russia for its annexation of Crimea and the subsequent violence in Ukraine. Trump on Wednesday accused Putin of seizing Crimea from Ukraine in a series of Twitter posts that were delivered amid a flurry of allegations that his team has ties to Russia. “Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?” the U.S. president tweeted. As Bloomberg concludes, Russian officials, who had readily commented to local media on earlier news from Washington, suddenly became less talkative after the Crimea comment. And so, with Trump-Putin relations suddenly in purgatory, and Trump’s domestic “Russia-facing” exposure in chaos, it is now unclear how Trump will pivot away to restore what many had hoped would lead to a restoration in normal relations between the two countries.

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And there we go again.

‘Bank Run’ under Capital Controls: Greeks withdraw €2.5bn in 45 days (KTG)

Delays in the talks between Greece and its lenders have brought back the ghost of Grexit. The grave disagreement between the IMF and the European lenders, Grexit bombshell flying around and Greece’s reluctance to accept additional austerity measures have increase uncertainty among citizens – for one more time. And what do citizens do when they feel political and economical insecurity? The run to banks and withdraw deposits. 2.5 billion euros left Greek banks in the last 45 days. And this despite the capital controls that allow Greeks to withdraw a maximum of just €1,800 per month. However, in better situation are those who brought back cash to the banks. Cash that was largely withdrawn before the capital controls were imposed in July 2015 as a result of a major bank run from November 2014 until end of June 2015.

Those who pulled the cash from under the mattress and brought it to bank are allowed to withdraw money above the €1800 cap. According to newspaper Eidiseis, the cash withdrawal in the last 45 days has set bankers in alert. In addition to cash withdrawals, business loans and mortgage, amounting a total of €500 million, turned red. A sign that the delay in the conclusion of the second review has increased uncertainty among the Greeks, as the daily notes. Speaking to the daily, sources from the Union of Greek Banks said that “time is not working in our favor.” They stressed that the government and the lenders should reach a compromise. Beginning of February, Greek websites for economic news had reported that more than one billion euros was withdrawn in January 2017.

According to a report of November 2015, more than €120 billion left the Greek banks during the years of the crisis. €45 billion left the banks during November 2014 – 2015. 80% of this amount, that is some €36 billion are been kept in homes, company safes or in bank lockers.

Read more …

Feb 052017
 
 February 5, 2017  Posted by at 8:59 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Hugo Simberg The Wounded Angel 1903

 


US Appeals Court Denies Request To Restore Trump’s Immigration Ban (R.)
DHS Suspends Actions On Travel Ban; ‘Standard Policy’ Now In Effect (R.)
Trump Tells O’Reilly He ‘Respects’ Putin in Super Bowl Interview (Fox)
As Trump Weighs Thaw With Putin, EU Set to Renew Its Blacklist (BBG)
Goldman Throws Cold Water On Trump Agenda (CNBC)
Economists Say Action On Carbon Is Vital, Or Say Nothing At All (Age)
Japan – It’s Finally Happening (Muir)
Le Pen Kicks Off Campaign With Promise Of French ‘Freedom’ (R.)
Theresa May Abandons ‘Home Owning Democracy’ of Thatcher and Tories (G.)
Attention Trade Warriors: Germany’s Surplus is on the Wane (BBG)
Dennis Kucinich Rages Against The Military-Industrial-Complex (FB)
NATO, Not Russia, Has Deployed Tanks To Poland & Baltic States – Galloway (RT)
Varoufakis Calls on PM Tspiras to Ditch Bailout Restructuring (GR)
Varoufakis Urges Tsipras To Ditch Negotiations, Adopt “Parallel System” (KTG)
UK: Refugees Heading To Europe To Be Sent To Asia And Latin America (Ind.)

 

 

It was always going to the Supreme Court. More interesting right now is how strongly this is dividing the White House team. Kelly refused to enact some of Bannon’s demands. Tillerson and Mattis are not sitting comfortable either. And the legal team has gained in standing, a lot. Trump cannot afford too many of these snags, even if they love the attention and controversy coming from it. All in all, a good thing that the legal system gets tested, never a thing to fall asleep on.

US Appeals Court Denies Request To Restore Trump’s Immigration Ban (R.)

A U.S. appeal court late on Saturday denied an emergency appeal from the U.S. Department of Justice to restore an immigration order from President Donald Trump barring citizens from seven mainly Muslim countries and temporarily banning refugees. “Appellants’ request for an immediate administrative stay pending full consideration of the emergency motion for a stay pending appeal is denied,” the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said. It said a reply from the Department in support of the emergency appeal was due on Monday. The Department filed the appeal a day after a federal judge in Seattle ordered Trump’s travel ban to be lifted. The president’s Jan. 27 order had barred admission of citizens from the seven nations for 90 days.

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Law.

DHS Suspends Actions On Travel Ban; ‘Standard Policy’ Now In Effect (R.)

A Seattle federal judge on Friday put a nationwide block on U.S. President Donald Trump’s week-old executive order that had temporarily barred refugees and nationals from seven countries from entering the United States. The judge’s temporary restraining order represents a major setback for Trump’s action, though the White House said late Friday that it believed the ban to be “lawful and appropriate” and that the U.S. Department of Justice would file an emergency appeal. As a result of the ruling, the Department of Homeland Security suspended its enforcement of the ban, announcing on Saturday that “standard policy and procedures” were now in effect. “In accordance with the judge’s ruling, DHS has suspended any and all actions implementing the affected sections of the Executive Order entitled, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” DHS said in a statement.

“DHS personnel will resume inspection of travelers in accordance with standard policy and procedure,” it stated, adding that the Justice Department would file an emergency stay to “defend the president’s executive order, which is lawful and appropriate.” The move came on the heels of the State Department announcing it was reversing the revocation of visas that left countless travelers stranded at airports last weekend. The move all but ensures a protracted public and legal battle over one of Trump’s most controversial policies, barely two weeks after he was inaugurated. Early Saturday morning, Trump criticised the ruling as “ridiculous” and warned of big trouble if a country could not control its borders.

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Quite right. Putin bashing is a losing strategy.

Trump Tells O’Reilly He ‘Respects’ Putin in Super Bowl Interview (Fox)

On Sunday, Bill O’Reilly will hold a special Super Bowl pre-game interview with President Trump at 4 p.m. ET on your local FOX broadcast station. In a special preview, Trump revealed his plans for dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin. O’Reilly asked Trump whether he “respects” the former KGB agent: “I do respect him, but I respect a lot of people,” Trump said, “That doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him.” Trump said he would appreciate any assistance from Russia in the fight against ISIS terrorists, adding that he would rather get along with the former Cold War-era foe than otherwise. “But, [Putin] is a killer,” O’Reilly said. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump responded, “We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”

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For the EU, like NATO, Putin bashing is the only thing left that provides a reason to be. That’s just dangerous.

As Trump Weighs Thaw With Putin, EU Set to Renew Its Blacklist (BBG)

The European Union plans to renew asset freezes and travel bans against key allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin who are accused of destabilizing Ukraine, at a time when Donald Trump is weighing warmer ties with Moscow. Four EU officials said member governments intend by mid-March to prolong the sanctions for another six months on more than 100 Ukrainians and Russians. Among them: Arkady Rotenberg, co-owner of SMP Bank and InvestCapitalBank, and Yury Kovalchuk, the biggest shareholder in Bank Rossiya, the Brussels-based officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the deliberations are confidential. Trump, who had a phone call with Putin on Jan. 28, has left open the possibility of easing the U.S.’s sanctions against Russia.

Former President Barack Obama drew up the American penalties in coordination with the 28-nation EU after Putin annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2014 and lent support to separatist rebels. “The Europeans are waiting to see what hand grenade Trump throws into the Russia-Ukraine pond,” Michael Emerson, a foreign-policy expert at the CEPS think tank in Brussels, said by phone. With the asset freezes and travel bans due to expire on March 15, “European politicians and diplomats will be cautious and stick to the status quo,” he said. The planned renewal of the blacklist highlights the EU’s political commitment to a policy that Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande guided in step with Obama. The European sanctions against Russia resemble the U.S. penalties and include a separate set of curbs – prolonged for another six months just before Trump took office on Jan. 20 – on Russia’s financial, energy and defense industries.

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Volatility.

Goldman Throws Cold Water On Trump Agenda (CNBC)

The policy halo effect that provided ballast to the stock market and fueled investor optimism is already being dimmed by political realities, according to Goldman Sachs, which may have negative implications for economic growth. In a note to clients on Friday, the investment bank noted President Donald Trump’s agenda was already running into bipartisan political resistance, with doubts growing about potential tax reform and a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, among other marquee Trump administration initiatives. Just two weeks into his tenure, “risks are less positively tilted than they appeared shortly after the election ,” Goldman wrote. Growing resistance to Trump’s executive orders on immigration and financial reform has galvanized opposition while dividing members of the president’s own Republican Party.

It has also curbed the enthusiasm of investors, who sent stocks on a roller-coaster ride this week as they struggled to reconcile the new restrictions on immigration with Trump’s professed pro-business bent. “While bipartisan cooperation looked possible on some issues following the election, the political environment appears to be as polarized as ever, suggesting that issues that require bipartisan support may be difficult to address,” the bank added. The balance of risks “are less positively tilted than they appeared shortly after the election,” Goldman said, which may blunt the force of future growth. Amid reports that top GOP members are reportedly becoming nervous about the impact of a full-fleged repeal of health care, that political pushback “does not bode well for reaching a quick agreement on tax reform or infrastructure funding, and reinforces our view that a fiscal boost, if it happens, is mostly a 2018 story.”

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Steve on Twitter: “Coulnd’t resist it: sanctimonious carbon price pap, & belief market can solve an ecological problem just baug me. So my satirical gene fired.”

Economists Say Action On Carbon Is Vital, Or Say Nothing At All (Age)

There is no consensus. Economists either believe it is vital that Australia becomes a low-carbon intensity economy, or that the issue is so unimportant – or perhaps that it is so politically divisive – that they choose not to volunteer an opinion. Asked about the importance of reducing the country’s carbon footprint and how best to do it, more than half of 27 economists from industry, consultancy, academia and finance questioned for the annual BusinessDay Scope survey agreed it was a must. Another 10 left the question blank. Whether this indicates a lack of interest or the contentious nature of climate change policy is unclear. But none of those who did answer made the case that cleaning up the economy did not matter. They overwhelmingly said action should be swift and include a market-based carbon pricing scheme.

[..] Steve Keen, of London’s Kingston University, made what – we think – was a similar point about the importance of climate action, albeit less conventionally. “Nah mate! Wassa matta, dontcha own a pair of budgie smugglers?” he wrote. “It’s all a conspiracy by Marxists anyway to undermine the Ostralyan way of life – you know, burning stuff and damn well enjoying it rather than whingeing. “A bit a coal never hurt anyone, matter of fact it tastes even better than a raw onion!”

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“I am shorting JGBs with both fists.”

Japan – It’s Finally Happening (Muir)

I still shake my head at the stupidity. One of the most overindebted countries in the history of modern finance trading with a 0% thirty year bond. Professor Malkiel – stick that in your pipe and smoke it. But into that panic a crazy thing happened. Worried its bonds would trade at negative yields and pressure the financial system, the Bank of Japan pegged its 10 year yield at 0%. In doing so, the Bank of Japan moved from a set rate of balance sheet expansion to one that varies based on whether that peg is either too high, or too low. If the equilibrium level of 10 year rates was in fact below 0%, the Bank of Japan would be forced to sell bonds to keep rates stuck at 0%. If there was demand for credit and 10 year rates moved higher, then the BoJ would be forced to buy bonds to keep them from declining.

The BoJ program was a little more nuanced, and there were some caveats, but at its heart, the BoJ was giving up control of its balance sheet so it could peg a specific part of the yield curve. Of course Central Banks do this all the time. The difference is they usually operate at the front part of the curve, and when there is too much demand or supply, they change the rate. When the Bank of Japan took this unprecedented step, I walked away from my short JGB position. I figured there were better fixed income markets to short. Yet I highlighted that by pegging the 10 year rate, the Bank of Japan had not eliminated volatility, but merely postponed it. Eventually the Bank of Japan’s massive balance sheet expansion would kick in. At that point, inflation would pick up, credit would be demanded and the Bank of Japan would be forced to defend the 0% peg.

Yet this defending would be expansionary as they would be forced to buy bonds and expand the amount of base money, which if not offset with a decline in the velocity of money, would create more inflation, etc… All of this would be occurring with an already highly supercharged Japanese Central Bank balance sheet. I have been sitting and waiting for this expansionary feedback loop to kickstart. Until recently, the Bank of Japan had not been forced to buy any bonds to keep the rate pegged at 0%. When 10 year rates drifted far enough above 0%, the Bank of Japan made a bid to buy an unlimited number of bonds at a level below the market, which scared the market back to the pegged level. But this week the market decided to test the BoJ’s resolve.

The JGB 10 Year bond spiked through the previous high yield on news the Bank of Japan would not be expanding their balance sheet quite as aggressively as expected in their regular QE program. As yields popped through the previous 0.10% yield ceiling, the Bank of Japan came charging into the market. The BoJ bid 3-4 basis points through the market with unlimited size to push yields back down to the 0.10% level. What does this mean? The market is finally saying the demand for credit is enough to force the Bank of Japan to buy bonds to keep rates down. And that was the signal I was waiting for. I am shorting JGBs with both fists. It probably won’t happen tomorrow, nor the next day. Heck it probably won’t even happen next month, but we have reached the point where I need to be short JGBs.

The pressure will continue to build and when it finally bursts, the torrent will be overwhelming and quick. Although many traders think they will be able to climb on board, it will most likely be extremely difficult – like jumping on a raft bouncing down a raging river, it always seems way easier than it is. I hate German bunds, but I now have a fixed income instrument I hate even more. I expect bund yields to double or even triple in the coming quarters, but JGBs will eventually trade significantly though bunds. It would be just like the Market Gods to finally usher in the JGBs collapse once all the hedge fund guys had given up on it…

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Count her out at your own peril.

Le Pen Kicks Off Campaign With Promise Of French ‘Freedom’ (R.)

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen kicked off her presidential campaign on Saturday with a promise to shield voters from globalization and make their country “free”, hoping to profit from political turmoil to score a Donald Trump-style upset. Opinion polls see the 48-year old daughter of National Front (FN) founder Jean-Marie Le Pen topping the first round on April 23 but then losing the May 7 run-off to a mainstream candidate. But in the most unpredictable election race France has known in decades, the FN hopes the scandal hitting conservative candidate Francois Fillon and the rise of populism across the West will help convince voters to back Le Pen. “We were told Donald Trump would never win in the United States against the media, against the establishment, but he won… We were told Marine Le Pen would not win the presidential election, but on May 7 she will win!” Jean-Lin Lacapelle, a top FN official, told several hundred party officials and members.

In 144 “commitments” published at the start of a two-day rally in Lyon, Le Pen proposes leaving the euro zone, holding a referendum on EU membership, slapping taxes on imports and on the job contracts of foreigners, lowering the retirement age and increasing several welfare benefits while lowering income tax. The manifesto also foresees reserving certain rights now available to all residents, including free education, to French citizens only, hiring 15,000 police, curbing migration and leaving NATO’s integrated command. “The aim of this program is first of all to give France its freedom back and give the people a voice,” Le Pen said in the introduction to the manifesto.

[..] “This presidential election puts two opposite proposals,” Le Pen said in her manifesto. “The ‘globalist’ choice backed by all my opponents … and the ‘patriotic’ choice which I personify.” If elected, Le Pen says she would immediately seek an overhaul of the European Union that would reduce it to a very loose cooperative of nations with no single currency and no border-free area. If, as is likely, France’s EU partners refuse to agree to this, she would call a referendum to leave the bloc.

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Horse barn.

Theresa May Abandons ‘Home Owning Democracy’ of Thatcher and Tories (G.)

A major shift in Tory housing policy in favour of people who rent will be announced by ministers this week as Theresa May’s government admits that home ownership is now out of reach for millions of families. In a departure from her predecessor David Cameron, who focused on advancing Margaret Thatcher’s ambition for a “home-owning democracy”, a white paper will aim to deliver more affordable and secure rental deals, and threaten tougher action against rogue landlords, for the millions of families unable to buy because of sky-high property prices. Ministers will say they want to change planning and other rules to ensure developers provide a proportion of new homes for “affordable rent” instead of just insisting that they provide a quota of “affordable homes for sale”.

They will also announce incentives to encourage landlords to offer “family-friendly” guaranteed three-year tenancies, new action to ban unscrupulous landlords who offer sub-standard properties, and a further consultation on banning many of the fees that are charged by letting agents. A senior Whitehall source said: “We want to help renters get more choice, a better deal and more secure tenancies.” They added that the government did not want to scare people off from renting out homes, but offer incentives to encourage best practice and isolate the worst landlords. By emphasising the rights of renters, as well as trying to boost house building, the white paper will mark a turning point for a party that since the 1980s, and the first council house sales, has promoted home ownership as a badge of success, while neglecting the interests of renters.

The Tory manifesto for the 2015 general election spelt out plans for 200,000 new “starter homes” that could be bought by first-time buyers at 20% discounts, but said little about promoting the interests and improving the lot of so-called “generation rent”. Cameron also pushed the idea of getting people on the housing ladder through shared ownership schemes, an idea that is no longer such a priority. The white paper will be seen as part of May’s deliberate break with Cameron, and her drive to create a country “that works for everyone, not just the privileged few”.

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Makes no difference anymore to Greece and Italy.

Attention Trade Warriors: Germany’s Surplus is on the Wane (BBG)

The Trump administration appears intent on escalating the long-standing U.S. practice of attacking Germany’s current-account surplus. Good news for those on the receiving end: It has probably peaked. As officials like National Trade Council director Peter Navarro rail against the trade imbalance that dominates the balance of payments between the two countries, pensioners, home-buyers and immigrants are quietly working to bring that $297 billion current-account surplus down. According to research by Deutsche Bank, demographics and a housing boom are two factors that will drive the current account balance – the difference between what a country earns from abroad and what it spends – to its lowest level in seven years by 2020.

That may offer little consolation to the German delegation when it hosts a Group of 20 meeting of finance ministers in March, as they’ll likely face intensified criticism for allowing such an imbalance to continue. Germany has long faced flak, both within the euro area and outside it, for failing to encourage greater domestic spending and imports to balance out its external excess. Still, while the weaker euro will continue to make German exports attractive in the U.S. – think expensive sedans, high-tech machinery – there are countervailing factors at play on the other side of the equation. “In the medium term we expect the demographic development and the solid domestic economy, driven by a sustained positive development on the property market, to push the surplus down to 7 percent of GDP,” Deutsche Bank economist Heiko Peters said by phone.

A rising share of pensioners in the German population, who normally have less money to save than people in jobs, will crimp household savings rates, while an increasing number of immigrants such as refugees will contribute to boosting German imports, Peters wrote in a study first published last year. And with housing valuations outpacing income and rent growth since 2009, home owners feel richer, save less toward retirement and borrow against their property. That leads to rising imports of building materials to fuel the property boom and increased demand for foreign consumer goods on the back of the wealth effect. 7% of GDP is still a mighty big number for an economy as large as Germany’s. “That’s still a relatively high level until 2020,” Peters says. “But an even greater demographic effect is then expected for 2020-2025, and the surplus should then decline clearly further.”

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Another ‘curious’ WaPo feat.

Dennis Kucinich Rages Against The Military-Industrial-Complex (FB)

I have dedicated my life to peace. As a member of Congress I led efforts to avert conflict and end wars in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Iran. And yet those of us who work for peace are put under false scrutiny to protect Washington’s war machine. Those who undermine our national security by promoting military attacks and destroying other nations are held up as national leaders to admire. Recently Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and I took a Congressional Ethics-approved fact finding trip to Lebanon and Syria, where we visited Aleppo and refugee camps, and met with religious leaders, governmental leaders and people from all sides of the conflict, including political opposition to the Syrian government.

Since that time we have been under constant attack on false grounds. The media and the war establishment are desperate to keep hold of their false narrative for world-wide war, interventionism and regime change, which is a profitable business for Washington insiders and which impoverishes our own country. Today, Rep. Gabbard came under attack yet again by the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin who has been on a tear trying to ruin the reputations of the people and the organization who sponsored our humanitarian, fact-finding mission of peace to the Middle East. Rogin just claimed in a tweet that as community organization I have been associated with for twenty years does not exist. The organization is in my neighborhood. Here’s photos I took yesterday of AACCESS-Ohio’s marquee.

It clearly exists, despite the base, condescending assertions of Mr. Rogin. Enough of this dangerous pettiness. Let’s dig in to what is really going on, inside Syria, in the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon. In the words of President Eisenhower, let’s beware (and scrutinize) the military-industrial-complex. It is time to be vigilant for our democracy.


These leaders of the Christian faith in Aleppo begged for the US to stop funding terrorists in #Syria. They expressed that before international interventions (covert and overt) Syrians lived in peace without concern as to whether they were Christian, Muslim or Jew.

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Line of the day: “Why are we spending £160bn on renewing Trident when we now know its missiles are more likely to hit Australia if they were aimed at Russia?..”

NATO, Not Russia, Has Deployed Tanks To Poland & Baltic States – Galloway (RT)

British Defense Secretary speech on “Russian threat” is a desperate attempt to “save jobs and budgets” for the Cold War crowd, which is worried the new US leader will not consider Russia an enemy, broadcaster and former British MP George Galloway told RT. Addressing a group of university students, the UK’s defense secretary Michael Fallon warned of a resurgent Russia and said that it is becoming aggressive. RT: What did you make of Michael Fallon’s speech? George Galloway: Well, Michael Fallon puts the ‘squeak’ in the word ‘pipsqueak.’ He is of course the defense minister of a small and semi-detached European power with not much military prowess and which wants to feel big about itself.

And these people, and he’s not alone – the military industrial complex in the United States is up to the same game – they are desperately thrashing around to save their jobs, to save their budgets, to save their roles as muscle-men in the world. And Fallon got used to, as did other European powers, going around the world, threatening people with America’s army. Now America’s army is not quite so reliable, because America has a President who might not want to use the army in the way that these people want him to, at least one hopes not. And so they desperately seek to continually exacerbate the existing tensions with Russia to defend their own relevance. The people are asking, “What’s NATO for?”

The people are asking, “Why are we spending £160bn on renewing Trident when we now know its missiles are more likely to hit Australia if they were aimed at Russia? And in any case Russia has thousands of nuclear weapons, and we only a handful.” So it’s all pretty pitiful, actually. Right down to the audience of university students, hoping that none of them would challenge him. I’d like him to debate these matters with me, he knows me well, he comes from the same town in Scotland as me. I’d really love to get my metaphorical hands on him to have some of these matters out. The truth is that the European Union is having to come to terms with the fact that the US now has a President that doesn’t want war with Russia and they – who have built their entire 50-60 years of history on the possibility of war with Russia – are all at sea, except we don’t have that many battleships left either.

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Greece turning into an impoverished prison camp is a feature not a bug.

Varoufakis Calls on PM Tspiras to Ditch Bailout Restructuring (GR)

Yanis Varoufakis wrote in an op-ed in Efimerida ton Syntakton on Saturday. The former finance minister called on Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras to adopt a plan originally proposed by Varoufakis while he was still in office. The plan would unilaterally restructure the loans the ECB holds. In addition according to BitCoin Magazine and reiterated in the former FM’s op-ed a payment system that could operate in euros but which could be changed into drachmas “overnight” if necessary would be implemented along with a parallel payment system. “This two-pronged preparation is the only way to prevent another excruciating retreat by the prime minister in the short-term and [German Finance Minister Wolfgang] Schaeuble’s plan in the long-term,” Varoufakis wrote. Varoufakis has been a vocal protester to Greek bailout plans and restructuring as it stands now, hence his resignation. He firmly believes that the current plan could lead to Greece leaving the Eurozone of their own accord.

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More on that. “In reality there was never a basis for hope that the toxic 3rd bailout would be gradually rationalized, in terms that the European Commission would support Athens so that the austerity and anti-social IMF measures would relax..”

Varoufakis Urges Tsipras To Ditch Negotiations, Adopt “Parallel System” (KTG)

Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis strikes back and urges Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to turn his back on Greece’s lenders, adopt a parallel payment system and to unilaterally restructure the loans held by the ECB. In an op-ed in Efimerida ton Syntakton, Varoufakis, Varoufakis calls on Tispras to prepare for rupture with creditors in order to avoid rupture. “This two-pronged preparation is the only way to prevent another excruciating retreat by the prime minister in the short term and [German Finance Minister Wolfgang] Schaeuble’s plan in the long term,” Varoufakis wrote. In his article, Varoufakis suggested that Schaeuble’s strategy is to lead Greeks to the point of exhaustion so they ask to leave the euro themselves.

Noting that the “parallel payment system was already designed in 2014”, Varoufakis stresses that Tsipras had “two delusions” that led the government to the current impasse: A) that on the night of the referendum, the dilemma was between Schaeuble’s Grexit Plan and the 3rd bailout, and B) that the obedience to the 3rd bailout could be politically manageable through a parallel, society-friendly program. Both of these “working assumptions” were based only on autosuggestion, the ex finance minister stresses adding that he tried to explained this to the Prime Minister on the night of the referendum

“In reality there was never a basis for hope that the toxic 3rd bailout would be gradually rationalized, in terms that the European Commission would support Athens so that the austerity and anti-social IMF measures would relax, the IMF would force Berlin to accept debt restructuring and lower primary surpluses, the ECB would include Greece in the bond purchase program (QE),” Varoufakis wrote. He accused leading European negotiators of lying. “That Moscovici [EU Monetary Affairs Commissioner], Coerer [ECB] and Sapen [French finance minister] might have given such promises was not an excuse. Since May 2015 we were fully aware that these gentlemen know how to lie and fail to deliver on their promises when they do not lie.”

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Completely devoid of any comprehension or compassion. Moral Bankruptcy. Throw money at it, that should work… And then keep bombing, British involvement in that makes a lot of profit.

UK: Refugees Heading To Europe To Be Sent To Asia And Latin America (Ind.)

Refugees heading to Europe will be urged to settle in Asia and Latin America instead, under a new £30m British aid package. Theresa May announced the scheme at an EU summit in Malta, arguing it showed the Government is “stepping up its support for the most vulnerable refugees”. The package will see Britain provide lifesaving supplies for people facing freezing conditions across Eastern Europe and Greece, including warm clothing, shelter and medical care. However, it will also pay for better infrastructure in far-flung countries willing to take refugees who had hoped to settle in Europe. The move builds on an existing scheme run by The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), but it is the first time Britain’s aid budget has been used to bolster it. It risks adding to criticism that the Prime Minister is unwilling for the UK to accept a reasonable share of the refugees and migrants fleeing Syria and other war zones.

Only a few thousand Syrian refugees have been resettled in Britain – and the Government has refused to take part in an EU-wide programme to co-ordinate the continent’s response to the crisis. Government sources stressed that people would only be diverted to countries in Asia and Latin America if they were willing to be resettled there. The Department for International Development is expected to release a list of interested countries later. In Malta the Prime Minister insisted the focus of the £30m programme was “helping migrants return home rather than risk their lives continuing perilous journeys to Europe”. It would provide assistance to refugees and migrants across Greece, the Balkans, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Sudan. Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, said: “Conflict, drought and political upheaval have fuelled protracted crises and driven mass migration. We cannot ignore these challenges.

The package will be delivered by UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and NGO collective Start Network. Its aim is to:

* provide 22,400 life-saving relief items including tents, blankets, winter clothes such as hats and gloves and hygiene kits including mother and baby products

* help more than 60,000 people with emergency medical care, legal support and frontline workers to identify those at risk of violence and trafficking

* allow up to 22,000 people to reunite with family members they have become separated from

* help countries in Asia and Latin America that “might be able to resettle refugees put the infrastructure and systems in place to do so”

* provide more than 1,500 refugees in Egypt, including those fleeing Syria and other conflicts, with urgent health assistance and educational grants for students to go back to school

* provide a migrant centre in Sudan to enable “voluntary returns home when safe”, replicating a successful scheme in Niger.

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Jan 192017
 
 January 19, 2017  Posted by at 7:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Marlon Brando screentest 1951

I’m trying, I swear, to get into the fold, but I just can’t NOT find this hilarious. On the eve of his presidency, Donald Trump tells European leaders, by not telling them diddly-squat, that he doesn’t think they matter all that much. It’s not just that his vision of the EU, and its importance, is very different from theirs, he also remembers very well what many of them have said about him in the run-up to his election for the presidency.

Europe’s leaders, with the exception of Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen, have been ridiculing and outright demonizing Trump ever since he declared his candidacy. They’ve said similar things about him that they say about Vladimir Putin, and in the 2016 fake news avalanche they’ve thrown the two together in various ways and for reasons they claim are obvious, with quite a few Hitler quips thrown in for good measure.

Now, for some reason they all seem to think it’s important to meet with Trump before he meets with Putin, as if his view of the world, and that of his entire government, is so unbalanced it could be decided at the toss of a coin. Trump is having none of it. After having been compared to anything that’s considered worst under the sun, who’s going to blame him?

Donald Trump feels, and largely rightly so, that the principle of innocence before being proven guilty was abandoned with much fervor by many, and certainly across the EU. The result is that now he’s simply not that into them. He’s been shown no respect at all, and he has not forgotten that. And it leads to a situation that’s brilliantly entertaining.

The EU, like the Obama/Clinton cabal, have dug in their heels and then dug some more when it comes to Putin, and by -their, not his- association also to Trump. They never thought he’d be elected, and now that he has been they don’t know what to do with themselves (how about an apology for starters?).

AP reports, even if once again you have to read between all the innuendo and opinionated humbug (grow up, AP!):

Anxious European Leaders Seek An Early Audience With Trump

European leaders, anxious over Donald Trump’s unpredictability and kind words for the Kremlin, are scrambling to get face time with the new American president before he can meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose provocations have set the continent on edge. One leader has raised with Trump the prospect of a U.S.-EU summit early this year, and the head of NATO — the powerful military alliance Trump has deemed “obsolete” — is angling for an in-person meeting ahead of Putin as well. British Prime Minister Theresa May is working to arrange a meeting in Washington soon after Friday’s inauguration.

For European leaders, a meeting with a new American president is always a sought-after — and usually easy-to-obtain — invitation. But Trump has repeatedly defied precedent, making them deeply uncertain about their standing once he takes office. Throughout his campaign and in recent interviews, Trump has challenged the viability of the EU and NATO, while praising Putin and staking out positions more in line with Moscow than Brussels. “There are efforts on the side of the Europeans to arrange a meeting with Trump as quickly as possible,” Norbert Roettgen, the head of the German Parliament’s foreign committee and a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, told AP.

In fact, eager to stage an early show of Trans-Atlantic solidarity, Donald Tusk — the former Polish prime minister who heads the EU’s Council of member state governments— invited Trump to meet with the EU early in his administration, according to a European Union official. But a senior Trump adviser essentially rebuffed the offer, telling the AP this week that such a gathering would not be a priority for the incoming president, who wants to focus on meetings with individual countries, not the 28-nation bloc.

Trump backs Britain’s exit from the European Union, casting the populist, anti-establishment movement as a precursor to his own victory. In a recent joint interview with two European newspapers, Trump said of the EU, “I don’t think it matters much for the United States.”

So far so good, but then the rhetoric starts again. Only, it does so by calling Trump’s words ‘rhetoric’:

Such rhetoric alone was enough to set off alarm bells in Europe. And Trump’s praise for Putin and promise of closer ties to Moscow have deepened the uncertainty. Trump has raised the prospect of dropping U.S. sanctions on Moscow and has appeared indifferent to Russia’s annexation of territory from Ukraine. The hacking of his opponents during the U.S. election, and Trump’s dismissal of the CIA’s warnings about Russia’s involvement, added a dose of spy drama.

Trump’s sentiments mark a dramatic shift in Republican views of Europe, just a generation after George H.W. Bush famously greeted the collapse of the Iron Curtain by calling for a “Europe whole and free.” Trump’s top national security adviser has been in close contact with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., conversations that have involved setting up a phone call between the Putin and the president-elect, transition officials have said. But Trump currently has no plans to meet with Putin, according to the senior adviser, who insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the transition team’s internal planning.

Why on earth would Trump NOT meet with Putin? Because of all the unsubstantiated blubber his opponents have showered over him in their attempts to derail his campaign? If anything, that would probably make him all the more determined to set up such a meeting. Moreover, there’s a lot of damage that needs to be repaired in US-Russia relations, damage done by the former administration and the press it has a love relationship with.

[..] Aides have signaled that one of Trump’s first foreign leader meetings at the White House will be with May, who became prime minister following Britain’s vote to leave the EU. The president-elect’s team is also working on early invitations to Washington for the leaders of Mexico and Canada, according to the Trump adviser. Barring other arrangements, Trump and Putin’s first meeting of the year might not come until July when the Group of 20 leaders gather in Hamburg, Germany — though Trump has yet to say whether he plans to attend international summits.

If he does, some European leaders could get an audience with him in May at a planned NATO summit and a gathering of the more elite Group of Seven in Italy. Russia had been a member of that group, but the U.S. and Europe ousted Putin after the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. One of the first tests of Trump’s loyalties may well be whether he seeks to bring Russia back into that fold.

“If we start to equate democracies and non-democracies, allies and adversaries, this is setting a very dangerous precedent,” said Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She said that if Trump were to reach out to Putin ahead of the Europeans upon taking office, “it would be a real cautionary note” for long-standing U.S. allies.

Guys! You lost! You lost big. Get a grip. It’s a different world out there. Adapt accordingly or fade away. Something tells us the adaptation process will prove too much for most of Europe’s current leaders. That will necessarily mean that most won’t be leaders for long.

Europe will have to move closer to Putin as Trump does so. The war mongering posture of the past decade or so will have to go. This will be very hard to do for those leaders who have called both men everything awful in the world. Those who can’t will have to leave. Like Juncker:

Hands off EU, Trump; We Don’t Back Ohio Secession: Juncker

Donald Trump should lay off talking about the break-up of the European Union, the bloc’s chief executive said on Wednesday, pointing out that Europeans do not push for Ohio to secede from the United States. In pointed remarks on the eve of Trump’s inauguration as U.S. president, Jean-Claude Juncker said the new administration would realize it should not damage transatlantic relations but added it remained unclear what policies Trump would now pursue.

Juncker told Germany’s BR television, according to a transcript from the Munich station, that he was sure no EU state wanted to follow Britain’s example and leave the bloc, despite Trump’s forecast this week that others would quit: “Mr. Trump should also not be indirectly encouraging them to do that,” Juncker said. “We don’t go around calling on Ohio to pull out of the United States.”

Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said he had yet to speak to Trump – contrary to what the President-elect said earlier this week. Juncker said Trump had confused him with European Council President Donald Tusk. “Trump spoke to Mr. Tusk and mixed us up,” said Juncker, taking a jab at the American billionaire’s grasp of his new role. “That’s the thing about international politics,” he said. “It’s all in the detail.”

It’s clear that in many countries, growing segments of both the population and the political sphere are thinking and talking about following Britain’s example. Juncker had better address their concerns than trying to ignore and deny them, or he will guarantee to achieve the opposite of what he wants.

That Donald Trump was elected in the first place is a surefire sign that many things were going very wrong in the world. Brexit is a sign of the exact same thing. Elections and other votes coming up in Europe will be the next in line, and it doesn’t even matter who wins them; many will be far too close for comfort for the existing order.

Meanwhile, watching the spectacle unfold from a distance, we find it impossible not to be highly amused by the former world order seeing their own words and actions backfire on them. And that has nothing to do with being pro-Trump or pro-Le Pen.

Jan 182017
 
 January 18, 2017  Posted by at 10:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Albert Freeman Effect of gasoline shortage in Washington, DC 1942


Why Theresa May Is Right To Take A Huge Gamble On Hard Brexit (MW)
Trump Is Waving Adios To The Longstanding ‘Strong Dollar Policy’ (MW)
The Issue Is Not Trump, It’s Us (John Pilger)
Focus Turns To Julian Assange After US Decision To Free Chelsea Manning (G.)
Russia Extends Snowden’s Residency Permit ‘By A Couple Of Years’ (R.)
Putin Mocks Claims That Trump Was Spied On (AFP)
PBOC Cash Injections Surge To Record $60 Billion Before Holidays (BBG)
China New Home Prices Rise 12.4% Y/Y In December (R.)
Rustbelt China Province Admits It Faked Fiscal Data For Years (BBG)
Saudis Claim Victory Over US Shale Industry (AEP)
Rising U.S. Shale-Oil Output Threatens OPEC’s Production Pact (MW)
Italian Conservative Tajani Wins Race To Head European Parliament (R.)
The Bankers Who Fixed The World’s Most Important Number (G.)
Percentage of World Population Age 65+ in 2015 and 2050 (BR)

 

 

While I tend to largely agree with this, I also think what makes these discussions obsolete is that I haven’t seen a single person talk about the possibility that EU will not survive as is, or the single market, and what that would in turn mean for Brexit. Not a single one. Meanwhile, Britain has declared mudslinging its new national sport, and that will continue to make predicting anything at all very hard.

Why Theresa May Is Right To Take A Huge Gamble On Hard Brexit (MW)

First, there is very little evidence that membership of the Single Market is worth the costs. Every country in the world has access to the single market, under WTO Rules, although occasionally subject to some very minor tariffs. What you lose by leaving is any voice in how the rules of that market are set, and the hassle and paperwork involved in exporting. How much that is really worth, it is hard to judge. What we do know is that ever since the single market was launched in 1992, the EU has been one of the slowest-growing regions in the world, and that trade between its member states has started to decline. If it is so important to an economy, that is, to put it mildly, a bit odd. The only honest position is to say we have absolutely no idea what difference it will make. No country has left the single market before. But given the obligations that come with it — especially open borders and budget contributions — it may well not be worth much.

Second, it strengthens the U.K.’s negotiating position. If Britain goes into the haggling over the terms of departure saying it has decided to leave the single market, and that there is nothing it really wants from Brussels, then suddenly the conversation changes. After all, there are two things the EU wants from the U.K.: the net budget contribution, which accounts for 7% of its total spending, and access to our market, given that the U.K. runs a massive trade deficit with Europe. The EU doesn’t have to have either — it will get by OK without them. But they are helpful. If the U.K. can offer both, while asking for virtually nothing in return, it is more likely to get what it genuinely wants — which is mainly free access to Europe for its financial sector.

Finally, the politics look right. The Conservative Party has remarkably and quickly reassembled itself as the Brexit Party. That might be the right or the wrong decision, but it is where the majority of the country is right now. After all, Leave won the referendum despite fierce warnings of catastrophe from the rest of the world. Of its opponents, the Liberal Democrats want to go back in, and Labour is hopelessly undecided. If Brexit is a reasonable success — and that simply means it regains control of its borders, and the economy keeps expanding even if it is at a lower rate than before — then the Tories will be rewarded with power for a generation. That makes it a prize worth fighting for.

True, the risks are great. The potential disruption to the economy may be a lot worse than anyone yet realizes. The pound could collapse, inflation could soar, and joblessness start to rise. If any of that happens, May will go down as a catastrophic prime minister. But it is more likely she has called this right — and a hard Brexit will turn out to be best the best option available.

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Question is, how much can teh US do as long as the USD is the reserve currency and so much global debt is denominated in it?

Trump Is Waving Adios To The Longstanding ‘Strong Dollar Policy’ (MW)

The strong dollar policy—a mantra of Democratic and Republican administrations for more than two decades—may be headed for the scrap heap once Donald Trump is sworn in as president on Friday. Indeed, Trump sent the dollar skittering lower Tuesday after he told The Wall Street Journal that the U.S. currency was “too strong,” in part due to Chinese efforts to hold down the yuan. But while much is made of Trump’s questioning of the need for NATO or the lasting power of the EU, an administration-level push for a weaker currency would hardly be without precedent. It would, however, be an adjustment a generation of investors and traders who came of age in an era when the executive branch at least paid lip service to the notion that a strong dollar was a desirable aim.

The tide last shifted during the Clinton administration after Robert Rubin, the former Goldman Sachs chief, took over as Treasury secretary from Lloyd Bentsen in early 1995. Before that, Bentsen and U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor had often used language that inadvertently—or not—tended to weaken the dollar. Bentsen got the ball rolling early in Clinton’s first term, calling for a stronger yen in a February 1993 appearance and shocking currency traders who duly bid up the Japanese currency. As recounted in a 2001 paper by economists Brad DeLong and Barry Eichengreen, Bentsen saw the stronger yen as potentially helpful in alleviating the U.S. trade deficit, while Kantor saw a weaker dollar providing leverage in trade talks. That may sound a bit familiar. Trump made the U.S. trade deficit a centerpiece of his campaign, using it to argue that it was proof the nation is getting its lunch eaten by competitors in a zero-sum world.

[..] Douglas Borthwick, managing director of Chapdelaine Foreign Exchange, argued in a note earlier this month that an incoming Trump administration, by throwing out the strong dollar policy, could use the currency as a linchpin in implementing its economic agenda: “With a removal of the Strong USD Policy, the US Dollar will weaken against its global counterparts. This will give the FED the ability to normalize US interest rates, as they can use the weaker USD and the resulting inflation as an excuse for raising rates. The FED will then be used by the Administration as a brake on US Dollar weakness. The weaker USD will also force other countries struggling to get their economies moving to rewrite trade agreements in a way that is more advantageous to the US. In other words, we will see a normalization of US Interest rates, and better negotiated trade deals. Both a win for the new Administration.”

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Pilger’s not a fan of Obama. Good read.

The Issue Is Not Trump, It’s Us (John Pilger)

One of the persistent strands in U.S. political life is a cultish extremism that approaches fascism. This was given expression and reinforced during the two terms of Barack Obama. “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” said Obama, who expanded the United States’ favorite military pastime: bombing and death squads (“special operations”) as no other president has done since the Cold War. According to a Council on Foreign Relations survey, in 2016 alone Obama dropped 26,171 bombs. That is 72 bombs every day. He bombed the poorest people on earth, in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan. Every Tuesday — reported the New York Times — he personally selected those who would be murdered by mostly hellfire missiles fired from drones.

Weddings, funerals, shepherds were attacked, along with those attempting to collect the body parts festooning the “terrorist target.” A leading Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, estimated, approvingly, that Obama’s drones killed 4,700 people. “Sometimes you hit innocent people and I hate that,” he said, “but we’ve taken out some very senior members of Al Qaeda.” Like the fascism of the 1930s, big lies are delivered with the precision of a metronome, thanks to an omnipresent media whose description now fits that of the Nuremberg prosecutor: “Before each major aggression, with some few exceptions based on expediency, they initiated a press campaign calculated to weaken their victims and to prepare the German people psychologically … In the propaganda system … it was the daily press and the radio that were the most important weapons.”

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Assange doesn’t lie. But he may demand the US clarify its positions.

Focus Turns To Julian Assange After US Decision To Free Chelsea Manning (G.)

The decision by the US president, Barack Obama, to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning has brought fresh attention to the fate of Julian Assange. On Twitter last week, Assange’s anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks posted: “If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ [Department of Justice] case.” Obama’s move will test the promise. The president commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence, freeing her in May, nearly three decades early. In a statement on Tuesday, Assange said Manning should never have been convicted and described her as “a hero, whose bravery should have been applauded not condemned”. Assange went on to demand that the US government “immediately end its war on whistleblowers and publishers, such as WikiLeaks and myself”, but made no mention of the Twitter pledge.

His lawyer said he has been pressing the Justice Department for updates on an investigation concerning WikiLeaks. The transgender former intelligence analyst, born Bradley Manning, was convicted in August 2013 of espionage and other offences after admitting to leaking 700,000 sensitive military and diplomatic classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. Assange has been holed up for more than four years at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He has refused to meet prosecutors in Sweden, where he remains wanted on an allegation of rape, fearing he would be extradited to the US to face espionage charges if he leaves the embassy. In a statement on Tuesday, a lawyer for Assange did not address whether Assange intended to come to the US.

“For many months, I have asked the DoJ to clarify Mr Assange’s status. I hope it will soon,” Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollack, said in the statement. “The Department of Justice should not pursue any charges against Mr Assange based on his publication of truthful information and should close its criminal investigation of him immediately.” Another Assange lawyer, Melinda Taylor, said: “Julian’s US lawyers have repeatedly asked the Department of Justice to clarify Julian Assange’s status and would like them to do so now by announcing it is closing the investigation and pursuing no charges.”

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Only right thing to do.

Russia Extends Snowden’s Residency Permit ‘By A Couple Of Years’ (R.)

Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has been given leave to remain in Russia for another couple of years, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry said. “Snowden’s residency in Russia has just been extended by another couple of years,” the spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said in a post on Facebook.

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He must be having so much fun with this. And he’s right: “This shows a significant level of degradation of the political elite in the West.”

Putin Mocks Claims That Trump Was Spied On (AFP)

President Vladimir Putin cracked raunchy jokes on Tuesday as he poked fun at claims that Russian secret services filmed US President-elect Donald Trump with prostitutes. Showing he is familiar with the claims in the explosive dossier, Putin launched into a series of ribald jokes about prostitutes, riffing on Trump’s former role as owner of the Miss Universe beauty contest. The unsubstantiated dossier published by American media last week alleged that Russia had gathered compromising information on Trump, namely videos involving prostitutes at a luxury Moscow hotel, supposedly as a potential means for blackmail. In his first public comments on the claims, Putin rubbished the idea that Russian secret services would have spied on Trump during his 2013 visit to Moscow for the Miss Universe final, as alleged in the dossier.

“Trump when he came to Moscow… wasn’t any kind of political figure, we didn’t even know of his political ambitions,” Putin said, responding to a journalist’s question at a news conference. “Does anyone think that our special services chase every American billionaire? Of course not, it’s just completely ridiculous.” Putin also questioned why Trump would feel the need to hire prostitutes, given his opportunities to meet beautiful women at the Miss Universe contest. “He’s a grown-up for a start and secondly a man who spent his whole life organising beauty contests and meeting the most beautiful women in the world,” Putin said. “I can hardly imagine that he ran off to a hotel to meet our girls of ‘lowered social responsibility’,” said Putin, adding jokingly “although they are of course the best in the world. “I doubt Trump fell for that.”

Putin went on to compare those behind the dossier unfavourably with prostitutes. “The people who order falsifications of the kind that are now circulating against the US president-elect – they are worse than prostitutes, they don’t have any moral limits at all. “The fact that such methods are being used against the US president-elect is a unique case: nothing like this has happened before. “This shows a significant level of degradation of the political elite in the West.”

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Xi ordered no market selloffs while he’s in Davos. Joke.

PBOC Cash Injections Surge To Record $60 Billion Before Holidays (BBG)

China’s benchmark money-market rate surged the most in 19 months, with record central bank cash injections being overwhelmed by demand before the Lunar New Year holidays. The People’s Bank of China put in a net 410 billion yuan ($60 billion) through open-market operations on Wednesday, the biggest daily addition since Bloomberg began compiling the data in 2004. That brings the total injections so far this week to 845 billion yuan. The interbank seven-day repurchase rate jumped 17 basis points, the most since June 2015, to 2.58% as of 1:18 p.m. in Shanghai, according to weighted average prices. Demand for cash tends to increase before the Lunar New Year holidays, when households withdraw money to pay for gifts and get-togethers.

Month-end corporate tax payments are adding to the pressure this time, with the break running from Jan. 27 through Feb. 2. The PBOC offered 200 billion yuan of seven-day reverse repos and 260 billion yuan of 28-day contracts, compared with 50 billion yuan of loans maturing on Wednesday. “The PBOC aims to ensure that the liquidity situation remains adequate, while the 28-day reverse repo is apparently targeted at covering the holidays,” said Frances Cheung at Societe Generale. “There could also be preparation for any indirect tightening impact from potential outflows.” China’s central bank has been offering more 28-day reverse repos than one-week loans in the past two weeks, while curbing the injection of cheaper, short-term funds amid efforts to lower leverage in the financial system. It drained a net 595 billion yuan in the first week of January, before switching to a net injection of 100 billion yuan last week as the seasonal funding demand started to emerge.

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The result of cash injections.

China New Home Prices Rise 12.4% Y/Y In December (R.)

Average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 12.4% in December from a year earlier, slowing slightly from a 12.6% increase in November, an official survey showed on Wednesday. Compared with a month earlier, home prices rose 0.3% nationwide, slowing from November’s 0.6%, according to Reuters calculations from data issued by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing prices rose 23.5%, 26.5% and 25.9%, respectively, from a year earlier. Monthly growth in Shanghai and Shenzhen slowed but was unchanged in Beijing as local governments’ tightening measures took effect.

China relied heavily on a surging real estate market and government stimulus to help drive economic growth in 2016, but policymakers have grown concerned that the property frenzy will fuel price bubbles and risk a market crash, with serious consequences for the broader economy. Soaring home prices have prompted more than 20 Chinese cities to tighten lending requirements on house purchases, while regulators have told banks to strengthen their risk management on property loans.

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Scapegoating. You pick one to make the rest look good in comparison. But this is endemic, in a variety of forms.

Rustbelt China Province Admits It Faked Fiscal Data For Years (BBG)

The rust-belt province of Liaoning fabricated fiscal numbers from 2011 to 2014, local officials have said, raising fresh doubts about the accuracy of China’s economic data just days ahead of the release of the nation’s full-year growth report. City and county governments in the northwestern region committed fiscal data fraud in the period, Governor Chen Qiufa said at a meeting with provincial lawmakers Tuesday, according to state-run People’s Daily. Fiscal revenues were inflated by at least 20 percent, and some other economic data were also false, the paper said, without specifying categories. Chen said the data were made up because officials wanted to advance their careers. The fraud misled the central government’s judgment of Liaoning’s economic status, he said, citing a report from the National Audit Office in 2016.

With growth now moderating, officials have sought to improve the credibility of economic data as diffusing financial risks becomes a key policy consideration, along with keeping growth ticking along at a rapid clip. Ning Jizhe, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, has said China should prevent fake economic data and increase the quality of its statistics. Liaoning has seen an unprecedented purge of more than 500 deputies from its legislature. The deputies were implicated in vote buying and bribery in the first provincial-level case of its kind in the Communist Party’s almost seven-decade rule, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Former provincial party chief Wang Min, who led Liaoning from 2009 until 2015, was earlier expelled following corruption allegations by China’s top anti-graft watchdog.

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Wonderful pair of articles. Take your pick. Ambrose has one view, while…

Saudis Claim Victory Over US Shale Industry (AEP)

Saudi Arabia’s oil sheikhs insisted defiantly in Davos that they have defeated the challenge of the American shale industry and restored the balance to the global oil markets after two years of trauma and glut. The country’s energy minister Khalid Al-Falih said US oil frackers had survived only by tapping the most prolific wells and would face surging costs once again as recovery builds, while cannibalisation of their plant will prevent a rapid rebound in US output. “Their supply infrastructure has been decimated,” he said, speaking at the World Economic Forum. Mr Al-Falih admitted for the first time that Saudi Arabia’s decision to flood the world crude markets in 2014 and force a collapse in prices was essentially aimed at US shale frackers, a claim always denied in the past.

“If we had cut production and kept prices at three-digit levels, they would have kept adding one million barrels a day each year, for year after year. Saudi production would have been three million barrels day less in 2017 under that scenario. It was not sustainable,” he said. US drillers bridle at the suggestion that the Saudis won, insisting that they held Opec and Russia to a standstill, forcing them to capitulate last November with an agreement by 22 states to trim output by 1.2m barrels a day, and even that may not prove enough. “Opec engaged in a price war against US producers and they lost,” said Kenneth Hersh from Energy Capital. “This has brought the cost structure down for the whole world. There is no longer a cartel any more.”

Amin Nasser, head of Saudi Aramco, insisted that the job of knocking back shale is largely accomplished and that the market would rebalance by the first half of this year. The cycle is now switching to the opposite extreme. He warned that the world needs $1 trillion of fresh investment in oil projects each year just to keep up with growing demand, and the risk of “price spikes” later this decade is rising fast. The warning was echoed by Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, who fears a looming oil shortage after an unprecedented collapse in spending on exploration and development over the last two years. “Alarm bells will be ringing if there is no major new investment this year,” he said.

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….MarketWatch has the exact opposite.

Rising U.S. Shale-Oil Output Threatens OPEC’s Production Pact (MW)

The oil market got a stark reminder Tuesday that rising oil production in the U.S. could upend efforts by major producers to bring global supply and demand for crude back in to balance. Just ahead of the settlement for oil futures prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Tuesday, the Energy Information Administration released a report on drilling productivity—forecasting a monthly rise of 41,000 barrels a day in February oil production to 4.748 million barrels a day. “That is bearish for oil and a concern for OPEC,” said James Williams, energy economist at WTRG Economics, pointing out that the volume of new oil per rig has climbed because of gains in efficiency.

“If maintained, the expected February production gain means production from the shale plays will be up at least a half million barrels per day by the end of the year,” said Williams. Prices for February West Texas Intermediate crude lost the bulk of the day’s gain on Tuesday to settle with a modest 11-cent climb at $52.48 a barrel. “Since rigs are higher now than in December and should continue to increase, that means a half million [barrel-per-day] gain in production by year-end is a conservative estimate,” Williams said. “Most OPEC members expected this, but U.S. shale production will be the closest monitored data after OPEC’s own compliance with quotas,” he said.

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Backroom dealmaking. Why the EU is on its way out.

Italian Conservative Tajani Wins Race To Head European Parliament (R.)

Centre-right politician Antonio Tajani was elected the new president of the European Parliament on Tuesday after defeating his socialist rival, a fellow Italian, in a daylong series of votes. The new speaker, 63, a former EU commissioner and an ally of former premier Silvio Berlusconi, succeeds German Social Democrat Martin Schulz at a time of crisis for the European Union. Britain wants a divorce deal that needs the legislature’s blessing while old adversary Russia and old ally the United States both pose new threats to EU survivors holding together. Schulz’s tenure saw close cooperation with the centre-right head of the EU executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, but ended with recriminations over the end of a left-right grand coalition. That could spell trouble for the smooth passage of EU laws on a range of issues.

And the win for Tajani, who beat centre-left leader and fellow Italian Gianni Pittella by 351 votes to 282 in a fourth-round runoff, gives the right a lock on three pivotal EU political institutions. That has stirred some calls for change from either Juncker at the European Commission or Donald Tusk, who chairs the European Council of national leaders. However, there is no clear consensus for such changes. Tajani, mindful of the scars left by an unusually bruising battle over a post which can be a powerful influence on which EU rules are made, promised to be “a president for all of you”. His eventual victory came with backing from pro-EU liberals as well as from the ruling conservative parties of Britain and Poland, both of them sharply critical of the EU’s failings. They bristle at the EU impinging on national sovereignty and see it as bureaucratic and wasteful.

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Not THE world, but THEIR world.

The Bankers Who Fixed The World’s Most Important Number (G.)

By the time the market opened in London, Lehman’s demise was official. Hayes instant-messaged one of his trusted brokers in the City to tell him what direction he wanted Libor to move. Typically, he skipped any pleasantries. “Cash mate, really need it lower,” Hayes typed. “What’s the score?” The broker sent his assurances and, over the next few hours, followed a well-worn routine. Whenever one of the Libor-setting banks called and asked his opinion on what the benchmark would do, the broker said – incredibly, given the calamitous news – that the rate was likely to fall. Libor may have featured in hundreds of trillions of dollars of loans and derivatives, but this was how it was set: conversations among men who were, depending on the day, indifferent, optimistic or frightened.

When Hayes checked the official figures later that night, he saw to his relief that yen Libor had fallen. Hayes was not out of danger yet. Over the next three days, he barely left the office, surviving on three hours of sleep a night. As the market convulsed, his profit and loss jumped around from minus $20 million to plus $8 million in just hours, but Hayes had another ace up his sleeve. ICAP, the world’s biggest inter-dealer broker, sent out a “Libor prediction” email each day at around 7am to the individuals at the banks responsible for submitting Libor. Hayes messaged an insider at ICAP and instructed him to skew the predictions lower. Amid the chaos, Libor was the one thing Hayes believed he had some control over. He cranked his network to the max, offering his brokers extra payments for their cooperation and calling in favours at banks around the world.

By Thursday, 18 September, Hayes was exhausted. This was the moment he had been working towards all week. If Libor jumped today, all his puppeteering would have been for nothing. Libor moves in increments called basis points, equal to one one-hundredth of a percentage point, and every tick was worth roughly $750,000 to his bottom line. For the umpteenth time since Lehman faltered, Hayes reached out to his brokers in London. “I need you to keep it as low as possible, all right?” he told one of them in a message. “I’ll pay you, you know, $50,000, $100,000, whatever. Whatever you want, all right?” “All right,” the broker repeated. “I’m a man of my word,” Hayes said. “I know you are. No, that’s done, right, leave it to me,” the broker said.

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Yes, you should be scared. For your children.

Percentage of World Population Age 65+ in 2015 and 2050 (BR)

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Jan 162017
 
 January 16, 2017  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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John Collier Japanese restaurant, Monday after Pearl Harbor, San Francisco 1941


World Could Enjoy Utopian Future With Sustainable Development (Ind.)
The Global Chain That Produces Your Fish (AFP)
Trump Calls NATO Obsolete And Dismisses EU (BBG)
Trump Slams NATO And EU, Prepared To “Cut Ties” With Merkel (ZH)
NATO, Russia, Merkel, Brexit: Trump Unleashes Broadsides On Europe (AFP)
Trump Vows ‘Insurance For Everybody’ In Replacing Obamacare (R.)
CIA Director Warns Trump To Watch What He Says (R.)
Trump Team May Move West Wing Briefings to Expand Capacity (BBG)
Pound Sterling Hits New 31-Year-Low Ahead Of May’s Brexit Speech (Ind.)
The Scandal of the 35-Page Anti-Trump ‘Intelligence Dossier’ (GR)
Eight Billionaire Men ‘As Rich As World’s Poorest 3.5 Billion People’ (BBC)
“China Should Stop Intervening In FX Market And Let Yuan Float” (R.)
China’s Booming Middle Class Drives Asia’s Toxic E-Waste Mountains (G.)
Greece Strives To Absorb EU’s Migration Funds (Kath.)

 

 

If you find this appealing, seek help. These people mean it, which makes them the biggest danger to your future, bar none. We’re not going to fix the world for profit. The sustainable delusion will kill us.

World Could Enjoy Utopian Future With Sustainable Development (Ind.)

It is an unremittingly bleak vision of the future: over the next decade the world’s economy stagnates, fossil fuels ramp up global warming and the gap between rich and poor widens, fuelling nationalist tensions based on resentment of the ‘global elite’. But, while a major new report by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC) warns this appears to be humanity’s current path, it also spells out how to create not quite “heaven on Earth” but a world that is wealthier, more peaceful and fair for all. And their call for the world to start living up to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals was backed by more than 80 major companies in a joint letter to Theresa May, which urged the UK Government to take this “essential” step to secure “our long-term prosperity and the well-being of generations to come”.

However, Ms May did not respond personally to the letter, with the Department for International Development instead issuing a response on behalf of the Government in an implicit snub to the letter’s call for all departments, “not only” DfID, to get involved. The UN’s ‘Global Goals’, as they are known, seem at first sight to be almost impossibly ambitious. There should be “no poverty” and “zero hunger” in the world, universal health coverage, a decent education for all, gender equality, access to affordable and clean energy, action on climate change, the list goes on. But the BSDC’s report, compiled after a year of research into their effects, says achieving them is actually key to delivering massive growth. The document, called Better Business, Better World, estimates the Global Goals could be worth up to $36,000bn a year in savings and extra revenue by 2030.

They based this on an analysis of four major economic sectors – food and agriculture; energy and materials; cities; and health and wellbeing – which would benefit to the tune of $12,000bn a year. They then estimated the total economic prize would be two to three times higher. Lifting people out of poverty could bring up to a billion people into the consumer economy. And achieving gender equality alone could add at least $12,000bn to the world’s total GDP by 2025, according to one estimate. “The overall prize is enormous,” the report says. “The results will not be heaven on Earth; there will be many practical challenges. “But the world would undoubtedly be on a better, more resilient path. We could be building an economy of abundance.

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Mommy, tell me the story again about how smart we once were.

The Global Chain That Produces Your Fish (AFP)

That smoked salmon you bought for the New Year’s festivities has a story to tell. The salmon may have been raised in Scotland – but it probably began life as roe in Norway. Harvested at a coastal farm, the fish may have been sent to Poland to be smoked. It may even have travelled halfway around the world to China to be sliced. It eventually arrived, wrapped in that tempting package, in your supermarket. Globalisation has changed the world in many ways, but fish farming is one of the starkest examples of its benefits and hidden costs. The nexus of the world fish-farming trade is China – the biggest exporter of fish products, the biggest producer of farmed fish and a major importer as well.

With battalions of lost-cost workers, linked to markets by a network of ocean-going refrigerated ships, China is the go-to place for labour-intensive fish processing. In just a few clicks on Alibaba, the Chinese online trading hub, you can buy three tonnes of Norwegian filleted mackerel shipped from the port city of Qingdao for delivery within 45 days. “There is a significant amount of bulk frozen fish sent to China just for filleting,” said a source from an association of importers in an EU country. “The temperature of the fish is brought up to enable the filleting but the fish are not completely defrosted.” The practice has helped transform the Chinese coastal provinces of Liaoning and Shandong into global centres for fish processing.

But globalised fish farming leaves a mighty carbon footprint and has other impacts, many of which are unseen for the consumer. Don Staniford, an activist and director of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture, called the fish industry’s production and transportation chain “madness”. “The iconic image of Scottish salmon – a wild salmon leaping out of the river – has gone. The Scottish salmon farming industry is dominated, 60-70%, by Norwegian companies,” he said. The biggest such company, Marine Harvest, is the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon, some 420,000 tonnes in 2015. Scottish salmon farms import eggs from Norway, the fish food from Chile and then send the fish to Poland – “because it’s cheaper” – for smoking, said Staniford.

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Lots of coverage of Trump’s weekend interviews in Europe. Too many details to cover them all in this format. Overall impression: he makes a lot of sense. Likes Brexit, doesn’t like NATO, sees EU as a project to benefit Germany, wants far less nukes, far less US regime change-focused interventionism.

Trump Calls NATO Obsolete And Dismisses EU (BBG)

Donald Trump called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would follow the U.K. in leaving the bloc, and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to two European newspapers which conducted a joint interview with the president-elect. Trump, in an hourlong discussion with Germany’s Bild and the Times of London published on Sunday, signaled a major shift in trans-Atlantic relations, including an interest in lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia as part of a nuclear weapons reduction deal. Quoted in German by Bild from a conversation held in English, Trump predicted that Britain’s exit from the EU will be a success and portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination designed with the purpose of beating the U.S. in international trade.

For that reason, Trump said, he’s fairly indifferent to whether the EU stays together, according to Bild. The Times quoted Trump as saying he was interested in making “good deals with Russia,” floating the idea of lifting sanctions that were imposed as the U.S. has sought to punish the Kremlin for its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and military support of the Syrian government. “They have sanctions on Russia – let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,’’ Trump said, according to the Times. “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it.’’ Trump’s reported comments leave little doubt that he’ll stick to campaign positions and may in some cases upend decades of U.S. foreign policy, putting him fundamentally at odds with Angela Merkel on issues from free trade and refugees to security and the EU’s role in the world.

Repeating a criticism of NATO he made during his campaign, Trump said that while trans-Atlantic military alliance is important, it “has problems.” “It’s obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Trump said in the Bild version of the interview. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.” The Times quoted Trump saying that only five NATO members are paying their fair share. While those comments expanded on doubts Trump expressed about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during his campaign, he reserved some of his most dismissive remarks for the EU and Merkel, whose open-border refugee policy he called a “catastrophic mistake.”

In contrast, Trump praised Britons for voting in 2016 to leave the EU. People and countries want their own identity and don’t want outsiders coming in to “destroy it,” he said. The U.K. is smart to leave the bloc because the EU “is basically a vehicle for Germany,” the Times quoted Trump as saying. “If you ask me, more countries will leave,” he said. Trump told the Times that he plans to quickly pursue a trade deal with the U.K. after taking office and will meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May soon. “We’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides,” he said. “We’ll have a meeting right after I get into the White House and it’ll be, I think we’re gonna get something done very quickly.”

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ZH has a good summary of the interviews.

Trump Slams NATO And EU, Prepared To “Cut Ties” With Merkel (ZH)

In two separate, and quite striking, interviews with Germany’s Bild (paywall) and London’s Sunday Times (paywall), Donald Trump did what he failed to do in his first US press conference, and covered an extensive amount of policy and strategy, much of which however will likely please neither the pundits, nor the markets. Among the numerous topics covered in the Bild interview, he called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would join the U.K. in leaving the bloc and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to a Sunday interview granted to Germany’s Bild newspaper that will raise concerns in Berlin over trans-Atlantic relations. Furthermore, in his first “exclusive” interview in the UK granted to the Sunday Times, Trump said he will offer Britain a quick and “fair” trade deal with America within weeks of taking office to help make Brexit a “great thing”.

Trump revealed that he was inviting Theresa May to visit him “right after” he gets into the White House and wants a trade agreement between the two countries secured “very quickly”. Trump told the Times that other countries would follow Britain’s lead in leaving the European Union, claiming it had been deeply damaged by the migration crisis. I think it’s very tough, he said. People, countries want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. [..] Trump discussed his stance on Russia and suggested he might use economic sanctions imposed for Vladimir Putin’s encroachment on Ukraine as leverage in nuclear-arms reduction talks, while NATO, he said, “has problems.” “[NATO] is obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Bild quoted Trump as saying about the trans-Atlantic military alliance. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.”

While those comments expanded on doubts Trump raised about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during his campaign, he reserved some of his most dismissive remarks for the EU and Merkel, whose open-border refugee policy he called a “catastrophic mistake.” He further elaborated on this stance in the Times interview, where he said he was willing to lift Russian sanctions in return for a reduction in nuclear weapons. When asked about the prospect of a nuclear arms reduction deal with Russia, Trump told the newspaper in an interview: “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it.” Additionally, Trump said Brexit will turn out to be a “great thing.” Trump said he would work very hard to get a trade deal with the United Kingdom “done quickly and done properly”.

Trump praised Britons for voting last year to leave the EU. People and countries want their own identity and don’t want outsiders to come in and “destroy it.” The U.K. is smart to leave the bloc because the EU “is basically a means to an end for Germany,” Bild cited Trump as saying. “If you ask me, more countries will leave,” he was quoted as saying.

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Goal-seeked ‘reporting’: “Five days before his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, the billionaire populist let loose a torrent of controversial comments..” AFP didn’t stand out so far as having joined the anti-Trump ranks, but there you go.

NATO, Russia, Merkel, Brexit: Trump Unleashes Broadsides On Europe (AFP)

NATO is “obsolete”, Germany’s Angela Merkel made a “catastrophic mistake” on refugees, Brexit will be “great” and the US could cut a deal with Russia: Donald Trump unleashed a volley of broadsides in interviews with European media. Five days before his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, the billionaire populist let loose a torrent of controversial comments about European allies in interviews with British newspaper The Times and Germany’s Bild. He extended a hand to Russia, which has been hit by a string of sanctions under his predecessor Barack Obama over Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine, the Syrian war and for alleged cyber attacks to influence the US election. “Let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,” Trump said in remarks carried by The Times.

The US president-elect suggested a deal in which nuclear arsenals would be reduced and sanctions against Moscow would be eased, but gave no details. “Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit,” said the president-elect, who has previously expressed admiration for Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Washington’s European allies imposed sanctions against Russia over Ukraine in 2014. Those measures were renewed on December 19.

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Trump grants an interview to the WaPo? He has a big heart!

Trump Vows ‘Insurance For Everybody’ In Replacing Obamacare (R.)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump aims to replace Obamacare with a plan that would envisage “insurance for everybody,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post published on Sunday night. Trump did not give the newspaper specifics about his proposals to replace Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance law, but said the plan was nearly finished and he was ready to unveil it alongside the leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress. The Republican president-elect takes office on Friday. “It’s very much formulated down to the final strokes. We haven’t put it in quite yet but we’re going to be doing it soon,” Trump told the Post, adding he was waiting for his nominee for health and human services secretary, Tom Price, to be confirmed.

The plan, he said, would include “lower numbers, much lower deductibles,” without elaborating. “We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump said. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.” Trump was also quoted as saying in the interview that he would target pharmaceutical companies over drug pricing and insist they negotiate directly with the Medicare and Medicaid government health plans for the elderly and poor. U.S. House Republicans won passage on Friday of a measure starting the process of dismantling the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, despite concerns about not having a ready replacement and the potential financial cost of repealing the law.

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All these people, CIA, media, who actively attempted to undermine Trump’s campaign and candidacy, are now shocked (I tell you, shocked!) that he doesn’t ignore what they did.

CIA Director Warns Trump To Watch What He Says (R.)

CIA Director John Brennan on Sunday offered a stern parting message for Donald Trump days before the Republican U.S. president-elect takes office, cautioning him against loosening sanctions on Russia and warning him to watch what he says. Brennan rebuked Trump for comparing U.S. intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany in comments by the outgoing CIA chief that reflected the extraordinary friction between the incoming president and the 17 intelligence agencies he will begin to command once he takes office on Friday. In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Brennan questioned the message sent to the world if the president-elect broadcasts that he does not have confidence in the United States’ own intelligence agencies.

“What I do find outrageous is equating the intelligence community with Nazi Germany. I do take great umbrage at that, and there is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly,” Brennan said. Brennan’s criticism followed a tumultuous week of finger-pointing between Trump and intelligence agency leaders over an unsubstantiated report that Russia had collected compromising information about Trump. The unverified dossier was summarized in a U.S. intelligence report presented to Trump and outgoing President Barack Obama this month that concluded Russia tried to sway the outcome of the Nov. 8 election in Trump’s favor by hacking and other means. The report did not make an assessment on whether Russia’s attempts affected the election’s outcome.

Trump has accused the intelligence community of leaking the dossier information, which its leaders denied. They said it was their responsibility to inform the president-elect that the allegations were being circulated. Later on Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to berate Brennan and wrote, “Was this the leaker of Fake News?” In a separate posting, Trump scolded “those intelligence chiefs” for presenting the dossier as part of their briefing. “When people make mistakes, they should APOLOGIZE,” he wrote.

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Excellent. The elite press do not deserve their status.

Trump Team May Move West Wing Briefings to Expand Capacity (BBG)

The incoming Trump administration is considering moving White House press briefings out of the West Wing to accommodate more than the “Washington media elite,” President-elect Donald Trump’s press secretary said. “This is about greater accessibility, more people in the process,” Sean Spicer said Sunday on Fox News Channel’s “Media Buzz.” Involving more people, including bloggers and others who aren’t from the mainstream media, “should be seen as a welcome change,” he said. Their comments followed a report Saturday by Esquire, citing unidentified officials from the transition team, that the new administration may move the press corps out of the main White House building altogether because of antagonism between Trump and the media.

Any change would be made for logistical reasons, in response to heavy demand from media organizations, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said Sunday. “The briefing room is open now to all reporters who request access,” White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason said in a statement Sunday. “We object strenuously to any move that would shield the president and his advisers from the scrutiny of an on-site White House press corps.” Mason said he was meeting with Spicer “to try to get more clarity on exactly what” the proposal is. “There’s such a tremendous amount of interest in this incoming administration that they’re giving some consideration to finding a larger venue on the 18 acres in the White House complex, to accommodate that extraordinary interest,” Pence said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

“The interest of the team is to make sure that we accommodate the broadest number of people who are interested and media from around the country and around the world,” Pence said. On ABC’s “This Week,” incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said demand for press-conference credentials far exceeds the “49 people” who can fit into the current briefing room. “The one thing that we discussed was whether or not we want to move the initial press conferences into the Executive Office Building,” Priebus said, adding, “you can fit four times the amount of people.”

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Oh well, with Trump praising Brexit and promising a swift deal, this may reverse.

Pound Sterling Hits New 31-Year-Low Ahead Of May’s Brexit Speech (Ind.)

Fears of the consequences of a hard Brexit have sent the pound to a fresh 31-year-low against the dollar, excluding last October’s flash crash. The pound hit new lows after reports said that Prime Minister Theresa May will on Tuesday signal plans to quit the EU’s single market to regain control of Britain’s borders, in a speech which is expected to give the most detailed insight yet into her approach to the forthcoming negotiations with Brussels. Sterling fell against all of its major peers, dropping below $1.1985 against the dollar in early Asian trade on Monday, before recovering slightly to just above $1.20. This is a more than three-decade low for the currency, excluding the flash crash on 7 October that sent the pound plunging more than six per cent to $1.18.

Fears among currency traders and investors that the UK is heading for a hard Brexit – in which access to the EU’s single market would be sacrificed in favour of tighter control over immigration – have tended to weaken the pound while suggestions that the UK could retain access to the EU single market have helped it recover. Sterling is down against the dollar by about 19 per cent since the Brexit vote, with declines since mainly sparked by concerns that Mrs May would pursue a so-called hard Brexit. City analysts are anticipating Mrs May’s speech on Tuesday with a sense of gloom.

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I know, I know, we should ignore this drivel. But there’s a few good take downs, this being one. I still wonder how the peeing hookers tale -apparently- ended up in Steele’s report. Because it came from the US, not Russia. Then again, of course, Steele hasn’t been to Russia in decades. If this report says anything, it’s that they can’t find dirt on Trump.

The Scandal of the 35-Page Anti-Trump ‘Intelligence Dossier’ (GR)

Some critics have been ungrateful enough to suggest that claims published without the least scintilla of supporting evidence by intelligence agencies which have a rich history of lying to the American people as well as everyone else, and which are in addition led by James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, may not be above suspicion. But the latest revelation, a 35-page sequence of linked texts published on January 10 by BuzzFeedNews, gives what simpletons are expected to interpret as unimpeachable evidence of soundness and credibility. The document is authored “by a person who has claimed to be a former British intelligence official,” and its sources, identified by letters of the alphabet, include a “senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure,” “a former top level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” as well as another “senior Kremlin official.”

(How could one fail to doff one’s cap in acknowledgment of the spy-craft of those Brits, who are able so deftly to penetrate the inner counsels of the wicked Mr. Putin and induce his close associates to sing like canaries?) The texts which make up this document propose that Mr. Trump and his entourage had routine treasonous contacts with Russian state authorities over a long period leading up to the election, and that Mr. Putin was interfering in that election in every way possible—including by exploiting “TRUMP’s personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable ‘kompromat’ (compromising material) on him.” The document’s most lurid claim—certified by Sources B, D, E and F—is made on its second page. It’s not clear what form of perverse pleasure Mr. Trump was supposed to have obtained by having “a number of prostitutes” urinate on his bed in the Moscow Ritz Carlton’s presidential suite.

The explanation given for the motivation behind this command performance – that the same bed had previously been slept in, on one of their official visits to Russia, by Barack and Michelle Obama (“whom he hated”) – seems bizarre. After all, on the night in question, whose soggy bed was it now? [..] The most immediate concern raised by this literally filthy story may be humanitarian. It seems well attested that Mr. Trump is not merely fastidious, but germaphobic: where is he supposed to have slept out the rest of the night? On the perhaps undefiled sofa, or on the carpet? And what are we to make of the claim by trolling posters at 4Chan that this “golden showers” story was a hoax they had foisted onto a Republican operative known to despise Trump, who then shopped it around to news media, other politicians, and intelligence agencies? If this story is a fiction, then are the document’s Sources B, D, E and F, who confirmed it, also fictional? And if some of the document’s sources are made up, what kind of fool would want to believe that any of the rest are authentic?

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We call these people success stories. We need to redefine ‘success’.

Eight Billionaire Men ‘As Rich As World’s Poorest 3.5 Billion People’ (BBC)

The world’s eight richest individuals have as much wealth as the 3.6bn people who make up the poorest half of the world, according to Oxfam. The charity said its figures, which critics have queried, came from improved data, and the gap between rich and poor was “far greater than feared”. Oxfam’s report coincides with the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Mark Littlewood, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said Oxfam should focus instead on ways to boost growth. “As an ‘anti-poverty’ charity, Oxfam seems to be strangely preoccupied with the rich,” said the director-general of the free market think tank. For those concerned with “eradicating absolute poverty completely”, the focus should be on measures that encourage economic growth, he added.

Ben Southwood, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, said it was not the wealth of the world’s rich that mattered, but the welfare of the world’s poor, which was improving every year. “Each year we are misled by Oxfam’s wealth statistics. The data is fine – it comes from Credit Suisse – but the interpretation is not.” The annual event in Davos, a Swiss ski resort, attracts many of the world’s top political and business leaders. Katy Wright, Oxfam’s head of global external affairs, said the report helped the charity to “challenge the political and economic elites”. “We’re under no illusions that Davos is anything other than a talking shop for the world’s elite, but we try and use that focus,” she added.

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But that would sink it. A band of 25%?!

“China Should Stop Intervening In FX Market And Let Yuan Float” (R.)

China should stop intervening in the foreign exchange market, devalue the yuan and let it float freely to restore stability, a senior researcher at a government-backed think tank said. Xiao Lisheng, a finance expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, made the remarks in an article on Monday in the official China Securities Journal amid a growing debate among the country’s economists on whether authorities should let the closely-managed currency trade more freely. The yuan lost 6.6% against the dollar last year, the biggest annual loss since 1994. “The more the government delays the release of depreciation pressure, the greater the impact and destructive power of the release of depreciation pressure will be,” Xiao wrote.

The authorities should “let the yuan exchange rate have a one-off adjustment to realize a free float” of the currency, he said. The yuan is allowed to trade in a band of 2% on either side of a daily reference rate managed by the central bank. Authorities have said repeatedly there was no basis for continued depreciation of the unit, but many currency strategists predict a further weakening this year if the U.S. dollar remains strong, spurring further capital outflows from China. Xiao said the current mid-point formation mechanism, adopted in 2015, is still immature and in transition, although it has eased depreciation pressure and curbed sharp declines in the country’s foreign exchange reserves. “But any foreign exchange rate mechanism without a free float cannot fundamentally reach a market clearing (price),” he wrote.

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Much more of that to come, even if -or especially if- their economy tanks.

China’s Booming Middle Class Drives Asia’s Toxic E-Waste Mountains (G.)

Asia’s mountains of hazardous electronic trash, or e-waste, are growing rapidly, new research reveals, with China leading the way. A record 16m tonnes of electronic trash, containing both toxic and valuable materials, were generated in a single year – up 63% in five years, new analysis looking at 12 countries in east and south-east Asia shows. In China the mountain of discarded TVs, phones, computers, monitors, e-toys and small appliances grew by 6.7m tonnes in 2015 alone. That’s an 107% increase in just five years. To get a sense of scale, if every woman, man and child in China had an old LCD monitor and dumped it the pile would not equal the 2015 tonnage. The region’s fast-increasing middle class is the main driver of e-waste increases, not population growth, the report by the United Nations University found.

However, Asia’s 3.7kg per person of waste is still tiny compared to Europe’s 15.6 kg per person, it said. “Growing incomes, the creation of more and more gadgets and ever-shorter lifespans of things like mobile phones are the reasons for this tremendous increase in Asia,” said co-author Ruediger Kuehr of UN University. Electronics and electrical devices have a big eco footprint, meaning their manufacture consumes a lot of energy and water, along with valuable and sometimes scarce resources, making recycling and recovery very important. The increasing volumes of e-waste combined with a lack of environmentally sound management is a cause for concern, says Kuehr. “We risk future production of these devices and very high costs without recycling the materials,” he said.

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The numbers start to be confusing. It’s good to realize that Kathimerini is not a fan of Tsipras. What we know is the EU prefers to donate millions to NGOs rather than Greece.

But the point stands: where is the money going, what is it being spend on, and why is there no public accounting of this? Why are refugees freezing to death?

Greece Strives To Absorb EU’s Migration Funds (Kath.)

Greece is struggling to make use of EU money for migrants and refugees after having absorbed just a fraction of the 509 million euros in funding for up to 2020. So far, Athens has used about 2% of 294.6 million euros from the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, and around 25% of 214.8 million euros from the Internal Security Fund. Greek authorities blame the slow absorption rate on emergency conditions caused by the migrant influx, whereas Brussels has pointed to technical faults on the other end.

Athens, however, appears more flexible absorbing separate EU emergency funding: From about 350 million euros for 2015-16, some 175 million has gone to state agencies and an equal sum to the UN refugee agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Asylum Service. “Were it not for the emergency funds, we would be able to do nothing. Or we would have to spend money from the state budget. Regular funding requires a lot of bureaucracy,” a Labor Ministry official told Kathimerini on condition of anonymity.

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Jan 152017
 
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John Collier Street Corner, Monday after Pearl Harbor, San Francisco 1941


Trump Team Denies Report Of Meeting With Putin In Iceland (Fox)
Trump is Hand Grenade Thrown by American Working Class Against the System (Sp.)
Americans Overwhelmingly Support Bernie Sanders’ Economic Policies (Salon)
Tulsi Gabbard Has a Bill to Stop the US Arming ISIS (RI)
We Are Getting Worried About Paul Krugman (ZH)
RealVision’s 15 “Killer Charts” For Q1 2017 (ZH)
Aid In Reverse: How Poor Countries Develop Rich Countries (G.)
More Than 100 Refugees Drown As Boat Sinks In Mediterranean (Ind.)

 

 

Something will happen though. And it should.

Trump Team Denies Report Of Meeting With Putin In Iceland (Fox)

President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming press secretary Sean Spicer denied a report from the Sunday Times on Saturday that said Trump was seeking to have a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Iceland. The Sunday Times reported that Trump aides told British officials that Trump plans to meet with Putin on his first foreign trip, possibly in Reykjavik. The paper, citing unidentified sources, reported that Trump plans to begin working out a deal to limit nuclear weapons and that Moscow agreed to the meeting. According to the newspaper, Trump sought to emulate former President Ronald Reagan’s meeting with the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 that took place in the Icelandic capital. The two met in an effort to work on a major nuclear disbarment treaty at the height of the Cold War. Spicer lashed out at the report on Twitter, calling it “100% false.”

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When left became right.

Trump is Hand Grenade Thrown by American Working Class Against the System (Sp.)

The last year has taught us, with Brexit, the US elections, growing anti-EU sentiment on the continent of Europe, that ignoring national interests, which are more and more often expressed in terms of national culture and identity, is not possible anymore. Will this translate through into the reconstruction of economic protectionism? Professor Steve Keen, from the University of Kingston, an economist and an author answers this question. Are identity and culture the new important subjects in politics? Professor Keen gives an explanatory answer. To him, a progressive form of identity and gender politics and socialist politics have been bedfellows for the past 40 years.

One of the clearest examples is in France, he says, where you have Hollande; a socialist leader imposing austerity whilst talking about progressive attitudes to identity politics. Progressive identity politics has been tainted with the brush of austerity politics imposed by the European Union. The socialists have been sunk by it, with a resurgent Marine Le Pen benefiting from the support of middle aged white farmers, and white workers in America supporting Trump. It was a massive mistake, Professor Keen says, for the ‘left’ to align itself with neoliberal economics and failed economic policies which are now falling apart. The centre left, Professor Keen continues, which has been the mainstream socialist thought for some time are basically saying that we have to get into power, and then make capitalism work better.

This is a complete travesty, because success was only brought about by leveraging unsuccessful economies. They ended up deregulating the financial sector, and the next thing they know, economies come crashing down. There is identification of failed social policy with the failed neoliberal policy. The main sufferers have been what is used to be called the industrial workers, they are now saying that if you can’t protect us, we are going across to the people who might be able to. They might be ugly but they might allow us to throw a political hand grenade into the system to wake up those Americans who have been neglected ideologically by the left and also because they have actually lost their jobs to benefit people in China, as Trump has been arguing.

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Title continues: So how’d we end up here? Interesting question. What happened? Hillary happened.

Americans Overwhelmingly Support Bernie Sanders’ Economic Policies (Salon)

During a CNN town hall held by Sen. Bernie Sanders last Monday, the Vermont senator and progressive icon tried to drive home a point that he has frequently made in the past: There is widespread support for most of the economic policies that he ran on, even if they were often portrayed as radical and divisive by the media. “The overwhelming majority of the American people – including many people who voted for Mr. Trump – support the ideas that we’re talking about,” insisted Sanders. “On many economic issues you would be surprised at how many Americans hold the same views. Very few people believe what the Republican leadership believes now: tax breaks for billionaires and cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Public polling tends to support his claim. A Gallup survey from last May, for example, revealed that a majority of Americans (58%) support the idea of replacing the Affordable Care Act with a federally funded health care system (including four in 10 Republicans!), while only 22% of Americans say they want Obamacare repealed and don’t want to replace it with a single-payer system. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll from last year had similar results: Almost two-thirds of Americans (64%) had a positive reaction to “Medicare-for-all,” while only a small minority (13%) supported repealing the ACA and replacing it with a Republican alternative. These are surprising numbers when you consider how the Sanders campaign’s “Medicare-for-all” plan was written off by critics as being too extreme.

On other issues, a similar story presents itself. Public Policy Polling (PPP) has found that the vast majority (88%) of voters in Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – four crucial swing states, three of which went to Trump this fall – oppose cutting Social Security benefits, while a majority (68%) oppose privatizing Social Security. Similarly, 67% of Americans support requiring high-income earners to pay the payroll tax for all of their income (the cap is currently $118,500), according to a Gallup poll. America’s two other major social programs, Medicare and Medicaid, are also widely supported by Americans, and the vast majority oppose any spending cuts to either. In fact, more Americans support cutting the national defense budget than Medicare or Medicaid. It goes on and on. A majority of Americans, 61%, believe that upper-income earners pay too little in taxes.

A majority of 64% believe that corporations don’t pay their fair share in taxes. Significant majorities believe that wealth distribution is unfair in America, support raising the minimum wage (though perhaps not as high as Sanders would like), and say they are worried about climate change. So a consistent majority of Americans would seem to agree almost across the board with a self-proclaimed democratic socialist and object to the reactionary agenda of congressional Republicans. How, then, did we end up with a Republican-controlled Congress that is dead set on repealing the ACA without a viable replacement (let alone a single-payer type of system supported by the majority); cutting and possibly privatizing Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid; slashing taxes for the wealthiest Americans; and ignoring climate change?

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Go Tulsi.

Tulsi Gabbard Has a Bill to Stop the US Arming ISIS (RI)

FOX’s Tucker Carlson scored another great interview when he spoke to Hawaii’s congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. Rep. Gabbard talked about her meeting with President-elect Trump some weeks ago to discuss the danger of further neocon escalation of the war in Syria. She has also recently introduced a bill in congress aimed at preventing the US from funding terrorist groups like ISIS in the future. The bill is brilliantly named the “Stop Funding Terrorists Act.” Seems guaranteed to pass – who could possibly justify voting against it to their constituents? Having this on the books would be a useful tool to stop any further terror-funding operations. Something to watch.

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Too good to skip.

We Are Getting Worried About Paul Krugman (ZH)

When a delicate snowflake is suddenly faced with a perceived reality so devastating as to be an existential crisis, the mind's reaction to dealing with this cognitive dissonance can be disabling for some. Certainly for The New York Times' flip-flopping, hate-mongering, fact-twisting, Keynesian poster-boy Paul Krugman it appears coping with "no" is not going well and his tirade last night in Twitter has us gravely concerned for his mental stability, which is ironic given how he began yesterday…

But that was followed quickly by a six-tweet-rant nothing short of what we would expect from a dejected five-year-old who just got denied another scoop of ice cream






Krugman once again blames the ignorance of the deplorable masses (who just don't get what a "fraudster" Trump is) in shunning him and his "know-it-alls", but he has been heading down this hill of manic-depressive lashing out for weeks now having recently suggested Trump will unleash a 9/11-style attack to legitimize his presidency.

Is he hoping to maintain a groundswell of "well, if he is not hitler… he must be worse" thoughts among those so easily led? Still, coming from a man who has prognosticated alien invasions as a global economic growth engine, we are not sure if he is mental situation is improving or deteriorating. We wish him well.

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I picked 3.

RealVision’s 15 “Killer Charts” For Q1 2017 (ZH)

Ranging from the most expensive stock market ever to the dis-similarity in the economic situations facing Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan; and from the excess liquidity driving the price oil to the extraordinarily dangerous growth of credit (debt) relative to GDP, Raoul Pal’s Real Vision has expanded its exceptional services into investment research by publishing the “killer charts” that every market participant should comprehend for the first quarter of 2017…

 

 

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And there are people surprised to see this?! How then do they think we got so rich? Simple: we rape and pillage.

Aid In Reverse: How Poor Countries Develop Rich Countries (G.)

We have long been told a compelling story about the relationship between rich countries and poor countries. The story holds that the rich nations of the OECD give generously of their wealth to the poorer nations of the global south, to help them eradicate poverty and push them up the development ladder. Yes, during colonialism western powers may have enriched themselves by extracting resources and slave labour from their colonies – but that’s all in the past. These days, they give more than $125bn (£102bn) in aid each year – solid evidence of their benevolent goodwill. This story is so widely propagated by the aid industry and the governments of the rich world that we have come to take it for granted. But it may not be as simple as it appears.

The US-based Global Financial Integrity (GFI) and the Centre for Applied Research at the Norwegian School of Economics recently published some fascinating data. They tallied up all of the financial resources that get transferred between rich countries and poor countries each year: not just aid, foreign investment and trade flows (as previous studies have done) but also non-financial transfers such as debt cancellation, unrequited transfers like workers’ remittances, and unrecorded capital flight (more of this later). As far as I am aware, it is the most comprehensive assessment of resource transfers ever undertaken. What they discovered is that the flow of money from rich countries to poor countries pales in comparison to the flow that runs in the other direction.

In 2012, the last year of recorded data, developing countries received a total of $1.3tn, including all aid, investment, and income from abroad. But that same year some $3.3tn flowed out of them. In other words, developing countries sent $2tn more to the rest of the world than they received. If we look at all years since 1980, these net outflows add up to an eye-popping total of $16.3tn – that’s how much money has been drained out of the global south over the past few decades. To get a sense for the scale of this, $16.3tn is roughly the GDP of the United States.

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Checked your account at the karma bank lately?

More Than 100 Refugees Drown As Boat Sinks In Mediterranean (Ind.)

More than 100 refugees have drowned after a boat sank in rough conditions in the Mediterranean Sea as the crisis shows no sign of slowing. The Italian Navy was searching for survivors from the vessel, which was believed to be carrying up to 110 people. Only four survivors were pulled from the water, with at least eight bodies found so far. Flavio Di Giacomo, from the International Organisation for Migration, told The Independent around 106 people were thought to have died and described the conditions at sea as “extremely bad”. The boat went down in waters between Libya and Italy, which has become the deadliest sea crossing in the world since the start of the refugee crisis.It claimed the vast majority of more than 5,000 lives lost in treacherous boat journeys to Europe in 2016, the deadliest year on record, with people drowning or being crushed or suffocated in overcrowded smugglers’ boats.

Saturday’s disaster was the worst single incident so far this year, which has already seen at least 122 deaths at sea. Rescue workers warn that the crisis is showing no sign of slowing in the Central Mediterranean, which has become the main route since the EU-Turkey deal was implemented in March to reduce comparatively shorter and safer crossings over the Aegean Sea. At least 550 refugees were rescued on Friday alone off the coast of Libya, where continuing conflict and lawlessness since the British-backed defeat of Muammar Gaddafi has allowed the smuggling and exploitation of migrants to thrive. Two people were found dead at the bottom of one of the four boats saved and the bodies of four other migrants were found off the coast of Spain. Several asylum seekers have also died in the extreme weather conditions gripping much of Europe in recent weeks.

More than 5,000 refugees were drowned, suffocated or crushed while attempting to cross the Mediterranean and Aegean seas in 2016, making it the deadliest year on record. Many deaths are thought to go unrecorded, with bodies either disappearing or washing up on the shores of Libya, where authorities do not routinely release casualty figures. Some boats are sighted by Italian authorities but disappear before they can be reached by rescue ships. The Unravelling the Mediterranean Migration Crisis (Medmig) project partly blamed Britain and EU nations for rocketing death rates, concluding that the refusal to open up legal routes for those seeking safety in Europe has increased demand for people smuggling on ever more dangerous routes.

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Jan 032017
 
 January 3, 2017  Posted by at 9:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Robert Doisneau Françoise Gilot et Pablo Picasso 1952


Fears Of ‘Massive’ Global Property Price Fall In ‘Dangerous’ Conditions (Tel.)
Is Trump About to Debunk the Media’s ‘Putin-gate’ Conspiracy Theory? (AntiWar)
Assange: Obama Admin Trying To ‘Delegitimize’ Trump (Hill)
Trump Says US Safe From North Korean Nuclear Strike – No Thanks To China (G.)
China Needs To Let Companies Go Bust To Support The System – Xie (CNBC)
Holes in China’s Currency Wall (BBG)
China Starts 7,500 Mile Freight Train to London as Xi Boosts Trade Ties (BBG)
Finland Trials Basic Income For Unemployed (AP)
US Special Operations Numbers Surge In Africa’s Shadow Wars (I’Cept)

 

 

“..raising the risk of massive price falls if markets overheat, according to the OECD..” Pretty sure they are overheated.

Fears Of ‘Massive’ Global Property Price Fall In ‘Dangerous’ Conditions (Tel.)

Property prices have climbed to dangerous levels in several advanced economies, raising the risk of massive price falls if markets overheat, according to the OECD. Catherine Mann, the OECD’s chief economist, said the think-tank was monitoring “vulnerabilities in asset markets” closely amid predictions of higher inflation and the prospect of diverging monetary policies next year. Ms Mann said a “number of countries”, including Canada and Sweden, had “very high” commercial and residential property prices that were “not consistent with a stable real estate market”. She also said property price falls in Britain following the vote to leave the EU could “be good for the UK” if the adjustment is borne mainly by foreign investors.“We’ve already started to see some changes in real estate prices in the UK, [particularly in] the London market,” said Ms Mann.

“[What’s] interesting in terms of the implications for the UK economy is who bears the burden – who bears the adjustment cost. If it’s a non-resident then lower house prices could actually be good for the UK.” The warning comes as research by Countrywide reveals that the number of homes sold in the UK for more than the asking price has tumbled in the last year. In January 2016, 41.5pc of homes for sale in London were sold above the asking price. But this fell to just 23pc in November. Nationally, the fall was less steep: from 29.8pc in March to 23.1pc in November. The data suggest that the UK housing market could be at an inflection point with activity slowing throughout 2016, particularly in the capital, as sellers accepted lower offers while buyers deserted the market amid uncertainty over Brexit.

While prices did not fall across the country last year, there was a slowdown in activity as people chose not to buy a home. Johnny Morris, head of research at Countrywide, said: “There isn’t the same level of competition in the market now.” The Royal Institution of Surveyors reported that the number of new buyer inquiries has been at very low levels in the second half of the year. The number of new properties on the market has also been at record lows, helping to prop up prices. Mr Morris added: “We expect prices to fall next year as this slowdown works through the system. Generally the first thing to change will be the number of transactions, and then after the gap between what people will pay and how much people will accept opens up quickly and takes a while to close. Sales slow, and then there is a price adjustment.”

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Yeah, please, end this B movie.

Is Trump About to Debunk the Media’s ‘Putin-gate’ Conspiracy Theory? (AntiWar)

“It wouldn’t be a bad opening for a Tom Clancy novel about the Cold War” – that’s how the Los Angeles Times described the sequence of events leading up to the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats (“spies”) and the latest face-off between Washington and Moscow. Indeed the whole episode of has about it a fictional aura, which is, after all, only appropriate, since the entire basis of this latest cold war drama is pure invention. The Russian “spy nest” had supposedly been in use since 1972 – but our Keystone Kops were just now getting around to dismantling it. Oh well, better late than never! It’s a 45-acre compound on the Maryland shore, about 60 miles from Washington, a place where Russian diplomats went to relax with their families.

Neighbors said they never saw anything the least bit off, and that the Labor Day picnics to which they were invited featured plenty of really good vodka. The head of the town council, a retired Marine, told the Los Angeles Times: “They’re good neighbors, and have been the whole time they’ve been there.” On New York’s Long Island a similar scenario unfolded: an estate long the site of Russian diplomats relaxing with their families is raided by the feds, and impounded, while baffled locals look on. It’s all part of the security theater performed by Obama’s dead-enders, as they do their best to cast a long shadow over the incoming Trump administration. And like any performance, it comes with a little booklet explaining the provenance of the piece, in this case a “report” reiterating in a most unconvincing manner the assertions we’ve been hearing since Election Day: that Trump’s victory was the culmination of an elaborate Russian conspiracy, a remake of “The Manchurian Candidate,” only this time with computers.

And just to add a little extra frisson to the mix, as the clock ticked toward 2017 the Washington Post ran a story alleging that those omnipotent Russkies had hacked into Vermont’s electricity grid – and were about to turn out the lights! Except they didn’t, they weren’t, and it was all a bit of that “fake news” WaPo has been warning us about. The “Russian malware” was found on a laptop that wasn’t even connected to the internet. And it wasn’t Russian malware, it was Ukrainian. Oh, the drama! Except there wasn’t any – at least, not enough for a Tom Clancy novel. [..] Is Trump about to blow this whole phony “Put did it” scam wide open? It wouldn’t surprise me in the least. What we are seeing playing out is the reaction of the swamp creatures as Trump proceeds to drain their natural habitat. That screeching roaring sound you hear is their collective outrage as the implications of Trump’s triumph become apparent.

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Don’t think Assange ever figured he was going to end up defending Trump.

Assange: Obama Admin Trying To ‘Delegitimize’ Trump (Hill)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says there’s an “obvious” reason the Obama administration has focused on Russia’s alleged role in Democratic hacks leading up to Donald Trump’s electoral win. “They’re trying to delegitimize the Trump administration as it goes into the White House,” Assange said during an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity airing Tuesday night, according to a transcript of excerpts from the network. “They are trying to say that President-elect Trump is not a legitimate president,” Assange said during the interview, which was conducted at the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has been staying. “Our publications had wide uptake by the American people, they’re all true,” Assange continued. “But that’s not the allegation that’s being presented by the Obama White House.”

Assange reiterated the group’s denial that Russia was the source of the Democratic documents released over the summer. “Our source is not a state party, so the answer for our interactions is no,” he said. In December, Assange told Hannity that the documents the anti-secrecy group received looked “very much like they’re from the Russians” but said his source was not them. When asked if he thought WikiLeaks influenced the 2016 election, Assange pointed to private comments from members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton’s campaign in documents published by the group. “Did [WikiLeaks] change the outcome of the election? Who knows, it’s impossible to tell,” Assange said. “But if it did, the accusation is that the true statements of Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta, and the DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz, their true statements is what changed the election.”

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“He has described Kim as a “maniac”, but suggested in June 2015 that he would be willing to invite Kim to Washington for talks over hamburgers.”

Trump Says US Safe From North Korean Nuclear Strike – No Thanks To China (G.)

Donald Trump has said no North Korean nuclear bomb will reach the US mainland, a day after the regime in Pyongyang claimed it was close to test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The president-elect – who has yet to articulate his incoming administration’s approach to North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme – also took another swipe at China, accusing Beijing of failing to rein in the North’s nuclear ambitions. “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the US. It won’t happen!” Trump tweeted. It was not clear what Trump meant: whether he believed North Korea was incapable of developing a reliable ICBM, or that the US would prevent it doing so.

He went on to reignite his verbal tit-for-tat with Beijing, this time linking trade to what he called China’s unwillingness to exert pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons programme. “China has been taking out massive amounts of money and wealth from the US in totally one-sided trade, but won’t help with North Korea. Nice!” [..] Since winning the US presidential election, Trump has not indicated he will abandon the Obama administration’s policy of isolating North Korea. He has described Kim as a “maniac”, but suggested in June 2015 that he would be willing to invite Kim to Washington for talks over hamburgers. North Korea is thought to be some way off developing a nuclear warhead capable of reaching the US, but some experts said Kim’s ICBM claims should be taken seriously, citing the progress that has been made since he became leader in late 2011.

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Zombie country.

China Needs To Let Companies Go Bust To Support The System – Xie (CNBC)

China posted positive manufacturing numbers this week, but there are more problems that need to be fixed in the system that is acknowledged, an economist said Tuesday. “(You cannot just) focus on overcapacity and not focus on the government policy of subsidizing production or the financial system, that is, basically rolling over non-performing loans to make it look like they are still performing,” said independent economist Andy Xie. “China has been stretching the cycle and trying to roll over all the loans so nobody goes bankrupt,” he told CNBC’s Squawk Box.

The Chinese government, he said, needs to stop boosting industry by subsidizing investment as this will further contribute to over-capacity—which is in turn funded by households invested in the property bubble. “This is destroying household sector demand and you get into a vicious cycle. The industry sector can never become healthy,” he said. Xie’s comments come on the back of the release of China Caixin’s December manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) which marked its fastest rate of improvement in three years.

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“.. the history of such endeavors shows that people care much more about preserving their wealth than observing the letter of the law…”

Holes in China’s Currency Wall (BBG)

China’s latest great wall against capital outflows is likely to be as effective at stemming overseas real estate purchases as the real thing was at keeping out invaders.The country’s foreign-exchange regulator is requiring citizens who want to move money abroad to provide extra information on bank forms introduced Jan. 1, including a pledge that the funds won’t be used to purchase property.Beijing has made several attempts in recent months to rein in the nation’s voracious appetite for overseas bricks and mortar. In November, the government imposed a ban on foreign property purchases worth $1 billion or more by state-owned enterprises. Now, even the $50,000 that every individual is allowed to convert each calendar year can henceforth be used only for non-investment purposes such as travel or medical services.

[..] Unofficial conduits for moving money out of China abound. The continued demand for dollar-denominated insurance policies in Hong Kong — even after the use of China UnionPay Co. credit and debit cards was outlawed for such purchases — is evidence enough of that.One popular tactic is known as “smurfing” – breaking sums down into small increments that avoid official scrutiny, named after the little blue cartoon characters who as small individuals constitute a larger whole. People needing to move large amounts out of China can recruit friends and relatives to help carry the load in this way.Offshore trading companies – with the cover of export and import invoicing — have more leeway to move money in and out of the country, offering another route that can be used to finance overseas property purchases.

China has acknowledged a problem with fake invoicing. Still, a more stringent clampdown would risk disrupting trade at a time of weak growth.This is the rub for China’s foreign-exchange regulators. Capital controls are inevitably porous, especially for a country that’s as plugged into the global trade and economic system as China. And the demand for offshore property remains seemingly insatiable.Rich Chinese aim to have at least a third of their wealth outside the country and real estate is their most popular overseas investment, according to the Hurun Research Institute. About 60 percent of individuals surveyed said they plan to buy offshore property in the next three years, the wealth researcher said in an October report.

The reasons for the exodus are well known. China’s economy is slowing, domestic real estate is becoming increasingly unaffordable and the yuan is depreciating. In these circumstances, foreign property promises capital preservation. Until these fundamental factors turn around, Chinese authorities will be pushing against the tide.The greatest value of the latest controls may be in the signal they send to the general population: China is serious about reining in outflows, and those who are caught abusing the system will be dealt with severely. That may give some buyers pause. But the history of such endeavors shows that people care much more about preserving their wealth than observing the letter of the law. This is another clampdown that will fail.

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That’s just hilarious. Marco Polo here we come.

China Starts 7,500 Mile Freight Train to London as Xi Boosts Trade Ties (BBG)

China started a freight train to London as part of President Xi Jinping’s efforts to strengthen trade ties with Europe, Xinhua reported, citing state-owned China Railway Corp. The train, departing from Yiwu in eastern Zhejiang province, will cover more than 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) in about 18 days before reaching the British city, carrying goods such as garments, bags and suitcases among other items, Xinhua said Monday. The freighter will pass through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France.

London is the 15th city in Europe to be added to China’s freight train services to the continent as Xi seeks to reinforce commercial links with markets across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. In 2013, Xi unveiled his so-called Belt-and-Road initiative, making transport lines the centerpiece of his efforts to create a modern Silk Road. China has initially set aside about $40 billion in a fund to finance roads and railways abroad under the plan, while the nation’s trade with countries along the routes could reach $2.5 trillion in about a decade, Yao Gang, the then vice chairman of China Securities Regulatory Commission, said in 2015.

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It’s misleading to call this basic income. It leads away from the real thing.

Finland Trials Basic Income For Unemployed (AP)

Finland has become the first country in Europe to pay its unemployed citizens a basic monthly income, amounting to €560 (£477/US$587), in a unique social experiment that is hoped to cut government red tape, reduce poverty and boost employment. Olli Kangas from the Finnish government agency KELA, which is responsible for the country’s social benefits, said on Monday that the two-year trial with 2,000 randomly picked citizens receiving unemployment benefits began on 1 January. Those chosen will receive €560 every month, with no reporting requirements on how they spend it. The amount will be deducted from any benefits they already receive. The average private sector income in Finland is €3,500 per month, according to official data.

Kangas said the scheme’s idea was to abolish the “disincentive problem” among the unemployed. The trial aimed to discouraged people’s fears “of losing out something”, he said, adding that the selected persons would continue to receive the €560 even after receiving a job. A jobless person may currently refuse a low-income or short-term job in the fear of having his financial benefits reduced drastically under Finland’s generous and complex social security system. “It’s highly interesting to see how it makes people behave,” Kangas said. “Will this lead them to boldly experiment with different kinds of jobs? Or, as some critics claim, make them lazier with the knowledge of getting a basic income without doing anything?”

The unemployment rate of Finland, a nation of 5.5 million, stood at 8.1% in November with some 213,000 people without a job – unchanged from the previous year. The scheme is part of the measures by the centre-right government of Finland’s prime minister, Juha Sipila, to tackle unemployment. Kangas said the basic income experiment may be expanded later to other low-income groups such as freelancers, small-scale entrepreneurs and part-time workers.

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Obama’s legacy is not what it seems.

US Special Operations Numbers Surge In Africa’s Shadow Wars (I’Cept)

Africa has seen the most dramatic growth in the deployment of America’s elite troops of any region of the globe over the past decade, according to newly released numbers. In 2006, just 1% of commandos sent overseas were deployed in the U.S. Africa Command area of operations. In 2016, 17.26% of all U.S. Special Operations forces – Navy SEALs and Green Berets among them – deployed abroad were sent to Africa, according to data supplied to The Intercept by U.S. Special Operations Command. That total ranks second only to the Greater Middle East where the U.S. is waging war against enemies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. “In Africa, we are not the kinetic solution,” Brigadier General Donald Bolduc, the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, told African Defense, a U.S. trade publication, early this fall. “We are not at war in Africa – but our African partners certainly are.”

That statement stands in stark contrast to this year’s missions in Somalia where, for example, U.S. Special Operations forces assisted local commandos in killing several members of the militant group, al-Shabab and Libya, where they supported local fighters battling members of the Islamic State. These missions also speak to the exponential growth of special operations on the continent. As recently as 2014, there were reportedly only about 700 U.S. commandos deployed in Africa on any given day. Today, according to Bolduc, “there are approximately 1,700 [Special Operations forces] and enablers deployed… at any given time. This team is active in 20 nations in support of seven major named operations.” Using data provided by Special Operations Command and open source information, The Intercept found that U.S. special operators were actually deployed in at least 33 African nations, more than 60% of the 54 countries on the continent, in 2016.

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Jan 012017
 
 January 1, 2017  Posted by at 11:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Claude Monet The Japanese Bridge 7 1924


Trump Leaves Open Possible Taiwan Meet, Questions Russia Hacking (R.)
Was Claim by DHS and FBI About Russian Hacking Fake News? (Spring)
Is the “Trump Trade” Already Unwinding? (WS)
Senator McCain Says US Stands With Ukraine Against Russia (R.)
Here’s How Much Each EU Nation Puts In And Takes Out Of The EU Budget (BI)
Universal Basic Income Trials Being Considered In Scotland (G.)
China’s Xi Offers Populist Message In New Year’s Eve Address (AP)
Narendra Modi Just Dug Himself a Great Big Hole (Varadarajan)
Turkish Policy Sets Syria On New Path (Sayigh)
Humanity May Self-Destruct, But The Universe Can Cope Perfectly Without Us (G.)

 

 

Trump’s been -partially- briefed: ”I also know things that other people don’t know so we cannot be sure..”. And he’s obviously not convinced, to say the least.

Trump Leaves Open Possible Taiwan Meet, Questions Russia Hacking (R.)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Saturday left open the possibility of meeting with Taiwan’s president if she visits the United States after he is sworn in on Jan. 20 and also expressed continued skepticism over whether Russia was responsible for computer hacks of Democratic Party officials. In remarks to reporters upon entering a New Year’s Eve celebration at his Mar-a-Lago estate, Trump said, “We’ll see,” when pressed on whether he would meet Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s president if she were to be in the United States at any point after he becomes president. Taiwan’s president will be in transit in Houston on Jan. 7 and again will be in transit in San Francisco on Jan. 13. Beijing bristled when Trump, shortly after his Nov. 8 victory, accepted a congratulatory telephone call from the Taiwan leader and has warned against steps that would upset the “one-China” policy China and the United States have maintained for decades.

Talk of a stop-over in the United States by the Taiwan president has further rattled Washington-Beijing relations. On another foreign policy matter, Trump warned against being quick to pin the blame on Russia for the hacking of U.S. emails. The Washington Post also reported on Friday that Moscow could be behind intrusion into a laptop owned by a Vermont electric utility. U.S. intelligence officials have said that they are confident Russia was behind the hacks, which could have played a role in Trump’s defeat over Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “I think it’s unfair if we don’t know. It could be somebody else. I also know things that other people don’t know so we cannot be sure,” Trump said. Asked what that information included, the Republican President-elect said, “You will find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.” He did not elaborate.

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Seems to depend on who reports on it.

Was Claim by DHS and FBI About Russian Hacking Fake News? (Spring)

An important research principle is to follow the money. People around the world need to ask themselves who has the money and technical ability to be running hundreds and perhaps thousands of real servers and real IP addresses from fake corporations using fake websites in fake locations in more than 40 nations around the world? What agency has already been proven to be running mass surveillance on billions of people in more than 40 nations all around the world? Whose military cyber budget is more than 10 times larger than the cyber warfare budget of the rest of the world combined? There is certainly an elephant in the room – but it is not a Russian elephant. At a televised press conference in April 2016, former NSA agent Edward Snowden asked the Russian leader Vladimir Putin if the Russian government engaged in mass surveillance of millions of people in a manner similar to the NSA.

Putin replied that Russian law prohibited the Russian government from engaging in mass surveillance. Putin then pointed out that the Russian military budget was less than 10% of the US military budget. So even if they wanted to engage in mass surveillance, they simply did not have the money. People also need to ask themselves why the FBI/DHS chose to place their evidence in a CSV file and XML file rather than a normal document or spreadsheet. If this were real evidence, it would have been placed directly in the PDF report for everyone to read – not hidden away in a file the general public has little ability to read. Finally, for the FBI or the DHS to claim that the XML-CSV file contains evidence or even indicators of Russian hacking is simply a false statement. It is a perfect example of fake news. Any news agency promoting this claim without doing even the most basic of research that would easily confirm it is false should be listed as a fake news agency.

The real question that we should all be asking is why the DHS and FBI would destroy their reputation by posting such a fake report? Several years ago, our CIA claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. We now know that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction – meaning that we went to war and spent over a trillion dollars on a fake report. Is this new fake report a pretext for launching a cyber war against Russia? Is it intended to justify increasing US military spending? It is hard to say what the real purpose of this fake DHS-FBI report is. But the fact that this silly list of IP addresses was the best evidence they could provide should be a strong indication that there really is no evidence of Russian hacking. Instead, it is more likely that Wikileaks is telling the truth in stating that they got the emails from a disgruntled Democratic Party insider.

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There’s so much downside there it’s scary.

Is the “Trump Trade” Already Unwinding? (WS)

The S&P 500, after having ended 2015 down 0.7%, ended 2016 up 9.5%, including a big swoon early in the year. From February 11, when it bottomed out at 1,810, it has surged 23.6%. And bonds went on a wild ride. The 10-year Treasury yield ended 2016 at 2.445% up from 2.273% at end of 2015. It hit 2.57% at peak Trump Trade, up over a full percentage point from the summer. Over the fourth quarter, the yield jumped 84 basis points, the largest quarterly jump since 1994. And prices, which move inverse to yields, clobbered bondholders. But note the decline in yield since December 20:

And stocks partied. Since the election, financials surged, bringing the gain for the year to 29.1%, the best-performing sector in the S&P 500. Goldman Sachs, whose ex-executives are now heavily represented in the Trump administration, shot up 36% since the election and 51% since the beginning of October when Trump’s victory became more than just a possibility. GS was one of the best Trump Trades out there. Alas, it too has started to peter out. GS is now down 2.5% from peak Trump-Trade, and other banks have followed. Insiders at the banks were preparing for it, it seems, because on December 9, just before bank stocks started losing ground, we found…

Mortgage rates have soared from around 3.4% for much of the summer to 4.32%, according to Freddie Mac. This is now reverberating through the housing market in multiple ways, with some people rushing to buy to lock in the rates before they go even higher, and others waiting for rates to come down and not buying, and still others being completely priced out by mortgage rates that are nearly a percentage point higher than they’d been a few months ago, and the first red flags on home sales are now cropping up:

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Oh, go away!

Senator McCain Says US Stands With Ukraine Against Russia (R.)

Republican U.S. Senator John McCain promised on Saturday continued support for Kiev in the face of aggression from Moscow, as he spent New Year’s Eve on the front line in Ukraine’s eastern conflict zone. McCain was one of a bipartisan group of 27 U.S. senators who sent a letter to President-elect Donald Trump in December, urging him to take a tough line against Russia over what they termed its “military land grab” in Ukraine. “I send the message from the American people – we are with you, your fight is our fight and we will win together,” McCain was quoted as saying by Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s press service. “In 2017 we will defeat the invaders and send them back where they came from. To Vladimir Putin – you will never defeat the Ukrainian people and deprive them of their independence and freedom,” McCain said after a visit to a military base in the southeastern town of Shyrokyne.

Trump signaled during his campaign that he might take a softer line in dealings with Moscow, repeatedly praising Russian President Putin’s leadership. Trump’s election caused jitters in Ukraine but officials in Kiev hope that the incoming president’s policies, influenced by Republican hawks and a Republican-voting Ukrainian diaspora, will be friendlier towards Ukraine than his campaign rhetoric might have suggested. Ukraine has relied on Western support and economic aid since street protests in 2014 which toppled a Kremlin-backed president and were followed by a war with pro-Russian separatists and Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine.

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The enormous amounts going to France, Spain, Italy, Belgium are something to be very concerned about.

Here’s How Much Each EU Nation Puts In And Takes Out Of The EU Budget (BI)

One of the biggest political stories of 2016 has been Brexit and much of the debate both before and after June’s vote to leave the EU has focused around whether Britain will be financially better or worse off after leaving the EU. The “Vote Leave” campaign famously emblazoned their battle bus with a figure of £350 million, claiming that was what the UK sent to Brussels each week and that sum could be spent on the NHS instead. The figure was subsequently discredited, as it was a gross sum and didn’t take into account the fact that Britain also benefits from EU grants and funding. However, a recent House of Commons briefing paper on the UK’s funding from the EU shows that Britain does, in fact, put more into the EU budget than it takes out.

The UK has averaged around €12 billion in EU funding each year between 2011-15 but over that same period made an average net contribution of €15 billion. Britain is one of nine EU members that are net contributors to the European Union’s budget (meaning they put in more money than they take out.) Here’s the House of Commons chart showing each member states net contributions against their EU funding:EU funding House of Commons Briefing Paper The fact that Britain is a net contributor means that, in theory, the UK could stand to gain money after it leaves the EU. However, this does not account for any potential economic fluctuations as a result of Brexit — if the economy suffers then any gains from not paying into the budget could easily be wiped out by falling tax receipts.

There is also a very real possibility that the UK may have to keep paying into the EU budget if it wants to maintain access to the EU Single Market. The UK will also have to continue paying into the EU budget until it formally leaves the EU and senior European negotiators have signalled they will try and make Britain pay up to €60 billion to leave, to cover previous budget commitments, pension liabilities, and other costs. In other words, while on paper it might look like leaving the EU will give Britain more money for inward investment, Brexit could end up costing the UK just as much as EU membership — or worse, more.

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I’m all for a good basic income trial. But I’m very afraid that none of them will be adequate, and that this will be used to discredit the entire idea. And please don’t use the term universal for small scale experiments, it’s misleading.

Universal Basic Income Trials Being Considered In Scotland (G.)

Scotland looks set to be the first part of the UK to pilot a basic income for every citizen, as councils in Fife and Glasgow investigate trial schemes in 2017. The councillor Matt Kerr has been championing the idea through the ornate halls of Glasgow City Chambers, and is frank about the challenges it poses. “Like a lot of people, I was interested in the idea but never completely convinced,” he said. But working as Labour’s anti-poverty lead on the council, Kerr says that he “kept coming back to the basic income”. Kerr sees the basic income as a way of simplifying the UK’s byzantine welfare system. “But it is also about solidarity: it says that everyone is valued and the government will support you. It changes the relationship between the individual and the state.”

The concept of a universal basic income revolves around the idea of offering every individual, regardless of existing welfare benefits or earned income, a non-conditional flat-rate payment, with any income earned above that taxed progressively. The intention is to provide a basic economic platform on which people can build their lives, whether they choose to earn, learn, care or set up a business. The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has suggested that it is likely to appear in his party’s next manifesto, while there has been a groundswell of interest among anti-poverty groups who see it as a means of changing not only the relationship between people and the state, but between workers and increasingly insecure employment in the gig economy.

Kerr accepts that, while he is hopeful of cross-party support in Glasgow, there are “months of work ahead”, including first arranging a feasibility study in order to present a strong enough evidence base for a pilot. “But if there is ever a case to be made then you need to test it in a place like Glasgow, with the sheers numbers and levels of health inequality. If you can make it work here then it can work anywhere.”

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Now Xi is designated populist too, because he said: “On this new year, I am most concerned about the difficulties of the masses: how they eat, how they live, whether they can have a good New Year, or a good Spring Festival..” And I thought when incumbents say these things, that’s not populist. I may never understand.

China’s Xi Offers Populist Message In New Year’s Eve Address (AP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Saturday that his government would continue to focus on poverty alleviation at home and resolutely defending China’s territorial rights on the foreign front. Xi made the televised remarks in his annual New Year’s Eve address, in which he touted China’s scientific accomplishments, highlighting its large new radio telescope and space missions, and the country’s growing role as a leader in global affairs. Standing before a mural of the Great Wall, Xi said his administration successfully hosted a G-20 summit, pushed forward with China’s “One Belt One Road” pan-Eurasian infrastructure project and established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

China has upheld its peaceful development while resolutely defending its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights, Xi said, making a reference to an international tribunal ruling last summer against China’s claims in the contested South China Sea. “If anyone makes this an issue of question, the Chinese people will never agree!” he said, one of the few points in his 10-minute address when his voice rose noticeably. For most of his address, Xi struck a populist tone, saying he was above all concerned about the living conditions of the people and vowed that improving employment, education, housing and health care would be a responsibility that his ruling Communist Party would never shirk from. China lifted 10 million people out of poverty in 2016, Xi said.

“On this new year, I am most concerned about the difficulties of the masses: how they eat, how they live, whether they can have a good New Year, or a good Spring Festival,” Xi said, as the television broadcast cut to footage of his visits this year to impoverished rural areas. Xi also promised to shore up Communist Party discipline and “unwaveringly” maintain his anticorruption campaign against high- and low-ranking officials alike. He said that “supply-side” economic reforms were making progress and that the party would continue to push reform and rule by law during the 19th National Congress, scheduled for late 2017. “As long as the party forever stands with the people, we will be able to walk the long march of our generation,” he said.

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A Lakh is one hundred thousand. Still confusing as f**k.

Narendra Modi Just Dug Himself a Great Big Hole (Varadarajan)

It was a speech of not just shifting goalposts but vanishing playing fields, and yet Narendra Modi couldn’t resist making a rhetorical point about black money that might well prove costly for him by the time 2019 comes around. “I wish to share some information with you, which will either make you laugh, or make you angry,” he said, with a flourish half-way through his speech. This was the point where everyone expected him to reveal how many old Rs 500 and 1000 notes had become ‘worthless paper’ thanks to demonetisation but he had another number in mind: “According to information with the government, there are only 24 lakh people in India who accept that their annual income is more than 10 lakh rupees. Can we digest this? Look at the big bungalows and big cars around you… If we look at any big city, it would have lakhs of people with annual income of more than 10 lakh.”

Until then, the prime minister had sought to sweep the growing public concerns about the effects of his demonetisation decision under a fraying carpet of nationalism. But by drawing attention to a stark statistic in an attempt to provide some justification for the chaos he has unleashed in the lives of hundreds of millions of poor Indians, Modi has unwittingly laid down a new metric by which the success or failure of his supposed drive against black money must be judged: will he manage to add the “lakhs of people” who have an income of more than Rs 10 lakh to the list of those who pay income tax? If he doesn’t, then what was the point of subjecting the whole country to so much disruption and pain? Finance minister Arun Jaitley initially claimed that a certain proportion of the demonetised notes would remain outside the banking system and get extinguished, thus providing a blow to the black economy and a fiscal boost to the government.

When they realised there was unlikely to be significant extinguishing and that most of the high denomination notes in circulation would probably end up getting deposited, Modi and Jaitley claimed the income tax authorities would be able to track down the owners of black money since their funds had entered the banking system. Now that it is apparent the IT department will not find it that easy to undertake such a massive exercise – its inefficiency is the reason the list of those with official incomes of Rs 10 lakh and over is just 24 lakh to begin with and is unlikely to grow – Modi has tried to sell another bizarre idea to the public about why the cashless hardship they are putting up with is in the national interest.

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Putin is tightening his grip on Erdogan. Who held a speech yesterday proclaiming that Turkey is in the first independence war in 93 years, or something like that. But that’s strictly for domestic use.

Turkish Policy Sets Syria On New Path (Sayigh)

Turkish policy has been evolving at a quickening pace. The decision to lean on the opposition to allow thousands of its fighters to abandon the effort to lift the regime siege of eastern Aleppo in order to spearhead a Turkish-backed push against Kurdish-held areas to the north last August ensured the fall of one of the most important opposition strongholds in Syria four months later. Remaining opposition forces in the northwest have significant stockpiles of weapons and ammunition, but are wholly dependent on Turkey for further military resupply and for the flow of trade and international humanitarian assistance. Turkey has not abandoned the opposition completely, but it is clearly working to a new set of policy assumptions and objectives in Syria.

That these include a strategic decision to abandon the effort to force Assad from power is already plain. Talk of setting up a safe zone in northern Syria has never been credible, despite considerable bluster. Moscow insiders claim Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also abandoning his categorical rejection of significant Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria, so long as he can block the same thing in Turkey. With President-Elect Donald Trump about to take office in the US, there is little reason for Turkey to expect to counter-balance Russian policy proposals on Syria. These calculations prompted Turkey to accept the fate of Aleppo – which it had long presented as a “red line” that the Assad regime should not cross – and then to broker a ceasefire with Russia immediately after its fall.

The alacrity with which the main political and military opposition groupings have announced their support for the latest ceasefire is the surest measure of the extent of the shift in Turkey’s policy and of its determination to enforce compliance, whatever the provocations from the government side. The real question, then, is not whether the latest ceasefire will hold, but how far Turkey will go in making the Syrian opposition accept what comes next, should the peace talks jointly sponsored by Russia and Turkey take place within the next month as officially scheduled. Indeed, even if the ceasefire fails or if the talks are unsuccessful – or not held at all – Turkish policy towards Syria is set on a new path.

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Destruction as a religious comfort zone. Oh well, people go for what feels good.

Humanity May Self-Destruct, But The Universe Can Cope Perfectly Without Us (G.)

In a Scandinavian hotel a few years ago, I came across a documentary I didn’t expect to watch for more than a minute or two, but at least it was in English. It was past time to go to bed, but I ended up watching the whole thing. Aftermath: Population Zero imagines that overnight humanity vanishes from the planet. You may have seen it. The immediate effects of human departure are sentimentally saddening: pets die, no longer competent to fend for themselves. Some livestock fares poorly, though other domesticated animals romp happily into the wild. Water cooling fuel rods of nuclear power plants evaporate, and you’d think that would be the end of everything – but it isn’t. Radioactivity subsides. Mankind’s monuments to itself decay, until every last skyscraper has rusted and returned to dirt.

Animals proliferate, flora thrive, forests rise. Bounty, abundance and beauty abound. Antelopes leap from wafting golden grasses. It was all very exhilarating, really. I went to sleep that night with a lightened heart. Ever since, that wafting grasses image has been a comforting touchstone. We speak often of “destroying the planet” when what we mean is destroying its habitability for humans. The humblingly immense else-ness of what is, in which our species is collectively a speck, extant for an eye blink, lets us off the hook. Global warming, Syrian civil war, domestic violence, Donald Trump? This too shall pass.

I’m not a religious person. Chances are that the universe neither treasures nor regrets us. It permits us, with a marvellous neutrality, and later it may permit artificial intelligence, humanity 2.0, or a lot more bugs instead. We can’t comprehend all that phantasmagorical stuff out there, but we also can’t kill it. That gives me hope. Although we’re a remarkably successful biological manifestation – and so is mould – our aptitude for annihilation is largely limited to wiping ourselves out. The gift of self-destruction is a minor, not to mention stupid, power, and apparently humanity’s suicide would be relatively safe, like a controlled explosion. The universe would get on perfectly well without us once we’d gone.

I strongly associate the notion of aftermath with TC Boyle’s short story Chicxulub. While relating the intimate, personal account of learning that his teenage daughter has been hit, perhaps fatally, by a car, the narrator digresses to explain the shockingly high likelihood that our planet will be hit by an asteroid large enough to extinguish our species. For the narrator, his daughter’s death and the end of the world are indistinguishable. The text is shot through with a piercing sorrow, over all our pending losses – of children, of the world we’ve made together as a race. This, too, gives me hope – that I’m not a misanthrope after all. I would miss my brother, my husband; with all our shortcomings, I would also miss the family of man. The capacity for grief, the flipside of love, consoles me as much as the detached long view of aftermath.

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Dec 312016
 
 December 31, 2016  Posted by at 9:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Claude Monet Bain à la Grenouillère 1869


WaPo Publishes False News Story About Russians Hacking Electrical Grid (DC)
CNN Lied About Russian Retaliation Against American Children (Sputnik)
Trump Slams CNN, NBC on Russia Coverage: ‘Don’t Have a Clue’ (NewsMax)
96 Russians Forced To Leave US Over Diplomat Expulsion (RT)
Obama’s Stingy Pardons (BBG Ed.)
ECB’s Monte Paschi Capital Bar Would Trip Up 10 Other EU Banks (BBG)
China Retools in Push to Stabilize Yuan (WSJ)
In IMF’s Forecasts, Happiness is Always Around the Corner (Gurdjiev)
Teaching Economics the Pluralist Way (Steve Keen)

 

 

Just plain nonsense. If people are smart enough to hack into such systems, they are certainly also smart enough to either leave no trace at all, or to leave traces that point to someone else. So if you find something that points to Russia, you know it wasn’t them. And that’s before you pump a story up like this, where one lonely unconnected laptop becomes a threat to the entire US grid.

WaPo Publishes False News Story About Russians Hacking Electrical Grid (DC)

A story published by The Washington Post Friday claims Russia hacked the electrical grid in Vermont. This caused hysteria on social media but has been denied by a spokesman for a Vermont utility company. The Post story was titled, “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, officials say.” The story said, “A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials.” The Post published the story before being able to get comment from the two utility companies in Vermont. The Burlington Electric Department would end up putting out a statement showing the premise of The Washington Post story as being untrue.

“Last night, U.S. utilities were alerted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of a malware code used in Grizzly Steppe, the name DHS has applied to a Russian campaign linked to recent hacks,” a spokesman for the Burlington Electric Department said. “We acted quickly to scan all computers in our system for the malware signature. We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems.” The Vermont Public Service Commissioner Christopher Recchia told The Burlington Free Press, “The grid is not in danger.” However, this false Washington Post story about a Russian intrusion into the American electrical grid has caused panic among journalists.

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“CNN claimed that an unnamed US official who was “briefed on the matter..” Yada yada. And Putin’s decision not to expel Russains was not some stunnning reversal either. He saw this one coming from miles away, it wasn’t some last-minute thing. As I said yesterday on Facebook:

“Stunning reversal”? I beg to differ. Lavrov suggesting earlier that Putin expel 35 US diplomats was a clear set-up. And Obama in turn allowed Putin to take the high road by expelling 35 Russians with just 3 weeks left till Trump.“We reserve the right to retaliate, but we will not sink to the level of this irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy.” Bye bye Barack. You lost.

CNN Lied About Russian Retaliation Against American Children (Sputnik)

As mainstream media continues to push a narrative of problematic “fake news,” on Thursday evening CNN falsely accused Russia of retaliating against American children by closing the Anglo-American School of Moscow. Shortly after the announcement of new US sanctions against Russia, CNN claimed that an unnamed US official who was “briefed on the matter” had reported to them that Moscow was closing the school. “Russian authorities ordered the closure of the Anglo-American School of Moscow, a US official briefed on the matter said. The order from the Russian government closes the school, which serves children of US, British and Canadian embassy personnel, to US and foreign nationals,” reported CNN. The lie was rapidly debunked by a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.

“US officials ‘anonymously informed’ their media that Russia closed the Anglo-American School in Moscow as a retaliatory measure,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote of CNN’s claims on her Facebook page. “That’s a lie. Apparently, the White House has completely lost its senses and began inventing sanctions against its own children.” On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the new sanctions by “embarrassing” US President Barack Obama and brushing it off, stating that he will wait until President-elect Donald Trump takes office to improve relations between the two countries. Putin also wished Obama a happy new year, and invited US diplomats children to the New Year and Christmas children’s parties at the Kremlin. CNN has not retracted their fake-news story or acknowledged the error.

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Even when reporting on it, US media have no qualms about throwing in more false news: ..Edward Snowden, who stole government secrets and later gave them to Russia in exchange for political asylum.. Slander.

Trump Slams CNN, NBC on Russia Coverage: ‘Don’t Have a Clue’ (NewsMax)

President-elect Donald Trump Friday slammed CNN and NBC News for its coverage of the Moscow hacking issue, saying on Twitter that “the Russians are playing” the news organizations “for such fools” and that they “don’t have a clue.” Trump’s post followed an earlier one Friday in which he praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for not expelling American diplomats in retaliation for President Barack Obama’s sanctions on Thursday in response to the breach at the Democratic National Committee and other party operatives. The later post also came as CNN’s Jim Sciutto interviewed former Republican House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra, who once served as a Trump surrogate, on Putin’s response. Sciutto challenged Hoekstra’s assertions that U.S. intelligence agencies have hacked other world leaders.

“Quite a throw-away line there, Congressman Hoekstra,” the CNN anchor said. “I’m an American and I listen to that, I hear that a foreign actor hacked into political organizations in the U.S. – and they strategically leaked it out during an election campaign. “Whether that’s Republican or Democrat or any other party, that sounds serious. “Are you saying, ‘Heck it’s another part of the Wild West in cyberspace and we as a country should let that pass?” Sciutto asked. “I’m not saying we should let it pass,” Hoekstra responded. He then referenced former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who stole government secrets and later gave them to Russia in exchange for political asylum. “Snowden clearly demonstrated that the United States hacked into [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel and that we were listening to her conversations,” Hoekstra said.

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Obama has opened this vast expanse of high road for Russia.

96 Russians Forced To Leave US Over Diplomat Expulsion (RT)

The US’ decision to expel 35 Russian diplomats has affected 96 people, including the officials themselves and their families, the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry said. Moscow refrained from responding in kind, to not ruin the New Year for American diplomats. The Russians forced to leave the US includes some pre-school children, Maria Zakharova said. “One can only hope that this was the last thing that the current administration does to spoil bilateral relations – the last strange, unwise decision. It targeted, among other things, ordinary people and their simple human joys – things which unite people all around the world. Practically everyone celebrates the New Year, but this is what the Obama administration did,” she said.

The US declared 35 Russian diplomats accredited in the US persona non grata, giving them 72 hours to leave the country. The foreign ministry spokesperson remarked that while some of the Russian diplomats had been working in the US for years, others arrived as recently as two months ago. This did not prevent Washington from expelling them for allegedly trying to interfere with the US election in 2015 and early 2016, which was the reason stated by the US. The Kremlin decided to send a government plane to the US to evacuate the Russians. Some of them reportedly complained that buying plane tickets on such short notice was problematic.

Zakharova said Moscow hoped that the bad timing of the expulsion and all the troubles it caused to the Russian citizens was an oversight rather than intended malice on the part of the White House. Russia refrained from its usual practice of responding to expulsions of its citizens by a foreign power with mirror expulsions of the respective country’s citizens from Russia. “We took into serious consideration how our American colleagues and their families would feel. Especially their children, who are now preparing for the New Year and are on their Christmas holidays,” Zakharova explained. “They would have been cut off from their school programs and forced to pack their things and go back to their homeland in 72 hours. So we decided against it.”

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With 148 pardons, Obama will be the second-least-forgiving president in modern history.

Obama’s Stingy Pardons (BBG Ed.)

President Barack Obama granted 78 pardons earlier this month, doubling the total for his presidency – and ensuring that it will not go down as the least forgiving in more than a century. Instead, it will probably end up as the second-least forgiving. It’s a strange legacy for a president who has spoken so eloquently about the need for a more fair and rational criminal-justice system. It’s also a missed opportunity to notch a small victory for another issue the president is passionate about: voting rights. There are 50,000 people released from federal prisons each year, and many return to states that either permanently bar them from voting or require them to apply for restoration of their rights. Most of these felons don’t deserve pardons, of course; only 3,000 have applied. And most ex-offenders without voting rights have committed state, not federal, crimes.

None of this should stop Obama from issuing pardons in deserving federal cases. There are other ways for the president to show clemency besides pardons. A commutation, for example, reduces a prisoner’s sentence. Obama has commuted the sentences of more than 1,000 inmates – more than the last 11 presidents combined, a statistic the administration is fond of citing. A less heralded statistic is that Obama has received far more applications – some 31,000 – than his predecessors. The reason is simple: He invited federal prisoners to apply. A frequent critic of the nation’s harsh sentencing laws, he is the first president to organize an official clemency initiative to address the issue.

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They make it up as they go along. “They just say, ‘Oh, this is needed to get to 8%,’ as if we all knew the number was 8%, when in fact that’s a completely new number.”

ECB’s Monte Paschi Capital Bar Would Trip Up 10 Other EU Banks (BBG)

Deutsche Bank, UniCredit and eight other European Union banks would fall short of the ECB’s capital demands on Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena based on stress-test results, highlighting potential objections to the plan. The ECB told Monte Paschi it needed enough capital to push its common equity Tier 1 ratio to 8% of risk-weighted assets in the adverse scenario of the stress test, the Bank of Italy said in a statement late on Dec. 29. That’s well above the legal minimum of 4.5%. This year’s health check had no pass mark, but in 2014 lenders were held to a CET1 ratio of 5.5%. Monte Paschi was the worst performer in the stress test’s adverse scenario with a CET1 ratio of minus 2.4%, followed by Allied Irish Banks with 4.3%. The Italian government is planning a bailout of Monte Paschi.

Under European Union law, state aid can be given to solvent banks to cover a stress-test shortfall, but the absence of a hurdle means the size of the gap could be disputed when Italy seeks approval for the rescue from the European Commission. “There’s a lot more to be explained,” said John Raymond at CreditSights. “They just say, ‘Oh, this is needed to get to 8%,’ as if we all knew the number was 8%, when in fact that’s a completely new number.” The government in Rome is planning a so-called precautionary recapitalization for Monte Paschi. The Bank of Italy said the ECB’s demands for an 8% CET1 ratio and a total capital ratio of 11.5% translate to a shortfall of 8.8 billion euros ($9.3 billion).

Closing the CET1 gap requires 6.3 billion euros of high-quality capital, 4.2 billion euros of which will come from converting subordinated debt to equity, with the remainder provided by the government, according to the Bank of Italy. Another 2.5 billion euros will be needed to offset capital lost in the debt-to-equity conversion to reach the 11.5% total ratio. A person familiar with the matter said the CET1 premium of 3.5 %age points above the legal minimum is intended to restore market confidence. In the stress test, Deutsche Bank emerged with a CET1 ratio of 7.8%, while UniCredit had 7.1%. The CET1 ratios of Barclays and Societe Generale were 7.3% and 7.5%, respectively.

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A private email I got yesterday talked about rumors swirling around in China that the country may ‘close’, and return to the isolation of Mao times, with only ‘official’ companies being allowed to handle dollars, and no Chinese individuals at all, as well as a fixed exchange rate. I don’t see how that would work in a practical sense. As I said a few days ago in my China article, in which I mentioned such capital controls, this too would risk social unrest. People who’ve tasted freedom are not likely to give it up again easily. It would also mean an end to the economic expansion.

China Retools in Push to Stabilize Yuan (WSJ)

China enhanced its ability to stabilize its currency, as the rising dollar threatens to undermine its economy by accelerating the flow of capital out of the country. China’s central bank is adjusting the mix of foreign currencies used in setting the yuan’s official daily value, a change analysts said should help support the weakening currency. The move, which goes into effect Jan. 1, reflects the delicate dance Chinese policy makers face with the yuan. China wants a slightly weaker currency to help exporters and maintain competitiveness with other economies as the dollar rises. But it also worries that a sharp decline in the yuan’s value would raise fears the central bank is losing control, undermine the public’s trust and trigger excessive capital outflows.

By diluting the dollar’s share and bringing in currencies from the Korean won to the Saudi riyal and Swedish krona, the People’s Bank of China is giving itself more room to maneuver to keep the yuan from falling too fast, analysts said. In recent weeks, the yuan has buckled under uncertainty about China’s economic performance, a surging U.S. dollar following Donald Trump’s presidential-election victory and escalating flows of Chinese currency moving offshore. The potential for faster U.S. interest-rate increases could add even more downward pressure on the yuan, with some analysts and investors predicting the currency could break the psychologically important seven-yuan-per-dollar level as soon as next month. The yuan has dropped 7% against the dollar this year, nearly double the decline from the year before.

China’s move is the latest by global policy makers trying to adjust to a powerful dollar rally that has recently lifted the U.S. currency to a 14-year high. In emerging markets, a stronger dollar makes it more expensive for governments and companies to pay back their dollar-denominated loans. In China, how to manage the yuan’s value has become a hot topic in official circles since a nearly 2% devaluation 16 months ago shocked global markets. In the past year the central bank has sought a less abrupt path, constricting channels for moving money out of the country and managing the pace of depreciation.

The central bank controls the mainland trading of the yuan by specifying an official rate against the dollar and then allowing the currency to move 2% above or below the so-called daily fix. Since the beginning of this year, the central bank has been taking into account the yuan’s performance against both the dollar and a wider selection of currencies when determining the daily fix. That move has paved the way for the yuan’s gradual deprecation.

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MO.

In IMF’s Forecasts, Happiness is Always Around the Corner (Gurdjiev)

Remember the promises of the imminent global growth recovery ‘next year’? IMF, the leading light of exuberant growth expectations has been at this game for some years now. And every time, turning the calendar resets the fabled ‘growth recovery’ out another 12 months. Well, here’s a simple view of the extent to which the IMF has missed the boat called Realism and jumped onboard the boat called Hope.

Table above posts cumulative 2010-2016 real GDP growth that was forecast by the IMF back in September 2011, against what the Fund now anticipates / estimates as of October 2016. The sea of red marks all the countries for which IMF’s forecasts have been wildly on an optimistic side. Green marks the lonely four cases, including tax arbitrage-driven GDPs of Ireland and Luxembourg, where IMF forecasts turned out to be too conservative. German gap is minor in size – in fact, it is not even statistically different from zero. But Maltese one is a bit of an issue. Maltese economy has been growing fast in recent years, prompting the IMF to warn the Government this year that its banking sector is starting to get overexposed to construction sector, and its construction sector is becoming a bit of a bubble, and that all of this is too closely linked to Government spending and investment boom that cannot be sustained.

Oh, and then there are inflows of labour from abroad to sustain all of this growth. Remember Ireland ca 2005-2006? Yep, Malta is a slightly milder version. Notice the large negative gaps: Greece at -21 percentage points, Cyprus at -18 percentage points, Finland at -15 percentage points and so on… the bird-eye’s view of the IMF’s horrific errors is: • Two ‘programme’ countries – where the IMF is one of the economic policy ‘masters’, so at the very least it should have known what was happening on the ground; and
• IMF’s sheer incomprehension of economic drivers for growth in the case of Finland, which, until the recession hit it, was the darling of IMF’s ‘competitiveness leaders board’.

Median-average miss is between 4.33 and 4.97 percentage points in cumulative growth undershoot over 7 years, compared to IMF end-of-2011 projections. So next time the Fund starts issuing ‘happiness is just around the corner’ updates, and anchoring them to the ‘convincing’ view of ‘competitiveness’ and ‘structural drivers’ stuff, take them with a grain of salt.

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As Steve is way ahead of us doing New Year’s in Sydney, one last lesson for 2016.

Teaching Economics the Pluralist Way (Steve Keen)

This is a talk I gave in Amsterdam to launch the Amsterdam Rethinking Economics critique of the current state of economics “education” in the Netherlands. The text of my slides is reproduced below.

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Dec 302016
 
 December 30, 2016  Posted by at 10:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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DPC Memphis, Mississippi River landing, Belle of the Bends and Belle of Calhoun 1906


Putin’s Cease-Fire in Syria Boxes Out Obama (USN)
Russia: “No Enemy Of The United States Could Have Done Worse” (RT)
Obama’s Sanctions Target Trump, Not Putin (Duran)
“Grizzly Steppe” – FBI, DHS Release “Report” On Russian Hacking (ZH)
Russia’s ‘Grizzly Steppe’ Cyberattacks Started Simply, US Says (BBG)
Trump Says He’ll Weigh Intelligence Findings on Russian Hack (BBG)
The Russians Are Coming (Oliver Stone)
Russia: Mass Graves Full Of Tortured Civilians Discovered In Aleppo (TAM)
China Faces Stiff Battle to Sideline the Dollar in Valuing Yuan
China To Relax Curbs On Foreign Investment In Banking, Securities (R.)
Who Wants To Keep Gas Flowing Through Ukraine And Why? (SC)
The New Year’s Arriving With a Frigid Bang (BBG)
A 2016 Love Story: The Macedonian Cop and The Iraqi Refugee (AFP)

 

 

Can’t find a good western source on this all too obvious theme. Typical. The underlying idea seems to be that Obama should have tried to create even more chaos, deliver more weapons to the ‘rebels’. The US should have never toppled Saddam, nor Gaddafi, and we should be glad that Putin called a halt to the mayhem. Now get the US out of there, and on the double.

America over the past decades -in which it was a superpower- could have been, and should have been, a force for good, and for peace. It has instead been nothing but the exact opposite.

Putin’s Cease-Fire in Syria Boxes Out Obama (USN)

Russia and Turkey announced early Thursday they had secured a cease-fire agreement for the civil war in Syria, potentially clearing the way to a peace deal and leaving little, if any, role for the U.S. to play in the future of the war-torn country. The American failure to find a diplomatic or military solution to the conflict, which rages adjacent to an extraordinarily complicated international effort to defeat the Islamic State group, has left some traditional allies in the region worried about what leverage the U.S. has left to protect their interests in the Middle East. Very few details have emerged about the agreement, which was organized by Moscow and Ankara and backed the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. Reuters reported Wednesday that the plan could involve splitting the county into semi-autonomous Russian, Turkish and Iranian zones of influence within Assad’s government.

Perhaps the most notable question centers on the involvement of the Free Syrian Army, the U.S.-backed umbrella organization of the opposition movement which has fractured in recent months. It denies having participated in the cease-fire talks. Moscow’s leadership on the agreement, however, follows its deep involvement in Syria over the last year that has successfully shirked American calls for Assad to step down. So it’s also unclear how the U.S. could exercise any leverage over the events in Syria in the future or encourage any of the actors involved to consider American interests, including issuing humanitarian aid to the 8 million displaced Syrians displaced from their homes, supporting willing partners on the ground to fight the Islamic State group, and creating a unity government.

“If the cease-fire does spread to the point where any settlement begins, we’re going to find ourselves in the very awkward position of being the largest single aid donor to Syria and having somehow to deal in humanitarian and recovery terms with a government and structure we had no hand in creating,” says Anthony Cordesman, a former senior adviser to the departments of State and Defense, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ‘That’s certainly going to create future problems.”

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“Obama’s “bitter” and “helpless” team..”, “.. a devastating blow to America’s prestige and its leadership..” But kind words for Kerry.

Russia: “No Enemy Of The United States Could Have Done Worse” (RT)

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has posted a scathing Facebook comment on US President Barack Obama’s approval of new anti-Russian measures, arguing Obama’s “bitter” and “helpless” team did a disfavor to the White House’s reputation. Zakharova wrote that the outgoing president did not manage to leave “any” major foreign policy achievements as part of his legacy and instead of “putting an elegant period” to his two presidential terms has “made a huge blot” with his latest decision to impose more sanctions on Russia, expelling 35 Russian diplomats and closing two diplomatic compounds in the US.

“Today America, the American people were humiliated by their own president. Not by international terrorists, not by [the] enemy’s troops. This time Washington was slapped by own master, who has complicated the urgent tasks for the incoming team in the extreme,” Zakharova wrote, labeling the current administration “a group of foreign policy losers, bitter and narrow-minded.” “Today, Obama officially admitted it,” she wrote. Zakharova then offered her sympathy to Secretary of State John Kerry, who, she argued, had also suffered under the current administration as he was unable to do his job properly, being constantly “mocked” and “let down” by his own colleagues. “Mr. Kerry, in this difficult moment for the United States, let me convey you the words of sympathy – you have done all what was possible to avert your country’s collapse in foreign policy,” she said, giving credit to Kerry’s diplomatic skills.

“Out of this group of spoilers, I pity only Kerry. He was not an ally. But he tried to be a professional and maintain his human dignity.” Zakharova also said that with its incoherent foreign policy, Obama’s administration has inadvertently debunked a long-cherished myth of America’s exceptionalism that claims a special place in the world. “This is it, [the] curtain [has dropped]. The bad performance is over. The whole world, from the front row to the balcony, is watching a devastating blow to America’s prestige and its leadership, dealt by Barack Obama and his semi-literate foreign policy team, which has exposed its main secret to the world – exceptionalism was a masked helplessness.” “No enemy of the United States could have done worse,” Zakharova concluded. She promised that the US won’t have to wait too long for Moscow’s response. “Tomorrow there will be official statements, countermeasures, and much more,” she wrote.

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Smooth transition.

Obama’s Sanctions Target Trump, Not Putin (Duran)

Barack Obama ends his Presidency with the announcement of yet more sanctions against Russia. These target Russia’s two intelligence agencies which were supposedly concerned with the alleged cyber attacks during the US election – the FSB and the GRU – and what appear to be three institutions involved in IT work – the Professional Association of Designers of Data Processing Systems, the Special Technology Centre, and Zorsecurity, formerly known as Esage Lab or Tsor. In addition to these five entities four high ranking officials of the GRU have also been added to the sanctions list. Obama has also announced the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the US, giving them just 72 hours to leave, and has closed two Russian diplomatic compounds in the US.

He has also said that he will provide Congress with a report on Russian cyber activity during this and previous US election cycles. Like many of Obama’s other recent moves, this one is not really targeted at Russia. The additional sanctions will hardly affect Russia, though the wholesale expulsion of Russian diplomats will undoubtedly complicate the work of Russian diplomatic missions in the US. The true target of these sanctions is Donald Trump. By imposing sanctions on Russia, Obama is lending the authority of the Presidency to the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking, daring Trump to deny their truth. If Trump as President allows the sanctions to continue, he will be deemed to have accepted the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking as true.

If Trump cancels the sanctions when he becomes President, he will be accused of being Russia’s stooge. It is a well known lawyer’s trick, and Obama the former lawyer doubtless calculates that either way Trump’s legitimacy and authority as President will be damaged, with the insinuation that he owes his Presidency to the Russians now given extra force. Like so many of Obama’s other moves in the last weeks of his Presidency, it is an ugly and small minded act, seeking to undermine his successor as President in a way that is completely contrary to US tradition.

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You’re looking for -finally!- proof, and what you get is a disclaimer.

“Grizzly Steppe” – FBI, DHS Release “Report” On Russian Hacking (ZH)

As part of the “evidence” meant to substantiate the unprecedented act of expelling 35 Russian diplomats and locking down two Russian compounds without a major concurrent political or diplomatic incident, or an act of war, and which simply provides an outlets for the Democrats to justify the loss of their candidate in the US presidential election (sorry, Putin did not tell the rust belt how to vote), the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI released a 13-page “report” on the Russian action done “to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election”, i.e., hack it.

As the DHS writes, “this document provides technical details regarding the tools and infrastructure used by the Russian civilian and military intelligence Services (RIS) to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. Government, political, and private sector entities. The U.S. Government is referring to this malicious cyber activity by RIS as GRIZZLY STEPPE.” Where things get awkward, however, is at the very start of the report, which prefaced by a broad disclaimer, according to which nothing in the report is to be relied upon and that everything contained in it may be completely false. No really: “this report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within. DHS does not endorse any commercial product or service referenced in this advisory or otherwise.”

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US intelligence looks hell-bent on founding its credibility exclusively on gossip and propaganda.

Russia’s ‘Grizzly Steppe’ Cyberattacks Started Simply, US Says (BBG)

The attack against U.S. democracy began in the summer of 2015 with a simple trick: Hackers working for Russia’s civilian intelligence service sent e-mails with hidden malware to more than 1,000 people working for the American government and political groups. U.S. intelligence agencies say that was the modest start of “Grizzly Steppe,” their name for what they say developed into a far-reaching Russian operation to interfere with this year’s presidential election. Prodded to produce evidence by Russia, which has denied a role in hacking – and by an openly skeptical President-elect Donald Trump – the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security did so Thursday. They issued a 13-page joint analysis just as President Barack Obama imposed sanctions against Russian government organizations and individuals and expelled 35 Russian operatives.

While Trump said in a statement Thursday that “it’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” he said he “will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.” As president-elect he’s entitled to see the classified details behind the public report. The initial hackers sent e-mails that appeared to come from legitimate websites and other Internet domains tied to U.S. organizations and educational institutions, according to the report. Those who were fooled into clicking on the “spearphishing” e-mails provided a foothold into the Democratic National Committee – although the party organization wasn’t identified by name in the report – and key e-mail accounts for material that would later be leaked to damage Hillary Clinton in her losing campaign against Trump.

“This activity by Russian intelligence services is part of a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens,” according to a joint statement from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, DHS and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “The U.S. government seeks to arm network defenders with the tools they need to identify, detect and disrupt Russian malicious cyber activity that is targeting our country’s and our allies’ networks.” Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, rejected the U.S. conclusions. “We categorically disagree with any of the groundless allegations or charges against Russia,” he said on a conference call. “These actions by the current administration in Washington are unfortunately a manifestation of an unpredictable and you could even say aggressive policy.”

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Are they going to threaten him?

Trump Says He’ll Weigh Intelligence Findings on Russian Hack (BBG)

President-elect Donald Trump said he’ll meet next week with U.S. intelligence officials to discuss their findings that Russia hacked Democratic Party e-mails to meddle in the 2016 election, signaling a possible shift from his previous dismissals of Russian involvement. In his first statement following President Barack Obama’s action on Thursday to sanction Russian intelligence officials and agencies for the hacking, Trump released a statement, saying, “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”

Trump, who has pledged to seek better relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, repeatedly has expressed skepticism about the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the pilfering and release of e-mails from DNC and party officials in order to damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton. He once said the hacking could have been the work of “somebody sitting in a bed someplace” and told reporters Wednesday that “we ought to get on with our lives” instead of rehashing the cyberattack. Obama’s actions put Trump in a bind less than a month before his inauguration. He will have to decide whether to reverse course when he takes office Jan. 20, which would effectively reject the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies and put him at odds with the Republican leaders in Congress who called the sanctions a necessary step.

The Russian government said it would announce on Friday its response to Obama’s move and emphasized that it soon will be dealing with Trump. “Right now we just are not in a position to sit here and respond to all of these details before we have a full-blown intelligence report on this particular matter,” Reince Priebus, Trump’s appointee as chief of staff, said on Fox News Thursday night. “We just need to get to a point ourselves where we can talk to all of these intelligence agencies and find out once and for all what evidence is there, how bad is it.”

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Not terribly strong, but it’s Stone. Think he could get a movie financed on the theme?

The Russians Are Coming (Oliver Stone)

As 2016 draws to a close, we find ourselves a deeply unsettled nation. We’re unable to draw the lines of our national interest. Is it jobs and economy, is it national security, or is it now in our interest to ensure global security — in other words, act as the world’s policemen? As the “failing” (to quote Trump) New York Times degenerates into a Washington Post organization with its stagnant Cold War vision of a 1950s world where the Russians are to blame for most everything — Hillary’s loss, most of the aggression and disorder in the world, the desire to destabilize Europe, etc. – the Times has added the issue of ‘fake news’ to reassert its problematic role as the dominant voice for the Washington establishment. Certainly this is true in the case of Russia’s ‘hacking’ the 2016 election and putting into office its Manchurian Candidate in Donald Trump.

Apparently the CIA (via various unnamed intelligence officials), and the FBI, NSA, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (who notoriously lied to Congress in the Snowden affair), President Obama, the DNC, Hillary Clinton, and Congress agree that Russia, and Mr. Putin predominantly, is responsible. Certainly the psychotic, war-loving Senator John McCain is right up there alongside these patriots, calling President Putin a “thug, bully and a murderer and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.” He actually said this — the man whose sound judgment chose Sarah Palin as his VP nominee in ’08. And the Times followed by printing the story in its full glory on page one, clearly agreeing with McCain’s point of view.

I don’t remember Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, or Reagan, in the darkest days of the 1950s/80s, ever singling out a Russian President like this. The invective was aimed at the Soviet regime, but never were Khrushchev or Brezhnev the target of this bile. I guess this is a new form of American diplomacy. If a black youth in our inner cities were killed or a Pakistani wedding party were murdered by our drones, would President Obama be singled out as a murderer, bully, thug? Such personalization is a sign of sickness in our thinking and way beneath what should be our standards.

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We’ll have to wait for the -gruesome- proof on this too. “The results of only an initial survey of Aleppo neighborhoods abandoned by the so-called ‘opposition’ will shock many.”

Russia: Mass Graves Full Of Tortured Civilians Discovered In Aleppo (TAM)

Russian military forces have discovered mass graves in eastern parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo, with many of the bodies reportedly showing signs of torture. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesperson for the Russian defense ministry, announced the horrifying discovery on Monday. “Many of the corpses were found with missing body parts, and most had gunshot wounds to the head,” he said, according to RT. Until recently, the eastern portion of Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city and industrial and financial center, was under the control of so-called “moderate” rebels, many of whom have received both intelligence and material support from the United States and its allies in the Middle East.

Last week, Russian and Syrian military forces oversaw the evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo. Prior to that, the rebel-held portion of the city had been controlled by two main factions, Jabhat al-Nusra, a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda also known as the Nusra Front, and Ahrar al-Sham, another extremist group that receives U.S. support despite being designated a terrorist organization. In an apparent attempt to court the U.S. government by distancing itself from al-Qaeda, the Nusra Front recently attempted to “rebrand” itself. Despite efforts to market themselves as kinder, gentler terrorists, the group has continued to commit atrocities, including burning buses intended to be used in the evacuation and even blocking food aid from reaching Aleppo’s starving residents.

WikiLeaks’ archive of diplomatic cables reveals that the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have sought to overthrow the government of Syrian leader Bashar Assad since at least 2006, and support for extremist fighters remains a key part of that strategy. Konashenkov promised a full investigation into the war crimes of rebel forces in Aleppo, suggesting in his statement that the results would surprise many people who receive their news from Western mainstream media sources. He said: “The completion of a uniquely large-scale humanitarian operation by the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Aleppo will destroy many of the myths that have been fed to the world by Western politicians. The results of only an initial survey of Aleppo neighborhoods abandoned by the so-called ‘opposition’ will shock many.”

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Good luck with that: “The U.S. currency is on one side of 88% of all foreign-exchange trading..”

China Faces Stiff Battle to Sideline the Dollar in Valuing Yuan

China took another step to degrade the dollar in defining the value of its currency, in an effort that cuts against its rival’s stubbornly strong hold on the global financial system. An arm of the People’s Bank of China, which last year started setting the yuan against a basket of currencies, on Thursday said it’s adding 11 units to that reference group. The move lowers the dollar’s weighting by 4 percentage points, to 22.4% – little more than twice the share for South Korea’s won, a new entrant. While the logic of determining the yuan’s value against the currencies of its trading partners is clear, the problem is that the dollar is still the dominant reference in the perception of the public and the market. The U.S. currency is on one side of 88% of all foreign-exchange trading. “The dollar-yuan rate will still be the benchmark that determines sentiment,” said Hao Hong at Communications International Holdings.

“The basket is just a reference, so the change in the index’s composition and the efforts of keeping it stable will do little to boost confidence.” The yuan’s retreat against the CFETS RMB Index, the basket set by the China Foreign Exchange Trade System, has been more moderate this year than against the dollar, as the currencies of China’s trading partners have also declined. In recent weeks it’s even advanced. That offers an image of stability that would appeal to a Communist leadership that’s striving to maintain economic growth in excess of 6.5% and reduce leverage, all while heading off any exodus of domestic capital. The challenge is that China’s swelling middle class, along with its ultra-wealthy, are looking to diversify some of their increasing pool of savings overseas. Prospects for higher U.S. interest rates only increase the allure of the dollar.

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They need money, bad.

China To Relax Curbs On Foreign Investment In Banking, Securities (R.)

China will focus on freeing up foreign investment in banking, insurance, securities and futures market trading firms as part of a wider opening up of the services sector, the country’s state planner said in a document released on Friday. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) did not give any details or time frame on relaxing restrictions for foreign investment in the financial services sector. At a press conference held after the release of the document, Ning Jizhe, vice chairman of the NDRC, said that the government will maintain “some controls”, but did not elaborate. Businesses that the NDRC earmarked for opening up in the manufacturing sector included rail transportation equipment, motorcycles, edible fats and oils, and fuel ethanol.

The NDRC also said China will lift restrictions on foreign investment in unconventional oil and gas production, which usually refers to development of shale deposits. Industry experts noted China has already allowed foreign companies such as Shell and BP to explore and develop shale oil and gas in joint ventures with Chinese firms. China will also “orderly” open up sensitive areas such as telecoms, education, internet to foreign investment, as well as relaxing foreign investment restrictions on credit-rating services, the NDRC document said. The new list of areas marked for liberalization differ slightly from draft foreign investment guidelines that China published earlier this month.

In the draft, restrictions in critical banking and securities sectors remained largely unchanged, though a reference to 49 percent foreign investment caps on some types of securities companies appeared to have been removed. Beijing is facing mounting criticism from foreign governments over its closed markets. Despite repeated pledges to increase access for foreign firms, critics say it has not followed through on its reform agenda.

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A bit confusing, but do watch Poland.

Who Wants To Keep Gas Flowing Through Ukraine And Why? (SC)

This past year of 2016 set a new record for the export history of Gazprom, Russia’s biggest gas company. Its chairman, Alexey Miller, has claimed that by the end of the year Gazprom will have shipped a total of 180 billion cubic meters to non-CIS countries. Gazprom had only planned to export between 166 and 170 billion cubic meters of gas in 2016 (in 2015, 158.56 billion cubic meters of gas were delivered to non-CIS countries). But even this new high is not the limit. Gazprom’s latest calculations envision a further uptick in shipments in 2017, and those will primarily be to the EU. The key factors here are, first and foremost, the weather conditions (this winter promises to be a more severe one in Europe than last year), and second – the jump in demand for gas in Europe that has been seen in recent months in the face of lower domestic production in EU countries.

The biggest consumers of Russian gas are still Germany (47.4 billion cubic meters in 2015), Turkey (27 billion), Italy (24.4 billion), Great Britain (22.5 billion), and France (10.5 billion). And Russian gas shipments play a very important role in ensuring the energy security of Southeastern Europe. In 2015 Bulgaria purchased 3.1 billion cubic meters of gas from the companies that make up the Gazprom Group, while Greece bought 2 billion cubic meters, Serbia – 1.9 billion cubic meters, and Croatia – 0.6 billion cubic meters. The market price for Russian gas has taken some interesting twists and turns. It is worth noting that that figure has risen right along with the increase in supply. This proves once again that the close interdependence of European consumers and Russian energy suppliers is «overriding» the market formula: simultaneous growth in both supply and price is an atypical phenomenon in a market environment.

However, it proves once again that any moves aimed at «replacing» Russian gas or «displacing» Russia from the EU gas market might be disruptive for Europe’s energy sector. The attempts by some countries to block Russian gas supplies look particularly irrational in this context. This primarily applies to Poland, which rushed to the European Court to appeal the European Commission’s decision to allow Gazprom greater access to the OPAL pipeline that links Nord Stream with the gas-transit system of Central and Western Europe. The Polish media cites the official spokesperson for the Polish Ministry of Finance, Joanna Wajda, in its reports that Warsaw has already asked the EU to suspend the implementation of the European Commission decision. The EC’s official reaction to this proposal is still unknown, but it will be interesting to see.

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Athens is bloody cold as we speak. That map is pretty clear.

The New Year’s Arriving With a Frigid Bang (BBG)

A deep freeze is about to descend on North America, Europe and Asia thanks to record high temperatures across the Arctic. How’s that? “Think of it like a seesaw,” said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather in Bethesda, Maryland. If winter temperatures rise north of Alaska, that “forces an equal-opposite downward-southward push. The cold essentially has to go somewhere else.” Meteorologists theorize the phenomenon works this way: Warmth in the northern polar region helps lock in jet-stream kinks that drag cold air south and sets up conditions that weaken the polar vortex, the pressure zone that usually traps the chill in the northernmost part of Earth. Frigid thermometer readings are, as a result, delivered to the Northern Hemisphere. So, warm Arctic, cold continents.

Forecasts show how drastic it could be. For example, Chicago’s high on Monday is expected to be 43 degrees Fahrenheit (about 6 Celsius) and its low 33, according to MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland. By Friday, the high is predicted to be 18 and the low just 5. Climate change and the recently ended El Nino conspired over the last three years to heat the planet to record levels. The ice cap dwindled. In September it was the smallest in scope since 2007; its winter growth has been the slowest in chronicled history. Sea ice keeps the air above it cold, and in November in the Arctic it hit a record low, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For several weeks, as as consequence, a large part of the Arctic has been hotter than normal.

“We have a buoy north of Alaska that went over to freezing around the 10th of December, which is about a month later than it normally happens,” said Jim Overland, a research oceanographer at the U.S. Pacific Marine Environment Laboratory in Seattle, who made his first trips to Arctic ice in the 60s.

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Flowers grow at the weirdest places.

A 2016 Love Story: The Macedonian Cop and The Iraqi Refugee (AFP)

The scene was hardly conducive to romance: she was a sick Iraqi in a wave of refugees trying to enter Serbia, while he belonged to the stern Macedonian police force keeping guard. But Noora Arkavazi, a Kurdish Muslim, and Orthodox Christian Bobi Dodevski quickly fell in love after they met at the muddy border in early March – and celebrated their wedding four months later. Bobi recalls the rainy day he first saw Noora in no man’s land between the two Balkan countries, when he was working only by chance after swapping shifts with a colleague. “It was destiny,” the affable 35-year-old tells AFP over tea in his small apartment in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo, where he now lives happily with his young wife.

Noora, 20, hails from Diyala, an eastern province plagued with violence in the Iraqi conflict. She says at one point Islamic State jihadists kidnapped her father, an engineer, and demanded thousands of dollars for his return. Early in 2016, Noora and her brother, sister and parents abandoned their home and began a long journey west, crossing the border into Turkey, taking a boat to the Greek island of Lesbos and eventually entering Macedonia. Their path was one well-trodden by hundreds of thousands of people escaping war or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia – and like many of their fellow travellers, the Arkavazis had set their sights on Germany. While her family continued on their odyssey, Noora stayed put in Macedonia after Cupid’s arrow struck. “I had a simple dream to live with my family in Germany,” she says. “I didn’t imagine a big surprise for me here.”

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