A Guardian headline today shouts: “Trump Has Taken Us To The Brink Of Nuclear War. Can He Be Stopped?”. And I’m thinking that is such obvious nonsense, how dare you print it? The North Korea nuke build up has been going on for decades, and neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush nor Obama ever took any decisive actions against it. And now it all falls into Trump’s lap. But that doesn’t mean he’s ‘taken us’ anywhere at all. The last thing Trump wants is this.
It’s not the last thing people like John McCain want, however. Who said about Trump’s “fire and fury” threat to Kim Jong-un that you shouldn’t make that threat unless you’re willing to execute it. Yeah, that’s exactly what McCain and Lindsey Graham and their entire entourage of friends and servants on Capitol Hill have been looking for for ages: war. And they see this in the same way that their peers saw Grenada in the Reagan era.
Small country, no challenge, good publicity. But Kim, crazy as he may or may not be, has learned a few lessons on the way. Cheney, W. and Rumsfeld ‘regime-changed’ Saddam Hussein, and Obama/Hillary ‘came saw and he died’ Gaddafi. They got offed before they could develop nukes. Kim knows that’s the dividing line. Sure, as I said, he may be crazy, but then everybody in this movie is.
That “Trump Has Taken Us To The Brink Of Nuclear War” line is based on da Donald’s “fire and fury” comment. But that is just him trying to talk to Kim in his own language. It was my first thought as soon as I heard it. Every other approach has failed, try this. My second thought was it was directed as much against Beijing as it was against Kim: Xi Jinping, once again, you have to stop this.
Xi has taken notice. He has a crucial Communist Party convention looming this fall, and he can’t afford to have a war in his backyard. He just didn’t have a reason to prevent it before. A few hours after Trump’s “fire and fury”, North Korea released a Canadian prisoner sentenced to hard labor for life. Coincidence? That’s not likely.
What Trump, what America, would need right now is open conversation with Putin, who can make or break things in the area. But given the recent sanctions etc., he doesn’t have much incentive. And the White House has few channels left to communicate with the Kremlin, because every single phone line is under investigation from one grand jury or another, and no line can be trusted to be secret anymore.
That hampers Trump and his people, but it even more hampers Putin in expressing his opinions. At the very moment, when there are nuclear threats being openly, publicly, bandied around, and the US Congress has tied its president’s hands in a very questionable fashion, which makes it impossible for him to talk to the one nuclear power in the world that matters.
The strange, and worrisome, thing about the ‘Orwellian’ 99% vote to take Trump’s powers away from him when it comes to communicating with Putin is that Capitol Hill decided to take it away, only to endorse itself with it. While you can discuss into the wee hours and then some what a US president’s powers should be, and what not, for any political ‘entity’ to vote another’s entity only to have it fall upon itself is legally dangerous.
And that’s not just because John McCain has seemed hellbent on ending his life with a big bang, forever. It’s even more because Capitol Hill has proven that it can effectively strangulate any president it doesn’t like, even if the American people have voted him/her in.
The very ironic consequence, at some point we wish will never come, would be that if Da Donald wants to strike Kim with anything at all, he’ll have to ask McCain and Graham for permission. And they will say: of course: when can we do it, can we do a little bit more just to be sure?
But if Trump wants to prevent that war, be it conventional or nuclear, who does he have to turn to? Not McCain and Graham, McDonnell, that set. They’re lost in the pockets of the military-industrial complex. As are Hillary and Obama and whatever is left after the Democrats go through a court-induced DNC fall-cleaning. They are paid by the exact same sources.
So who? The generals he’s surrounded himself with in the West Wing? Come to think of it, they may be the only sane voices left in Washington. But at the same time, does that feel like a real confidence booster?
Look, America, there are a 100,000 things wrong with Trump. But he is your president. And even if the whole Robert Mueller dig ever gets anywhere, it may first of all be too late, second of all lead to absolute mayhem if any impeachment process gets anywhere, and third of all have you end up with something far worse, president Pence, president Hillary, whatever.
What little-big-boy Kim should be telling you is that it’s time to support your president, no matter how flawed and despicable you think he may be. Because, and this is not the first time I’ve said this, he may well be the only thing standing between you and war. And don’t listen to the voices who claim he’s eager to start it. Or at least don’t listen only to them.
There’s a real chance that Trump will start a war somewhere, but it won’t be because he wants one. Other people in Washington do though. Just about all of them, given that 99% vote on Russia sanctions.
It is time to support your president, America. Not because you like him, or because you agree with him. But because your country elected him and because if you don’t, god help you.
The western world is mired in a mile-deep political crisis and nary a soul seems to notice, or rather: everyone just sees their own little preferred echochamber tidbits of it. Which is not a good thing, because that crisis is bound to trigger other bigger crises that are much more damaging. And I’m sorry to say it, but Donald Trump is not your main problem. Not even close.
The main problem is the collapse of western political systems. While that is what brought Trump to power in the first place, he didn’t cause the collapse. The collapse is also what ‘gave you’ Brexit, and Trump didn’t cause that either. Moreover, in the next step, on the far end of all this, Trump may well be the only thing standing between you and CIA warfare. I know, who wants to hear that, right?! Who’s ready for that next step?
But it’s not that crazy. Trump was the one who stopped the CIA from arming Syrian ‘rebels’, which are just a bunch of extremists gathered by that same CIA in its attempts to unseat Assad, and who Trump saw laughingly beheading a child. And who was it that had previously, and enthusiastically, decided to support these crazies? The US Republican and Democratic parties, in unison, while Obama was president and Hillary slash Joe Biden was Secretary of State. Remember the Chelsea Manning footage of videogame-like drone killings? What did Obama do about that?
Still, that’s not where the core of the demise of our political systems lies. Though it does gave us a flavor of their priorities. The core can be found in economic issues. In both president Bush II and president Obama bailing out banks while letting people’s incomes and wealth tank, and not sueing any banker for anything at all. Obviously, the same scenario played out in Britain as well. And in many other nations.
Now look at the parties themselves. Trump is not a Republican, but he took over the party with hardly any opposition. The only people the GOP could come up with to run against Trump were a full dozen full-blown yokels. And today, they still have no credible leadership. The healthcare vote last week, if we look at it separate from its merits, showed us that the same yokeldom is still in charge. Embarrassing doesn’t cover the feeling.
The Democrats are in the same conundrum. They have no credible candidates either. It’s Hillary or nothing. Which adds up to nothing. And then there’s a whole slew of suspicious ‘operatives’, Rice, Wasserman-Schultz et al, who make the picture even worse, and may soon find themselves on the wrong end of an investigation. Who’s going to vote for that bunch?
Yes, there’s Bernie Sanders, but he will never be allowed near the top as long as these other folk are there (and sorry, but he’s too old too). And there’s the core of the problem: both parties have been run by the same clique for ages, and you can only be part of it if you vote and agree with them (the made men model). Which in turn is why they don’t get the votes. And why Trump could become president. Who pledged to limit their terms and shut the revolving doors but still hasn’t.
That, too, is reflected one on one in Britain. If Theresa May is the best you can come up with as a leader, you have a queen-size problem. And Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has a long way to go anywhere at all yet, especially since he refuses to change his anti-EU stance and all the media are against what the people voted for. Though as far as I can see, the problem with Brexit is not so much the issue itself, but the utter incompetence with which it’s being handled. Which is staggering. You feel like asking for these people’s IDs to check their age.
The only thing I ever see discussed is how much Brexit is going to cost. As if voting for Brexit was always about money only. But the EU is about a lot more. Steve Keen presented it the other day in a much different way. He said that -paraphrased- the UK was the country perhaps hardest hit of all by neoliberalism, and that’s why people voted Brexit. And that Brexit could be its way out of the whole neoliberal austerity nightmare, if used well. Let’s talk about that instead.
But the Tories are not going to interpret Brexit that way. They will instead use it for more austerity, and more neoliberal policies. What they do at the moment is they try and push through as many of those policies as they can, and to cement them in laws and deals with the EU, who will love that. That way when May is voted out of office, Corbyn or whoever will be faced with a whole parade of things (s)he can no longer change or adapt. Fait accompli.
What everyone who is sick of these people, and of the policies, should do, is what Emmanuel Macron did in France: start a new party. Because France suffers from the same disease: the old guard doesn’t represent anyone but themselves anymore. Not that Macron is necessarily such a great alternative, but he has pointed the way to go, the way out of the staleness and the stalemate.
When you look at the US, all these senators and congresspeople talk more to lobbyists than they talk to anyone else. They’re all so beholden to financial backers and campaign funding, they have nothing left for their voters. They get votes, the ones they do still get, through tens of millions worth of slick TV ads in which they promise things they will never deliver. They paint shiny pictures and regurgitate lofty narratives. But they’ve been found out. Enter Trump stage left.
This happens all over the place. Japan PM Shinzo Abe is the latest trophy to be added, and to join Holland, Italy, France, the US etc., in the list of ‘traditional’ parties and politicians being voted, if not out, then certainly down, way down. You can’t run a country in the midst of a crisis like that. The old guard has a solution for that too: they deny the crisis, and their respective housing bubbles, and claim their countries are in a recovery. Which, wouldn’t you know, they claim to have, themselves, cleverly engineered for their people.
All that’s needed in both the UK and US are credible alternatives, and for the ruling classes to be cut down to size. But all we see are voices that derive their identity from pointing out what’s wrong with ‘the others’, be it Trump or Hillary, May or Corbyn. And in the case of Trump, anyone he’s ever talked to.
But now that even the WaPo has declared the Russian collusion story bogus, albeit without identifying its own role in developing that story, maybe it’s time for more pressing matters. Maybe brighter people on all sides of all spectrums can now build their identities on actual policies. And then discuss them, in all due respect, with others who do the same from their point of view.
Because make no mistake about it, with countries essentially ungovernable, as many are, as the US and UK are these days, risks of things like wars emerging ‘out of nowhere’ increase exponentially. If Trump must spend half his time talking about one story after another about someone maybe having met someone who may or may not be not 100% on the up and up, he doesn’t have enough time left to talk to Putin or Xi.
And really, that’s what the American president, any American president, should be doing right now. That alone would be a full-time day-job. Because alphabet soup ingredients like the CIA have created potential mayhem in so many locations around the globe, any one of them might blow anytime now.
Venezuela, North Korea, Ukraine, Iran, Syria, it’s a list that is impossible to complete. How about Bolivia, where Evo Morales once again has called for independence from the IMF and World Bank. The two-party, two pronged, two forked-tongued US political class, and its CIA handlers, don’t like that sort of thing. Not one bit.
Sure, you can argue that perhaps it’s Trump who’s most likely to start a war, but the evidence so far doesn’t point to that. The evidence points to all sorts of Shakespearean antics in the Oval Office, I told you!, plenty of Scaramouches, but not that one, not trigger-happiness. That’s all the other guys and gals, lest you forget. The evidence points to a two-party war machine, which hopes to be able to do its thing while you wallow in your self-righteous attitudes about Trump and Priebus and Scaramucci and Don Jr.
You want war? Denounce Trump. You don’t? Think again.
The risk of all this is that Da Donald will see no other way to stay in the White House than to start a war, somewhere, anywhere. Even the New York Times will declare him the greatest president since the last one who went to battle.
The risk embedded within that risk is that neither he nor anyone else will have any idea where it may lead. The risk is that the CIA, perhaps more than ever, will decide US -foreign- policy. And believe you me, that’s not what we should want. None of us.
An inevitable story. And a too-easy trap: the Guardian presumes that it itself escapes this. It doesn’t. Blaming Trump for that is false: he doesn’t write the stories. Every news outlet is responsible for its own journalistic standards. “Trump made me do it” lacks all credibility. And besides, the Guardian, like so many US media, has been trying to put Trump down for a long time. Just like it hammered Jeremy Corbyn as ‘unfit’ and much worse until it did an embarrassing 180. Is Trump right in reacting as agressively as he has and does? Perhaps not, probably not. But is he justified? Perhaps he is. In the end for the media this is about the beam in thine own eye.
You can find exactly the same fractured dialogue in Britain, too. What did the surprise of the Brexit vote show? Here’s another tidal wave of articles talking about the non-metropolitan forgotten masses. That, briefly, seemed a national call for understanding and change, one inchoately confirmed in the June election. But see how deafness and disdain soon set in. Let’s blame something – Boris, Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre, the BBC – for Brexit. Let’s contemplate the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and press a panic button. The Mail talks about “fake news, the fascist left and the REAL purveyors of hate”. Guardian columnists denounce the “open sewer” of Dacre coverage. Terms like “Tory scum” float from protesters’ posters into the new mass media. Jon Snow, amongst others, gets pasted for his supposed views about modern Conservatism. Irate Leave MPs stomp on the BBC welcome mat.
And every new day seems to bring fresh ingredients. Kensington council seeks to shut journalists out of its crucial meeting. Andrea Leadsom extols a “patriotic” press. There’s a raw edge to the debate now, sharpened after Grenfell Tower by outbreaks of pure and, sometimes, simulated rage. But: “Sit up, though, and look around. You may notice that, amid almost no public outrage whatsoever, we are quite a lot closer than once we were” to losing press freedom, says Hugo Rifkind in the Times. This is politics, and journalism, from the trenches as trust in the media plummets both here and in the US: American trust in the media down to just 38% in the latest Reuters Institute findings, the UK seven points down to 43%. Blame “deep-rooted political polarisation and perceived mainstream media bias”, says Reuters. In short, blame the frenzied state we’re in.
[..] observe how the new nihilism of scum and sewers brings its own narrow benefits. Richard Cohen in the Washington Post arrives clear-eyed. “Circulation is up. Eyeballs are popping. Trump is political pornography – gripping, exciting, lewd, fascinating. He devours adjectives so that, soon, we run out of them. The bizarre becomes ordinary. But he has done his damage. He has normalised contempt for the news media, framing it as a daily tussle between him, the tribune of the people, and us, vile overeducated snobs.”
And Jeet Heer of the New Republic pushes the argument on a notch as he charts the advantage of Trump’s alignment with the likes of the National Enquirer: “The tabloids offer a sordid vision of society, where the mainstream image of celebrities elides their secretly miserable lives (whether because of addiction, ageing, infidelity, or bankruptcy). In this nihilistic world, everyone is corrupt and every public statement is a lie. And if everyone is equally bad and untrustworthy, there’s no reason to hold Trump to any higher standard. This, ultimately, is why Trump and the tabloids were made for each other: They’re both committed to defining deviancy down.”
And while we’re at it, Guardian, let’s denounce this kind of thing for what it is. The G20 countries are responsible for poverty in Africa, and they’re not now going to solve it too. Just like the Paris agreement is complete nonsense: schemes to get rich.
G20 nations launched an unprecedented initiative Saturday at the group’s summit in Germany to fight poverty in Africa, but critics called the plan half-hearted. Under German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “Investment Compacts”, an initial seven African countries would pledge reforms and receive technical support in order to attract new private investment. More than half of Africans are under 25 years old and the population is set to double by mid-century, making economic growth and jobs essential for the young to stop them from leaving, Merkel has said. Germany’s partner nations are Ghana, Ivory Coast and Tunisia, while Ethiopia, Morocco, Rwanda and Senegal are also taking part. Far poorer nations such as Niger or Somalia are so far not on the list.
“We are ready to help interested African countries and call on other partners to join the initiative,” said the G20 in their final communique. The plan, as well as multinational initiatives on helping girls, rural youths and promoting renewable energy, would help “to address poverty and inequality as root causes of migration”. Some 100,000 people, most of them sub-Saharan Africans, have made the dangerous journey to Europe across the Mediterranean in rickety boats this year as the migration crisis shows no sign of abating. Anti-poverty group ONE said that the investment compacts “promised much, but too many G20 partners missed the memo and failed to contribute. “The flimsy foundations must now be firmed up, follow through and improved, especially for Africa’s more fragile states.”
If your enemy is waging economic war on you, it’s prudent to camouflage how well your farms and factories are doing. Better the attacker thinks you’re on your last legs, and are too exhausted to fight back. A new report on the Russian economy, published by Jon Hellevig, reveals the folly in the enemy’s calculation. Who is the audience for this message? US and NATO warfighters against Russia can summon up more will if they think Russia is in retreat than if they must calculate the cost in their own blood and treasure if the Russians strike back. That’s Russian policy on the Syrian front, where professional soldiers are in charge. On the home front, where the civilians call the shots, Hellevig’s message looks like an encouragement for fight-back – the economic policymaker’s equivalent of a no-fly zone for the US and European Union. It’s also a challenge to the Kremlin policy of appeasement.
Hellevig, a Finnish lawyer and investment analyst, has been directing businesses in Russia since 1992. His Moscow-based consultancy Awara has published its assessment of Russian economic performance since 2014 with the title, “What Does Not Kill You Makes You Stronger.” The maxim was first coined by the `19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He said it in a pep talk for himself. Subsequent readers think of the maxim as an irony. Knowing now what Nietzsche knew about his own prognosis but kept secret at the time, he did too. The headline findings aren’t news to the Kremlin. It has been regularly making the claims at President Vladimir Putin’s semi-annual national talk shows; at businessmen’s conventions like the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF); and in Kremlin-funded propaganda – lowbrow outlets like Russia Today and Sputnik News, and the highbrow Valdai Club.
A charter for a brand-new outlet for the claims, the Russian National Convention Bureau, was agreed at the St. Petersburg forum last month. Government promotion of reciprocal trade and inward investment isn’t exceptional for Russia; it is normal practice throughout the world. The argument of the Hellevig report is that the US and NATO campaign against Russia has failed to do the damage it was aimed to do, and that their propaganda outlets, media and think-tanks are lying to conceal the failure. Small percentage numbers for the decline in Russian GDP and related measures are summed up by Hellevig as “belt-tightening, not much more”. Logically and arithmetically, similarly small numbers in the measurement of the Russian recovery this year ought to mean “belt expanding, not much more.” But like Nietzsche, Hellevig is more optimistic.
Here’s what he concludes:
• “Industrial Production was down merely 0.6%. A handsome recovery is already on its way with an expected growth of 3 to 4% in 2017. In May the industrial production already soared by a promising 5.3%.”
• “Unemployment remained stable all through 2014 – 2016, the hoped-for effect of sanctions causing mass unemployment and social chaos failed to materialize.”
• “GDP was down 2.3% in 2014-2016, expected to more than make up for that in 2017 with 2-3% predicted growth.”
• “The really devastating news for ‘our Western partners’ (as Putin likes to refer to them) must be – which we are the first to report – the extraordinary decrease in the share of oil & gas revenue in Russia’s GDP.”
• “In the years of sanctions, Russia has grown to become an agricultural superpower with the world’s largest wheat exports. Already in the time of the Czars Russia was a big grain exporter, but that was often accompanied with domestic famine. Stalin financed Russia’s industrialization to a large extent by grain exports, but hereby also creating domestic shortages and famine. It is then the first time in Russia’s history when it is under Putin a major grain exporter while ensuring domestic abundance. Russia has made an overall remarkable turnaround in food production and is now virtually self-sufficient.”
• “Russia has the lowest level of imports (as a share of the GDP) of all major countries… Russia’s very low levels of imports in the global comparison obviously signifies that Russia produces domestically a much higher share of all that it consumes (and invests), this in turn means that the economy is superbly diversified contrary to the claims of the failed experts and policymakers. In fact, it is the most self-sufficient and diversified economy in the world.
Britain’s government isn’t due to announce a new budget until the autumn, but debate is already raging over public-sector pay. With Brexit bearing down, the embattled prime minister, Theresa May, will have to choose between making another embarrassing U-turn and defending a policy that is both unpopular and unnecessary. Sadly for May, the U-turn makes better sense. For years it was an article of faith among Britain’s Conservatives that the budget deficit had to be eliminated — by 2020, if not yesterday. Some Tories are now ready to abandon that line of thinking; others still hold the principle, if not the timetable, sacrosanct. Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, May came down firmly on the side of austerity: Greece shows you where fiscal indiscipline leads, she argued.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was unmoved. He decried the “low-wage epidemic” and argued that the 1 percent cap on increases in public-sector wages should be removed. Corbyn has a point. Britain’s workers are getting squeezed, especially in the public sector, thanks to rising inflation caused in part by the Brexit-induced fall in sterling. But he’s wrong to look at wages in isolation. Public-sector pay is only one of many claims on the government’s budget. The National Health Service, for instance, is in a state of permanent crisis; spending on care for the elderly and other needs is woefully inadequate. The list of other worthy expenditures is endless. Trying to meet all such claims would indeed be a formula for fiscal collapse. The government has to prioritize.
Where higher wages are needed to recruit and retain workers for essential services, raise them. Where additional public spending is needed to provide vital infrastructure, spur productivity, and support growth, make the investment. In such cases, higher taxes and/or higher public borrowing can be justified. If caps and ceilings are used in a way that makes this necessary flexibility impossible – not as emergency measures, moreover, but as a system of long-term control – they’ll do more harm than good. May’s embrace of blanket austerity, by the way, is bad politics as well as bad economics. Most British voters have forgotten, or never experienced, the ruinous consequences of profligate public spending.
That’s why Corbyn’s expansive promises are more popular than you might expect – and why there’ll be greater support for fiscal control if it’s seen to be smart and discriminating, rather than an act of blind ideological faith. To be sure, the timing for a change of fiscal strategy is hardly propitious. Brexit has alarmed investors, giving the government less room for maneuver. Even so, the government shouldn’t be paralyzed – and shouldn’t argue that cautious flexibility would make the country another Greece. That line won’t fly. Targeted spending to improve vital services and drive future growth is good policy, and Britain’s best buffer against the perils ahead.
Retirement is right around the corner for baby boomers – if they haven’t already entered it – yet so many are financially unprepared. Baby boomers, or those born between 1946 and 1964, expect they’ll need $658,000 in their defined contribution plans by the time they retire, but the average in those employer-sponsored plans is $263,000, according to a survey of 900 investors by financial services firm Legg Mason. Older boomers, who are 65 to 74, have an average of $300,000. Their asset allocation for all of their investments are also conservative, according to QS Investors, an investment management firm Legg Mason acquired in 2014, with 30% in cash, 24% in equities, 22% in fixed income, 4% in non-traditional assets, 8% in investment real estate, 2% in gold and other precious metals and 8% in other investments.
“They have less than half the assets they hope to have in retirement,” said James Norman, president of QS Investors. “That’s a pretty big miss.” Americans across the country, and all age groups, are drastically under-saved for retirement. Only a third of Americans who have access to a 401(k) plan contribute to it, and previous research suggests the typical middle-aged American couple only has $5,000 saved for the future. Meanwhile, millennials may not be able to picture themselves in retirement at all, though are urged by financial professionals to make a habit of saving, if even only as little as $5. There are a multitude of reasons people may not have enough for retirement, such as having to leave the workforce in between their prime years to care for loved ones, not working long enough to qualify for certain government benefits. or choosing to pay for their childrens’ college tuition instead of saving for their own retirement.
Still, not saving enough was the biggest regret among older Americans, according to a survey of 1,000 participants by personal finance site Bankrate.com. Generation X, or those born between 1965 and 1981, aren’t doing all that much better, though they have the benefit of more time to reach their financial goals. More of them have a defined contribution plan, according to the Legg Mason survey, with an average of $199,000 stashed away for a goal of $541,000 by retirement. They are also investing conservatively, with 25% in cash, 21% in equities, 17% in fixed income, 11% in non-traditional assets, 16% in investment real estate, 7% in gold and other precious metals and 4% in other investments. Conversely, QS Investors suggest their Gen-X aged clients have 80% in equities, which faces more risks from the stock market but could also realize higher returns.
Retirement isn’t the picture-perfect image of lounging on a beach with the idea of a 9-to-5 job long gone. Benefits aren’t the same, either – for example, in 1985, retirees could expect Social Security to cover most of their income and employers typically covered most health-care costs. Retirees 30 years ago also probably didn’t expect to live for decades after resigning at 65, whereas now people are being told to plan to live well into their 80s.
Buyers who purchased new properties direct from some of the UK’s biggest builders have been left in the dark as investment companies play pass-the-parcel with the land their homes stand on. Take Joanne Darbyshire, 46, and her husband Mark, 47. They bought a five-bedroom house in Bolton from Taylor Wimpey in 2010, and are among thousands of unfortunate leaseholders put on “doubling” ground rent contracts that in extreme cases have left their properties almost worthless, with mortgage lenders refusing loans to future buyers. The only way to escape the escalating payments is to buy the freehold. But in Darbyshire’s case, Taylor Wimpey sold it to Adriatic Land 2 (GR2) in 2012. In January 2017 that company transferred it to Adriatic Land 1 (GR3), while some of Darbyshire’s neighbours have seen their freeholds transferred from Adriatic Land 2 (GR2) to Abacus Land Ltd.
“You have no idea who owns the land under your feet,” says Darbyshire. “Your dream house is traded from one offshore company to another for tax reasons, or who knows what else?” Paul Griffin (not his real name) bought a property from Morris Homes in Winsford, Cheshire, in November 2014. By last year, when he decided to add a conservatory, his freehold was in the hands of Adriatic Land 3 and managed by its fee-collecting agents HomeGround. Young was horrified to discover he had to pay £108 just to look at his file. Although the conservatory didn’t need local authority planning permission and was not subject to building regulations, HomeGround then demanded £1,200 for a “licence” for the work to go ahead. This was broken down into solicitors fees (£480), surveyors (£360), and its own fee of £360.
On top of this it demanded numerous official documents at Young’s expense totalling about £400. Helen Burke (not her real name) in Ellesmere Port, meanwhile, was shocked to discover that after Bellway sold her freehold to Adriatic, the cost of seeking consent for a small single-storey extension rocketed. Initially, she had applied to Bellway – the freeholder at the time – and it wanted £300. But after putting off the work for a few months she discovered that Bellway had sold the freehold to Adriatic Land 4 (GR1) Ltd. HomeGround then demanded £2,440 for consent. That is not planning permission, which householders must obtain separately from the local authority. It is simply a fee charged without any material services provided.
“It’s daylight robbery,” says Burke. “The most disgusting thing is the developers like Bellway think they are doing nothing wrong selling the freeholds on and state that our T&Cs don’t change. Yes, the lease terms don’t change, but for a permission fee to increase from £300 to £2,440 in a matter of months is disgraceful and it should absolutely be pointed out to new homeowners, up front, that this might happen if they don’t buy the freeholds.” Burke said she was quoted £3,750 to buy the freehold off Bellway, but once it was sold to Adriatic the price quadrupled to £13,000. After a long legal battle she has acquired it for £7,680.
Easy Wall Street cash is leading U.S. shale companies to expand drilling, even as most lose money on every barrel of oil they bring to the surface. Despite a 17% plunge in prices since April, drillers are on pace to break the all-time U.S. oil production record, topping 10 million barrels a day by early next year if not sooner, according to government officials and analysts. U.S. crude fell again on Friday, dropping 2.8% to $44.23 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Yet the U.S. oil rig count rose Friday to the highest level in more than two years. Operators have now put more than 100 rigs back to work from Oklahoma to North Dakota in the past three months. Companies have more capital to keep drilling thanks to $57 billion Wall Street has injected into the sector over the last 18 months.
Money has come from investors in new stock sales and high-yield debt, as well as from private equity funds, which have helped provide lifelines to stronger operators. Flush with cash, virtually all of them launched campaigns to boost drilling at the start of 2017 in the hope that oil prices would rebound. The new wave of crude has again glutted the market. The shale companies are edged even further from profitability, and a few voices have begun to question the wisdom of Wall Street financing the industry’s addiction to growth. “The biggest problem our industry faces today is you guys,” Al Walker, chief executive of Anadarko, told investors at a conference last month.
Wall Street has become an enabler that pushes companies to grow production at any cost, while punishing those that try to live within their means, Mr. Walker said, adding: “It’s kind of like going to AA. You know, we need a partner. We really need the investment community to show discipline.” Even if companies cut back on drilling now, it wouldn’t be enough to stop a new wave of oil from hitting the market in the second half of the year: U.S. shale output typically lags behind new drilling by four to six months, analysts say. “There’s been insufficient discrimination on the part of sources of capital,” said Bill Herbert, an energy analyst with Piper Jaffray’s Simmons. Big shale companies “are able to get what they want and invest what they want.”
One morning in late March, Brij Khandelwal called the Agra police to report an attempted murder. Days before, the high court in India’s Uttarakhand state had issued a landmark judgment declaring the Yamuna river – and another of India’s holiest waterways, the Ganges – “living entities”. Khandelwal, an activist, followed the logic. “Scientifically speaking, the Yamuna is ecologically dead,” he says. His police report named a series of government officials he wanted charged with attempted poisoning. “If the river is dead, someone has to be responsible for killing it.” In the 16th century, Babur, the first Mughal emperor, described the waters of the Yamuna as “better than nectar”. One of his successors built India’s most famous monument, the Taj Mahal, on its banks.
For the first 250 miles (400km) of its life, starting in the lower Himalayas, the river glistens blue and teems with life. And then it reaches Delhi. In India’s crowded capital, the entire Yamuna is siphoned off for human and industrial use, and replenished with toxic chemicals and sewage from more than 20 drains. Those who enter the water emerge caked in dark, glutinous sludge. For vast stretches only the most resilient bacteria survive. The waterway that has sustained civilisation in Delhi for at least 3,000 years – and the sole source of water for more than 60 million Indians today – has in the past decades become one of the dirtiest rivers on the planet.
“We have water records which show that, until the 1960s, the river was much better quality,” says Himanshu Thakkar, an engineer who coordinates the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, a network of rights groups. “There was much greater biodiversity. Fish were still being caught.” What happened next mirrors a larger Indian story, particularly since the country’s markets were unshackled in the early 1990s: one of runaway economic growth fuelled by vast, unchecked migration into cities; and the metastasising of polluting industries that have soiled many of India’s waterways and made its air the most toxic in the world.
I tried to find an objective description of the Trump-Puin meeting, but it’s all echo chamber all the way (like this from the Guardian). The world is full of people who seem to have convinced themselves and each other that any one of them would be a better US president than Trump. The problem is, they’re not, and he is. So it’s all about ‘topics’ such as handshakes, and the deeper meaning thereof. Apparently, Trump should have damned Putin to hellfire and threatened him with war, with election hacking accusations he has no proof of. But US intelligence says it’s so! Yeah, and they would never lie, would they, for power political reasons. Maybe they shouldn’t have turned on Trump in the first place.
Meanwhile, I am glad that the two prime world leaders took the time, and then some, to talk to each other. And I hope they will do so again, and regularly. The world is not a better place is they do not. No matter what the echo chamber says.
It is a blossoming bromance. In what one US-based critic called a “first Tinder date”, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin talked for two and a quarter hours on Friday instead of their scheduled 30 minutes. “I think there was just such a level of engagement and exchange, and neither one of them wanted to stop,” US secretary of State Rex Tillerson said afterwards. “Several times I had to remind the president, and people were sticking their heads in the door. And they sent in the first lady at one point to see if she could get us out of there, and that didn’t work either.” There were sighs of relief in Washington that Trump, an erratic and volatile president with little foreign policy experience, had avoided a major gaffe. The news website Axios summed it up: “Trump survives the Putin meeting.”
But diplomats and experts said this was hardly cause for celebration. Thomas Countryman, former US acting undersecretary for arms control and international security, commented: “It’s an indication of how rapidly our standards are falling when we’re reasonably pleased that President Trump has not made an obvious error.” Pre-meeting hype had focused on whether Trump would confront Putin over Russia’s interference in the US election. He delivered, according to Tillerson, pressing the issue repeatedly. But Putin denied it and Tillerson later admitted that the two leaders had focused on how to move on from here. There seemed little indication that Trump had held Putin’s feet to the fire.
Trump had accepted Putin’s assurances, Countryman said: “It certainly was the minimum that any US president should have done in this situation. I’m glad he brought it up. What we don’t know – and may never know – is what he replied when Vladimir Putin looked him in the eye and falsely said: ‘It was not us.’” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov claimed Trump had accepted Putin’s assurances, although the US disputed that.
The United States and Russia struck an agreement Friday on a cease-fire in southwest Syria, crowning President Donald Trump’s first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is the first U.S.-Russian effort under Trump’s presidency to stem Syria’s six-year civil war. The cease-fire goes into effect Sunday at noon Damascus time, according to U.S. officials and the Jordanian government, which is also involved in the deal. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who accompanied Trump in his meeting with Putin, said the understanding is designed to reduce violence in an area of Syria near Jordan’s border and which is critical to the U.S. ally’s security.
It’s a “very complicated part of the Syrian battlefield,” Tillerson told reporters after the U.S. and Russian leaders met for about 2 hours and 15 minutes on the sidelines of a global summit in Hamburg, Germany. Of the agreement, he said: “I think this is our first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria.” [..] Russia’s top diplomat, who accompanied Putin in the meeting with Trump, said Russian military police will monitor the new truce. All sides will try to ensure aid deliveries to the area, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. The deal marks a new level of involvement for the Trump administration in trying to resolve Syria’s civil war.
According to two widely divergent witness accounts, Donald Trump either “pressed” Vladimir Putin repeatedly on Friday to admit that Russia helped him get elected president of the United States — by stealing and releasing embarrassing emails from Democrats — or told the Russian leader that he accepted his claim that Russia had nothing to do with the hacking and called concern over the issue “exaggerated.” Those two very different accounts of what was said in the meeting between Trump and Putin in Hamburg, Germany, came in dueling press briefings given after it by the only other senior officials in the room when the conversation took place: Rex Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, and Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister.
“The President opened the meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election,” Tillerson told American reporters, according to audio recorded by PBS Newshour. “Now they had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject,” Tillerson continued. “The President pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement; President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past.” “The two leaders agreed though,” Tillerson added, “that this is a substantial hinderance in the ability of us to move the Russian-U.S. relationship forward, and agreed to exchange further work regarding commitments on non-interference.” The Russians, Tillerson said, also asked to see whatever proof of their role in the hacking American intelligence agencies claim to have.
Lavrov, who is fluent in both Russian and English, offered a very different summary of the conversation. Trump, he told Russian reporters, had raised the issue during a broader conversation about threats posed to society by the internet, including terrorism and child pornography. “President Trump said that in the U.S. there are still some circles who are talking about Russian alleged intrusion and Russian alleged attempts to influence the U.S. election,” Lavrov said, according to translation from Ruptly, a Russian state-owned news agency. “President Trump said that this campaign has already taken on a rather strange character because over the many months that these accusations have been made, not a single fact has been presented,” Lavrov added. “President Trump said that he had heard the clear statements from President Putin about this being untrue, that the Russian leadership did not interfere in the election, and that he accepts these statements.”
US President Donald Trump has said he expects a “powerful” trade deal with the UK to be completed “very quickly”. Speaking at the G20 summit in Hamburg, he also said he will come to London. The US president is holding one-to-one talks with UK Prime Minister Theresa May to discuss a post-Brexit trade deal. It is one of a series of one-to-one meetings with world leaders which will also see Mrs May hold trade talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Ahead of their meeting, Mr Trump hailed the “very special relationship” he had developed with Mrs May. “There is no country that could possibly be closer than our countries,” he told reporters.
“We have been working on a trade deal which will be a very, very big deal, a very powerful deal, great for both countries and I think we will have that done very, very quickly.” Mr Trump said he “will be going to London”. Asked when, he replied: “We’ll work that out.” But Sir Simon Fraser, a former diplomat who served as a permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, cast doubt on how soon any deal could be reached. “The point is we can’t negotiate with them or anyone else until we’ve left the European Union.”
But here is the thing about employment and recessions: Something big changed since 2000. It can be seen in the employment-population ratio, which tracks people over 16 years of age who have jobs, as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. From the 1960s until 2000, the ratio fell during recessions, but then during the recovery regained all the lost ground plus some, ratcheting up to new records after each recession. Some of this had to do with women entering the work force in large numbers. But since the ratio’s peak in April 2000 at 64.7%, a new pattern has developed. As before, the ratio drops before the official recession begins and keeps dropping until after the recession has ended. But when employment recovers, the ratio ticks up only slowly, recovering only a fraction of the ground lost, before the next recession hits. This has happened over the last two recessions.
For the 2001/2002 recession, the ratio started falling in May 2000 and continued falling until September 2003. During those 3.5 years, it fell 2.7 percentage points from 64.7% to 62%. Over the next three-plus years of the “recovery,” the ratio rose to 63.4% by December 2006, having regained only half of the lost ground, before the next downturn set in. This time, the ratio plunged from 63.4% to 58.2% in November 2010 and again in June and July 2011. It plunged 5.2 percentage points in 4.5 years. During that time, nonfarm payrolls plunged by 8.7 million jobs. Over the seven-plus years of the jobs recovery since then, the economy added 16.7 million jobs (146.4 million nonfarm payrolls, as defined by the BLS). But the employment-population ratio only made it to 60.1%. It regained only 1.9 percentage points, after having plunged 5.2 percentage points. In other words, after seven-plus years of jobs recovery, it has regained less than one-third of what it had lost:
And now the Fed is preparing for the next recession. There are all kinds of factors that move this equation one way or the other. Baby boomers are not retiring to the extent prior generations did. Millennials have fully entered into the working-age population (16 and over by this definition) though many are still in school. And according to Census Bureau estimates, the overall US population has surged by 16.7 million people from April 2010 through “today,” to 325.4 million. Since the bottom of the employment crisis in February 2010, the economy has created 16.7 million jobs as measured by nonfarm payrolls. During the same time, the population has grown by 16.7 million people. Not all of this population growth is working age. But this is the problem that the employment-population ratio depicts: jobs are being created, but not enough for the dual task of absorbing the growth in the working-age population and in putting people back to work who lost their jobs during the recession.
And these are the good times! What happens during the next recession?
U.S. employers are churning out jobs unabated as the economic expansion enters its ninth year, but the inability to generate more robust wage growth represents a missing piece in a largely complete labor recovery. U.S. employers added a seasonally adjusted 222,000 jobs in June, the Labor Department said Friday, and the unemployment rate rose slightly to 4.4% with more people actively looking for work. The U.S. has added jobs every month since October 2010, a record 81-month stretch that has absorbed roughly 16 million workers and slowly repaired much of the damage from the 2007-09 recession. The unemployment rate touched a 16-year low in May and the number of job openings hit a record earlier this year.
Still, average hourly earnings for private-sector workers rose slightly in June, 2.5% compared with a year earlier, a level little changed since March. As recently as December, the figure was 2.9% and in the months before the recession, wage gains consistently topped 3%. Since mid-2009, when the expansion started, hourly earnings of blue-collar workers—for which long-run data series are available—have grown on average 2.2% a year, much less than the 3% expansion of the 2000s, the 3.2% expansion of the 1990s or the 3.3% expansion of the 1980s. Tepid wage growth is a puzzle because worker incomes should in theory rise faster as employers compete for scarce labor, though some economists say broader economic forces are at work. “With both productivity growth and inflation continuing to prove sluggish, it is not altogether surprising that wage growth has disappointed,” said John E. Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo.
One of the biggest, most expensive liquefied natural gas projects in history may have developed a physical crack — and the managing company isn’t answering questions from investors. They may have reason to worry. The crack, which is believed to be in a floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) unit, could add billions of dollars in upfront costs, and it could delay the project even further, likely costing more down the line as a major competitor plans to swoop in. The floating unit is sitting at a yard in Busan, South Korea, and is set to eventually operate at “Ichthys” — a giant gas and condensate field offshore western Australia led by Japan’s Inpex, with a 30% stake from France’s Total. That project first broke ground in 2012 and is set to be a mega-scale operation that produces about 8.9 million tons of LNG every year if it reaches full capacity.
Inpex said earlier this month that the unit would “soon” sail away to Australia, and the Japanese operator said the unit is undergoing “last-minute preparation work” including commissioning, cleaning and certification work. One person familiar with the project, however, told CNBC that they have firsthand knowledge of an unannounced crack in the equipment, which was driving up costs and delaying the unit’s journey to Australia, previously expected for 2015. An additional three sources said they had been told there was a crack, but could not independently confirm the defect. When CNBC reached out to the company and asked whether the rumored crack is real, Inpex said it “cannot provide details concerning reasons for the delay.” According to one person familiar with the matter, Inpex recently hired as many as 300 welders to fix the damage. Several sources said they believe the damage is the main reason for the delay.
The alleged fault is in the unit’s “turret,” a central part of an FPSO that conveys “almost everything that will enter or leave” the unit, including chemical injection lines and power cables, Ichthys LNG Project Offshore Director Claude Cahuzac said in comments available on Inpex’s website. A fault in a big piece of liquid natural gas equipment isn’t so abnormal, industry analysts told CNBC, with one suggesting LNG projects generally require “lots of trials and errors.” What is less common, they said, is the amount of investor concern being generated by the Ichthys project. Naturally enough, that concern comes down to money. The original budget of the project back in 2008 was around $20 billion. Inpex’s estimate now stands at $37 billion plus an additional amount of spending, Mizuho Securities said following an analyst briefing in May this year.
In fact, one portfolio manager who reviewed the recent spending projections by Inpex said that “with the 2018 capital expenditure guidance increasing by around 50% over the last six months, it may suggest Inpex has lost control over costs.”
A few weeks on from the general election, and David Cameron has been disinterred to say giving public sector workers pay rises is the height of selfishness – while Theresa May is back to harping on in prime minister’s questions about the debt left by the last Labour government. It’s apparently 2015 all over again. It’s tiresome to have to keep pointing it out, but Dave from PR was wrong then, and he remains wrong now. He was a good salesman, for sure. Pretending that “The Deficit” is a scary monster that will eat us unless we appease it by sacrificing our wages plays into many instinctual beliefs about the virtues of probity and thrift. But if anything, the monster in the room is the prevalence of what economist John Quiggin called “zombie economics” – ideas that are constantly discredited, but insist on shambling back to life and lurching their way through our public discourse.
The supposed justifications for austerity were always, Quiggin writes, “absurd on the face of things”. The theory that government spending crowds out private sector investment never withstood scrutiny. As he points out, “the painfully evident fact that there is already plenty of room for private expansion, in the form of unemployed workers and idle factories, is simply ignored”. The IMF – historically the world’s foremost cheerleader of austerity – admitted that it was based on a false prospectus: these policies do more harm than good. Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford University said that the issue was not whether attempts to reduce the deficit had damaged the economy, but “how much GDP has been lost as a result”. Amartya Sen said that while austerity “deepened Europe’s economic problems, it did not help in the aimed objective of reducing the ratio of debt to GDP to any significant extent”.
[..] With the evidence so prolific that Cameron’s supposed “sound finance” is anything but, and with battalions of respected economists lined up to denounce it, why does this zombie idea keep resurrecting itself? The answer must surely lie in its political utility. The global financial crisis was an opportunity for politicians to practise Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine” capitalism in the west rather than in the developing world. The Conservatives have presented their ideological project of returning us to the early 19th century as being economically necessary, even unavoidable.
Before Jeremy Corbyn’s rise, elements in the Labour party were similarly enamoured with recession as an opportunity to push a culture war over what they saw as a betrayal of “authentic” left politics. Just as austerity economics relies on the demonisation of immigrants and “identity politics” to mask its own crippling impact, so authentocracy relies on a false zero-sum formula where the “white working class” is in a battle with new arrivals for a share of a fixed pot of cash. Its proponents can hide behind discredited economics to claim they are making “hard but necessary choices” about resource allocation which, somehow, never address the actual allocation of said resources.
India’s sacred Ganges and Yamuna rivers cannot be considered “living entities”, the country’s top court ruled Friday, suspending an earlier order that granted them the same legal rights as humans. The Supreme Court stayed a March order by a lower body that recognised the Ganges and its tributary the Yamuna as “legal persons” in an attempt to protect the highly polluted rivers from further degradation. The landmark ruling made polluting or damaging the rivers legally comparable to hurting a person, and saw three top government officials appointed as custodians. But the Himalayan state of Uttrakhand, where the Ganges originates, petitioned the top court arguing the legal status to the venerated rivers was “unsustainable in the law”.
In its plea, the state said the ruling was unclear on whether the custodians or the state government was liable to pay damages to those who drown during floods, in case they file damage suits. Petitioner Mohammad Saleem, on whose plea the Uttrakhand High Court bestowed the legal rights to the water bodies, will have the opportunity to appeal the ruling by a bench headed by chief justice J S Khehar. M C Pant, Saleem’s lawyer, said he was “shocked and surprised” over the government’s decision to oppose the status. “We will present our case before the court and convince them,” Pant told AFP. The Ganges is India’s longest and holiest river, but the waters in which pilgrims ritualistically bathe and scatter the ashes of their dead is heavily polluted with untreated sewage and industrial waste.
Corporate bankruptcies in Greece are still a staggering five times what they were in the period before the outbreak of the financial crisis, despite the small 2 percentage point decline recorded so far in 2017, according to international credit insurance company Atradius. The 2% decline is the smallest drop recorded among eurozone member-states, while Greece remains on top of the 22 countries Atradius monitors in Europe and beyond in terms of bankruptcies. While Greece’s rate is currently five times what it was before 2009, in Portugal it is four times as high, in Italy 2.4 times, in Ireland 2.2 times and in Spain it is twice as high.
The business sectors of food and electronics are expected to be among those to enjoy a reduction in their bankruptcy rate, unlike the construction, apparel and machinery sectors, which will continue to see high bankruptcy levels, the survey has found in Greece. The local credit system remains entrapped in the problem of nonperforming loans, which account for 37% of their total portfolios, Atradius says. This hampers lending to the private sector, it adds, calling for the swift enforcement of the recent law for clearing out or selling bad loans.
The vast majority of people arriving in Europe by sea are fleeing persecution, war and famine, while less than a fifth are economic migrants, a report published on Friday reveals. More than 80% of an estimated 1,008,616 arrivals in 2015 came from refugee-producing countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and a quarter of that number were children. Researchers say the findings challenge the myth that migrants are coming to Europe for economic reasons. The study is based on 750 questionnaires and more than 100 interviews carried out at reception centres in Greece, Italy and Malta. It highlights the abuse many have faced, with 17% experiencing forced labour. Half of those questioned had been arrested or detained during their journeys.
Professor Brad Blitz, who led the research team, said the findings made it clear that people had complex reasons for coming to Europe. He said: “Governments and certain media organisations perpetuate the myth that the ‘pull’ factors are stronger than the ‘push’ factors with economic reasons being the key catalyst – but we found the opposite. “The overwhelming majority of people we spoke to were coming from desperately poor countries but also places where they were subject to targeted violence or other concerns around family security. They had no other option.” War was the biggest “push”, and given as the reason for leaving their homes by 49% of those questioned in Greece, and 53% of those in Malta. One Syrian said: “I used to live with my wife in Idlib. We had a normal life there until the outbreak of war. Our house was bombed and we lost everything, we hadn’t any option but to leave.”
The United States presents itself to the world as a beacon of liberty and a proponent of human rights around the world, ready and willing to stand up for and defend the downtrodden. Florida Senator Marco Rubio recently said that the world looks to the U.S. as an example of democracy. This myth is not believed outside of the United States’ borders, and decreasingly within. There is simply too much evidence to the contrary. The U.S. has been at war for over 220 of its 241 year history. During that time, it has shown a complete lack of respect for the human rights of both the citizens of the nations against which it wages war, and its own soldiers. We’ll take a look at examples from recent history, and see how the U.S. continues these barbaric practices today.
During the U.S. war against Viet Nam, which lasted for several years, conservative estimates indicate that at least 2,000,000 men, women and children were killed. Entire villages were burned; soldiers were told to assume that anyone, of an age, was the enemy. U.S. soldiers gave poisoned cookies to children seeking their help. The My Lai massacre, in which between 350 and 500 innocent people were killed, mostly women, children and elderly men, garnered international publicity, but was only one example of U.S. barbarity. U.S. soldiers returned home from this and later wars with severe physical and emotional problems. Veterans’ organizations worked for years to have the effects of ‘Agent Orange’, a chemical defoliant used in Viet Nam that caused birth defects in the children of soldiers who used it, recognized by the government so they could get government assistance.
A generation later, the reality of Gulf War Syndrome was denied for years by the U.S. government. How does this continue in the current environment? When the U.S. invaded Iraq early in the administration of President George Bush, it bombed residential areas in a country where over half the population was under the age of 15. It destroyed government institutions, even as it protected oil lines, leaving millions of people without essential services.
In Yemen, drones have killed at least 6,000 people. In the first drone attack authorized by then President Barack Obama, 34 people were killed. Of these, two were suspected of having ties to so-called terrorist groups. The other 32 were innocent men, women and children. And these atrocities continue to this day. In Syria, the U.S. is supporting radical groups that are causing untold suffering. At least one third of the population of Syria has fled their homes; recently, due to the efforts of the Syrian army and its allies, some have begun to return. The death toll, directly attributable to the actions of the U.S., is at least half a million.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to size each other up in person for the first time on Friday in what promises to be the most highly anticipated meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit. Trump has said he wants to find ways to work with Putin, a goal made more difficult by sharp differences over Russia’s actions in Syria and Ukraine, and allegations Moscow meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That means every facial expression and physical gesture will be analyzed as much as any words the two leaders utter as the world tries to read how well Trump, a real estate magnate and former reality television star, gets along with Putin, a former spy. The fear is that the Republican president, a political novice whose team is still developing its Russia policy, will be less prepared than Putin, who has dealt with the past two U.S. presidents and scores of other world leaders.
“There’s nothing … the Kremlin would like to see more than a (U.S.) president who will settle for a grip and a grin and walk away saying that he had this fabulous meeting with the Kremlin autocrat,” Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee, said in an interview on MSNBC. As investigations at home continue into whether there was any collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia the U.S. president has come under pressure to take a hard line against the Kremlin. Moscow has denied any interference and Trump says his campaign did not collude with Russia. On Thursday, Trump won praise from at least one Republican hawk in the U.S. Congress after his speech in Warsaw in which he urged Russia to stop its “destabilizing activities” and end its support for Syria and Iran.
“This is a great start to an important week of American foreign policy,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has often been critical of Trump on security issues. But earlier in the day, Trump declined to say definitively whether he believed U.S. intelligence officials who have said that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. “I think it was Russia but I think it was probably other people and/or countries, and I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure,” Trump said at a news conference, before slamming Democratic former President Barack Obama for not doing more to stop hacking.
It’s been relatively quiet in the last few weeks on the “the Russians did it, and Trump’s Putin’s best-buddy” propaganda-fest, but it appears the Deep State had three stories tonight – just hours ahead of Trump’s face-to-face with Putin – claim Russian hackers are targeting US nuclear facilities, the Russians are nonchalantly stepping up their spying, and that Russia alone interfered with the US election. With all eyes on the ‘handshake’ as Putin and Trump come face-to-face for the first time as world leaders, it seems the Deep State is desperately fearful of some rapprochement, crushing the need for NATO, and destroying the excuses for massive, unprecedented military-industrial complex spending.
And so, three stories (2 anonymously sourced and one with no facts behind it) in The New York Times (who recently retracted their “17 intelligence agencies” lie) and CNN (where do we start with these guys? let’s just go with full retraction of an anonymously sourced lie about Scaramucci and Kushner and the Russians) should stir up enough angst to ensure the meeting is at best awkward and at worst a lose-lose for Trump (at least in the eyes of the media). First off we have the ‘news’ that hackers have reportedly been breaking into computer networks of companies operating United States nuclear power stations, energy facilities and manufacturing plants, according to a new report by The New York Times.
“The origins of the hackers are not known. But the report indicated that an “advanced persistent threat” actor was responsible, which is the language security specialists often use to describe hackers backed by governments. The two people familiar with the investigation say that, while it is still in its early stages, the hackers’ techniques mimicked those of the organization known to cybersecurity specialists as “Energetic Bear,” the Russian hacking group that researchers have tied to attacks on the energy sector since at least 2012.” And Bloomberg piled on…”The chief suspect is Russia, according to three people familiar with the continuing effort to eject the hackers from the computer networks.” So that’s that 5 people – who know something – suspect it was the Russians that are hacking US nuclear facilities (but there’s no proof).
Next we move to CNN who claim a ‘current and former U.S. intelligence officials’ told them that Russian spies have been stepping up their intelligence gathering efforts in the U.S. since the election, feeling emboldened by the lack of significant U.S. response to Russian election meddling. “Russians have maintained an aggressive collection posture in the US, and their success in election meddling has not deterred them,” said a former senior intelligence official familiar with Trump administration efforts. “The concerning point with Russia is the volume of people that are coming to the US. They have a lot more intelligence officers in the US” compared to what they have in other countries, one of the former intelligence officials says.”
An anti-G20 rally in Hamburg has erupted into a violent confrontation between police and protesters. Dozens of officers have been injured by rioters as sporadic clashes on the streets of the German city continued into the night. “There have been offenses committed by smaller groups [but] we now have the situation under control… I was there myself, I’ve seen nothing like that before,” Hamburg police spokesman Timo Zill told German broadcaster ZDF. The ‘Welcome to Hell’ anti-globalist rally started off relatively peacefully as activists marched through the streets chanting slogans and holding banners. Clashes begun in the early evening after roughly 1,000 anti-globalism activists, wearing face masks, reportedly refused to reveal their identity to the authorities.
According to an official police statement, the trouble started when officers tried to separate aggressive black-bloc rioters from peaceful protesters at the St. Pauli Fish Market but were met with bottles, poles and iron bars, prompting them to use justifiable force. Police used pepper-spray on rioting protesters. Water cannons were also deployed by authorities and several people seemed to be injured as a number of people were seen on the ground or with bloody faces being led away by police. Footage from the scene also showed columns of green and orange smoke rising above the crowds. At least 76 police officers were injured in the riots, most, though, suffered light injuries, Bild reports. Five of them were admitted to hospital, a police officer told AFP. One policeman suffered an eye injury after fireworks exploded in front of his face. The number of injured demonstrators has not yet been released by authorities, DW German notes.
As a result of the violence, organizers declared the protest over Thursday evening, but pockets of activists remained on the streets throughout the night. Police confirmed persistent sporadic attacks on security forces in the districts of St. Pauli and Altona. Damage to property has also been reported throughout the city. According to RT’s correspondent on the scene, Peter Oliver, one of the protesters’ grievances was that they received no clear directives from the police as to where they were allowed to march and found themselves kettled by officers in riot gear once they set off. “They are macing everyone,” one witness at the scene told RT. “As far as I could tell, they were attacking the demonstration with no reason.” “I’m from Hamburg, [and] I’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve had fights about squatted houses and all that, [but] I’ve never seen anything like that. The aggression, as far as I could tell, the purposelessness… my face hurts, I’ve got mace and everything, this is unbelievable.”
Central banks are shutting down the music and turning on the lights after a near decade-long bond market party that resulted in ultra-low yields and low volatility. In the past two weeks, interest rates have been rising, at the prodding of the world’s central banks. Some bond strategists now see the possibility of a shift to a more fundamental-driven market, which could result in higher, more normal interest rate levels that will affect everything from home mortgages to commercial loans. That doesn’t mean the wake-up call will be a jolt, with rates snapping back violently or markets spinning out of control—though it could if rates begin to move too quickly. For now, market pros expect the rising interest rates of the past several weeks to be part of an orderly adjustment to a world in which central banks are preparing to end excessive easy policies.
The Federal Reserve is about to take the unprecedented step of reducing the balance sheet it built up to save the economy from the financial crisis. Since June 26, the U.S. 10- year yield has risen from 2.12% to Thursday’s high of 2.38%. The move has been global, after ECB President Mario Draghi last week pointed to a less risky outlook for the European economy, and Fed officials made consistently hawkish remarks. Some of those officials said they were even concerned that their policies created a too easy financial environment, meaning interest rates should be higher. The stock market caught wind of the rate move Thursday, and equities around the world responded negatively to rising yields. Bond strategists say if higher yields trigger a bigger sell off in stocks it could slow down the upward movement in interest rates, as investors will seek safety in bonds. Bond prices move opposite yields.
Friday’s June jobs report could be a moment of truth for the bond market. Strategists are looking to the wage gains in the report, expected at 0.3%. If they are as expected, the move higher in yields could continue. But a surprise to the upside could mean a much bigger move since it would signal a return of inflation. The Fed has said it is looking past the recent decline in inflation, but the market would become more convinced of the Fed’s rate-hiking intentions if it starts to rise.
Ray Dalio has declared the era of easy money is ending. The founder and chief investment officer of the world’s biggest hedge fund said Thursday in a commentary posted to LinkedIn that central bankers have “clearly and understandably” signaled the end of the nine-year era of monetary easing is coming. They are shifting strategy and are now focused on raising interest rates at a pace that keeps growth and inflation in balance, risking the next downturn if they get it wrong. “Recognizing that, our responsibility now is to keep dancing but closer to the exit and with a sharp eye on the tea leaves,” Dalio wrote.
In May, Dalio posted a commentary that said he was worried about the future, concerned that the magnitude of the next downturn could produce “much greater social and political conflict than currently exists.” On Thursday, he said the aggressive easing policies brought about “beautiful deleveragings,” and it was time to pause and thank the central bankers for pursuing them. “They had to fight hard to do it and have been more maligned than appreciated.” Dalio ends by saying he doesn’t see a big debt bubble about to burst, largely because of the balance sheet deleveraging that came about in the last few years. But, he said, “we do see an increasingly intensifying ‘Big Squeeze.'”
For some inexplicable reason, Ray Dalio still thinks the the world not only underwent a deleveraging, but that it was “beautiful.” Not only did McKinsey prove that to be completely false two years ago, but for good measure the IIF confirmed as much last week, when it revealed that global debt has hit a record $217 trillion, or 327% of GDP… while Citi’s Matt King showed that with no demand for credit in the private sector, central banks had no choice but to inject trillions to keep risk prices from collapsing.
And now, replacing one delusion with another, the Bridgewater head has penned an article in which he notes that as the “punch bowl” era is ending – an era which made Dalio’s hedge fund the biggest in the world, and richer beyond his wildest dreams – he would like to take the opportunity to “thanks the central bankers” who have ‘inexplicably’ been “more maligned than appreciated” even though their aggressive policies have, and here is delusion #1 again, “successfully brought about beautiful deleveragings.” “In my opinion, at this point of transition, we should savor this accomplishment and thank the policy makers who fought to bring about these policies. They had to fight hard to do it and have been more maligned than appreciated. Let’s thank them.” They fought hard to print $20 trillion in new money? Now that is truly news to us.
That said, we can see why Dalio would want to thank “them”: he wouldn’t be where he is, and his fund would certainly not exist today, if it weren’t for said central bankers who came to rescue the insolvent US financial system by sacrificing the middle class and burying generations under unrepayable debt. Still, some who may skip thanking the central bankers are hundreds of millions of elderly Americans and people worldwide also wouldn’t be forced to work one or more jobs well into their retirement years because monetary policies lowered the return on their savings to zero (or negative in Europe), as these same “underappreciated” central bankers created three consecutive bubbles, and the only reason the world is in its current abysmal socio-political and economic shape is due to the cumulative effect of their disastrous policies which meant creating ever greater asset and debt bubbles to mask the effects of the previous bubble, resulting in unprecedented wealth and income inequality, and which have culminated – most recently – with Brexit and Trump.
Australia has missed its chance to avoid a potential “economic apocalypse”, according to a former government guru who says that despite his warnings there are seven new signs we are too late to act. The former economics and policy adviser has identified seven ominous indicators that a possible global crash is approaching – including a surge in crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin – and the window for government action is now closed. John Adams, a former economics and policy adviser to Senator Arthur Sinodinos and management consultant to a big four accounting firm, told news.com.au in February he had identified seven signs of economic Armageddon. He had then urged the Reserve Bank to take pre-emptive action by raising interest rates to prevent Australia’s expanding household debt bubble from exploding and called on the government to rein in welfare payments and tax breaks such as negative gearing.
Adams says he has for years been publicly and privately urging his erstwhile colleagues in the Coalition to take action but that since nothing has been done, the window has now closed and Australia is completely at the mercy of international forces. “As early as 2012, I have been publicly and privately advocating that Australian policy makers take pre-emptive policy action to deal with the structural imbalances within the Australian economy, especially Australia’s household debt bubble which in proportional terms is larger than the household debt bubbles of the 1880s or 1920s, the periods which preceded the two depressions experienced in Australian history,” he told news.com.au this week. “Unfortunately, the window for taking pre-emptive action with an orderly unwinding of structural macroeconomic imbalances has now closed.”
Adams has now turned on his former party and says both its most recent prime ministers have led Australia into a potential “economic apocalypse” and Treasurer Scott Morrison is wrong that we are heading for a “soft landing”. “The policy approach by the Abbott and Turnbull Governments as well as the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, which has been to reduce systemic financial risk through new macro-prudential controls, has been wholly inadequate,” he says. “I do not share the Federal Treasurer’s assessment that the economy and the housing market are headed for a soft landing. Data released by the RBA this week shows that the structural imbalances in the economy are actually becoming worse with household debt as a proportion of disposable income hitting a new record of 190.4%.
“Because of the failure of Australia’s political elites and the policy establishment, the probability of a disorderly unwinding, particularly of Australia’s household and foreign debt bubbles, have dramatically increased over the past six months and will continue to increase as global economic and financial instability increases. “Millions of ordinary, financially unprepared, Australians are now at the mercy of the international markets and foreign policy makers. Australian history contains several examples of where similar pre conditions have resulted in an economic apocalypse, resulting in a significant proportion of the Australian people being left economically destitute.”
A month after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic, trade and transport ties with Qatar, accusing it of backing terrorism, it is suffering from isolation but is nowhere near an economic crisis. The alliance against it, meanwhile, may not have options to inflict further damage. As the world’s top liquefied natural gas exporter, Qatar is so rich – at $127,660, its gross domestic product per capita in purchasing power terms is the highest of any country, according to the IMF – it can deploy money to counter almost any type of sanction. In the past month it has arranged new shipping routes to offset the closure of its border with Saudi Arabia, deposited billions of dollars of state money in local banks to shore them up, and drawn the interest of some of the West’s biggest energy firms by announcing a plan to raise its LNG output 30%.
The success of these initiatives suggests Qatar could weather months or years of the current sanctions if it has the political will to do so – and that further sanctions being contemplated by the alliance may not prove decisive. On Wednesday, the alliance said Qatar, which denies any support for terrorism, had missed a deadline to comply with its demands. Further steps against Doha will be taken in line with international law “at the appropriate time”, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said. Saudi media reported this week that the new sanctions would include a pull-out of deposits and loans from Qatar by banks in alliance states, and a “secondary boycott” in which the alliance would refuse to do business with firms that traded with Qatar. Those steps would cause further pain for Qatar, but not to the point of destabilizing its financial system or breaking the peg of its riyal currency to the U.S. dollar, senior Qatari businessmen and foreign economists said.
The number of homes sold last month in the Greater Toronto Area plunged a whopping 37.3% compared to the same month a year ago, the city’s real estate board said Thursday, weeks after Ontario introduced measures aimed at cooling the housing market. The Toronto Real Estate Board said 7,974 homes changed hands in June while the number of new properties on the market climbed 15.9% year over year to 19,614. The average price for all properties was $793,915, up 6.3% from the same month last year. In April, the Ontario government implemented rules intended to dampen Toronto’s heated real estate market, where escalating prices have concerned policy-makers at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.
Ontario’s measures, retroactive to April 21, include a 15% tax on foreign buyers in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region, expanded rent controls and legislation allowing Toronto and other cities to tax vacant homes. “We are in a period of flux that often follows major government policy announcements pointed at the housing market,” TREB president Tim Syrianos said in a statement. “On one hand, consumer survey results tell us many households are very interested in purchasing a home in the near future, but some of these would-be buyers seem to be temporarily on the sidelines waiting to see the real impact of the Ontario Fair Housing Plan. On the other hand, we have existing homeowners who are listing their home because they feel price growth may have peaked. The end result has been a better supplied market and a moderating annual pace of price growth.”
Back in the 1950s when GM had 50% of the auto market they always said that, “As General Motors goes, so goes the nation.” That was obviously a tribute to GM’s economic muscle and its role as the driver of growth and rising living standards in post-war America’s booming economy. Those days are long gone for both GM and the nation. GM’s drastically reduced 20% market share of U.S. light vehicle sales in June was still an economic harbinger, albeit of a different sort. GM offered a record $4,361 of cash incentives during June. That was up 7% from last year and represented 12% of its average selling price of $35,650 per vehicle, also a record. But what it had to show for this muscular marketing effort was a 5% decline in year-over-year sales and soaring inventories. The latter was up 46% from last June.
My purpose is not to lament GM’s ragged estate, but to note that it — along with the entire auto industry — has become a ward of the Fed’s debt-fueled false prosperity. The June auto sales reports make that absolutely clear. In a word, consumers spent the month “renting” new rides on more favorable terms than ever before. But that couldn’t stop the slide of vehicle “sales” from its 2016 peak. In fact, June represented the 6th straight month of year-over-year decline. And the fall-off was nearly universal — with FiatChrysler down 7.4%, Ford and GM off about 5% and Hyundai down by 19.3%. The evident rollover of U.S. auto sales is a very big deal because the exuberant auto rebound from the Great Recession lows during the last six years has been a major contributor to the weak recovery of overall GDP.
In fact, overall industrial production is actually no higher today than it was in the fall of 2007. That means there has been zero growth in the aggregate industrial economy for a full decade. Real production in most sectors of the U.S. economy has actually shrunk considerably, but has been partially offset by a 15% gain in auto production from the prior peak, and a 130% gain from the early 2010 bottom. By comparison, the index for consumer goods excluding autos is still 7% below its late 2007 level. So if the so-called “recovery” loses its automotive turbo-charger, where will the growth come from?
On August 14, 1997, shortly after the Thai baht collapsed on July 2nd, Indonesia floated the rupiah. This prompted Stanley Fischer, then the Deputy Managing Director of the IMF and presently Vice Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, to proclaim that “the management of the IMF welcomes the timely decision of the Indonesian authorities. The floating of the rupiah, in combination with Indonesia’s strong fundamentals, supported by prudent fiscal and monetary policies, will allow its economy to continue its impressive economic performance of the last several years.” Contrary to the IMF’s expectations, the rupiah did not float on a sea of tranquility. It plunged from a value of 2,700 rupiahs per U.S. dollar to lows of nearly 16,000 rupiahs per U.S. dollar in 1998. Indonesia was caught up in the maelstrom of the Asian Financial Crisis.
By late January 1998, President Suharto realized that the IMF medicine was not working and sought a second opinion. In February, I was invited to offer that opinion and was appointed as Suharto’s Special Counselor. Although I did not have any opinions on the Suharto government, I did have definite ones on the matter at hand. After nightly discussions at the President’s private residence, I proposed an antidote: an orthodox currency board in which the rupiah would be fully convertible into and backed by the U.S. dollar at a fixed exchange rate. On the day that news hit the street, the rupiah soared by 28% against the U.S. dollar on both the spot and one year forward markets. These developments infuriated the U.S. government and the IMF. Ruthless attacks on the currency board idea and the Special Counselor ensued. Suharto was told in no uncertain terms – by both the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, and the Managing Director of the IMF, Michel Camdessus – that he would have to drop the currency board idea or forego $43 billion in foreign assistance.
Economists jumped on the bandwagon, trotting out every imaginable half-truth and non-truth against the currency board idea. In my opinion, those oft-repeated canards were outweighed by the full support for an Indonesian currency board by four Nobel Laureates in Economics: Gary Becker, Milton Friedman, Merton Miller, and Robert Mundell. Also, Sir Alan Walters, Prime Minister Thatcher’s economic guru, a key figure behind the establishment of Hong Kong’s currency board in 1983, and my colleague and close collaborator, endorsed the idea of a currency board for Indonesia. Why all the fuss over a currency board for Indonesia? Merton Miller understood the great game immediately. As he said when Mrs. Hanke and I were in residence at the Shangri-La Hotel in Jakarta, the Clinton administration’s objection to the currency board was “not that it wouldn’t work, but that it would, and if it worked, they would be stuck with Suharto.”
Much the same argument was articulated by Australia’s former Prime Minister Paul Keating: “The United States Treasury quite deliberately used the economic collapse as a means of bringing about the ouster of Suharto.” Former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger weighed in with a similar diagnosis: “We were fairly clever in that we supported the IMF as it overthrew (Suharto). Whether that was a wise way to proceed is another question. I’m not saying Mr. Suharto should have stayed, but I kind of wish he had left on terms other than because the IMF pushed him out.” Even Michel Camdessus could not find fault with these assessments. On the occasion of his retirement, he proudly proclaimed: “We created the conditions that obliged President Suharto to leave his job.”
Hmm. Treating this is an American phenomenon is not useful. It’s global. And that has a lot to do with deteriorating economic conditions. Centralization is only accepted as long as it has tangible benefits for people.
History informs us that once something is obsolete, it can disappear far faster than anyone expected. While we generally think of obsoleted technologies vanishing, social and political systems can become obsolete as well. Should a poor soul who entered a deep coma a year ago awaken today, we must forgive his/her astonishment at the political wreckage left by the 2016 election. The Democratic Party, a mere year ago an absurdly over-funded machine confident in an easy victory in the presidential race, is now a complete shambles: its leadership in free-fall, its Fat-Cat donors disgusted, and its demented intoxication with pinning collaboration with Russia on the Trump camp eroding whatever feeble legacy legitimacy it still holds. What the party stands for is a mystery, as its Elites are clearly beholden to insiders, special interests and Corporate donors while glorifying the worst excesses of globalism and the National Security State’s endless war on civil liberties.
The newly awakened citizen would also marvel at the chaotic war zone of the Republican Party, in which the Insider Warlords are battling insurgent Outsiders, while the same Elites that fund the Democratic machine are wondering what they’re buying with their millions of dollars in contributions, for it’s unclear what the Republican Party stands for: it’s for Small Government, except when it’s for Bigger Government, which is 95% of the time; it’s for more law enforcement and the militarization of local police, and more intrusion into the lives of the citizenry; it’s for stricter standards for welfare, except for Corporate Welfare; it’s for tax reform, except the thousands of pages of give-aways, loopholes and tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations all remain untouched, and so on: a smelly tangle of special interests masked by a few sprays of PR air freshener to the millions left behind by the globalization that has so enriched Corporate America and the class of financier-owners, bankers, insiders and technocrats–the same group that funds and controls both political parties.
Political parties arose to consolidate centralized control of the central state. We have now reached the perfection of this teleology: the political elites and the financial elites are now one class. In our pay-to-play “democracy,” only the votes of wealth and institutional power count. As I have often noted here, the returns on centralization are diminishing to less than zero. The initial returns on centralizing capital, production and social-political power were robust, but now the centralized cartel-state is eating its own tail, masking its financial bankruptcy by borrowing from the future, and cloaking its political bankruptcy behind the crumbling facades of the legacy parties. Now that technology has enabled decentralized currency, markets and governance, the centralized political parties are obsolete.
Talks to reunify the divided island of Cyprus collapsed in the early hours of Friday, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said after a stormy final session. “I’m very sorry to tell you that despite the very strong commitment and engagement of all the delegations and different parties … the conference on Cyprus was closed without an agreement being reached,” he told a news conference. The collapse marked a dramatic culmination of more than two years of a process thought to be the most promising since the island was split more than 40 years ago. Guterres had flown in on Thursday to press Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to seal a deal reuniting the east Mediterranean island, while U.S. Vice President Mike Pence had phoned to urge them to “seize this historic opportunity”.
Diplomatic efforts to reunite Cyprus have failed since the island was riven in a 1974 Turkish army invasion triggered by a coup by Greek Cypriots seeking union with Greece. The week of talks in the Swiss Alps, hailed by the United Nations as “the best chance” for a deal, ground to a halt as the two sides failed to overcome final obstacles. Diplomats said Turkey had appeared to be offering little to Greek Cypriots wanting a full withdrawal of Turkish troops from the island, although the Greek Cypriots had indicated readiness to make concessions on Turkish Cypriot demands for a rotating presidency, the other key issue. Guterres finally called a halt at 2 a.m. after a session marred by yelling and drama, a source close to the negotiations said. “Unfortunately… an agreement was not possible, and the conference was closed without the possibility to bring a solution to this dramatic and long-lasting problem,” Guterres said.
The best comment on the June 13 Jeff Sessions Senate testimony, and I’m sorry I forgot who made it, was that it looked like an episode of Seinfeld. A show about nothing. Still, an awful lot of voices tried to make it look like it was something life- and game-changing. It was not. Not anymore than Comey’s testimony was, at least not in the sense that those eager to have these testimonies take place would have liked it to be.
Comey shone more of an awkward light on himself rather than on Donald Trump, by admitting that he had leaked info on a private conversation with the president he served at the time. Not quite nothing, but very little to satisfy the anti-Trump crowd. It’s just that there’s so many in that crowd, and most in denial, that you wouldn’t know it unless you paid attention.
To cut to the chase of the issue, it’s no longer possible -or at least increasingly difficult- to find coverage in the US -and European- press of anything related to either Trump or Russia that doesn’t come solidly baked in a partisan opinionated sauce.
For instance, I have a Google News page, somewhat personalized, and I haven’t been able to open it for quite some time without the top news articles focusing on Trump and/or Russia, and all the ones at the very top are invariably from the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, The Hill, Politico et al.
But I am not interested in those articles. These ‘news’ outlets -and you really must ask whether using the word ‘news’ is appropriate here- dislike anything Trump and Putin so much, for some reason, that all they do is write ‘stuff’ in a 24/7 staccato beat based on innuendo and allegations, quoted from anonymous sources that may or may not actually exist.
In the case of Russia, this attitude is many years old; in the case of Trump, it dates back to him announcing his candidacy. And that’s funny, because when you think back to who else was a GOP candidate, how can you not wonder if Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush would really have been better presidents than Trump? The Trump presidency is not an indictment of the man himself, but of the entire US political system.
You only need to think back of the Republican hopefuls who got beaten in the primaries, or the Democratic candidates on the other side of the isle. There are 320 million Americans, and that was the cream of the crop? What does that say about the state of the union? That’s very much true about Trump as well: is that the best you can do?
It’s the story behind the multiple veils, the -political- policy choices of the likes of the New York Times and Washington Post, that is perhaps the most interesting part of this. Their anti-Trump stories are certainly not. They’re utterly boring repetitive propaganda material. Still, there are also reasons behind this that have little to do with politics.
With the advent of the interwebs, the MSM were always going to have a challenging time. As time passed, it became clear they were going to have to compete with 100 million other voices. And while the established media have clear advantages, it was never going to be an easy task. For one thing because unlike most of these 100 million voices, the traditional media have a lot of overhead, fixed costs etc.
They can establish their own web presence, but not much about that is obvious. Some have moved behind a paywall to manage costs, others focus on ads. But none of that really works well. Ad revenue is not enough to keep the vast machinery going, and a paywall limits readership.
Ergo, the MSM has to focus on both 1) what makes it strong, and on 2) what sets it apart from the ‘new competition’. That does seem evident, and it’s therefore surprising that they have elected to do the opposite. A choice that will inevitably hasten their demise.
I’ve long thought that the only way the MSM can survive in the age of the interwebs, for as long as they can indeed survive, is to be uncompromisingly objective, perhaps even to stay away from opinionating, period. Because all other areas, everything that is subjective, will be taken over, and often already is, by the millions who write and post their own opinions on social media.
And no-one will be able to make up their mind any longer about what’s real or not if they can’t figure out from reading between all these lines what is true or not. That is a battle the media establishment cannot win. So it’s more than a bit surprising that it is exactly that which they have elected to pin their futures on.
Media organizations like the New York Times and the Washington Post have over a long time built the contacts, the revenue (for now) and the resources to do what newer media can not: that is for instance, to assign a team of good and smart researchers and/or writers to difficult topics that may take months to cover satisfactorily. It just so happens that is what their entire business model was always based on.
But they’ve thrown it away. They’ve chosen to compete with the entire world, who can all write and all have opinions, in the shadowy realm of fake news, anonymity and mud-slinging. But the opinion of a Washington Post writer, or even its editorial staff, is just another opinion. That’s not where they can stand out. That they can only do in truth-finding. And then they choose not to.
Mainstream media are not short on content, but they ARE short on news. What they do is opinion, propaganda, and that’s not what they’re there for. Both they themselves and their readers should be very worried about that. Because news gathering and dissemination is a vital function in any democratic nation. Taking it away leaves a big hole.
And they’re pouring out so much of the same stuff that even if inside the echo chamber the audience just can’t get enough of it, those on the outside get pushed ever further away. The distance between these groups of people keeps growing, and that’s not what media should be doing, let alone aim for.
There comes a point when people will say: we get it, you don’t like Trump, but we don’t need to see that repeated 100 times a day, and certainly not if you don’t provide facts to base your preferences on. Outside the echo chamber that has already happened. I haven’t read anything in the New York Times or Washington Post forever. If I can’t trust them to write facts on Trump, I can’t trust them, period.
They already have so much going against them. Sales of paper copies are under relentless pressure, because they’re a day old when they’re published, and nobody needs to wait for their news that long anymore. Another kind of pressure comes from the fact that a huge part of their subscribers are older, and the younger stay away from print.
The Hill, a smaller member of the MSM, ran a story over the weekend which said CNN, one of its “brethren in crime”, is clamping down on stories about Russia. All stories have to go through the senior editors now. CNN the next day fired 3 people over one of the many stories. How about the rest? Did they all meet those ‘rigorous editorial standards?
With that Hill piece, you think: someone’s trying to save face… But The Hill would have to come clean about its own coverage of the topic to regain any credibility. As for CNN, have you watched those guys on TV lately? They’re like a firing-squad. Henchmen don’t ask questions either.
Before I forget: Does anyone think there would have been a Special Counsel appointed if the anti-Trump echo chamber press had not incessantly came up, and still does, with new narratives about President Trump, his campaign, his advisers, his staff, and all of the above’s links to Russia? For which to this day no proof has been revealed?!
I find it hard to fathom. I even think it is possible that the feeding frenzy will cost Trump his presidency, not because of evidence but because of neverending innuendo. The frenzy has shown no signs of letting up, and it can continue because it feeds on itself.
While it’s strange that the MSM should risk their own credibility and even survival to be competing, as I said, with a 100 million other ‘sources’, a fight that it can never win, in the short term they have established a loyal echo chamber following that has even ‘miraculously’ increased their subscription numbers.
The flipside of that is they have lost half of their potential readers, but they got so many more from inside the chamber in return that the bottom line looked good. But at some point you will have to prove something, if you want to live. And very little of the ‘material’ on both Trump and Russia has turned out to actually be wearing clothes.
Then again, once you’re inside the chamber, it’s hard to leave. Which is a disgrace for America in all its facets, but there’s not easy way back out. There’s only one, and it’s more out of reach than perhaps ever before: that of the truth, which only the MSM have the resources to provide on a consistent and wide-ranging basis. But they’ve rejected the truth.
They will find out soon enough that the echo chambers are all booked full, with nutjobs and snake oil salesmen. Why they would want to be thrown in with that crowd, who knows? Sure, a quick profit can work miracles. But then you die.
The entire drama has caused an enormous impoverishment of the American media landscape. And it never had much, if anything, to do with news.
The best way to illustrate what’s really going on is probably in these graphs. The negative ‘reporting’ about Trump is off the scale (don’t miss German TV network ARD’s 98% score):
But when it comes to bombing the Middle East, all the ducks get in line. As ducks do. As behooves ducks. Even when it comes to Trump, they can’t hide their true nature.
President Donald Trump is eager to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin with full diplomatic bells and whistles when the two are in Germany for a multinational summit next month. But the idea is exposing deep divisions within the administration on the best way to approach Moscow in the midst of an ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. elections. Many administration officials believe the U.S. needs to maintain its distance from Russia at such a sensitive time – and interact only with great caution. But Trump and some others within his administration have been pressing for a full bilateral meeting. He’s calling for media access and all the typical protocol associated with such sessions, even as officials within the State Department and National Security Council urge more restraint, according to a current and a former administration official.
Some advisers have recommended that the president instead do either a quick, informal “pull-aside” on the sidelines of the summit, or that the U.S. and Russian delegations hold “strategic stability talks,” which typically don’t involve the presidents. The officials spoke anonymously to discuss private policy discussions. The contrasting views underscore differing views within the administration on overall Russia policy, and Trump’s eagerness to develop a working relationship with Russia despite the ongoing investigations. Asked about the AP report that Trump is eager for a full bilateral meeting, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Monday that “the protocol side of it is secondary.” The two leaders will be attending the same event in the same place at the same time, Peskov said, so “in any case there will be a chance to meet.”
Peskov added, however, that no progress in hammering out the details of the meeting has been made yet. There are potential benefits to a meeting with Putin. A face-to-face meeting can humanize the two sides and often removes some of the intrigue involved in impersonal, telephone communication. Trump — the ultimate dealmaker — has repeatedly suggested that he can replace the Obama-era damage in the U.S.-Russia relationship with a partnership, particularly on issues like the ongoing Syria conflict. There are big risks, though. Trump is known to veer off-script, creating the possibility for a high-stakes diplomatic blunder. In a brief Oval Office meeting with top Russian diplomats last month, Trump revealed highly classified information about an Islamic State group threat to airlines that was relayed to him by Israel, according to a senior administration official. The White House defended the disclosures as “wholly appropriate.”
Three CNN journalists who worked on a now-retracted story about Russia and a top Trump adviser are leaving the network. CNN is casting their departure as resignations in the wake of the fiasco, but the network has come under substantial criticism since apologizing for the story. The move would also help CNN’s legal position in case of a lawsuit. Anthony Scaramucci, the Trump adviser who is the target of the story, told me that he has no plans to sue. He said he has accepted CNN’s apology and wants to move on. But Scaramucci also told me in an earlier interview, “I was disappointed the story was published. It was a lie.” Lex Harris, executive editor of CNN’s investigative unit, was the highest-ranking official to resign. Thomas Frank, who wrote the story, and Eric Lichtblau, who edited it, also turned in their resignations.
Lichtblau is a highly regarded reporter who spent nearly a decade and a half at the New York Times. The story tried to draw a link between Scaramucci and the Russian Direct Investment Fund. Scaramucci was a Trump transition team member who has been nominated to an ambassadorial-level post based in Paris. The CNN.com article said that Scaramucci, back in January, held a secret meeting with an official from the Russian fund. According to an unnamed source, Scaramucci discussed the possibility of lifting U.S. sanctions at the meeting. But Scaramucci told me there was no secret meeting. He said he had given a speech on Trump’s behalf at Davos, and fund official Kirill Dmitriev approached him in a restaurant to say hello and they had a brief conversation, with no discussion of sanctions. In the retraction, the network said the story “did not meet CNN’s editorial standards.” The network is now requiring approval from two top editors before any Russia-related story can be published.
The Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee has said the US Congress will hold up approval of arms sales to the Gulf as a result of the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar. Senator Bob Corker said the nations of Gulf Cooperation Council had failed to take advantage of a summit with President Trump in May to overcome their differences and had “instead chosen to devolve into conflict”. Corker continued: “For these reasons, before we provide any further clearances during the informal review period on sales of lethal military equipment to the GCC states, we need a better understanding of the path to resolve the current dispute and reunify the GCC.”
Earlier this month, the Senate narrowly fended off a bid to block a Trump administration plan to sell Saudi Arabia $500m in precision-guided munitions, part of a proposed $110bn arms sales package announced during the president’s visit to Riyadh last month. Congress has the power to block individual sales during a 30-day review period from when the state department gives notification of an impending sale. A Saudi-led coalition that includes Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar on 5 June, but only provided a justification 18 days later with the presentation of a list of 13 demands. They want Doha to close the al-Jazeera TV channel, restrict diplomatic ties with Iran, halt the construction of a Turkish military base in the country, and sever contacts with extremist organisations.
Qatar has been given 10 days to meet the demands, but the Saudi-led group has not said what action it would take if the deadline is not met. The US has sent mixed signals on the standoff. In the immediate aftermath of the embargo, Trump gave Riyadh and its allies fulsome support, echoing Saudi claims about Qatari funding for terrorism. However, Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, last week called on the coalition present its complaints and negotiate a solution. Since the list of 13 demands was presented, Tillerson has been non-committal, observing that some of them would be “very difficult for Qatar to meet”, but arguing there were “significant areas which provide a basis for ongoing dialogue leading to resolution.”
As Republican lawmakers grapple with their unpopular bill to repeal Obamacare, Democrats have tried to present a united front on health care. But for all their populist rhetoric against insurance and drug companies, Democratic powerbrokers and their allies remain deeply divided on the issue — to the point where a political civil war has spilled into the open in America’s largest state. In California last week, Democratic state Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon helped his and his party’s corporate donors block a Democrat-sponsored bill to create a universal health care program in which the government would be the single payer. Rendon’s decision shows how progressives’ ideal of universal health care remains elusive — even in a liberal state where government already foots 70% of the total health care bill.
Until Rendon’s move, things seemed to be looking up for Democratic single-payer proponents in deep blue California, which has been hammered by insurance premium increases. There, the Democratic Party — which originally created Medicare — just added a legislative supermajority to a Democratic-controlled state government that oversees the world’s sixth largest economy. That 2016 election victory came as a poll showed nearly two-thirds of Californians support the creation of a taxpayer-funded universal health care system in a state whose population is roughly the size of Canada — which already has such a system. California’s highest-profile federal Democratic lawmaker recently endorsed state efforts to create single-payer systems, and 25 members of its congressional delegation had signed on to sponsor a federal single-payer bill.
Former chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke said Monday that economists have a “responsibility” to help address populist frustrations. “The credibility of economists has been damaged by our insufficient attention, over the years, to the problems of economic adjustment and by our proclivity toward top-down, rather than bottom-up, policies,” Bernanke, now distinguished fellow in residence, Brookings Institution, said in prepared remarks for a dinner speech called “When growth is not enough.” “Nevertheless, as a profession we have expertise that can help make the policy response more effective, and I think we have a responsibility to contribute wherever we can,” the former Fed chair said.
In the last 18 months, growing populist sentiment contributed to the UK’s surprise vote to leave the European Union last June, and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump last November. Trump promised to bring jobs back from China and Mexico to the U.S., winning him support. The U.S. Census Bureau’s latest report on household income showed the Gini index of income inequality for the U.S. in 2015 of 0.482 was significantly higher than the prior year’s 0.480. “This increase suggests that income inequality increased across the country,” the report said. “Policymakers in recent decades have been slow to address or even to recognize those trends, an error of omission that has helped fuel the voters’ backlash,” Bernanke said. He was speaking at the European Central Bank’s Forum on Central Banking in Sintra, Portugal.
Europe’s growing inequality is highly destabilizing and needs to be tackled with education, innovation and investment in human capital, particularly jobs for young people, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Monday. Income inequality has grown among euro zone countries since the global financial crisis and some measures also show divergence between the bloc’s richer and poorer members, a source of tension for the 19-member currency bloc. “Is this a seriously destabilizing factor that we should cope with?” Draghi said in a rare town-hall style meeting with university students in Lisbon. “Yes it is.” “We have to fight against inequality,” Draghi in response to a student question. Draghi, leading one of Europe’s most respected institutions, has for years called on governments to enact fundamental reforms, arguing that the ECB is able to prop up growth, but only temporarily, giving governments a window of opportunity.
Eurostat data has shown that only a handful of countries have managed to shrink income inequality since the crisis while it has grown sharply in places like France or Spain. Figures also show the highest level of income inequality in the bloc’s periphery, like Greece, Spain and Portugal, hit hardest by the crisis. Calling convergence among euro zone members “fundamental,” Draghi said the best way to fight inequality is by creating jobs, which comes from an increased investment in education, skills development and innovation. He also called on governments to consider better income and wealth redistribution policies. Defending the ECB’s ultra easy monetary policy, Draghi said that super low rates create jobs, foster growth and benefit borrowers, ultimately easing inequality. He also rejected calls to exit super easy monetary policy quickly, arguing that premature tightening would lead to a fresh recession and more inequality.
Compare the limited power of an individual with cash and the enormous power of unlimited cheap credit. Let’s say an individual has saved $100,000 in cash. He keeps the money in the bank, which pays him less than 1% interest. Rather than earn this low rate, he decides to loan the cash to an individual who wants to buy a rental home at 4% interest. There’s a tradeoff to earn this higher rate of interest: the saver has to accept the risk that the borrower might default on the loan, and that the home will not be worth the $100,000 the borrower owes. The bank, on the other hand, can perform magic with the $100,000 they obtain from the central bank. The bank can issue 19 times this amount in new loans—in effect, creating $1,900,000 in new money out of thin air.
This is the magic of fractional reserve lending. The bank is only required to hold a small%age of outstanding loans as reserves against losses. If the reserve requirement is 5%, the bank can issue $1,900,000 in new loans based on the $100,000 in cash: the bank holds assets of $2,000,000, of which 5% ($100,000) is held in cash reserves. This is a simplified version of how money is created and issued, but it helps us understand why centrally issued and distributed money concentrates wealth in the hands of those with access to the centrally issued credit and those who have the privilege of leveraging every $1 of cash into $19 newly created dollars that earn interest. Imagine if we each had a relatively modest $1 million line of credit at 0.25% interest from a central bank that we could use to issue loans of $19 million.
Let’s say we issued $19 million in home loans at an annual interest rate of 4%. The gross revenue (before expenses) of our leveraged $1 million would be $760,000 annually –let’s assume we net $600,000 per year after annual expenses of $160,000. (Recall that the interest due on the $1 million line of credit is a paltry $2,500 annually). Median income for workers in the U.S. is around $30,000 annually. Thus a modest $1 million line of credit at 0.25% interest from the central bank would enable us to net 20 years of a typical worker’s earnings every single year. This is just a modest example of pyramiding wealth.
The president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, said on Monday that Greece will not join its quantitative easing program (QE) until international creditors specify what sort of debt relief measures the country can expect. “Until sufficient details are given on debt-related measures, serious concerns remain about the sustainability of Greek government debt,” he said in response to a question from Popular Unity (LAE) MEP Nikos Hountis over whether the ECB had completed its own debt sustainability analysis (DSA), and if it had come to any conclusions on the issue. Draghi said that ECB experts “are not currently in a position to complete a fully fledged DSA analysis of Greece’s public debt.” Up until very recently, Greece was banking on its inclusion in QE as a way to return to bond markets, which would put an end to its dependence on bailout programs.
If the ECB were to buy Greek debt it would boost the confidence of investors about the prospects of the Greek economy. But given Draghi’s comment on Monday and the failure of the government to secure more concrete language on debt relief at the Eurogroup on June 15, Athens now believes it can achieve the goal to enter bond markets without having to join QE. And it believes that it has three windows of opportunity to issue a bond in the period stretching from July until early next year. These three opportunities are, reportedly, in July, given the improved climate in international markets. The second chance will be at the end of September and beginning of October after German elections, while the third will be at the end of the year or early 2018, as predicted by the head of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), Klaus Regling.
Europe is at the mercy of a common currency that not only was unnecessary for European integration, but that is actually undermining the European Union itself. So what should be done about a currency without a state to back it – or about the 19 European states without a currency that they control? The logical answer is either to dismantle the euro or to provide it with the federal state it needs. The problem is that the first solution would be hugely costly, while the second is not feasible in a political climate favoring the re-nationalization of sovereignty. Those who agree that the cost of dismantling the euro is too high to contemplate are being forced into a species of wishful thinking that is now very much in vogue, especially after the election of Emmanuel Macron to the French presidency.
Their idea is that, somehow, by some unspecified means, Europe will find a way to move toward federation. “Just hang in there,” seems to be their motto. Macron’s idea is to move beyond idle optimism by gaining German consent to turn the eurozone into a state-like entity – a federation-lite. In exchange for making French labor markets more Germanic, as well as reining in France’s budget deficit, Germany is being asked to agree in principle to a common budget, a common finance ministry, and a eurozone parliament to provide democratic legitimacy. Macron knows that such a federation would be macroeconomically insignificant, given the depth of the debt, banking, investment, and poverty crisis unfolding across the eurozone. But, in the spirit of the EU’s traditional gradualism, he thinks that such a move would be politically momentous and a decisive step toward a meaningful federation.
“Once the Germans accept the principle, the economics will force them to accept the necessary magnitudes,” is how a French official put it to me recently. Such optimism may seem justified in light of proposals along those lines made in the past by none other than Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister. But there are two powerful reasons to be skeptical. First, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Schäuble were not born yesterday. If Macron’s people imagine a federation-lite as an entering wedge for full-blown political integration, so will Merkel, Schäuble, and the reinvigorated Free Democrats (who will most likely join a coalition government with Merkel’s Christian Democrats after the September federal election). And they will politely but firmly reject the French overtures.
Second, in the unlikely event that Germany gives federation-lite the go-ahead, any change to the functioning of the eurozone would, undoubtedly, devour large portions of the reformers’ political capital. If it does not produce economic and social results that improve, rather than annul, the chances of a proper federation, as I suspect it will not, a political backlash could ensue, ending any prospect of a more substantial federation in the future. In that case, the euro’s dismantling will become inevitable, will cost more, and will leave Europe in even greater shambles.
Germany doesn’t care one bit about Macron’s agenda; they may pay lip service, but that’s it. In this particular case, do you think Germany wants an Italian bank collapse a few months before Merkel’s election?
Germany sounded the alarm over Italy’s latest bank bailout, saying the apparent bending of EU rules casts doubt on efforts to further integrate the euro zone. The government in Rome announced the country’s biggest bank rescue to date on Sunday evening as it committed as much as €17 billion ($19 billion) to clean up two failed banks. While the European Commission approved the plan, German officials pointed to the involvement of state aid to shield senior creditors from losses as working around EU law established to deal with bank failures. That exemption drew criticism from members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition, who cited the need to uphold European law without setting unhealthy precedents.
“We’re in a phase where we are faced with the question of whether we can succeed at applying European law, irrespective of all the understandable domestic policy discussions,” Alexander Radwan, a lawmaker from Merkel’s CSU Bavarian sister party who sits on the Bundestag’s finance committee, said in an interview on Monday. “Cases like these make it more difficult to think about deepening the economic and monetary union.” The growing drumbeat for closer euro-area integration following Emmanuel Macron’s election in France is making some German lawmakers increasingly uneasy. Citing election results in France and the Netherlands this year that open “an opportunity for moving Europe forward,” Merkel has spoken of joint projects with France and left the door open to creating a euro-area budget and a joint finance minister.
“This decision discredits the further completion of the banking union and moves the common deposit-guarantee scheme into the distant future,” said Carsten Schneider, a deputy head of the Social Democrat caucus in Germany’s lower house. “It’s not acceptable that bank wind-downs under national rules offer better conditions for creditors than under the European regime.” Italy’s decision is “a grave mistake,” Schneider said in emailed comments to Bloomberg.
The bailout is dressed up as a rescue by a larger bank along the same lines as Santander’s recent acquisition for a nominal 1 euro of the insolvent Banco Popular. Like Santander, Intesa Sanpaolo, Italy’s second-biggest lender, will buy the two banks 1 euro. But there the similarity ends. Santander took on full responsibility for recapitalizing Banco Popular, for which it announced a 7bn euro rights issue. But Intesa isn’t taking financial responsibility for anything. The Italian government is paying Intesa about 5bn euros in cash to take over the two banks, and is additionally providing guarantees worth 12bn euros for the two banks’ bad assets. The total bailout amount is thus around 17bn euros, though according to the European Commission, the net cost will be much lower: Both guarantees and cash injections are backed up by the Italian State’s senior claims on the assets in the liquidation mass. Correspondingly, the net costs to the Italian State will be much lower than the nominal amounts of the measures provided.
The bailout imposes losses on the two banks’ shareholders and subordinated debtholders. But the all-important seniors have been spared, and small subordinated debtholders will be compensated by Intesa from the funds provided by the Italian government. The BRRD has effectively been sidestepped. Did the EU oppose this sleight of hand? Not a bit of it. In this statement, the European Commission approved the use of taxpayers’ funds to bail out these banks: “The Commission found these measures to be in line with EU State aid rules, in particular the 2013 Banking Communication. Existing shareholders and subordinated debt holders have fully contributed to the costs, reducing the cost of the intervention for the Italian State. Both aid recipients, BPVI and Banca Veneto, will be wound up in an orderly fashion and exit the market, while the transferred activities will be restructured and significantly downsized by Intesa, which in combination will limit distortions of competition arising from the aid.”
Remarkable. Winding up two banks in the Venetian area would cause massive economic disruption. So the solution is to create an effective banking monopoly in that area. And this doesn’t distort competition, apparently. I detect a distinct odor of Eurofudge. Italy’s decision, supported by the European Commission, tramples the BRRD to death. Senior creditors need never again fear losses due to a failing bank. If it is systemically important, it will be given a precautionary recapitalization at taxpayers’ expense. If it is not, an excuse will be found to bail it out at taxpayers’ expense. Either way, seniors and unsecured depositors are safe. That is, they are as safe as politicians want them to be. Italy is able to bail out these banks – and will no doubt in due course bail out others too – because it is a big country which can easily borrow the funds needed.
Brazil’s top prosecutor charged President Michel Temer with bribery on Monday, plunging Latin America’s biggest country into what could be prolonged new political turmoil. The bribery charge filed by Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot swept Temer into the forefront of a giant graft scandal that has engulfed Latin America’s biggest country over the last three years. Although several past Brazilian presidents and scores of other politicians are currently being investigated for corruption in the “Car Wash” probe, Temer is the first leader in the country’s history to face criminal charges while still in office. Temer acted “in violation of his duties to the state and to society,” Janot wrote, citing “abundant” proof that the president received bribe money.
For Temer to go on trial, the lower house of Congress must first approve Janot’s charge by a two-thirds majority. Temer would then be suspended for six months for the trial. Janot is also probing Temer for alleged obstruction of justice and membership of a criminal group. He could file those charges at a later date, guaranteeing a sustained legal assault. However, Temer’s aides say they are confident he has sufficient support in Congress to get the charges thrown out. In his first comments since returning from a trip to Russia and Norway, the president was defiant. “There is no plan B,” he said at a ceremony to sign a new bill in the capital Brasilia. “Nothing will destroy us – not me and not our ministers.”
I registered as a Democrat in 1972 — largely because good ole Nixon was at the height of his power (just before his fall, of course), and because he was preceded as party leader by Barry Goldwater, who, at the time, was avatar for the John Birch Society and all its poisonous nonsense. The Democratic Party was still deeply imbued with the personality of Franklin Roosevelt, with a frosting of the recent memory of John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby, tragic, heroic, and glamorous. I was old enough to remember the magic of JFK’s press conferences — a type of performance art that neither Bill Clinton or Barack Obama could match for wit and intelligence — and the charisma of authenticity that Bobby projected in the months before that little creep shot him in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel. Even the lugubrious Lyndon Johnson had the heroic quality of a Southerner stepping up to abolish the reign of Jim Crow.
Lately, people refer to this bygone era of the 1960s as “the American High” — and by that they are not talking about smoking dope (though it did go mainstream then), but rather the post World War Two economic high, when American business might truly ruled the planet. Perhaps the seeming strength of American political leaders back then was merely a reflection of the country’s economic power, which since has been squandered and purloined into a matrix of rackets loosely called financialization — a criminal magic act whereby wealth is generated without producing anything of value. Leaders in such a system are bound to be not just lesser men and women but something less than human. Hillary Clinton, for instance, lost the 2016 election because she came off as demonic, and I mean that pretty literally.
To many Americans, especially the ones swindled by the magic of financialization, she was the reincarnation of the little girl in The Exorcist. Donald Trump, unlikely as it seems — given his oafish and vulgar guise — was assigned the role of exorcist. Unlike poor father Merrin, he sort of succeeded, even to his very own astonishment. I say sort of succeeded because the Democratic Party is still there, infested with all its gibbering demons, but it has been reduced politically to impotence and appears likely to soon roll over and die. None of this is to say that the other party, the Republicans, have anything but the feeblest grip on credibility or even an assured continued existence. First of all there is Trump’s obvious plight as a rogue only nominally regarded as party leader (or even member).
Then there is the gathering fiasco of neither Trump nor his party being able to deliver remedies for any of the ills of our time that he was elected to fix. The reason for that is simple: the USA has entered Hell, or at least a condition that looks a lot like it. This is not just a matter of a few persons or a party being possessed by demons. We’ve entered a realm that is populated by nothing but demons — of our own design, by the way. Our politics have become so thoroughly demonic, that the sort of exorcism America needs now can only come from outside politics. It’s coming, too. It’s on its way. It will turn our economic situation upside down and inside out. It’s a Technicolor swan, and you can see it coming from a thousand miles out. Wait for it. Wait for it.
Glyphosate, an herbicide and the active ingredient in Monsanto Co’s popular Roundup weed killer, will be added to California’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer effective July 7, the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) said on Monday. Monsanto vowed to continue its legal fight against the designation, required under a state law known as Proposition 65, and called the decision “unwarranted on the basis of science and the law.” The listing is the latest legal setback for the seeds and chemicals company, which has faced increasing litigation over glyphosate since the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said that it is “probably carcinogenic” in a controversial ruling in 2015.
Dicamba, a weed killer designed for use with Monsanto’s next generation of biotech crops, is under scrutiny in Arkansas after the state’s plant board voted last week to ban the chemical. OEHHA said the designation of glyphosate under Proposition 65 will proceed following an unsuccessful attempt by Monsanto to block the listing in trial court and after requests for stay were denied by a state appellate court and the California’s Supreme Court. Monsanto’s appeal of the trial court’s ruling is pending. “This is not the final step in the process, and it has no bearing on the merits of the case. We will continue to aggressively challenge this improper decision,” Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, said.
Listing glyphosate as a known carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65 would require companies selling the chemical in the state to add warning labels to packaging. Warnings would also be required if glyphosate is being sprayed at levels deemed unsafe by regulators. Users of the chemical include landscapers, golf courses, orchards, vineyards and farms. Monsanto and other glyphosate producers would have roughly a year from the listing date to re-label products or remove them from store shelves if further legal challenges are lost.
According to a recent study, the average total household debt in America is just over $132,500, broken down as per the chart below… and thanks to the Fed’s recent and ongoing rate increases, the repayment of said debt will become increasingly more difficult. So difficult, in fact, that most Americans will be saddled with a sizable chunk of it at the time of their death. Actually, most already are. According to December 2016 data from credit bureau Experian provided to credit.com, 73% of American consumers had outstanding debt when they were reported as dead. Those consumers carried an average total balance of $61,554, including mortgage debt. Without home loans, the average balance was $12,875. As credit.com reports, the data is based on Experian’s FileOne database, which includes 220 million consumers.
To determine the average debt people have when they die, Experian looked at consumers who, as of October 2016, were not deceased, but then showed as deceased as of December 2016. Among the 73% of consumers who had debt when they died, about 68% had credit card balances. The next most common kind of debt was mortgage debt (37%), followed by auto loans (25%), personal loans (12%) and student loans (6%). The breakdown of unpaid balances was as follows: credit cards, $4,531; auto loans, $17,111; personal loans, $14,793; and student loans, $25,391. And, as a reminder, debt doesn’t just disappear when someone dies.
What happens to that debt when you die, aside from it continuing to accrue interest until someone remembers to inform the creditors? “Debt belongs to the deceased person or that person’s estate,” said Darra L. Rayndon, an estate planning attorney with Clark Hill in Scottsdale, Arizona. If someone has enough assets to cover their debts, the creditors get paid, and beneficiaries receive whatever remains. But if there aren’t enough assets to satisfy debts, creditors lose out (they may get some, but not all, of what they’re owed). Family members do not then become responsible for the debt, as some people worry they might. That’s the general idea, but things are not always that straightforward. The type of debt you have, where you live and the value of your estate significantly affects the complexity of the situation. For example, federal student loan debt is eligible for cancellation upon a borrower’s death, but private student loan companies tend not to offer the same benefit. They can go after the borrower’s estate for payment.
The 34 largest U.S. banks have all cleared the first stage of an annual stress test, showing they would be able to maintain enough capital in an extreme recession to meet regulatory requirements, the Federal Reserve said on Thursday. Although the banks, including household names like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, would suffer $383 billion in loan losses in the Fed’s most severe scenario, their level of high-quality capital would be substantially higher than the threshold that regulators demand, and an improvement over last year’s level. “This year’s results show that, even during a severe recession, our large banks would remain well capitalized,” said Fed Governor Jerome Powell, who leads banking regulation for the central bank. “This would allow them to lend throughout the economic cycle, and support households and businesses when times are tough.”
The Fed introduced the stress tests in the wake of the financial crisis to ensure the health of the banking industry, whose ability to lend is considered crucial to the health of the economy. Since the first test was conducted in 2009, big banks have seen losses abate, loan portfolios improve and profits grow. The banks that now undergo the exam have also strengthened their balance sheets by adding more than $750 billion in top-notch capital, the Fed said. Banks and their investors have been hoping the improvements would prompt the Fed to allow them to use more capital for stock buybacks and dividends, especially as the Trump administration is seeking to relax financial regulations. Wall Street analysts and trade groups quickly cheered the results on Thursday, saying regulators should feel comfortable easing tough rules put in place since the financial crisis. “We see today’s…stress test results as a positive for Trump administration efforts to deregulate the banks,” said Jaret Seiberg, a policy analyst with Cowen & Co.
The comforting news in the results from the Federal Reserve’s annual stress test is that the largest 34 bank holding companies would all survive a recession. Based on this glorious accomplishment, the clamoring has already started for regulators to allow these banks to pay bigger dividends and to blow more money on share buybacks, and for these regulators to slash regulation on these banks and make their life easier and riskier in general. We don’t want these banks to survive a recession in too good a condition apparently. And it would likely be better for Wall Street anyway if banks could lever up with risks so that a few of them would get bailed out during the next recession. Let’s remember, for the Fed’s no-holds-barred bailout-year 2009, Wall Street executives and employees were doused with record bonuses.
The Fed’s bailouts were good for them. And it has been good for them ever since. The less comforting news in the stress test is that credit card debt – generally the most expensive and risky debt for consumers – has now moved to the top of the Fed’s worry list in the “severely adverse scenario” of the stress test. The projected losses for the 34 largest banks – not counting the losses at the 4,997 smaller banks – are expected to hit $100 billion, up nearly 9% from the stress test a year ago. The projected losses rose for several reasons, including that credit card balances have grown by 5.6% from a year ago to over $1 trillion. The delinquency rate has risen to 2.4%. The Fed is also blaming looser lending standards. Sharing the top spot on the Fed’s worry list in the “severely adverse scenario” are Commercial & Industrial loans, whose balances are over twice as large, at $2.1 trillion, but whose projected losses are also pegged at $100 billion. In total, the “severely adverse scenario” sees $493 billion in losses for these 34 banks:
Albert Edwards pwrites “Theft redux: the citizens will soon turn their rage towards Central Bankers.” The core of his argument is familiar: “While politics in the West reels from a decade of economic crisis and stagnation, asset prices continue to surge on the back of continued rapid growth in G3 QE. In an age of “radical uncertainty” how long will it be before angry citizens tire of blaming an impotent political system for their ills and turn on the main culprits for their poverty – unelected and virtually unaccountable central bankers? I expect central bank independence will be (and should be) the next casualty of the current political turmoil.” That’s just the beginning from Edwards, who appears to be getting increasingly angrier and more frustrated with a market that makes increasingly less sense: his fiery sermon continue with the following preview of the “inevitable catastrophe that lies ahead.”
“Evidence of the impact of monetary madness on assets prices is all around if we care to look. I read that a parking spot in Hong Kong was just sold for record HK$5.18 million ($664,200). What about the 3.5x oversubscribed 100 year Argentine government bond? Sure, everything has a market clearing price, even one of the most regular defaulters in history. But what concerned me most about the story was it was demand from investors (“reverse enquires”) that prompted the issue. Is it just me or can I hear echoes of the mechanics of the CDO crisis? But no one cares when the party is still raging and investors, drunk with the liquor of loose money, are blind to the inevitable catastrophe that lies ahead. There is a lot of anger out on the streets, as demonstrated most visibly in recent elections.
Even in France where investors feel comforted that a “moderate” has gained (absolute?) power, it is salutary to remember that the two establishment parties have just been decimated by a man who had never before stood for public office! This is perhaps even more radical than Trump’s anti-establishment victory under the Republican umbrella. The global political situation is incredibly fluid and unpredictable. While a furious electorate has turned its pent up anger on the establishment political parties, the target for their rage is misguided. I am not completely alone in thinking it is the unelected and virtually unaccountable central bankers who are primarily responsible for the poverty of working people and who will be ultimately held to account in the next crisis.
The number of families being declared homeless has rocketed by more a third since the Conservatives took power in 2010, analysis of new official statistics by The Independent has revealed. Between April 2016 and March 2017, 59,100 families were declared homeless by local authorities in England – a rise of 34% on the same period in 2010-11. The statistics paint a bleak picture of the UK housing crisis and the impact a lack of decent, affordable homes is having on thousands of families. There has been a 60% increase in the number of families being housed in insecure temporary accommodation. In particular, bed and breakfast-type hotels are increasingly being used to house families for long periods of time as local councils struggle to find them proper homes to live in.
There are now 77,240 families in England currently living in temporary accommodation – up from 48,240 just six years ago. Of these, almost fourth-fifths (78%) are families with children, meaning there are currently 120,500 children living in insecure, temporary homes. Of those being housed temporarily, 6,590 households are living in B&Bs, including 3,010 families with children. Almost half have been living in this type of accommodation, which often sees families crammed into one room and forced to share limited bathroom and cooking facilities with strangers, for more than six weeks. This is illegal under the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) Order 2003, which banned local authorities from housing families with children in B&Bs for more than a six-week period.
Today, the High Court ruled that the benefits cap, one of the Tories’ flagship welfare policies, is unlawful, because it amounts to illegal discrimination against single parents with small children. It’s likely that the Government will be forced to alter or completely scrap their benefits cap, a policy that limits the total amount a household can receive in benefits to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere in the UK. High Court judge Justice Collins described the benefit cap as causing “real damage” to single parent families and said “real misery is being caused to no good purpose”. This is the fundamental truth at the heart of Tory welfare policy – misery without progress or reason.
Welfare reform as part of the coalition government’s austerity measures has driven thousands more people into poverty and in many tragic cases, some deaths occurred after individuals were declared fit to work. Austerity was not inevitable. It was an ideologically-motivated programme designed to force the poorest and most vulnerable in our society to shoulder the burden of a financial crisis that they had less than nothing to do with creating. Four claimants brought this case to court. Two of them had been made homeless as a result of domestic violence, and were trying to work as many hours as possible while taking care of children under the age of two. Imagine fleeing an abusive partner, seeking support from a domestic violence service that’s had its funding brutally slashed by the Tory government, trying to work and look after a small child, then having your benefits cut, again by the Tory government.
The claimants are not alone. The benefits cap has inflicted a massive amount of suffering, with 200,000 children from the very lowest income families affected, as their parents’ income has fallen drastically. In real terms, this means that these children’s lives have become even more difficult, and they weren’t easy to begin with. This means a colder house, less food to eat, more shame at school due to unwashed clothes, uniforms that are too small, worn-through shoes. It means stressed, unhappy and increasingly desperate parents, and in family, children can’t fail to pick up on this mood of misery. [..] In this wealthy, highly developed country, poverty is the single biggest threat to the wellbeing of children and families. Poverty affects a quarter of all children in Britain, a massive, disgraceful, inexcusable proportion. one in five parents are struggling to feed their children, and 50% of all parents living in food poverty have gone without meals in order to give their children more to eat.
The number of properties bought by landlords has almost halved in a year after a tax and regulatory clampdown, prompting a leading banking body to downgrade its forecasts for buy-to-let lending in 2017 and 2018. The Council of Mortgage Lenders said buy to let had had a weak start to 2017, with lending falling faster than expected as landlords withdrew from the market in response to major tax changes and tighter lending rules. The data follows a series of recent surveys and indices suggesting the housing market is running out of steam. However, the crackdown on buy to let may have helped young people trying to get a foot on the property ladder. CML said house purchase activity was being driven predominantly by first-time buyers, with their numbers up 8% in the 12 months to April.
Buy-to-let homebuying activity was “nearly half what it was a year ago” and had averaged around 6,000 purchases a month over the last 12 months, said the body, which represents banks and building societies. The number of landlord purchases involving a mortgage was 5,300 in April this year. This compared with 10,300 in February 2016 and 11,800 in July 2015. As a result, the CML has cut its forecast for buy-to-let lending from £38bn being lent in both 2017 and 2018 to £35bn in 2017 and £33bn in 2018. The organisation warned against hitting landlords with any further changes to taxation and lending rules, saying the figures “re-emphasise the case for avoiding further changes to the tax and regulatory framework until the effect of these already in train have been properly assessed”.
For the first time ever, Canada’s private sector is racking up debt faster than any other of the world’s 22 advanced economies, putting the country at risk of serious economic consequences, according to new research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. A new report authored by CCPA Senior Economist David Macdonald reveals that Canada added $1 trillion in private sector debt over the past five years ($2016), with the corporate sector responsible for the majority of it. Economies can become dependent on debt in order to fuel economic and asset price growth. With both rapid private debt accumulation and a high private debt-to-GDP ratio, even a small change in debt growth rates, brought on by changes in interest rates for instance, could have a devastating impact on the larger economy.
“Private sector debt growth is one of the best predictors of economic crisis, and Canada is now the only advanced economy squarely in the debt ‘danger zone’ of having high private sector debt that continues to rise rapidly,” Macdonald says. The report identifies several areas of concern:
• Canada has never before led the advanced economies in private debt growth;
• The last time Canada was close to leading the world in private debt growth was the early 1990s, just as housing prices plummeted and then stagnated for a decade;
• The country’s private debt-to-GDP ratio has risen by a fifth since 2011, from 182% to 218%. The US ratio currently stands at 152%;
• The $315 billion increase in household debt since 2011 ($2016) is almost entirely attributable to the rise in mortgage debt related to rapid home prices increases;
• Corporate debt is less well studied, and rose $671 billion since 2011 ($2016), accounting for two thirds of private debt accumulation over that time;
• Corporate debt was largely spent on mergers and acquisitions as well as real estate purchases, neither of which make the country more productive.
“Canada’s economy has become addicted to binging on ever more private sector debt, and weaning us off it should be our primary public policy concern,” adds Macdonald, who recommends further study of corporate debt and consideration of a housing speculators’ tax to further reign in mortgage debt increases.
Warren Buffett has become the lender of last resort for Home Capital. The billionaire investor agreed to buy shares at a deep discount and provide a fresh credit line for the Canadian mortgage company, tapping a formula he used to prop up lenders from Goldman Sachs to Bank of America. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. will buy a 38% stake for about C$400 million ($300 million) and provide a C$2 billion credit line with an interest rate of 9% to backstop the embattled Toronto-based lender, Home Capital said late Wednesday in a statement. The interest on the one-year loan would net Berkshire at least C$180 million if it’s fully tapped.
“While the terms of the new credit line with Berkshire Hathaway remain harsh, we believe the purpose of this loan is to motivate Home Capital’s management to bolster their own funding sources,” said Hugo Chan at Kingsferry Capital in Shanghai, which owns shares in Home Capital. “This again shows Mr. Buffett’s masterful capital allocation skills,” said Chan, citing his investment motto: “be greedy when others are fearful.” The financial backing from Buffett sent the stock higher Thursday, though it comes at a cost, in keeping with his past bailouts of financial firms. Buffett has buoyed some of the biggest U.S. corporations in times of trouble, including a combined $8 billion injection to prop up Goldman Sachs and General Electric when credit markets froze during the 2008 financial crisis.
In the Home Capital deal, Buffett’s firm agreed to pay an average price of C$10 a share, a 33% discount to Wednesday’s closing price of C$14.94. Berkshire would become the largest shareholder in Home Capital, which has a market value of about C$1 billion. Home Capital surged 27% to C$19 in Toronto on Thursday. That gives Buffett a 90% return on paper for the equity investment, assuming the deal goes through.
Merkel has expressed a willingness to go along with two central French demands — the appointment of a Eurozone finance minister and the creation of a common budget — as long as certain conditions are met. “We can of course think about a Eurozone budget as long as it’s clear that this is really strengthening structures and achieving sensible results,” she said. [..] Back on the table is a proposal to upgrade the grossly unaccountable Luxembourg-based European Stability Mechanism (ESM) into a full-fledged European Monetary Fund. As we’ve noted before, creating a European Monetary Fund (EMF) would be an important statement of intent. If Europe’s core countries are truly set on taking the EU project to a whole new level, such as by pursuing the creation of an EU army, an EU border force (with full powers), fiscal union, and ultimately political union, some form of burden sharing will ultimately be necessary.
The establishment of a fully operational EMF could be an important move in that direction. The EMF would essentially act as a fiscal backdrop to the banking system, something the Eurozone has desperately needed ever since its creation. As Bruegel proposes, it would serve as a fiscal counterpart of the ECB to guarantee the financial stability of the euro area in the event of a sovereign or banking crisis, or a threat thereof — of which there are plenty these days, in particular emanating from Italy’s broken banking system. Naturally, the creation of an EMF would deal a further blow to the fading remnants of national sovereignty in Europe. But that’s a price that many (but certainly not all) of Europe’s elite is more than happy to pay; some would say that destroying national sovereignty was the ultimate goal of the EU all along.
In a survey of more than 10,000 EU citizens and 1,800 EU elites carried out by Chatham House, of the elites, 37% believe the EU should get more powers, 28% want to keep the status quo and 31% would prefer to return more powers to individual member countries. This enthusiasm for a more centralized, more powerful EU is not shared with equal enthusiasm by European citizens: 48% want powers returned to the individual member countries. Citizens, overall, do not feel they have benefited from European integration in the same way Europe’s elite does. Whereas 71% of elites report feeling they have gained something from the EU, the figure among the public is only 34%. Even more worrisome for national leaders, a clear majority of the public — 54% — feel that their country was a better place to live 20 years ago, before the euro existed.
Dear Mr. Stone: I have just finished watching all four episodes of The Putin Interviews. May I give you my critique? Overall, I felt that the series is Very Good but felt just short of Great. I will explain below what I feel could have made it Great. First, I want to tell you what I really loved about it. 1. You have an easy style. I felt as if Mr. Putin was at ease with you, and you with him. You have a warm command of the English language and can transmit your ideas into language in a very personable way — an art that is missing among so many American media people these days. I felt that you drew out a candid side of Putin, well, that is, as far as a man of his intellectual prowess and disciplined self-control will allow. 2. Best moment of the show: Sitting next to Vlad and watching Dr. Strangelove! Oh my goodness, most people would not even dream of adding such a thing to their bucket list.
3. I loved the walking tour of the President’s offices and the general background of the Kremlin architecture and decor. I pay attention to the daily, tweeted photos from the Kremlin’s official account. I have seen those desks and tables a million times in the photos. But now I have them all within a mental frame, thanks to your film. Question: I was burning to know why Vlad had a pair of scissors and multi-colored construction paper in the middle of his desk, did you happen to ask him, off-camera?
Where It Fell Short Mr. Stone, I hated that so much time was wasted talking about the contrived “Russia hacked the election” meme. Hillary might not know why she lost the election, but the rest of the nation does. When my father would get on a roll with his bad jokes, Mom would tell us kids: “Don’t encourage him.” Well, you too need to stop encouraging the MSM to keep breathing life into a dead meme.
You also wasted time re-hashing Crimea. “Read My Lips,” Vlad said, “the Crimeans ASKED, BEGGED, AND VOTED to rejoin Russia.” Good grief, when McCain’s and Nuland’s beloved neo-Nazi Svoboda party took illegal control of Ukraine, their first move was to try and make it illegal to speak Russian. Geez, half the people in Ukraine ARE Russian! Mr. Putin has exercised considerable restraint towards Ukraine.
Mr. Stone, I have been following the development of BRICS, the “Silk Road Project,” and the EEU (European Economic Union) for a half-decade now. I can’t have a conversation with my neighbors and friends about all of that here in America because not one of them has heard anything about it! You had a great opportunity to ask Mr. Putin to school us on the Sino-Russian version of a multi-polar world without war, but you totally blew it. I don’t think you ever asked Vlad about China, did you?
Four Arab states boycotting Qatar over alleged support for terrorism have sent Doha a list of 13 demands including closing Al Jazeera television and reducing ties to their regional adversary Iran, an official of one of the four countries said. The demands aimed at ending the worst Gulf Arab crisis in years appear designed to quash a two decade-old foreign policy in which Qatar has punched well above its weight, striding the stage as a peace broker, often in conflicts in Muslim lands. Doha’s independent-minded approach, including a dovish line on Iran and support for Islamist groups, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, has incensed some of its neighbors who see political Islamism as a threat to their dynastic rule.
The list, compiled by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain, which cut economic, diplomatic and travel ties to Doha on June 5, also demands the closing of a Turkish military base in Qatar, the official told Reuters. Qatar must also announce it is severing ties with terrorist, ideological and sectarian organizations including the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Jabhat Fateh al Sham, formerly al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, he said, and surrender all designated terrorists on its territory, The four Arab countries accuse Qatar of funding terrorism, fomenting regional instability and cozying up to revolutionary theocracy Iran. Qatar has denied the accusations.
[..] on Monday, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said Qatar would not negotiate with the four states unless they lifted their measures against Doha. The countries give Doha 10 days to comply, failing which the list becomes “void”, the official said without elaborating, suggesting the offer to end the dispute in return for the 13 steps would no longer be on the table.
Hundreds of men swept up in the hunt for al-Qaida militants have disappeared into a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen where abuse is routine and torture extreme — including the “grill,” in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire, an Associated Press investigation has found. Senior American defense officials acknowledged Wednesday that U.S. forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. Interrogating detainees who have been abused could violate international law, which prohibits complicity in torture. The AP documented at least 18 clandestine lockups across southern Yemen run by the United Arab Emirates or by Yemeni forces created and trained by the Gulf nation, drawing on accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials.
All are either hidden or off limits to Yemen’s government, which has been getting Emirati help in its civil war with rebels over the last two years. The secret prisons are inside military bases, ports, an airport, private villas and even a nightclub. Some detainees have been flown to an Emirati base across the Red Sea in Eritrea, according to Yemen Interior Minister Hussein Arab and others. Several U.S. defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the topic, told AP that American forces do participate in interrogations of detainees at locations in Yemen, provide questions for others to ask, and receive transcripts of interrogations from Emirati allies. They said U.S. senior military leaders were aware of allegations of torture at the prisons in Yemen, looked into them, but were satisfied that there had not been any abuse when U.S. forces were present.
“We always adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct,” said chief Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White when presented with AP’s findings. “We would not turn a blind eye, because we are obligated to report any violations of human rights.” In a statement to the AP, the UAE’s government denied the allegations. “There are no secret detention centers and no torture of prisoners is done during interrogations.” Inside war-torn Yemen, however, lawyers and families say nearly 2,000 men have disappeared into the clandestine prisons, a number so high that it has triggered near-weekly protests among families seeking information about missing sons, brothers and fathers.
None of the dozens of people interviewed by AP contended that American interrogators were involved in the actual abuses. Nevertheless, obtaining intelligence that may have been extracted by torture inflicted by another party would violate the International Convention Against Torture and could qualify as war crimes, said Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University who served as special counsel to the Defense Department until last year
A financial crisis could be just around the corner, according to the chief executive of LVMH, who has described the global economic outlook as “scary”. “For the economic climate, the present situation is…mid-term scary,” Bernard Arnault told CNBC Thursday. “I don’t think we will be able to globally avoid a crisis when I see the interest rates so low, when I see the amounts of money flowing into the world, when I see the stock prices which are much too high, I think a bubble is building and this bubble, one day, will explode.”
Arnault, who is responsible for the world’s largest luxury goods company, couldn’t say whether the crash would be imminent or within the next few years, but he insisted that almost a decade on from the global financial crisis of 2008, one was due. “There has not been a big crisis for almost ten years now and since I’ve had a business I have seen crises more than every ten years, so be careful.” Longer term, however, Arnault said he was “optimistic”, pointing to advances in technology and innovation, which he said would stimulate the economy.
President Donald Trump responded angrily to reports he is under criminal investigation Thursday, deriding a “witch hunt” against him led by some “very bad” people. Trump responded to reports he is personally being investigated for obstruction of justice with a characteristic scorched earth defense: claiming mistreatment of historic proportions and calling into question the probity of his accusers. “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people!” Trump said in an early morning tweet. Trump did not directly address the allegations that he is being probed for possibly obstructing justice – a potentially impeachable offense. Nor did he deny he has entered the miniscule ranks of sitting presidents who have become the subject of a criminal investigation.
“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” he wrote. Trump’s young presidency has been battered by allegations — under investigation both by Congress and the FBI — that Russia interfered to sway the 2016 election in his favor, in possible collusion with Trump’s campaign team. The FBI probe, now in the hands of special prosecutor Robert Mueller, shifted its focus to allegations of obstruction in the days after Trump fired the agency’s then director James Comey on May 9. The new allegations against Trump center on his own admission that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation, and suggestions he asked several top intelligence officials for their help altering the direction of the inquiry.
Russia wants ties with the US improved, but the American domestic political situation is close to hopeless and while the Russian door is open, no one is going to lose their breath waiting to hold it open, political analyst Adam Garrie said, commenting on Putin’s statement. On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin held his annual live marathon Q&A session with the public, titled: “Direct Line with the president.” During the session, he said Russia was ready to grant former FBI director James Comey asylum. “[Comey] suddenly said that he had recorded a conversation with the president, and then gave the recording of this conversation to the media via his friend. Well, that sounds very strange when a special service chief records a conversation with the commander-in-chief and then gives it to the media via his friend. Then what’s the difference between the FBI director and Mr. [Edward] Snowden? Then he is not the head of the special services, but a human rights advocate who defends a certain position,” Putin said.
Political analyst Adam Garrie described the parallel between Comey and Snowden as “brilliant.” “It was a masterful moment for Vladimir Putin,” he told RT. “With all the lies and disinformation about the Russian president in Western mainstream media, people forget that, like most intelligent men, he’s got a wonderful sense of humor, he can be very cheeky, he can be sarcastic.” “Like Snowden, who thought he was doing a public good, Comey said that he thought he was doing the same. Should things get hairy for Comey, the doors to Russia are equally open to him.
I thought that was a very important remark by Putin on the whole sort of circus-like element of the whole Russia nonsense that’s gripping and probably will grip for some time the pundits in Washington. It just makes it clear that the entire tone of Putin’s statements about America is that we [Russia] want to get on with having good relations. It’s crucial not just bilaterally, but to the wider world, if the two of the three major superpowers do have improved relations, but that the situation domestically in America is close to hopeless – so that while the Russian door is open, no one in Russia is going to lose their breath or their cool waiting to hold it open,” Garrie said.
New YouGov research highlights just how badly the election campaign and result damaged the public’s view of both the Prime Minister and the Conservative party and how much it boosted Labour and its leader. In April, Theresa May had a healthy net favourability rating of +10. At the end of May, following the campaign and negative reception of the Conservative manifesto, it fell to -5. Following the election result it has plummeted to -34. The Prime Minister is currently about as unpopular as Jeremy Corbyn was in November last year, when he scored -35. Meanwhile, the Labour leader has experienced a remarkable turnaround in public perception. Having experienced increasingly worse favourability ratings since Theresa May took office last summer, Jeremy Corbyn sank to a low of -42 in late April, just after the election was called.
However, the public’s view of the Labour leader improved markedly over the campaign, reaching -14 in the last YouGov favourability survey before election day. Now, following the result, his net favourability score is +0 – meaning that as many people now have a favourable view of him as have an unfavourable view. [..] It is remarkable that there has been such a sharp turnaround for the leaders of the two main political parties. When the election was called, Theresa May was secure in her position and many were speculating over the future of the Labour leader. Now, the roles are reversed, with Jeremy Corbyn having silenced his critics and won over large sections of the public while the Prime Minister faces criticism from across the board.
Student loan debt in the UK has risen to more than £100bn for the first time, underlining the rising costs young people face in order to get a university education. Outstanding debt on loans jumped by 16.6% to £100.5bn at the end of March, up from £86.2bn a year earlier, according to the Student Loans Company. England accounted for £89.3bn of the total. “Lots of prospective and current university students will see these figures and worry about being part of an increasing pool of graduate debt,” said Jake Butler of at money advice website Save the Student. “As fees increase this number will only go up, as more and more money is lent out each year. There is some cause for concern here, mainly for the government, as it is now widely accepted that the majority of graduates will never pay off their whole student loan debt before it is wiped off 30 years after their graduation.”
Sorana Vieru, the vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students, said student debt had risen to “eye-watering levels”. The rise in student debt has been driven partly by rules introduced in 2012, allowing universities in England to charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees. In the year ending 31 March 2012, student debt was less than half the current level, at £45.9bn. Jeremy Corbyn made younger voters a key focus of Labour’s election campaign, promising to scrap tuition fees for new university students. A strong turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds at last week’s election helped the party to win 262 seats, an increase of 30. Sebastian Burnside, a senior economist at NatWest, said student debt was rising at a faster pace than any other form of debt, and eclipsed credit card debt of £68bn. “These latest figures show student debt is becoming of greater priority with every passing year. Student debt is the fastest growing type of borrowing and is rapidly becoming economically significant.”
The British Government has still not sent papers outlining its opening position for Brexit talks to the European Union, despite negotiations beginning on Monday. EU sources told The Independent Brussels had sent its “positioning papers” to London four days ago and while similar documents were expected in return, nothing has arrived as Theresa May’s administration struggles to get on its feet. Brexit Secretary David Davis confirmed on Thursday that talks to pull Britain out of the EU will begin on Monday regardless, despite cabinet splits over how to approach them and Ms May’s withdrawal plans not even being cemented in a Queen’s Speech.
Chancellor Philip Hammond cancelled a speaking event in which he was expected to signal new softer Brexit proposals focusing on jobs, amid fears it might spark an internal row with other Tories demanding Ms May stick to her immigration-centred approach. It came as the Prime Minister confirmed that a Queen’s Speech would go ahead, but only on 21 June – two days later than originally planned. It is still unclear if she has locked in the support of the Northern Irish DUP to prop her up in the House of Commons and give her the majority she needs to pass a vote approving the agenda set out in the Queen’s Speech. Conservatives signalled that talks with the unionists could even continue beyond the start of Brexit talks and the Queen’s Speech, as Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams warned that any deal struck could breach the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.
On Monday this week, the EU sent to London its positioning papers, officially outlining its negotiating stance ahead of talks, and had expected similar documents to come back in good time before discussions begin. But with the EU’s papers arriving as Ms May staved off a cabinet coup, convinced backbenchers to support her and held talks about realigning Brexit plans, nothing had been sent back to Brussels by Thursday night. One source across the Channel said it was “unbelievable” that the UK had still not sent the “basic” papers for the start of negotiations, with just over three days left before they begin. They added: “The talks are beginning on Monday. There are no positioning papers yet. It’s a basic thing that should happen beforehand. It doesn’t bode well.”
Germany and Austria voiced sharp criticism Thursday of the latest U.S. sanctions against Moscow, saying they could affect European businesses involved in piping in Russian natural gas. The United States Senate voted Wednesday to slap new sanctions on key sectors of Russia’s economy and individuals over its interference in the 2016 U.S. election campaign and its aggression in Syria and Ukraine. The measures were attached to a bill targeting Iran. In a joint statement, Austria’s Chancellor Christian Kern and Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said it was important for Europe and the United States to form a united front on the issue of Ukraine, where Russian-based separatists have been fighting government forces since 2014.
“However, we can’t accept the threat of illegal and extraterritorial sanctions against European companies,” the two officials said, citing a section of the bill that calls for the United States to continue to oppose the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would pump Russian gas to Germany beneath the Baltic Sea. Half of the cost of the new pipeline is being paid for by Russian gas giant Gazprom, while the other half is being shouldered by a group including Anglo-Dutch group Royal Dutch Shell, French provider Engie, OMV of Austria and Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall. Some Eastern European countries, including Poland and Ukraine, fear the loss of transit revenue if Russian gas supplies don’t pass through their territory anymore once the new pipeline is built.
Gabriel and Kern accuse the U.S. of trying to help American natural gas suppliers at the expense of their Russian rivals. They said the possibility of fining European companies participating in the Nord Stream 2 project “introduces a completely new, very negative dimension into European-American relations,” they said. In their forceful appeal, the two officials urged the United States to back off from linking the situation in Ukraine to the question of who can sell gas to Europe. “Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe, and not for the United States of America,” Kern and Gabriel said.
Greece’s finance minister says financial markets now have “much greater clarity” about the future of Greece’s debts, which will help the country regain market access when its current bailout program ends next year. Speaking after a meeting of the eurozone’s 19 finance ministers, Euclid Tsakalots said the country can “look forward with much greater confidence.” As well as securing €8.5 billion in bailout funds, which will help Greece meet a big summer repayment, Tsakalotos won a promise on future measures to ease the country’s debt burden and possible IMF financial involvement in the coming year. Greece has relied on bailout money for seven years and hopes that it will be able to stand on its own feet when the bailout ends. Tsakalotos said one big benefit from the deal Thursday was that future debt repayments could be linked to Greece’s growth. In essence, that could mean payments could be postponed in the event of an adverse shock.
Greece’s international creditors agreed on Thursday to approve the disbursement of €8.5 billion in bailout loans and to detail medium-term debt relief measures following talks in Luxembourg. Describing the agreement as “a major step forward,” Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem said the deal aimed to get Greece standing “on its own feet again,” noting that debt relief would be linked to the country’s growth rates, in line with a proposal that had been promoted by French officials. The deal also outlined the participation of the IMF in Greece’s third bailout with the Fund’s chief Christine Lagarde saying she would formally recommend the IMF’s participation with $2 billion on a standby basis.
As regards the debt relief aspect of the agreement, Lagarde remarked that it was not the best solution for Greece as it was only an agreement in principle but the “second best” solution. European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Pierre Moscovici sought to focus on the positive aspects of the deal. “Tonight, Greece can see the light at the end of its long tunnel of austerity,” he said. “From tonight, the watchwords are jobs, growth and investment.” His comments were echoed by Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos who, in a separate press conference, said the deal provided greater clarity, for both citizens and investors, “more light at the end of the tunnel.” A spokesperson for the European Central Bank, whose bond buying program Greece wants to join, described the Eurogroup agreement as “a first step towards securing debt sustainability.”
However it remained unclear whether the deal was adequate to pave the way for the ECB to buy Greek bonds or not. The breakthrough last night came after Athens appeared to have shifted its stance slightly from earlier in the week when tensions between Greece and Germany had peaked and two top government ministers had said publicly that Athens mistrusts German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. Speaking from Thessaloniki, where he met Israeli and Cypriot leaders for talks on energy cooperation, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras remarked to reporters, “The good guys win in the end.” Greek officials have insisted over the past week that Greece has won the right to debt relief.
“Greece has fulfilled its commitments and adopted the required reforms. Now it is time for the Europeans to comply with their commitments on debt relief,” President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said in comments published in Germany’s Handelsblatt. He appealed to Schaeuble to abandon his persistent opposition to Greek debt relief. “Anything else would not be worthy of a great European politician,” he said. “It is important for us that our creditors secure the viability of the debt. Otherwise the ECB cannot buy Greek state bonds,” he said, referring to the European Central Bank.
The IMF wants Greek debt to become more sustainable before it channels funds into the country’s bailout program, the organization’s managing director Christine Lagarde told CNBC. “For us to engage and for us to participate financially, more needs to be clarified, defined and approved in terms of restructuring,” she said late on Thursday. “What we believe will be needed is a deferral of interests, an extension of maturity, and a mechanism by which there is an adjustment based on growth … this is where further discussion and negotiation is needed.” Lagarde was speaking in Luxembourg after European finance ministers approved a €8.5 billion loan for Athens that will enable the cash-strapped nation to meet a major July repayment deadline.
European countries have been shouldering the burden of Greece’s current €86 billion rescue fund — its third bailout package since 2010. The IMF financially contributed to Athens’ previous bailouts but refused to join the current pact because it believes Greece needed debt relief — something that European creditors aren’t comfortable with. The organization’s absence has been a thorn in the sides of heavyweight European countries, particularly Germany, who view IMF participation as a key credibility factor. For Berlin to continue backing euro zone loans to Athens, Germany’s parliament is now insisting on IMF contribution. On Thursday, the IMF agreed to offer Athens a standby arrangement of less than $2 billion but won’t be disbursing any of the funds until euro zone countries offer more detail on potential debt relief measures in 2018.
“I’ve always said that the (bailout) program walks on two legs: the leg of policies and the leg of debt sustainability,” Lagarde told CNBC on Thursday. Athens has proved its commitment to key structural reforms, which cover pensions, tax, serial procedures, and labor markets, but the second leg of the bailout program — debt restructuring — needs to be further clarified, she continued. “Progress has been made today, no question about it but more is needed.” Lagarde praised Thursday’s loan agreement, stating that Athens would now be protected from future crisis moments because its financial needs in terms of debt service will be low.
“It (Athens) will actually produce a primary surplus and it should be, in terms of liquidity and stability, in a fairly solid situation to develop its economy to cultivate growth, generate investment , and proceed with the privatization that they have agreed to complete.” On the matter of Brexit negotiations, the IMF chief advised European and U.K. officials to adopt a risk-averse approach. “What is more predictable, more certain, can be calibrated, can be anticipated, can be transitioned into, is going to be more reliable and safer for the people and the economy.” Circumstances were still too premature for the IMF to forecast future economic developments, she added.
As eurozone finance ministers meet in Brussels for crucial talks on Greece, Reality Check looks at whether the bailouts the country has received have secured Greece’s economic survival or just created unsustainable debt. Neither Greece nor its creditors would say they are happy with how it has worked out. In 2010, when the Greek debt crisis started, Greece received €110bn in bailout money. And in 2012, the country received a second bailout of €130bn. These loans, from the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), were deemed necessary to stop Greece going bankrupt. In exchange, Greece was required to make deep public spending cuts, raise taxes and introduce fundamental changes to the public sector and labour legislation. In August 2015, the eurozone countries agreed to give Greece a third bailout, of up to €86bn, on the condition of further changes.
The next tranche of that bailout, which Greece needs in order to honour repayments due in July, is being discussed at the eurozone finance ministers’ meeting on Thursday. In 2010, they managed to keep Greece in the euro and prevented the collapse of the common currency. So, from the perspective of the eurozone as a whole, a chaotic “Grexit” did not happen. But seven years on, and many more billions of euros later, was this price worth paying, both from the point of view of Greece’s creditors and of the Greek people? It is impossible to know what the situation would be like now had Greece not received the bailouts, but the consequences of receiving them have been painful. For the Greek people, the bailouts and the austerity measures implemented with them have come at a huge cost.
• Unemployment remains staggeringly high: 22.5% of Greeks were unemployed in March 2017. And almost half of people under the age of 25 were out of work
• Those who do work, earn less. The minimum monthly wage at the beginning of the crisis was €863. It has now fallen to €684
• Pensioners have been hit particularly hard. Pension changes since 2010 mean 43% of pensioners now live on less than €660 a month, according to the Greek government
• Government spending on health was almost halved between 2010 and 2015, while the education budget was cut by 20%
Greece’s creditors, strongly influenced by Germany, demanded that Greece start spending less than it earned. In 2016, for the first time, Greece achieved this. The surplus is small, at €1.3bn or 0.7% of GDP. But this can hardly be seen as a success – the economy has shrunk and the overall debt pile is still going up, not down.
The “fire sale” privatization of Greece started in 2015, following the infamous Syriza referendum in which more than three-fifths of the Greek people voted to reject Troika-imposed bailout conditions – and yet their government, led by Alexis Tsipras, chose to accept the deal anyway. The privatization process reached its peak the next year, when the Greek government sold the public transport giant TrainOSE to the Italian company Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane S.p.A for 45 million euros. This happened after a very brief bidding period and despite considerable employee pushback, including a 24-hour strike that paralyzed the country. Now, a second round of fire sales is taking place ahead of the upcoming third bailout negotiations for Greece, whose current bailout package will expire in August 2018.
Since last year, the sale of the country’s roads, rights to the use of its ports, and other public sector resources have only yielded around €4 billion – a far cry from the projected €50 billion that were promised when the privatization plan was put in motion. At best, it will result in a 6 billion euro profit, nowhere near enough to cover the ailing Greek economy’s massive overhead spending. In 2016, under the EYATH initiative (representing Thessaloniki’s public sector water workers) and activists, Save Greek Water was launched in an attempt to curb the Syriza administration’s efforts to privatize public water reserves. The initiative enjoyed enormous support from the public and media, and seemed to curbing further efforts to move the privatization talks forward. That was until last December, when an article published by Stavroula Symeonidou, president of the Workers Union of DEYA of Drama, revealed that Greece’s public water sector was being purposefully sabotaged by its own government.
“…DEYAs are not financially dependent on the State/Central Government, therefore they do not, in any way whatsoever, contribute to the public debt… however they are equally restricted in (actually barred from) recruiting any new personnel, which means that over time their already limited resources will reach zero,” Symeonidou wrote. The article also warned about the danger of further levies being imposed on Greek farmers using public water sources like ground- and rainwater wells. This dire prediction came to pass last month, when an “irregular water source charge” was imposed on the major rural regions of the country, directly targeting farmers and households in the affected areas. According to a statement released by the Syriza administration, 2.5% of the proceeds from this levy will be invested in the interest of supporting the Greek public sector – but not the DEYA initiative. This is being seen as an obvious attempt to further hobble any resistance to privatization.
Greece’s financial woes have clobbered spending on state-provided health services, even as demand has spiked because fewer Greeks can pay for private treatment. Some of Athens’ ambulances have up to 1 million kilometers (620,000 miles) — nearly three times the distance to the moon — on the clock, and about half are idle because of a lack of spare parts. At night, fewer than 40 vehicles cover a population of more than 4 million. Paramedic Dimitris Dimitriadis says the service is obliged to respond to every call it receives, even if the callers are just taking advantage of a rule that patients brought to hospitals by ambulance jump the line for treatment. “But then you also get elderly people who can’t afford a taxi fare to the hospital, so they call an ambulance,” he said, driving toward a reported suicide in central Athens. Upon arrival, the crew was told that the injured person had been taken to a hospital by relatives.
Unions say rescuers do their best against the odds, focusing on getting urgent cases to emergency treatment within minutes of receiving a call. But other patients, who may still require hospital treatment, can end up waiting well over an hour. Athens ambulance workers’ union leader Giorgos Mathiopoulos says about 70 of the capital’s 140 ambulances are out of action, and the fleet needs to be doubled in size. “Up to 30% of the immobilized ambulances can’t be repaired” and many are stripped for parts to keep others going, Mathiopoulos said. “When we’re trying to get to an incident as fast as possible … and the ambulance has that many kilometers on the clock, it’s a worry.”
Official data on Thursday showed an uptick in refugee and migrant arrivals from Turkey to Greece’s shores, increasing concerns among residents on the Aegean islands that have borne the brunt of the refugee crisis. A total of 151 people were reported as entering Greece in 24 hours on Thursday, 74 of whom landed on Chios, 54 on Lesvos and 23 on other islands, slightly above the 146 arrivals in the previous 24-hour period. According to official figures, the number of migrants and refugees that reached Greece between June 8 and Thursday morning came to 538, a significant rise from May when daily arrivals were in the double digits.
The upsurge is stoking fears on islands such as Chios that are already struggling to cope with thousands of refugees and migrants stranded by slow processing and deportation procedures. Residents of Chios held a rally on Thursday night to protest plans for a pre-departure facility on the island, where authorities said they will temporarily detain dozens of migrants who are not eligible for asylum before they are deported. Protesters say that the official line in favor of the facility, pointing to a decrease in arrivals on Lesvos since a similar center was opened there, are disproved by the uptick observed in recent days. A similar rally was also held on the island of Samos on Thursday.
Number 4 in the UK charts, but the BBC refuses to play it. It’s just so well done, and so timely, that none of that matters. It’s 40 years ago that the same happened with the SexPistols’ “God save the Queen”. The BBC ban pushed the song up the charts.
NHS crisis, education crisis, u turns … you can’t trust Theresa May. Let’s get this into the top 40. Download now and force the BBC to play it on our airwaves. All proceeds from downloads of the track between 26th May and 8th June 2017 will be split between food banks around the UK and The People’s Assembly Against Austerity. Download from the following links: (Please note we previously released a version of Liar Liar in 2010 so don’t download the wrong one! Correct track is called ‘Liar Liar GE2017’)
The quality of debate in the 2017 UK General election has been generally terrible. The Tories have been trying to push the “There’s no such thing as a Magic Money Tree” line, and falling straight into the “Don’t think of a pink elephant” problem. This line is known in economic and political circles as The Noble Lie. The Magic Money Tree does exist. They all know it does. When there is a bank to bail out, does anybody ask where the money is coming from? When there is a nuclear missile system that needs building? How about when a foreign nation needs bombing? Like the elephant in the room The Tree cannot be mentioned, because then the electorate might start asking awkward questions about public services – perhaps we should have some? – and taxation – are we overtaxed for the size of government we have, given that we still have people without work?
Once you know about The Tree you might have your politicians delay a casino build and build a hospital instead. You might let the rich people keep their coins, but stop them using them to reserve scare doctors and teachers for their own purposes ahead of the general population. The Tories want to privatise everything, and Labour want to hit rich people hard with taxation sticks. There are no doubt reasons for these fetishes that psychologists would find fascinating. But they are damaging to our nation. They get in the way of doing the job. The debate we should be having is about the size of government we want. And then we instruct our government to provide that. Taxation then is just a thermostat on the wall. You count the bodies in the unemployment queue. If there are too many there is too much taxation and you turn the dial down. If there aren’t any and prices are hotting up, you may have too little taxation so you turn the dial up a little.
Alex Douglas explains in Getting Money out of Politics that the debate is one about resource allocation: “you don’t need to worry about ‘where the money will come from’ to pay for this or that programme or public service. Think about this instead: Are there enough resources to provide the proposed service? Is there enough wood, bricks, glass, PVC, to build new council houses? Is there enough land to build them on? Are there enough builders to build them? If not, are there enough apprenticeships to train them? Are there enough staff in the schools and hospitals? If not, are there enough colleges to train them? If not, are there enough resources to create more of these?” So let’s drop the pretence and get onto the real debate. We know that the last 40 years has been about the magic of the market and that government must constrain itself. It must do as it is told by a small number of unelected technocrats sitting in a central bank ivory tower.
A nation’s currency is a wonderful, powerful thing. Learn how countries like the U.S.—which issue their own sovereign currency—can afford to use that currency to serve their citizens. Get inspired about our untapped potential, and learn to be less worried about the so-called “national debt”!
Earlier today I came across an article about President Trump’s new budget from Fox News, and in this article the author makes a startling claim… “The hard fact is that the past decade’s $10 trillion in deficit spending has produced the worst economic growth as measured by Gross Domestic Product in our nation’s history. You read that right, in the past decade our nation’s economy grew slower than even during the Great Depression. This stagnant, new normal, low-growth economy is leaving millions of working age people behind who have given up even trying to participate, and has led to a malaise where many doubt that the American dream is attainable.
When I first read that, I thought that this claim could not possibly be true. But I was curious, and so I looked up the numbers for myself. What I found was absolutely astounding. The following are U.S. GDP growth rates for every year during the 1930s…
When you average all of those years together, you get an average rate of economic growth of 1.33%. That is really bad, but it is the kind of number that one would expect from “the Great Depression”. So then I looked up the numbers for the last ten years…
When you average these years together, you get an average rate of economic growth of 1.33%. I thought that was a really strange coincidence, and so I pulled up my calculator and ran all of the numbers again and I got the exact same results. The 1930s certainly had more big ups and downs, but the average rate of economic growth during that decade was exactly the same as we have seen over the past 10 years. And of course the early 1940s turned out to be a boom time for the U.S. economy, while it appears that our rate of economic growth is actually slowing down. As I noted yesterday, U.S. GDP growth during the first quarter of 2017 was just 0.7%.
So could the US of course. The problem in Europe is it’s too late now. Getting it right would be seen as too negative in Germany, and it’s Germany, and Germany alone, that ultimately takes ll the main decisions in the EU.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published last week some figures which show how a successful monetary union works in practice. It is not obvious at first sight, from the dry heading: “regional public sector finances”. The ONS collects information on the amounts of public spending and money raised in taxes across the regions of the UK. The difference is the so-called fiscal balance of the region. Only three regions generate a surplus. In London, the South East and the East of England, total tax receipts exceed public spending. The capital has a healthy positive balance of £3,070 per head, followed by the South East at £1,667 per head. Essentially, these two regions subsidise the rest of the UK. Public spending in the North East, for example, is £3,827 per person above the level of taxes raised in that region.
In Wales, it is even higher at £4,545. No wonder that one of the first things Carwyn Jones, leader of the Welsh Assembly, said after the Brexit vote was: “Wales must not lose a penny of subsidy”. The region which benefits most is Northern Ireland, which gets £5,437 per head more than it generates in tax. Scotland, to complete the picture, receives around half of that, at £2,824 per person. There is a lot of debate around Brexit and the border between the North and the Republic of Ireland. There is even talk of reunification, but on these numbers the Republic would be mad to want it. Essentially, the regions receive these subsidies because they are running deficits on their trade balance of payments. The exports of goods and services from the North East, for example, to the rest of the UK are much less than it imports.
In balance of payments jargon, the subsidy it receives is a monetary transfer from the rest of the country, principally from London and the South East. The ONS does not actually produce regional balance of payments statistics. But the fact that most regions receive these large transfers implies that they are just not productive enough to sustain their living standards by their own efforts. All the regions are in the sterling monetary union. Those running trade deficits cannot devalue to try to improve their position. They must instead rely on subsidy. Exactly the same principles apply in the Eurozone. The massive difference of course is that there is no central Eurozone government to make sure the weaker performing regions receive the necessary funding.
This is why President Macron and Chancellor Merkel announced they will examine changes to treaties to allow for further Eurozone integration. Even the hardline German finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, said: “a community cannot exist without the strong vouching for the weaker ones”. To be sustainable, a monetary union needs large transfers between its regions. London and the South East already put their hands deep into their pockets for the rest of the UK. Gordon Brown did get one thing spectacularly right. He kept us out of the Euro.
As previewed last night, the jobs “whisper” risk was to the downside, and in what was a very disappointing print released moments ago by the BLS, the whisper was spot on with only 138K jobs added in May, far below the 185K estimate, and below the lowest estimate of 140K. This was the second lowest print going back all the way to last October. Additionally, April’s big beat of 211K was revised substantially lower to only 174K, suggesting that any expectation the Fed may have had of “evidence” the recent economic slowdown was transitory was just crushed.
The change in total payrolls for March was revised down from +79,000 to +50,000, and the change for April was revised down from +211,000 to +174,000. With these revisions, employment gains in March and April combined were 66,000 less than previously reported. This means that over the past 3 months, job gains have averaged 121,000 per month, a far cry from the 181,000 average jobs added over the past 12 months. To be sure, as SouthBay Research points out, a big reason for the unexpected miss was the sharp seasonal adjustment favtor, which was the biggest going back to the financial crisis days:
Not helping the Trump agenda, manufacturing jobs declined sharply, posting the weakest growth of 2017.
While on the surface, the payrolls report, the wage growth and the unemployment rate (which dropped for all the wrong reasons) were disappointing, a quick look inside the underlying data reveals even more troubling trends, such as that in addition to the number of employed workers dropping by 233K according to the household survey, the composition of these jobs raised even more red flags because in May the US lost 367,000 full time jobs offset by the gain of 133,000 part time jobs.
Putting this number in context, it was the biggest drop in full-time jobs going back to June 2014. And in this context, we are happy to announce that while manufacturing jobs once again declined by 1,000, the waiter and bartender recovery continues to hum along, with 30,000 workers added in “food services and drinking places.”
China has reported annual growth rates since the panic of 2008 of between 6.7% and 12.2%, with a steady downward trend since early 2010. If China’s growth engine is running out of steam, as I’ve described, how has China managed to maintain such relatively high growth rates? The answer is contained in three key words: debt, deflation and waste. Waste is a blunt word referring to non-productive investment. The investment component of China’s GDP is about 45% of the total. Most major economies show about 25% to 35% for investment. But at least half the Chinese investment is wasted. It goes to projects that will never produce an adequate return, either on an absolute basis or relative to alternative uses of the funds. If this wasted investment is subtracted from GDP, similar to a one-time write off under general accounting principles, then 8% growth would be 6.2%, and 6% growth would be 4.7%.
[..] Any economy can produce short-term growth by incurring debt and using the proceeds as government spending, tax cuts, investment, or grants. This is nothing more than the classic Keynesian fiscal stimulus with its mystical “multiplier” effect that produces more than $1.00 in aggregate demand for every $1.00 borrowed and spent. In fact, there’s ample evidence that the Keynesian multiplier only exists when an economy is in recession or the very early stages of an expansion, and when its debt levels are relatively low and sustainable. Highly indebted economies in the late stages of an expansion do not conform to Keynes’ theory of a multiplier. Unfortunately for China, it is both highly indebted and has not suffered a recession for eight years. China should therefore expect the GDP multiplier on new debt used for spending or infrastructure to be less than 1.
That is exactly what the data shows. The chart below measures credit intensity defined as the number of units of local currency needed to produce one unit of growth. The local currency metric is a measured by central bank money printing to monetize debt, and is therefore a proxy for the debt itself. The chart shows that in China today, it takes $4.00 of money printing to produce $1.00 of growth. This is up significantly from 2008 when it took $1.70 of money printing to produce $1.00 of growth. This shows that the Keynesian multiplier is less than 1, in fact it’s 0.25 in China today. (Only Europe shows a true multiplier where less than one unit of new money can produce a unit of growth).
A race to the bottom in oil prices may not have many winners, but Russia is certain it can survive. It’s less sure about hedge funds. “We’re actually ready to live forever with the oil price at $40 or below,” Russian Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin said in a Bloomberg Television interview at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Thursday. “All macroeconomic policy is now based on the assumption of the oil price of $40.” While the world’s biggest energy exporter has made clear it’s hunkering down for years of depressed oil prices, “forever” might be a slight exaggeration, according to the head of Russia’s second-largest bank. Still, “I fully agree with the minister that the oil price is no threat to the economy,” VTB Group CEO Andrey Kostin said during a panel on Friday. As Russia’s future economic plans increasingly converge around crude at that level, Oreshkin says he’s baffled by a more bullish turn taken by hedge funds.
Bets on rising WTI prices jumped the most this year just as Saudi Arabia and Russia were mustering support for the deal they struck in Vienna last month, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. “The oil price within one or two years might be much lower, and those funds which are on the other side of the deals on hedging for one, for two years – they are taking huge risks,” Oreshkin said. Hedge funds’ WTI net-long position – the difference between bets on a price rise and wagers on a drop – rose 20% in the week ended May 23, according to the CFTC. The number had plunged 50% in the previous four weeks. Net-long positions in benchmark Brent – which trades at a small premium to Russia’s Urals export blend – rose 17%, data from ICE Futures Europe showed. Oreshkin questioned “the strategy of those hedge funds” that are striking deals with shale producers for one to two years. “Because the risks are there,” he said.
Instead of reporting precisely what he said, and certainly meant, about fabricated allegations of Russian US election hacking, The Times deliberately misrepresented his recent comments. Interviewed in France by Le Figaro, he repeated what he said many times before. No Russian interference occurred, no evidence suggesting it. “Who is making these allegations,” he asked? “Based on what? If these are just allegations, then these hackers could be from anywhere else and not necessarily from Russia.” Putin knows no hacking occurred. Information was leaked from one or more DNC insiders, no foreign governments involved. He stressed “(i)t makes no sense for (Russia) to do such things. What for?” Speaking to heads of international news agencies on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, he said “no hackers can influence a foreign election campaign in a significant way.”
“No information leaked this way would resonate with the voters and affect the outcome. We don’t do this at a state level, have no intention of doing it, and on the contrary, we are fighting against it.” He also stressed Moscow’s involvement in creating multi-world polarity. Some countries (meaning US-led Western ones) want Russia contained to further their national interests. “They do this through all kinds of actions that are outside the framework of international law, including economic restrictions,” Putin explained. “Now, they see that this is not working and has produced no results. This irritates them and rouses them into using other methods to pursue their aims and tempts them to up the stakes.” “But we do not go along with these attempts, do not offer pretexts for action. They therefore need to invent pretexts out of nowhere.” Russia, China and Iran are the leading forces against Washington’s hegemonic ambitions – why they’re surrounded by US bases and targeted for regime change.
Addressing the issues of hackers, he said they “can be anywhere…in any country in the world…At the governmental level, we never engage in this. This is what is most important.” He explained attacks can occur from outside Russia made to look like they occurred from its territory. “Modern technology allows that. It is very easy.” It’s a CIA and NSA hacking method to blame Russia, China, Iran or other targeted countries for actions they didn’t commit. “(M)ost important is I am deeply convinced that no hackers can have a real impact on an election campaign in another country,” Putin stressed. “You see, nothing, no information can be imprinted in voters’ minds, in the minds of a nation, and influence the final outcome and the final result.” Those were his recent comments, clearly indicating no Russian direct or indirect involvement in US election hacking or against any other countries.
Instead of reporting what Putin said as I did above, The NYT headlined “Putin Hints at US Election Meddling by ‘Patriotically Minded Russian,” inferring possible state involvement he clearly explained didn’t happen time and again. The Times claimed he “(s)hift(ed) from his previous blanket denials…” False! He did no such thing! The Times: “(H)is comments…were a departure from the Kremlin’s previous position: that Russia had played no role whatsoever in” US election hacking. Fact: His comments repeated what he said many times before, no departure from his position or from any other Russian officials. The Times lied. The Times: “The boundary between state and private action…is often blurry, particularly in matters relating to the projection of Russian influence abroad.”
Again The Times inferred what didn’t happen. If Russian election hacking occurred, incriminating evidence would have been revealed long ago. There’s none, proving accusations are groundless. Instead of truth-telling on this and numerous other vital issues, especially geopolitical ones, notably on Russia, The Times consistently publishes rubbish. Everything it’s reported on alleged Russian US election hacking is disinformation, deception and fake news. Believe none of it.
Owning your own home may be the Kiwi dream but some North Shore homeowners are “drowning in debt” without hope of being mortgage-free. New data from credit information website CreditSimple.co.nz showed North Shore homeowners under 55 had an average debt of $542,600: the highest debt in the country. The information also showed Shore homeowners over 55 still owed an average $381,500. This was the second-highest debt in the country, just behind central Auckland’s older homeowners with an average mortgage of $393,200. Brian Pethybridge, the manager of North Shore Budget Service, was not surprised by the figures. “It’s a phenomenon that’s going to rear it’s head basically because mortgages were $500,000 and now they’re looking at $1 million,” he said. “The options that you had before are limited. It’s a sign of the times.”
According to QV’s latest residential house values, the average house on the Shore was valued at $1.195m, up 8.5% on last year. Pethybridge said many North Shore homeowners were unlikely to pay off their mortgage by the time they retired. Many people’s retirement plans involved selling the house and moving to a cheaper area or a retirement village, he said. But Pethybridge warned there was no guarantee house prices would keep on going up. Another risk was that interest rates could go up and homeowners would not be able to service their mortgage repayments, he said. Banks were already warning people to be prepared to pay 7% interest, and Pethybridge remembered a time when interest rates went “up and up”. Some people were already paying interest-only on their mortgage, meaning the debt was not going down, he said.
To critics of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, it may seem like presidential fiat is a very dysfunctional way to do foreign policy. How, exactly, is such overwhelming power consistent with checks and balances? How can one man, even if he is the president, single-handedly alter our international obligations? The short answer is the Constitution, not so much in its origins as in its evolution. It’s an important reminder that the tremendous power of the imperial presidency isn’t an unmitigated good – at least when you don’t like the policies of the person holding office. It’s important to note that President Barack Obama put the U.S. into the Paris climate deal exactly the same way Trump took the U.S. out, namely by unilateral executive action.
Obama couldn’t have gotten two-thirds of the Senate to approve a climate protection treaty. That’s the constitutional requirement for a treaty, as designed by the framers, who for the most part didn’t contemplate that the president would be able to commit the U.S. internationally without the participation of Congress. Understanding that he couldn’t turn the Paris deal into a treaty, Obama turned to a tool used by modern presidents to streamline international deal-making: the executive agreement. An executive agreement doesn’t bring all the domestic legal effects of a treaty. Under the Constitution’s supremacy clause, treaties become the law of the land, which is not the case for executive deals. But that isn’t a huge difference today.
Executive agreements are internationally binding like treaties, because international law isn’t focused on domestic processes like ratification but on the promise to join the compact. The Supreme Court has weakened treaties by requiring explicit language for them to have direct domestic legal effect. And the court has also held that executive agreements can affect some domestic legal rights, a reflection of expanded presidential authority. Indeed, the Paris accord was designed to accommodate the reality that Obama needed to be entering into an executive agreement, not a treaty. It doesn’t call itself a treaty or a protocol but an agreement. And it is in practical terms largely nonbinding, calling for countries to set targets without setting sanctions for noncompliance.
Some conservatives have argued that the Paris accord really is a treaty and should have been submitted to the Senate. But whether they’re right or wrong is a matter courts ordinarily wouldn’t address. Given that Obama entered the Paris accord unilaterally, there isn’t much doubt that Trump can withdraw unilaterally. And liberals who would like to think otherwise would do well to recall that without the executive agreement option, the U.S. wouldn’t have joined the deal in the first place. What’s more remarkable still is that, even if the Senate had approved the Paris accord as a treaty, Trump could have withdrawn without getting the Senate’s consent.
After suffering a devastating election loss to the weakest candidate the GOP has ever had to offer, establishment liberals have stopped at nothing to rationalize their miserable defeat to reality television star Donald J. Trump, even concocting outlandish McCarthyite theories of foreign interference, in what seems to be intentional, purely for the obfuscation of the Democratic Party’s own deficiencies. Bereft of any evidence whatsoever, political elites accused our old Cold War nemesis, Russia, of interfering in the American presidential election to favor the GOP’s Donald Trump over Democratic Party darling Hillary Clinton. Mass liberal outrage and the Democratic Party’s newfound super-patriotism prompted investigation into foreign hacking claims and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released its intelligence report on Russian interference in early January.
Despite its grandiose promises of revealing irrefutable evidence of the Kremlin’s direct involvement, the ODNI failed to deliver. Although lauded by both establishments as “damning,” the ODNI’s highly publicized intelligence report provided not a shred of evidence linking Russia to the hacking of the DNC; thus, concluding absolutely nothing. Political analysts, journalists, and those bearing at least some critical thinking ability dismissed the report altogether, as the first half contained nothing but baseless assertions, inconsistencies, and contradictions, while the second half was devoted entirely to irrelevant Russia Today bashing.
One would think that the increased potential of nuclear armageddon would dissuade political elites from accusing a nuclear power of such crimes without solid proof, but liberals never cease to amaze. Unfazed by popular skepticism and/or the general lack of evidence of Russia’s involvement, the liberal bourgeoisie, conjuring recycled Cold War sentiments, advanced their partisan crusade against Trump, painting him as some sort of Russian puppet installed to do the unconditional bidding of President Vladimir Putin. Eleven months have passed since the birth of these Russian hacking conspiracies, but the Trump-Russia non-scandal has persisted to dominate American political discourse ever since — with skepticism in the minority, surviving as fringe thought, at best. Trump’s actual conflicts of interest and legitimate criticism of his policies have drowned into irrelevance as his every tweet receives 24×7 coverage and the liberal mainstream media entertains any and every conspiracy theory of Russian collusion known to man.
“Did incoming officials in earlier election transitions never meet with Russian diplomats on the way to assuming their duties? And if they did meet, what do you suppose they talked about? The Baltimore Orioles pitching prospects?”
The extraordinary thought disorders of this moment in history are equally distributed across the political spectrum. They’re an inevitable product of what Sigmund Freud identified as the discontents of civilization, but they grow especially acute as that civilization enters an economic crack-up zone. The craziness is equally distributed while the nation’s wealth is not. The old middle, or center, is imploding both economically and psychologically, concentrating distortions of reality at each end, Left and Right. The disordered thought in Trumpism is as self-evident as (a) covfefe, though it came into being out of the authentic pain of those classes that bear the brunt of accelerating collapse. The thought disorders among Trump’s adversaries interest me more, because they emanate from the far more educated ranks of society, the place where rational leadership is supposed to spawn.
If you can’t depend on those people to think straight in difficult times, then it raises the question of what exactly is the value of an advanced education? For instance: the incredible new idea put out by CNN that it is verboten for officials in the government — the president especially — to meet with the Russian ambassador to the United States. I’ve asked this question before, but obviously it needs to be repeated in the face of this persistent nonsense: why do you think nations send diplomats to other lands if not to meet with and communicate with government officials? Since when — and why — are we shocked that a US president would meet in the White House with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister? Did previous presidents not meet with Russian diplomats? Did incoming officials in earlier election transitions never meet with Russian diplomats on the way to assuming their duties?
And if they did meet, what do you suppose they talked about? The Baltimore Orioles pitching prospects? The newest fusion cuisine? Or serious matters of mutual geopolitical interest? Do American diplomats in Moscow avoid meeting with Russian leaders? Why do we even bother to send them there? Whether it is a misunderstanding of reality by the educated people who work on Cable TV news, or a malicious twisting of the public’s credulity, it is producing a grievous breakdown in collective coherence with the potential of causing enormous political mischief in American life. The Dem/Prog “resistance” may think that it is taking a bold stand against a rogue government, but it is only making itself look dangerously unreliable as a supposed alternative to Trumpism.
EU member states can use public funds to help struggling banks dispose of soured loans, but only within the limits of laws put in place since the financial crisis, according to an EU report. While EU law normally stipulates that the need for “extraordinary public financial support” means a bank is failing and should be wound down, an exception is made for temporary state aid, known as a precautionary recapitalization, to address a capital shortfall identified in a stress test. “It seems conceivable” for governments to use such aid to finance an impaired-asset measure, the May 31 report states. The document says the conditions in EU law for giving state aid to a solvent bank must be observed.
“Dealing with the issue of high NPLs should not imply any deviation from the rules of the banking union,” it states, referring to the package of laws intended to bolster financial stability and deepen integration in the bloc. Andrea Enria, head of the European Banking Authority, has been one of the most vocal proponents of allowing state aid for banks that incur losses in the course of selling bad loans. He told EU lawmakers in April that state aid could be used to “deal promptly and decisively with the significant legacy of asset-quality problems in the European banking sector, which remains a drag on the EU economy.” Freeing up public money to offset banks’ losses could help to chip away at the €1 trillion bad-debt mountain and could smooth the way for bailouts in the EU’s hardest-hit countries, including Cyprus, Portugal and Italy.
Construction work on a $7.9bn project to develop a sprawling coastal Olympics complex and Athens’s former airport will begin in six months, the Greek government has said. State minister Alekos Flabouraris said on Friday that the leftist administration’s privatisation agency had given the go-ahead to a consortium of Abu Dhabi and Chinese investors backed by the Chinese conglomerate Fosun, which owns 12% of the British holiday company Thomas Cook, to turn the site into a major resort. It had been earmarked as a metropolitan park but was largely abandoned for the past decade. Now the consortium plans to build a 200-hectare (494-acre) park along with apartments, hotels and shopping malls at the site, which also includes some venues from the 2004 Olympics.
Greece committed to sell off state assets under the terms of the international bailout keeping its economy afloat since 2010. Its main private property developer, Lamda, signed a deal in 2014 to build on the Hellenikon coastal area, in one of Europe’s biggest real estate development projects. The announcement came as Greece’s statistics service, Elstat, said the economy expanded in the first three months of 2017, upwardly revising a previous flash estimate in May that showed a 0.1% quarterly contraction. Data showed the economy grew by 0.4% in January to March compared with the final quarter of 2016 when GDP contracted by 1.1%. [..] Under a deal with its EU/IMF lenders, Athens needs to speed up the Hellenikon investment and address any forestry and archaeological issues.