Yes, you have every right to be outraged at the disgraceful treatment of children on America’s borders. But that does not give you the right to NOT be outraged by what America has done and is today still doing to children in, just to name a few places, Syria, Libya and Yemen. Be outraged, but don’t make it an echo chamber issue. Because if you do, you, too, are in a cage.
So if you see the wives of former presidents speak out about the child separation policies, ask yourself where they get the moral authority to speak out on such issues, after their husbands have bombed the crap out of many countries, killing many many children in the process. And don’t let’s get started about Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State.
Presently in Yemen, 20 million people depend on humanitarian aid, and the US are helping Saudi Arabia et al bomb the only port left through which that aid can reach them, to smithereens. 8.5 million Yemenis are already starving, and some 3 million of them are children. Where is your outrage over that?
Where is the outrage over the American and international treatment of Julian Assange, who has been in the Ecuador embassy in London for six years today? Where is it?
Don’t get coaxed into selective outrage by your news media, who like nothing better than to tell you what to be outraged by, and what not. If you allow that to happen, you have lost your freedom and your independence. Ask why they tell you a certain story at the moment they tell it. Ask why they tell it the way they do.
Yes, it has come to this. Every single story you read or hear needs to be scrutinized. Because there’s an agenda behind all of them, left, right or middle. And because the media have figured out that constantly driving you from one selective outrage to another is very profitable for them. Critical thought is not.
Yes, there are sociopaths in the Trump administration. But that’s nothing new. There have been sociopaths in every administration. It’s how our political systems work. Sh*t floats to the top.
Yes, US border policies have intensified. But whatever you think of that, migrants and refugees are not a new issue. Nor are the reasons why people flee their homes and communities. Whether it’s Africa or Central America, people flee because of what western governments, military and intelligence services have done to their homelands.
And until we stop doing that, they will keep coming. So much of our prosperity and power is derived directly from other people’s poverty and despair. So much of our wealth has been stolen from other people’s resources. If you want to be outraged at something or someone, start with yourself. Start thinking.
What is happening today is awful. But so many awful things happened in the past that you never showed outrage about. And yet these things are all inextricably linked. One leads to another.
America shouldn’t be outraged about Trump without being outraged about its entire political system, and all of its actors. Without that, outrage about Trump has no meaning, and will lead to nothing at all. Or rather, it will lead to a more divided country, full of people played for profit and political games.
The US invasion of Vietnam ended to a large extent because of protests in the streets. Perhaps that is what is needed once again. But the underlying issues, the ones that had led to the invasion in the first place, were not solved then. And that is what it is all about.
Nor is it an American problem per se. Europe is just as culpable. Children drowning, children in cages, what’s the difference, in the end it all comes from the same mindset. Which needs a radical reset. But what are the odds of that happening?
Our cultures are based on exploiting other peoples and nations, and then telling ourselves we deserve what we have. How are you going to change that? The only way to resolve the global refugee problem is to make sure people have a future where they are born. And the only thing we actually do is to make that impossible.
For nearly 14 years as Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel has defined and personified Europe’s middle ground: pragmatic, consensual, mercantilist, petit-bourgeois, above all stable. It is little wonder the leader of Mitteleuropa’s major economic power has dominated the political centre for so long. But what if Merkel falls? Can the centre hold? These are increasingly urgent questions as the once unassailable “Mutti” struggles to hold together a fractious coalition. The immediate issue, which is likely to come to a head on Monday, is a furious row over EU immigration policy. But other problems are piling up, with unpredictable consequences for Europe’s future cohesion.
Merkel’s political obituary has been written many times, but now the final draft is nearing completion. She is under fire from the hard-right, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which stormed into the Bundestag last autumn. She has problems with the failing, unpopular Social Democrats on her left, on whom she depends for support. More seriously, though, Merkel is being challenged from within by her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, former chairman of Bavaria’s rightwing CSU, which is allied to Merkel’s Christian Democrats. In sum, Seehofer is demanding Germany no longer admit migrants who have first entered the EU via other member states – which is nearly all of them.
In Merkel’s view, such a bar would be illegal and would wreck her efforts – ongoing since the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, when Germany accepted 1 million migrants – to create a balanced, EU-wide policy of voluntary migrant quotas. She says Seehofer should wait for this month’s EU summit to come up with a joint plan. The problem with that approach is twofold. Seehofer’s CSU, which faces a critical electoral clash with the AfD in October, complains that the EU has been trying and failing to agree this for years. Another objection, as her critics see it, is that most Germans, recalling her 2015 “open door” policy, do not trust Merkel on this issue. Polls indicate 65% back tighter border controls.
Last week’s row between France and Italy, sparked by Rome’s decision to refuse entry to a ship, the Aquarius, carrying 629 migrants rescued off Libya, showed how improbable is the prospect of agreement at the Brussels summit. Italy’s new populist leadership, in common with an emerging axis of nationalist-minded governments in Austria, Hungary and Poland, believes it has a mandate to halt the migrant flow. Meanwhile, so-called “frontline states” such as Greece, Spain and Italy accuse “destination states” such as Germany, France and the UK of failing to accept a fair share of migrants. Divisions have been exacerbated by the failure, so far, of a key Merkel-backed initiative, the multibillion-euro EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, to reduce migration by addressing “root causes” in places such as Nigeria, Eritrea and Somalia.
And this is of course far too late. This summit should have been held 3 years ago. And it should be a UN summit, not some talks with Greece and Italy. Give Africa a voice. And Central America. Stop inviting xenophobia.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to hold an urgent summit dedicated to the migration crisis and to discuss this issue with a group of the EU member states, local media reported. The Bild newspaper reported Saturday citing own sources in the leadership of several EU countries that Merkel would like to discuss migration-related issues with leadership of Austria, Greece, and Italy. According to the media outlet, a final decision about the date of the summit has not been made yet, however it could take place later in the month. Earlier, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, called for reforms of EU asylum rules, proposing that the EU set up centers to process asylum claims in migrants’ countries of origin. France’s President Emanuel Macron also stressed the need to modify current migration rules and criticizing the European Union for not sharing the burden with Rome over the migrant crisis.
Italy’s interior minister has sparked a new migration crisis in the Mediterranean by barring two rescue boats from bringing refugees to shore, a week after the Auarius was prevented from docking. “Two other ships with the flag of Netherlands, Lifeline and Seefuchs, have arrived off the coast of Libya, waiting for their load of human beings abandoned by the smugglers,” Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant party the League, wrote on his Facebook page. “These gentlemen know that Italy no longer wants to be complicit in the business of illegal immigration, and therefore will have to look for other ports [not Italian] where to go.”
Italy’s closure of its ports to the migrant rescue ship Aquarius, which was carrying 620 people, triggered warnings from aid agencies of a deadly summer at sea for people trying to cross the Mediterranean. Axel Steier, the co-founder of Mission Lifeline which operates the Lifeline ship, said his crew had rescued more than 100 migrants off Libya on Friday in an operation with a US warship, and transferred them to a Turkish merchant vessel. He said his ship was too small to make the journey from Libya to Italian ports and that he always transferred migrants to other ships, but insisted those craft should have the right to land in Italy.
“I am sure there is an obligation for Italy to take them because its closest safe harbour is Lampedusa. We hand over migrants to Europe because of the Geneva convention,” he said. Vessels chartered by an assortment of European NGOs have plied the waters off Libya for three years, rescuing migrants from leaking boats and transporting them to Sicily.
Spain’s coast guard rescued 933 migrants and found four dead bodies in the Mediterranean Friday and Saturday, as the country prepared for the arrival of a charity rescue ship that was denied a port by Italy and Malta. The number of people fleeing poverty and conflict by boat to Spain doubled last year and is likely to rise again in 2018, according to the EU border agency, potentially pushing migration up the national political agenda. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has already made migrant-friendly moves in his first two weeks in the job, offering to take in the rescue ship Aquarius with 629 people on board and pledging free healthcare to undocumented migrants. The coast guard said on Twitter it had rescued 507 people from 59 small dinghies in the Gibraltar strait, where it also found the four bodies.
The first boat of the Aquarius convoy carrying 630 people, who have become the focus of a pan-European disagreement over migration, has docked in Valencia. The Italian coast guard vessel Dattilo arrived in the Spanish port just before 7am local time on Sunday, and will be followed by the Aquarius and another Italian navy ship, the Orione. The migrants were rescued a week ago off the coast of Libya and have been at sea ever since after the Italian government refused to allow the vessel they were aboard to dock in Italy. Among those rescued are seven children aged under five, 32 children aged between five and 15 years, 61 young people aged from 15 to 17 and 80 women, seven of whom are pregnant.
They were rescued in several different operations last weekend after Italian coastguard vessels reported a group of small rubber dinghies off the coast of Libya. The Aquarius, a charity rescue vessel operated by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), picked up more than a hundred people in a complex night-time rescue before being asked by the Italian authorities to take on board hundreds more people they had recovered. However the Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, then refused to allow the Aquarius to dock at Italian ports, fulfilling an election pledge to stop the arrival of migrants from Africa. Malta also refused to allow them to dock there, arguing that the Italians had assumed responsibility for the rescue operations.
Madrid said Saturday it had accepted an offer from France to take in migrants from the Aquarius rescue ship, currently en route to Spain with more than 600 people on board. “The French government will work together with the Spanish government to handle the arrival of the migrants” scheduled for Sunday, Spain’s deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo said in a statement. “France will accept migrants who express the wish to go there” once they have been processed in Valencia, the statement said. The vessel is at the heart of a major migration row between European Union member states.
Chartered by a French aid group, the vessel rescued 629 migrants including many children and pregnant women off Libya’s cost last weekend. Italy’s new populist government and Malta refused to let it dock in their ports, accusing each other of failing to meet their humanitarian and EU commitments. Spain eventually stepped in and agreed to receive the refugees. France – who had angered Rome by branding it irresponsible over the vessel rejection – offered Thursday to welcome Aquarius migrants who “meet the criteria for asylum”.
By inflicting tariffs on the steel and aluminum of his allies, and then on tens of billions of dollars in goods from China, US President Donald Trump has quickly moved to fulfill the tough campaign pledges he made on trade. During his first year in office, Trump and his top economic aides made repeated threats and warned that preliminary investigations were launched into whether certain imports were being unjustly subsidized. But no concrete steps were taken. That all changed in March, when the “America First” president went on the offensive. “What happened for a period of time is the president was constrained by different members” of his administration, said Edward Alden, a specialist on US economic competitiveness at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“But the president has become increasingly confident in his own judgment on these issues… He is willing to do radical things he promised during his campaign and for many years before that.” In its latest move, the White House on Friday announced stiff 25 percent tariffs on Chinese imports, sparking immediate retaliation from Beijing. The move, which Trump justified as payback for the theft of American intellectual property and technology, reignited a trade spat between the world’s two largest economies, spooking markets and worrying business leaders.
It came on top of the tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum that went into effect in late March – measures that prompted Beijing to slap punitive duties on 128 US goods, including pork, wine and certain pipes. Since June 1, steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico have been hit with tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Trump has seemingly opted to go with his gut, sometimes over the protestations of his closest aides.
Perhaps Iowa farmers’ biggest fear is becoming a harsh reality: The escalating U.S.-China trade dispute erupted Friday, with each country vowing to levy 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in goods. U.S. and Iowa agriculture is caught in the crossfire, with farmers selling $14 billion in soybeans to China last year, its top export market. Soybeans are among hundreds of U.S. products China has singled out for tariffs. The U.S. has an equally long list that includes taxing X-ray machines and other Chinese goods. Iowa farmers could lose up to $624 million, depending on how long the tariffs are in place and the speed producers can find new markets for their soybeans, said Chad Hart, an Iowa State University economist.
U.S. soybean prices have fallen about 12 percent since March, when the U.S.-China trade dispute began. “Any tariff or tax put in place will have a significant impact, not only to the U.S. soybean market but to Iowa’s, because we’re such a large producer,” Hart said Friday. Iowa is the nation’s second-largest soybean grower, producing 562 million bushels last year worth $5.2 billion. “It will slow down the market. Even with the tariffs in place, we will ship a lot of soybeans to China,” Hart said. “It just won’t be nearly the amount we did before. “It’s likely to still be our largest market even with these tariffs in place.”
At a graduation ceremony for the US Naval War College (barf), US Secretary of Defense James Mattis asserted that Russian President Vladimir Putin “aims to diminish the appeal of the western democratic model and attempts to undermine America’s moral authority,” and that “his actions are designed not to challenge our arms at this point but to undercut and compromise our belief in our ideals.” This would be the same James Mattis who’s been overseeing the war crimes committed by America’s armed forces during their illegal occupation of Syria.
This would be the same United States of America that was born of the genocide of indigenous tribes and the labor of African slaves, which slaughtered millions in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, Libya and Syria for no legitimate reason, which is partnered with Ukrainian Nazis, jihadist factions in Syria and Iranian terror cultists, which supports 73 percent of the world’s dictators, which interferes constantly in the electoral processes of other countries as a matter of policy, which stages coups around the world, which has encircled the globe with military bases, whose FBI still targets black civil rights activists for persecution to this very day, which routinely enters into undeclared wars of aggression against noncompliant governments to advance plutocratic interests, which remains the only country ever to use nuclear weapons on human beings after doing so completely needlessly in Japan, and which is functionally a corporatist oligarchy with no meaningful “democratic model” in place at all.
A casual glance at facts and history makes it instantly clear that the United States has no “moral authority” of any kind whatsoever, and is arguably the hub of the most pernicious and dangerous force ever assembled in human history. But the establishment Russia narrative really is that cartoonishly ridiculous: you really do have to believe that the US government is 100 percent pure good and the Russian government is 100 percent pure evil to prevent the whole narrative from falling to pieces. If you accept the idea that the exchange is anything close to 50/50, with Russia giving back more or less what it’s getting and simply protecting its own interests from the interests of geopolitical rivals, it no longer makes any sense to view Putin as a leader who poses a unique threat to the world. If you accept the idea that the west is actually being far more aggressive and antagonistic toward Russia than Russia is being toward the west, it gets even more laughable.
The last month has been an unhappy time for daydreamers of a cashless nirvana. Following weeks of disruptive tech failures, payment outages, and escalating cyber fraud scams, much of it taking place in Britain, consumers have been reminded of one of the great benefits of physical cash: it is accepted just about everywhere and does not suddenly fail on you. The findings of a new study by UK-based online payments company Paysafe, partly owned by US private equity giant Blackstone, confirm that consumers on both sides of the Atlantic continue to cling to physical lucre. For its Lost in Transaction report, Paysafe surveyed over 5,000 consumers in the UK, Canada, the US, Germany, and Austria on their payment habits.
One of its main findings is that 87% of consumers used cash to make purchases in the last month, while 83% visited ATMs, and 41% are not interested in even hearing about cash alternatives. “Despite the apparent benefits of low-friction payment technologies, these findings suggest many consumers aren’t ready to lose visibility of the payment process,” says Paysafe Group Chief Marketing Officer Oscar Nieboer. “It’s clear that the benefits are not unilaterally agreed upon, with cultural and infrastructure trends at play, and it may be some time before adoption is widespread.” Although consumers continue to cling to cash, they appear to be carrying less of it: 49% overall in the survey and 55% of U.S. respondents said they carry less cash now than they did a year ago.
The average American consumer carries $42 today — that’s $8 less than in 2017. In the UK the average amount carried in 2017 was £33; that has now fallen to £21. But that does not mean that the amount of cash in circulation is dwindling. On the contrary, according to this year’s G4S cash report, the world average ratio of currency vs GDP continues to rise, reaching 9.6% in 2018. “Currency in Circulation vs. GDP is increasing on all continents, indicating a consistent, growing demand for cash across the world,” says the report. South America has by far the highest cash dependency relative to its GDP, with an average ratio of over 16%.
Taxpayers are to be asked to help fund a £20bn a year injection of extra cash into the National Health Service by 2023-24 that will pay for thousands more doctors and nurses, while cutting cancer deaths and improving mental health services, Theresa May will say today. The announcement, before the NHS’s 70th birthday next month, will represent the biggest funding boost since Gordon Brown imposed a one percentage point rise in National Insurance to pay for more NHS spending in his 2002 budget, in the face of Tory claims that Labour was slapping a “tax on ordinary families”.
Government sources said the increases, which would be paid for in part by a “Brexit dividend”, would amount to around £600m a week extra for the NHS in cash terms within six years. Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt said last night that the government wanted to “show the world what a cutting-edge 21st-century healthcare system can look like”. He added: “This long-term plan and historic funding boost is a fitting birthday present for our most loved institution. Like no other organisation could ever hope to be, the NHS is there for every family at the best and worst of times, from the wonder of birth to the devastation of death, living and breathing those very British values of decency, fairness and compassion.
He said the extra cash “recognises the superhuman efforts made by staff over the last few years to maintain services in the face of rapidly growing demand. But it also presents a big opportunity for the NHS to write an entirely new chapter in its history”. Details of how the public will be required to pay through tax rises, and the proportion of the funding increases they will pay for, will not be spelled out until the budget, because of ongoing arguments involving the chancellor Philip Hammond, Hunt, and No 10.
Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are set to sign a historic accord to modify the latter’s name after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament Saturday. The accord is to be signed in the Prespes region, a lake district which borders Greece, FYROM and Albania, by the two countries’ foreign ministers Sunday. Tsipras and his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev will both attend the ceremony, along with UN mediator Matthew Nimetz and other European officials – including the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn.
Following the ceremony, members of the two delegations will hold a working lunch in the town of Otesevo, in FYROM. Security at the event is expected to be ultra-tight. A protest against the deal will be held in the nearby village of Pisoderi. On Saturday, after more than two days of vehement debate in Parliament, Greece’s SYRIZA-led government survived a no-confidence vote brought against it by the main opposition New Democracy party, but with one less MP. The motion garnered 127 votes with 153 against. The junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL) backed the government despite its opposition to the name deal with FYROM that Tsipras announced last week, bar one MP, Dimitris Kammenos, who backed the motion. He was subsequently expelled from the party, reducing the government’s majority to 153.
U.S. President Donald Trump said he was pushing ahead with hefty tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports on Friday, and the smoldering trade war between the world’s two largest economies showed signs of igniting as Beijing immediately vowed to respond in kind. Trump laid out a list of more than 800 strategically important imports from China that would be subject to a 25 percent tariff starting on July 6, including cars, the latest hardline stance on trade by a U.S. president who has already been wrangling with allies.
China’s Commerce Ministry said it would respond with tariffs “of the same scale and strength” and that any previous trade deals with Trump were “invalid.” The official Xinhua news agency said China would impose 25 percent tariffs on 659 U.S. products, ranging from soybeans and autos to seafood. China’s retaliation list was increased more than six-fold from a version released in April, but the value was kept at $50 billion, as some high-value items such as commercial aircraft were deleted.
President Donald Trump will let tariffs on Chinese goods worth up to $50 billion take effect after talks between the two countries failed to appease White House demands on reducing huge U.S. trade deficits. The U.S. has run large deficits with China for years and in some cases no longer produces certain goods such as consumer electronics that are popular with Americans. It won’t be easy, and it might even be impossible, to reduce the gap much any time soon. In 2017, the U.S. posted a $375.6 billion deficit in goods with China.
Most glaring is the huge deficit in computers and electronics, but the U.S. is a net importer from China in most market segments except for agriculture. The U.S. is excluding Chinese-made cellphones and televisions from its tariffs. China has been a big buyer of American-grown soybeans and other crops. Planes made by Boeing also are a product in demand in China. What happens next? Trump has vowed to increase tariffs if China retaliates, but the Chinese promised to return the favor. A trade dispute between the two largest economies in the world could result in lasting damage to the global economy if it metastasizes.
Fears of tariffs and a potential global trade war have jostled U.S. stocks over the past few months, but there is a sense among investors that the market is taking the drum beat of rhetoric and statements more in stride. In the latest salvo, U.S. President Donald Trump announced hefty tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports on Friday, and Beijing threatened to respond in kind. But even as the developments threatened to ignite a trade war between the world’s two largest economies, the equity market largely shrugged it off. The benchmark S&P 500 index ended down only 0.1 percent on Friday.
That paled compared to losses earlier in the year that were sparked by fears of a U.S.-China trade war that would be detrimental to economic growth. “The market has gotten reasonably comfortably numb to this tariff stuff,” said Chuck Carlson, chief executive officer at Horizon Investment Services in Hammond, Indiana. “They are becoming more accustomed to this being a first foray and negotiating tool.” The U.S. Customs and Border Protection is to begin collecting tariffs on an initial tranche of 818 Chinese product categories on July 6. “It’s kind of the cry-wolf syndrome,” said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I think people fear the tariffs and the uncertainty about it, but think, ‘OK, this is just another negotiating point.’”
Over the last decade, she tells me when we meet in London, “under the guise of QE, central bankers have massively overstepped their traditional mandates, directing the flow of epic sums of fabricated money, without any checks or balances, towards the private banking sector”. Since QE began, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, “the US Federal Reserve has produced a massive $4.5 trillion of conjured money, out of a worldwide QE total of around $21 trillion”, says Prins. The combination of ultra-low interest rates and vast monetary expansion, she explains, has caused “speculation to rage … much as a global casino would be abuzz if everyone gambled using everyone else’s money”.
Much of this new spending power, though, has remained “inside the system”, with banks shoring up their balance sheets. “So lending to ordinary firms and households has barely grown as a result of QE,” says Prins, “nor have wages or prosperity for most of the world’s population”. Instead, “the banks have gone on an asset-buying spree”, she explains, getting into her stride, “with the vast flow of QE cash from central banks to private banks ensuring endless opportunities for market manipulation and asset bubbles – driven by government support”. Prins describes “the power grab we’ve seen by the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and other central banks”.
Using QE, she argues, “these illusionists have altered the nature of the financial system and orchestrated a de facto heist that has enabled the most dominant banks and central bankers to run the world”.
Since the Federal Reserve hiked rates, “big” US banks have dramatically underperformed “small” US banks, continuing a trend that has been going on since February… But it’s broader than that; this “big” bank blow-up is global. The stock prices of 16 of the most ‘Systemically Important Financial Institutions’ (SIFIs) in the world are now in bear market territory (down by 20% or more from their recent highs in dollar terms); and as the FT reports, this has caused Ian Hartnett, chief investment strategist at London-based Absolute Strategy Research, to issue his first “Black Swan” alert since 2009.
Of the 39 SIFIs, these are the 16 in bear market territory: Deutsche Bank, Nordea, ICBC, UniCredit, Crédit Agricole, ING, Santander, Société Générale, BNP Paribas, UBS, Agricultural Bank of China, AXA, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Bank of China, Credit Suisse and Prudential Financial. At some point, says Hartnett, central bankers will have to respond to bearish signals from almost half the global SIFIs, rather than continuing to tighten monetary policy: “The clue is in the name,” he said. “If these banks are supposed to be systemically important then policymakers ought to be watching them to see what is happening.” “The synchronised dips were a sign of global financial stress.”
We have written numerous articles describing how cheap money and poorly designed executive compensation packages encourage corporate actions that may not be in the best interest of longer-term shareholders or the economy. The bottom line in the series of articles is that corporations, in particular shareholders and executives, are willing to forego longer term investment for future growth opportunities in exchange for the personal benefits of short-term share price appreciation. Buybacks and mergers, both of which are fueled by the Federal Reserve’s ultra-low interest rate policy have made these actions much easier to accomplish.
On the other hand, corporate apologists argue that buybacks are simply a return of capital to shareholders, just like dividends. There is nothing more to them. Instead of elaborating about the longer term ill-effects associated with buybacks or the true short-term motivations behind many mergers, the powerful simplicity of the following two graphs stands on their own. The first graph, courtesy Meritocracy, shows how mergers tend to run in cycles. Like clockwork, merger activity tends to peak before recessions. Not surprisingly, the peaks tend to occur after the Federal Reserve (Fed) has initiated a rate hike cycle. The graph only goes through 2015, but consider there has been $2 trillion in mergers in 2018, and its only June.
The following graph shows how corporate borrowing has accelerated over the last eight years on the back of lower interest rates. Currently, corporate debt to GDP stands at levels that accompanied the prior three recessions. There is a pattern here among corporate activities which seems similar to that which we see in investors. At the point in time when investors should be getting cautious and defensive as markets become stretched, they carelessly reach for more return. Based on the charts above, corporate executives do the same thing. The difference is that when an investor is careless, his or her net worth is at risk. A corporate executive on the other hand, loses nothing and simply walks away and frequently with a golden parachute.
The Singapore joint statement is not a deal; it’s a statement. The absolutely key item is number 3: “Reaffirming the April 27, 2018, Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” This means that the US and North Korea will work towards denuclearization not only in what concerns the DPRK but the whole Korean Peninsula. Much more than “…the DPRK commits to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, the keywords are in fact “reaffirming the April 27, 2018, Panmunjom Declaration…” Even before Singapore, everyone knew the DPRK would not “de-nuke” (Trump terminology) for nothing, especially when promised just some vague US “guarantees”.
Predictably, both US neocon and humanitarian imperialist factions are unanimous in their fury, blasting the absence of “meat” in the joint statement. In fact there’s plenty of meat. Singapore reaffirms the Panmunjom Declaration, which is a deal between North Korea and South Korea. By signing the Singapore joint statement, Washington has been put on notice of the Panmunjom Declaration. In law, when you take notice of a fact, you can’t ignore it later. The DPRK’s commitment to denuclearize in the Singapore statement is a reaffirmation of its commitment to denuclearize in the Panmunjom Declaration, with all of the conditions attached to it. And Trump acknowledged that by signing the Singapore statement.
The Panmunjom Declaration stresses that: “South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. South and North Korea shared the view that the measures being initiated by North Korea are very meaningful and crucial for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and agreed to carry out their respective roles and responsibilities in this regard. South and North Korea agreed to actively seek the support and cooperation of the international community for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
A split over immigration between Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister Christian Social Union (CSU) party is threatening to end her 12-year spell as Germany’s leader. Germany’s grand coalition government was formed in March after five months of political deadlock since an election the previous September. It resulted in Merkel’s fourth term as German chancellor. That vote saw a big upswing in support for the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, who campaigned against Merkel’s open-door policy to refugees and migrants arriving from the Middle East and Africa.
Now the CSU, fearful of losing further support from its conservative base, is threatening to withdraw from the country’s grand coalition unless Merkel hardens her immigration stance. “My sources in Berlin say the situation is on a knife-edge right now, some are even giving it an 80 percent probability that Merkel will step down in the next two weeks,” said Nina Schick, director at political consultancy Rasmussen Global, in a telephone call to CNBC Friday. Schick, however, warned that writing Merkel off has long been a dangerous game. “The fundamental rule in German politics since 2006 is don’t underestimate Merkel,” she added.
The government said on Friday that 1,995 children were separated from 1,940 adults at the U.S.-Mexico border between April 19 and May 31, as the Trump administration implements stricter border enforcement policies. The number represents a dramatic uptick from the nearly 1,800 family separations that Reuters reported had happened from October 2016 through February of this year. The official tally of separations is now nearly 4,000 children, not including March and the beginning of April 2018. In May, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a ‘zero tolerance’ policy in which all those apprehended entering the United States illegally would be criminally charged, which generally leads to children being separated from their parents.
The families were all separated so the parents could be criminally prosecuted, said a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, who declined to be named, on a call with reporters. “Advocates want us to ignore the law and give people with families a free pass,” said the official. “We no longer exempt entire classes of people.” The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request to provide a breakdown of the age of children separated from their parents and held in custody, but the official said they do not separate babies from adults.
French border police have been accused of detaining migrant children as young as 12 in cells without food or water, cutting the soles off their shoes and stealing sim cards from their mobile phones, before illegally sending them back to Italy. A report released on Friday by the charity Oxfam also cites the case of a “very young” Eritrean girl, who was forced to walk back to the Italian border town of Ventimiglia along a road with no pavement while carrying her 40-day-old baby. The allegations, which come from testimony gathered by Oxfam workers and partner organisations, come two months after French border police were accused of falsifying the birth dates of unaccompanied migrant children in an attempt to pass them off as adults and send them back to Italy.
“We don’t have evidence of violent physical abuse, but many [children] have recounted being pushed and shoved or shouted at in a language they don’t understand,” Giulia Capitani, the report’s author, told the Guardian. “And in other ways the border police intimidate them – for example, cutting the soles off their shoes is a way of saying, ‘Don’t try to come back’.” Daniela Zitarosa, from the Italian humanitarian agency Intersos, said: “Police [officers] yell at them, laugh at them and tell them, ‘You will never cross here’. “Some children have their mobile phone seized and sim card removed. They lose their data and phonebook. They cannot even call their parents afterwards.”
Emmanuel Macron is not a welcome guest in the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, a flashpoint in Europe’s migration crisis. Residents are furious at the French president for charging Rome with “cynicism and irresponsibility” this week after it turned away a rescue boat carrying more than 600 asylum-seekers. “It’s bad what happened to the Aquarius (ship) but how dare Macron criticise Italy!” vented retired teacher Fulvia Semeria who volunteers for the Secours Catholique charity, a key aid group for migrants. “It’s unacceptable from a country that does nothing for migrants and even rejects them,” she said, calling his remarks “insulting and totally unfair”.
The pretty northern town at the gates of the French Riviera has received tens of thousands of asylum seekers pushed back by France since the eruption of Europe’s worst migration crisis three years ago. This is in addition to scores of desperate African refugees landing on its shores after undertaking the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. The influx has seen Ventimiglia dubbed the “Calais of Italy”, in reference to the French coastal town notorious for its sprawling migrant camps. [..] At least 16 migrants have died trying to cross from France into Italy since September 2016, falling off mountains, being hit by cars or electrocuted while hiding under train carriages.
A Golden Dawn lawmaker is on the run after Greece’s authorities issued an arrest warrant following his call in the parliament on Friday for the arrest of the country’s prime minister and president over the provisional ‘Macedonia’ name deal. According to reports, Konstantinos Barbarousis, who could face charges of high treason, escaped a police blockade late on Friday in the western region of Aetoloakarnania where he sought refuge. A huge police operation is under way to locate him and bring him to justice. Judicial authorities do not need Parliament’s approval to lift an MP’s immunity in the case of treason-related charges.
Speaking in Parliament, Barbarousis accused the government of “not legislating in the nation’s interests but in its own.” He called for a coup d’etat and asked on the Greek armed forces to “abide by their oath” and arrest Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos and President Prokopis Pavlopoulos. His outburst led to his expulsion form the extremist party, as the speaker of the house barred any members of Golden Dawn speaking during the debate on a no-confidence motion against the government tabled after the Greece, FYROM agreement.
Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un signed what the US president described as a “very important, comprehensive” document following the conclusion of their “really fantastic” whirlwind historic summit in Singapore, the first between a US president and North Korean leader that came after decades of hostility. “The letter that we are signing is very comprehensive, and I think both sides will be very impressed with the results,” Trump said as he sat alongside the North Korean leader at a large wooden table in front of a bank of U.S. and North Korean flags to endorse the document, which however produced no new specific commitments from Pyongyang to surrender its nuclear weapons aside from broad generalities.
Speaking through an interpreter, Kim said that the two countries would “leave the past behind” in signing the “historic”agreement and that “the world will see the major change,” adding that “I would like to express gratitude to President Trump for making this meeting happen.” Trump said more information would come out “in just a little while” and did not say what the agreement entailed, but some had already managed to extract the key contents from the letter Trump held up. The letter says that the U.S. and North Korea “will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” and that North Korea “commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
The pair also agree to “establish new U.S.-DPRK relations, and the two leaders “have committed to cooperate for the development of new U.S.-DPRK relations and for the promotion of peace, prosperity and security of the Korean Peninsula and of the world.” Notably, the U.S. and N. Korea agree to follow-on negotiations led by Sec. of State Mike Pompeo and a DPRK counterpart. In other words this is just the first of many summits. Speaking to reporters, Trump also said the he would “absolutely” invite Kim to the White House to continue their talks, meanwhile Kim called the document “historic” and said it would lead to a new era in the U.S.-North Korea relationship. “We had a historic meeting and decided to leave the past behind, and we are about to sign a historic document,” he said through a translator. “The world will see a major change.”
Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump had barely exchanged pleasantries outside the Capella hotel when their mutual friend Dennis Rodman appeared on TV to provide a characteristically bizarre sideshow to the main event in Singapore. In a rambling interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo from Singapore, a highly emotional Rodman claimed credit for predicting that today’s summit – which seemed unlikely just months ago – would happen. Wearing a Make America Great Again baseball cap and a T-shirt bearing the name of his sponsor Potcoin, Rodman sobbed as he described his feelings about the summit and recalled the abuse he had received over his controversial visits to Pyongyang to meet Kim. “I said to everybody, the door will open,” he said.
“It’s amazing, it’s amazing, it’s amazing. When I said those things, when I went back home, I got so many death threats … and I believed in North Korea, and I couldn’t even go home, I couldn’t even go home, I had to hide out for 30 days, I couldn’t even go home. “But I kept my head high, brother, I knew things were going to change … I knew it, I was the only one. I never had no one to hear me, I had no one to see me. But I took all those bullets, I took all at that … but I’m still standing. Today is a great day for everybody, Singapore, Tokyo, China, everybody … it’s a great day. I’m here to see it. I’m so happy.”
The former NBA star is one of the few westerners to have met Kim, with whom he struck up an unlikely friendship over their shared love of basketball. Describing his meetings with Kim, Rodman said: “He’s more like a big kid, even though he’s small. He wants to come to America. He wants to enjoy his life.” Rodman said he had tried to pass on what he heard from Kim to Barack Obama but was “brushed off”.
In their first moments of meeting each other, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un both sought to project a sense of command but displayed some anxiety at the start of their high-stakes summit in Singapore. Body language experts said that in the 13 seconds or so the U.S. president held on to the hand of Kim for the first time, he projected his usual dominance by reaching out first, and patting the North Korean leader’s shoulder. Not to be outdone, Kim firmly pumped Trump’s hand, looking him straight in the eye for the duration, before breaking off to face the media.
“It wasn’t a straight-out handshake,” said Allan Pease, an Australian body language expert and author of several books on the topic, including “The Definitive Guide to Body Language”. “It was up and down, there was an argy-bargy, each one was pulling the other closer. Each guy wasn’t letting the other get a dominant grip,” he told Reuters by telephone from Melbourne. Trump and Kim are meeting in Singapore for historic talks aimed at finding a way to end a nuclear standoff on the Korean peninsula. Should they succeed, it could bring lasting change to the security landscape of Northeast Asia, like the visit of former U.S. President Richard Nixon to China in 1972 led to the transformation of China.
Ahead of the meeting, Trump had said he would be able to work out within the first minute whether his North Korean counterpart was serious about making peace. Projecting authority comes easily to Trump, who as a global leader, businessman and former television personality is well-versed in using body language effectively. He also has a height advantage over Kim. While both men walked to the library where they held their first face-to-face meeting, Trump sought to ease any tension in the air by chatting to Kim, and letting him walk slightly ahead. Trump, however, maintained control over the chat by patting Kim, and using his hand to guide him, who is almost half his age, into the room. Kim also patted Trump, in an attempt to assert control. He mainly looked down, listening, as Trump spoke, but did look up at several times during the conversation.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde led an attack by global economic organizations on U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” trade policy on Monday, warning that clouds over the global economy “are getting darker by the day”. Trump backed out of a joint communique agreed by Group of Seven leaders in Canada at the weekend that mentioned the need for “free, fair and mutually beneficial trade” and the importance of fighting protectionism. The U.S. president, who has imposed import tariffs on metals, is furious about the United States’ large trade deficit with key allies. “Fair trade is now to be called fool trade if it is not reciprocal,” he tweeted on Monday.
In response, Lagarde unleashed a thinly veiled attack on Trump’s trade policy, saying challenges to the way trade is conducted were damaging business confidence, which had soured even since the weekend G7 summit. The IMF is sticking to its forecast for global growth of 3.9% both this year and next, she said, before adding: “But the clouds on the horizon that we have signaled about six months ago are getting darker by the day, and I was going to say by the weekend.” “The biggest and darkest cloud that we see is the deterioration in confidence that is prompted by (an) attempt to challenge the way in which trade has been conducted, in which relationships have been handled and in which multilateral organizations have been operating,” Lagarde said.
[..] Earlier, Germany’s economy minister said Berlin saw no immediate solution to the trade row between the United States and other major economies but remained open to talks “among friends”, seeking to head off a full-blown global trade war. As Europe’s biggest exporter to the United States, and with more than one million German jobs at stake, Germany is desperate to avoid an EU trade war with the United States. “I believe a win-win situation is still possible,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, one of Merkel’s closest lieutenants, told broadcaster Deutschlandfunk. “At the moment, however, it seems that no solution is in sight, at least not in the short term.”
The Trump administration is building up a substantial economic momentum domestically. First, he passed income and corporate tax cuts that the establishment Republicans could not have imagined even in their wildest dreams a few years ago. But this was not all. Behind the scenes, Trump astonished Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat’s leader in the House of Representatives, by approving every single social program that she asked of him. As a result, the federal government is running the largest budget deficit in America’s history when the rate of unemployment is less than 4%. Whatever one thinks of this president, he is giving money away not only to the richest, who of course get the most, but also to many poor people.
With demonstrably strong employment, especially among African American workers, inflation under control and the stock market still buoyant, Donald Trump has his home front covered as he travels to foreign lands to confront friends and foes. The US anti-Trump establishment prays that markets will punish his profligacy. This is precisely what would have happened if America were any other country. With a fiscal deficit expected to reach $804bn 2018 and $981bn in 2019, and with the government expected to borrow $2.34tn in the next 18 months, the exchange rate would be crashing and interest rates would be going through the roof. Except that the US is not any other country. As its central bank, the Fed, winds down its quantitative easing program by selling off its stock of accumulated assets to the private sector, investors need dollars to buy them.
This causes the number of dollars available to investors to shrink by up to $50bn a month. Add to this the dollars German and Chinese capitalists need to buy US government bonds (in a bid to park their profits somewhere safe) and you begin to see why Trump believes he will not be punished by a run either on the dollar or on government bonds. Armed with the exorbitant privilege that owning the dollar presses affords him, Trump then takes a look at the trade flows with the rest of the G7 and comes to an inescapable conclusion: he cannot possibly lose a trade war against countries that have such high surpluses with the US (eg Germany, Italy, China), or which (like Canada) will catch pneumonia the moment the American economy catches the common cold.
I’m all for world peace, and I would like to attempt to take the Kim-Trump meeting seriously, but it is hard to imagine two characters less prepared by the rigors of reality than this pair. Each has been dwelling in a magic kingdom of his own life-long. Both exhibit behaviors typical of children: sulking, threats, bluster, and mysterious mood shifts. The supposedly serious adults around Mr. Trump must be going through the Xanax like Tic-Tacs. The military attachés around the inscrutable Kim might recall the 2016 execution of two NK ministers shot to death with anti-aircraft guns for displeasing the boss — one of them for merely falling asleep during a Kim speech. Who cleaned up that mess, I wonder.
Maybe something good can come out of this improbable set-up. I expect a kind of vaudeville act: a few moments of the two principals pretending that they understand what each is saying… a hopeful communiqué announcing the blooming of a million flowers, and a fateful blowup a few hours into the honeymoon when Kim, Trump, and all the spear-carriers on both sides realize that they had no idea what they were talking about. Then, on Thursday or thereabouts the long-awaited DOJ Inspector General’s report comes out, after a going-over by the very folks at the FBI whose conduct is the subject of that review. I expect a new layer in the mighty cake baked by the white knights of the Resistance. This one will be called Redacto-Gate.
In an environment that is saturated with mass media propaganda, it can be hard to figure out which way’s up, let alone get an accurate read on what’s going on in the world. Here are a few tips I’ve learned which have given me a lot of clarity in seeing through the haze of spin and confusion. Taken separately they don’t tell you a lot, but taken together they paint a very useful picture of the world and why it is the way it is.
1. It’s always ultimately about acquiring power.
In the quest to understand why governments move in such irrational ways, why expensive, senseless wars are fought while homeless people die of exposure on the streets, why millionaires and billionaires get richer and richer while everyone else struggles to pay rent, why we destroy the ecosystem we depend on for our survival, why one elected official tends to advance more or less the same harmful policies and agendas as his or her predecessor, people often come up with explanations which don’t really hold water.
The most common of these is probably the notion that all of these problems are due to the malignant influence of one of two mainstream political parties, and if the other party could just get in control of the situation all the problems would go away. Other explanations include the belief that humans are just intrinsically awful, blaming minorities like Jews or immigrants, blaming racism and white supremacy, or going all the way down wild and twisted rabbit holes into theories about reptilian secret societies and baby-eating pedophile cabals. But really all of mankind’s irrational behavior can be explained by the basic human impulse to amass power and influence over one’s fellow humans, combined with the fact that sociopaths tend to rise to positions of power.
Our evolutionary ancestors were pack animals, and the ability to rise in social standing in one’s pack determined crucial matters like whether one got first or last dibs on food or got to reproduce. This impulse to rise in our pack is hardwired deeply into our evolutionary heritage, but when left unchecked due to a lack of empathy, and when expanded into the globe-spanning 7.6 billion human pack we now find ourselves in due to ease of transportation and communication, it can lead to individuals who will keep amassing more and more power until they wield immense influence over entire clusters of nations.
2. Money rewards sociopathy.
The willingness to do anything to get ahead, to claw your way to the top, to betray whomever you need to, to throw anyone under the bus, to step on anyone to pass them in the rat race, will be rewarded in our current system. Being willing to underpay employees, cheat the legal system, and influence legislators will be rewarded exponentially more. People with a sense of empathy are often unwilling to do such things, whereas sociopaths and psychopaths are. About four percent of the population are sociopaths, and about one percent are psychopaths, with some five to fifteen percent falling somewhere along the borderline. The less empathy you have, the further you are willing to go, and the further up the ladder you can climb.
“We never pre-commit.” This was the rule broken last week by the European Central Bank’s Chief Economist Peter Praet, one of the more dovish members of the bank’s Governing Council, as he openly said it would start to discuss the gradual exit from of its quantitative easing (QE) program this week at its meeting in Riga, Latvia. What has changed? Recent headline inflation was stronger than expected and close to the ECB’s target, mainly due to the rise in oil prices. At the same time the situation in Italy has calmed down again. But there still are risks to the growth outlook from other issues such as the U.S.-EU trade spat.
“We think a ‘flexible tapering’ announcement is more likely than an unconditional commitment to an end date for QE,” said ECB watcher Frederik Ducrozet at Pictet Wealth Management in a note. “The ECB could say that there will be ‘no further large expansion of asset purchases’ barring an unwarranted tightening of financial conditions. The modalities of QE tapering could be decided in July.” Whether the details come in June or July, the overwhelming majority of economists polled by Reuters expect the purchases to end by the end of this year. “Irrespective of whether the exit announcement is in June or July, we expect QE to end in December after a taper in (the fourth quarter) and the first policy rate hike in June 2019,” said Mark Wall, the chief economist with Deutsche Bank, in a research note.
Corporate executives are using tax cuts and share buybacks to boost their own compensation, a top regulator said Monday. Companies have announced a record-breaking level of share buybacks since Congress passed the Republican-backed tax reduction in December. Critics of the $1.5 trillion measure had worried that it would lead to big rewards for shareholders and only limited benefit to the broader economy. Robert Jackson Jr., a member of the Securities and Exchange Commission, said corporate bigwigs have been selling their shares after the buyback announcements hit, cashing in from the stock price surge that often happens after a repurchase notice.
The rules exempting companies from securities law violations for the timing and pricing of buyback announcements need to change, said Jackson, who President Donald Trump appointed earlier this year to fill a designated Democratic SEC seat. Jackson pointed out that the Dodd-Frank banking reforms passed after the financial crisis included language aimed at keeping investors informed about how executives cash out their shares, but specific rules remain in limbo. “But it’s not just that the regulations haven’t been finalized. It’s that the problem itself keeps getting worse,” he said. “You see, the Trump tax bill has unleashed an unprecedented wave of buybacks, and I worry that lax SEC rules and corporate oversight are giving executives yet another chance to cash out at investor expense.”
Indeed, buybacks totaled $178 billion during the first quarter, hit a record $171.3 billion in May alone and have seen $51.1 billion announced so far in June, according to market data firm TrimTabs. At the same time, insider selling has totaled $23.6 billion. Wall Street analysts expect full-year buybacks to total as much as $800 billion, part of what UBS recently forecast to be a $2.5 trillion tsunami of cash pumped into repurchases, dividends, and mergers and acquisitions activity.
The U.S. open internet rules expired on Monday, handing sweeping new powers to internet providers to block, throttle or offer paid “fast lanes” for web traffic, but a court battle remains ahead. The Federal Communications Commission repealed the 2015 Obama administration’s landmark net neutrality rules in December by a 3-2 vote, sparking a firestorm of criticism on social media websites, opposition from internet firms like Facebook and Alphabet, and protests among Democrats in the Republican-controlled Congress. New regulations that took legal effect Monday give internet service providers (ISPs) sweeping power to slow, block or offer “paid prioritization” to some websites as long as they disclose the practices.
The 2015 order subjected internet providers to strict regulations by the FCC, arguing consumers needed protection from internet provider practices and said internet providers could engage in “just and reasonable conduct.” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said last week the rollback will ensure more investment by providers and will ensure “better, faster, and cheaper Internet access and more broadband competition to the American people.” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat who voted against the repeal, said Monday that the decision put the FCC “on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public.”
A rescue boat loaded with hundreds of refugees which has been stranded in the Mediterranean Sea after Italy and Malta refused to allow the boat to dock, is unable to make the journey to Spain where the government has said it can land. Bad weather in the area is forecast to get worse, making the three-to-five-day voyage dangerous, according to French humanitarian group SOS Meiterranee France. According to the organisation, 629 migrants have been taken on board the Aquarius rescue boat, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women. On Monday evening the group put out a message which read: “Reaching Spain would take several days. With 629 people on board and weather deteriorating, the situation could become critical.”
“Priority must remain the safety of all survivors. It is the responsibility of the Italian maritime authorities to find a safe and fast solution for the 629 people aboard the #Aquarius.” The boat was refused entry to Italian ports after Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini, who is also leader of far-right party Lega Nord (Northern League) said that all Italian ports were closed to the Aquarius. In a Facebook post he called on Malta to take in the vessel. [..][ the new Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, who took office just over a week ago, then said Spain would allow the rescue vessel to dock in the city of Valencia, where the rescued migrants and refugees could finally disembark. Despite the offer, it now looks unlikely the boat will attempt to reach Spain.
We cannot speak of its loneliness, but it must be Britain’s most solitary animal. For the last 16 years, every winter, a male greater mouse-eared bat has taken up residence 300 metres inside a disused and exceedingly damp railway tunnel in West Sussex. The greater mouse-eared bat has been all but extinct in this country for decades. This is the only remaining one we know of. The future of the species in Britain appears to rest with one long-lived and very distinctive individual. The greater mouse-eared bat is so large that observers who first discovered it in Britain likened one to a young rabbit hanging from a wall. In flight, its wings can stretch to nearly half a metre – an astonishing spectacle in a land where bats are generally closer to the size of the rodent that inspired their old name: flittermouse.
The bat has large, mouse-like ears and its feeding habits are as striking as its size. Rather than zig-zagging through darkening skies collecting flying insects, like most bats, Myotis myotis descends earthwards, flapping its wings very slowly as it covers the ground, picking up grasshoppers, crickets, dung beetles and other flightless insects as it goes. Often, it will flop on to the ground, wings outstretched to fold over its prey. The solitary individual who spends the winters in West Sussex has never been observed in flight. Where it goes each spring is not known, and what it does is not known, nor which other animals, if any, it encounters. All that is known is that each winter the bat faithfully returns to its dark tunnel, where it hangs, almost motionless, for five months.
[..] Bats have been evolving for so long, and with so many specialised attributes, from echolocation to drastically extended forelimbs, that the order of Chiroptera – “winged hands” in Latin – accounts for one in five species of mammal. They are supremely successful animals. As one expert puts it: when you have been evolving for so long, you’ve perfected the business of being a bat. That business is becoming tricker in a human-dominated world. In older times, they were feared and despised. Modern people may be more tolerant, but even beneficent parts of society – from harvesters of renewable energy to vicars – are often hostile to bats. Energy-efficient homes seal up roof spaces where bats once roosted.
New roads – and the planned route of the HS2 railway – block traditional foraging routes. LED lighting is particularly disturbing for bats. Wind farms chop them up: according to a study published in 2016, researchers using sniffer dogs to find and retrieve bat carcasses calculated that 29 onshore windfarms killed 194 dead bats per month – a kill-rate that would dispatch 80,000 bats a year across Britain, without accounting for migrating bats taken out by the rapidly expanding rows of offshore turbines.
“The ECB (European Central Bank) just had its 20th birthday. But there is really nothing to celebrate. The EU is in a total mess and the Euro, which was launched on January 1, 1999, is a failed currency. Every president of the ECB has had to deal with fires that had very little to do with price stability but were more a question of survival. Most of these fires were a lot more serious than the candles in the Euro cake above which Draghi is trying to blow out. During the Frenchman Trichet’s watch, he had to deal with the Great Financial Crisis that started in 2006…
[..] The EU now has major economic and/or political problems in many countries. Italy’s new coalition government is a protest against the EU and Euro. With debt to GDP already the highest in Europe, the new regime will exacerbate the problems. Lower taxes and higher spending will guarantee that. As the chart below shows, Italian debt to GDP is already 140%. By 2050 this is projected to grow to 210%. As interest rates go up, servicing the growing debt will soon absorb all tax revenue. Italy will be bankrupt long before 2050 and default on all its debt.
Between now and 2050, the Italian working age population is forecast to decline by 1/3, from 36 million to 24 million. There will be a lot less people to pay for a much higher debt.
The consequences of massive debt, economic stagnation and population decline will be a much lower GDP, which is expected to decline 35% by 2050.
If the above forecast of a major fall in the population as well as a substantial increase in debt is even vaguely accurate, Italy is on its way to the Dark Ages. I must stress here that I find it so sad that this glorious country is suffering so much already and will suffer a lot more. Personally I love Italy — the people, the food, the architecture, the history and the Giola di Vivere (joie de vivre) of the Italians. It will be so tragic to see all of this disintegrate. Hopefully it will take a long time, although, sadly, the crisis might actually be around the corner.
But Italy is just one of many countries which will collapse in coming years. Spain is in a similar situation and the prime minister has just been kicked out. Greece’s problems have never been resolved and this fine country is also bankrupt and so are the Greek banks. I could go on with Portugal, France, Ireland, the UK and many others. Most of these countries have insoluble problems. It is only a matter of degree and time when the EU/Eurozone house of cards comes down.
[..] to maintain leverage in negotiations, the Administration must convince trading partners that the US intends to impose trade restrictions. However, and this is the key part, “it is unlikely that the White House can convince trading partners that tariff threats are credible without also convincing financial markets.” In other words, for Trump’s trade negotiations to be successful, and for US trade partners to take a flip-flopping Trump credibly, the market has to crash. Incidentally, this makes sense when one considers that when Trump officially launched the trade war with China in early April, the president explicitly warned that stocks “may take a hit”, and told investors to prepare for “pain” in the market, a statement which promptly became a self-fulfilling prophecy and sent the market sharply lower.
The other consequence is that markets may tumble not as an effect, but as a cause of the trade war: after all Trump needs to be taken seriously, and that could mean another slide in the S&P. Goldman agrees as much: “… we do not expect trade policy risks to fade anytime soon. While we think that financial market sentiment around trade issues is unlikely to become as negative again as it was in early April, when the President floated the possibility of tariffs on another $100 billion in imports from China, we do not expect markets to become entirely comfortable with the outlook for trade policy, either.”
The punchline: “The challenge that the White House faces is that, to maintain leverage in negotiations, trading partners must believe that the US intends to follow through with proposed actions like tariffs. However, repeated threats begin to lose credibility unless they are followed up with action.” In short, just as China said earlier, the US can’t have its cake and eat it too: Trump can’t have trade war, or the threat thereof, and record high stocks.
Deutsche Bank AG will face another challenge this month when the Federal Reserve publishes the results of a “stress test” on the bulk of its U.S. operations for the first time. Germany’s largest lender is already facing challenges with U.S. bank regulators and in financial markets, with its stock price falling to historic lows on Thursday. Standard & Poor’s downgraded its credit rating to BBB+ from A- on Friday. The downgrade came after reports earlier in the week that the Fed designated one of Deutsche Bank’s U.S. businesses as “troubled” last year, something a person with knowledge of the matter confirmed to Reuters on Friday. The Fed’s stress test results, expected to be released sometime this month, will be the next big public barometer of Deutsche Bank’s financial strength.
It could be difficult for a bank with a subsidiary on the “troubled” list to pass the scenarios, according to a person familiar with the tests who was not authorized to speak publicly. That is because the capital, liquidity and risk management failures that would land a bank on the list are similar to those that lead banks to flunk the stress test, the person said. The Fed has been examining how the biggest U.S. banks would handle a range of adverse economic and market scenarios since 2009, requiring many to shore up their capital buffers and risk management controls. But this is the first year it will publicly release results of six foreign lenders, including Deutsche Bank, after requiring them to create consolidated U.S. holding companies with ring-fenced capital. The Fed tested those new entities last year in a trial run, the results of which are confidential.
Australia just experienced one of the biggest mining booms in world history. But even at the peak of that boom, there was no talk of the wonderful opportunity we finally had to invest in world-class mental health or domestic violence crisis services. Nor was there much talk from either major party about how the wealth of the mining boom gave us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in remote Indigenous communities. Nope, the peak of the mining boom was not the time to help those who had missed out in decades past, but the Howard government thought it was a great time to introduce permanent tax cuts for high-income earners. These, of course, are the tax cuts that caused the budget deficits we have today.
Millions of tonnes of explosives were used during the mining boom to build more than 100 new mines, but it wasn’t just prime farmland that was blasted away in the boom, it was access to the middle class. At the same time that Gina Rinehart was becoming the world’s richest woman on the back of rising iron-ore prices, those on the minimum wage were falling further and further behind their fellow Australians. Australia isn’t poor; it is rich beyond the imagining of anyone living in the 1970s or ’80s. But so much of that new wealth has been vacuumed up by a few, and so little of that new wealth has been paid in tax, that the public has been convinced that ours is a country struggling to pay its bills.
Convincing Australians that our nation is poor and that our governments “can’t afford” to provide the level of services they provided in the past has not just helped to lower our expectations of our public services and infrastructure, it has helped to lower our expectations of democracy itself. A public school in Sydney has had to ban kids from running in the playground because it was so overcrowded. Trains have become so crowded at peak hours that many people, especially the frail and the disabled, are reluctant to use them.
Greece is to take a substantial step towards easing capital controls – restrictions associated with the worst days of economic crisis – as it prepares to exit its current bailout programme. Signalling that confidence is gradually returning to the country’s banking system, the leftist-led government has doubled the amount depositors will be able to withdraw from their accounts as of Monday. “As is usually the case with the economy, this is about psychology,” said a senior official at the Bank of Greece. “The relaxation is as much about boosting confidence among investors and savers as showing banks can now afford to work under normal conditions.” Barely three months before its third international bailout programme expires, the country once at the epicentre of the euro crisis is keen to prove its financial turmoil is over.
Under the new rules, the limit on cash withdrawals from local banks will be raised from €2,300 to €5,000 per month. Business transactions will also be facilitated, with cash transfers abroad being doubled to €40,000 a month. The Greek finance ministry said it had similarly decided to increase the amount depositors can take abroad, in euros or foreign currency, from €2,300 to €3,000 per trip. From 1 July, banks will be allowed to accept customer orders for money transfers overseas for up to €4,000 bi-monthly. In a statement the finance ministry said the aim was to fully lift restrictions “as soon as possible” while ensuring macroeconomic and financial stability.
The Commonwealth Bank Monday agreed to the largest civil penalty in Australian corporate history to settle claims it breached anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws. The Aus$700 million (US$530 million) fine – which is subject to court approval – comes after mediation between the nation’s biggest lender and the country’s financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC. It follows the bank being taken to court last August for “serious and systemic non-compliance” of anti-money laundering laws more than 53,000 times, with AUSTRAC filing 100 further claims in December. CBA was also accused of failing to adequately monitor suspected terrorist financiers.
“While not deliberate, we fully appreciate the seriousness of the mistakes we made,” said CBA chief executive Matt Comyn in a statement. “Our agreement today is a clear acknowledgement of our failures and is an important step towards moving the bank forward. On behalf of Commonwealth Bank, I apologise to the community for letting them down.” The bank, which in the fallout has replaced senior leadership overseeing financial crimes and pumped millions of dollars into improving its systems, also agreed to pay AUSTRAC’s Aus$2.5 million legal fees.
After slumping more than 10 percent over the past month, during which it admitted losing financial records for almost 20 million customers, CBA’s share price rallied 1.44 percent on the settlement to close at Aus$69.69. The scandal is only the latest issue to damage the reputation of Australian banks, which have been under intense scrutiny amid allegations of dodgy financial advice, life insurance and mortgage fraud, and rigging benchmark interest rates. Last week, ANZ Bank was accused of “cartel arrangements” over a multi-billion-dollar capital raising, along with its advisers Deutsche Bank and Citigroup. They face potential criminal charges.
The causal link between Germany’s two political headaches has an economic basis. Trump understands one thing well: Germany and the eurozone are at his mercy, owing to their increasing dependence on large net exports to the US and the rest of the world. And this dependence has grown inexorably as a result of the austerity policies that were first tried out in Greece and then implemented in Italy and elsewhere.
To see the link, recall the “fiscal compact” to eliminate structural budget deficits that Germany insisted upon as a condition of agreeing to bailout loans for distressed governments and banks. Then note that this pan-European austerity drive took place against the backdrop of massive excess savings over investment. Finally, note that large excess savings and balanced government budgets necessarily mean large trade surpluses – and thus the increasing reliance of Germany, and Europe, on massive net exports to the United States and Asia. In other words, the same incompetent policies that gave rise to the xenophobic, anti-Europeanist Italian government also bolstered Trump’s power over Merkel.
Europe’s inability to get its own house in order has engendered a new Italian majority that is planning to expel a half-million migrants, blowing fresh winds into the sails of militant racists in Hungary, Poland, France, Britain, the Netherlands, and, of course, Germany itself. Meanwhile, with Europe too enfeebled to tame Trump, the US will aim to force China to deregulate its financial and tech sectors. If it succeeds, at least 15% of China’s national income will gush out of the country, adding to the deflationary forces that are breeding political monsters in Europe and in the US.
At least 47 people died and 68 others were rescued after their migrant boat sank off Tunisia’s southern coast, according to the country’s defence ministry. Authorities said about 180 people, of both Tunisian and other nationalities, were hemmed in onboard the vessel. A survivor said the captain had abandoned the boat after it hit trouble in order to escape arrest. “I survived by clinging to wood for nine hours,” he told Reuters from a hospital in the city of Sfax where people were arriving in search of relatives and friends. Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), warned on Twitter that the final number of missing was still not known.
Tunisia has recently seen growing use of its coasts by human traffickers ferrying migrants from Africa to Europe, as Libyan authorities have cracked down on similar activity on their own shores. Tunisia has been suffering from an economic crisis since the toppling of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali as president in 2011, which led to rocketing unemployment and inflation. In a separate incident, nine people including six children were killed off the coast of Turkey on Sunday after their speedboat sank, the Turkish coast guard said. By 30 May, the IOM had recorded 32,080 people as having reached Europe by boat in 2018 and around 660 as having died or gone missing in the attempt.
Nine migrants, including six children, seeking to head to Europe in a speedboat drowned on Sunday when the vessel sank off Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, state media reports said. The boat hit trouble off the Demre district of Turkey’s Mediterranean Antalya province, a popular holiday spot, the state-run Anadolu news agency said. Five were rescued while one person was still missing, it added. Two adults, one woman and six children lost their lives, it said. The Dogan news agency said that they were seeking to head illegally to Europe but their planned route was not immediately clear. The nearest EU territory is the small Greek island of Kastellorizo to the west which lies off the Turkish resort of Kas.
The nationalities of those on board have yet to be made clear. Over a million people, many fleeing the war in Syria, crossed to European Union member Greece from Turkey in 2015 after the onset of the bloc’s worst migration crisis since World War II. [..] According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 10,948 people crossed to Greece this year up to May 30, sharply more than in the same period in 2017. Thirty-five people lost their lives using this route so far this year, according to the IOM. As well as migrants from countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Afghanistan, the route has been used by Turkish citizens fleeing the crackdown that followed the 2016 failed coup.
Germany’s Bayer will wrap up the $62.5 billion takeover of Monsanto on Thursday this week and also retire the name of the U.S. seeds maker, it said on Monday. The German drugmaker had received all required approvals from regulatory authorities, it said in a statement. “Bayer will remain the company name. Monsanto will no longer be a company name. The acquired products will retain their brand names and become part of the Bayer portfolio,” it said. Bayer launched a 6 billion euro ($7 billion) rights issue on Sunday, a cornerstone of the financing package for the deal.
Governments need to urgently tackle a capacity crisis facing airports as demand for international travel grows, but they should be cautious about private sector involvement, airline industry group IATA warned Monday. With passenger levels projected to nearly double to 7.8 billion by 2036, infrastructure such as airports and air traffic control systems were not keeping pace, the International Air Transport Association said. Major airports have sought to address the crisis by managing slots — giving airlines specific operating rights at particular times. But there was still a need for new airports, IATA chief Alexandre de Juniac said at the body’s annual meeting in Sydney.
“We are in a capacity crisis. And we don’t see the required airport infrastructure investment to solve it,” he said, adding that cash-strapped governments were increasingly turning to private firms to increase airport capacity. But he cautioned against privatised airports, warning that they have “not lived up to airline expectations” with many carriers having “far too many bitter experiences”. [..] IATA Monday projected global air passenger traffic to rise by 6.5 percent this year to 4.36 billion, after increases of 7.0 and 7.3 percent in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
Sumburgh Head lies at the southern tip of mainland Shetland. This dramatic 100-metre-high rocky spur, crowned with a lighthouse built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather, has a reputation for being one of the biggest and most accessible seabird colonies in Britain. Thousands of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars gather there every spring to breed, covering almost every square inch of rock or grass with teeming, screeching birds and their young. Or at least they used to – for this year Sumburgh Head is a quiet and largely deserted place. Where seabirds once swooped and cried in their thousands, only a handful of birds wheel round the cliffs.
The silence is uncanny – the result of a crash in seabird numbers that has been in progress for several years but which has now reached an unprecedented, catastrophic low. One of the nation’s most important conservation centres has been denuded of its wildlife, a victim – according to scientists – of climate change, which has disrupted food chains in the North Sea and North Atlantic and left many seabirds without a source of sustenance. The result has been an apocalyptic drop in numbers of Arctic terns, kittiwakes and many other birds. “In the past, Sumburgh Head was brimming with birds, and the air was thick with the smell of guano. The place was covered with colonies of puffins, kittiwakes, fulmars, and guillemots,” said Helen Moncrieff, manager of RSPB Scotland’s office in Shetland.
“There were thousands and thousands of birds and visitors were guaranteed a sight of puffins. Today they have to be very patient. At the same time, guillemots have halved in numbers. It is utterly tragic.” This grim description is backed by figures that reveal the staggering decreases in seabird numbers in Shetland, the most northerly part of the British Isles. In 2000, there were more than 33,000 puffins on the island in early spring. That figure dropped to 570 last year and there are no signs of any recovery this year, although it is still early in the season. Similarly, Shetland’s kittiwake population plummeted from over 55,000 in 1981 to 5,000 in 2011, and observers believe those numbers have declined even further in the past few years.
I was interviewing a couple of homesteaders on an island north of Seattle at twilight last night when they noticed that the twelve-year-old family dog, name of Lacy, had not come home for dinner as ever and always at that hour. A search ensued and they soon found her dead in the meadow a hundred feet behind the house with two big puncture wounds in her body. Nobody had heard a gunshot. We’d just been talking inside and a nearby window was open. They suspect the dog met up with a black-tailed deer buck out there and was gored to death. We hadn’t heard a yelp, or anything. A week ago, an eagle got one of their geese, and some land-based monster got its companion just the other day.
Nature is what it is, of course, and it’s natural for human beings to think of its random operations as malevolent. That aspersion probably inclines us to think of ourselves as beings apart from nature (some of us, anyway). We at least recognize the tragic side of this condition we’re immersed in, and would wish that encounters between its denizens might end differently — like maybe that two sovereign creatures meeting up by sheer chance on a mild spring evening would exchange pleasantries, ask what each was up to, and go on their ways.
Malevolent nature visited me the night before, back home in upstate New York. Something slit the screened window of my henhouse, got inside, and slaughtered two of my birds. Big Red was missing altogether except for a drift of orange feathers. I found Little Blue just outside in a drift of her own feathers, half-eaten. I suspect a raccoon got them, slitting the window screen cleverly with its dexterous hand-like paws — yes, so much like our own clever hands. (In classic after-the-fact human style, I fortified the window with steel hardware cloth the next day.)
It’s the time of year when the wild critters of field and woodland are birthing their young and anxious to procure food for them. Who can blame them for that. Chicken is an excellent dish. I eat it myself, though never my own hens. I actually rescued Little Blue from the clutches of a red-tailed hawk last year as the hawk struggled to get airborne with her and let go as I screeched at it. Blue recovered from the talon punctures and had a good year — one good year on this earth with all its menace, when it is not busy being beautiful.
A reversion to the mean in U.S. stock prices could mean the market will fall by at least 20%, according to David Rosenberg of Gluskin Sheff and Associates, who gave his prediction at the Strategic Investment Conference 2018 in San Diego. Rosenberg, the chief economist and strategist at Toronto-based Gluskin Sheff, said this is one of the strangest securities-market rallies of all time. That’s because all asset classes have gone up, even ones that are inversely correlated. He thinks a breaking point is a year away, and so investors should start taking precautions now.
The beginning of this year started off great for investors. The S&P 500 Index hit record highs at around 2,750 points, and stocks had their best January since 1987. As if that was not enough, Rosenberg pointed out, many Wall Street strategists raised their target to 3,000. The media extrapolating record returns only added to the rise in investors’ unreasonable expectations. However, increasingly more hedge fund managers and billionaire investors who timed the previous crashes are backing out.
One of them is Sam Zell, a billionaire real estate investor, whom Rosenberg says is a “hero” of his. Zell predicted the 2008 financial crisis, eight months early. But, essentially, he was right. Today, his view is that valuations are at record highs. Then we have Howard Marks, a billionaire American investor who is the co-founder and co-chairman of Oaktree Capital Management. He seconds Zell’s view that valuations are unreasonably high and says the easy money has been made. “And I don’t always try to seek out corroborating evidence. But there are some serious people out there saying some very serious things about the longevity of the cycle,” said Rosenberg.
According to Rosenberg’s calculations, the S&P 500 should be at least 1,000 points lower than it is today based on economic growth. In spite of this, equity valuations sit at record highs. Another historically accurate indicator that predicts the end of bull cycles is household net worth’s share of personal disposable income. As you can see in the chart below, the last two peaks in this ratio almost perfectly coincided with the dot-com crash and the 2008 financial crisis.
The 85% of S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings so far disclosed they’d bought back $158 billion of their own shares in Q1, according to the Wall Street Journal. The quarterly record of $164 billion was set in Q1 2016. If the current rate applies to all S&P 500 companies, they repurchased over $180 billion of their own shares in Q1, thus setting a new record. At this trend, including a couple of slower quarters, S&P 500 companies are likely to buy back between $650 billion and $700 billion of their owns shares in 2018. This would handily beat the prior annual record of $572 billion in 2007.
Here are the top buyback spenders in Q1: Apple: $22.8 billion, Amgen: $10.7 billion, Bank of America: $4.9 billion, JPMorgan Chase: $4.7 billion, Oracle: $4 billion, Microsoft: $3.8 billion, Phillips 66: $3.5 billion, Wells Fargo: $3.34 billion, Boeing: $3 billion, Citigroup: $2.9 billion. Buybacks pump up share prices in several ways. One is the pandemic hype and media razzmatazz around the announcements which cause investors and algos to pile into those shares and create buying pressure. Since May 1, when Apple announced mega-buybacks of $100 billion in the future, its shares have surged 11%. The magic words.
Other companies with big share buyback programs have also fared well: Microsoft shares are up 14% year-to-date. And if buybacks don’t push up shares, at least they keep them from falling: Amgen shares are flat year-to-date. Shares of the 20 biggest buyback spenders in Q1 are up over 5% on average year-to-date, according to the Wall Street Journal, though the S&P 500 has edged up only 2%.
The Italian coalition taking shape 10 weeks after March’s inconclusive election has made economic promises that seem incompatible with Europe’s fiscal rules and will be hard, if not impossible, to keep. These include slashing taxes for companies and individuals, boosting welfare provision, cancelling a scheduled increase in sales tax and dismantling a 2011 pension reform which sharply raised the retirement age.The marriage being sealed between the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the far-right League was seen as an unlikely and worrying prospect by most analysts before the March 4 election ended in a hung parliament.
The pre-election adversaries have spent the last few days trying to fuse their very different programs into a “contract” of mutually acceptable policy commitments. What they have in common is that they are extremely expensive. On the face of it their plans, which they say may also include a form of parallel currency, could push the budget deficit far above targets agreed with the EU, setting up a clash with the European Commission and Italy’s partners. “We will need to renegotiate EU agreements to stop Italy suffocating,” League leader Matteo Salvini said on Saturday after a day of talks with his 5-Star counterpart Luigi Di Maio.
5-Star’s flagship policy of a universal income for the poor has been costed at around 17 billion euros ($20 billion) per year. The League’s hallmark scheme, a flat tax rate of 15 percent for companies and individuals, is estimated to reduce tax revenues by 80 billion euros per year. Scrapping the unpopular pension reform would cost 15 billion euros, another 12.5 billion is needed to head off the planned hike in sales tax, and the parties are also considering printing a new, special-purpose currency to pay off state debts to firms. “If implemented, it would be the biggest shake-up of the Italian economic system in modern times,” said Wolfgang Munchau, head of the London-based Eurointelligence think-tank.
[..] olfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence, said taking on Brussels would be popular with Italian voters, and the new government had little to fear from a European Commission which “is very weak and on its way out”. The Commission, with just a year of its term remaining, “can’t really do much other than put Italy’s finances under greater scrutiny, and markets don’t care about that”, he said.
Donald Trump is prepared to impose sanctions on European companies that do business in Iran following his withdrawal of the US from the international nuclear deal, his administration reiterated on Sunday. Trump’s most senior foreign policy aides signalled that the US would continue pressuring allies to follow Washington in backing out of the pact, which gave Tehran relief from sanctions in exchange for halting its nuclear programme. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, predicted that “the Europeans will see that it’s in their interests to come along with us” rather than continue with the 2015 deal, under which major European corporations have signed billions of dollars of contracts in Iran.
Asked on CNN’s State of the Union whether that meant the Trump administration would impose sanctions against those firms, Bolton said: “It’s possible. It depends on the conduct of other governments.” US sanctions on Iran reimposed following Trump’s withdrawal not only block American firms from doing business in the country, but also bar foreign firms that do business there from accessing the entire US banking and financial system. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state, said on Sunday wealth created in Iran under the terms of the nuclear deal “drove Iranian malign activity” in the region. He declined to rule out sanctions against European firms. “The sanctions regime that is in place now is very clear on what the requirements are,” Pompeo said on Fox News Sunday.
Theresa May faces deadlock over the key controversy of customs rules after Brexit, after senior politicians rubbished both of the options being studied by her warring cabinet. Michael Gove – picked by the prime minister to examine her preferred “customs partnership” model – warned there were “significant question marks over the deliverability of it”. Meanwhile, the Irish deputy prime minister insisted Dublin would block a Brexit withdrawal agreement if she pursued an alternative technology-based solution, saying: “It won’t work.” The warnings left Ms May with few apparent options to resolve the impasse, with a deadline set by the EU just six weeks away.
Two working groups of key ministers have been set up to study both the customs partnership – under which the UK would collect tariffs on behalf the EU – and the tech-based “max-fac” proposal. Mr Gove, the environment secretary, speaking on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, declined to back Boris Johnson’s description of the partnership model as “crazy”. But he said: “Boris pointed out that because it’s novel, because no model like this exists, there have to be significant question marks over the deliverability of it on time.” Crucially, Mr Gove also suggested the proposal would break Ms May’s key promise – stated again today – to ‘take back control” of borders and laws.
“What the customs partnership requires the British government to do is in effect to act as the tax collector and very possibly the effective deliverer of regulation for the European Union,” he claimed. A proposal to seek EU agreement to keep the UK in the single market and customs union past the end of 2020, while a solution is found, was also stamped on by Mr Gove. “I don’t believe in an extension,” he said – arguing it was “critical to meet that deadline” of ending the post-Brexit transition period after 21 months.
Shoppers are deserting the high street in greater numbers than during the depths of the recession in 2009, creating a brutal climate that is putting thousands more retail jobs at risk. The coming days will be crucial to the future of a handful of household names, including Mothercare and Carpetright, which are trying to persuade investors to make vital cash injections so they can jettison unwanted stores. There is also the spectre of job losses at Poundworld, the struggling discount chain, which is being cut adrift by its American owners. Dwindling shopper numbers tally with weak spending figures for April, which show Britons slashed spending on gadgets, furniture and even nights out.
Consumer spending dropped 2% last month, according to Visa’s consumer spending index, which has recorded declines in 11 of the past 12 months. “With inflation beginning to fall and wages growing faster than expected in recent months, it would have been easy to assume we might be over the worst of the consumer squeeze,” Mark Antipof, the chief commercial officer at Visa, said. “Yet there has been no corresponding improvement in spending. It is clear that consumers remain in belt-tightening mode.” High street visits declined 3.3% in April, according to the BRC-Springboard monthly tracker, which also highlighted nearly one in 10 town centre shops are lying empty.
The drop in footfall came on the back of a disastrous performance in March, when shopper numbers declined by 6%. Taken together there has been an unprecedented 4.8% drop over the two months – a bigger decline than was recorded in the same months of 2009 when the UK was mired in recession. “Not since the depths of recession in 2009 has footfall over March and April declined to such a degree, and even then the drop was less severe at -3.8%,” said the Springboard analyst Diane Wehrle. “Much could be made of the adverse impact on April’s footfall of Easter shifting to March but even looking at March and April together still demonstrates that footfall has plummeted.”
Facial recognition software used by the UK’s biggest police force has returned false positives in more than 98 per cent of alerts generated, The Independent can reveal, with the country’s biometrics regulator calling it “not yet fit for use”. The Metropolitan Police’s system has produced 104 alerts of which only two were later confirmed to be positive matches, a freedom of information request showed. In its response the force said it did not consider the inaccurate matches “false positives” because alerts were checked a second time after they occurred. Facial recognition technology scans people in a video feed and compares their images to pictures stored in a reference library or watch list. It has been used at large events like the Notting Hill Carnival and a Six Nations Rugby match.
The system used by another force, South Wales Police, has returned more than 2,400 false positives in 15 deployments since June 2017. The vast majority of those came during that month’s Uefa Champion’s League final in Cardiff, and overall only 234 alerts – fewer than 10 per cent – were correct matches. Both forces are trialling the software. The UK’s biometrics commissioner, Professor Paul Wiles, told The Independent that legislation to govern the technology was “urgently needed”. He said: “I have told both police forces that I consider such trials are only acceptable to fill gaps in knowledge and if the results of the trials are published and externally peer-reviewed. We ought to wait for the final report, but I am not surprised to hear that accuracy rates so far have been low as clearly the technology is not yet fit for use.
The British government will host a summit encouraging six European countries to join the EU for the sake of their “security, stability and prosperity”, months before it is due to sign its own Brexit withdrawal deal with Brussels. London will in July play host to Western Balkans governments including Serbia and Albania, as well as existing EU member states, to discuss reforms to pave the way to future EU enlargement. The summit is part of the so-called Berlin Process – a series of meetings aimed at supporting the region towards joining the bloc and described by the European parliament’s research arm as “bringing a new perspective and impetus to the enlargement process”.
Critics said the UK government must have “a sense of humour” for hosting a conference on EU enlargement and extolling the benefits of accession as Britain itself headed towards the exit door. The leaders of EU candidate countries Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Serbia will attend, as well as those of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo – two states who have both expressed an interest in joining the bloc but have not yet been accepted as candidates. They will be joined by representatives of the governments of EU countries with an interest in the region such as Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and Bulgaria.
The prospect of China’s president Xi Jinping coming to Singapore on June 12, 2018 to meet with United States President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un has been raised. This is according to mainstream media reports in Singapore on May 11, which re-reported a Japanese newspaper, Mainichi Shimbun, that cited American diplomatic sources. In the Friday report, Mainichi Shimbun quoted a senior international negotiator with the National Security Council saying that “there is a possibility” the leader of a third country may take part. It is understood that this leader is Xi. The suggestion that the three leaders will descend upon Singapore at the same time is not without merit.
On Tuesday, May 8, Trump spoke to Xi about Kim’s recent visit to China. The Chinese president and North Korean leader met Monday and Tuesday, May 7 and 8, in China again in a second meeting. This meeting followed Kim’s first visit to Beijing in March. However, as of Friday morning, there were no news reports on North Korean media outlets of the date and venue of Kim’s meeting with Trump, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported. Previously, Kim and South Korean president Moon Jae-in issued a joint declaration to say that both sides aim to realise complete denuclearisation for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, at the historic inter-Korea summit on April 27. They also agreed to pursue three-way talks involving the two Koreas and the US, or four-way talks involving the two Koreas, the US and China.
On Friday, the Victorian Department of Public Prosecutions lodged an application with the Country Court of Victoria for a ‘super injunction’ against media coverage of the trial of Cardinal George Pell, who is accused of a number of historical sexual offences. Cardinal Pell – the Vatican’s treasurer and the third highest ranked Catholic in the world – was committed to stand trial a fortnight ago. The orders being sought by the DPP, which will be decided on Wednesday morning in the County Court in Melbourne before Chief Judge Peter Kidd, are:
(1) Publication is prohibited of any report of the whole or any part of these proceedings and any information derived from this proceeding and any court documents associated with this proceeding. (2) The prohibition on publication applies within all States and Territories of Australia and on any website or other electronic or broadcast format accessible within Australia. (3) For the purpose of this order, ‘publication’ has the meaning attributed to it by s3 of the Open Courts Act, that is to say, it means the dissemination or provision of access to the public by any means including, publication in a book, newspaper, magazine or other written publication, or broadcast by radio or television; or public exhibition; or broadcast or electronic communication. (4) The order will expire upon a jury verdict in respect of the charges on the final indictment, or by further order of the court.
Ordinarily, an injunction against media reporting of a trial prevents outlets from reporting the details of the trial. But they can report the existence of the injunction and explain to readers why they’re not reporting the matter. The order that the DPP is seeking in the Pell matter is so broad that it will operate as a super injunction. The suppression order would be ‘any part of’ the proceedings, meaning the trial could not be reported, nor could media report the fact they’re not allowed to report. If Wednesday’s application for a super injunction is successful, this story will have to be removed from publication. [..] Cardinal Pell, aged 76, is the most senior Catholic charged with sexual offences anywhere in the world. Cardinal Pell has strongly denied the allegations levelled against him.
The planned pension cuts for people who have already retired and which will be implemented as of January 2019 will also affect pensions under 1,000 euros, Deputy Minister for Social Security Tasos Petropoulos admitted on Sunday. “In October we will see the exact cuts in pensions […] and will improve them,” he told broadcaster Skai. “We have seven months ahead.” Petropoulos said the 18 percent cut in pensions includes benefits, and estimated that about 25-30 percent of pensioners will be affected by the new reductions. He also pledged to pay all pending main pensions by August, “except in some particular cases.”
The Migration Policy Ministry is reportedly considering increasing the capacity of existing refugee and migrant centers on the mainland as a first step in managing a recent spike in arrivals from neighboring Turkey, in a plan ministry sources say the European Union agrees with. “Practically, this means tents will be set up between the containers, exacerbating the already difficult situation for the residents,” a nongovernmental organization official said. Increasing capacity also means that the current logistics involved in running the camps will have to be adjusted. For example, if daily food costs are €3.50 per person per day (according to the specifications cited in official announcements), an additional 16,478 additional refugees will mean an extra €57,673 per day.
According to official data, 6,632 refugees crossed into Greece in April alone and 16,478 people in the first five months of the year, of whom 9,375 arrived on the islands and 7,103 from the Evros border in northeastern Greece. The government is also hoping to reduce arrivals and overcrowding on the islands by investing in diplomacy with Turkey and speeding up the asylum process through a bill which is being discussed in Parliament. At the same time, the reactions of residents on the islands that have borne the brunt of migration, even if they do not reflect the views of the entire population, show their patience is wearing thin. Authorities have also recorded increased arrivals of Turkish nationals from Evros. About 30 Turks have been arriving on a daily basis since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called elections for next month, versus zero arrivals previously.
By at least one measure, corporate earnings are the best in nearly a quarter-century. However, the stock market is not enthused! Rather than rally on the back of upbeat results, the main equity benchmarks have sulked lower. According to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, of the 343 companies, or about 70%, of S&P 500 members that have reported earnings to date, 79.9% have reported earnings per share that were above analysts’ expectations, putting the season on track for the highest earnings beat rate on record, going back to 1994. So far, the first-quarter growth rate for EPS is 22%, compared with consensus earnings growth of 16.3% as of April 12, according to Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA.
Bell said recent quarterly results have seen outperformance of about 3 to 4 percentage points better than analysts’ consensus estimates on average, compared with the 5.7 percentage points earnings are currently running ahead. [..] Bell said what’s really impressive is that expectations were already lofty and this quarter represented the first in which the bar was raised to factor in fiscal stimulus measures such as corporate tax cuts, which took effect in late 2017. “It’s significant because we haven’t seen a change like this from the very beginning to (the) start of reporting season,” Bell said. She said the numbers have been cut for each quarter going back to the second quarter of 2006.
Renowned geopolitical and financial cycle expert Charles Nenner says, “The mainstream media talking heads are telling you to buy, but never tell you to sell.” Nenner says the time to sell stocks is getting close and explains, “It’s just a hopeless situation. I feel sorry for people who invest their money. We have had a nice ride, but soon the whole thing will come tumbling down. They listen to all these things and have no clue on how to invest . . . . I think soon . . . this will become the longest expansion in financial history. . . . So, this could be the longest expansion ever, what are you playing with? You are gambling with nonsense. So, it’s over.
Nenner goes on to say, “Then, you have the inflation story. The inflation story is brought about by people who don’t do their historical homework. They remember for the last 30 years, there was always inflation. So, they continue to talk about inflation. I proved that in most of the financial history that deflation is the norm. . . . They have talked about inflation for two years, and there is still no inflation. . . . Copper is going down. Crude is going down, and we have a deflation problem, not an inflation problem.”
Nenner is predicting interest rates “are going down” and not up in the foreseeable future. Nenner is also calling for the stock market to go on a “downward slide through the year 2020.” Nenner says, “I can’t explain it, but the cycle topped, and the cycle is down until 2021.” How bad will it be? Nenner says, “Very bad. I called for Dow Jones 5,000, and I still call for Dow Jones 5,000. . . . It’s going to be a blood bath, but as I said the last time, in the 1990’s when the Dow was 5,000, the world still looked okay.”
Is there a big debt reset coming? Nenner says, “The last time we were in this situation was when Roosevelt was President. It was very interesting because they paid off only 25% on the dollar because the inflation that came. Now, the problem is if you don’t have inflation, you still owe the whole amount of money. This is why they urgently need this inflation. So, the value of the money goes down, and you have to pay off less. There is no inflation. So, it is a big problem, but they can keep this going forever. I don’t think it’s a problem because countries can keep printing money as long as they want.” Then Nenner said, “I see the dollar becoming strong again.” Nenner is “dollar positive.” The other big cycle Nenner has been seeing is the so-called “war cycle.” Nenner says, “The next four or five years in this war cycle is very dangerous.” On gold and silver, Nenner is bullish, but “not until after this summer.”
Europe is set to tighten controls over foreign investment, a sign of growing wariness of China’s efforts to use its $11 trillion economy to become a dominant global power. A Bloomberg survey of the European Union’s 28 member states found that at least 15 governments actively or tacitly support draft legislation that would screen investments from outside the bloc. With a majority prepared to wave it through, the proposal is on course for passage by the European Parliament, the bill’s next step to becoming law. The results show that Europe is waking up to the risks and not just the benefits of inward investment, predominantly from China.
A Bloomberg audit found that China has invested at least $318 billion in Europe over the past decade, from critical infrastructure to high-tech companies — more than in the U.S. over the same period. Europe’s pushback reflects a dilemma shared by governments worldwide as they grapple with China’s growing global clout. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is leading a delegation to Beijing this week amid disputes over trade, reciprocal market access and China’s state-driven economic model. As the U.S., Japan and Australia adopt rigorous screening programs, Europe risks becoming “the shop of last resort” for those seeking advanced technologies, the European Council on Foreign Relations warned in a December report.
Italy is among those pushing for tighter screening “because we believe that trade must be fair and investment must be productive,” Sandro Gozi, Italy’s junior minister for European affairs, said in an interview. “We have to assess whether investment by non-EU countries aims to do business, to promote growth, to create jobs in Europe, or whether it’s just aimed to acquire and then take the know-how of our businesses away from Europe.”
The world’s biggest oilseed processor just confirmed one of the soybean market’s biggest fears: China has essentially stopped buying U.S. supplies amid the brewing trade war. “Whatever they’re buying is non-U.S.,” Bunge Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Soren Schroder said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “They’re buying beans in Canada, in Brazil, mostly Brazil, but very deliberately not buying anything from the U.S.” In a move that caught many in U.S. agriculture by surprise, China last month announced planned tariffs on American shipments of soybeans. As the market waited for the measure to take effect, there was some hope among traders and shippers alike that relations between the nations could ease in the meantime and the trade flow would continue.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least for now, according to Bunge. It’s “very clear” that the trade tensions have already stopped China from buying U.S. supplies, Schroder said. “How long that will last, who knows? But so long as there is this big cloud of uncertainty, that’s likely to continue.” Price volatility in farm goods has picked up in recent weeks as the saber-rattling between the U.S. and China intensifies. Other agricultural products caught up in the dispute include corn, pork and sorghum. Soybeans are the second-largest American crop and prices are heavily dependent on trade with the Asian nation, the world’s top importer. In the two weeks ended April 19, China canceled a net 62,690 metric tons of U.S. soybean purchases for the marketing year that ends Aug. 31, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk held a long, odd earnings conference call Wednesday in which he insulted analysts, the media, federal regulators and people who died behind the wheel of his cars, and then told anyone concerned about volatility not to invest in his company. Unsurprisingly, volatility ensued, as Tesla shares dropped quickly during an increasingly bizarre call with the very analysts and media whom Musk attacked. Tesla on Wednesday disclosed the largest quarterly loss in the history of a company known far and wide for losing vast sums of money, with a net loss of almost $785 million. The numbers still managed to beat expectations that have been repeatedly lowered for more than a year, which led Musk to take a victory lap on Twitter after losing more than three quarters of a billion dollars in three months.
It only got weirder from there. In his conference-call introduction, Musk confused per-week and per-day production figures, described a “super complicated” robot Tesla designed and built before realizing it could not perform its unnecessary function, then mentioned offhandedly that he planned to restructure the company this month — a disclosure he never revisited to provide more information. When the question-and-answer session started, Musk turned vitriolic, and not even his fellow executives were safe. After Chief Financial Officer Deepak Ahuja referred to Tesla as “best in class” for batteries while responding to an analyst query, he was interrupted by Musk. “The best. It is not a class,” Musk interjected. “Yes, we’re the best. Sorry,” Ahuja replied.
“The best in a class of one,” Musk made sure to point out. Soon, Musk turned his ire toward the financial analysts who were asking the questions. When Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi attempted to ask about capital-expenditure spending and the money needed, Musk cut him off by yelling “Next!” When RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Spak then asked how many people with Model 3 reservations were actually taking delivery of their cars, Musk declined to answer any more “boring,” “dry” questions. “You’re killing me,” he said.
Voters will pass judgment on Prime Minister Theresa May’s party on Thursday in local government elections expected to show rising support for her opponents in London that will add to pressure on her position over Brexit. The elections will be viewed as a gauge of support for May at a time when she is facing a possible revolt over her Brexit strategy and a scandal over immigration policies that has already forced the resignation of one of her closest allies. A poor set of results is unlikely to spark internal calls for her resignation, but could weaken her authority over a party deeply divided about the right approach to Brexit ahead of several key parliamentary tests of unity on future customs arrangements with the EU.
“Winning elections keeps people together, losing causes dissent. Conservatives will need to avoid the ill-discipline of fighting like ferrets in a sack,” said Rob Wilson, a former Conservative lawmaker, writing for the party’s grassroots website ConservativeHome. Thursday’s vote will decide more than 4,400 council seats, determining the makeup of 150 local government authorities who are responsible for the day-to-day provision of public services. Just over 40 percent of the seats are in London. The headline-grabbing results in the capital are forecast to see a swing toward the opposition Labour Party, reinvigorated under socialist Jeremy Corbyn and fighting a campaign focused on the effects of eight years of Conservative-led spending cuts.
A Survation poll on Wednesday in London showed Labour 20 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives. May’s party could lose control of some of the eight London boroughs it currently runs out of 32 in total. This would reflect both weariness over cutbacks that affect citizens’ daily lives and broader issues like Brexit and the treatment of migrants.
Theresa May is facing a crisis after pro-Brexit ministers paired up with Conservative hardliners to demand a clean break from the European Union’s customs system, rejecting her plea for a compromise solution. The U.K. prime minister was outnumbered at a meeting of her inner Cabinet on Wednesday, with ministers unable to agree on either of the middle-of-the-road customs options that May had proposed. Speaking afterward, one senior British official said that with both proposals apparently dead, she could have as little as a week to get a compromise or face the stark choice between staying in Europe’s customs union or leaving without a deal. Either could see rebels in her party destroy her government.
A day that started with a pro-Brexit group of Conservative lawmakers threatening to withdraw support from the prime minister if she insisted on her proposed customs relationship with the European Union ended with her newest appointee, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, weighing in against her plan, joining other senior ministers in defying her. It was a reflection of May’s impossible position: Before she can even start trying to sell a deal to the EU, she has to find a proposal that both her Cabinet and Parliament will support. Both are fundamentally split, with each side strong enough to block a plan, but not to push one through. May has so far survived by avoiding a final confrontation with either side. So it was no surprise that the so-called “War Cabinet” put off its decision once again on Wednesday afternoon.
MPs have voted against an opposition motion calling on the government to disclose papers on Windrush migrants. Labour had hoped to force the government to release documents about its immigration policy relating to people who came to the UK from Commonwealth countries. They arrived between the late 1940s and 1970s but some have been threatened with deportation in recent years. The government won the vote by 316 votes to 221. Of Labour’s 258 MPs, 180 voted in favour, while 306 Conservative MPs opposed the motion. Labour wanted the government to be made to hand over evidence, including emails and text messages, for scrutiny by MPs on the Home Affairs Committee.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott described the vote as “an opportunity for the Tories to start to right the wrongs they have done to the Windrush generation”. She accused Theresa May of ordering her MPs to “vote to cover up the truth of her involvement”. Ms Abbot said many people felt “all roads lead back to the prime minister”, with Mrs May having previously been home secretary at the time the government brought in changes to immigration rules in 2014.
Police and intelligence agencies have failed so far to identify the individual or individuals who carried out the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, the UK’s national security adviser has disclosed. The comments by Sir Mark Sedwill punctured hopes that the police and other security agencies had pinpointed suspects but were withholding the name or names from the public. Asked by an MP at a Commons defence committee hearing if he knew the individuals responsible, he replied curtly: “Not yet.” Sedwill, who coordinates the work of the MI6, MI5, the surveillance agency GCHQ and others, did not elaborate but among problems that have hampered the agencies is a lack of CCTV coverage in Salisbury compared with London. Known Russian spies based in Britain have also been investigated and ruled out.
[..] Sedwill made the rare move in April of releasing classified intelligence on the case. It allegedly showed Russia had tested whether nerve agents could be delivered through door handles and had targeted the email accounts of both the Skripals since at least 2013. He told the committee on Tuesday the decision to go public had been taken to help counter Russian disinformation. The attack raised questions about whether the police and MI6, which has a duty to protect agents, should have done more to protect the Skripals. Sedwill said the attack had changed the security services’ appreciation of which dissidents and defectors could be at risk from revenge attacks.
“If this encounter seems a take-it-or-leave it proposition – with perhaps a hint of menace – then it is a travesty of at least the spirit of the new regulation, which aims to restore a sense of trust and control over what happens to our online lives,” said Buttarelli. “Consent cannot be freely given if the provision of a service is made conditional on processing personal data not necessary for the performance of a contract.” “The most recent [Facebook] scandal has served to expose a broken and unbalanced ecosystem reliant on unscrupulous personal data collection and micro-targeting for whatever purposes promise to generate clicks and revenues.
“The digital information ecosystem farms people for their attention, ideas and data in exchange for so called ‘free’ services. Unlike their analogue equivalents, these sweatshops of the connected world extract more than one’s labour, and while clocking into the online factory is effortless it is often impossible to clock off.”
Ahead of the planned meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and an unprecedented thaw in the relationship between North and South Koreas, Pyongyang decided to release the three Korean-Americans detained in the country’s labor camps Tuesday. Choi Sung-ryong, a representative of the families of the prisoners, told South Korean news outlet Naver: “We talked with a source in North Korea today. North Korean authorities released Kim Dong-cheol, Kim Sang-deok and Kim Hak-seong, who were in jail at the labor correction center in early April, and they are currently in a ‘course’ where they are treated and educated at a hotel outside Pyongyang.”
Choi added that the source revealed North Korea was negotiating with the United States about the best way to get the detainees back home. One of the ways involved was releasing them back on the day of the Trump-Kim summit, although no specific date has been finalized yet for the meeting. Newly appointed National Security Advisor John Bolton told Fox News on Sunday: “If North Korea releases the detained Americans before the North-US summit, it will be an opportunity to demonstrate their authenticity.” Dong-chul is a South Korea-born American pastor who was arrested and detained by North Korea in 2015 on the charge of spying. He was sentenced to 10 years hard labor in 2016. Hak-song and Sang-duk were both working at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, when they were detained last year on suspicion of “hostile acts.”
“As a result, a total of 800,000 immigrants — almost one-tenth of the native Greek population — will soon become citizens. Transposed to the United States, that would be the equivalent of 32,000,000 new voters.”
As Greece struggles with accelerating economic decline and an increasing lack of public faith in the political leadership, the ruling Syriza coalition appears to be adopting a strategy of garnering votes from immigrants by expediting their naturalization process. According to a recent report in the Greek daily Parapolitika, Interior Minister Panos Skourletis is laying the groundwork to enable hundreds of thousands of immigrants to become citizens and vote in the next elections. Although the mandate of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras ends in September 2019, some analysts have been predicting a call for elections by the end of 2018. Until now, candidates for Greek citizenship had to be vetted by a committee.
Under the new system, applicants will be granted citizenship automatically if they correctly answer 20 out of 30 questions online. In addition, the government is planning to allow immigrants over the age of 65 to obtain Greek IDs, without testing their knowledge of the Greek language. In other words, it will be easier to obtain Greek citizenship than a Greek fishing license. As a result, a total of 800,000 immigrants — almost one-tenth of the native Greek population — will soon become citizens. Transposed to the United States, that would be the equivalent of 32,000,000 new voters.
In principle, the idea is no different from George Soros’s 220-page guide, released by DC Leaks, seemingly to create a permanent voting majority for the Democratic Party by “enlarge[ing] the U.S. electorate by 10 million voters by 2018.” Easing citizenship requirements may be a calculated electoral ploy, but it is also in keeping with an overall European multiculturalism. The current leadership is not interested in the origins of the country’s illegal immigrants, many of whom hail from Afghanistan, Pakistan and sub-Saharan Africa and do not respect the Judeo-Christian roots and culture of modern Greek civilization. Nor does the government appear to concern itself with the danger involved in allowing huge numbers of migrants from terrorist-ridden Muslim-majority countries to become citizens, without vetting them.
Meanwhile, as its immigrant population increases, Greece is simultaneously undergoing a brain-drain. Over the past 8 years, for example, 500,000 skilled and educated young people left the country and have chosen to remain abroad rather than return home and contribute to the economy, the culture and society in general.
The influx of refugees from Turkey to Greece has increased significantly, the executive director of Frontex, the European Union’s border monitoring agency has told Germany’s Bild. In comments to Bild that were published on Wednesday, Fabrice Leggeri said arrivals of migrants from Turkey to Greece’s Aegean islands have increased by 17% in the past four to five weeks alone. According to Leggeri, the key reason for the increase is the spike in refugees leaving Iran, Iraq and Syria. The Frontex chief proposed the further bolstering of the border force as well as an increase in deportations. On a pan-European level, only 40% of repatriation decisions are carried out, he said. Despite the increase in migration flows, Leggeri said Frontext has the EU’s external borders “under control.”
Greek officials on Wednesday vowed to reduce severe overcrowding at migrant camps on Greeces islands, amid mounting protests that the immigration crisis has hurt the vital local tourism industry for a fourth successive summer. Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas, who was visiting the island of Lesbos, said the government aimed to cut the number of migrants on five large Greek islands from the current level of 15,500 to 6,500 — equivalent to the capacity of refugee shelter facilities — by the end of September. The promised changes came despite a recent spike in daily arrivals at the islands and at Greeces land border with Turkey.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is due to visit Lesbos on Thursday, and islanders are planning street protests and a strike by businesses in the main port. As scores of police officers took up positions in the port Wednesday, protest organizers uses a van fitted with loudspeakers to urge local residents to join the strike. The overcrowding has triggered frequent flare-ups of violence at the sprawling Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, where many still live in squalid conditions. More than a dozen were injured when migrants were attacked with flares and burning trash bins during an anti-migrant protest organized in part by far-right groups on the island 10 days ago.
On Wednesday, Vitsas held a town hall meeting and spent several hours talking with Lesbos residents. Many angrily voiced their complaints and accused the government of abandoning the island. “I cannot say when everything will happen but we will move forward,” he said. “We are dragging out feet forward but hopefully that will improve.” He promised that several hundred additional staff would be hired over the summer to help clear a huge backlog of asylum claims.
On farms across Africa, a seemingly innocuous brown and beige caterpillar is waging a silent war, devastating rural incomes and posing a major threat to the continent’s food supply. In just two years, the so-called fall armyworm has colonised three-quarters of Africa, according to the British-based Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI). Its favourite food is maize, also known as corn, the staple on which over 200 million smallholder farming families depend for their livelihoods. The fall armyworm is believed to have made its bridgehead in West Africa after being accidentally brought in from South America, its native home, by sea or air cargo. It was first detected in Africa in 2016.
“Since then, it has very rapidly spread across the entire continent. It’s reportedly now causing damage in more than 40 countries,” said Boddupalli Prasanna, an expert at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico. The larval, or caterpillar, armyworm is perfectly adapted for destruction. Growing up to about 50 millimetres (two inches), it nestles in the leaves around the head of maize. The critter then attacks methodically, leaving behind shredded leaves and chewed or hollowed ears of corn. In one Kenyan county visited by experts last year, 30% of the crop was lost. The impact on farmers and on households can be huge.
Wycliffe Ngoda, a 64-year-old farmer from near Kisumu, in western Kenya, said he lost nearly a quarter of his income last year in an armyworm outbreak, and the price of a two-kilo (4.4-pound) bag of maize doubled in his area. “The attack was very fast and furious. In a short while, huge swathes of (crops) had been eaten,” he said. “I lost 50% of my crop, others up to 70%,” he said. “This is how we were introduced to armyworm: very rudely.”
Although its retail site is the most visible of its business strands, the $740bn company has quietly stretched its tentacles into an astonishing range of unrelated industries. Google and Facebook might have cornered the online advertising market, but Amazon’s business successes now include groceries, TV, robotics, cloud services and consumer electronics. “If you try to measure power by how many executives are up at night because of X company, I think Amazon would win,” said Lina Khan, legal fellow with the Open Markets Program at the thinktank New America. Amazon has a restaurant delivery service, a music streaming service and an Etsy clone called Amazon Homemade. It makes hugely successful hardware and software; it makes movies, television shows and video games.
It runs a labour brokerage for computer-based work and another for manual labour. It publishes books, sells books, and owns the popular social network site for book readers GoodReads.com. It sells diapers, baby food, snacks, clothing, furniture and batteries. It sells ads, processes payments, and makes small loans. It is the unexpected owner of a huge number of websites – everything from the gaming livestream site Twitch to the movie database IMDb. Of the top 10 US industries by GDP (information, manufacturing non-durable goods, retail trade, wholesale trade, manufacturing durable goods, healthcare, finance and insurance, state and local government, professional and business services, and real estate), Amazon has a finger in all but real estate.
And how confident can the real estate industry be right now that Amazon won’t at some point decide to allow people to buy and sell homes on its platform? “I see them as kind of a great white shark,” said Greer. “You don’t really want to mess with them.” “It’s basically become a railroad for the 21st century,” added Khan. “It’s existential for so many businesses but also competing with all those businesses.” What makes Amazon so frightening for rival businesses is that it can use its expertise in data analytics to move into almost any sector. “Amazon has all this data available. They track what people are searching for, what they click, what they don’t,” said Greer. “Every time you’re searching for something and don’t click, you’re telling Amazon that there’s a gap.”
When hope dies… against expectations of a small rise from March to a 16 print, April came in at a disastrous -3 (the worst data since Sept 2016). From record highs just a couple months ago, Richmond Fed manufacturing has crashed by the most in the survey’s 25 year history into contraction…
It was a bloodbath below the surface too. New orders collapsed to -9 from +17, order backlogs plunged to -4 from +10 and while wages and employees rose, workweek dropped notably. Finally, prices paid rose once again even as new orders crashed… Must be the weather, right?
Investors better wake up to the growing risk of stagflation. The coming weeks promise to deliver the verdict on how they should be positioned. By all metrics, inflation is heating up. But it’s not clear the same can said for underlying economic activity. According to producers, input costs have risen for six of the past eight months. And it’s not just big companies that are feeling pressure. One in four small businesses say they plan to raise prices, a 10-year high, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. Inflation’s persistence will finally begin to trickle through to consumers.
David Rosenberg, chief economist at the wealth management company Gluskin Sheff, recently quipped that investors “better say a prayer for Jay Powell,” the Federal Reserve chair. The deniers will dismiss the suggestion. But Rosenberg is serious, citing the core consumer price index’s March leap to 2.1%, a level that breaches the Fed’s 2% inflation target. “There is going to be a price to be paid for last year’s string of wireless-induced 0.1% prints which are falling out of the year-over-year math,” Rosenberg explained, referring to the collapse in wireless services that skewed inflation lower in 2017. “I see 50/50 odds of a 3% core inflation by year end.”
[..] The New York Fed’s regional survey also raised red flags. Delivery Times remained near their highest levels in seven years while New Orders, Backlogs and Employment all declined. The survey showed an even gloomier outlook for the future. The six-month business activity outlook dove to 18.8 from 44.1, the weakest since February 2016. Though one month can never make a trend, the depth of the plunge is bound to have raised eyebrows given that prior moves of its magnitude tend to coincide with recession.
While some of the rhetoric around trade tariffs on China has died down over the last couple of weeks, the prospect of a trade war has not. On April 18, China imposed preliminary antidumping tariffs of 178.6% on sorghum, a crop used to make alcohol and biofuels, while President Donald Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on $150 billion worth of goods on everything from solar panels to aircraft to cars remains on the table. If an actual U.S. trade war ensues, then China’s economic growth prospects could be negatively impacted in a significant way. While the country’s economy has shifted inward over the last few years, relying on its own citizens to fuel growth, it still exports billions of dollars in goods and services every year.
Last year it sold $506 billion in exports to the United States — nearly 20% of its exports go to America — while the United States sold just $130 billion to the Chinese. In January the IMF said China’s economic growth would top 6.6% in 2018, but it could now drop by as much as 0.5% if these tariffs are imposed — and it could slow even further if a global trade war truly heats up. China’s economy can likely weather a small decline in growth, in part because of its increased reliance on domestic spending, but this isn’t the only potentially GDP-destroying situation it’s dealing with.
Over the last few years, China’s debt-to-GDP has ballooned to more than 300% from 160% a decade ago, causing many people, including Chinese officials, to warn of a financial-sector debt bubble that’s waiting to burst. [..] How did it get so bad? After the recession, the country spent trillions on infrastructure projects, with many banks, including unregulated or “shadow” banks, loaning money to companies that have been unable to pay back their debts. According to a Chinese news outlet, Lai Xiaoming, chairman of China Huarong Asset Management, one of the country’s biggest asset management firms, said that total volume of nonperforming loans could hit a record $476 billion by 2020.
EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger said Monday that Brussels plans to cut its payments to Europe’s biggest farms in the next budget cycle in order to reduce the bloc’s lavish agricultural subsidies by 6%. Brussels is due to make a proposal for the EU’s 2021-2027 budget framework on May 2, and cutbacks are seen as inevitable because Britain will no longer be contributing funds. Agricultural spending is one of the most obvious targets for cost cutting because the Common Agricultural Policy represents almost 40% of the EU budget, or some €59 billion each year.
When asked by POLITICO about CAP cuts on the sidelines of a trade conference in Hannover, Oettinger said: “We cannot fully exempt the existing programs from cutbacks. And in comparison to 2020, as the last year of the existing financial framework, my proposal will focus on approximately 6%, a moderate 6%, reductions.” One of the biggest criticisms of the CAP is that it has prioritized big landowners with direct payments based on acreage. Some 80% of CAP funds go to 20% of farms, owned by the likes of British royalty and major multinational companies. Oettinger said the new budget model would aim to balance that slightly.
“What we have in mind is degressive funding: That means a very big business receives for its hectares a little bit less money than a small enterprise. And that’s exactly what we still have to discuss within the next next days. On Wednesday, we will have a discussion between [Agriculture Commissioner Phil] Hogan and me on this.” Hogan has already told farmers to prepare for belt-tightening. “We need to be realistic: In the absence of more money from member states, there will be a cut to the CAP budget. My job as I see it is to build the strongest possible coalition to resist the worst of these cuts, and achieve the best outcome in a difficult scenario,” he said last week.
Japan’s new home-sharing law was meant to ease a shortage of hotel rooms, bring order to an unregulated market and offer more lodging options for foreign visitors ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Instead, the law is likely to stifle Airbnb Inc and other home-sharing businesses when it is enacted in June and force many homeowners to stop offering their services, renters and experts say. The “minpaku,” or private temporary lodging law, the first national legal framework for short-term home rental in Asia, limits home-sharing to 180 days a year, a cap some hosts say makes it difficult to turn a profit.
More important, local governments, which have final authority to regulate services in their areas, are imposing even more severe restrictions, citing security or noise concerns. For example, Tokyo’s Chuo ward, home to the tony Ginza shopping district, has banned weekday rentals on grounds that allowing strangers into apartment buildings during the week could be unsafe. That’s a huge disappointment for Airbnb “superhost” Mika, who asked that her last name not be used because home-renting is now officially allowed only in certain zones. She has enjoyed hosting international visitors in her spare two-bedroom apartment but will stop because her building management has decided to ban the service ahead of the law’s enactment.
“I was able to meet many different people I would have not met otherwise,” said Mika, 53, who started renting out her apartment after she used a home-sharing service overseas. “I may sell my condo.” Mika added that if she were to rent the apartment out on a monthly basis, she would only make one-third of what she does from short-term rentals. The ancient capital of Kyoto, which draws more than 50 million tourists a year, will allow private lodging in residential areas only between Jan. 15 and March 16, avoiding the popular spring and fall tourist seasons.
The Spanish resort city of Palma, on the island of Majorca, is to ban flat owners from renting their apartments to travellers, becoming the first place in Spain to introduce such a measure. The restrictions follow complaints from residents of rising rents due to short holiday lets through websites and apps. Palma’s mayor says the ban, to be introduced in July, will be a model for cities suffering with mass tourism. But business associations say many families will be financially impacted. It was not immediately clear if the ban was restricted only to private flats advertised by their owners on apps or websites.
Houses and chalets will be exempt from the restrictions unless they are located inside protected areas, next to the airport or in industrial zones. Palma, like many other cities around the world, has seen an increase in visitor numbers driven, in part, by private rental accommodation offered through websites and apps. Officials from the local left-wing governing coalition cited a study suggesting that the number of non-licensed apartments on offer to tourists increased by 50% between 2015 and 2017. According to Spanish newspaper El País, only 645 of 11,000 holiday rentals being offered to tourists on Palma have the licence required to do so.
Locally, there is resentment over tourism pushing up prices – rents in Palma have reportedly increased 40% since 2013 – but also about deteriorating conditions in neighbourhoods popular with travellers due to noise and bad behaviour. “Palma is a determined and courageous city,” Mayor Antoni Noguera said. “We agreed on this [ban] based on the general interest [of the city] and we believe it will set the trend for other cities when they see that finding a balance is key.”
Tax inspectors uncover tax evading Airbnb owners by pretending to be customers. According to Greece’s Independent Authority for Public Revenue (AADE), the trap has revealed a total of 55 Airbnbn tax evaders, so far. In some cases, the ‘fake customers’ even proceeded to booking an Airbnb flat. The first Airbnb owners who failed to declare their earnings from home-sharing practices were uncovered by Greece’s Independent Authority for Public Revenue (AADE) this week. Under a pilot program aiming to weed out violators, AADE inspectors posed as customers seeking to rent out short-term accommodation via the Airbnb platform. The undercover inspections focused on central points in the Greek capital as well as on luxury options available on popular Greek islands. In some cases, AADE authorities even proceeded to book.
According to AADE, 55 proprietors who had not proceeded with the mandatory declaration of earnings from home-sharing services were notified of the violation. A total of 39 came forward and proceeded with corrections to their income tax declarations indicating additional property income of approximately 921,163 euros resulting in over 200,000 euros going into state coffers. It should be noted that all owners renting out their properties on home-sharing platforms are required by Greek law to declare earned incomes from short-term lease in 2017 on their E2 Forms (column 7).
For income up to 12,000 euros, tax is imposed at a rate of 15%. Takings between 12,001 and 35,000 euros will be taxed at a 35% rate; annual gains over 35,000 euros at a 45% rate. For those offering additional services on the side, the earnings are assessed as income from business activity and taxed at 22% for earnings up to 20,000 euros, 29% for yields between 20,001 and 30,000 euros, 37% for takings between 30,001 and 40,000 euros, and 45% for profits exceeding 40,000 euros.
Wine production totaled 250 million hectoliters last year, down 8.6% from 2016, data from the Paris-based International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) released on Tuesday showed. It is the lowest level since 1957, when it had fallen to 173.8 million hectoliters, the OIV told Reuters. A hectoliter represents 100 liters, or the equivalent of just over 133 standard 75 cl wine bottles. All top wine producers in the EU have been hit by harsh weather last year, which lead to an overall fall in the bloc of 14.6% to 141 million hectoliters.
The OIV’s projections, which exclude juice and must (new wine), put Italian wine production down 17% at 42.5 million hectoliters, French output down 19% at 36.7 million and Spanish production down 20% at 32.1 million. The French government said last year production had hit a record low due to a series of poor weather conditions including spring frosts, drought and storms that affected most of the main growing regions including Bordeaux and Champagne. In contrast, production remained nearly stable in the United States, the world’s fourth largest producer, and China, which has become the world’s seventh largest wine producer behind Australia and Argentina.
The true scale of homelessness in the UK is almost 10 times worse than official figures suggest, according to a new report. Homeless charity Justlife warns thousands of people are being “forgotten in statistics” after it estimated that at least 51,500 people were living in B&Bs in the year to April 2016 – compared with 5,870 official B&B placements recorded by the government. It comes after a separate investigation found that 78 homeless people died last winter – an average of at least two a week. The report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed the fatalities included rough sleepers, people recognised as “statutory homeless” and people staying in temporary accommodation.
Justlife reached its estimate on the homeless B&B population using data gathered from Freedom of Information requests to local authorities, along with other information from the government’s Rural and Urban Classification for Local Authority Districts data. Christa Maciver, author of the report, said: “We can no longer ignore the tens of thousands of people stuck homeless, hidden and ignored in our cities. This report shows there is so much we don’t know and that we really need to be calculating homelessness more accurately.
Last year 21.1% of Greeks – or more than one in five – were unable to cover their basic needs, such as the timely payment of utility bills and regular consumption of meat, according to Eurostat. That 21.1% in 2017 may constitute a minor improvement from the 22.4% rate in 2016, but is still a particularly high level. This rate was also the second highest in the European Union and translates to a large share of the population, or 2.24 million people.
The people or households in that category are by definition those unable to meet the costs of at least four of the following: payment of utility bills in time, sufficient heating at home, tackling extraordinary expenses, consumption of meat (or fish or the equivalent in vegetables) on a regular basis, a one-week vacation away from home, and capacity to purchase a TV set, a washing machine, a car or a telephone. The age group with the highest rate of material deprivation in Greece includes those between 20 and 24 years, amounting to 32.6% – or one in three – though this is according to 2016 data. Notably, the year with the highest material deprivation rate in Greece from 2003 to 2017 (for which Eurostat has data), was 2009.
Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas conceded on Tuesday that he is “worried” about the significant increase in the flow of migrants and refugees to Greece observed recently. Vitsas said that arrivals on Lesvos had increased almost fourfold since last year, noting that daily arrivals were 54 on average last year compared to the 206 migrants who arrived on the island on Tuesday. Between January and April, more than 7,000 migrants and refugees arrived on the islands of the eastern Aegean, he said, noting that just 112 people were returned to Turkey during that same period. However, Vitsas appeared far more concerned with the increase in arrivals over the Greek-Turkish land border, noting that 340 people crossed the border on Tuesday.
“I’m not scared about the islands because we know what we have to do. What is really worrisome is the huge increase through Evros,” he said. Under pressure from the opposition over mistakes and omissions in the government’s current migration policy, Vitsas said that his ministry has prepared two plans to deal with the situation and pledged to outline their content to political party leaders in private. According to Bulgarian government statistics, 356 migrants have crossed into that country from Turkey since the beginning of the year. In the same period, more than 2,700 crossed Turkey’s land border with Greece, Vitsas said.
There are fears that the difference in flows is due to deteriorating ties between Greece and Turkey while relations between Sofia and Ankara are good, particularly since Bulgarian authorities returned alleged supporters of the US-exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen to Turkey in 2016. Security along Turkey’s border with Bulgaria has intensified since then. The opposite has been happening along the Greek border since the detention of two Greek soldiers who strayed across the border in early March. Greek border guards are now more cautious, and less inclined to crack down on migrants.
The Greek government’s move on April 20, 2018, overturning a binding court ruling ordering it to end its abusive policy of trapping asylum seekers on Greece’s islands raises rule of law concerns, 21 human rights and humanitarian organizations said today. Rather than carrying out the April 17 ruling by the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, the government issued an administrative decision reinstating the policy, known as the “containment policy.” It also introduced a bill on April 19 to clear the way to restore the policy in Greek law. Parliament members should oppose such changes and press the government to respect the ruling.
Parliament began discussing the draft law on April 24. But the government has preempted the debate on the bill, including the issue of the containment policy by reinstating it. On April 20, the new director of the asylum service reissued an administrative order setting down the reasons for the containment policy. Among grounds given to justify the restrictions imposed by the policy are the need to implement an EU-Turkey deal on migration and a broader public interest claim. But the decision goes against the Council of State ruling and Greece’s responsibilities under international, EU and Greek law, as it offers insufficient justification for the restrictions, the groups said.
The Council of State’s April 17 ruling said that Greece’s containment policy had no legal basis and that there were no imperative reasons under EU and Greek law justifying the restrictions to the freedom of movement of asylum seekers. It ordered the annulment of the administrative decision imposing the restrictions and permitted the free movement of asylum seekers arriving on the islands following the ruling’s publication. The ruling also highlighted that the disproportionate distribution of asylum seekers has overburdened the islands. The ruling is limited, however, applying only to new arrivals.
Scientists have found an unprecedented number of microplastics frozen in Arctic sea ice, demonstrating the alarming extent to which they are pervading marine environments. Analysis of ice cores from across the region found levels of the pollution were up to three times higher than previously thought. Each litre of sea ice contained around 12,000 particles of plastic, which scientists are now concerned are being ingested by native animals. Based on their analysis, the researchers were even able to trace the tiny fragments’ paths from their places of origin, from fishing vessels in Siberia to everyday detritus that had accumulated in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
“We are seeing a clear human imprint in the Arctic,” the study’s first author, Dr Ilka Peeken, told The Independent. “It suggests that microplastics are now ubiquitous within the surface waters of the world’s ocean,” said Dr Jeremy Wilkinson, a sea ice physicist at the British Antarctic Survey who was not involved with the study. “Nowhere is immune.”
The Bank of Japan will be able to begin winding down its extraordinary monetary stimulus within the next five years, the head of the central bank said. “Sometime within the next five years, we will reach [our] 2% inflation target,” Governor Haruhiko Kuroda told CNBC’s Sara Eisen over the weekend. Once that level is reached, we will start “discussing how to gradually normalize the monetary condition.” Kuroda began his second five-year term this year. He has implemented a massive stimulus policy by cutting the central bank’s benchmark interest rate to negative, keeping the 10-year Japanese government bond yield near 0% in an effort to control the yield curve and stepping up the Bank of Japan’s asset purchases.
However, inflation remains low. Japan reported its consumer price index, excluding fresh food and energy, rose 0.5% in the 12 months through March. “In order to reach [our] 2% inflation target, I think the Bank of Japan must continue very strong accommodative monetary policy for some time,” Kuroda added in his interview with CNBC. Japan’s efforts to boost the sluggish national economy come amid steady growth around the world. The IMF predicts the global economy will increase 3.9% this year and next. Kuroda agreed with the positive outlook. “The world economy will continue to grow at a relatively high pace,” he said. For this year and next, “we don’t see any sign of a turning point.” But protectionism, unexpected rapid tightening of monetary policy in some countries, and geopolitical tensions in North Korea and the Middle East pose potential risks, Kuroda said.
The European Central Bank, after suffering a political backlash, is considering shelving planned rules that would have forced banks to set aside more money against their stock of unpaid loans. The guidelines, which were expected by March, had been presented as a main plank of the ECB’s plan to bring down a 759 billion euro ($930 billion) pile of soured credit weighing on euro zone banks, particularly in Greece, Portugal and Italy. The ECB was now considering whether further policies on legacy non-performing loans (NPLs) were necessary “depending on the progress made by individual banks”, an ECB spokeswoman said.
No decision had been made yet and the next steps were still being evaluated, she said. Central Bank sources told Reuters that if the rules were scrapped, supervisors would look to continue putting pressure on problem banks using existing powers. An alternative would be to hold off until the results of pan-European stress tests are published in November but this would be close to the end of Daniele Nouy’s mandate as the head of the ECB’s Single Supervisory Mechanism at the end of the year. A clean-up of banks’ balance sheets from toxic assets inherited from the financial crisis is a precondition for getting countries like Germany to agree on a common euro zone insurance on bank deposits.
And Andreas Dombret, the outgoing Bundesbank director in charge of banking supervision, said in an interview published on Monday that the ECB’s credibility was at stake. “One cannot say that NPLs are one of the biggest risk for the European banking sector and a top priority and then fail to act,” he told Boersen-Zeitung. “It’s about the credibility of the SSM,” he said, calling for a “timely proposal”.
In the wee hours this AM, the yield on the 10-year treasury note hit 2.993%. That’s close enough for gubermint work to say that the big 3.00% inflection point has now been tripped. And it means, in turn, that the end days of the Bubble Finance era have well and truly commenced. In a word, honest bond yields will knock the stuffings out of the mainstream fairy tale that passes for economic and financial reality. And in a 2-3% inflation world, by honest bond yields we mean 3% + on the front-end and 4-5% on the back-end of the yield curve. Needless to say, that means big trouble for the myth of MAGA. As we demonstrated in part 2, since the Donald’s inauguration there has been no acceleration in the main street economy—just the rigor mortis spasms of a stock market that has been endlessly juiced with cheap debt.
But the Trump boomlet in the stock averages has now hit its sell-by date. That’s because today’s egregiously inflated equity prices are in large part a product of debt-fueled corporate financial engineering—stock buybacks, unearned dividends and massive M&A dealing. Thus, since the pre-crisis peak in Q3 2007 nonfinancial corporate sector value added is up by 34%, but corporate debt securities outstanding have risen by 85%; and the overwhelming share of that massive debt increase was used to fund financial engineering, not productive assets and future earnings growth. In a world of honest interest rates, of course, this explosion of non-productive debt would have chewed into earnings good and hard because the borrowed cash went to Wall Street, not into the wherewithal of earnings growth.
In fact, during the past 10 years, net value added generated by US nonfinancial corporations rose by just $2 trillion (from $6.1 trillion to $8.1 trillion per annum), whereas corporate debt rose by nearly $3 trillion (from $3.3 trillion to $6.1 trillion). So it should have been a losing battle—with interest expense rising far faster than operating profits. But owing to the Fed’s misguided theory that it can make the main street economy bigger and stronger by falsifying interest rates and other financial asset prices, the C-suite financial engineers got a free hall pass. That is, they pleasured Wall Street by pumping massive amounts of borrowed cash back into the casino, but got no black mark on their P&Ls.
Let’s pause today and make an assessment of where things stand in this country as Winter finally coils into Spring. As you might expect, a nation overrun with lawyers has litigated itself into a cul-de-sac of charges, arrests, suits, countersuits, and allegations that will rack up billable hours until the Rockies tumble. The best outcome may be that half the lawyers in this land will put the other half in jail, and then, finally, there will be space for the rest of us to re-connect with reality.
What does that reality consist of? Troublingly, an economy that can’t go on as we would like it to: a machine that spews out ever more stuff for ever more people. We really have reached limits for an industrial economy based on cheap, potent energy supplies. The energy, oil especially, isn’t cheap anymore. The fantasy that we can easily replace it with wind turbines, solar panels, and as-yet-unseen science projects is going to leave a lot of people not just disappointed but bereft, floundering, and probably dead, unless we make some pretty severe readjustments in daily life.
We’ve been papering this problem over by borrowing so much money from the future to cover costs today that eventually it will lose its meaning as money — that is, faith that it is worth anything. That’s what happens when money is just a representation of debt that can’t be paid back. This habit of heedless borrowing has enabled the country to pretend that it is functioning effectively. Lately, this game of pretend has sent the financial corps into a rapture of jubilation. The market speed bumps of February are behind us and the road ahead looks like the highway to Vegas at dawn on a summer’s day.
Tesla is the perfect metaphor for where the US economy is at: a company stuffed with debt plus government subsidies, unable to deliver the wished-for miracle product — affordable electric cars — whirling around the drain into bankruptcy. Tesla has been feeding one of the chief fantasies of the day: that we can banish climate problems caused by excessive CO2, while giving a new lease on life to the (actually) futureless suburban living arrangement that we foolishly invested so much of our earlier capital building. In other words, pounding sand down a rat hole.
On a bright spring day in Amsterdam, car buffs stepped inside a blacked-out warehouse to nibble on lamb skewers and sip rhubarb cocktails courtesy of Lynk & Co., which was showing off its new hybrid SUV. What seemed like just another launch of a new vehicle was actually something more: the coming-out party for China’s globally ambitious auto industry. For the first time, a Chinese-branded car will be made in Western Europe for sale there, with the ultimate goal of landing in U.S. showrooms.
That’s the master plan of billionaire Li Shufu, who has catapulted from founding Geely Group as a refrigerator maker in the 1980s to owning Volvo Cars, British sports carmaker Lotus, London Black Cabs and the largest stake in Daimler —the inventor of the automobile. Li is spearheading China’s aspirations to wedge itself among the big three of the global car industry—the U.S., Germany and Japan—so they become the Big Four. “I want the whole world to hear the cacophony generated by Geely and other made-in-China cars,” Li told Bloomberg News. “Geely’s dream is to become a globalized company. To do that, we must get out of the country.”
[..] Chinese companies have announced at least $31 billion in overseas deals during the past five years, buying stakes in carmakers and parts producers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The most prolific buyer is Li, who spent almost $13 billion on stakes in Daimler and truckmaker Volvo. Tencent Holdings Ltd., Asia’s biggest internet company, paid about $1.8 billion for 5% of Tesla. As software and electronics become just as critical to a car as the engine, China is ensuring it doesn’t lag behind in that market, either. Baidu, owner of the nation’s biggest search engine, announced a $1.5 billion Apollo Fund to invest in 100 autonomous-driving projects during the next three years.
“We have secured a chance to compete in the U.S. market of self-driving cars through those partnerships,” Li Zhengyu, a vice president overseeing Baidu’s intelligent-driving unit, told Bloomberg News. “Everyone has a good chance to win if it has good development plans.”
The 2017 budget has officially registered a record primary surplus of 4.2% of GDP, against a target for 1.75%, but this came at a particularly heavy price for the economy, which grew just 1.4% against a budget target for 2.7%. It is obvious that securing primary surpluses of more than twice the target, depriving the economy of precious resources, is directly associated with the stagnation of growth compared to original projections. It is no coincidence that consumption edged up just 0.1% last year, which analysts have attributed to taxpayers’ exhaustion due to overtaxation. The surplus was mainly a result of drastic cuts to the Public Investments Program (by about 800 million euros) and social benefits, due to the delay in the application of the Social Solidarity Income.
The government was quick to express its satisfaction upon the release of the fiscal results by the Hellenic Statistical Authority on Monday, although it was just two years ago that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused the previous administration of setting excessive targets for the primary surpluses of 2016, 2017 and 2018 at 4.5% of GDP. Eventually he reached that target with his own government, although the creditors had lowered the bar, to 1.75% for 2017 and 3.5% this year. The Finance Ministry spoke yesterday of proof of “the credibility of the fiscal management,” adding that “those data show that not only is the target of 3.5% feasible for this and the coming years, but there will also be some fiscal space for targeted tax easing and social expenditure in the post-program period.”
That reference concerns the so-called “countermeasures” the government has planned in case it exceeds the 3.5% target in the 2019 and 2020 primary surpluses, but for now they are at the discretion of the IMF, which will decide next month whether they can be introduced. Obviously Athens hopes the 2017 figures will positively affect the Fund’s view. There was also a positive response from Brussels on Monday, with European Commissioner for Economic Affairs Pierre Moscovici and Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas stating that the efforts and sacrifices of the Greek people are now paying dividend.
Concerns have peaked over tensions on the Aegean islands following clashes between residents of Lesvos and migrants in Mytilene port which led to several injuries. Riot police were forced to intervene early Monday morning after dozens of local residents started protesting the presence of migrants in the main square of Mytilene. The migrants, who had been camping in the square since last Tuesday demanding to be allowed to leave the island, were put onto buses and taken back to overcrowded state facilities. According to local reports, the protesters threw flares, firecrackers and stones at the migrants, who formed a circle around women and children to protect them.
Some protesters chanted “Burn them alive,” according to reports which suggested that members of far-right groups were involved. Police detained 122 people – all but two of whom were Afghan migrants – while 28 people were transferred to the hospital for first-aid treatment, 22 of whom were migrants. Political parties issued statements blaming the attack on far-right groups. The mayor of Lesvos, Spyros Galinos, did not rule out the presence of extremists on the island but pointed to broader frustration among locals. “Society is reacting as a whole,” said Galinos, who had appealed to the government last week to reduce overcrowding on the islands.
[..] meanwhile, the new head of the Greek Asylum Service, Markos Karavias, signed an agreement effectively restricting migrants arriving on the Aegean islands from traveling on to the mainland. A Council of State ruling last week overturned previous asylum service restrictions on migrants leaving the islands. The government’s proposed changes to asylum laws – aimed at speeding up the slow pace at which applications are processed – are to be discussed in Parliament on Tuesday.
My nine-year-old son looks at me anxiously. “Mum, you definitely, definitely have my sponsor money plus an extra pound, which I need for the fundraising games. We have to bring it in today.” I search through my wallet for a quid each for him and his brother. I’ve got no cash on me. “We have to,” he repeats, his voice going wobbly. I stick an IOU in his piggy bank and the day is saved. Yet again. And yet again I feel infuriated and indignant at being put in this position. Then I feel even more cross that I now feel mean. Cake sale, plant sale, ticket for a pamper evening, music quiz, another cake sale, school disco (with associated plastic tat and penny sweets on sale), pay to see Santa, raffle for the chocolate hamper (that you’ve already sent in the goddamn chocolate for), dress up for World Book Day (that’s a quid), go pink for breast cancer research (that’s two quid) and why not run a sponsored mile for Sport Relief while you’re at it.
Then … ping! Oh joy, a text from school – another (another?!) cake sale. How much sugar is going down in that playground? The texts keep flooding in. Ransack your wardrobe for Bag 2 School; send in dosh so your child can buy you a Mother’s Day present; scrabble through your (now denuded) wardrobe for next week’s clothes swap and pretty please, the PTA would appreciate donations of booze for this year’s summer fete. If enough of you don’t stump up by Friday, you’ll be harangued daily until you do. Welcome to summer term, peak time for school fundraising – and what feels like a constant assault. Let’s put aside my irritation at being “chugged” via leaflets in book-bags and my mobile phone, in principle it’s a good thing for kids to think about the needs of people other than themselves, so I’ll swallow official charity fundraisers on that basis, even if those charities might not be my personal choice.
What is outrageous, though, is the assumption in some schools that parents can easily afford to donate on a virtually weekly basis, and the idea that we should expect to be paying on top of our taxes for our children’s state education. Schools, suffering the terrible results of the government’s austerity policies, have cut to the chase and are now pumping parents for regular direct debits to cover essentials. But is asking parents to pay doing pupils’ education any good?
Food bank use has soared at a higher rate than ever in the past year as welfare benefits fail to cover basic living costs, the UK’s national food bank provider has warned. Figures from the Trussel Trust show that in the year to March 2018, 1,332,952 three-day emergency food supplies were delivered to people in crisis across the UK – a 13% increase on last year. This marks a considerably higher increase than the previous financial year, when it rose by 6%. Low income is the biggest single – and fastest growing – reason for referral to food banks, accounting for 28% of referrals compared to 26% in the previous year. Analysis of trends over time demonstrates it has significantly increased since April 2016.
Being in debt also accounted for an increasing percentage of referrals – at 9% of referrals up from 8% in the past year. The cost of housing and utility bills are increasingly driving food bank referrals for this reason, with the proportion of referrals due to housing debt and utility bill debt increasing significantly since April 2016. The other main primary referral reasons in the past year were benefit delays (24%) and benefit changes (18%). “Reduction in benefit value” have the fastest growth rate of all referrals made due to a benefit change, while those due to “moving to a different benefit” have also grown significantly.
Europe’s first national government-backed experiment in giving citizens free cash will end next year after Finland decided not to extend its widely publicised basic income trial and to explore alternative welfare schemes instead. Since January 2017, a random sample of 2,000 unemployed people aged 25 to 58 have been paid a monthly €560 (£475) , with no requirement to seek or accept employment. Any recipients who took a job continued to receive the same amount. The government has turned down a request for extra funding from Kela, the Finnish social security agency, to expand the two-year pilot to a group of employees this year, and said payments to current participants will end next January.
It has also introduced legislation making some benefits for unemployed people contingent on taking training or working at least 18 hours in three months. “The government is making changes taking the system away from basic income,” Kela’s Miska Simanainen told the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. The scheme – aimed primarily at seeing whether a guaranteed income might incentivise people to take up paid work by smoothing out gaps in the welfare system – is strictly speaking not a universal basic income (UBI) trial, because the payments are made to a restricted group and are not enough to live on.
But it was hoped it would shed light on policy issues such as whether an unconditional payment might reduce anxiety among recipients and allow the government to simplify a complex social security system that is struggling to cope with a fast-moving and insecure labour market. Olli Kangas, an expert involved in the trial, told the Finnish public broadcaster YLE: “Two years is too short a period to be able to draw extensive conclusions from such a big experiment. We should have had extra time and more money to achieve reliable results.”
The Fed’s efforts to raise interest rates across the spectrum have borne fruit only in limited fashion. In the Treasury market, yields of longer-dated securities have not risen (prices fall when yields rise) as sharply as they have with Treasuries of shorter maturities. The two-year yield has surged to 2.41% on Tuesday, the highest since July 2008. But the 10-year yield, at 2.82%, while double from two years ago, is only back where it had been in 2014. So the difference (the “spread”) between the two has narrowed to just 0.41 percentage points, the narrowest since before the Financial Crisis:
This disconnect is typical during the earlier stages of the rate-hike cycle because the Fed, through its market operations, targets the federal funds rate. Short-term Treasury yields follow with some will of their own. But the long end doesn’t rise at the same pace, or doesn’t rise at all because there is a lot of demand for these securities at those yields. Investors are “fighting the Fed”— doing the opposite of what the Fed wants them to do – and the difference between the shorter and longer maturities dwindles, and it dwindles, and it causes a lot of gray hairs, and it dwindles further, until it stops making sense to investors and they open their eyes and get out of the chase, and suddenly long-term yield surge higher, as bond prices drop sharply.
That’s why short sellers have taken record positions against the 10-year Treasury recently: they’re waiting for yields to spike to the next level. But this disconnect – this symptom of investors fighting the Fed – in the Treasury market is mild compared to the disconnect in the junk bond market. There, investors have completely blown off the Fed. At least in the Treasury market, 10-year yields have risen since the Fed started getting serious about rate increases in December 2016. In the junk bond market, yields have since fallen. In other words, despite the Fed’s tightening, the junk bond bubble has gotten bigger. And investors are not yet showing any signs of second thoughts.
The postwar global trading system risks being torn apart, the International Monetary Fund has warned, amid concern over the tariff showdown between the US and China. In a sign of its growing concern that protectionism is being stimulated by voter scepticism, the IMF used its half-yearly health check for the world economy to tell policymakers they needed to address the public’s concerns before a better-than-expected period of growth came to an end. Maurice Obstfeld, the IMF’s economic counsellor, said: “The first shots in a potential trade war have now been fired.” He said Donald Trump’s tax cuts would suck imports into the US and increase the size of the trade deficit 2019 by $150bn – a trend that could exacerbate trade tensions.
“The multilateral rules-based trade system that evolved after world war two and that nurtured unprecedented growth in the world economy needs strengthening. Instead, it is in danger of being torn apart.” Obstfeld said there was more of a “phoney war” between the US and China than a return to the widespread use of tariffs in the Great Depression, but that there were signs that even the threat of protectionism was already harming growth. “That major economies are flirting with trade war at a time of widespread economic expansion may seem paradoxical – especially when the expansion is so reliant on investment and trade,” Obstfeld added.
The euro area’s economic expansion is standing on increasingly shaky ground after reports showed German investor confidence tumbling to its lowest level since late 2012 and the risk of a recession in the nation jumping. The sentiment gauge from ZEW showed more investors now see a worsening in Europe’s largest economy than forecast an improvement, a mood swing that ZEW President Achim Wambach blamed on the U.S. trade dispute combined with weak domestic retail and production numbers. The drop in confidence came as the Dusseldorf-based Macroeconomic Policy Institute (IMK) said the probability of a recession in Germany over the next three months has jumped to 32%.
While that outcome remains unlikely, the gauge is up sharply from 6.8% in March. It follows U.S. attempts to rewrite international trade rules by imposing import tariffs, triggering a tit-for-tat response by China. Even though the European Union has temporarily been exempted from the metal levies, risks of far-reaching retaliatory measures could still hurt Germany’s export-driven economy – feeding into signs that growth in the euro area is coming off its peak. At the IMK, the recession gauge, which uses data that have signaled downturns in the past is now orange – the middle of its traffic-light warning system – for the first time since March 2016. That was just as the German economy was entering a mild slowdown.
“Volatility in financial markets, which has been evident for several months, is now accompanied by a noticeable deterioration in sentiment and subdued production,” according to IMK. “This has recently become a typical constellation for the end phase of a cycle.”
The price of several cryptocurrencies took a sudden hit Tuesday over the course of 20 minutes, which some suspect may be the result of a single Bitcoin whale who unloaded over $50 million worth of the digital currency in one Bitfinex trade. The drop comes one day after the third largest bitcoin wallet also unloaded around $50 million of the digital currency. As Marketwatch first noted , “the balance of wallet 3D2oetdNuZUqQHPJmcMDDHYoqkyNVsFk9r — an anonymous digital account which is valued at $1.49 billion — fell by 6,500 bitcoin Tuesday, with the average sale price sale being $8,146.70, a total value of just over $50 million, according to bitinfocharts.”
The sale comes a day after the third-largest wallet, which famously purchased over $400 million in bitcoin in February, let go of 6,600 bitcoin at an average price of $8,026. Combined, the two whales unloaded over $100 million of bitcoin within 24 hours. As there was no immediate news or catalyst, some attributed the sale to Tuesday’s report that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had launched an investigation into 13 cryptocurrency exchanges including Coinbase, Gemini and Bit Trust. The probe seeks information on fees, volume data and procedures governing margin trading among other things. However, the news hit some 4 hours prior to the sale.
One week ago, when the Trump administration unveiled the most draconian Russian sanctions yet which among others targeted Putin-ally Oleg Deripaska and the Russian oligarch’s aluminum giant, Rusal, we said that aluminum prices are going higher, much higher, for one reason: excluding China’s zombie producers, Rusal is the world’s largest producer of aluminum. Well, prices have since surged, largely as expected, and one week later we also learned just how “radioactive’ Rusal’s products have become as a result of the US sanctions: overnight Reuters reported that major Japanese trading houses asked the Russian aluminum producer to stop shipping refined aluminum and other products in light of U.S. sanctions on the world’s No.2 producer and are scrambling to secure metal elsewhere, according to industry sources.
“We have requested Rusal stop shipments of aluminum for our term contracts as we can’t make payment in U.S. dollars and we don’t want to take the risk of becoming a secondary sanction target by the United States,” said a source at a trading house [..] It is unclear how and where Japan can find alternative sources of aluminum: Japan buys about 300,000 tonnes of refined aluminum from Russia, about 16% of the nation’s total import, according to the Japan Aluminium Association. “Everyone has been on a search for substitutes and that pushed local spot premiums to around $200-$250 per tonne by last Friday,” he said. That’s sharply higher than Japan term premiums for April-June quarter shipments at $129 per tonne.
The contra-narrative about Assad’s alleged gas attack is gaining traction as the evidence comes in. It increasingly seems probable that some folks suffocated or were overcome with smoke inhalation and hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) when buildings, tunnels and underground bunkers collapsed into clouds of dust during the final battle for Douma last Saturday. Then the desperate remnant of the jihadist Army of Islam (Jaysh al-Islam) holed up there piled the bodies in a basement, spread shaving cream on their lips and proceeded to videotape furiously. Thereafter, they charged into a nearby hospital (which was treating hypoxia victims) with their video cameras in hand, yelling “chemical attack” while water-hosing one and all, thereby setting off the pandemonium seen on social media around the world.
We haven’t gotten to Douma yet to check out this contra-narrative, but an intrepid young reporter named Pearson Sharp did. Along with his camera crew, he visited the site of the attack, the hospital and the nearby rebel weapons dump – and interviewed dozens of people in the immediate vicinity. According to Sharp, none of them witnessed the alleged gas attack or believed it happened, and several personnel at the Douma hospital corroborated the phony water-dousing melee. Indeed, the head surgeon insisted to him that no one had died at the hospital from chemical agents. And he also saw and videoed room after room stacked with rockets, mortars and other military gear and filmed the debris and dilapidated remnants of buildings in the town.
[..] Self-evidently, a visiting Martian might have an altogether different interpretation of which nation had ventured down the “dark path” and which one was a “force for stability and peace”. And that would especially be the case with just a few more reports like the new missive from veteran war correspondent, Robert Fisk of the Independent (UK). Unlike young Mr. Pearson Sharp, Fisk has been a war correspondent in the Middle East for four decades and has won endless awards for reporting from the front lines. But his chops were earned when he became one of the few reporters in history to conduct face-to-face interviews with Osama bin Laden on three separate occasions during the 1990s.
Fisk’s dispatch filed Monday night speaks for itself and merits quoting at length because it not only skewers Washington’s narrative about Assad’s gas attack, but also provides vivid context: Whatever happened last Saturday erupted in the fog of war and could not possibly have been instantly assessed objectively or correctly by officials 6,000 miles away, who admit to having no “assets” on the ground in Damascus.
The fact that Philip May is both a Senior Executive of a hugely powerful investment firm, and privy to reams of insider information from the Prime Minister – knowledge which, when it becomes public, hugely affects the share prices of the companies his firm invests in – makes Mr May’s official employment a staggering conflict of interest for the husband of a sitting Prime Minister. However, aside from the ease at which he is able to glean insider information from his wife about potential decisions which could go on to make huge profits for his firm, there is a far darker conflict of interest that has so far gone undiscussed.
Philip May is a Senior Executive of Capital Group, an Investment Firm who buy shares in all sorts of companies across the globe – including thousands of shares in the world’s biggest Defence Firm, Lockheed Martin. According to Investopedia, Philip May’s Capital Group owned around 7.09% of Lockheed Martin in March 2018 – a stake said to be worth more than £7Bn at this time. Whilst other sources say Capital Group’s shareholding of Lockheed Martin may actually be closer to 10%. On the 14th April 2018, the Prime Minister Theresa May sanctioned British military action on Syria in response to an apparent chemical attack on the city of Douma – air strikes that saw the debut of a new type of Cruise Missile, the JASSM, produced exclusively by the Lockheed Martin Corporation.
The debut of this new – and incredibly expensive – weapon was exactly what US President Donald Trump was referring to when he tweeted that the weapons being fired on Syria would be “nice and new and ‘smart!’” Every single JASSM used in the recent bombing of Syria costs more than $1,000,000, and as a result of their widespread use during the recent bombing of Syria by Western forces, the share price of Lockheed Martin soared.
U.S. President Donald Trump voiced his support on Tuesday for Pastor Andrew Brunson, who is on trial in Turkey on charges he was linked to a group accused of orchestrating a failed 2016 military coup, in a case that has compounded strains in U.S.-Turkish relations. “Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason,” Trump tweeted. “They call him a spy, but I am more a spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!” Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was indicted on charges of helping the group that Ankara holds responsible for the failed 2016 coup against President Tayyip Erdogan.
He faces up to 35 years in prison. Brunson has been the pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, serving a small Protestant congregation in Turkey’s third largest city. Brunson’s trial is one of several legal cases roiling U.S.-Turkish relations. The two countries are also at odds over U.S. support for a Kurdish militia in northern Syria that Turkey considers a terrorist organization. Washington has called for Brunson’s release while Erdogan suggested last year his fate could be linked to that of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose extradition Ankara has repeatedly sought to face charges over the coup attempt.
New refugee and migrant arrivals in Greece will soon be able to move around the country freely without being restricted to the islands of the eastern Aegean where they arrive from neighboring Turkey, according to a Council of State ruling that emerged on Tuesday and upends a 2016 decision by the Greek asylum service that forced them to remain in so-called hotspots until their asylum application was processed. According to the leaked ruling by the country’s highest administrative court, there are no reasons of public interest or migration policy to justify their geographical restriction to the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros, Kos and Rhodes.
Migration Policy Minister Dimitris Vitsas said he would comment on the ruling once he is informed of it officially. Once the ruling is published, new refugees who apply for asylum will be allowed to reside in any part of the country they choose. The asylum service’s May 2016 decision restricting migrants to the Aegean islands was challenged by the Greek Council for Refugees, an NGO which filed an appeal for its cancellation. “The imposition of restrictions on movement blocked the distribution of those people throughout Greek territory and resulted in their unequal concentration in specific regions and the significant burdening and decline of those regions,” the court said in its reasoning.
However, taking into account the large number of arrivals, the court said the ruling does not have a retroactive effect, which means it will not relate to the refugees who are already languishing in reception centers. The so-called hotspots have been operating beyond capacity and the country is now witnessing a fresh spike in arrivals of often flimsy boats carrying desperate passengers from Turkey.
We all know, in theory, that we ought to use less plastic. We’ve all been distressed by the sight of Blue Planet II’s hawksbill turtle entangled in a plastic sack, and felt chastened as we’ve totted up our weekly tally of disposable coffee cups. But still, UK annual plastic waste is now close to 5m tonnes, including enough single-use plastic to fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls; the government’s planned elimination of “avoidable” plastic waste by 2042 seems a quite dazzling task. It was reported this week that scientists at the University of Portsmouth have accidentally developed a plastic-eating mutant enzyme, and while we wait to see if that will save us all, for one individual the realisation of just how much plastic we use has become an intensely personal matter.
One early evening in mid-2016, Daniel Webb, 36, took a run along the coast near his home in Margate. “It was one of those evenings where the current had brought in lots of debris,” he recalls, because as Webb looked down at the beach from his route along the promenade he noticed a mass of seaweed, tangled with many pieces of plastic. “Old toys, probably 20 years old, bottles that must have been from overseas because they had all kinds of different languages on them, bread tags, which I don’t think had been used for years …” he says. “It was very nostalgic, almost archaeological. And it made me think, as a mid-30s guy, is any of my plastic out there? Had I once dropped a toy in a stream near Wolverhampton, where I’m from, and now it was out in the sea?”
Webb decided that he would start a project to keep all the plastic he used in the course of an entire year. He would not modify his plastic consumption in that time (although he had already given up buying bottled water), and each item would be carefully washed and stored in his spare room.
Daniel Webb in front of his Mural-by-the-Sea. Photo: Ollie Harrop 2018/Everyday Plastic
More than 30 kg of plastic, mainly plastic bags, were found in the stomach of the whale that was washed out on the island of Santorini last week. The conducted autopsy showed that the huge mammal died of a gastric shock. The whale was unable to digest or excrete the rubbish through its digestive system. The problem caused peritonitis inflammation in its intestines that led to the animal’s death, local media report. The dead whale brings back to the spotlight the problem of tonnes of plastic landing into the waters, polluting the environment and leading to death of marine life. The body of the 9-meter long sperm whale – or Physeter macrocephalus as the scientific name is – was washed ashore on Akrotiri area on the island of Santorini in the Aegean island group of Cyclades on April 10th. The body weighting more than 7 tones was in condition of advanced sepsis.