Oct 082017
 
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Fred Lyon Barbary Coast 1950

 

A friend sent me a post from the DiEM25 website last week, entitled Critique of DiEM25 policy on immigrants and refugees. DiEM25 is a pan-European political movement of which former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis is a co-founder.

I started writing some lines as a response to my friend. Then it became a bit more. Wouldn’t you know… And then it was a whole article. So here’s my comments to it first, and then the original by someone calling themselves ‘dross22′. Now, in case I haven’t made this sufficiently abundantly clear yet, in my view Yanis’ knowledge and intellect is probably far superior to mine, and I’m a fan. But…

I don’t mean to imply that the views in the comment posted at DiEM25 are those of Yanis, but I do think it’s good to point out that these views exist within the movement. Moreover, as I wrote a few days ago, Yanis himself also thinks the EU should become ‘a federal state’. And I don’t agree with that. In fact, I think that’s a sure-fire way to absolute mayhem. Catalonia is only the latest example of why that is. Greece is an obvious other.

 

From that post on the DiEM25 site (see full text below):

[..] .. local European nationalism must be eradicated by creating a common European state. But a progressive European state would inevitably require a sense of identity that, in true progressive spirit, is radically opposed to religion. It would be hypocrisy to exclude Islam. Pluralism of values is a weapon of the establishment and we have to do away with it. In a Europe that is green nobody can afford pluralism in regards to lifestyle choices.

That’s quite the hand- and mouthful. Nationalism must be eradicated and religion radically opposed. Yeah, that should get you elected… You don’t want Islam in Europe, and therefore you want to do away with Christianity too. “..a sense of identity that, in true progressive spirit, is radically opposed to religion.” That’s 2000 years of often deeply ingrained history and culture out the door and down the toilet. And don’t even get me started on statues. Don’t you dare.

Look, I‘m not a religious person, but I would never want to even try to take anyone’s faith away from them. That’s the Soviet Union, China. That’s not Europe. Nor do I see what’s wrong with pluralism, seems kind of Orwellian to me. “..local European nationalism must be eradicated by creating a common European state.”  Say what? Why? What kind of movement is this? That’s not thinking, that’s dogma. And not a very clever kind of it.

Pluralism (differences) is the essence and the beauty of Europe. Plus, because of its divergence in language, culture etc., forget about unifying the whole continent, if that was ever desirable. I know the author specifically narrows it down to pluralism of values and lifestyle choices, but the EU already has enough rules and laws that regulate the worst of that.

Moreover, Europe has bigger issues than ‘pluralism in lifestyle choices’. Europe is in very troubled economic times, even if the media won’t tell you that. Because of that it’s all oil on fire, pluralism, immigration, the lot. People that do have jobs have much shittier jobs (gig economy my donkey) than those who went before them. Much of the EU is mired in way over-leveraged mortgages and other household and state debt, it’s just that you wouldn’t know it to listen to politicians and media. 

And that’s without mentioning bank debt, corporate debt, non-performing loans. Greece is paying the price right now for the credit casino (the house always wins) run by French/German banks. Other countries will be too in the near future. As soon as interest rates go up, there’ll be a mushroom cloud on the financial horizon. And Draghi will have emptied all his guns when it happens, saving EU banks but not EU citizens.

If by values and lifestyle you mean only that Islam should not replace Christianity in Europe, I’m your man. But that doesn’t mean Christianity should be suppressed or obliterated because of this. What you do instead is make it clear that you can be muslim, but only in as far as what it teaches does not contradict various European laws. And you actively enforce that.

 

[..] .. there can be no doubt that our stance on the migrants is jeopardizing our electoral prospects and our ability to influence society.. [..] This Europe will certainly not put the migrants to good use or treat them well and this will lead them to open up further to the influence of Islamic radicalism with the usual consequences.

[..] The Islamic migrants and the minorities are rather insignificant pawns that are best sacrificed as our current political situation demands. The establishment sacrifices pawns, and even rooks for its own political ends. We have to do the same.

The language is nigh unpalatable. As for (im-)migrants, it is obvious that wanting to incorporate too many of them too fast can only lead to trouble. Apart from all other discussions about values etc. After the financial crisis, it’s Europe’s main problem today. Or perhaps it’s a toss-up between finance and politics.

Perhaps what’s an even bigger issue is that what Merkel says happens, does in the EU. In economics, and in politics, and on the migration question. There is no sovereignty left. No democracy. As I’ve written before, tell the French, or Italians, that they have no say left in their own country, that Berlin controls it all. And then wait for their response. They have not a clue. Nobody told them. They sure never signed up to be ruled by Germany. But they are.

Ergo: The EU continues to exist only by the grace of media deception. And that’s an awfully thin veneer. I don’t know the ins and outs of DiEM25, but these lines make me seasick. Prediction: It’ll all fall apart at the first serious challenge and/or debate. Too many differing views from too many different locations and languages, and not nearly sufficient critical thought. 

Love Yanis though. And love him for trying. But what he must have experienced is what we at the Automatic Earth did too in 2010/11/12. That is, when the Automatic Earth’s Nicole Foss spoke in numerous locations in Italy, and we’re very grateful to our friends all over the country to make it happen, we needed translators at every talk. What I mean is you can get the big ideas across, but the details will always fall by the wayside. And that is Europe. 

 

A common European state is therefore neither desirable nor practical. The model of the European Parliament, with more translators than members of parliament, is as wrong as it is overkill. The EU is a step too far, a bridge too far. It serves a centralization dream, and the politics and economics that come with it, but it doesn’t serve the European people. 

Catalunya is just one more example of that. Greece is still the main eyesore, but you just wait till Spanish tanks appear on Barcelona’s Ramblas and Brussels has nothing. Their official response is that the use of ‘Proportionate Force’ is fine, but if that’s how you label having police in full battle gear beat up grandmas, how can you condemn tanks in the streets? Where’s the dividing line?

The EU is a giant failure. Ironically, it has done a lot of good on issues like food standards -though it tends to produce far too much paperwork on everything-, but the essence is it has -predictably- fallen victim to its upper echelons’ power grabbing. EU leaders don’t give a hoot what Europeans think, the way the important posts are divided means they don’t have to. And in the end, Germany wins (old British soccer joke).

Berlin, the European Commission, the ECB, they’re actively killing the Union, democracy, and all the good that has come out of Brussels. There’s no stopping it. And then Yanis Varoufakis and DiEM25 come along and say they ‘must’ “.. eradicate local European nationalism by creating a common European state.” 

Sorry boyos, wrong time, wrong place. Europe today must find a way to function without being anywhere near a common state, because it won’t have one for a long time. Focusing on that common state can only lead to the opposite: trouble, battle, even war between the different and numerous nation states.

 

To repeat myself once again: centralization, like globalization, only works as long as people feel they economically profit from it. In the current global and European economy, they do not, no matter what any media or politician tell you. Therefore, the focus should be on countries working together, not on becoming one state (or fiscal union, banking union). It’s not going to work, it’s going to cause major trouble, including war.

Greece may have bent over and let Berlin screw it up its donkey, but not all countries will react that way. Watch Catalonia, Hungary, Poland. And then what can Brussels do? It doesn’t have an army. Germany has a feeble one, for good reasons. NATO? The Visograd nations, Hungary etc, have different ideas about issues like immigration than Brussels and Berlin do.

How do Merkel et al plan to force them to change their ideas? Or, come to think of it, why would they want to? What Europe should be doing, but isn’t, and what a movement like DiEM25 should actively propagate, but isn’t either, is an immediate end to the deliberate creation of utter chaos in Libya, Iraq, Syria. But the European arms industry makes too much money off that chaos.

If that doesn’t stop, immigrants will keep coming. And that can only lead to more chaos in Europe too. It’s not sufficient to say you want immigration to stop. You need to take a stand against the forces that make it happen, starting with the forces in your own countries and societies (this very much includes your governments).

If you don’t focus on the basic conditions that must be fulfilled to ‘save Europe’, you will not save it. Europe is in such a crisis, or crises rather, that talking about programs and ideas from comfortable chairs is no longer a real option. Europe is very much like the orchestra on the Titanic: it keeps playing as if there is no threat ahead. And you have to tell them to stop playing. That’s your job.

Talking about what so and so would like to see by 2025 is a waste of time. But yeah, it’s comfortable, and comforting, to do it with a group of like-minded souls who fool themselves into thinking they’re smart and doing a good job. But the problem is here, now, not in 2025. And if you don’t work to solve it now, today, 2025 won’t look anything like what you have in mind.

Europeans must put a halt to European companies making billions on arms sales and oil in North Africa and the Middle East. And since these companies are protected and supported by the current leadership in Brussels and all other EU capitals, these will have to go too. That should be the focus. All the rest is the orchestra continuing to play.

Europeans don’t want a federal EU state. They don’t want to be forced to give up their national indentities, and they don’t want to lose their religions. Cue REM.

 

 

Still, Yanis has excellent ideas. As I said, I’m a fan. The way he describes his concept of parallel payment systems in the latter part of this recent video is outstanding, if you ask me. It’s the idea he never got to put into practice in Greece.

 

 

 

Here’s dross22’s full comment:

Critique of DiEM25 policy on immigrants and refugees (from DiEM 25’s official forum)

In my humble opinion the liberal way we’re approaching the refugee issue is very hard to market to the European demos. If Europe were one country and if the political climate were different, we’d have the resources to deal with the matter in the decent way we propagate. But unfortunately, Europe is currently at an advanced stage of disintegration making any discussion of a federal European state idle talk. As you all know, our mission here at DiEM is to get Europe out of the mire the establishment has got it into and then proceed to make of it a federal state. All of our very sensible and very realistic proposals take into account the fact that we’re not where we’d like to be. Yet when it comes to the refugee issue, we propagate a treatment that assumes away the current state of Europe.

Germany’s periphery and near east is divided between a collection of right-wing authoritarian states (Poland, Hungary, Ukraine etc.) and German industrial clients (Netherlands, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Finland). In the Balkan South we have Brussels-Berlin protectorates (Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia), a debt colony and testing ground of the establishment’s policies (Greece) and states ruled by criminal syndicates (Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria). In the Romance countries (including France) we have states on the verge of fiscal breakdown, and in Germany and Brussels, the core of the establishment, we have a host of ruling incompetents that can only survive by feeding the monster they created in 2010. The feces of that monster feeds nationalistic flies and worms everywhere.

This is not a Europe that can handle the refugee issue. Indeed, all it has managed to do is let Germany bear the burden of adjustment, hence contributing significantly to AfD’s resonance in German society and forcing a desperate establishment to go as far as to bribe Turkey to stem the flow. The establishment did this hideous thing for tactical reasons and the case can be made that, in part, they owe their political survival to how they instrumentalize and adapt to the reality of xenophobia. We too have to understand quickly that racism is here to stay.

This unfortunate development is due to two things. It’s Islamist radicalism in the Mid-East and Africa, where the migrants come from, leading to terrorist activity within Europe, and a widespread plebian racism against which, given an environment where a strong left has been absent for many decades, no sufficient immune defenses exist. This is even more so in the illiberal states that succeeded the Soviet Empire. Notwithstanding their relative lack of migrants, the masses there are saturated with an almost autistic sense of nationalism.

This being the situation of the Europe we live in, there can be no doubt that our stance on the migrants is jeopardizing our electoral prospects and our ability to influence society. It’s beneficial to continue to expose the unethical deal that the establishment has with Turkey but other than that we must cease with our polemic. Instead I propose adopting a different, more sophisticated electoral strategy. We should point out that we’re not opposed to migration in principle. That in fact migration empowers, not weakens a society. But that the surrounding situation is not always the same. When European masses went to America, they were going to a place where employment was in high demand and that had familiar institutions. Today we have a Europe in the midst of an existential crisis where unemployment is high and set to rise.

This Europe will certainly not put the migrants to good use or treat them well and this will lead them to open up further to the influence of Islamic radicalism with the usual consequences. The strong patriarchalist values of the Islamic masses are a social impediment too. Even the most passionate activists must admit that those people don’t share our progressive values and breed too much, which is an ecologically unsustainable behavior. Their values can change only in a progressive environment that we don’t yet have. So what we can immediately do is subject all migrants to review and keep those with valuable skills and small families. The rest should be escorted to their countries of origin. Until Europe changes we shall enforce a moratorium on unqualified migration from those countries.

In a green Europe consumption is limited and breeding is not encouraged. Immigration from failed states, motivated (among other factors) by the desire to consume more and breed more with better safety, is undesirable. It is a liability that exposes us to the heavy ammunition from vast areas of a right-wing that, lest we forget, is stronger than we, the defeated left. In a progressive Europe, borders are internally shot down and Europeans can move and settle everywhere. But we still require European borders. There is no reason to burden ourselves with masses that are unaccustomed to the institutions of advanced societies, pose a lingering threat to our security and come with strong reactionary values. Instead of denying that fact we should point to the structural similarities of their ideology with that of the far right.

Migrants from areas within reach of the Islamist terrorist network pose a danger to our domestic security in three ways. First of all, by bringing their tribal and religious rivalries within our borders, secondly by their potential terrorist activity against European citizens and thirdly by helping our local nationalism gain ground. That local European nationalism must be eradicated by creating a common European state. But a progressive European state would inevitably require a sense of identity that, in true progressive spirit, is radically opposed to religion. It would be hypocrisy to exclude Islam. Pluralism of values is a weapon of the establishment and we have to do away with it. In a Europe that is green nobody can afford pluralism in regards to lifestyle choices. In a Europe where capital has no rights over the public, where it serves human potential and not unbridled, wasteful consumerism, there can be no pluralism.

We should give up on the migrants. I understand the sorrows of those people forced to flee their countries. But I am not willing to sacrifice the progressive future of Europe, to let bigots win and see them screw this place for good just for the sake of a small minority of people that don’t share our values and that, should the bigots win, will be subject to mass abuse anyway. The surest way to protect people with such backgrounds from the worst scenarios is to defeat the nationalist international. But this won’t be done unless we become psychologically detached from the minorities and from political correctness which are tools the establishment uses.

Let’s don’t forget that people with a migration background are vulnerable to racism too once they get comfortable. For example Turks in Germany vote en masse in favor of right-wing parties, even the AfD. I look up to people that have the remarkable courage to actively help those in need but I don’t believe this advances our movement at all. The Islamic migrants and the minorities are rather insignificant pawns that are best sacrificed as our current political situation demands. The establishment sacrifices pawns, and even rooks for its own political ends. We have to do the same.

I understand what co-founder Yanis said about the global wall and how borders divide the planet. But, in spite of their truth content, expressions such as ”borders are wounds on the face of the planet” are Soviet-era anti-colonialist slogans that today only serve to discredit those who use them. I admire someone who has the moral courage for such unorthodox opinions but these things sound crazy to the masses, especially today. There is much at stake with DiEM’s new deal and it is imperative to be more careful with our choice of words and positions. When Yanis was finance minister, he was careful not to be as open and frank as he would have been as an outsider. But he is no longer the outsider he was before 2015. None of us are. We are here to do politics and our actions and words should be subordinated to the pursuit of success in the political arena. Only success can materialize our agenda and defeat the monster of the establishment and the nationalist international.

 

 

And if you still don’t have enough then, read the Mises Institute’s Why Small States are Better.

In small states the government is closer to its citizens and by that better observable and controllable by the populace. Small states are more flexible and are better at reacting and adapting to challenges. Furthermore, there is a tendency that small states are more peaceful, because they can’t produce all goods and services by themselves and are thereby dependent on undisturbed trade.

 

 

Jul 112017
 
 July 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Max Ernst Santa Conversazione 1921

 

Trump Bump for President’s Media Archenemies Eludes Local Papers (BBG)
How Economics Became A Religion (Rapley)
The Breaking Point & Death Of Keynes (Roberts)
Central Banks’ Focus on Financial Stability Has Unintended Consequences (BBG)
Janet Yellen’s Complacency Is Criminal (Bill Black)
‘We’re Flowing Toward The Path Of 1928-29’ – Yusko (CNBC)
Fresh Fears Of UK Housing Market Collapse (Sun)
The European Union Has a Currency Problem (NI)
Schaeuble Says Italy Bank-Liquidation Aid Shows Rule Discord (BBG)
Is This the End of China’s Second Housing Bubble? (ET)
The World Is Facing A ‘Biological Annihilation’ Of Species (Ind.)

 

 

The echo chamber is highly profitable. Gossip sells. It’s not personal. It’s only business. And in many boardrooms the question these days is: Why are we not more like the New York TImes?

Trump Bump for President’s Media Archenemies Eludes Local Papers (BBG)

President Donald Trump loves to hurl his Twitter-ready insult at the New York Times: #failingnytimes. But in the stock market, the New York Times Co. has been looking like a roaring success lately, particularly by the standards of the beleaguered newspaper industry. Since Trump won the presidency in November, the publisher’s share price has soared 57%. Online subscriptions are up, bigly – about 19% in the first quarter alone. Scrutinizing the president turns out to be good business, at least for top national papers like the Times and the Washington Post. A different story is playing out for local publications, which are still suffering through the industry’s long decline and need to retain subscribers who are sympathetic to Trump.

Consider McClatchy Co., which owns about 30 papers, including the Miami Herald. Its shares have plummeted 31% since Election Day. Subscriptions have barely budged. The diverging fortunes in the industry have underscored what many in the traditional news business know only too well: Famous titles can lumber on as they grope for a digital future, but most local papers are fighting for survival. “For us in Texas, the bump has definitely been more muted because we’re not the primary source of news out of the White House,” said Mike Wilson, editor of the Dallas Morning News. “We serve a community with many deeply conservative pockets. That may be a different demographic from the New York Times and Washington Post audience.”

[..] The Washington Post, owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, has more than 900,000 digital subscribers, including hundreds of thousands who signed up in the first quarter, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing private information. The newspaper declined to comment on its subscriber figures. The Post and the Times have been competing for scoops on the biggest story of the year: the Trump administration’s alleged ties to Russia. On several occasions, they’ve published blockbuster stories within hours of each other. Trump often attacks their coverage on Twitter, which seems to drive even more readers to subscribe.

Read more …

We adhere to the school of economics that suits the powerful best.

How Economics Became A Religion (Rapley)

Although Britain has an established church, few of us today pay it much mind. We follow an even more powerful religion, around which we have oriented our lives: economics. Think about it. Economics offers a comprehensive doctrine with a moral code promising adherents salvation in this world; an ideology so compelling that the faithful remake whole societies to conform to its demands. It has its gnostics, mystics and magicians who conjure money out of thin air, using spells such as “derivative” or “structured investment vehicle”. And, like the old religions it has displaced, it has its prophets, reformists, moralists and above all, its high priests who uphold orthodoxy in the face of heresy. Over time, successive economists slid into the role we had removed from the churchmen: giving us guidance on how to reach a promised land of material abundance and endless contentment.

For a long time, they seemed to deliver on that promise, succeeding in a way few other religions had ever done, our incomes rising thousands of times over and delivering a cornucopia bursting with new inventions, cures and delights. This was our heaven, and richly did we reward the economic priesthood, with status, wealth and power to shape our societies according to their vision. At the end of the 20th century, amid an economic boom that saw the western economies become richer than humanity had ever known, economics seemed to have conquered the globe. With nearly every country on the planet adhering to the same free-market playbook, and with university students flocking to do degrees in the subject, economics seemed to be attaining the goal that had eluded every other religious doctrine in history: converting the entire planet to its creed.

Yet if history teaches anything, it’s that whenever economists feel certain that they have found the holy grail of endless peace and prosperity, the end of the present regime is nigh. On the eve of the 1929 Wall Street crash, the American economist Irving Fisher advised people to go out and buy shares; in the 1960s, Keynesian economists said there would never be another recession because they had perfected the tools of demand management. The 2008 crash was no different. Five years earlier, on 4 January 2003, the Nobel laureate Robert Lucas had delivered a triumphal presidential address to the American Economics Association. Reminding his colleagues that macroeconomics had been born in the depression precisely to try to prevent another such disaster ever recurring, he declared that he and his colleagues had reached their own end of history:

“Macroeconomics in this original sense has succeeded,” he instructed the conclave. “Its central problem of depression prevention has been solved.”

Read more …

Will the last days of our economics coincide with the last days of our economic model? Will Keynes die in a collapse?

The Breaking Point & Death Of Keynes (Roberts)

Keynes contended that “a general glut would occur when aggregate demand for goods was insufficient, leading to an economic downturn resulting in losses of potential output due to unnecessarily high unemployment, which results from the defensive (or reactive) decisions of the producers.” In other words, when there is a lack of demand from consumers due to high unemployment then the contraction in demand would, therefore, force producers to take defensive, or react, actions to reduce output. In such a situation, Keynesian economics states that government policies could be used to increase aggregate demand, thus increasing economic activity and reducing unemployment and deflation. Investment by government injects income, which results in more spending in the general economy, which in turn stimulates more production and investment involving still more income and spending and so forth.

The initial stimulation starts a cascade of events, whose total increase in economic activity is a multiple of the original investment. Unfortunately, as shown below, monetary interventions and the Keynesian economic theory of deficit spending has failed to produce a rising trend of economic growth.

Take a look at the chart above. Beginning in the 1950’s, and continuing through the late 1970’s, interest rates were in a generally rising trend along with economic growth. Consequently, despite recessions, budget deficits were non-existent allowing for the productive use of capital. When the economy went through its natural and inevitable slowdowns, or recessions, the Federal Reserve could lower interest rates which in turn would incentivize producers to borrow at cheaper rates, refinance activities, etc. which spurred production and ultimately hiring and consumption.

However, beginning in 1980 the trend changed with what I have called the “Breaking Point.” It’s hard to identify the exact culprit which ranged from the Reagan Administration’s launch into massive deficit spending, deregulation, exportation of manufacturing, a shift to a serviced based economy, or a myriad of other possibilities or even a combination of all of them. Whatever the specific reason; the policies that have been followed since the “breaking point” have continued to work at odds with the “American Dream,” and economic models.

Read more …

Central banks focus on their member banks.

Central Banks’ Focus on Financial Stability Has Unintended Consequences (BBG)

Central bankers are spending a lot of time talking about financial stability. So much so that many economists, strategists and investors are saying financial stability has become a de facto third mandate for policy makers along with price stability and full employment. This development, however, has the potential to bring about some unintended consequences such as central banks adopting a much shallower tightening path than they currently envision. It’s important to understand two things. First, in highly levered economies, like those we currently see in developed nations around the world, interest rates and financial stability are closely linked. That was evident in the recent “synchronized” global sell-off in the rates markets triggered by central banks signaling concern about relatively high asset prices brought on by artificially low borrowing costs, and their potential to foster financial instability.

Second, central banks have, perhaps paradoxically, contributed to financial instability by employing so-called forward guidance that provided investors with a sense of how long they would be keeping rates at record-low levels. So, with economies gradually recovering and employment generally robust, it’s understandable that investors would behave in a manner that suggests they expect favorable financial conditions to seemingly last in perpetuity. Consider the dollar. Its weakness against both developed and emerging-market currencies this year occurred even though expectations for stronger economic growth and fiscal stimulus rose. The decline in the value of the dollar value means the cost to borrow in the currency has dropped despite the Federal Reserve’s three interest-rate increases since mid-December.

It also means hedging costs in currencies ranging from the euro to the South Korean won are rising at a less-than-ideal time. That can be seen in cross-currency basis swap rates, which are essentially the cost to exchange a fixed-rate obligation for a floating-rate obligation. In the case of the won, the swap rate has turned more negative, suggesting a possible “shortage” of the currency to borrow in the interbank market as geopolitical tensions in the region reach levels not seen in years. And, the almost 8% appreciation in the euro in both nominal and real effective exchange rate terms has driven the cost to borrow in the shared currency higher as European Central Bank officials surprise markets by starting to talk about pulling back from unprecedented monetary easing measures.

Read more …

Looks like the world would have been much better off without central banks.

Janet Yellen’s Complacency Is Criminal (Bill Black)

[..] her inaction as Fed chairman has encouraged criminal behaviour. First, Yellen’s “lifetime” pronouncement in 2017 ignored Yellen’s pronouncements in 1996 – and how disastrously they fared in the most recent financial crisis. In 1996, Yellen gave a talk at a conference at the Levy Institute at Bard College, which Minsky attended. The Minneapolis Fed published her speech as an article entitled “The New Science of Credit Risk Management.” The speech was an ode to financial securitization and credit derivatives. The Minneapolis Fed, particularly in this era, was ultra-right wing in its economic and social views. Yellen’s piece is memorable for several themes. With the exception of two passages, it reads as gushing propaganda for the largest banks. It is relentlessly optimistic. Securitization and credit derivatives will reduce individual and systematic risk.

Yellen assures the reader that finance is highly competitive and that the banks will pass on the savings from reducing risk to even unsophisticated borrowers in the form of lower interest rates. The regulators should reduce capital requirements, particularly for credit instruments with high credit ratings. Banks now have a vastly more sophisticated understanding of their credit risks and manage them prudently. There is no discussion of perverse incentives even though bank CEOs were making them ever more perverse at an increasing rate. There is no discussion of the fate of the first collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). Michael Milken, a confessed felon, devised and sold the first CDO – backed by junk bonds. That disaster blew up five years before she gave her speech. At the time Yellen published her article the second generation of CDOs was becoming common.

That generation of CDOs was backed by a hodgepodge of risky loans. They blew up about four years after she gave her speech. The third wave of CDOs was backed by toxic mortgages, particularly endemically fraudulent “liar’s” loans. They blew up in 2008. Securitization contributed to the disaster. The Fed championed vastly lower capital requirements for banks – particularly he largest banks. Fortunately, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) fought a ferocious rearguard opposition that blocked this effort. The Fed succeeded, however, in allowing the largest banks to calculate their own capital requirements through proprietary risk models that (shock) massively understated actual risk. Bank CEOs used the lower capital requirements, the biased risk models, and the opaque CDOs to massively increase risk and predate on black and Latino home borrowers.

Read more …

We have a hard time remembering and learning.

‘We’re Flowing Toward The Path Of 1928-29’ – Yusko (CNBC)

Although the economy has been steady this year, at least one analyst has dire predictions, comparing the current period to the buildup to the Great Depression and warning that this fall is when things will come to a head. Mark Yusko, CEO of Morgan Creek Capital, has been predicting bad news for the economy since January and he is sticking by that, saying Monday on CNBC’s “Power Lunch” that he believes too much stimulus and quantitative easing has resulted in a “huge” bubble in U.S. stocks. “I have this belief that we’re flowing toward the path of 1928-29 when Hoover was president,” Yusko said. “Now Trump is president. Both were presidents with no experience who come in with a Congress that is all Republican, lots of big promises, lots of things that don’t happen and the fall is when people realize, ‘Wait, it hasn’t played out the way we thought.'”

He points to evidence of declining growth as well as that fall is a weak time traditionally for the U.S. economy as people return from vacation. “[By the fall], we’ll have a lot more evidence of declining growth. Growth has been slipping,” he said. However, it was not all gloom and doom as Yusko said the emerging markets were still strong places to invest. “Growth is where you want to invest,” he said. “All the growth is in the emerging markets, the developing world. It’s really tough if you look around the developed world.” he said profits in the United States are the same as they were in 2012. Yusko said at the beginning of the year “every single analyst” said emerging markets were going to underperform the U.S. “That hasn’t been the case,” he said. Indeed, in 2017 the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) has been up more than 18% while the S&P 500 index has risen more than 8%.

Read more …

“..the number of homes sold in May for less than the asking price rose to 77%.”

Fresh Fears Of UK Housing Market Collapse (Sun)

New signs of the housing market slipping are expected this week when one of the best lead indicators of house price movement is released. The UK Residential Market Survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is expected to show a decrease in the number of members reporting house price rises. It comes after last weekend, it was reported is on the edge of a property price crash which could be as bad as the collapse in the 1990s according to experts who are also warning property value could plunge by 40%. Ahead of this week’s survey, Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to consultancy EY Item Club, told the Mail on Sunday: ‘It may well be that heightened uncertainty after the General Election weighed down on an already fragile housing market in June.’

The expectation of a crash has raised alarms about whether we could see a return of “negative equity” which is when a house falls so much in value it is worth less than the mortgage. Around one million people were hit with negative equity in the 1990s, the Mail on Sunday has reported. Paul Cheshire, professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics, said: “We are due a significant correction in house prices. “I think we are beginning to see signs that correction may be starting.” Prices plunged by 37% in 1989 when the price boom fell apart. In its most recent figures, The National Association of Estate Agents reported the number of homes sold in May for less than the asking price rose to 77%. Prof Chesire added that falls in real incomes is also likely to spark for a fall in house prices.

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The EU has a power problem. Germany dictates all important decisions, and in its favor.

The European Union Has a Currency Problem (NI)

Donald Trump, for all his rhetorical clumsiness and intellectual limitations, still sometimes makes a valid point. He does when he says that Germany is “very bad on trade.” However much Berlin claims innocence and good intentions, the fact remains that the euro heavily stacks the deck in favor of German exporters and against others, in Europe and further afield. It is surely no coincidence that the country’s trade has gone from about balance when the euro was created to a huge surplus amounting at last measure to over 8% of the economy—while at the same time every other major EU economy has fallen into deficit. Nor could an honest observer deny that the bias distorts economic structures in Europe and beyond, perhaps most especially in Germany, a point Berlin also seems to have missed.

The euro was supposed to help all who joined it. When it was introduced at the very end of the last century, the EU provided the world with white papers and policy briefings itemizing the common currency’s universal benefits. Politically, Europe, as a single entity with a single currency, could, they argued, at last stand as a peer to other powerful economies, such as the United States, Japan and China. The euro would also share the benefits of seigniorage more equally throughout the union. Because business holds currency, issuing nations get the benefit of acquiring real goods and services in return for the paper that the sellers hold. But since business prefers to hold the currencies of larger, stronger economies, it is these countries that tend to get the greatest benefit. The euro, its creators argued, would give seigniorage advantages to the union as a whole and not just its strongest members.

All, the EU argued further, would benefit from the increase in trade that would develop as people worried less over currency fluctuations. With little risk of a currency loss, interest rates would fall, giving especially smaller, weaker members the advantage of cheaper credit and encouraging more investment and economic development than would otherwise occur. Greater trade would also deepen economic integration, allow residents of the union to choose from a greater diversity of goods and services, and offer the more unified European economy greater resilience in the face of economic cycles, whether they had their origins internally or from abroad. It was a pretty picture, but it did not quite work as planned. Instead of giving all greater general advantages, the common currency, it is now clear, locked in distorting and inequitable currency mispricings.

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Those rules only last until they get in the way of some greater good anyway.

Schaeuble Says Italy Bank-Liquidation Aid Shows Rule Discord (BBG)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble joined his counterparts from the Netherlands and Austria in calling for a review of European Union bank-failure rules after Italy won approval to pour as much as €17 billion ($19.4 billion) of taxpayers’ cash into liquidating two regional lenders. Schaeuble said Italy’s disposal of Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca revealed differences between the EU’s bank-resolution rules and national insolvency laws that are “difficult to explain.” That’s why finance ministers convening in Brussels on Monday have to discuss the Italian cases and consider “how this can be changed with a view to the future,” he told reporters in Brussels before the meeting.

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said the focus should be on EU state-aid rules for banks that date from 2013, before the resolution framework was put in place. Italy relied on these rules for its state-funded liquidation of the two Veneto banks and its plan to inject €5.4 billion into Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA. The EU laid down new bank-failure rules in the 2014 Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive after member states provided almost €2 trillion to prop up lenders during the financial crisis. The BRRD foresees small banks going insolvent like non-financial companies. Big ones that could cause mayhem would be restructured and recapitalized under a separate procedure called resolution, in which losses are borne by owners and creditors, including senior bondholders if necessary.

Elke Koenig, head of the euro area’s Single Resolution Board, said last week that the framework for failing lenders needs to be reviewed to “see how to align the rules better.” The EU commissioner in charge of financial-services policy, Valdis Dombrovskis, said that this could only happen once banks have built up sufficient buffers of loss-absorbing debt. The EU’s handling of the Italian banks was held up by U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari as evidence that requiring banks to have “bail-in debt” doesn’t prevent bailouts. The idea that rules on loss-absorbing liabilities that can be converted to equity or written down to cover the costs of a bank collapse “rarely works this way in real life,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

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“..the average Chinese would have had to spend more than 160 times his annual income to purchase an average housing unit at the end of 2016.”

Is This the End of China’s Second Housing Bubble? (ET)

When the economy started to cool in the beginning of 2016, China opened up the debt spigots again to stimulate the economy. After the failed initiative with the stock market in 2015, Chinese central planners chose residential real estate again. And it worked. As mortgages made up 40.5% of new bank loans in 2016, house prices were rising at more than 10% year over year for most of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. Overall, they got so expensive that the average Chinese would have had to spend more than 160 times his annual income to purchase an average housing unit at the end of 2016. Because housing uses a lot of human resources and raw material inputs, the economy also stabilized and has been doing rather well in 2017, according to both the official numbers and unofficial reports from organizations like the China Beige Book (CBB), which collects independent, on-the-ground data about the Chinese economy.

“China Beige Book’s new Q2 results show an economy that improved again, compared to both last quarter and a year ago, with retail and services each bouncing back from underwhelming Q1 performances,” states the most recent CBB report. However, because Beijing’s central planners must walk a tightrope between stimulating the economy and exacerbating a financial bubble, they tightened housing regulations as well as lending in the beginning of 2017. Research by TS Lombard now suggests the housing bubble may have burst for the second time after 2014. “We expect the latest round of policy tightening in the property sector to drive down housing sales significantly over the next six months,” states the research firm, in its latest “China Watch” report. One of the major reasons for the concern is increased regulation. Out of the 55 cities measured in the national property price index, 25 have increased regulation on housing purchases.

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The most tragic species.

“..Earth’s capacity to support life, including human life, has been shaped by life itself..”

The World Is Facing A ‘Biological Annihilation’ Of Species (Ind.)

The world is experiencing a “biological annihilation” of its animal species because of humans’ effect on the Earth, a new study has found. Researchers mapped 27,600 species of birds, amphibians, mammals and reptiles – nearly half of known terrestrial vertebrate species – and concluded the planet’s sixth mass extinction even was much worse than previously thought. They found the number of individual animals that once lived alongside humans had now fallen by as much as 50%, according to a paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study’s authors, Rodolfo Dirzo and Paul Ehrlich from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and Gerardo Ceballos, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said this amounted to “a massive erosion of the greatest biological diversity in the history of the Earth”.

The authors argued that the world cannot wait to address damage to biodiversity and that the window of time for effective action was very short, “probably two or three decades at most”. Mr Dirzo said the study’s results showed “a biological annihilation occurring globally, even if the species these populations belong to are still present somewhere on Earth”. The research also found more that 30% of vertebrate species were declining in size or territorial range. Looking at 177 well-studied mammal species, the authors found that all had lost at least 30% of the geographical area they used to inhabit between 1990 and 2015. And more than 40% of these species had lost more than 80% of their range. The authors concluded that population extinction were more frequent than previously believed and a “prelude” to extinction.

“So Earth’s sixth mass extinction episode has proceeded further than most assume,” the study said. About 41% of all amphibians are threatened with extinction and 26% of all mammals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which keeps a list of threatened and extinct species. [..] “When considering the frightening assault on the foundations of human civilisation, one must never forget that Earth’s capacity to support life, including human life, has been shaped by life itself,” the paper stated.

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Aug 272016
 
 August 27, 2016  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Jack Delano Mother of three, wiper at the roundhouse. Chicago & North Western R.R.” 1943

America’s Biggest Economic Problem: Nobody Is Investing For Tomorrow. (MW)
The Stimulus Our Economy Needs (Da Costa)
Grim Employment Prospects For Young People Around The World (Economist)
Fed’s Jackson Hole Circus
Bill Gross Says Yellen’s Economy ‘May Never Walk Normally Again’ (BBG)
Losses Piling Up for S&P 500 as Weekly Drop Is Worst Since June (BBG)
World’s Biggest Pension Fund Loses $52 Billion in Q2 Stock Rout (BBG)
Why No One Trusts China’s Markets (Balding)
Theresa May Will Trigger Brexit Negotiations Without Commons Vote (Tel.)
BleachBit Brags It “Stifled FBI Investigation” Of Hillary Clinton (ZH)
Majority Of Greek Properties Valued Under €50,000 (Kath.)
We Don’t Know What We Are Talking About When We Talk About Religion (Taleb)

 

 

“America’s Investment In Its Own Future Is In A Depression”. As epitomized by share buybacks. Which in turn are simply an expression of ‘the thing that shall not be mentioned’: a lack of confidence in growth, and in the economy as a whole. Why invest when there will be no return?

America’s Biggest Economic Problem: Nobody Is Investing For Tomorrow. (MW)

The U.S. economy, by some measures, has recovered from the Great Recession: The unemployment rate is only half what it was at the worst, real gross domestic product is about 10% larger than the previous peak, and personal wealth has risen by more than $20 trillion as the stock market and the housing market have bounced back. But everyone knows the recovery has been uneven. Total employment may have grown by 6 million since the recession began in 2008, but employment in manufacturing is down nearly 1.5 million. Real disposable incomes may be up by 16%, but because most of the increase has been captured by the richest sliver of society, the median family’s annual inflation-adjusted income is still down more than $3,000.

Most troubling, there’s still very little investment in the buildings, equipment and intellectual property that we ought to be putting into place today as the foundation of our prosperity tomorrow. Who’s preparing the United States for the 21st century? Nobody, really. Not the 22 million private businesses, not the 118 million households, and not the 90,000 state, local or federal government agencies. Since the recession, investments have fallen sharply, and they haven’t gotten back up again. It seems that everyone is still scarred by the Great Recession, and by the collapse of asset bubbles in 2000 and 2006. Gross domestic investment totaled about $3.6 trillion in the second quarter of 2016, about 20% of gross domestic product. That may seem a large sum, but it’s the lowest share of GDP, except during recessions, since 1947.

And, unfortunately, even that weak number grossly exaggerates the actual contribution of this investment in creating new productive capacity for the economy. Why is the figure exaggerated? Because these data are reported on a gross basis, without subtracting the depreciation of capital assets such as equipment, buildings, software and the like. After you subtract the capital that’s used up, net investment totaled only about $750 billion in the second quarter, or 4% of GDP, about half of the average over the post-war period. In fact, net investment has been running at the lowest rates since the Great Depression of the 1930s, suggesting that U.S. investment itself is in a depression.

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Makes some sense, but relies too much on the assumption that policy makers know what they do. They don’t.

The Stimulus Our Economy Needs (Da Costa)

All told, nearly 9 million jobs were lost during the 2007-2009 slump, not counting the new jobs that were needed to keep up with population growth. The unemployment rate more than doubled to a peak of 10.2% in October 2009 and took seven years to get back to around 5%, seen as normal. Even the current 4.9% rate is seen as a poor depiction of the U.S. labor market’s actual ongoing weakness. So what would a constructive pro-jobs policy of employment insurance look like? It could take many forms, and, despite any central bank role in funding the stimulus, the decision on how to spend the money would remain fully accountable to the democratic process — in the hands of elected lawmakers.

One approach might see Congress adopt a mandate similar to the one it assigned the Fed itself — to maintain low and stable prices while striving for maximum sustainable employment. Such a goal would offer clearer guidelines for when a program of budget spending aided by central bank intervention might be needed, like determining what thresholds of economic pain might trigger its launch. Rather than relying on a spotty, limited system of jobless benefits that can leave the unemployed in or close to poverty, wouldn’t it be better to directly create government jobs in areas where the private sector appears to be falling short?

Employer-of-last-resort-type policies, as proposed by the economist Hyman Minsky, where the government generates employment in socially useful sectors that are underserved by the private sector alone — including infrastructure, education, health care, child and elderly care, and the arts — could be optimal. After all, most people would agree instinctively with Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the U.N. in 1948, which states, “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

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Same difference: no investments in the future.

Grim Employment Prospects For Young People Around The World (Economist)

A new report from the International Labour Organisation has provided a snapshot of job prospects for young people around the world. Things have worsened this year following a period of slight improvement. Unemployment among 15-24-year-olds has risen to 13.1% in 2016 and is close to its historic peak of 2013. The rate is highest in Arab countries, at 30.6%, and lowest in East Asia, at 10.7%. The report also finds that even where jobs are available to young people, they often fail to provide secure incomes.

Youth unemployment is typically lower in poorer countries than in rich ones. This is because workers in less-developed countries have to take work just to make ends meet and, with few choices, end up in low-paid jobs with no security. Even in richer countries, the young often end up in less-secure employment than the older generation. In 2015, 25% of young workers in OECD countries were in temporary jobs and 26% were employed part-time, often on an involuntary basis. Those rates are more than twice as high as for workers aged 25 to 54.

In fact, young people with jobs are now at greater risk of living in poverty than the elderly in some rich countries. This is especially true in places where there has been a sharp economic shock, such as Greece, Romania and Spain. The need to work to supplement household income in the short-term creates a vicious cycle in which the young forgo training in the skills required for better long-term job prospects. Given the bleak future faced by many, it is little surprise that 40% of 15-29-year-olds in Africa, eastern Europe and Latin America would countenance a permanent move abroad.

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“Friday, almost six years to the day, marked the anniversary of former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s address to the Jackson Hole confab, at which he outlined the second phase of quantitative easing [..] Since then, Wilshire Associates estimates the value of U.S. equities has increased by over 100%, some $13.3 trillion..”

Fed’s Jackson Hole Circus

The Fed has fueled the populism that has thrown this year’s U.S. elections into an unprecedented tizzy, the Journal wrote in more considered terms in a page-one feature on Friday. While the central bank dealt forcefully with the 2007-08 financial crisis, it failed to anticipate it and subsequently failed to bring about a recovery worthy of the name. What it has accomplished is a massive inflation, not of consumer prices—as officially measured, at least—but of asset prices. Friday, almost six years to the day, marked the anniversary of former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s address to the Jackson Hole confab, at which he outlined the second phase of quantitative easing (central bank–speak for securities purchases to pump money into the financial system), which was popularly dubbed QE2.

Since then, Wilshire Associates estimates the value of U.S. equities has increased by over 100%, some $13.3 trillion. Since Bernanke outlined QE3 in September 2012, U.S. equities are up about 50%, or $8.6 trillion, by Wilshire’s reckoning. In the process, interest rates have hovered at or near record-low levels, tonic for asset values but poison for savers. The uneven impact of the Fed’s policies among the haves and have-nots has further stoked resentment against the monetary authorities. Low yields and inflated asset prices mean modest future returns for all. But though it is equally illegal for the beggar and the king to sleep under the bridge, low returns are less of a burden for those who have already accumulated wealth than for those who have not.

None of this sociology and politics should influence the Fed, but it is an inescapable backdrop to policy decisions. Based on the data on which the central bank professes to depend, the “case for an increase in the federal-funds rate has strengthened in recent months,” Yellen said in her much-anticipated address to the Jackson Hole gathering.

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“Credit-enhanced cycles come to worse ends than the normal kind.”

Bill Gross Says Yellen’s Economy ‘May Never Walk Normally Again’ (BBG)

Bill Gross, the billionaire Janus Capital Group Inc. money manager, criticized Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s suggestion that she could consider further asset purchases as the equivalent of “providing a walker or a wheelchair for an ailing economy.” Yellen, speaking Friday at a conference of central bankers and economists in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, said while the U.S. economy has strengthened to the point that interest rate hikes are possible, further asset purchases must remain part of the Fed’s toolkit. Gross, who runs the $1.5 billion Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, has long criticized central bankers in the U.S., Europe and Japan for keeping interest rates ultra-low and artificially inflating asset prices without adding sustainable economic growth.

“She is opening the door to creating even greater asset bubbles as have the BOJ and ECB and SNB by purchasing corporate bonds and stocks,” Gross wrote Friday in an e-mail response to questions. “This is not capitalism. This is providing a walker or a wheelchair for an ailing economy. It may never walk normally again if monetary policy continues in this direction.” Gross said Yellen’s comments didn’t take a September rate hike off the table, especially if job growth is healthy. The Labor Department reports August employment data on Sept. 2. The probability of a hike at the Sept. 21 Fed meeting has risen to 38% from 15% two weeks ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“To the extent that next month we see a decent job growth number, then I think for sure or close to for sure, you know, in September we’re going to see a Fed hike of 25 basis points,” Gross said in an interview on CNBC. “The market hadn’t expected that.” Tad Rivelle, chief investment officer of fixed income at TCW Group, warned that central bank intervention to keep rates low and prop up asset prices may worsen the impact of an inevitable end to the current credit cycle. “Every cycle in human history has ultimately come to an end,” Rivelle, who helps oversee $195 billion for TCW, said in a Bloomberg Television interview Friday. “Credit-enhanced cycles come to worse ends than the normal kind.”

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“Not since the presidential administration of Lyndon B. Johnson have stocks done so little for so long.”

Losses Piling Up for S&P 500 as Weekly Drop Is Worst Since June (BBG)

What had been just a sleepy August is turning into an increasingly painful one for U.S. equity market bulls. Notwithstanding an hour-long burst of optimism that followed Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s policy speech Friday, the buoyancy that lifted stocks for the first half of the summer has now been missing for the better part of a month. The S&P 500 Index fell 0.7% to 2,169.04 this week, the biggest drop since June, to erase its August gains. Not since the presidential administration of Lyndon B. Johnson have stocks done so little for so long. Unable to break out of a 1.5% band for more than 30 days, the market is locked in its tightest trading range since the end of 1965 amid confusion about Federal Reserve policy and the outlook for earnings.

While losses remain tiny day to day, they’re starting to pile up, with the S&P 500 declining in five of the last six sessions. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 157.17 points in the week to 18,395.4, while the Nasdaq Composite Index retreated 0.4% to 5,218.92. At about 5.8 billion shares, daily volume in U.S. exchanges was lower this week than in any non-holiday period since June 2015. “Once we dug into the report from Yellen, it was kind of a non-event, and we’re ending in the same range we started the week,” Chris Gaffney, president of world markets at St. Louis-based EverBank, said by phone. “The data we got this week was mixed. There’s no clear direction and that’s why we’re sitting in these ranges.”

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Guess the Japanese simply don’t understand what Abe does to their pensions.

World’s Biggest Pension Fund Loses $52 Billion in Q2 Stock Rout (BBG)

The world’s biggest pension fund posted a $52 billion loss last quarter as stocks tumbled and the yen surged, wiping out all investment gains since it overhauled its strategy by boosting shares and cutting bonds. Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund lost 3.9%, or 5.2 trillion yen ($52 billion), in the three months ended June 30, reducing assets to 129.7 trillion yen, it said in Tokyo on Friday. That erases a 4.1 trillion yen investing return for the previous six quarters starting October 2014, the month it decided to put half its assets into equities. The quarterly decline follows a 5.3 trillion yen loss in the fiscal year through March, the worst annual performance since the global financial crisis.

After benefiting from a surge in Japanese equities and a weaker yen earlier in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s term, GPIF has posted losses as domestic stocks tumble and gains in the currency reduce the value of overseas assets. Still, for Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank Ltd., that’s no reason to veer from the current approach. “Since its investments are tied to market moves, it’s natural that this would happen and there’s no point looking at it with a short-term view,” said Ayako Sera, a Tokyo-based market strategist at the bank. “GPIF is so big that its losses look huge even though the fluctuations in its investments just mirror the market.”

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“Regulators assess a company’s balance sheet and history, mandate an offering price, and then let the market figure out who might be lying or hiding things.”

Why No One Trusts China’s Markets (Balding)

When China’s top securities regulator said recently that it plans to delist Dandong Xintai Electric for falsifying initial public offering documents, it didn’t grab many headlines. But it suggested some far-reaching changes may be afoot. Xintai is the first company to be expelled from Shenzhen’s ChiNext board for such an offense, and one of only a handful that have ever been delisted in China. Its expulsion suggests that regulators are facing up to some unfortunate truths about China’s capital markets. Those markets are, in important ways, only superficially market-like. In the stock market, the government has intervened on a huge scale to prop up prices. Investment in the bond market is overwhelmingly directed to state-owned enterprises. There’s no derivatives market to speak of.

Financial disclosures are often implausible, suspicions of insider trading are rife and doubts about corporate governance are widespread. All these are symptoms of a common ailment: a regulatory system focused not on disclosure and market mechanics but on setting asset prices and allocating returns. In most countries, when companies are considering an IPO, regulators require them to accurately disclose information, then let markets dictate prices. In China, the reverse holds true: Regulators assess a company’s balance sheet and history, mandate an offering price, and then let the market figure out who might be lying or hiding things. The result is that investors, both domestic and foreign, have lost confidence in China’s markets.

Foreign portfolio investment into China is down 60%, year over year, through July. MSCI has repeatedly declined to include China’s domestic equities in its benchmark indexes. Even the much-celebrated Chinese retail investor is staying on the sidelines: Individual investment accounts holding less than 500,000 yuan declined to 46.8 million last month, from 47.4 million in July 2015. This credibility deficit affects all areas of the markets. Major Chinese commercial banks have been trading at a price-to-equity ratio of about five – compared to an average of about 12 for commercial banks elsewhere – because investors think their loan portfolios are much worse off than they’re letting on.

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Somone will try to stop her.

Theresa May Will Trigger Brexit Negotiations Without Commons Vote (Tel.)

Theresa May will not hold a parliamentary vote on Brexit before opening negotiations to formally trigger Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, The Telegraph has learned. Opponents of Brexit claim that because the EU referendum result is advisory it must be approved by a vote in the Commons before Article 50 – the formal mechanism to leave the EU – is triggered. However, in a move which will cheer Eurosceptics, The Telegraph has learned that Mrs May will invoke Article 50 without a vote in Parliament It had been suggested – by Tony Blair, the former Labour Prime Minister, and Owen Smith, the Labour leadership candidate, among others – that Remain-supporting MPs could use a Parliamentary vote to stop Brexit.

But sources say that because Mrs May believes that “Brexit means Brexit” she will not offer opponents the opportunity to stall Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. A Downing Street source said: “The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear that the British public have voted and now she will get on with delivering Brexit.” Mrs May has consulted Government lawyers who have told the Prime Minister she has the executive power to invoke Article 50 and begin the formal process of exiting the European Union without a vote in Parliament. Her decision will come as a blow to Remain campaigners, who had been hoping to use Parliament to delay or halt Brexit entirely.

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And it will yet get crazier.

BleachBit Brags It “Stifled FBI Investigation” Of Hillary Clinton (ZH)

Yesterday we noted that South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy revealed that Hillary had used a software called “BleachBit” to wipe her servers clean. Gowdy, appearing on Fox News, suggested that using a software like “BleachBit” undermines her claims that she only deleted innocuous “personal” emails from her private server. Specifically, Gowdy told Fox News:

“If she considered them to be personal, then she and her lawyers had those emails deleted. They didn’t just push the delete button, they had them deleted where even God can’t read them. “They were using something called BleachBit. You don’t use BleachBit for yoga emails.” “When you’re using BleachBit, it is something you really do not want the world to see.”

Now, the BleachBit team is using the whole controversy as a marketing tool with a note on their website entitled “BleachBit stifles investigation of Hillary Clinton.” The site even incorporates the now-famous Clinton gaffe where she asked reporters if they wanted to know whether she had wiped her servers clean “like with a cloth or something” pointing out that “it turns out now that BleachBit was that cloth.”

Last year when Clinton was asked about wiping her email server, she joked, “Like with a cloth or something?” It turns out now that BleachBit was that cloth.

The BleachBit team also points out that they have not been served with any warrants or subpoenas at this time even though it doesn’t really matter because the “cleaning process is not reversible.”

As of the time of writing BleachBit has not been served a warrant or subpoena in relation to the investigation. BleachBit is free of charge to use in any environment whether it is personal, commercial, educational, or governmental, and the cleaning process is not reversible.

Finally, BleachBit points out they’re receiving overwhelming interest from folks looking to permanently erase yoga and bridesmaid emails and/or other similar incriminating information.

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Compare that to other EU nations.

Majority Of Greek Properties Valued Under €50,000 (Kath.)

74% of real estate owners in Greece have property whose taxable value does not exceed 100,000 euros, according to data published on Friday by the Finance Ministry. More precisely, one in two own property that is valued by tax authorities at 50,000 euros or less, while just 8% of real estate owners have property worth between 100,000 and 200,000 euros. The total taxable value of the properties owned by the two groups has been calculated by the ministry, respectively, at 63.6 billion euros and 132 billion euros.

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Taleb targets Salafism.

We Don’t Know What We Are Talking About When We Talk About Religion (Taleb)

People rarely mean the same thing when they say “religion”, nor do they realize that they don’t mean the same thing. For early Jews and Muslims, religion was law. Din means law in Hebrew and religion in Arabic. For early Jews, religion was also tribal; for early Muslims, it was universal[i]. For the Romans, religion was social events, rituals, and festivals –the word religio was a counter to superstitio, and while present in the Roman zeitgeist had no equivalent concept in the Greek-Byzantine East[ii]. Law was procedurally and mechanically its own thing, and early Christianity, thanks to Saint Augustine, stayed relatively away from the law, and, later, remembering its foundations, had an uneasy relation with it. For instance, even during the Inquisition, a lay court handled the sentencing.

The difference is marked in that Christian Aramaic uses a different word: din for religion and nomous (from the Greek) for law. Jesus, with his imperative “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”, separated the holy and the profane: Christianity was for another domain, “the kingdom to come”, only merged with this one in the eschaton. Neither Islam nor Judaism have a marked separation between holy and profane. And of course Christianity moved away from the solely-spiritual domain to embrace the ceremonial and ritualistic, integrating much of the pagan rites of the Levant and Asia Minor.

For Jews today, religion became ethnocultural, without the law – and for many, a nation. Same for Syriacs, Chaldeans, Armenians, Copts, and Maronites. For Orthodox and Catholic Christians religion is aesthetics, pomp and rituals, plus or minus some beliefs, often decorative. For most Protestants, religion is belief with neither aesthetics, pomp nor law.

Further East, for Buddhists, Shintoists and Hindus, religion is practical and spiritual philosophy, with a code of ethics (and for some, cosmogony). So when Hindu talk about the Hindu “religion” they don’t mean the same thing to a Pakistani as it would to a Hindu, and certainly something different for a Persian. When the nation-state idea came about, things got much, much more complicated. When an Arab now says “Jew” he largely means something about a creed; to Arabs, a converted Jew is no longer a Jew. But for a Jew, a Jew is someone whose mother is a Jew. (This has not always been the case: Jews were quite proselytic during the early Roman empire). But Judaism, thanks to modernism, somewhat merged into nation-state, and now can also mean a nation.

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May 102015
 
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G. G. Bain Metropolitan Opera baritone Giuseppe De Luca, New York 1920

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An Ever More Fragile Union (FT)
US Urges Greece To Reject Turkish Stream, Focus On Western-Backed Project (RT)
US Trying To Create ‘Unipolar World’ Says Putin (Guardian)
Obama Scolds Democrats On Trade Pact Stance (NY Times)
President Obama Is Badly Confused About the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CEPR)
EU Proposes Plan to Take Up to 20,000 Migrants A Year (WSJ)
Americans Favor Jon Stewart, Colbert Over Conservatives For Punditry (Reuters)

Would anyone in his/her right mind dispute this?

Capitalism is the West’s Dominant Religion (Michael Welton)

David R. Loy, a professor of international studies at Bunkyo University in Japan and a Zen Buddhist teacher, offers us a compelling viewpoint on why we ought to understand our present economic system as the West’s dominant religion. In A Buddhist History of the West (2002), Loy argues that, although religion is “notoriously difficult to define,” if we “adopt a functionalist view and understand religion as what grounds us by teaching us what this world is, and what our role in the world is, then it becomes evident that traditional religions are fulfilling this role less and less, because that function is being supplanted by other belief systems and value systems.” This is a shocking statement for those of conventional religious sensibility. Certainly the monotheistic faith-traditions have not just disappeared into the thin air of modernity.

One could make a solid case that Islamic cultures still contain strong currents of resistance to Western consumer individualism (perceived as decadent and nihilistic). But in the West, Christianity in particular, has lost much of its power to resist the new god that has (and is) conquering the old ones (just like Christianity did in its displacement of Roman deities). Although the monotheistic religions contain many different streams and tendencies (including ascetic and contemplative traditions), these minority anti-materialist traditions have not been able to prevent the market from becoming our “first truly world religion, binding all corners of the globe into a worldview and set of values whose religious role we overlook only because we insist on seeing them as secular” (Loy).

Economics is the new theology of this global religion of the market; consumerism its highest good; its language of hedge funds and derivatives as incomprehensibly esoteric as Christian teachings about the Trinity. “Accumulate, accumulate! This is Moses and the prophets! Marx cried out in the first volume of Capital. Loy wonders why we acquiesce in the appalling realities of global inequities and sleep so peacefully at night. He finds his answer in Rodney Dobell’s explanation that “lies largely in our embrace of a peculiarly European or Western [but now global] religion, an individualistic religion of economics and markets, which explains all of these outcomes as the inevitable results of an objective system in which … intervention is counterproductive.” [..]

We have made fetishes out of commodities as we believe we can derive sensuous pleasure from their magical properties. We sacrifice our time, our families, our children, our forests, our seas and our land on the altar of the market, the god to whom we owe our deepest allegiance.

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Across an entire economy, this may be true. But is it also true for those who profit from inequality?

Stiglitz: “You Will Have Stronger Growth If You Reduce Inequality” (WEF)

Nobel laureate and World Economic Forum on Latin America Co-Chair Joseph E. Stiglitz, Professor, School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), Columbia University, USA, has urged government and business leaders to make the fight against inequality a priority. Stiglitz was speaking at the 10th World Economic Forum on Latin America, taking place in Mexico. “We used to think there was a trade-off between equality and growth. Now we see the two as complementary. You will have stronger growth if you reduce the extremes of inequality,” he said. Latin America’s success in reducing inequality over the past decade, precisely when the region became more integrated into the global economy and more exposed to international market forces, proves that the increased inequality seen in much of the rest of the world comes from policy choices, Stiglitz said.

Latin America must not give up the fight to reduce poverty and equality – even now when many economies are slowing and government budgets are under pressure – since this fight is crucial for long-term growth. Stiglitz called Mexico’s recent round of structural reforms “very impressive” and said, “I’m very optimistic that these really will spur economic growth.” By breaking monopolies, the reforms will lower consumer prices in sectors such as electricity and the telecoms industry, leading to greater spending power for lower income Mexicans. Lower utility costs will make Mexico more attractive for business investment, which will increase jobs and wages. The reforms will therefore help the country reduce inequality.

Stiglitz criticized the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. He cited the negotiations’ secrecy, the proposals that would make governments vulnerable to lawsuits over regulations that protect their citizens, and the proposed expansion of intellectual property rights, especially in the pharmaceutical sector. These expanded IP rights would upset the balance that the United States has already achieved in this area and lead to higher drug prices worldwide, bankrupting some public health systems and putting treatment out of reach for many, he noted. “I am strongly opposed,” he said. As part of the fight against inequality, Stiglitz called for measures to fight racial, ethnic and gender discrimination, and for measures to redistribute resources between richer and poorer parts of a country, such as Mexico’s north and south.

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For the troika, it’s a power game clear and simple.

Critical Choices Loom Ahead Of Eurogroup Meeting, IMF Repayment (Kathimerini)

Greek officials are bracing for a difficult Eurogroup summit in Brussels on Monday after what promises to be a weekend of feverish negotiations with representatives of Greece’s international creditors as European officials increase the pressure on Athens to compromise and avert a default. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been engaged in a flurry of telephone diplomacy in a bid to drum up political support. Meanwhile prominent officials underlined the risks Greece is facing as its coffers run dry and financial obligations loom, notably a repayment of some €750 million to the IMF on Tuesday. Greek officials have expressed the government’s intention to pay the IMF but according to sources some are in favor of not paying if the outcome of Monday’s Eurogroup is not satisfactory.

Such a move would lead to Greece being declared bankrupt within a month with capital controls likely to be imposed on Greek banks much sooner than that to avert a bank run. European officials suggested that Greece should be cautious. “Experience in other parts of the world has shown that a country can suddenly slide into bankruptcy,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quoted as telling Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Other European officials made less dramatic statements, with European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici stressing that reforms are not progressing quickly enough and Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem saying Monday’s Eurogroup “won’t be decisive.”

Although a decision that will unlock loan money is not expected on Monday, at the very least Athens is hoping for a statement of support that will allow the ECB to provide some liquidity relief, or at least not turn the screws further. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis will represent Greece at the Eurogroup but is to be flanked by Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis or Alternate Foreign Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, who is the new negotiations “coordinator,” or possibly both.

Talks at the technical level continued in Brussels on Saturday with three key sticking points: pension and labor reforms and the level of Greece’s primary surplus, which will determine the extent of economic measures that Athens must take. According to sources, creditors put Greece’s primary surplus for this year at 2% of gross domestic product, at least 1% above Athens’s estimate. Talks were also said to focus on possible tax increases, particularly likely plans for a flat value-added tax rate. Although Greek officials insist they have made significant concessions, and Tsipras has called on Europe to show “political will” opposite Athens, it appears that creditors want to see signs of concrete progress – and legislation – before they issue a statement of support, much less unlock funds.

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Lots of polls being held designed to put pressure on Syriza.

Greece Calls On EU/IMF Lenders To Show Political Will For Deal (Reuters)

Greece’s main debt negotiator called on the EU and the IMF to show their willingness to break an impasse in debt talks, ahead of a crucial meeting of euro zone finance ministers on Monday. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ leftist-led government, which came to power promising to end the austerity terms under Greece’s existing €240 billion debt deal, has been locked for months in talks with its foreign lenders over reforms that could unlock much needed bailout funds. “Any delay in achieving this compromise has to do with one and only one reason, and this is the political differences between the government and the institutions,” Euclid Tsakalotos, Greece’s newly appointed coordinator of the talks, told Avgi newspaper.

With bailout aid frozen while it is shut out of debt markets, Athens risks running out of cash unless a deal is reached soon. “After weeks of laborious negotiations, if there is a real will from the other side, it will be clear that the discussion has reached a level where an agreement is very close and will be reached in the coming period,” Tsakalotos said. Athens’ foreign creditors are demanding further austerity in exchange for funds, while an angry Greek public has felt the pain of income cuts amid a six-year recession.

A poll by MRB for Sunday’s Realnews showed that 72% of Greeks wanted what Athens calls an “honorable compromise”, meaning concessions from both sides to reach a deal. A March survey showed that 57% wanted Athens to stick to its “red lines” on pension and labor reforms. Tsipras will hold a wider cabinet meeting on Sunday, a day before euro zone finance ministers discuss progress made so far in the negotiations. Greece needs to pay a €750 million IMF loan this week and pensions and public sector wages at the end of the month, and Athens hopes for the European Central Bank to allow Greece to raise cash by issuing more Treasury bills. “It’s now the political side that must offer a solution,” Economy Minister George Stathakis told Avgi.

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Helena Smith’s coverage from Athens for the Guardian is not getting better as time goes by. She looks a bit lost.

Greek Leader Faces Revolt By Party Hardliners As Debt Showdown Looms (Guardian)

The epic struggle to keep Greece solvent and in the eurozone intensified on Saturday night amid signs of a looming crisis within the anti-austerity government that took Europe ablaze barely three months ago.As prime minister Alexis Tsipras scrambles to secure a financial lifeline to keep the debt-stricken country afloat, hardliners in his radical left Syriza party have also ratcheted up the pressure. In a make-or-break week of debt repayments, the politician once seen as the harbinger of Europe’s anti-establishment movement has found himself where no other leader would want to be: caught between exasperated creditors abroad and enraged diehards at home.

With government coffers almost at nil and Athens facing a monumental €750mloan instalment to the IMF on Tuesday, it is the last act in a crisis with potentially cataclysmic effect. Either Tsipras betrays his own ideology to deter default – reneging on promises that got him into power – or he goes down as the man who allowed his country to do what no other EU member has done: enter the uncharted waters of euro exit. It is a moment of truth with consequences far beyond the borders of Greece. “No doubt he is having nightmares about betraying ideas that he has held dear all his life,” said Aristides Hatzis, associate professor of law and economy at Athens University. “To make such a U-turn he is going to have to cross red lines that require a leap of faith I am not sure he has.”

The protracted standoff between Athens and the European Union and IMF – the bodies that have bailed out the country to the tune of €240bn since 2010 – has brought Tsipras to this point. To the dismay of inexperienced politicians in his left-dominated coalition, creditors have dug in their heels with cash reserves drying up inexorably as negotiations over a deal to unlock further bailout funds have gone to the wire.

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2nd part in the series.

The Greek Debt Writedown And Merkel’s Role In It (Kathimerini)

In his personal notes dated a day before the June 2012 general elections, Greece’s caretaker Prime Minister Panayiotis Pikrammenos wrote: “Anxiety is mounting. Anxiety in every respect – even and particularly regarding the banks. The telephone call with [German] Chancellor [Angela] Merkel went very well. […] I gave her a general briefing and then discussed my communications with [European Commission President Jose Manuel] Barroso and [European Council President Herman Van] Rompuy. She was strict on this point. Greece’s declaration that it would abide by its commitments was not enough. She wanted a clear statement that there would be no request for a renegotiation of the memorandum, as is being so gratuitously promised in pre-election campaigns. ‘

They,’ she said – referring to the Commission – ‘do not have to answer to parliament.’” It was the most dramatic moment, up until then, of a crisis that showed no signs of abating – and which was threatening to drag the global economy into another recession. Twenty-five months after having approved, under pressure from a rapidly deteriorating situation, Berlin’s participation in the first bailout package for Greece, the German chancellor was without dispute the dominant figure on the European stage. In the period following the first Greek bailout and up until the end of 2011, she had managed to convince her eurozone partners to adopt new measures imposing fiscal discipline, while at the same time resisting calls for the mutualization of public debt, for example via the issue of eurobonds.

On the question of Greece she decided on a restructuring of the country’s soaring debt. This process, which took four months of negotiations and was completed (with all the requisite prior actions) just days before the first of two general elections in Greece in May 2012, at first appeared to be a success both because of the response from the private sector and because any legal difficulties had been avoided.

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No, it happened prior to that date.

May 7th, 2015 – The Day The United Kingdom Died? (RT)

Nobody doubts the UK General Election delivered an extraordinary outcome. However, in the long term, May 7th 2015 could eventually be remembered as the day the UK croaked it. The pundits and pontificators spun Election 2015 as a close run vote, certain to deliver a hung parliament. They were misguided. Instead, David Cameron reigns supreme with an overall majority for his Conservative Party and Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage have all resigned. While the latter will probably reappear without much delay, the first two are now consigned to the wastebasket of history. In a single day, Miliband has gone from being the favorite to enter 10 Downing Street to the back-benches.

Meanwhile, David Cameron has spent the afternoon kicking back with the Queen. It all sounds like nothing has changed. This is wrong. Everything has changed. While the immediate analysis focuses on the destruction of political careers, May 7th 2015 has greater significance. It was the day the United Kingdom, as it’s presently constituted, entered its endgame. The Conservative majority and the SNP’s Scottish landslide mean checkmate for the union. Had Labour, as expected by pollsters, formed the next government, the UK’s current composition would have been safe, at least in the short-term. Instead, we have witnessed the triumph of nationalism, both Scottish and English, and the squeezing of the middle ground. There’s a smell resonant of Czechoslovakia in 1992 wafting from Britain.

David Cameron is now honor bound to hold an “in-or-out” referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU before the end of 2017. It’s increasingly clear that the electorate will vote to leave. However, it won’t be the UK that decides to abandon the EU project, it will be England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will almost certainly vote to remain as members. This, I believe, will be catalyst for a second Scottish independence poll and the subsequent establishment of a Scottish state. Scotland’s needs are different from those of England and Edinburgh needs access to the world’s largest market in order to realize its dreams.

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Crucial point.

Sturgeon Vows To End Austerity Across UK (Sky)

Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to carry an anti-austerity message to Westminster after the SNP gained a record 56 seats in the Commons. The SNP leader addressed her new MPs in Edinburgh and told them to “work with others” in Parliament to end austerity across the United Kingdom. “Let us be very clear – the people of Scotland voted for an SNP manifesto that had ending austerity as its number one priority and that is the priority for these men and women to now take to the very heart of the Westminster agenda,” she said. “We will continue to reach out to people of progressive opinion right across the UK so that we can put ending austerity, investing in public services like our precious NHS, investing in a stronger economy to get more young people in jobs… We will work with others to put those priorities right at the heart of Westminster.”

Voters granted the Conservatives a surprise majority on Thursday, but in taking all but three of Scotland’s 59 seats, the SNP ensured they will be hard to ignore in the new-look House of Commons. Ms Sturgeon had a brief conversation with the Prime Minister on Friday, agreeing to face-to-face talks “as soon as possible” – an early indication of the First Minister’s likely influence over the next five years. She told her audience in front of the Forth Bridge: “As I told the Prime Minister when I spoke to him yesterday, it simply cannot and will not be business as usual when it comes to Westminster’s dealings with Scotland.

“Scotland this week spoke more clearly than ever before and my message to Westminster is that Scotland’s voice will be heard there more loudly than it has ever been before. “Our job is to repay the trust you have shown in us and I pledge today that that’s exactly what we’ll do. “We will not let you down.” While a left-of-centre alliance would not be able to outvote a united Tory party in the Commons, the situation may change if Conservative backbenchers become restless. Ms Sturgeon’s predecessor and the new MP for Gordon, Alex Salmond, has predicted the Tory majority will “erode and change within months”.

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Not the EU.

An Ever More Fragile Union (FT)

Britain has a Conservative government. David Cameron has confounded the pollsters, and left egg on the faces of the pundits blindsided by their predictions — this columnist among them. The Tory leader has led his party to its first outright victory since Sir John Major pulled off the same trick in 1992. Perhaps it is more than a coincidence that the young Mr Cameron served as an aide to the then prime minister. He should savour the moment. The election also told the story of two nations — a Scotland that handed a spectacular victory to Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National party alongside an England that cleaved to an increasingly parochial Tory party. The destruction of the centrist Liberal Democrats amplified the sense of polarisation. Ahead lie dangerous times — for Britain and for Mr Cameron’s Conservatives.

Two great questions are set to shape British politics: the fragile future of the four-nation union and the UK’s permanently irascible relationship with the rest of Europe. For Mr Cameron, they promise only trials and tribulations. History may well see the real significance of the election in the collision between resurgent Scottish, and resentful English, nationalism, the point at which the divisive politics of identity upturned the old order. The SNP’s landslide was widely forecast. The consequences are no less seismic for that. The election reopened the question that should have been settled by the No vote in last year’s independence referendum. Alongside their grip on the devolved government in Edinburgh, the nationalists now hold 56 of the 59 Scottish seats at Westminster.

For the first time since the arguments about Irish home rule at the turn of the 20th century, an overtly nationalist party has become the third force in the UK parliament. The SNP is celebrating Mr Cameron’s return to Downing Street. The election saw Scotland turn left, and England right. Nothing could better fit Ms Sturgeon’s insidious narrative of a progressive Scotland forever shackled by a Tory-led England. Here, Mr Cameron must now live with the consequences of his own campaign. There are many reasons why England voted Tory — not least the Labour leader Ed Miliband’s alternative prospectus for socialism in one country. But Tory strategists were unabashed in stirring the embers of English nationalism in order to neutralise the UK Independence party and stoke fears among the undecided that a Labour government would “sell out” to the Scots.

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Yawn.

US Urges Greece To Reject Turkish Stream, Focus On Western-Backed Project (RT)

Washington is pushing Athens not to abandon a Western-backed Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project in favor of the Russia-proposed Turkish Stream, a pipeline that would bring Russian gas to Europe via Greece. Greece should consider joining the TAP, which will link Europe to natural gas supplies from Azerbaijan via Turkey, Greece, Albania and the Adriatic Sea, top US energy diplomat Amos Hochstein said after talks with Greek officials, Reuters reported on Friday. “Turkish Stream doesn’t exist. There is no consortium to build it, there is no agreement to build it. So let’s put that to the side, and wait until there’s some movement on that and see if that’s relevant or not relevant and in the meantime focus on what’s important – the pipeline we already agreed to, that Greece already agreed to”, Hochstein claimed.

He didn’t give any details on the meeting with Greek officials, saying that they “more agreed than disagreed.” Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, however, responded that the country would continue supporting the Russian gas pipeline. “We are backing this project because we think it will be useful for our country,” the minister said in a statement after the talks. The US envoy said that the US position was the best way for Europe to secure its energy supply is by diversifying its sources and ensuring competition. He also added that having other gas sources would “help with price, reliability of supply, and that will help take the political element out of the supply system.” Meanwhile, on Thursday Putin reportedly told Greek PM Alexis Tsipras during a phone conversation that Russia was ready to consider providing financial support for Greek companies that join the Russian pipeline project.

Tsipras confirmed his country’s readiness to participate in the Turkish Stream project. Earlier in April during the Greek PM’s official visit to Moscow, Putin and Tsipras agreed to collaborate in the construction of a new pipeline, to be part of the Turkish Stream project, which would deliver Russian gas to Europe via Greece. The Russian president said at that time that by joining the project Greece could become one of the main power distribution centers in Europe, and earn hundreds of millions of euros annually from gas transit fees. The Greek PM voiced interest in the proposal, claiming that the project could be a way to boost jobs and investment in the Greek economy. Cash-stripped Greece can also use revenues from potential joint projects with Russia to pay off debt to international creditors.

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It’s a disgrace Obama and Merkel et al refused to go to Moscow. A slap in the face of millions who died in WWII.

US Trying To Create ‘Unipolar World’ Says Putin (Guardian)

Vladimir Putin has used an address commemorating the 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany to accuse the US of attempting to dominate the world. Speaking at Moscow’s annual Victory Day parade in Red Square, which this year has been boycotted by western leaders over the continuing crisis in Ukraine, the Russian president berated Washington for “attempts to create a unipolar world”. Putin said despite the importance of international cooperation, “in the past decades we have seen attempts to create a unipolar world”. That phrase is often used by Russia to criticise the US for purportedly attempting to dominate world affairs.

The US president, Barack Obama, has snubbed the festivities, as have the leaders of Russia’s other key second world war allies, Britain and France, leaving Putin to mark the day in the company of the leaders of China, Cuba and Venezuela. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has likewise ducked out of attending the parade but will fly to Moscow on Sunday to lay a wreath at the grave of the Unknown Soldier and meet the Russian president. As western sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine continue to bite, Moscow has increasingly appeared to pivot away from Europe and focus more on developing relations with China.

The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, will be the most high-profile guests on the podium next to Putin. Other presidents in attendance include India’s Pranab Mukherjee, president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi of Egypt, Raúl Castro of Cuba, Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Jacob Zuma of South Africa. Russia used the parade to show off its latest military technology, including the Armata tank, in the parade, which included 16,000 troops and a long convoy of weapons dating from the second world war to the present day. Also on show for the first time was a RS-24 Yars ICBM launcher, which Moscow has said described as a response to US and Nato anti-missile systems.

The celebrations stand in contrast to the festivities a decade ago, when Putin hosted the leaders of the United States, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. The Soviet Union lost about 27 million soldiers and civilians in what it calls the “great patriotic war” – more than any other country – and the Red Army’s triumph remains an enormous source of national pride. On Saturday morning, many Muscovites sported garrison caps and black and orange striped ribbons that have become a symbol of patriotism in recent years. More than 70% of Russians say a close family member was killed or went missing during the war, making Victory Day an emotional symbol of unity for the nation.

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The pusher man.

Obama Scolds Democrats On Trade Pact Stance (NY Times)

President Obama on Friday lashed out at critics within his own party as he accused fellow Democrats of deliberately distorting the potential impact of the sweeping new trade agreement he is negotiating with Asia and standing in the way of a modern competitive economy. With the cutting tone he usually reserves for his Republican adversaries, Mr. Obama said liberals who are fighting the new trade accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, were ”just wrong” and, in terms of some of their claims, ”making this stuff up.” If they oppose the deal, he said, they ”must be satisfied with the status quo” and want to ”pull up the drawbridge and build a moat around ourselves.”

”There have been a bunch of critics about trade deals generally and the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” he told an estimated 2,100 workers at the Nike headquarters here. ”And what’s interesting is typically they’re my friends coming from my party. And they’re my fellow travelers on minimum wage and on job training and on clean energy and on every progressive issue, they’re right there with me. And then on this, they’re like whupping on me.” But Mr. Obama said that he had no political motive for supporting freer trade with Asia. ”I’ve run my last election,” he said. ”And the only reason I do something is because I think it’s good for American workers and the American people and the American economy.” And so, ”on this issue, on trade, I actually think some of my dearest friends are wrong. They’re just wrong.”

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The pusher man doesn’t know what he’s pushing.

President Obama Is Badly Confused About the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CEPR)

That was the main takeaway from a NYT article on his trip to Nike. According to the article, he made many claims about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and opponents of the deal which are clearly wrong. For example, the article tells readers: “he [President Obama] scorned critics who say it would undermine American laws and regulations on food safety, worker rights and even financial regulations, an implicit pushback against Ms. Warren. ‘They’re making this stuff up,’ he said. ‘This is just not true. No trade agreement’s going to force us to change our laws.'” President Obama apparently doesn’t realize that the TPP will create an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism which will allow tribunals to impose huge penalties on the federal government, as well as state and local governments, whose laws are found to be in violation of the TPP.

These fines could effectively bankrupt a government unless they change the law. It is also worth noting that rulings by these tribunals are not subject to appeal, nor are they bound by precedent. Given the structure of the tribunal (the investor appoints one member of the panel, the government appoints a second, and the third is appointed jointly), a future Bush or Walker administration could appoint panelists who would side with foreign investors to overturn environmental, safety, and labor regulations at all levels of government. (Think of Antonin Scalia.) President Obama apparently also doesn’t realize that the higher drug prices that would result from the stronger patent and related protections will be a drag on growth. In addition to creating distortions in the economy, the higher licensing fees paid to Pfizer, Merck, and other U.S. drug companies will crowd out U.S. exports of other goods and services.

Obama is also mistaken in apparently believing that the only alternative to the TPP is the status quo. In fact, many critics of the TPP have argued that a deal that included rules on currency would have their support. This issue is hugely important, since it is highly unlikely that the U.S. economy will be able to reach full employment with trade deficits close to current levels. (It could be done with larger budget deficits, but no one thinks this is politically realistic.) Without a considerably tighter labor market, workers will lack the bargaining power to achieve wage gains. This means that income would continue to be redistributed upward.

The only plausible way to bring the trade deficit down is with a lower valued dollar which would make U.S. goods and services more competitive internationally. The TPP would provide an opportunity to address currency values, as many critics of the trade agreement have pointed out. It seems that Mr. Obama is unaware of this argument.

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One word: rudderless. Has it already been 10 days since they said 5,000?

EU Proposes Plan to Take Up to 20,000 Migrants A Year (WSJ)

The European Union may accept up to 20,000 refugees a year and set up an automatic redistribution program for migrants overcrowding southern European states, under plans currently being developed in Brussels. The proposed distribution among EU states of people who haven’t yet entered the bloc would use a formula that takes into account the size of the population, the strength of the economy and unemployment rates in each country, as well as the number of refugees they have taken in so far, according to a draft text seen by The Wall Street Journal. The text is due to be adopted by the European Commission—the bloc’s executive—on Wednesday. The 16-page “European Agenda for Migration” comes in response to the refugee crisis Europe is facing notably from the south, after thousands of migrants have died in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean and reach EU countries.

The United Nations has called on the EU to take up to 20,000 refugees a year, directly from camps outside the EU—for instance from Turkey or Lebanon, where most of the four million people who fled the Syrian war are currently located. Under the plan, an EU-wide “resettlement scheme” to meet or get close to that target will be proposed by the end of May and funded with €50 million ($56 million) in 2015-16. The exact number of places for refugees is still the subject of discussions within the commission, where 28 commissioners from each EU country have a say on the matter. “Expect a last-minute quarrel in the college of commissioners on the 20,000 resettlement figure,” one EU official said.

Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker is the main driver behind this initiative, which has the backing of the German government, two EU diplomats confirmed. Germany and Sweden have so far taken the bulk of refugees in Europe and insist that a “voluntary system” doesn’t mean other countries should shirk their responsibilities. The program wouldn’t be binding for the U.K., Ireland and Denmark, which have opted out of the EU asylum system. If national governments agree to take refugees from outside the EU, the same distribution “key” may be used for “automatic relocation” of migrants who are already in Italy, Malta or Greece. “We have to start somewhere. Agreeing on refugees outside the EU may be easier, because they are the most in need. Then, we may move on to relocation within the EU,” one EU diplomat said.

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For what it’s worth.

Americans Favor Jon Stewart, Colbert Over Conservatives For Punditry (Reuters)

Jon Stewart has spent 16 years skewering U.S. politicians and media as the liberal host of television’s “The Daily Show” – and many Americans think he gets it right on the issues with his satirical look at the news. In a Reuters/Ipsos online poll, the Comedy Central comic topped a list of 10 pundits, with more than half of respondents saying they agreed with him on at least some issues. Only 12% did not agree with him on any issues at all. Stewart, who will host his last Daily Show episode on Aug. 6, also ranked highest on two other traits – fearlessness and most admired. Of the 2,013 people 18 and older polled, nearly half found him unafraid in confronting “issues that others ignore,” while 48% said they admired him.

Daily Show alumnus Stephen Colbert, who spoofed conservative talk-show hosts for nearly a decade on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” tied Stewart as most admired and placed second to him on issues and fearlessness. Colbert will soon take over hosting “The Late Show” on CBS. By contrast, only 34% of respondents agreed with Rush Limbaugh. The fiery conservative talk show host was the least admired commentator on a list that also included political satirist Bill Maher, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly and conservative author Ann Coulter. Nearly 90% of respondents were familiar with Limbaugh’s work, the most for any commentator. [..] O’Reilly was the best performing conservative in the poll, finishing third behind Stewart and Colbert with viewers on confronting tough issues and on sharing the same views. He scored 43% in both areas. He was fifth on the list of most admired pundits behind Stewart, Colbert, Maher and Briton John Oliver, another Daily Show veteran who now anchors a similar program on HBO.

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Dec 202014
 
 December 20, 2014  Posted by at 12:59 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle December 20 2014
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William Henry Jackson “Street in the French Quarter, New Orleans” 1885

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Meredith Whitney’s Hedge Fund Said to Be in Turmoil (Bloomberg)
France Risks EU Split Over Russian Sanctions Relief (Bloomberg)
First Arrest In UK Foreign Exchange Market Rigging Investigation (Guardian)
Obama Authorizes ‘Economic Embargo’ On Russia’s Crimea (RT)
Antarctic Photo Science Archive Unlocked (BBC)
Wolves, Bears And Lynx ‘Now Plentiful In Europe’ (AFP)
Birds ‘Heard Tornadoes Coming’ And Fled One Day Ahead (BBC)
Dick Cheney Should Be In Prison, Not On ‘Meet The Press’: Greenwald (RT)
Will Religion Ever Disappear? (BBC)

How dare you?

Two Nations: 27% Of British Children Grow Up In Poverty (Independent)

Christmas shoppers are expected spend £1.2bn today, as 13 million consumers hand over £21m every minute. But while those who can afford it stock up in the desperate rush for gifts on “Panic Saturday”, another 13 million people will have more sobering reasons to worry – living in poverty in a festive Britain characterised as “two nations” divided. The Trussell Trust warned it is expecting its busiest Christmas ever in providing emergency rations – with one million people now relying on food banks run by the charity and other organisations. Many more are expected to get into debt to fund the cost of the festive season. Yet the indulgence will reach new peaks for others as shoppers will spend an average of £92 per person today, according to analysts. The Centre for Retail Research said consumers will spend £4.74bn in stores during the five days before Christmas Day – a 21% increase on last year.

Overall, spending during the final week before the day itself is expected to rise by 7% compared with last year. The predictions come a week after “Black Friday”, when retailers slashed prices encouraging a shopping surge in which sales grew at their fastest rate for 27 years, according to a CBI report released yesterday. About £6.5bn will have been spent by wealthier consumers in the UK’s top supermarkets alone in the two weeks to Christmas, according to analysts Nielsen. Charities warned that these spending figures disguise another Britain, in which families have so little they are unable to afford basics such as food, heating and housing costs. As 2014 draws to a close there are 13 million people in poverty – including 27% of the 2.5 million children in the UK, according to the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

Inequality in the UK is now so extreme that the five richest families are wealthier than the bottom 20% of the entire population, according to Oxfam. Meanwhile, the housing charity Shelter predicts that 93,000 children will be homeless this Christmas, as the number of homeless families trapped in temporary or emergency accommodation exceeds 60,000. “This is a real, stark two-nations Britain that we are talking about,” said Trussell Trust chair Chris Mould. “At Christmas time, when people will be spending more than they have ever done before, we have also tens of thousands of people who haven’t got enough to buy food for themselves and families. “It’s not a tolerable situation. It’s got to be taken seriously. There is a consensus across the country that we can’t just accept this. We’ve got to take action.”

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How the west sinks its own companies.

Manufacturers Face ‘Bloodbath’ In Russia (BBC)

The chief executive of Renault Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, has said that manufacturers in Russia are facing a “bloodbath” because of the plunge in the value of the rouble. The currency has been dropping steadily for several months, but suffered very sharp falls earlier this week. The two firms have stopped taking orders for some new models and raised prices on others. Several rival manufacturers have taken similar steps. However, Mr Ghosn said he was confident the situation would stabilise, eventually. “We didn’t do it [suspend orders] overall, just on some models we said, ‘Sorry, until we see where this situation is going we don’t take orders,'” he told reporters in Tokyo. “When the rouble sinks it’s a bloodbath for everybody. It’s red ink, people are losing money, all car manufacturers are losing money,” he added. The French-Japanese Renault-Nissan alliance is a major player in Russia’s car industry. Not only does it sell vehicles under its own brands, it also controls the domestic manufacturer Avtovaz, better known as the maker of Lada cars.

Mr Ghosn said the group had suspended taking orders for some models, this included cars made in Russia, but also those which used large quantities of imported parts. Orders already placed would be honoured, he said. Other manufacturers have been taking similar steps in response to the decline of the rouble, which has halved in value against the dollar this year. General Motors, Audi and Jaguar Land Rover also suspended deliveries to Russian dealers earlier this week. If car sales in Russia do continue to decline, it could affect British manufacturing. Nissan says about 10% of the cars made at its Sunderland plant are exported to the region. “I certainly think there could be a potential impact on Nissan’s operations in the UK,” said David Bailey, professor of industry at Aston Business School. “It sells for example the Qashqai model in large numbers in Russia.” He said it could also have an impact on the premium end of Jaguar Land Rover, “albeit far less than in the case of Nissan”

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Are we sure this is what we want?

China Offers Enhanced Cooperation as Russia Struggles (Bloomberg)

China offered enhanced economic ties with Russia at a regional summit this week as its northern neighbor struggled to contain a currency crisis. “To help counteract an economic slowdown, China is ready to provide financial aid to develop cooperation,” Premier Li Keqiang said at a Dec. 15 gathering in Astana, Kazakhstan. While the remark applied to any of the five other nations represented at the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization group, it was directed at Russia, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named as the plans weren’t public. Any rescue package for Russia would give China the opportunity of exercising the kind of great-power leadership the U.S. has demonstrated for a century — sustaining other economies with its superior financial resources.

President Xi Jinping last month called for China to adopt “big-country diplomacy” as he laid out goals for elevating his nation’s status. “If the Kremlin decides to seek assistance from Beijing, it’s very unlikely for the Xi leadership to turn it down,” said Cheng Yijun, senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. “This would be a perfect opportunity to demonstrate China is a friend indeed, and also its big power status.” Russia isn’t in talks with China about any financial aid, said Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin. He said he didn’t know if China is preparing to offer aid. China’s Foreign Ministry, asked about assisting Russia, said the country is ready to work with all members of the SCO group to strengthen economic cooperation.

One-time Cold War ally China already proved a help to its neighbor embroiled in tensions with the U.S. and European Union earlier this year, signing a three-decade, $400 billion deal to buy Russian gas. Seeking China’s support is one of Russia’s most realistic options, the state-run Chinese newspaper Global Times wrote in a Dec. 17 editorial. A decision on whether to use some of its windfall gains from falling oil prices to aid Russia would hinge on whether Putin’s government is willing to ask for assistance, said Cheng, who is also a research fellow at the Development Research Center, which is a unit of the State Council, or cabinet.

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America’s money comes home.

Dollar Resumes Climb as Yellen Signals 2015 Interest-Rate Rise (Bloomberg)

A gauge of the dollar rose for the eighth time in nine weeks after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen signaled that the central bank is poised to increase interest rates next year starting as early as April. The greenback headed for gains this year against all except one of its 31 major peers, a feat it hasn’t accomplished since 1997, as Yellen said the impact of Russian turmoil on the U.S. economy is small. Hungary’s forint and the Polish zloty sank on concern the economic crisis that has driven the ruble down 44% this year will spread. The Swiss franc weakened the most in two months versus the euro after the central bank introduced negative interest rates.

Yellen is “really trying to say there’s a lot of volatility out there, but it’s not having a dramatic impact on the outlook of U.S.,” Kevin Hebner, a foreign-exchange strategist at JPMorgan Chase & Co., said by phone yesterday in New York. The process of the market adjusting to the Fed’s rate-rise projections “is going to get the dollar appreciating, especially against the euro and yen.” Bloomberg’s gauge of the dollar rose 0.9% this week in New York to 1,125.58, the highest close since March 2009. That followed a 0.6% fall last week that snapped a seven-week rally. It has gained 10% this year.

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Yeah, why not?

UK Unions Call For North Sea Tax Breaks As Oil Slump Threatens Jobs (Guardian)

The role of the North Sea as a goldmine for future tax revenues and highly paid jobs is under threat unless something is done urgently to address a crisis triggered by plunging oil prices, the government was warned. Leading executives, politicians and union leaders said billions of pounds worth of Treasury income and 37,500 jobs were at risk and some want the tax burden to be lowered further in a bid to stimulate new activity and create longerterm fiscal revenues. Sir Ian Wood, a government adviser and former oil engineering boss, said 10% of the North Sea workforce could be in danger while Robin Allan, chairman of the independent explorers’ association Brindex, told the BBC that the industry was “close to collapse”. Jake Molloy, oil and gas organiser for the RMT union, said oil and gas companies had already started to make hundreds of redundancies, delay projects and scrap drilling contracts.

“It is not just the oil price that is a recipe for disaster, its the level of taxes. Reducing them by 2% [as in the autumn statement] is not scratching the surface given they have been earlier raised by 40%.“ Frank Doran, MP for Aberdeen North, agreed. “I think we have reached a stage in the (oil price) cycle where tax cuts have to be seriously looked at. The North Sea is one of the most expensive places in the world but it is not just about tax. I would want to see tax cuts tied to a reduction in costs through companies becoming more efficient.” The North Sea is regarded as a high tax and “mature” basin with few opportunities for making the kinds of major discoveries still available in newer areas such as Brazil, Angola or even the deep water US Gulf. The tax rate on a barrel of oil produced in the North Sea is between 60% and 80% – and the industry wants that burden reduced.

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After all, there’s already $500 billion of it.

It’s Not Easy Being Green: Fossil Fuel Subsidies Half A Trillion Dollars (CNBC)

For several years now, politicians have been pledging to cut fossil fuel subsidies and invest in green energy. Speaking at the UN Global Climate Summit in September, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said, “We need to give business the certainty it needs to invest in low carbon. That means fighting against the economically and environmentally perverse fossil fuel subsidies which distort free markets and rip off taxpayers.” And while politicians may be using emotive language to preach change, for some the reality is different. “Fossil fuel subsidies are enormous,” Dimitri Zenghelis, Principal Research Fellow at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, told CNBC’s Energy Future. “We’re talking about – according to both the OECD and the IEA – something like half a trillion dollars a year,” Zenghelis added.

In 2009, the G-20 group of nations made bold a commitment to “rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption.” Five years down the line, are we on the way to seeing this pledge become a reality? According to the Overseas Development Institute think-tank, which this year released a report on the subject, not really. “What our report highlighted was, specifically, this perversity about fossil fuel subsidies and the objectives that these countries have on addressing climate change,” Shelagh Whitley, Research Fellow, Climate and Environment , told Energy Future. “What they’re doing is subsidizing fossil fuels to the tune of $88 billion a year, which means that they’re completely undermining their climate change targets,” she added. According to the ODI’s report, the United States is providing $5.1 billion, “in national fossil fuel exploration subsidies each year.” The report also states that in the U.K., the figure for fossil fuel exploration subsidies is up to $1.2 billion annually.

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“if Gazprom stops the project, despite the permits, it will be considered guilty and not Bulgaria.”

Bulgaria Ready To Issue South Stream Pipeline Permits (RT)

Bulgaria is ready to issue all the necessary permits for the construction of the South Stream pipeline, according to Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. He said it will up to Gazprom whether the pipeline is built or not. Borisov said he has the full support and understanding of the European Union and that Bulgaria is not in the wrong and should not suffer financial consequences for stopping the project, the Bulgarian news agency BGNES reports. Bulgaria was set to reap $600 million per year in transit fees, and investment on the Buglarian side was estimated at €3.5-4 billion. Russia was originally planning to build a pipeline to Southern Europe to directly export gas, but EU legislation was used to continually delay the project.

On December 1 during a visit to Turkey, Putin announced the pipeline would run through Turkey to Greece, instead of Bulgaria as originally proposed. “Thus, our country is now able to fulfill its obligations on the preparatory activities, particularly for the offshore part of the pipeline, and to issue a building permit,” Borisov said. The Prime Minister added that, “if Gazprom stops the project, despite the permits, it will be considered guilty and not Bulgaria.” A Bulgarian government delegation reportedly planned to fly to Moscow this week to clarify the situation over South Stream construction.

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“.. oil-train traffic has grown to an amazing 42-times its 2009 level”

The Oil Train Glut Shows How Little The Keystone XL Pipeline Matters (Reuters)

When it comes to moving petroleum through the United States, the Keystone XL pipeline is the rock star of transportation modes, garnering an extra large share of attention from politicians, activists and the press. Just this week, Senate Majority Leader-elect Mitch McConnell announced that passage of a bill approving the pipeline will be his first order of business when the 114th Congress convenes in January. Opponents, meanwhile, point to environmental and safety concerns, often citing the adverse impact that the pipeline would have on climate change and fossil fuel dependency. But while the Keystone XL would move an estimated 830,000 barrels a day of oil over its 1200 miles from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, that’s not even a rounding error in the over 2.5 million miles of pipelines that weave their way throughout the country.

And even that isn’t enough to satisfy the pulsing demand for bubbling crude. On Monday, a Reuters report by Jarrett Renshaw highlighted the extent to which oil-carrying freight trains increasingly clog the nation’s rail lines, much to the concern of safety-minded local officials–especially after The devastating July train derailment in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic–and sometimes at the expense of taxpayers. According to the report, oil-train traffic has grown to an amazing 42-times its 2009 level, and while the railroad industry spends $24 billion per year building infrastructure, $84.2 million in taxpayer money has been written into 10 federal and state grants that either have been approved or are seeking approval.

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80HD

2014: The Year We Piled Up Risks Like A Global Game Of Tetris (David Collum)

Mavens in the US blamed bad weather for their complete inability to hit the dartboard. Oddly, German pundits blamed their joblessness on good weather, whereas Goldman suggested that the Germans actually have strong growth . . . because of the weather.Fed governor Plosser says the economy is great “despite the effects of severe weather.” The CEO of Walmart doubts the weather argument altogether, instead suggesting that everybody is unemployed and broke. Charles Dudley Warner insightfully noted, “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” I suspect the vital signs of the economy are stable, albeit with help from a high-capacity monetary respirator.

The weather is whacking California. One of our breadbaskets is going bone dry owing to a multiyear, high-sigma (500-year) drought. Analogies to the Dust Bowl are inescapable. Some towns are shipping in all water by truck. California will soon run out of Nevada and Oregon’s water. One orange grower bulldozed 400 acres of trees (why?), suggesting that “if this persists in the next year, the devastation . . . will be biblical.” California halted fracking because it may be contaminating aquifers. (I must confess that of all the risks of fracking, destroying a big aquifer tops the list.) Of course, housing is considered central to our economy. Maybe I have Assburger’s syndrome or 80HD, but I go nuts trying to figure out whether housing is strong or weak. Choose an indicator and make any case you want. Owens Corning reported a weakness in roofing materials: the corporate numbers don’t lie. Just kidding. Sure they do.)

Some plots show existing home sales rising; others show existing home purchases rising. Dudes: they’re the same numbers—a kind of housing velocity that may offer evidence that the market is loosening finally. That said, 20 million homeowners are still underwater, rendering them professionally immobile. A nice list of the riskiest real estate markets in country shows Hartford, Connecticut, leading the pack with a potential downside of 35%. (Canada and England now make us look like pikers, however, given that their busts remain prospective.) And remember that iconic plot of mortgage resets foreshadowing (to those paying attention) the ’08–’09 crisis? Well the resets are back – $200 billion worth of resetting home equity lines of credit (HELOCs). When the Fed finally normalizes rates, price discovery is gonna be a real bitch. The Fed never had an exit strategy.

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So sad.

Wall Street Firms Endure Lost Decade After Goldman Peak in 2007 (Bloomberg)

Wall Street firms have failed to keep up with a stock market that’s boomed for more than five years, losing ground to industries including technology and health care. There were just 32 U.S. financial firms among the world’s largest 500 companies by market capitalization when trading closed yesterday in New York. That compares with 41 at the end of 2006, the last full year before the credit crisis. Some companies that remain on the list, like Citigroup and AIG) have shrunk to a fraction of the size of tech giants like Apple and Google. Goldman Sachs has a lower market value than its peak in 2007. While Google and Cupertino, California-based Apple have been adding new products and customers since then, Wall Street lost trading revenue and spent much of that time repaying bailouts, settling government probes or divesting assets under pressure from federal watchdogs.

“The culture in the large banks needed to be corrected,” Charles Peabody, a banking analyst at Portales Partners in New York, said in a phone interview. “That is a good thing. The extent of this adjustment process has been a lot more drawn out than any of us anticipated, and that’s not been a good thing.” Goldman Sachs went public in 1999, the same year that President Bill Clinton signed into law the repeal of barriers between commercial and investment banking. Market capitalization as of Dec. 18 dropped about 21% from the peak in October 2007 of more than $105 billion. Financial firms that fell off the list include Lehman, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008, and Merrill Lynch, which struck a deal the same year to sell itself to Bank of America Corp. The U.S. group now makes up about 8.1% of the market value of the world’s largest 500 companies, compared with 9.7% at the end of 2006.

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I think I’ve been missing Meredith.

Meredith Whitney’s Hedge Fund Said to Be in Turmoil (Bloomberg)

The hedge fund Meredith Whitney started last year after she became one of Wall Street’s best-known analysts is in turmoil. Her biggest investor demanded his money back and two executives left in the past month, according to a person with knowledge of her firm. A fund connected to billionaire Michael Platt’s BlueCrest Capital Management asked to redeem its investment at least twice, according to the person, who asked for anonymity to describe the private exchanges. Her Kenbelle Capital LP started trading in November 2013 with about $50 million from BlueCrest partners and other investors, according to a fund presentation last year.

Stephen Schwartz, a co-founder and portfolio manager, left last month, his LinkedIn profile shows. Andrew Turchin, the chief financial officer, exited as well, the person with knowledge of the firm said. Chief Administrative Officer Brittani Caetano joined another hedge fund this month, according to LinkedIn. Whitney had aimed for returns of 12% to 17%, according to the fund presentation. Instead, her American Revival Fund LP lost 4.7% through the first half of the year, an investor letter this July showed. “Meredith is a brilliant woman and somebody who is indefatigable in her will to succeed and to win,” her attorney, Stanley Arkin, said today in a phone call. Colleagues left by “mutual agreement,” he added. BlueCrest’s redemption request violates their agreement and “had to do with the way the market is moving,” he said.

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The sanctions cost Europe too much money; they can’t be maintained.

France Risks EU Split Over Russian Sanctions Relief (Bloomberg)

French President Francois Hollande has floated the idea of rolling back EU sanctions against Russia, provided that Russia takes steps to remove troops from Crimea and Ukraine. Bloomberg’s Hans Nichols reports on “Bloomberg Surveillance.” Europe stumbled into a debate over the end of sanctions on the economically distressed Russia after French President Francois Hollande became the first major leader to dangle the prospect of easing the curbs. Hollande’s appeal at a European Union summit yesterday was a reminder that the bans on financing of major Russian banks and the export of energy-exploration equipment will lapse next July unless renewed unanimously by the 28 EU governments.

Hollande urged the EU to offer early “de-escalation” to reward expected peace overtures by Russian President Vladimir Putin in eastern Ukraine, while others including German Chancellor Angela Merkel put off sanctions relief until a settlement emerges. “It will be very difficult to retain that unity among member states” when the sanctions are up for renewal, said Steven Blockmans, an analyst at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. “We might find the sanctions fizzling out when it comes to summer next year.” European leaders papered over the controversy at the first summit chaired by new EU President Donald Tusk, who as Poland’s prime minister had spearheaded moves to punish Russia for meddling with Ukraine.

A communique said the bloc “will stay the course” and maintained the threat of “further steps if necessary.” As with the response to the euro-zone debt crisis, a consensus on how to deal with Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and military support for eastern Ukrainian separatists was slow to emerge. The EU halted trade and visa negotiations with Russia and blacklisted 18 members of Ukraine’s former pro-Russian regime in March. It took the downing of a Malaysian passenger jet over eastern Ukraine in July to prompt wider economic curbs. Those steps and another set of economic restrictions imposed in September will run out in July 2015. They are locked in by the EU’s unanimity principle: it would take all 28 governments to scrap them earlier or prolong them.

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Huh, what? An arrest?

First Arrest In UK Foreign Exchange Market Rigging Investigation (Guardian)

A City banker has been arrested by the Serious Fraud Office in connection with its investigation into the rigging of the £3.5 trillion-a-day foreign exchange markets. The banker is the first person to be detained in connection with the global foreign exchange rate-rigging scandal and was held following a dawn raid on his Essex home. “In connection with a Serious Fraud Office investigation, we can confirm one man was arrested in Billericay on 19 December,” an SFO spokesman said. “ Officers from the City of London Police assisted with the operation.” The arrest follows a record-breaking £2bn fine imposed on five global banks for their role in the scandal.

About 30 bankers have been sacked or suspended but until now no arrests have been made. Bankers were found by the UK’s City regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), to have colluded to fix rates between 2008 and October 2013. Bankers using online chatrooms – where they called themselves the “A-Team” , “The Three Musketeers” and “The Players” – colluded to fix rates to make millions for their employers and collect big bonuses for themselves, according to transcripts released by the regulator. The conversations between the bankers, some of whom used the name “1 team, 1 dream”, recorded one saying: “How can I make free money with no fcking [sic] heads up.”

Another message, sent after Swiss bank UBS made £322,000 in a single deal, read: “He’s sat back in his chair, feet on desk, announcing, that’s why I got the bonus pool. Made most people’s year.” In other messages traders made remarks such as “nice job mate” and “yeah baby” as they discussed foreign exchange rates. The FCA said it had found a “free for all culture” on trading floors that allowed the market to be rigged for such a long time. The fines, which were far bigger than those handed out for Libor rigging, were imposed on Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Citibank, JP Morgan and UBS.

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And Cuba is now our friend. Folly of the day.

Obama Authorizes ‘Economic Embargo’ On Russia’s Crimea (RT)

US President Barack Obama has authorized sanctions against individuals and entities operating in Russia’s Crimean peninsula, according to the White House statement. Obama has issued an executive order that “prohibits the export of goods, technology, or services to Crimea and prohibits the import of goods, technology, or services from Crimea, as well as new investments in Crimea,” according to the statement. The executive order also authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to impose sanctions on “individuals and entities operating in Crimea.” The move comes just a day after the European Union introduced similar action against the Russian region of Crimea and Sevastopol, accepted into the Russian Federation following the referendum last March.

The United States did not recognize the reunification and has been calling on Russia to “end its occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea.” “We will continue to review and calibrate our sanctions, in close coordination with our international partners, to respond to Russia’s actions,” Obama’s statement reads. The bill that opened way for further sanctions against Russian economy – dubbed Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 – was signed on Thursday. However Obama was hesitant to introduce any new measures until they are synchronized with European partners.

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Should reveal a lot.

Antarctic Photo Science Archive Unlocked (BBC)

Aerial photos from the 1940s and 1950s are being used to probe the climate history of the Antarctic Peninsula. UK scientists are comparing the images with newly acquired data sets to assess the changes that have occurred in some of the region’s 400-plus glaciers. The old and modern information has to be very carefully aligned if it is to show up any differences reliably. And that is a big challenge when snow and ice obscure ground features that might otherwise act as visual anchors. But the researchers from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Newcastle University and University of Gloucestershire believe they are cracking the problem. “We want to use these pictures to work out volume and mass-balance changes in the glaciers through time,” explained Dr Lucy Clarke from the University of Gloucestershire. “There are tens of thousands of these historical images, held by the British Antarctic Survey and the US Geological Survey.

“So, they’ve long been around, but it’s only now that we’ve had the capability to extract the 3D data from them.” Dr Clarke has been presenting the work at this week’s American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco. The Antarctic Peninsula – the northernmost extent of the White Continent which stretches up towards South America – has experienced quite dramatic warming in recent decades. The fronts of many of its glaciers have quite obviously retreated, and several of the marine-terminating ice streams have even seen their floating shelves disintegrate. But getting at the volume and mass changes in the glaciers has been a thorny issue. Satellites are used to track such trends today but their record spans only a few decades. The archive of aerial photos, on the other hand, goes back to the 1940s, and it represents an extraordinary account of the pioneering days of polar exploration.

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“Europe today has twice as many wolves as the United States even though its territory is half the size of North America and its population twice as dense.”

Wolves, Bears And Lynx ‘Now Plentiful In Europe’ (AFP)

After nearing extinction in Europe in the early 20th century because of hunting and shrinking habitats, large carnivores like the gray wolf, brown bear, lynx and wolverine are thriving once more. So say the results of a study carried out across the continent, except Russia and Belarus, by an international team whose report was published Thursday in the US journal Science. “The total area with a permanent presence of at least one large carnivore species in Europe covers 1,529,800 square kilometers (roughly one-third of mainland Europe), and the area of occasional presence is expanding,” the authors wrote. The study involved 76 scientists examining 26 countries. Brown bears were the most numerous of the four species, with nearly 17,000 specimens and a permanent presence in 22 countries. The gray wolf came next, with a population of more than 12,000 scattered across 28 countries, followed by the Eurasian lynx, 9,000 of which were to be found in 23 countries.

Wolverines were the scarcest of the four, with an estimated 1,250 of the cold-climate creatures found in three Nordic countries: Norway, Finland and Sweden. Although most populations of these large predators have been on the rise or stable in recent years, some are on the verge of extinction, such as the gray wolves of Spain’s Sierra Morena region, the Pyrenees bears or the lynx found in the Vosges region of France. All four species of carnivores live and reproduce mostly outside protected areas, such as national parks, in human-dominated landscapes. Their numbers suggest that they can coexist with humans in areas dominated by the latter, testifying to the success of European Union conservation policies, the authors wrote. For instance, Europe today has twice as many wolves as the United States even though its territory is half the size of North America and its population twice as dense.

“Our results are not the first to reveal that large carnivores can coexist with people but they show that the land-sharing model for large carnivores (coexistence model) can be successful on a continental scale,” the study stated. In the US, by contrast, protected species often live far from human-inhabited ones, such as wolves of Yellowstone National Park. The researchers said several factors explained the vitality of Europe’s populations of large carnivores, including the replenishing of stocks of prey such as deer and wild boars, which provides them with ample food. They also cited an exodus of people from rural areas in the 20th century, which allowed wolves, bears and lynxes to expand their territories. But the report mainly attributed the success to laws aimed at preserving species of wild animals and their habitats, such as the Berne convention of 1979.

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Get a warbler.

Birds ‘Heard Tornadoes Coming’ And Fled One Day Ahead (BBC)

US scientists say tracking data shows that five golden-winged warblers “evacuated” their nesting site one day before the April 2014 tornado outbreak. Geolocators showed the birds left the Appalachians and flew 700km (400 miles) south to the Gulf of Mexico. The next day, devastating storms swept across the south and central US. Writing in the journal Current Biology, ecologists suggest these birds – and others – may sense such extreme events with their keen low-frequency hearing. Remarkably, the warblers had completed their seasonal migration just days earlier, settling down to nest after a 5,000km (3,100 mile) journey from Colombia. Dr Henry Streby, from the University of California, Berkeley, said he initially set out to see if tracking the warblers was even possible.

“This was just a pilot season for a larger study that we’re about to start,” Dr Streby told the BBC.”These are very tiny songbirds – they weigh about nine grams. “The fact that they came back with the geolocators was supposed to be the great success of this season. Then this happened!” Working with colleagues from the Universities of Tennessee and Minnesota, Dr Streby tagged 20 golden-winged warblers in May 2013, in the Cumberland Mountains of north-eastern Tennessee. The birds nest and breed in this region every summer, and can be spotted around the Great Lakes and the Appalachian Mountains. After disappearing to Colombia for the winter, 10 of the tagged warblers returned in April 2014. The team was in the field observing them when they received advance warning of the tornadoes.

“We evacuated ourselves to the waffle house in Caryville, Tennessee, for the one day that the storm was really bad,” Dr Streby said. After the storm had blown over, the team recaptured five of the warblers and removed the geolocators. These are tiny devices weighing about half a gram, which measure light levels. Based on the timing and length of the days they record, these gadgets allow scientists to calculate and track the approximate location of migratory birds. In this case, all five indicated that the birds had taken unprecedented evasive action, beginning one to two days ahead of the storm’s arrival. “The warblers in our study flew at least 1,500km (932 miles) in total,” Dr Streby said. They escaped just south of the tornadoes’ path – and then went straight home again. By 2 May, all five were back in their nesting area.

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Word.

Dick Cheney Should Be In Prison, Not On ‘Meet The Press’: Greenwald (RT)

Journalist Glenn Greenwald said Dick Cheney is able to brag about the success of torture on weekend news shows because the Obama administration has decided to shield torturers rather than prosecute them. In a wide ranging interview about the CIA torture report, prospects for the 2016 presidential race, US-Cuba relations and the Sony hack, Greenwald told HuffPost Live that the discussion about the torture report is distorted since we are not hearing from the victims of torture themselves. In an interview on ‘Meet the Press,’ former Vice President Dick Cheney claimed that torture “worked” and announced he would “do it again in a minute” if given the opportunity. In response, Greenwald said that whether torture worked or not is completely irrelevant, and no one should be interested in that because everyone who tortures claims they do it for a good reason even though it has been banned under international treaties and laws. Greenwald said it was former Republican President Ronald Reagan who championed the idea that torture was never justifiable.

Reagan signed the international Convention against Torture in 1988, which became the primary international foundation of anti-torture law. Reagan said at the time the treaty would clearly express the United States’ opposition to torture, “an abhorrent practice unfortunately prevalent in the world today.” Greenwald said, “The reason why Dick Cheney is able to go on ‘Meet the Press’ instead of where he should be – which is in a dock in the Hague or in a federal prison – is because President Obama and his administration made the decision not to prosecute any of the people who implemented this torture regime despite the fact that it was illegal and criminal.” He added, “When you send the signal, like the Obama administration did, that torture is not a crime to be punished – it is just a policy dispute to argue about on Sunday shows – of course it emboldens torturers, like Dick Cheney, to go around on Sunday shows and say, ‘What I did was absolutely right.’”

The journalist said that when Obama was running for president in 2007/08, he was asked if there should be legal accountability for people who committed war crimes. He said it was something for the Attorney General to decide and affirm this principle, but even before Obama was inaugurated he began walking back the idea. Pointing to a 2009 New York Times article, Greenwald said one reason why was that presidents know if they protect their predecessor and shield them from legal accountability for their crimes, they, too, will be shielded by successive administrations. “Which is another way of saying the most powerful officials in the United States have exempted themselves from the rule of law,” he added. “They are able to commit not just ordinary crimes but the most egregious crimes with the assurance that unlike ordinary citizens they will not be held accountable under the law. That is about as tyrannical and dangers as a framework we could have.”

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Deep.

Will Religion Ever Disappear? (BBC)

A growing number of people, millions worldwide, say they believe that life definitively ends at death – that there is no God, no afterlife and no divine plan. And it’s an outlook that could be gaining momentum – despite its lack of cheer. In some countries, openly acknowledged atheism has never been more popular. “There’s absolutely more atheists around today than ever before, both in sheer numbers and as a%age of humanity,” says Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, and author of Living the Secular Life. According to a Gallup International survey of more than 50,000 people in 57 countries, the number of individuals claiming to be religious fell from 77% to 68% between 2005 and 2011, while those who self-identified as atheist rose by 3% – bringing the world’s estimated proportion of adamant non-believers to 13%.

While atheists certainly are not the majority, could it be that these figures are a harbinger of things to come? Assuming global trends continue might religion someday disappear entirely? It’s impossible to predict the future, but examining what we know about religion – including why it evolved in the first place, and why some people chose to believe in it and others abandon it – can hint at how our relationship with the divine might play out in decades or centuries to come. Scholars are still trying to tease out the complex factors that drive an individual or a nation toward atheism, but there are a few commonalities. Part of religion’s appeal is that it offers security in an uncertain world. So not surprisingly, nations that report the highest rates of atheism tend to be those that provide their citizens with relatively high economic, political and existential stability. “Security in society seems to diminish religious belief,” Zuckerman says.

Capitalism, access to technology and education also seems to correlate with a corrosion of religiosity in some populations, he adds. Japan, the UK, Canada, South Korea, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, France and Uruguay (where the majority of citizens have European roots) are all places where religion was important just a century or so ago, but that now report some of the lowest belief rates in the world. These countries feature strong educational and social security systems, low inequality and are all relatively wealthy. “Basically, people are less scared about what might befall them,” says Quentin Atkinson, a psychologist at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Yet decline in belief seems to be occurring across the board, including in places that are still strongly religious, such as Brazil, Jamaica and Ireland. “Very few societies are more religious today than they were 40 or 50 years ago,” Zuckerman says. “The only exception might be Iran, but that’s tricky because secular people might be hiding their beliefs.”

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