Nov 032016
 
 November 3, 2016  Posted by at 3:56 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


London 1877

 

Amidst the epic flood of political statements and media commentary that keeps on rolling in and on, there’s something that doesn’t seem to occur to most people, and it should. That is, the unfortunate but apparently inevitable discussion about all the unfortunate and/or illegal things that either candidate may or may not have done, must be seen in the light of the capacity in which -perceived- errors or even crimes are committed. It is essential to this issue.

What far too many people are far too eager to ignore is that everything Donald Trump may have done that may have been illegal or on the edge, he did as a private person, and most of what Hillary Clinton has done in that same category was as a representative of the American government and hence the American people. The demands and standards when it comes to behavior are much higher for people in representative government positions than they are for private citizens, and they are so for good reason.

One may try and argue that this is not fair, but that’s a moot argument. One may also argue that everyday news strongly suggests that Washington is the very place where moral standards seem to count least, but that is also moot. What others do today, or have done in the past, can never be an excuse for eroding the standards to which government officials should be held. If anything, it should be reason to hold all of them to higher standards going forward.

This is the only way The Office of the President of the United States, and the US political system as a whole, can be expected to retain, or regain, the respect it badly needs to command, both domestically and on the international front. It is for this very reason that on the political scene, actors need to “do the right thing”, or “draw the consequences”, when the situation so demands. Respect for the office must always come before personal gain, or the whole edifice will crumble.

This also means that a president and his secretaries have much less room to move on their public statements on issues than ‘civilians’ do. And in that regard President Obama, though he seemed to be doing well, is now moving onto dangerous ground. On Monday, Obama seemed to back FBI director Jim Comey, or at least he refused to join his party in attacking Comey.

Note that the president can’t do anything even remotely perceived as attacking the head of the FBI. Not in public. And that would be true even if Comey were not his own appointment. The NY Post wrote:

While top Democrats are attacking James Comey, President Obama’s spokesman on Monday described the FBI director as a man of “integrity” and “good character” and said he is not trying to tilt the election. “I’ll neither defend nor criticize Director Comey,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. “The president doesn’t believe that Director Comey is intentionally trying to influence the outcome of an election. He doesn’t believe he’s secretly strategizing to benefit one candidate or one political party. He is in a tough spot.”

Still, some sort of caveat was inserted by Press Secretary Earnest:

Earnest rebuked those who were assailing Comey for saying last Friday the FBI was reopening the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe just days before the Nov. 8 election. “There are other people that have the luxury of being able to opine, writing op-eds or serving as anonymous sources for reporters to weigh in with their own view, but when I stand here representing the institution of the presidency, I don’t have that luxury,” he said.

But not long after, the president joined the Clinton campaign choir after all, in a move that smells not at all presidential. Mother Jones headlined: Obama Slams FBI Over New Hillary Clinton Emails . This is a risky move not worthy of a president, who represents not a party but an entire nation, and all Americans.

President Barack Obama harshly criticized the FBI’s actions informing Congress about the discovery of new Hillary Clinton emails, suggesting to NowThisNews on Wednesday that the much-criticized letter was outside of law enforcement protocol. “We don’t operate on innuendo,” Obama said in his first remarks since the FBI’s announcement last Friday. “We don’t operate on incomplete information and we don’t operate on leaks. We operate based on concrete decisions that are made.”

Obama acted presidential on Monday; he did not on Wednesday. And that’s not all. On Monday, Obama had already made another questionable move. Not only did he seem to ‘support’ Comey, he also lavished praise on Donna Brazile, the -interim- head of the Clinton campaign.

He did so mere hours (!) after Brazile had been fired by CNN, a network that drools Clinton 24/7. So when even CNN had had enough, Obama found it appropriate to say “she is a person of high character”. That does not add up. Here’s from Adriana Cohen at the Boston Herald in one of the best pieces I’ve read on the whole issue:

To put how serious this is into context, if Brazile traded stocks off inside information, the SEC would toss her in jail faster than you can say Martha Stewart. Yet, despite all of the above, the White House yesterday praised her integrity. You read that right. When asked about the hacked emails White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “No, the president believes she has done a fine job stepping in during a very difficult situation to lead the Democratic Party … she is a person of high character. She is a true professional who is a tenacious and effective advocate for Democrats.”

Why was Brazile sacked? For feeding the Clintonians debate questions. As per The Hill:

In an email dated March 5, 2016 — the day before a CNN debate in Flint, Mich. — Brazile sent Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and communications director Jennifer Palmieri an email with the subject line, “One of the questions directed to HRC tomorrow is from a woman with a rash.” “Her family has lead poison and she will ask what, if anything, will Hillary do as president to help the ppl of Flint,” she wrote.

Think about this for a second. Donna Brazile gets fired by CNN for -very illegally- letting the Clinton campaign in on a question that will be asked in a debate (with Bernie Sanders). Now, I think we can all agree that CNN does not have excessively high moral standards. And perhaps they don’t have to. But the president of the United States does.

Ergo: while the network said they were ‘completely uncomfortable’ with Brazile’s ‘interactions with campaign’, the same Donna Brazile was not only praised by the president, who is supposed to stand above all parties and divisions by the very nature of the Office he holds, she is also still the head of the Democratic campaign.

In other words, the sender of the messages containing debate questions (there were more than one) gets fired by one end of the ‘transaction’, but the receiving end has no problems with that exact same action, and then even sees that decision sanctioned by the nation’s president.

As if it wasn’t not illegal for Hillary to have those questions before the debate. There’s a sender and a receiver, and both are equally to blame. And so is Hillary, because of course she knew the questions had to have been obtained illegally. But she keeps on Brazile, the sender, as head of her campaign, as well as Podesta and Palmieri, the receivers, despite all this.

What does that tell you? Regardless of legal implications, doesn’t that scream out something in the vein of: “When we go low, but do we go really low”? What does it tell you when the Clintonians, and Obama, are fine with something even CNN won’t stand for? It can only mean that a network like CNN, not exactly famous for its moral stances, has higher moral standards than the campaign for a candidate for the presidency of the United States, a position where moral standards are a high priority.

These are the things that drag down the entire American political system. Obama’s statements on the FBI and Donna Brazile drag down the office of the president. And if Hillary would be elected on November 8, that office would be dragged down that much more.

And not only can we now foresee, and must we prepare for, serious domestic unrest no matter what the election result will be (I liked the notion I read somewhere of ‘America between 9/11 and 11/9’), the damage will also reverberate globally. I’ve said it before, I don’t see how Hillary and her people can still backtrack on all the innuendo they spread on Russia, but to be presidential, she will not have a choice.

Or she would risk getting stuck somewhere in the middle of all the untruths and outright lies about Putin, Assange and now James Comey, and that would mean a behemoth blemish on the presidency, something neither she nor the American political system can afford. You need more than just insinuations, you need at least kernels of truth if you want to be president.

When even the NY Times reports that the FBI Finds No Clear Link Between Trump and Russia, the Democratic campaign will have no choice but to step back or double down:

For much of the summer, the FBI pursued a widening investigation into a Russian role in the American presidential campaign. Agents scrutinized advisers close to Donald J. Trump, looked for financial connections with Russian financial figures, searched for those involved in hacking the computers of Democrats, and even chased a lead – which they ultimately came to doubt – about a possible secret channel of email communication from the Trump Organization to a Russian bank. Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.

[..] Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, responded angrily on Sunday with a letter accusing the FBI of not being forthcoming about Mr. Trump’s alleged ties with Moscow. “It has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government – a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity,” Mr. Reid wrote. “The public has a right to know this information.”

And maybe that’s another reason for them to go after Comey, that the FBI would not support the claims that Russia is linked with Trump. Regardless, we now see the FBI biting back. On just about all fronts. What exactly Comey’s role is in that is not 100% clear, but what is, is that Hillary would probably face two separate -criminal- investigations even before she could be inaugurated, if she’s elected.

One for the Clinton Foundation (pay-for-play), and one for her email server issue. About which, incidentally, Bret Baier at Fox said yesterday:

.. we learned there is a confidence from these sources [with intimate knowledge of the FBI investigations] that her server had been hacked. And that it was a 99% accuracy that it had been hacked by at least five foreign intelligence agencies, and that things had been taken from that…

It’s starting to feel like the nets are closing in on the Clintons. And they may hope that there’s just enough time to get the election and win it, but that may well turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory. US law has many provisions that shield the president from persecution, but even if she would get elected, Hillary wouldn’t be sworn in for another ten weeks or so.

If Hillary wins, it may feel like it’s open season on her, and there’s no one to blame but herself. She’s incurred the wrath of so many parties, it’s hard to keep track. Donald Trump may be the least of her worries.

One last word, and this on the Huma Abedin related emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. I see a lot of suggestions that no FBI agent has seen any of the mails, but that makes no sense. Comey would have never sent his letter to Congress on Friday if that were true. It might have gotten him accused of partisanship.

In reality, one or more agents have seen one or more mails. And they had permission for that. Note also that they had had access to the laptop for weeks before Comey’s letter. How much of the 650,000 they’ve seen we don’t know, but they’ve seen some. They had permission to read the mails, but under a warrant that pertained to the Weiner investigation, not the Hillary one.

Under the ‘Weiner warrant’, they undoubtedly read enough of them to know they’re hot stuff, and at some point someone decided reading any further would -for one thing- put the option of using them against Hillary at -grave- risk. This may well be a contentious point right now: how the evidence was obtained.

Whether Comey himself read anything is less clear: if they really kept him out of the loop for weeks because they were pissed off at him -as has been suggested-, perhaps not. But others have. And as we are seeing more and more, they are an angry bunch. In their eyes -and many others- Comey made a mistake, alright, but he did not do that last Friday. His huge error came in July, when he decided not to file charges against Hillary.

The July decision was probably due to a large extent to an ‘inner quarrel’ between the DOJ and FBI, and now that’s out in the open, it’s the classic genie and the bottle tale. It’ll be interesting to see how much of that genie is going to come out before Tuesday.

 

 

Nov 152015
 
 November 15, 2015  Posted by at 8:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Osama Hajjaj Madeleine Pleure 2015

9/11, 3/11, 7/7, 11/13 = New York, Madrid, London, Paris

Better to wait a day before writing, after a night like that. What does one write after such a night anyway? And why write anything at all if you can be dead sure to always antagonize some one on some side of some spectrum, ideological or not, no matter what you write, unless you tag some safe official line, and even then, or especially then?

Better to soak in what the official media have to say, or so one might think. After all, they got all the resources and the reporters and the analysts and -access to- the politicians, and most of all the attention of the people.

Unfortunately, all that firepower -pun intended- is used only to tag official lines. To provide air space to ‘leaders’ who profess their utmost grief and sadness and anger and solidarity over barbarous criminal “acts of war” that they swear will be avenged with all the power they have. It’s so predictable it’s like all of their spin doctors have been sent on a Caribbean holiday at the same time, and together.

Still, it also doesn’t seem very appropriate to address the economic issues we usually talk about, at least not at first glance. Respect for victims and families must come first, that is a given. Then again, it does seem appropriate, out of that very same respect, to get to the bottom of what’s behind these attacks that will at final count leave perhaps 200 people dead on what started as a nice and balmy autumn evening in the city of lights. And the politicians’ truisms and platitudes don’t exactly help.

But how does one go about that truth finding? French President Hollande declared eerily early in the ‘game’ he was sure ISIS is behind the tragedy, and ISIS statements seem to confirm that conclusion. But what is ISIS? And where does it come from?

It’s no longer really credible to entirely ignore the role of the west, including France, in the origins of the ‘movement’, if it can be called that. From Al Queda to ISIS, and scores of groups and factions in between and beyond, there is at least some kind of link to western military action in the middle East. And that link goes back quite a few years, if not decades.

So if we really want to pay the kind of respect to the victims that comes with trying to figure out what’s behind these attacks, it would seem that we can’t get it done without a critical look at our own roles in what led up to this. Not to say that we’re the only guilty party, or that the perpetrators are not cuckoos, but to say we’re not credible if we completely ignore our own roles and don’t look in a mirror.

Hence, the first reaction we probably might want to have is that it’s enough alright with the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ meme. Even if, or exactly because, that reaction is, obviously, 180º removed from what the initial reactions to the attacks are, whether they’re provoked by media coverage or not. And they are. It cannot be only ‘us’ vs ‘them’. No black, no white. To understand this world you need a lot more than that.

If we try to phrase it that way, and we’re only halfway decent and honest about it, there’s no escaping that in the final analysis we indeed are them. We’re not like them, we are them. ‘We’ have spread terror, death and mayhem across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions for a long time (to a large extent because that’s where the oil is, but that’s a story for a different day).

And then ‘we’ took it up a notch with the removal of the likes of Saddam and Gaddafi, leaving rudderless societies in their wake.

We can’t pretend to be honest and still ignore the fact that for many people in the Middle East a day like this Friday 13th is their everyday routine. And that that’s what makes them refugees. Many Parisians -or New Yorkers, for that matter- would do the same, get out of Dodge, if this were a common event in their city. Not only because of the danger and the fear, but also because there would be no functioning society or economy left, and hence no future.

No matter how you look at it, there’s no denying it’s kind of ironic that attacks on Beirut that were similar in many regards to the ones in Paris, even took place at the same time, and similar attacks on several other places, receive no media coverage at all in the west, while the Paris attacks dominate all western media.

That is not a coincidence. And it’s not either because most Americans would find it as easy to find Damascus or Beirut on a map as they would Paris. That is, they would not. But still Paris is on American TV about 48/7 (that’s the attention span limit), interrupted only by either a Kardashian body part -or two- or by the single The Donald’s body part that sticks in memory.

And that’s where we find our link to economics, because in geo-politics as in economics, we, all of us, think, talk and live exclusively in narratives. We have stories pre-fabricated for us, and these stories determine how we see the world, and our lives, and other people’s lives and dreams and wishes.

That is to say, whatever it is we want and dream of is per definition just and justified, and other people’s desires are not, as soon as they threaten to interfere with ours. As we read ad nauseam post-Paris in literally countless references to the ‘freedom’ that ‘we’ have and ‘they’ hate, and to ‘our way of life’ that is under threat -with nary a soul knowing what that way is.

We cannot forever fool ourselves and others into believing that we are the good guys and ‘the others’ are the bad guys. It’s tempting, and there’s a whole behemoth media apparatus to confirm it, but it doesn’t get us any closer to what happened, and why, and therefore no closer to paying our full and due respect to those who died in Paris on 11/13.

“They” don’t resent us for our freedom, “they” resent us for not allowing them to have their freedom, too. We need to recognize at some point that we owe our affluence to the misery of others, not to our superior intelligence or morals or religion or way of life. But there’s not a single voice among us which wants to make that recognition happen.

We are not a benevolent force, no matter what we tell ourselves or how many times we repeat it. We are a civilization of oppressors. Just like the Romans and the Mongols and so many others before and after. We seek to uphold our status and our wealth at the expense of others, of strangers, people who live conveniently far enough away in conveniently impoverished conditions.

We have been building our empire this way since well before Columbus, we’ve greatly expanded it over the past 500 years, and we’re now looking at the terminal phase of that empire. Just like the Romans and the Mongols and so many others before and after.

Interestingly enough, it’s our own technological prowess and ‘progress’ that leads us into that phase. The very moment we started exporting our oil drilling technologies, our smartphones, our databases and most of all our modern weaponry to what we still see as colonies, the very foundations of our civilization and our power started eroding.

But that’s getting too philosophical, and it would require too many words and lead us too far astray from Paris and the due diligence we owe those who lost their lives and those who mourn them.

Pope Francis said in a reaction to the Friday 13th attacks: “This is not human”. Unfortunately, 2000 years of Christianity say he’s dead wrong, wrong as he could be. This is very human. It’s as human as feeling an overbearing love for our children. It’s all human.

It’s very human, too, to go for the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ meme. Because it feels good, and you can be sure it makes those around you feel good too. Which is a big help in times of fear and insecurity and not having the answer, not having any other answers than the ubiquitous ones the media feed you.

But that still is not what the dead deserve. They deserve much more. They deserve that we try the best we can, not to settle for the first thing that comes to our reptilian minds. Not to make our entire lives come down to just fight or flight, but to attempt to find that area in between that is as close to truth finding as we know we can come.

To honor the dead, we need to look inside ourselves, and inside the societies we live in. And only when we’ve found, and eradicated, those things that make both us, and our communities, ‘guilty by association’ -for lack of a better term-, will we have paid proper respect to those who lost their lives.

Jul 052015
 
 July 5, 2015  Posted by at 12:04 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


Unknown Magazine and cannonballs at Battery Rodgers, Alexandria 1863

I hardly ever go out in the morning, the first 7-8 hours of every single day are taken up by reading and writing. But today I did, to feel the mood in the city. Not sure I got it, though. Everything’s quiet. It may not help that I’m staying smack in the middle of the Acropolis tourist area (still haven’t figured out why 90% of them are American).

Not sure if many Greeks even really understand what is going on, and who can blame them, they have every reason to be scared more than anything else.

And I’m still trying to wrap my head around the trouble just about everyone seems to have with the simplest and most basic exercise in direct democracy that’s taking place right now. The referendum here today has been called manipulative, opaque, some say there’s not enough time, others claim Tsipras is merely trying to save face in the face of defeat, courts have been called in to rule on its legality.

But this place here is where democracy started. And votes were held just like the one today, all the time. To be rid of despot rule, to let the people decide. And sure, in the beginning it wasn’t all the people, just the alleged wise men, but it was a start. So why do we now find this simplicity so hard to stomach?

Put another way: is this because for Americans the 4th of July is these days more about stuffing your faces surrounded by your equally overweight families than it is about honoring the Founding Fathers? It’s quite possible, that our troubles with processing and absorbing direct democracy are somehow linked to that.

That Americans and Europeans have precious little understanding and appreciation left of what happened that led to the US celebrating, commemorating, its Independence Day in the first place. And therefore can’t see how and why it couldn’t have been accomplished without the example set right here in Greece many many years earlier.

Maybe that’s why a thousand pundits feel free to question the very principle of democracy. Or to at least try and hang all sorts of conditions and reservations on it. But it’s not that hard really: a government asks its people what they think about a certain issue.

That’s a democratically elected government’s prerogative. It couldn’t really get any more basic than that. And of all the freedoms we have, maybe the one that makes us question the very principle those very freedoms are derived from, is not the best choice. Maybe there are better and more productive freedoms to occupy ourselves with.

And it can’t be that the unfolding Greek drama hasn’t given us enough material to hold against the light of democratic principles. The Troika machinations, culminating in the oppression of data vital to the negotiations, from those same negotiations, is just one example. A damning one, though, but still.

For democracy to function, it must first of all be allowed to function. That requires revealing all relevant information. It also requires all parties who are not party to a vote to keep their mouths shut. If you look at it from that point of view, Brussels and Berlin seem to have little understanding and respect for what democracy is. For them it seems to be something to be manipulated with impunity.

And that does matter: democracy, to function, needs to be respected. Mere lip service doesn’t cut it.

Whatever the result of the vote is today, Greece is in for more hard times. A No vote would lead the little, little people in Brussels to engage in more strong arm tactics. And I see no reason to doubt that voting Yes is tantamount to sticking one’s head in a noose.

Who would want to live at the mercy of an institution populated by little people who actively try to keep vital numbers behind in a discussion held against the backdrop of hunger, suicide and despair in a country whose interests it is supposed to serve? But that’s just me. And I don’t have a vote.

If you look through Greek history, the country could claim an entire calendar full of Independence Days. The US has just the one, and it owes it to the ancient Greeks. Maybe that’s something to ponder when waking up from those glucose-induced stupors this morning.

That like it or not, this is where the democracy was born that allowed for America to become a nation of free people. The same democracy celebrated from sea to shining sea every Fourth of July. And also the same democracy that is under threat, in Greece, in Europe as a whole, and very much in the US too.

It looks to me that we’ve all become quite far removed from what Independence Day is about, in Brussels, Berlin and Washington. And we should feel lucky if Athens today can give us back some of what has been lost in the translation and erosion of history.

Democracy is a fragile child. It needs to be fed and nurtured and caressed around the clock. Or it will wither away before our very eyes. The Greeks taught us all a valuable lesson before. Here’s hoping they can again.

And at the same time add yet another Independence Day to their long and rich calendar.

Jul 232014
 
 July 23, 2014  Posted by at 8:28 pm Finance Tagged with: , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Home of worker in strip coal mine, Cherokee County, Kansas May 1936

A very impressive procession of hearses, containing the first 40 of the 298 caskets that will have to be ‘processed’, is going on as I speak in Holland, and has been for hours of slow driving, broadcast on live national TV. It’s a 100 mile or so distance, with thousands upon thousands of people along the route paying respect, from the airport where they landed form Ukraine to the facilities where they’ll be identified.

Which in the most ‘fortunate’ cases can be done in hours, in others may take weeks, and in yet others may never be conclusive. At least on the surface, the Dutch are doing everything right when it comes to honoring and respecting the people who died on MH17, and those who mourn them.

Still, when the bodies left Charkov earlier today, there were speeches by the Dutch and Australian ambassadors and other officials, all entirely in the spirit of what the moment and the victims deserve and are entitled to, but there was one noteworthy dissonant, which was even picked up by a Dutch reporter who wasn’t there to give his own opinion, but nevertheless opined that he thought it was very out of line for Ukraine Vice PM Groysman to use the occasion, which was intended to honor the victims only, to once again start off on a bitter, and frankly shameless, rant against Russia and Putin.

Ugly. But not unexpected. It goes to show that we really no longer know who our friends are. And as I said the other day, that goes for the whole Russia and Ukraine situation as much as it goes for the economy and the crisis it’s in. There are far too many Americans and Europeans who still think their governments are their friends. Which in Holland today is very tempting, because there’s this whole display of ‘correct mourning’ going on that draws in just about everyone simply on the fact that emotions must go somewhere, and they are easily guided into a shared platform, because people are drawn to that.

But they are, in the slipstream of those shared emotions, just as easily drawn towards venting anger at a perceived common enemy; it is easy to manipulate – emotionally vulnerable – people’s genuine grief into a blame game directed at a common enemy, even if you have no evidence that enemy did anything wrong, or even had anything to do with the acts that made them your enemy in the first place.

This is not something we had to wait for Sigmund Freud to discover for us; people have known since they were much more primitive primates how this works. Group – or mass- psychology works like a charm if you press the right buttons in a group. And it may have had benefits in the days of David vs Goliath, where a seemingly weaker party won the day against a stronger one. But it also has a dark side. When people are vulnerable, you can make them believe just about anything.

“We” follow the side that’s been pre-chosen for us in the ongoing Ukraine battle by our governments, i.e. US and EU. Who started getting heavily involved in Ukraine a number of years ago, and began to put the pedal to the metal when then-President Yakunovych declined to sign a deal that would have delivered Ukraine into a perhaps not all that advantageous partnership with the EU.

That’s when the West joined the Maidan protest in an aggressive way. By then, though, it had already spent a princely sum of $5 billion supporting all sorts of movements that had one thing in common: they were against Russia. Or more specifically: against Putin. Who refused to kowtow to Brussels and Washington.

With the help of a number of not-so-squeaky-clean groups in Ukraine, the Maidan side won: the elected president fled. US-handpicked guys – dare we say puppets – took over, and launched ferocious attacks against those amongst their own compatriots in the east of the country who didn’t want to bow to American and European rule, if only because it was announced very transparently by the new rulers in Kiev that they would be considered second hand citizens, if they would be allowed to live.

The eastern, Russian-speaking population, chose to align with Russia. A choice that so far cost many thousands of them their lives. Killed by their own government’s army, aided by US secret service agents and mercenaries, on their very own land they, and their ancestors, grew up on.

Blaming Putin for what has happened, not just to MH17 but to anything and everything in Ukraine over the past year and change, is way too easy. Putin, or let’s say Russia, has not been the aggressor, the west, i.e. have. Putin was fine with the way things were before. He thought Yanukovych was a stupid clown, but at least his oil interests were safe with that clown.

He acted just like the US and EU did and do to this day in 100+ different countries: as long as the prevailing government do what you want, you leave them in place. In Yanukovych’s case, it was gathering insane riches and bankrupting his nation, but at least never renditioning or mass murder. In many countries “we” support, wholesale slaughter is the order of the day, and has been for many decades. Whether it’s Saudi Arabia or Iraq or Chili or the Congo, we have built our wealth of supporting regimes that are willing to kill their neighbors so our interests are served.

It’s completely senseless to even try and deny that. But we are still led, in our justified grief and anger, towards hate for the very people we have set up to being killed by armies we ourselves finance. Call them devils, call them terrorists, proclaim they have no souls or they eat firstborn children. It’s as old as the first primates. It’s politics.

But it’s also the epitomy of disrespect. For those of you who have died, and who deserve for you to put in your best effort to find out who killed them. Not point fingers and not deliver any evidence. And disrespect for those who are being killed on your name – yes, that would be you -, so a political power game can be played over your heads and theirs. And down the line, your kids can be sent to go and murder the kids of those who were never your enemy other than in your politicians’ chants and games.

Your politicians are not your friends. But they are very good at pretending they are, especially in circumstances where you are – and they always know when that is – most vulnerable. The fact that all you’ve heard and read so far, a week after MH17 came down, is insinuations, and not a single shred of proof, should tell you all you need to know as far as your leaders’ credibility is concerned. They have nothing.

The most damning, or should I really say most entertaining, showcase is that is this conversation between Associated Press reporter Matt Lee and US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf. What Harf is saying, for the good listener, is that the entire State Department assessment of the MH17 situation is based on social media posts from the Ukraine government.

Which just happens to have issued more lies and fabricated videos and and and than anyone else involved. BUK rocket movements Kiev said were ‘rebel rockets’, but which proved to be on Kiev controlled territory, black boxes they said were tampered with that were not, etc etc. Not one thing I can think of Kiev said has proven to be true. But they’re our governments’ installed puppets, so we listen to them.

If there’s no other way to find out who your friends are, at least this conversation should make it abundantly obvious to you who is not. Marie Harf may have lost her job on this, but she still said it. This is the kind of thing I find hard to believe when I see it, but I think maybe most people fail to see what’s actually being said. Then again, in an emotionally laden environment, it’s perhaps easy to miss out on essentials.

My uncle’s at the evenin’ table, makes his living runnin’ hot cars
Slips me a hundred dollar bill, says
“Charlie you best remember who your friends are.”

Straight Time, Springsteen

Yeah, that’s it, keep Russia alive …

Economic Meltdown Scenario Piles Pressure On Russia And The West (Guardian)

Oil prices above $200 a barrel. Energy shortages in western Europe. The return of recession to the still-fragile global economy. A slump in Russia. That’s the fear haunting policymakers as they contemplate how to respond to the shooting down of MH17 over eastern Ukraine last week. The meltdown scenario can be easily sketched out. Every global downturn since 1973 has been associated with a sharp rise in the price of energy. Russia is one of the world’s biggest energy suppliers and is responsible for about one-third of Europe’s gas. America’s economic recovery from the deep recession of 2008-09 has been weak by historic standards, while the European Union’s has barely got going. [..]

Given the public outrage at the loss of life on MH17 some increase in the severity of the sanctions looks inevitable. In Brusselson Tuesday, there was talk of imposing restrictions on capital movements from Russia and of curbs on exports of defence and energy technology. These measures would certainly increase the pain for Russia, and would run the risk that Putin would retaliate by choking off oil and gas exports to the west, looking instead to energy-hungry China as an alternative market. Slater estimates that UK growth next year would be 1% lower than expected were Russia to halt gas supplies through Ukraine, with the impact felt through higher energy prices, higher inflation, falling share prices and weaker consumer confidence. Closing the gas taps could then trigger the “phase three sanctions” being resisted by many EU countries, including Germany, France and Italy.

These would target entire sectors of the Russian economy, blocking their exports to the west and preventing them doing business with companies in the European Union and North America. It is this prospect that has prompted fears of rapidly rising oil prices. Slater calculates that Russian energy exports to the rest of the world could be cut by as much as 80%, with less than half the shortfall made up by the Opec oil cartel. “In such a scenario, world oil prices could soar above $200 per barrel and gas prices would also rise steeply.” Julian Jessop at Capital Economics notes that the biggest losers from this would be Russia, already in recession. Other suppliers would have an incentive to keep prices low in order to grab Russia’s energy customers. The west could draw down on strategic oil supplies to limit the impact of the loss of Russian supply.

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There are no markets left, just an artificial look-alike.

Why The Markets Don’t Care What Happens In The World (MarketWatch)

A plane carrying close on 300 innocent people gets shot down along one of the most sensitive borders in the world. Israel invades Gaza, reigniting the deepest wounds in the Middle East, and potentially sparking another regional conflict. A few hundred miles away, a militant insurgency threatens to turn Iraq into a full-blown terrorist state. The world has not been short of things to worry about in the last week, or the news bulletins short on drama and conflict. But how did the financial markets react? A few stocks got marked down, and gold made one of its reflex moves upwards. Yet on the whole, they barely registered any reaction. It was as if nothing of significance had happened. There is a message in that, and an interesting one. The markets are no longer interested in what happens in the rest of the world. The days when geopolitics could impact the prices of stocks, bonds, commodities or currencies in any significant way have been consigned to the past.

There are two possible explanations for that: firstly that there are not any wars or revolutions any more that can dramatically change the outlook for the global economy; and secondly, that the markets are so pumped up by quantitative easing, and easy money from the central banks, that anything else that happens pales into triviality by comparison. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Either way, investors can safely ignore war and politics from now on when they are structuring their portfolio. The declining interest of the financial markets in what is happening around the world has been evident for some time. The Arab Spring that saw governments fall across the Middle East was probably the last set of uprisings to make any real impact, but even that was largely restricted to frontier indexes such as Egypt, and they don’t count for a great deal in the greater scheme of things. But it has been most noticeable this year. It is not as if the past few months have been short on drama.

The Russian annexation of Crimea, and possible capture of eastern Ukraine, marks the first major re-drawing of national orders within Europe in many years. It could easily turn into the beginning of a new period of conflict between Russia and Western Europe — the opening salvos of a new Cold War. Likewise the militant uprising in Iraq could easily result in the creation of a terrorist Islamic state in a country with some of the largest oil reserves in the world, and which only 10 years ago the U.S. considered so strategically important it invaded to bring down what it regarded as a rogue regime.

Tension between the Israelis and the Palestinians is hardly anything new: the invasion of Gaza is merely the latest in a long and bitter history of conflict. Even so, it remains one of the most disputed regions in the world, and one where any military action threatens a wider conflagration. Not so long ago, geopolitical events such as those would have provoked wild swings in the financial markets. After the 9/11 attacks on Washington and New York, the stock market fell dramatically. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait sparked a wave of selling, and the Middle Eastern conflicts of the 1970s sent the oil price soaring and the stock market crashing.

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State Dept. MH17 Assessment Based on Kiev Social Media Propaganda (RT)

State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf described Russia’s statements on MH17 plane crash as “misinformation” – but when reporters asked her whether Washington would be releasing their intelligence and satellite data, Harf only replied “may be.” So far the US has been backing its statements by social media and “common sense.”

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Yeah, Putin really fears US courts ….

Putin’s Ukraine Woes Compounded by $103 Billion Yukos Claim (Bloomberg)

Russia will discover next week how much it may be asked to pay for the confiscation a decade ago of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Yukos Oil Co., then the country’s biggest oil producer. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague will rule on July 28 on a $103 billion damages claim the company’s former owners filed against Russia in 2007, Tim Osborne, head of GML Ltd., former holding company of Yukos, said by e-mail. Court official Willemijn van Banning said by phone she couldn’t comment on the date for the ruling. The potential multibillion-dollar punitive award comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin risks further U.S. and European sanctions after the downing of a Malaysian passenger jet in eastern Ukraine that killed 298 passengers and crew. The Obama administration has blamed the plane’s downing on pro-Russian rebels, who deny any involvement.

A substantial award of damages “would add to Putin’s sense of being backed into a corner and that the West is out to get Russia,” Masha Lipman, an independent political analyst based in Moscow, said by phone. “Whether a coincidence or not, it will be seen as more than a coincidence.” GML has a good chance of winning partial damages, according to Gus Van Harten, a professor specializing in arbitration at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Canada. There’s “very limited room” for appeal and Russia will resist paying, so any amount awarded would trigger a global legal battle to seize state property, including assets of OAO Rosneft, which acquired most of Yukos in a series of forced auctions, Van Harten said. Putin has said his opponents are using the crash for “selfish political gains.” The EU warned yesterday that it may restrict the country’s access to capital markets and sensitive energy and defense technologies.

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Super dollar.

Jobs Hold Sway Over Yellen-Carney as Central Banks Set To Split (Bloomberg)

Before the Federal Reserve and fellow central banks go to work raising interest rates, they first need others to go to work. That’s the signal from policy makers worldwide, as even those whose mandates focus on inflation put the health of labor markets at the heart of their decision making. The approach leaves investors bracing for global monetary policies to diverge after the post-crisis embrace of easy money. Accelerating job creation — and the hope this will spur wages — leaves the U.S. central bank and the Bank of England preparing for higher rates by the end of 2015. At the other end of the spectrum, double-digit unemployment in the euro area and stagnant pay in Japan mean stimulus remains the only option.

“Strength in the labor market is a key factor in the change in thinking about when the first rate hikes may occur,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist in Lexington, Massachusetts, for IHS Inc. “There’s a huge differentiation in performance now. The frontrunners are speeding up.” Investors are starting to tune in to the end of synchronized monetary policy, with economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. saying shifts in hiring during the past eight months worked well as a simple predictor of rate expectations. The forward curves for the U.S. and U.K., which gauge investor expectations for rates, show the most-pronounced steepening as unemployment in both countries has fallen to the lowest levels in more than five years. By contrast, the euro-area’s 11.6% jobless rate remains close to a record 12% as investors bet its benchmark will stay low until at least 2016.

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Oh, exciting!

Draghi Faces German Hard Line on Avoiding Deflation (Bloomberg)

The deutsche mark is dead. Long live the deutsche mark. That’s the view from Germany’s central bank, which is resisting a weaker euro, introduced in 1999, and opposing the most aggressive strategies Mario Draghi could deploy to ignite growth in Europe, says Simon Derrick, chief market strategist at Bank of New York Mellon Corp. Derrick sees parallels with the early 1990s when Germany refused to surrender its hard money dogma even as it transmitted pain elsewhere. The 18-member euro area’s emergence from a two-year recession is proving sluggish, with inflation about a quarter of the ECB target and unemployment above 20% in Spain and Greece. Back in 1992, the U.K. was under German pressure to live with the high interest rates demanded by the Exchange Rate Mechanism, a slipway to the single currency, even if it punished the British economy.

In the end – and under fire from billionaire investor George Soros – the U.K. buckled. It allowed sterling to slump and interest rates to decline, paving the way for a 15-year expansion. In 1993, with France in recession, the Bundesbank was unwilling to accelerate rate cuts for fear that would harm the deutsche mark. By July, the need for a weaker franc persuaded meant Europe’s leaders to allow their currencies to trade more flexibly as they sought to keep the euro project alive. Fast forward to today: Germany’s intransigence is again in play as Draghi, the Italian president of the European Central Bank, mulls whether to enact quantitative easing to prevent deflation. He has cut interest rates to record lows and pledged fresh loans for banks last month to little effect so far.

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Super dollar!

China’s Terrifying Debt Ratios Poised To Breeze Past US Levels (AEP)

The China-US sorpasso is looming. I do not mean the much-exaggerated moment when China’s GDP will overtake America’s GDP – which may not happen in the lifetime of anybody reading this blog post – as China slows to more pedestrian growth rates (an objective of premier Li Keqiang.) The sorpasso may instead be the ominous moment when China’s debt ratios overtake the arch-debtor itself. I had presumed that this inflection point was still a very long way off, but a new report from Stephen Green at Standard Chartered argues that China’s aggregate debt level has reached 251% of GDP, as of June. This is up 20%age points of GDP since late 2013. The total is much higher than normal estimates, though it tallies with what I have heard privately from officials at the IMF and the BIS.

Mr Green – a highly-respected China veteran – includes total social financing (TSF), offshore cross-border bank borrowing (a story that we are going to hear a lot about), bond issuance, shadow banking of various kinds, and government debt. The ratio has risen by 100%age points of GDP over the last five years. As Fitch has argued out in the past, this is more than double the rise seen in Japan over the five years before the Nikkei bubble burst in 1990, or in the US before subprime blew up in 2007, or in Korea before the Asian financial crisis. It is the speed of the rise that worries credit rating agencies and regulators – including many at the Chinese central bank – as much as the volume itself. Though China is scary on both fronts. It has pushed debt to $26 trillion, more than the entire commercial banking systems of the US and Japan combined. The scale obviously has global ramifications. The FT’s Jamil Anderlini points out here that the figure is very high for an emerging economy.

Mature economies can handle a higher debt ratio for all kinds of reasons, not least because they have large assets to offset their liabilities. British figures of household debt look much more threatening than they really are because the debt is mostly for mortgages, and is balanced by high levels of equity and wealth. Total debt levels in the US are 260pc (if you assume that the Fed will never unwind QE, which I do). So unless the Politburo gets a grip very fast, and this too would be dangerous, it may catch the US by next year. This does not mean that China is about to crash. It has a state-controlled banking system. Therefore any bust scenario will play out in a different way, probably through much lower growth and two decades of Japanese-style extend and pretend. As the BIS implied in its annual report: almost the entire world has now been drawn into the Ponzi scheme of unsustainable debt. We can inflate some of it away, or we can deflate into defaults and creditor haircuts. Pick your poison.

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This is going so wrong…

China May Avoid Second Bond Default, Thanks To Bailout (MarketWatch)

China may avoid its second-ever corporate bond default due to a bailout by a local government, Chinese media said Tuesday. Huatong Road & Bridge Group, a privately held construction firm, said in a statement last week that it was uncertain whether it could pay the principal and interest on a 400-million-yuan ($64 million), 1-year bond when it reaches maturity on Wednesday. According to a 21st Century Business Herald report, the company had sent several tranches of funds “one after another” to the Shanghai Clearing House in order to cover the bond payment, but it was still short of the amount needed. However, the newspaper quoted an unamed source as saying that there was “no big problem” of a possible default, as the Shanxi provincial government appeared to have stepped in to coordinate the collection of company’s accounts receivable from local governments.

A possible default could harm concurrent efforts by the Shanxi government to convince the central bank to allow state-owned banks more lines of credit for investment projects in the province, the report quoted an expert as saying. Huatong Road & Bridge had cited the fact that its chairman, Wang Guorui, was under investigation in disclosing its financial troubles, according to the 21st Century Business Herald report. And while the company didn’t elaborate, the newspaper said Wang had been accused of illegal coal-mining activities. In March, Shanghai Chaori Solar Energy Science & Technology said it failed to make a full interest payment on a corporate bond it had issued, becoming the first onshore bond to default in China’s history.

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Well, that’s surprise.

China’s Net Forex Sales Suggests Capital Outflows (MarketWatch)

China’s central bank and financial institutions sold a net 88.28 billion yuan ($14.2 billion) of foreign currency in June, compared with a net purchase of 38.657 billion yuan in May, according to calculations by Dow Jones from central bank data. June is the first month of net sales after ten months of net purchases, suggesting capital started to flow out of China. The banking system’s foreign-currency purchase position totaled 29.45 trillion yuan at the end of June–lower than 29.54 trillion yuan at the end of May, People’s Bank of China data showed. The data include purchases and sales by commercial banks and other financial institutions but mostly reflect transactions by the central bank. Most analysts view the figures as a proxy for inflows and outflows of foreign capital as most foreign currency entering the country is generally sold to the central bank.

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Did you notice?

Everything In Your House Is Getting Cheaper To Buy (MarketWatch)

Maybe you haven’t noticed, but it’s a great time to buy all the things you need to fill up your house: Furniture, appliances, electronics, dishes and pots and pans. People tend to pay attention to the prices of things they buy all the time, like gasoline, milk and meat. But who can remember what it cost them the last time they bought a washing machine? Fortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does keep track. The BLS reported Tuesday that prices of consumer durable goods have fallen 1.5% in the past year, the steepest decline since the depths of the recession in 2009. This isn’t a new trend: The prices of durable goods have been falling pretty steadily since peaking in 1997, and now they are as cheap as they were in 1988, after adjusting for the constant improvements manufacturers have been making to their products. What’s striking is how pervasive the price declines are. It’s not just a few items that are pulling down the average; prices are falling for almost every sort of durable good that consumers buy.

Here are the latest numbers from the BLS: Prices of major appliances are down 7.9% in the past year, the largest decline on record. Laundry-equipment prices are down 8.6%. Furniture and bedding prices are down 2.5% in the past year. Window coverings, rugs and other linens are down 2.1%. Clocks and lamps are down 6.9%. TVs are down 15%. Audio-equipment prices are down 2.4%. Telephone-equipment prices are down 7.7%. Camera prices are down 6.7%. Dishes and flatware are down 6.3%. Cookware prices are down 4.7%. Computers are down 6.3%. Tools and other hardware prices are down 1.5%. Toys are down 6.5%. Sporting goods are down 1.3%. Jewelry prices are down 4.5%. Medical equipment prices are down 1.1%. New car prices are down 0.4%. Auto parts are down 1.2%.

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Yeah, but far too big to fail. $55 trillion in derivatives?!

Deutsche Bank Suffers From Litany of Reporting Problems (WSJ)

An examination by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that Deutsche Bank’s giant U.S. operations suffer from a litany of serious financial-reporting problems that the lender has known about for years but not fixed, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. In a letter to Deutsche Bank executives in December, a senior official with the New York Fed wrote that reports produced by some of the bank’s U.S. arms “are of low quality, inaccurate and unreliable. The size and breadth of errors strongly suggest that the firm’s entire U.S. regulatory reporting structure requires wide-ranging remedial action.”

The criticism from the New York Fed represents a rebuke to one of the world’s biggest banks, and it comes at a time when federal regulators say they are increasingly focused on the health of overseas lenders with substantial U.S. operations. The Dec. 11 letter, excerpts of which were reviewed by the Journal, said Deutsche Bank had made “no progress” at fixing previously identified problems. It said examiners found “material errors and poor data integrity” in its U.S. entities’ public filings, which are used by regulators, economists and investors to evaluate its operations. The problems ranged from data-entry errors to not taking into account the value of collateral when assessing the riskiness of loans.

The shortcomings amount to a “systemic breakdown” and “expose the firm to significant operational risk and misstated regulatory reports,” said the letter from Daniel Muccia, a New York Fed senior vice president responsible for supervising Deutsche Bank. The New York Fed has various tools at its disposal to address shortcomings by banks it regulates. It can issue private letters demanding action, as it did with Deutsche Bank, or, in more severe cases, impose restrictions on banks’ activities. The letter, which hasn’t been previously reported, ordered senior Deutsche Bank executives to ensure steps were taken to fix the problems. It also said the bank might have to restate some of the financial data it has submitted to regulators.

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Krugman? Still have to talk about him?

Krugman’s Latest Debt Denial: His Magic Numbers Don’t Cut It (Stockman)

Professor Krugman is at it again—–conjuring fairy tales about a benign long-term fiscal outlook. Notwithstanding that the public debt has surged from 40% to 75% of GDP during the six short years since 2008, he claims there is no reason to fret and that there is no debt spiral anywhere in the future. In part that’s because the Keynesian priesthood has declared that interest rates have down-shifted on a permanent basis. CBO has therefore dutifully incorporated this assumption into its long-term projections:

This (interest rate) markdown has the effect of making the budget outlook — which was already a lot less dire than conventional wisdom has it — look even less dire. But there’s a further point worth emphasizing: the CBO has just declared an end to the debt spiral.

Even accepting CBO’s “rosy scenario” outlook (see below), it’s not evident that it has declared an end to the debt spiral. In fact, it projects publicly-held treasury debt to soar from $12 trillion today to about $52 trillion by 2039. Most people would judge that a spiral. Indeed, as shown in the CBO graph below based on “current policy”, the public debt ratio is heading sharply upwards to more than 100% of GDP.

So how does professor Krugman turn this dismal chart into an “all clear” reassurance–when it actually shows public debt heading to above WWII levels at a time when the baby boom is at peak retirement? Well, it seems that Krugman unearthed two numbers in a 182 page report that purportedly render harmless the $52 trillion of bonds, notes and bills that CBO projects will need to find a home at the historically low interest rates it forecasts for the next 25 years.

So we turn to Table A-1 on page 104 of the CBO report, and we learn that for the next 25 years CBO projects an average interest rate on federal debt of 4.1 percent and an average growth rate of nominal GDP of 4.3 percent. And this means no debt spiral at all.

A GDP growth rate higher than the average carry cost of the public debt sounds all good, but here’s the thing. Given outcomes during the 21st century to date, there is simply no plausible reason to believe that nominal GDP can grow at a 4.3% CAGR for the next 25 years. In fact, since the pre-crisis peak in early 2008, nominal GDP has grown at only a 2.5% CAGR, and even during the last two years when “escape velocity” was expected any day, the compound growth rate has been only 3.0%. Indeed, during the entire 14 years of this century—encompassing nearly two complete business cycles – nominal GDP has expanded at just 3.8% per annum. Needless to say, when you are crystal balling a quarter century ahead, CAGRs make a big difference, and that’s profoundly true of the Federal budget. Specifically, revenue is highly sensitive to nominal GDP growth because it is always money income, not real GDP, that is on the radar screen of the tax-man.

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Oh well, at least Québec doesn’t look like the moon yet.

Alberta Oil Clout Dominating Canada’s Unbalanced Economy (Bloomberg)

In Canada’s economy there’s Alberta, and there’s everywhere else. The oil- and gas-rich western province was responsible for all of the country’s net employment growth over the past 12 months, adding 81,800 jobs while the rest of Canada lost 9,500. Alberta’s trade surplus, C$7.4 billion ($6.9 billion) in May, almost matched the deficit rung up everywhere else. If growth trends over the past decade continue, Alberta would pass Quebec to become the country’s second-largest provincial economy in three years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “Alberta is already by far the strongest province economically, and higher oil prices will only exacerbate the regional split,” Benjamin Reitzes, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto, said in a telephone interview.

Alberta’s growing power is doing more than putting energy ahead of manufacturing exports such as Ontario’s cars and Quebec’s aircraft. It’s drawing tens of thousands of young people to the province, seeking energy jobs with some of the country’s highest salaries. It’s also posing a challenge to policy makers: Oil wealth has led to a stronger Canadian dollar, squeezing Ontario and Quebec manufacturers. Canada’s central bank is keeping interest rates near historic lows, looking for a weaker currency to boost exports. “We see a two-track economy,” Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said at a July 16 press conference after his decision to extend the longest interest-rate pause since the 1950s. Canada’s non-energy exports have disappointed, he said, holding back growth. At the same time, “energy exports have indeed been quite strong and we expect that to be a continuing trend.”

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Export Land.

OPEC’s Two-Decade Ride on Global Growth Stalls (Bloomberg)

For the past two decades, growth in the global economy spelled higher revenues for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Not any more. The CHART OF THE DAY shows how last year was the first since 1993 that the value of OPEC’s total crude exports didn’t track the direction of global gross domestic product. The bottom panel shows how the group supplying about 40% of the world’s oil fetched lower average prices and also shipped fewer barrels year on year.

Production among OPEC’s 12 members fell 2.5% to average 31.6 million barrels a day last year, data from OPEC’s Annual Statistic Bulletin showed on July 18. Libya’s output slumped 31% amid political protests at oilfields and export terminals. Output from Iran, whose exports are subject to international sanctions, fell by 4.4%. The group’s members also consumed about 1% a day more domestically. “It’s three factors that have combined to give them, as they say, $100 billion less,” said Leo Drollas, an independent oil consultant in Athens and former chief economist at the Centre for Global Energy Studies. “The increase in the internal consumption, the slight fall in the price, and the fall in production in some members.”

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Jul 202014
 
 July 20, 2014  Posted by at 2:23 pm Finance Tagged with: , ,  


Clyde H. Sunderland PanAm ‘China Clipper’ (Martin M130 Flying Boat) over San Francisco July 22, 1936

Presumed innocent. Innocent until proven guilty. Reasonable doubt. How long ago it seems that these principles guided our societies. Perhaps there are a few courts in the heartland left that still live up to them, but the aftermath of 9/11 certainly erased them from the overall American conscience. Some animals are more equal than others, said Orwell in Animal Farm.

Guantanamo Bay showed that some people are far less equal than others, and laws that apply to everyone else don’t apply to them. That, somewhat ironically, is probably the case at the other end, the upper echelons of society, as well, judging from the – lack of – numbers of persecuted bankers.

What’s unfolding now, in the wake of flight MH17, looks more like Saddam Hussein 2.0 than anything else. Seems like all we need to do is wait for Colin Powell to bring the ‘evidence’ to the UN. And for someone in the White House to bring up some more known unknowns. Behind the scenes, of course, Saddam 1.0 was about oil, and so is 2.0.

At least 193 of the 298 people (that’s two thirds) who died in the Malaysia Airlines plane crash had the Dutch nationality. The Dutch government makes sure not to point fingers until it has proof. This restraint represents a matter of respect for the victims and their families and friends. No false flags, no false accusations. As you may know, this is my country of birth, to which I’ve also temporarily returned, and I can assure you this is a devastated nation. To make a cruel comparison: the US population is almost 20 times that of Holland, which means that on a relative basis, many more Dutch nationals died than did Americans in 9/11.

The US, which apparently found one dual citizenship American on the plane after looking hard, doesn’t know any such restraint, and hence no such respect. Nor does the UK. Do we detect a pattern? Are we once again allegedly sure that someone possesses something they in reality don’t? Do we repeat our own mistakes, do we forget our follies, that easily?

One things that seems obvious is that the plane was hit by a projectile of some sort. Obama claims US intelligence says it was fired from the ground, but he offered no proof. Reasonable doubt. He also said it came from territory held by ‘separatists’, by again no proof. Reasonable doubt. Everybody and their aunt claims the separatists fired the projectile, but again no proof. Reasonable doubt. Some even say Putin must have supplied the projectile plus the launch installation, but we’re just getting further away from proof all the time. Reasonable doubt. We’re solidly into suspicions and presumptions, edged on by political agendas, and, again, that is highly disrespectful to victims and loved ones.

One source says the separatists have maybe one launch installation for a BUK ‘surface to air’ rocket, and it may well not be in working order. The separatists took one from the Ukraine army some three weeks ago, and that army at the time said it was broken. That same Ukraine army, meanwhile, is reported to possess 60 of these launch installations. Of which they may have recently transported a number into east Ukraine.

Who fired the thing? We don’t know. So why can’t Obama and David Cameron bring themselves to admit they don’t know? Is that for the same reasons Blair and Bush claimed to be sure Saddam had WMD?

As much as I feel for, and mourn with, the victims of this tragedy, I still want to emphasize to myself that this is a tragedy. I refuse to believe for now that either the separatists or the Ukrainian army (or a third party) deliberately shot a civilian plane out of the sky. Why should they? Does the army want to play the false flag card so much they would do it, just to then blame the separatists? Would the latter do it? They seem to have nothing to gain whatsoever, quite the contrary. Putin? Let’s get serious.

Don’t let’s forget that far more than 298 people have been killed by the Ukrainian army in its quest to ‘eradicate’ the separatists. Even if that has so far happened largely under the western media radar. There’s still an army, and a government, and a newly elected president, waging a very bloody war against people with the same nationality as they have, inside their own country. The president may have been elected somewhat democratically, though east Ukraine refused to vote, but the – rest of the – government is still the same bunch that was installed by the US – Victoria Nuland, Jeff Pyatt – after the Maidan riots ousted elected president Yanukovich.

And in between all the allegations of Putin supplying arms to the separatists, a few things are missing. Putin cannot withdraw his support, whichever form it may have taken, because the risk of a genocide among Russian speaking people in east Ukraine is very real. Russia as a nation recognizes the moral obligation to protect those Russians who were cut off from Moscow when the Soviet Union fell and many new nations were formed from its ashes.

Yulia Tymoshenko, who may have lost the elections but remains a formidable force in Ukraine, has called multiple times for her Russian speaking compatriots to be eradicated, burned, and nuked. Kiev, time and again, and despite their Ukraine passports, labels the separatists terrorists. Because with terrorists you can do what you want. Cue Gitmo.

A second thing missing in translation is that the Ukraine army, despite the talk of Putin arming the other side, is much better armed. Where do they get their weapons? Who finances them? And who fights on their side? We know that there has been, and likely still is, input and cooperation from the likes of the CIA, Blackwater/Academi, right wing extreme government party Svoboda, and other – to our western view unsavory – elements.

The OSCE reports that in June and July, in the city of Lugansk alone, the Ukraine army and its helpers have killed 250 civilians and wounded 850, and that’s not including people living close to combat zones. East Ukraine has been under heavy fire since February, thousands of people have died, and we feign surprise that the separatists are suspicious of everything and everybody connected to the US and EU? And Putin has to withdraw his support for the rebels so west Ukraine, with our support, can finish off the remaining 4.5 million Russian speaking people in the east?

What are we going to do if it becomes clear that it wasn’t the rebels who shot down MH17, but the Ukraine army “we” support? Or maybe we should ask another question: what are the odds that we will ever find out what really happened? Both Russia and the US have tons of equipment monitoring the area, and it’s not likely that both don’t have a huge amount of additional information on the crash that for reasons we don’t know, they haven’t released to date.

One thing we do know is that the SBU, the Ukraine Security Service, has confiscated the taped conversations between the plane and air traffic control, which could clarify a lot about what happened, and taken them to an undisclosed location. The same SBU that has released – among many other ‘findings’ – a series of audio conversations it alleges are between various ‘separatists’, and which paint a damning portrait that strongly suggests they were responsible for downing the plane. But again, that sort of thing is easily fabricated, so no proof.

Reasonable doubt. That’s how you show respect. For victims, for loved ones, for democracy and for justice. From where I’m sitting, which happens to be Holland, far too many amongst us show neither such respect nor doubt nor reason. You would think and hope that 298 dead bodies deserve more than to be reduced to pawns in infantile blame games. They deserve that we should be better than that.

US Macro Suffers Longest Streak Of Weakness Since Lehman (Zero Hedge)

Despite the best efforts of The Fed, its apologists, and the commission-taking talking-heads to persuade the world that the US economy is picking up and set to reach escape velocity any minute… the fact is, the US economy (judged on data not fantasy) is hurting. Consensus expectations for 2014 US GDP growth have collapsed from over 3.00% to a mere 1.7% now. But what is more critical is the incessant bleating that data is picking up and suggests a 2nd half recovery… it doesn’t. US Macro surprise data has been negative for over 21 weeks… the longest such spell of disappointment since Lehman. A glance at the chart also shows something odd… US macro normally cycles back into the positive after dipping negative… as over-pessimism rotates to over-optimism – but this time the ‘bounce’ from over-pessimism failed in May. US macro surprise data is considerably weaker than last year.

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World GDP Hopes Are Collapsing (Zero Hedge)

Presented with no comment (except to note how different the “fact” in this chart is from the “fantasy” we hear spewed day after day about ‘recovery’ in the world’s economy)…

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Flint Manager Warns of Bankruptcy Over Retiree Cost (Bloomberg)

Flint may be Michigan’s second city to plunge into bankruptcy unless retirees accept cuts in health benefits that threaten to unravel a balanced budget, emergency manager Darnell Earley said. The specter intensifies the conflict over finances in the city of 100,000, which twice has been under state control. Like Detroit, which in 2013 filed the largest U.S. municipal bankruptcy, Flint has struggled with loss of population, jobs and revenue. The birthplace of General Motors has only half its population of 1960. “If we have no ability to mitigate the cost of retiree health care, that’s going to make it very difficult for the city to remain financially stable over the next few years,” Earley said in an interview at City Hall.

Without changes, retiree pension and health expenses would consume 32 percent of the $55 million general fund. As Detroit draws worldwide attention for its record $18 billion bankruptcy, Flint demonstrates the plight of U.S. cities where unfunded post-retirement costs rival or exceed pension liabilities. In Michigan alone in 2011, municipalities had nearly $13 billion in health-care liabilities for retirees, compared with about $3 billion for pensions. Flint is among 17 cities and school districts under some form of state control. “If Flint were to go to bankruptcy, that would highlight that this legacy-cost problem has to be addressed more globally,” said Eric Scorsone, a Michigan State University economist.

“Flint’s at the forefront, but a lot of cities are on the same train, and that train is headed for the cliff.” Michigan emergency managers have sweeping authority over their municipalities’ finances and structure, with power to reorganize, hire and to change union contracts. If Earley determined the city couldn’t pay for its liabilities and sustain services, he could recommend to Republican Governor Rick Snyder that the city file for court protection. “Bankruptcy is a point in the law, and it’s my duty to explore that if it appears we’re not going to be able to make it any other way,” he said. “Whether it’s the absolute next step or not, I can’t say. It would have to be explored. It’s in the law for a reason.”

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Fix Farms In A Few Countries And Feed 3 Billion More People (New Scientist)

Give us the right levers and we shall feed the world. The lion’s share of the world’s food production problems stem from just a handful of countries. If we could concentrate on these problem areas, we could potentially feed 3 billion more people and massively reduce the environmental damage from farming. “The way we’re growing agriculture right now is totally not sustainable,” says Paul West of the University of Minnesota in St Paul. West and his colleagues looked for “leverage points”: areas with the most potential to change how we grow food. They focused on the 17 crops that represent 86% of the world’s crop calories, and consume the most water and fertiliser. “They’re taking a high-altitude view of all the possible points that need to be made if we’re going to feed a planet full of people,” says Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California. “It’s incredibly valuable to have that all in one place.”

West’s study suggests three fundamental areas where we can boost food production sustainably: increasing yields from unproductive farms, decreasing the waste of precious resources like water, and changing how we eat. He also identified the parts of the world where we could get the most bang for our buck (see map, below). First, we need to get more food from existing farms. West identified regions where yields are far too low, mostly in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe. He estimates that boosting yields in those areas to just 50% of the optimum could feed 850 million more people. Next, crops need to be grown more in a more environmentally friendly way. That means cutting greenhouse gas emissions – variously from deforestation, livestock, rice paddies and fertiliser use – while also wasting less water on unnecessary irrigation, and stopping the overuse of fertilisers, which causes water pollution.

The countries responsible for the most environmental damage in the way they farm are China, India, the US, Brazil, Indonesia, and Pakistan. And finally, we need to waste less food. Nearly 30 to 50% of food currently goes to waste. In theory, West says, eliminating all such waste in the US, India and China alone could provide enough food to feed 413 million more people per year. The problem of food waste is made worse by our increasing consumption of meat. Only 51% of crop production is used to feed people, and that figure is dropping. Most of the rest is used to feed animals, which wastes a proportion of calories in crops and so cuts the net amount of food available to people. As a result, letting a kilogram of beef go off, for example, squanders 24 times as many calories as wasting a kilogram of wheat. “Not all food waste is created equal,” says West. He says we should all eat less meat, pointing out that crops used for animal feed in the US, China, western Europe and Brazil could feed 2.4 billion people.

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California Poised To Shut Down 11 Local Oil Injection Wells (Bakersfield)

Seven independent oil companies have been ordered to halt state-approved wastewater injection work starting noon Monday out of concern they may be contaminating Kern County drinking water. Emergency orders issued Wednesday by the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources apply to 11 disposal wells east and northeast of Bakersfield. About 100 water wells are located within a mile radius of the disposal wells. Oil and water officials say the wells may have injected “produced water” – the toxic and sometimes radioactive liquid that comes up during oil production – and possibly injected fracking fluid at relatively shallow depths that contain relatively low salinity, oil-free water suitable for drinking and irrigation. State officials said they have found no evidence the underground injections, some approved by DOGGR as long ago as the 1970s and others very recently, have ever contaminated drinking or irrigation water.

Pollution has not been ruled out, however, as regulators conduct site inspections and await test results and other information from the companies. DOGGR’s action has come amid a year-old crackdown on industry practices for disposing of oil field fluids. But the orders are distinct in that recent scrutiny has originated with regional water officials focused not on injection wells but oil companies’ misuse of unlined sumps and drilling pits. There is an added sensitivity because agricultural water users and others are drilling ever-deeper wells to cope with the drought. “We need to make sure that the water that they’re going after, if it’s potable now, let’s make sure that it stays that way and we’re not injecting produced water,” said Jason Marshall, chief deputy director of DOGGR’s parent agency, the state Department of Conservation.

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California Halts Injection of Fracking Waste (ProPublica)

California officials have ordered an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites and a review more than 100 others in the state’s drought-wracked Central Valley out of fear that companies may have been pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers there. The state’s Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources on July 7 issued cease and desist orders to seven energy companies warning that they may be injecting their waste into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water, and stating that their waste disposal “poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources.” The orders were first reported by the Bakersfield Californian, and the state has confirmed with ProPublica that its investigation is expanding to look at additional wells. The action comes as California’s agriculture industry copes with a drought crisis that has emptied reservoirs and cost the state $2.2 billion this year alone.

The lack of water has forced farmers across the state to supplement their water supply from underground aquifers, according to a study released this week by the University of California Davis. The problem is that at least 100 of the state’s aquifers were presumed to be useless for drinking and farming because the water was either of poor quality, or too deep underground to easily access. Years ago, the state exempted them from environmental protection and allowed the oil and gas industry to intentionally pollute them. But not all aquifers are exempted, and the system amounts to a patchwork of protected and unprotected water resources deep underground. Now, according to the cease and desist orders issued by the state, it appears that at least seven injection wells are likely pumping waste into fresh water aquifers protected by the law, and not other aquifers sacrificed by the state long ago.

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