Apr 032018
 


Vincent van Gogh Field with Irises near Arles 1888

 

Stocks’ Second-Quarter Start Is the Worst Since the Great Depression (BBG)
Stocks Lose Critical Buyer at Worst Time (BBG)
Rising Rates Sounding Alarm Bells for Debt-Laden US Consumers (BBG)
China’s State-Owned Banks Told To Stop Local Government Loans (SCMP)
Chinese Families Are Racking Up Debt On An Unprecedented Scale (SCMP)
Young Lose Out In Britain’s Housing Wealth Boom (Times)
Swedes Turn Against Cashlessness (G.)
Bernie Sanders Agrees With Trump: Amazon Has Too Much Power (NW)
German Prosecutors Ask Court To Extradite Carles Puigdemont To Spain (G.)
The Peril of Psychographics (New Yorker)
Erdogan ‘Has Gone Completely Crazy’ – Greek Defense Minister (K.)
Greek Confiscations Target State Debtors With Small Arrears (K.)
‘Sentinel’ Dolphins Die in Brazil Bay. Some Worry a Way of Life Has, Too (NYT)
Underwater Melting Of Antarctic Ice Far Greater Than Thought (G.)

 

 

How’s that for a headline?

Stocks’ Second-Quarter Start Is the Worst Since the Great Depression (BBG)

If you feel like the second quarter began badly, you’d be right. U.S. stocks had their worst April start since 1929, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The S&P 500 index slumped 2.2%, a rout exceeded only by its 2.5% decline 89 years ago, a prelude to the devastating crash later that year that brought on the Great Depression. (Back then, the index only comprised 90 stocks.) China’s retaliatory trade tariffs combined with President Donald Trump’s criticism of Amazon.com Inc. to send equities into a tailspin Monday.

Shares in the online retailer tumbled, encouraging a sell-off in consumer discretionary and technology stocks. The S&P 500 closed below its 200-day moving average – a key technical support – and volatility climbed. The stock slide also looked pretty bad when compared to the beginning of other quarters. Equities lost more than on any other quarterly first day since October 2011, when stocks plummeted 2.8%, Bloomberg data show.

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Is there a buyback blackout? Or, better question: should stocks depend on buybacks to such an extent?

Stocks Lose Critical Buyer at Worst Time (BBG)

The stock market’s missing a key participant as the second quarter kicks off with a rout. Corporate America is stuck on the sidelines as the S&P 500 Index plunges to its lowest level since early February. That’s to comply with regulations under which companies refrain from discretionary stock buybacks for about five weeks before reporting earnings through the 48 hours that follow. So, with first-quarter reporting season kicking into high gear in two weeks, companies must sit on their hands while the market fizzles. The timing of discretionary buybacks has gained traction in recent years with corporate appetite dwarfing all other investors as the biggest source of demand for U.S. stocks. Strategists such as Goldman Sachs’s David Kostin have pointed out that it’s no coincidence the late-January selloff occurred during a blackout period.

S&P 500 firms have bought back almost $4 trillion of their own shares since the bull market began nine years ago, data compiled by S&P Dow Jones Indices show. That demand helped mitigate damage in early February when stocks tumbled into the first correction in two years. Goldman Sachs’ buyback desk had its busiest week ever during the rout and companies were called “basically the only buyers.” Volume in S&P 500 stocks was about 7% above the 30-day average Monday. Not everyone agrees that the buyback blackout is partly to blame for Monday’s selloff. According to Marko Kolanovic, JPMorgan’s global head of quantitative and derivative strategy, the majority of buybacks are usually done through preset programs that are not subject to blackout.

Moreover, stocks typically go up more when repurchases are announced than when the transactions actually occur. “The whole story about blackout is misconception,” Kolanovic wrote in an email. So, what could be behind the selloff? Kolanovic’s team last week attributed the recent downturn to an “irrational response” to global trade tensions. The S&P 500 is trading at below-average valuations even as earnings growth is picking up, a sign that any weakness would be worth buying, the strategists wrote in a March 27 note.

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“..an estimated $350 trillion of contracts are based on Libor..”

Rising Rates Sounding Alarm Bells for Debt-Laden US Consumers (BBG)

A healthy economy can be a dangerous thing. Americans have a history of loading up on debt in good times, then paying dearly when the bills come due. Adding to the pain: A booming economy is often accompanied by rising interest rates, which make mortgages, credit cards and other debt much more expensive. As the U.S. Federal Reserve raises rates, there are signs that consumers could be putting themselves in peril. “When consumers are confident, or over-confident, is when they get into credit-card trouble,” said Todd Christensen at Debt Reduction Services in Boise, Idaho. The nonprofit credit counseling service has seen a noticeable uptick in people looking for help with their debt, he said.

Spending on U.S. general purpose credit cards surged 9.4% last year, to $3.5 trillion, according to industry newsletter Nilson Report. Card delinquencies are also rising. U.S. household debt climbed in the fourth quarter at the fastest pace since 2007, according to the Federal Reserve. “There are warning signs out there,” said Kevin Morrison, senior analyst at the Aite Group. Especially concerning is a surge in student and auto loans over the past decade, he said. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve is steadily hiking rates, most recently on March 21 when the federal funds rate rose a quarter point to a target range of 1.5% to 1.75%.

Libor, a benchmark rate the world’s biggest banks charge each other, is also on the rise. The 3-month Libor reached 2.3% last week, the highest since November 2008. That could be a problem for companies, especially those with lower credit ratings, looking to refinance debt. Overall, an estimated $350 trillion of contracts are based on Libor, according to its administrator, ICE.

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So the shadow banks can take over?

China’s State-Owned Banks Told To Stop Local Government Loans (SCMP)

The central Chinese government has sent a blunt message intended to dissolve the marriage between banks and local governments, the nexus in China’s debt-fuelled growth model. In a directive full of “must nots”and “shalls” posted on its website last week, China’s Ministry of Finance, under the newly appointed minister Liu Kun, told state-owned financial institutions not to provide any funding to local governments, with the exception of buying government bonds. At the first meeting of the Central Economic and Financial Commission, the supreme economic decision making body headed by Xi Jinping on Monday, the Chinese president said local governments and state-owned enterprises must cut debt further.

China’s state-owned banks were told to check the registered capital of projects sponsored by local authorities, to appraise borrowers’ real repayment capabilities and not to accept local government’s guarantees for repayment or return, according to the ministry’s directive. Banks “must not provide any form of funding directly to local governmental departments or directly via local state-owned enterprises and institutions” and “must not increase new loans to local government financing vehicles irregularly”, according to the notice. It added that banks must not lend any money to local governments to be used as capital in projects, government investment funds or public-private partnership projects, it added.

Yin Zhongqing, deputy director of the financial and economic affairs committee at the National People’s Congress, told the South China Morning Post last month that at least 20 trillion yuan of “hidden debt” had been accumulated in the past three years. The national institution of finance and development under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences last week estimated the total liabilities of local government financing vehicles was 30 trillion yuan, while another 10 trillion yuan of debt could be buried in public-private partnerships.

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“A man with a 50,000 yuan debt is responsible; 200,000 yuan of debt is financially savvy; 1 million yuan of debt is a homeowner; 10 million yuan of debt is classy; and a 1 billion yuan debt is chairman of a listed company … if you don’t have any debt, you must be a total loser.”

Chinese Families Are Racking Up Debt On An Unprecedented Scale (SCMP)

Chinese families with their long tradition of saving money are now accumulating debt at a rate never been seen before, according to data compiled by a state-backed think tank in Beijing. But the National Institution for Finance and Development also said mounting debt was not a concern because Chinese households still had far more savings than debts. The country’s household leverage ratio – or the ratio between debt incurred by families and GDP – surged to 49% at the end of last year from 17.9% at the end of 2008, going up about 3.5 percentage points annually, the think tank said in a report released on Thursday.

So in the period from 1993, when the data became available, to 2008, the household debt ratio went from 8.3% to 17.9%, with an annual rise of 0.65 percentage points. But in 2016 and 2017, that annual increase accelerated to about 4.9 percentage points, the think tank said. The rapid accumulation of household debt was the biggest factor behind the rise in China’s overall leverage last year, as the corporate sector’s debt ratio fell and local government borrowing was reined in, at least on the surface, it said.

Liu Lei, a researcher with the think tank, said at a briefing on Thursday that real household debt could be “8 percentage points” higher if special housing funds, peer-to-peer lending programmes and private micro loans were factored in. In August, Shanghai-based brokerage Haitong Securities said in a report that while China’s actual household debt ratio was not high compared to many developed countries such as the US and UK, its rate of increase was dangerous. “It took 40 years for the household debt ratio in the US to rise from a level of 20% to about 50%, but it took only less than 10 years in China,” according to the Haitong economists led by Jiang Chao.

[..] China’s excessive money printing in the last decade and skyrocketing property prices have benefited those who maximised their leverage to buy real estate, while the country’s savers bore the brunt of monetary easing, leading to a dramatic shift in attitude on saving versus borrowing. That change in attitude can be seen in a popular saying widely circulated on Chinese social media in recent years: “A man with a 50,000 yuan debt is responsible; 200,000 yuan of debt is financially savvy; 1 million yuan of debt is a homeowner; 10 million yuan of debt is classy; and a 1 billion yuan debt is chairman of a listed company … if you don’t have any debt, you must be a total loser.”

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There’s so much wrong here, where to begin? Get out while you can.

Young Lose Out In Britain’s Housing Wealth Boom (Times)

Three quarters of housing wealth in Britain is held by the over-50s, according to research revealing the generational divide in the property market. Such homeowners hold £2.8 trillion of equity. The over-65s own 43 per cent of housing wealth, £1.6 trillion, the study by the estate agent Savills found. Lawrence Bowles, a research analyst at the company, said: “The extent to which wealth is concentrated in older hands is something we have not seen in a long time.” Owners have piled up equity by living longer, paying off their mortgages and watching as prices grew steadily in the final decades of the last century. “It is looking likely that we will see more people downsizing in order to free up that equity,” Mr Bowles said.

At the other end of the spectrum, homeowners under 35 hold just £221 billion of equity but owe £223 billion in mortgage debt. This age group holds £6 of equity in every £100 compared with £75 held by their parents. First-time buyers face prices that are 5.2 times higher than average incomes, while in London prices are about 14 times higher than average earnings. In most regions, it takes about eight years for the typical first-time buyer to save a deposit. This rises to nine years in the southeast and to nearly ten in London, where the average 20 per cent deposit is now above £80,000.

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“If Putin invades…”

Swedes Turn Against Cashlessness (G.)

It is hard to argue that you cannot trust the government when the government isn’t really all that bad. This is the problem facing the small but growing number of Swedes anxious about their country’s rush to embrace a cash-free society. Most consumers already say they manage without cash altogether, while shops and cafes increasingly refuse to accept notes and coins because of the costs and risk involved. Until recently, however, it has been hard for critics to find a hearing. “The Swedish government is a rather nice one, we have been lucky enough to have mostly nice ones for the past 100 years,” says Christian Engström, a former MEP for the Pirate Party and an early opponent of the cashless economy.

“In other countries there is much more awareness that you cannot trust the government all the time. In Sweden it is hard to get people mobilised.” There are signs this might be changing. In February, the head of Sweden’s central bank warned that Sweden could soon face a situation where all payments were controlled by private sector banks. The Riksbank governor, Stefan Ingves, called for new legislation to secure public control over the payments system, arguing that being able to make and receive payments is a “collective good” like defence, the courts, or public statistics. “Most citizens would feel uncomfortable to surrender these social functions to private companies,” he said. “It should be obvious that Sweden’s preparedness would be weakened if, in a serious crisis or war, we had not decided in advance how households and companies would pay for fuel, supplies and other necessities.”

The central bank governor’s remarks are helping to bring other concerns about a cash-free society into the mainstream, says Björn Eriksson, 72, a former national police commissioner and the leader of a group called the Cash Rebellion, or Kontantupproret. Until now, Kontantupproret has been dismissed as the voice of the elderly and the technologically backward, Eriksson says. “When you have a fully digital system you have no weapon to defend yourself if someone turns it off,” he says. “If Putin invades Gotland [Sweden’s largest island] it will be enough for him to turn off the payments system. No other country would even think about taking these sorts of risks, they would demand some sort of analogue system.”

In this sense, Sweden is far from its famous concept of lagom – “just the right amount” – but instead is “100% extreme”, Eriksson says, by investing so much faith in the banks. “This is a political question. We are leaving these decisions to four major banks who form a monopoly in Sweden.”

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A few days ago Elizabeth Warren agreed with Trump on China, now Sanders agrees about Amazon. What’s happening to the world?

Bernie Sanders Agrees With Trump: Amazon Has Too Much Power (NW)

Independent Vermont senator and 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders echoed President Donald Trump in expressing concern about retail giant Amazon. Sanders said that he felt Amazon had gotten too big on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, and added that Amazon’s place in society should be examined. “And I think this is, look, this is an issue that has got to be looked at. What we are seeing all over this country is the decline in retail. We’re seeing this incredibly large company getting involved in almost every area of commerce. And I think it is important to take a look at the power and influence that Amazon has,” said Sanders. The senator’s comments came on the heels of a number of tweets from Trump, who has long criticized the online retailer.

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WIll Europe start chasing elected politicians?

German Prosecutors Ask Court To Extradite Carles Puigdemont To Spain (G.)

German prosecutors have asked a court to permit the extradition of former Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont to Spain. Prosecutors in the northern town of Schleswig said on Tuesday they have submitted a request to the regional court following “intensive examination” of the European arrest warrant issued by Spain. Puigdemont has been detained in Germany since 25 March. Spain accuses the 55-year-old of rebellion in organising an unauthorised referendum. The Schleswig court is likely to take several days to decide whether to extradite Puigdemont. His lawyers have urged the German government to intervene in the case, citing the “political dimension.”

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Just stop collecting the data. Problem solved.

The Peril of Psychographics (New Yorker)

In September, 2016, Alexander Nix, the C.E.O. of Cambridge Analytica, the data and messaging company that was working at the time with Donald Trump’s supposedly flagging Presidential campaign, explained his firm’s work like this: “If you know the personality of the people you’re targeting, you can nuance your messaging to resonate more effectively with those key audience groups.” The fancy term for this is psychographic targeting. A few weeks later, Trump won the Presidency, against all odds and predictions, sending political operatives and journalists scrambling for explanations. “There was a huge demand internally for people to see how we did it,” Brittany Kaiser, Cambridge Analytica’s former business-development director, told the Guardian last Friday. “Everyone wanted to know: past clients, future clients.”

Whether Cambridge Analytica’s targeting work actually swayed the outcome of the election has been a subject of debate since then—because the firm’s record is spotty, psychographic targeting in political campaigns is a relatively new concept, and it has not yet been definitely shown that C.A. successfully used these methods on behalf of Trump’s campaign. Christopher Wylie, the former C.A. employee who recently came forward to detail how the company improperly acquired personal data from fifty million Facebook users, has said that the company used that data to create a “psychological warfare mindfuck tool.”

But Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University researcher who provided the company with the Facebook data, has described it as “not that accurate at the individual level.” Kogan’s conclusion tracks with research that has been done by the U.K.-based Online Privacy Foundation, whose research director, Chris Sumner, recently told me that psychographics are much more accurate for groups rather than individual people.

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The US and France are turning their backs on Turkey. Feel emboldened by that?

Erdogan ‘Has Gone Completely Crazy’ – Greek Defense Minister (K.)

Raising the incendiary rhetoric another notch, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos lashed out against Recep Tayyip Erdogan Monday, saying that the Turkish president “has gone completely crazy.” Speaking to journalists outside the Parliament in Athens about the fate of the two Greek soldiers held in Turkey and Ankara’s provocations in the Aegean, Kammenos said there are no lines of communication with Erdogan. “We’re talking about Erdogan, who goes out and publicly insults the US and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” he said, adding that “Turkey has no courts while its justice system works under the orders of the sultan [Erdogan].”

The two soldiers, he said, could, under these circumstances, be held there for 15 years. “You cannot answer to a madman,” he said, referring to the Turkish leader. The two soldiers have been held for a month in Turkey without any charges being brought against them yet. Kammenos, who is also the leader of the right-wing junior coalition partner, Independent Greeks (ANEL), said Turkish authorities have so far found nothing to prosecute the two soldiers but warned of a worst-case scenario reminiscent of the film “Midnight Express,” based on the travails of an American who served time in a Turkish prison in the 1970s.

“If you watch ‘Midnight Express,’ you will see that they kept on making up charges against him,” he said, adding that “nothing works democratically there [Turkey].” He also expressed concern that an incident could occur in the Aegean. “They may want to provoke this but you must know that the Turkish military is in a dire state at this moment,” he said, adding that, for its part, Greece “is ready.” He clarified that Greece will not take the bait but noted that if Turkey violates Greek national sovereignty, then “we will respond as we should.”

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On the poorest in Greece: “..the state conducted 1.72 million confiscations of salaries, pensions and rent payments last year..”

See, the poor owe €1.2 billion. 40,000 rich individuals and companies owe €90 billion.

Greek Confiscations Target State Debtors With Small Arrears (K.)

Over 3.3 million taxpayers owe the tax authorities amounts of less than 3,000 euros each. According to figures published by the Independent Authority for Public Revenue, the state conducted 1.72 million confiscations of salaries, pensions and rent payments last year, mostly concerning small debtors. Debtors owing up to 3,000 euros account for 80.5% of all debtors, and they owe 1.2 billion euros. These debts were run up in recent years and mainly stem from failure to pay income tax and the Single Property Tax (ENFIA), whereas bigger debts to the tax authorities concern 40,000 individuals and companies and add up to 90 billion euros, originating from fines and activated guarantees. It is quite impressive that the number of state debtors has increased by some 3 million in the years of the financial crisis, climbing from 1 million in 2010 to 4.1 million today.

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“Nostalgia aside..” Nostalgia? What? Nostalgic for life? When everything’s dead, we go and be nostalgic?

‘Sentinel’ Dolphins Die in Brazil Bay. Some Worry a Way of Life Has, Too (NYT)

Something ominous was happening in the turquoise waters of Sepetiba Bay, a booming port outside Rio de Janeiro. Beginning late last year, fishermen were coming across the scarred and emaciated carcasses of dolphins, sometimes five a day, bobbing up to the surface. Since then, scientists there have discovered more than 200 dead Guiana dolphins, or Sotalia guianensis, a quarter of what was the world’s largest concentration of the species. The deaths, caused by respiratory and nervous system failures linked to a virus, have subsided, but scientists are working to unravel the mystery behind them. How, they ask, did a virus that might ordinarily have claimed a handful of dolphins end up killing scores of them?

And does part of the answer, scientists and local residents ask, lie in the bay itself, at once a testament to Brazil’s economic power and a portent of environmental risk. The dolphins are “sentinels,” said Mariana Alonso, a biologist at the Biophysics Institute at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, one of a number groups working to understand the epidemic. “When something is wrong with them, that indicates the whole ecosystem is fractured.” [..] Sepetiba Bay, 40 miles west of downtown Rio, became one of the principal gateways for Brazilian exports over the past generation. In 2017, 39 million tons of iron ore and other commodities shipped from there.

The wooden fishing boats that crisscross the bay now weave around massive merchant ships loaded with iron and steel. Though people still swim in its waters, four ports and a constellation of chemical, steel and manufacturing plants have risen on its shores. One of world’s most prominent iron ore producers, Vale, occupies a new terminal in an old fishing spot on nearby Guaiba Island. “When I was a child, buffalo roamed the farms around my village, and we had apples and coconuts,” said Cleyton Ferreira Figueiredo, 28, a convenience store cashier who, nostalgia aside, also sees advantages in the development. “Now everything is more urban, with schools and facilities. There are more jobs, and it takes me 15 minutes to get home when I finish.”

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A little scary.

Underwater Melting Of Antarctic Ice Far Greater Than Thought (G.)

Hidden underwater melt-off in the Antarctic is doubling every 20 years and could soon overtake Greenland to become the biggest source of sea-level rise, according to the first complete underwater map of the world’s largest body of ice. Warming waters have caused the base of ice near the ocean floor around the south pole to shrink by 1,463 square kilometres – an area the size of Greater London – between 2010 and 2016, according to . The research by the at the University of Leeds suggests climate change is affecting the Antarctic more than previously believed and is likely to prompt global projections of sea-level rise to be revised upward.

Until recently, the Antarctic was seen as relatively stable. Viewed from above, the extent of land and sea ice in the far south has not changed as dramatically as in the far north. But the new study found even a small increase in temperature has been enough to cause a loss of five metres every year from the bottom edge of the ice sheet, some of which is more than 2km underwater. “What’s happening is that Antarctica is being melted away at its base. We can’t see it, because it’s happening below the sea surface,” said Professor Andrew Shepherd, one of the authors of the paper. “The changes mean that very soon the sea-level contribution from Antarctica could outstrip that from Greenland.”

The study measures the Antarctic’s “grounding line” – the bottommost edge of the ice sheet across 16,000km of coastline. This is done by using elevation data from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 and applying Archimedes’s principle of buoyancy, which relates the thickness of floating ice to the height of its surface.

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Jan 152017
 
 January 15, 2017  Posted by at 11:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle January 15 2017


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

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

 

 

Something will happen though. And it should.

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

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

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When left became right.

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

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

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

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

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

Americans Overwhelmingly Support Bernie Sanders’ Economic Policies (Salon)

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

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

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

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

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Go Tulsi.

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

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

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Too good to skip.

We Are Getting Worried About Paul Krugman (ZH)

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

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

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

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

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I picked 3.

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Checked your account at the karma bank lately?

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

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

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

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

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Sep 132016
 
 September 13, 2016  Posted by at 1:36 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


The Statue of Liberty in Paris, outside Bartholdi’s workshop 1884

 

 

Whenever I bring up something Hillary Clinton has done or failed to do, there are always people who react with a “Yes, but Trump did so and so…!” reflex. I’d like to get that out of the way first of all, because it distorts the conversation to no end. Criticism of Hillary does not equal support for Trump. Suggesting that it does is insulting.

I do not think it’s a good idea for Trump to become president. But that does not mean it’s a better idea for Hillary to be inaugurated. In fact, there’s something to be said for the argument that if you have to choose between two really bad options, pick the worst in order get it over with faster. The problem with that, in turn, is that in this case it’s hard to determine which of the two is worse.

 

 

I’ve had an article in progress on my desktop for weeks, with the (work-)title “Hillary Is Not Electable”. Never finished it until now because there was always 1) lots of work on other things, and 2) a daily stream of new Hillary files that looked like they should be included (I have dozens of them open in a browser).

But then over the weekend, just after I had asked readers of the Automatic Earth Facebook page what they thought the odds were that Hillary would drop out of the presidential race citing health factors, I saw Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, tweet: “Hillary Clinton just became unelectable”, in reaction to the statement by her campaign that she had become ‘overheated’ during the 9/11 service in NY, where multiple sources report it was about 75ºF (24ºC) with a 40-45% humidity.

Scott didn’t yet know when he wrote his tweet and subsequent blogpost, The Race for President is (Probably) Over, that the ‘official’ message would be changed from overheating to pneumonia mere hours later.

And even though it’s a valid question to ask why she would venture among the public with a potentially -highly- contagious disease that she was diagnosed with two days earlier, and even though I saw my headline used by someone else, these things are not what shapes the issue as I see it. Because I think Hillary became unelectable long ago. Still, then this morning I read the following in the NY Post:

“Clinton’s spokesman said that in addition to her illness, “several of the senior staff have been afflicted with something or other for the last few days.” “I was sick for a couple of days. I had the mild form of it,” Fallon said. The stricken staffers included campaign manager Robby Mook, and two top aides who needed emergency medical treatment – one of whom was taken by ambulance to a hospital emergency room after collapsing from severe dehydration, People magazine reported. Fallon told CNN that Clinton’s pneumonia, which she is treating with antibiotics, was “not contagious.”

So her staff is sick enough to require emergency medical treatment, but not for Clinton’s pneumonia, which is “not contagious”. What do they have then (it’s obviously contagious), and does Hillary have it too, in addition to her pneumonia? Were the staff coughing? The NY Times claimed yesterday that most of the staff were not told about the pneumonia diagnosis. Apparently not even after some of them fell ill around the time of that diagnosis?! What a curious story.

One additional thing I think must be mentioned, which I picked up yesterday through Mish, is a timeline of Hillary’s 2016 coughing fits that consists of 7 examples – with videos- dating back to January 25. We can only guess what’s going on here; the campaign certainly hasn’t been very forthcoming with information.

It’s her very campaign leaders, and the way they deal with information, that have now become Hillary’s Achilles heel. Not that I see how they could have done much else, or much different; whenever someone suggests that Hillary should be fully transparent from now on in, I think 1) you haven’t been paying attention, and 2) transparency is her worst enemy.

Transparency is the very thing she and her crew sought to prevent when setting up her email servers the way they did (in 2009). She recently said it was done at the suggestion of Colin Powell, who promptly denied it, and added that the server set-up had been running for a year before she ever asked him anything about it.

I don’t have a clue why she had the whole thing set up the way she did, it all looks really clumsy, but I do know her initial goal was to expressly be non-transparent. This is obvious from the lack of communication with the State Department. It’s obvious because she deleted 10s of 1000s of emails, many after having received subpoenas (one in August 2013, the other (actually 2 separate ones) in March 2015, forbidding her to do just that.

She did hand over some emails to the FBI and the Benghazi Committee, but thousands more were discovered or handed over at later points in time. Thousands of others were “BleachBit-ted” by an employee of her server host because they allegedly only contained yoga and/or wedding related topics. Not that we can check that; that’s were BleachBit comes in.

The narrative that a lowly employee decided on his own to make these mails unrecoverable is one of the worst points in the entire story. But even more important is that deleting the mails was against US law. And that Hillary and/or her staff are not the people who decide what is important or not. Not when it comes to State business. That is a gross and illegal overreach.

And it’s also what the whole ‘unelectable’ thing hinges on. After 8 years as First Lady and 4 as Secretary of State, it’s fully unbelievable that Hillary would not have known why the State Department has its own servers (though they may not always have functioned in ideal ways), or what classified markers are on mail or email. That reeks of desperation, pre-conceived or not, and it’s ludicrous that the FBI takes her word for it. Moreover, she’s on record saying she’s aware of classification requirements:

 

 

The very moment a high-ranking government official with daily access to classified material sets up a poorly protected email server, in order to bypass government systems, then runs classifies government mail over that server, and subsequently denies having knowledge of what makes material classified, that official is no longer electable. That person is not even employable anymore by the government.

Hillary’s private mail system was vulnerable to hackers. And it did get hacked by Guccifer, albeit, far as we know right now, via a workaround, through the mail of friend of the family Sidney Blumenthal. The irony about that is that Obama and Rahm Emanuel’s refusal to bring Blumenthal into Hillary’s team at State may well be the very reason she set up the private server to begin with (history will tell). Hillary loves Sidney. He’s her guru.

When she last week repeated that her system had not been hacked, that was at best half-true. And half-true is not nearly good enough when it comes to classified state secrets, of which the State Department handles possibly even more than the Oval Office. What we know is that her correspondence with Blumenthal was hacked, what we are not sure of is whether her server itself was hacked. But given that servers around her, DNC et al, were hacked, it would be naive to presume offhand hers was not.

And naive is not good enough, not on our part but even much less on Hillary’s. She’s unelectable because she’s far too much of a liability. That didn’t only become apparent when her knees buckled on Sunday, it became apparent when ‘we’ first found out she used a private server to conduct government business. Or, rather, it became apparent before we found out, it became apparent when she established the system, in January 2009.

There have been too many ‘instances’ and ‘incidents’ to mention, or even to remember. One paragraph I wrote down 10 days or so ago after yet another FBI ‘interview’ came out, summarizes a few:

According to Hillary, she doesn’t remember security briefings due to a concussion and a blood clot after a fall in 2012, she didn’t know what email classification details mean (what’s that ‘C’ for?), she lost 13 Blackberry’s – many with sensitive info on them- (aides took sledgehammers to some they did manage to locate), a MacBook and a thumb drive, she left her email systems open to hackers, she didn’t think communications on drones were -or needed to be- classified, she had her server wiped AFTER receiving a subpoena that expressly said she couldn’t, etc etc.

And that is without mentioning the questionable roles she played in Libya, Honduras and many other places. It’s without acknowledging how her campaign took over the DNC to the extent that they threw out Bernie Sanders. It’s without mentioning the shady goings-on at the Clinton Foundation and between this Foundation and the State Department. It’s also without mentioning what will yet come out of the many 1000s of mails that are due to be released by FBI, State and WikiLeaks, either before or after Nov. 8.

Hillary became a liability to the US, its government and its military- and secret service personnel, a long time ago. And people in the highest offices can and must be held to higher moral standards than others. Because they are responsible for the well-being, the survival and the very lives of so many others.

Step 1 in living up to those standards is to NOT bypass government laws and regulations and systems, without asking explicit permission and being fully transparent about it. Subsequent steps are easy for everyone to think of. Or else, an individual would explicitly declare themselves bigger than the government, and the nation. And that’s what Hillary did: she went rogue.

Ironically, Hillary’s health only became a real issue when she told the FBI she couldn’t remember lots of things, something that was echoed, by the way, in earlier revelations from campaign team staffers that said she tended to forget all sorts of stuff.

The relevance of yesterday’s health episode is not that it made her unelectable, but rather that it might have finally convinced enough of her financial backers that they risk losing the capital invested in ‘their’ candidates’ campaign. She’s their liability now too. I’ve seen people suggest that Trump is throwing his campaign as a way to help Hillary, but I sometimes think it may well be the other way around.

It’s kind of hard to imagine, looking back, for someone to run a worse campaign than Hillary has, but then that’s obvious when you look at how many things had to be kept hidden, how many lies had to be told, how many narratives had to be spun. It just got to be too much, for her, and for the staff. The outcome was always predictable, but they figured they could get away with it.

Thing is, even if she does manage to be elected, someone somewhere sometime will sue her or write about her or blackmail her. That’s a sure thing, and that makes her a massive risk and liability for the Democratic Party, and for the US government as a whole, and for all those multi-million dollar donors to the Clinton Foundation and to her campaign.

As of today, there are exactly 8 weeks left till the election. The money guys better come up with an alternative, because Hillary can’t be president. Whether they will come with Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden or some outsider I don’t know, but they better start making up their minds.

It all looked so promising before the details started leaking out, didn’t it? Destiny, first woman president, all of that. But not this woman. One thing that speaks for Hillary is she screwed it up all by herself. Trump had nothing to do with it. Let alone Putin. In that sense, she’s an independent woman.

In the end, Hillary got stuck in her own web of sheer hubris.