Esther Bubley Child living in alley near US Capitol 1943
Interesting. I’m sure Lagarde has no idea why productivity fell. She has some textbook explanation, for sure, but her ‘solutions’ are bland: education and technology. But those were available all along as productivity was falling. Plus, technology costs jobs too. Then again, for the IMF there’s always ‘reforms’ of course: more globalization. But wait: that also costs jobs. Question then: if you lose enough jobs, will productivity rise?
• Living Standard Will Fall Without Productivity Boost, Warns IMF (G.)
The head of the IMF has issued a stark warning that living standards will fall around the world unless governments take urgent action to increase productivity by investing in education, cutting red tape and incentivising research and development. Christine Lagarde used a speech in Washington to tell policymakers they could not simply wait for innovation to drive up productivity growth and help living standards recover from the legacy of the global financial crisis. She highlighted a poor global record on productivity growth in recent years and said IMF analysis suggested GDP in advanced economies would be about 5% higher today if the pre-crisis trend had continued for total factor productivity growth – a broad measure of what goes into production, such as research spending.
“That would be the equivalent of adding another Japan – and more – to the global economy,” the IMF managing director in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute. Legarde warned the world could not afford to leave productivity growth in the doldrums. “Another decade of weak productivity growth would seriously undermine the rise in global living standards. Slower growth could also jeopardise the financial and social stability of some countries by making it more difficult to reduce excessive inequality and sustain private debt and public obligations. “Leaning back and waiting for artificial intelligence or other technologies to trigger a productivity revival is simply not an option.”
[..] In the UK, productivity growth has been sluggish for years and is behind most other big economies, prompting the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to pledge more investment in infrastructure and other areas with a £23bn national productivity investment fund. Calling on all governments to do more, Lagarde sought to emphasise productivity as the most important source of higher income and rising living standards. “For example, the average American worker today works only about 17 weeks to live at the annual real income level of the average worker in 1915,” she said. That kind of progress had been seen in many countries, she added. “But this engine of prosperity has slowed down in recent years, with negative consequences for growth and incomes that look very hard to unwind.”
She also echoed concerns over how rapid changes in technology had cost jobs in some sectors, hitting lower skilled workers hardest. Governments must help such workers through targeted education programmes, Lagarde said. That in turn would help solve productivity problems and create more inclusive and sustainable growth.
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Bit of a vague survery, but who today is going to be surprised at the outcome?
• 67% Of Low-Income Americans Worry A Lot About Hunger, Homelessness (ZH)
Something unexpected happened on the road to Obama’s economic “recovery” – according to Gallup, over the past two years, a record two-thirds, or an average of 67% of lower-income U.S. adults, up from 51% from 2010-2011, have worried “a great deal” about the problem of hunger and homelessness in the country. They are not alone: concern has also increased among middle- and upper-income Americans, but they still worry far less than do lower-income Americans. Some details: since 2001, worry has been highest among those residing in lower-income households, likely because those with limited financial resources are more at risk of going hungry or becoming homeless. A consistent majority of lower-income adults worried about the problem before 2012, but that has only increased in the past five years. Concern among middle-income Americans in 2016-2017 falls just short of the majority level at 47%, while 37% of upper-income Americans are worried.
Rising concern among all income groups could be a result of the political and media attention devoted to U.S. income inequality in recent years. Americans may also worry more about hunger and homelessness when other issues are not dominating the national consciousness, such as the economy and budget deficit were in 2010-2011 and terrorism was in the years after 9/11. Overall, 47% of Americans now worry about hunger and homelessness “a great deal,” according to Gallup’s March 1-5 survey, tied with 2016 as the high in the trend. Previously, concern had been as low as 35% in 2004 and as high as 45% in 2001, the first year Gallup asked the question.
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In which paying off debt is counted towards savings. And not savings at household level.
• The Issue With China Isn’t Trade, It’s Excess Savings (Pettis)
trade imbalances were mostly determined by direct differences in the cost of traded goods, while capital flowed from one country to another mainly to balance trade flows. Today, however, conditions have changed dramatically. Capital flows dwarf trade flows, and investment decisions by fund managers determine their direction and size. This has profound implications for trade. Large, persistent trade surpluses such as the one China runs with the U.S. are no longer the consequence of explicitly mercantilist measures. Instead, they’re driven by policies that distort domestic savings rates by subsidizing production at the expense of households. Take Germany, for example. After a decade of trade deficits and high unemployment, worried leaders in Berlin implemented labor reforms in 2003-05 whose main effect was to weaken wage growth.
As unemployment dropped and business profits surged, the reforms also shrunk the share of national income allocated to ordinary households, driving down the consumption share as well. German businesses, blessed with higher profits, responded unhelpfully. They paid down debt instead of investing the profits, increasing the share of national income devoted to savings. As the growing gap between German savings and investment soon became among the largest in history, so did the German trade surplus. German banks exported the excess savings into other European countries, no longer protected by the interest-rate and currency adjustments proscribed under the rules of the euro. By 2009, after insolvency prevented one European country after another from absorbing any more of the German tsunami of capital outflows, these shifted to countries outside Europe.
While the experiences of China and Japan may seem different on the surface, they were broadly similar in impact. China, for example, severely repressed interest rates in order to boost growth. This simultaneously reduced the household share of Chinese GDP to among the lowest ever recorded and raised Chinese savings to among the highest – so high that, even with the fastest-rising investment in the world, China still needed large trade surpluses to make up for weak domestic demand. What happens next is the most confusing part for economists who don’t understand how trade has changed. When new capital pours into advanced economies that have always had easy access to investment – such as the U.S. and southern Europe – it doesn’t boost investment further. Instead it automatically causes savings to contract.
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Not a bubble. Why of sound mind gets into this?
• Toronto Bidding Wars So Fierce That Homebuyers Skip Inspections
In Toronto, some homebuyers are so desperate to win bidding wars that they’re rushing to make offers without even getting an inspection. The average price for a detached home in Canada’s largest metropolitan area jumped to C$1.21 million ($905,950) in February, up a third from a year earlier, amid a dearth of properties for sale. In the same period, Toronto-based home-inspection firm Carson Dunlop saw a 34% drop in volume. Murray Parish, president of the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors, said he’s seen a 30% decline at his firm, Parish Home Inspections. “The bottom line is we are in a shortage of supply,’’ said Tasis Giannoukakis, a Century 21 broker based in Toronto, adding that it’s not uncommon to see bids of as much as C$200,000 over the asking price.
“That pressure is what’s causing everybody to remove the conditions on an inspection.’’ Home-price increases in North America’s fourth-largest city and its suburbs have outpaced growth in places including Manhattan, Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco, leading local officials to search for ways to control price gains and spurring concerns a correction may be coming. The frothy market, buoyed by low interest rates, is resulting in frenzied bidding wars, causing many shoppers to leave once-standard clauses such as a professional home inspection and financing contingencies out of their purchase offers. A move away from inspections isn’t unique to Toronto.
Vancouver, Canada’s hottest real estate market until Toronto took that mantle last year, saw a surge in unconditional purchase offers in the first half of 2016, said Adil Dinani, an agent with Royal LePage West Real Estate Services in the West Coast city. The same is true in hot U.S. markets. Mark Attarha, president of Bay Sotheby’s International Realty, which has seven offices in the in San Francisco Bay area, said he’s seeing a spate of offers without contingencies, along with a raft of “overbidding.” Attarha estimates that 75% of prospective buyers he works with are accepting a home-inspection report from the seller rather than ordering their own or including an inspection clause in their purchase offers.
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Let your house do the work for you: “Demand in Melbourne is driving up valuations of house land plots by $7,500 a week..”
• Can Housing Bubbles Be Stopped? (WSJ)
From Australia to Canada, authorities are learning a hard lesson in their efforts to curb the foreign money flooding their property markets: deterrents quickly lose their punch. In recent years, regulators in several countries have raised taxes on residential real-estate purchases, required banks to demand bigger down payments and taxed empty homes—to little long-term avail. Now they are trying again. Australian regulators on Friday ordered banks to limit the flow of interest-only loans—a villain in the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis—to 30% of new loans from about 40% now and to restrict loans to people making small down payments. The country’s corporate regulator said on Monday it was investigating whether lenders and mortgage brokers are inappropriately promoting interest-only loans.
New South Wales state, home to Sydney, is considering a further property-tax rise for foreigners. The moves are an attempt to blunt a price rise that has resumed after the last crackdown starting in late 2014. House prices in Sydney and Melbourne, the nation’s two biggest cities, rose by about 19% and 16% in the year through Mar. 31, much of it in the last six months, according to an analysis by data company CoreLogic released on Monday. The median house price in Sydney hit $821,000 last year, according to Demographia, a U.S. think tank. It said the figure, equivalent to 12.2 times the average annual wage, made Sydney the world’s second most expensive city after Hong Kong on a house-price-to-income ratio. Demand in Melbourne is driving up valuations of house land plots by $7,500 a week, said Giles Bray, a local mortgage broker.
Developers are now building 300-square-foot apartments—roughly a third of the average new American unit—with 8-foot ceiling heights to pack in more units. In the past three years, foreigners have bought thousands of them sight unseen. “They are poorly built and lack light,” Mr. Bray said. The gains are testing the limits of government measures aimed at preventing housing bubbles from developing in cities around the world. The frothiness is driven by ultralow interest rates at central banks that spur investors to hunt for returns in tangible assets. Chinese investors also are a big driver of the phenomenon. The concern: foreign, speculative investors are making properties unaffordable for locals and adding economic risk because these buyers are more likely to flee in a downturn. In 2010 the Reserve Bank of Australia tightened policy to cool things off. But lately the central bank has been keeping rates at a record-low 1.5% to aid an economy that is still struggling to adjust at the end of a long mining boom.
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The Susan Rice story has many quirks. A big one: what did Obama know? RandPaul wants her to testify under oath to that. It could go a long way towards proving Trump’s wiretap allegations. But also very odd: BBG and NYT sat on the story for -at least- days. And yes, Cernovich is a bit of an oddball. But he has proof, something that’s still sorely lacking for all of the Russia narrative. So much so that it doesn’t matter anymore if proof comes eventually: the US media have published millions of words of innuendo and accusations without any proof. That may work in the echo chamber, but it kills your credibility outside of it.
• Cernovich Explains How He Learned About Susan Rice (ZH)
Ever since Mike Cernovich dropped the bombshell report over the weekend outing Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, as the person behind the unmasking of the identity of various members of Trump’s team who were ‘incidentally’ surveilled during the 2016 campaign, a report which was subsequently confirmed by Eli Lake of Bloomberg earlier this morning, everyone has been wondering who within the Trump White House or the intelligence community supplied him with such a massive scoop. But, as it turns out, Cernovich didn’t need a ‘deep throat’ within the NSA or CIA for his blockbuster scoop, all he needed was some well-placed sources inside of a couple of America’s corrupt mainstream media outlets. As Cernovich explains below, his sources for the Susan Rice story were actually folks working at Bloomberg and the New York Times who revealed that both Eli Lake (Bloomberg) and Maggie Haberman (NYT) were sitting on the Susan Rice story in order to protect the Obama administration.
“Maggie Haberman had it. She will not run any articles that are critical of the Obama administration.” “Eli Lake had it. He didn’t want to run it and Bloomberg didn’t want to run it because it vindicates Trump’s claim that he had been spied upon. And Eli Lake is a ‘never Trumper.’ Bloomberg was a ‘never Trump’ publication.”
“I’m showing you the politics of ‘real journalism’. ‘Real journalism’ is that Bloomberg had it and the New York Times had it but they wouldn’t run it because they don’t want to run any stories that would make Obama look bad or that will vindicate Trump. They only want to run stories that make Trump look bad so that’s why they sat on it.”
“So where did I get the story? I didn’t get it from the intelligence community. Everybody’s trying to figure out where I got it from. I got it from somebody who works in one of those media companies. I have spies in every media organization. I got people in news rooms. I got it from a source within the news room who said ‘Cernovich, they’re sitting on this story, they’re not going to run it, so you can run it’.”
“If you’re at Bloomberg, I have people in there. If you’re at the New York Times, I have people in there. LA Times, Washington Post, you name it, I have my people in there. I got IT people in every major news room in this country. The IT people see every email so that’s how I knew it.”
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“Anyone, including experienced journalists, who raises questions or recommends caution is immediately dismissed as a Putin stooge or a Trump apologist by an army of progressives convinced, with obdurate certainty, of who is guilty and what is true.”
• The Deep State Now Works For The ‘Good Guys’ (AlJ)
US progressives are clinging on to false heroes like the FBI and CIA in their existential battle to dethrone Trump. [..] In Comey’s case, his rather abrupt and miraculous transformation from devil to saint came after his March 20 testimony before a House Intelligence Committee where he finally, belatedly, confirmed that the FBI was indeed investigating the disturbing, cob-web-like connections between the Trump campaign team and Russia before, during and after the presidential election. Ah, now that the G-men are on the case, the indictments would surely follow, the familiar progressive chorus wrote. Trump’s days are numbered. Resignation and impeachment are in the offing. The cavalry is riding to America’s rescue. Comey’s role in torpedoing Clinton’s chances at becoming America’s first female president has fast receded into the rear-view mirror.
The political executioner has become a prince of probity and the rule of law. Defying history and credulity, joining Comey and the FBI in the progressives’ new-found white knight brigade are, incredibly, the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA). Like the FBI, the spooks are also being widely celebrated as guardian angels in the existential battle to dethrone the treasonous King. The thinking – such as it is – goes something like this: the CIA and NSA must have the surreptitious “goods” on Trump and his gang of Russian mob and FSB consorting thugs that they will, in time, share with Americans and the world. The “goods” perhaps involves oodles of various types of intercepted and incriminating communications and possibly even a notorious Moscow hotel videotape, starring the deviant king himself.
And the hope is that, taken together, it will all eventually expose and doom him. Apparently, these days, the “deep state” is no longer working for the bad guys, but the good guys. It has, in effect, changed sides. Sure, the deep state may have denied Clinton her rightful and long overdue crown and has, for years, systematically spied on, collected and stored intimate details about the lives of countless people with little or no oversight, let alone a warrant. But progressives are too busy letting bygones be bygones to remember. The good guys have fixed their crosshairs on Trump and treacherous company and that’s all that matters.
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“One way we recognize a mass hysteria movement is that everyone who doesn’t believe is accused of being in on the plot..” Journalism should not ever be about ‘belief’, but about proven facts. But there are none. oh, and the syndrome doesn’t ‘arrive’, it’s been here for a long time.
• Putin Derangement Syndrome Arrives (Matt Taibbi)
So Michael Flynn, who was Donald Trump’s national security adviser before he got busted talking out of school to Russia’s ambassador, has reportedly offered to testify in exchange for immunity. For seemingly the 100th time, social media is exploding. This is it! The big reveal! Perhaps it will come off just the way people are expecting. Perhaps Flynn will get a deal, walk into the House or the Senate surrounded by a phalanx of lawyers, and unspool the whole sordid conspiracy. He will explain that Donald Trump, compromised by ancient deals with Russian mobsters, and perhaps even blackmailed by an unspeakable KGB sex tape, made a secret deal. He’ll say Trump agreed to downplay the obvious benefits of an armed proxy war in Ukraine with nuclear-armed Russia in exchange for Vladimir Putin’s help in stealing the emails of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and John Podesta.
I personally would be surprised if this turned out to be the narrative, mainly because we haven’t seen any real evidence of it. But episodes like the Flynn story have even the most careful reporters paralyzed. What if, tomorrow, it all turns out to be true? What if reality does turn out to be a massive connect-the-dots image of St. Basil’s Cathedral sitting atop the White House? (This was suddenly legitimate British conspiracist Louise Mensch’s construction in The New York Times last week.) What if all the Glenn Beck-style far-out charts with the circles and arrows somehow all make sense? This is one of the tricks that keeps every good conspiracy theory going. Nobody wants to be the one claiming the emperor has no clothes the day His Highness walks out naked. And this Russia thing has spun out of control into just such an exercise of conspiratorial mass hysteria.
Even I think there should be a legitimate independent investigation – one that, given Trump’s history, might uncover all sorts of things. But almost irrespective of what ends up being uncovered on the Trump side, the public prosecution of this affair has taken on a malevolent life of its own. One way we recognize a mass hysteria movement is that everyone who doesn’t believe is accused of being in on the plot. This has been going on virtually unrestrained in both political and media circles in recent weeks.
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Illustrating what a dud the European Parliament is. They want the man who’s negotiating with Greece to come explain what he does, and he simply refuses. Imagine that in Congress. A Dutch MP said Dijsselbloem is now effectively a ‘persona non grata’ in the European Parliament. And remember: the Eurogroup has no official status, so what can thay do?
• Euro MPs ‘Unanimously’ Condemn Dijsselbloem’s No-Show (AFP)
European Parliament lawmakers on Monday “unanimously condemned” the refusal by Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem to appear at a hearing on Greece this week. Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch finance minister, has been facing calls to step down since he suggested in an interview in a German newspaper that southern European countries blew their money on “drinks and women”. In the wake of the controversy, the parliament had invited the head of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers to discuss the stalled Greek bailout at this week’s plenary session in Strasbourg. Expectations were that MEP’s would use the opportunity to harshly criticise Dijsselbloem.
“Unanimous condemnation by the European Parliament against Jeroen Dijsselbloem for umpteenth refusal to answer questions on sacrifices made by our citizens,” European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani posted on Twitter. MEP Gianni Pittella, the head of the left-of-centre S&D group, said Dijsselbloem’s refusal to attend was “a further slight after his previous shameful remarks”. “He should resign,” Pittella added. In a letter on Thursday, Dijsselbloem said he was unable to attend the hearing because of a scheduling conflict.
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To repeat: Why are Greek pension costs relatively high? Because “The country hasn’t yet put in place a proper social welfare system”. And it can’t of course, because that would cost money it’s not allowed to spend by Brussels. Let’s see all benefits expenditures for all nations, and then talk again.
• Greek Pensions Hot Potato Puts Tsipras in Tight Spot on Bailout (BBG)
Greece is set to miss yet another self-imposed deadline with no accord expected when the Eurogroup meets in Malta on Friday. While there has been “a lot of progress,” there will be no agreement on April 7, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the group’s chief, said on March 31. “That’s too early.” Europe has become impatient with Greece as the region prepares for Brexit and the threat from emerging populist movements. The failure to reach an accord stems in part from the conflicting political interests of the two sides — Tsipras doesn’t want to face a scheduled general election in 2019 at the same time as pensioners take a cut of as much as 30% in their monthly payments. Creditors worry that if the plan is put in place after 2019, a new government that’s not a signatory of the accord might not implement it.
The IMF, backed by Greece’s euro-area creditors, is pushing Athens to save €1.8 billion, or 1% of GDP, from pension cuts. Greece spends more than 13.3% of its GDP on old-age pensions, the highest proportion in the EU, Eurostat figures show. Greece, which crossed what it once characterized as a red line and accepted the need for pension cuts, is asking creditors to give the country more time to see how measures agreed to last year work before embarking on anything new. The country hasn’t yet put in place a proper social welfare system , making pensions the de facto safety net for many families, supporting several generations. A survey in January showed that 49% of households relied on pensions as a primary source of income.
Further cuts in pensions has become a thorny issue to sell at home as pensioners use their ever-shrinking income to support jobless children at time when youth unemployment stands at more than 40%. Take Panagiotis Papapetrou, for example. The 65-year-old retiree and his wife, who collectively take home a pension of €1,480 a month, support two grown children. “Not only can we not afford any kind of entertainment, but we also have made cuts in our diet,” he said. “We eat less meat and we seek to buy cheap goods.”
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This economy cannot survive. It will keep on shrinking. There is no other possibility as long as there is a Troika. Economies run on consumer spending, and that keeps on falling in Greece. It needs stimulus, not austerity. Europe is creating a powder keg here.
• Austerity-Crushed Greek Households Keep Cutting Food Purchases (TNH)
More than seven years into a brutal economic crisis worsened by austerity measures hitting workers, pensioners and the poor, Greek households are continuing to cut food purchases, even for essential items. Repeated salary and pension cuts have left millions unable to keep up, with a survey by the Marketing Laboratory of the Athens University of Economics and Business showing consumers spending almost €40 ($42.72) less a month at supermarkets this year compared to 2016. Average monthly household expenditure came to €274 against €310 a year earlier, with the 13% decline also reflected on supermarket turnover as the sector struggles to lure customers despite sales and 2-for-1 deals.
The study was aimed at average consumers who make up the bulk of supermarket customers drawing a bleak picture of their ability to buy what they want and as more turn away from brand names in favor of cheaper goods. Some 63.4% of Greeks said they buy fewer products and 45.8% buy only the absolute necessities with 54.4% turning to private-label chain products. Data from Nielsen researchers showed that in 2016, some 51% of brand products sold in supermarket were on special offer, up from 33.1% in 2009 and after super markets wouldn’t cut prices despite the crisis, until they were forced to do so by lagging sales. Sales fell another 4% in 2016, driving the cumulative downturn to 18% since 2009, as the crisis began and a year before the then-ruling PASOK Socialists asked for what turned into €326 billion in three bailouts.
The data compiled by Nielsen researchers showed that besides a sharp decline in demand and with more people turning as well to generic brands and looking for offers, that mergers and acquisitions had taken a big bite out of the sector. The phenomenon is likely to continue for several more years with analysts expecting a further drop of 2-3%. In 2016, the sales value of food retailing – including small grocery stores – amounted to about €10.78 billion, down 4.1% from 2015, pushing the sector back to 2005 levels and showing the devastating effect of the crisis and harsh austerity measures that brought big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings. The number of small food retail stores has dropped from about 32,000 in 2005 to 27,000 in 2015 with major chains showing their sales values plummet at the same time with only the discount food chain Lidl showing increases.
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It shows Euro area is not working. Period.
• Youth Unemployment Shows Euro-Area Recovery Not Working for All (BBG)
For all the continued momentum in the euro-area recovery, differing prospects for young people across the bloc show the wounds of the debt crisis remain very raw. The unemployment rate for those under age 25 was at 19.4% in February, according to data on Monday. While that’s an improvement compared with a year ago – and is the lowest since 2009 – it’s more than twice the total for the euro-area of 9.5%. In four southern European countries – Greece, Spain, Italy and Cyprus – at least three in 10 young people are still out of work. [..] the unevenness across geography and age groups show how complicated it is for the ECB to set monetary policy for 19 nations.
In Germany, the youth unemployment rate is just 6.6%. That’s lower than the overall rate in Spain has ever been since the euro’s introduction. In Greece, still struggling seven years after its first bailout, the figure in December was almost seven times greater than Germany’s, at 45.2%. Draghi has said that monetary policy can’t take the whole weight of the economic recovery, and repeatedly urged governments to implement reforms to reduce structural unemployment. That’s made harder by the rise of populist parties across Europe, with France and Germany all facing general elections in the coming months.
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Waiting for real craziness over the next 2 weeks.
• Erdogan Says Turks In Europe Should Defy ‘Grandchildren Of Nazism’ (R.)
President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday called on Turkish voters in Europe to defy the “grandchildren of Nazism” and back a referendum this month on changing the constitution, comments likely to cause further ire in Europe. Erdogan has repeatedly lashed out at European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, in campaigning for the referendum, accusing them of “Nazi-like” tactics for banning his ministers from speaking to rallies of Turkish voters abroad. Both the Germans and Dutch have been incensed by the comparisons to Nazism and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the references must stop. “With this determination, we will never allow three or four European fascists … from harming this country’s honor and pride,” Erdogan told a packed crowd of flag-waving supporters in the Black Sea city of Rize, where his family comes from.
“I call on my brothers and sisters voting in Europe…give the appropriate answer to those imposing this fascist oppression and the grandchildren of Nazism.” Erdogan is counting on the support of expatriates in Europe, including the 1.4 million Turks eligible to vote in Germany, to pass constitutional changes that would give him sweeping presidential powers. But ties with Europe have deteriorated in the run-up to the campaign. Erdogan last month said Turkey would reevaluate its relationship with the bloc, and may even hold a second referendum on whether to continue accession talks. On Monday, he said he could take the issue of whether Turkey should restore the death penalty to referendum if necessary. “The European Union will not like this. But I don’t care what Hans, George or Helga say, I care what Hasan, Ahmet, Mehmet, Ayse and Fatma say. I care what God says… If necessary, we will take this issue to another referendum as well,” he told the rally.
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“Congress can rein him in with very little effort by saying no money can be spent to deploy US troops to areas where they may encounter hostilities unless a state of war is declared.”
• Yes, Let’s Allow The Syrian People To Decide For Themselves (Ron Paul)
Is common sense beginning to creep into US policy in the Middle East? Last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the longer-term status of Syrian President Assad would be “decided by the Syrian people.” The media reported this as a radical shift in US foreign policy, but isn’t this just stating what should be obvious? What gives any country the right to determine who rules someone else? Washington is currently paralyzed by evidence-free rumors that the Russians somehow influenced our elections, but no one blinks an eye when Washington declares that one or another foreign leader “must go.” It’s only too bad that President Obama hadn’t followed this back in 2011 instead of declaring that Assad had to go and then arming rebel groups who ended up being allies with al-Qaeda.
Imagine how many thousands of lives and billions of dollars would have been saved by following this policy in the first place. Imagine the millions of refugees who could still be in their homes, running their businesses, living their lives. Will the Trump Administration actually follow through on Tillerson’s Syria policy statement? It is too early to tell. The President has illegally sent hundreds of US troops to fight on the ground in Syria. Current US positions in eastern Syria suggest that Washington may be looking to carve out parts of oil-rich areas of the country for some kind of future federation. The White House followed up on Tillerson’s comments by stating that getting rid of Assad was no longer a top priority for the US. This also sounds good. But does this mean that once the current top priority, destroying ISIS, is completed, Washington may return to its active measures to unseat the Syrian president?
Neocons in Washington still insist that the rise of ISIS in Syria was due to President Assad, but in fact ISIS did not appear in Syria until the US began trying to overthrow Assad. They haven’t given up on their desire to overthrow the Syrian government and they do have influence in this Administration. If the Trump Administration is serious about letting the people of Syria decide their fate he needs to take concrete steps. Rather than sending in more troops to fight an ISIS already on its last legs, he must bring US troops home and prohibit the CIA from further destabilizing the country.
It would also be nice if Congress would wake up from its long slumber and start following the Constitution. The President (and his predecessors) have taken this country to war repeatedly without proper Constitutionally-required authority to do so. The president has reportedly decided not to even bother announcing where next he plans to send the troops. Congress can rein him in with very little effort by saying no money can be spent to deploy US troops to areas where they may encounter hostilities unless a state of war is declared.
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Frontex plays a very ugly role here. We saw that coming from miles away.
• New Evidence Undermines EU Report Tying Refugee Rescue Group To Smugglers (IC)
Last month, an Italian prosecutor opened an investigation into whether nonprofits working to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean had connections to smuggling operations. “We want to know who is behind all these humanitarian groups that have proliferated in the last few years,” the prosecutor said, and “where all the money they have is coming from.” The implication of the investigation is inflammatory: Why would humanitarian groups want to have anything to do with human traffickers or smugglers? But the idea that nonprofits are directly involved in smuggling people into Europe has swept through conservative media in recent months, fueled by a news report that the EU’s border agency, Frontex, had “accused charities operating in the Mediterranean of colluding with people smugglers.”
The report, which appeared in the Financial Times in December, didn’t name any particular charities, and it quickly started to show holes; within a week, the paper issued a correction and Frontex distanced itself from the accusations. Despite the walk-back, the story stuck, and the Italian prosecutor cited Frontex’s concerns about “collusion with smugglers” in announcing his investigation. The Intercept has obtained a full copy of the Frontex report on which the Financial Times story was based. The report, along with video evidence and interviews with rescue workers who witnessed the incident described in it, further undermines the allegations of collusion. In the report, Frontex does say that people were smuggled to Europe via an NGO ship. But the report provides little evidence for the allegation, and what it does contain is contradicted by the rescue crew.
The confusion shows the fraught conditions of rescue work in the Mediterranean – where smugglers and opportunists do take advantage of refugees and their rescuers, but where the situation is not always so cut and dry. In dire rescues, if a nonprofit accepts help from nearby Libyan boats, they may have no idea who they are working with. “It’s not us that force the people on the boats and cause them to be out there. But once they are out there, we all have to apply maritime law,” said Ruben Neugebauer, who works with the group Sea-Watch. “If there is a boat in distress, we are obliged to help, but also a potential smuggler is also obliged to help.”
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Watching TV. Still far more important than other media. “..television takes up a full 50% of our leisure time..” and “if you live to 75, you will have spent around nine years of your life watching television.”
• The Vanishing Art Of Seizing The Day (Krznaric)
Carpe diem – seize the day – is one of the oldest philosophical mottos in Western history. First uttered by the Roman poet Horace over 2,000 years ago, it retains an extraordinary resonance in popular culture. Ask someone to spell out their philosophy of life and there’s a good chance they will say something like “seize the day” or “live as if there’s no tomorrow” – even if they appear to be trapped by routine or paralysed by procrastination. It’s a message found in Hollywood films like Dead Poets Society, in one of the most successful brand campaigns of the last century (“Just Do It”), and in the social media hashtag #yolo (“you only live once”). Almost every language has an equivalent expression for the original Latin phrase. Carpe diem has been a call to arms for everyone from the Jewish sage Hillel the Elder, who in the first century bce asked, “If not now, when?”, to the Rastafarian sage Bob Marley, who sang out: “Wake up and live!”
However, in the course of writing my new book on the vanishing art of seizing the day, I discovered that carpe diem has been hijacked – in part, by the most popular leisure pursuit in the Western world. I loved television as a kid, fitting in an hour before school each day (Thunderbirds, Superheroes) and at least an hour-and-a-half before dinner (5.30: Wheel of Fortune, 6.00: The Goodies, 6.30: Dr Who). What I didn’t realise as a teenager, as I sat on my beanbag in suburban Sydney making the agonising decision whether to break tradition and watch Gilligan’s Island instead of The Goodies, was that I was absorbed in a ritual that ranks as one of the most momentous cultural transformations ever experienced by humankind. Within less than 50 years of the first ever television demonstration in
Selfridges London department store in 1925, around 99 per cent of Western households had a set. Today the typical European or American watches an average of around three hours per day, whether it’s on flat-screen TVs, computers, phones or other devices. This is apart from time spent engaged in digital pursuits such as internet surfing, social media, texting or video games. So television takes up a full 50% of our leisure time, and more time than we spend doing any other single activity apart from work or sleep. Perhaps the best way to grasp how much TV has colonised our lives is to tape the following statistic to your remote control: assuming your viewing habits are somewhere near average, if you live to 75, you will have spent around nine years of your life watching television.
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