May 112016
 
 May 11, 2016  Posted by at 3:39 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  10 Responses »


Irving Underhill Irving Trust Building, Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York 1931

Last night, I made it back to Athens, still half a cripple, but there must be someone in this city who knows how to stick needles in the appropriate muscles, right?!, paid the rent for the Social Kitchen big house/nerve center late this morning, a tough 1 mile walk for my leg muscles -they kill me!-, still, that’s done, and hoping to get back to writing articles very soon, but having an ouzo right now just to make sure I blend in with the Romans. One can never be too sure.

Ergo: first here is, once again, our dearly beloved New England-raised friend from New Zealand, Nelson Lebo III, touching on a theme that will be found to have legs once the world sees Janet Yellen has no clothes on (and I DO understand the problem with that visual) :

Nelson Lebo: “Our already horrendous suicide rate hit a new record high last year.” The news of New Zealand’s suicide rate did not surprise me when I heard it on the radio earlier this week. Anyone who pays attention to global trends could see this coming. “Psychotherapists say we need a wide-ranging review into the mental health system before there are more preventable deaths” reported Newstalk ZB.

At lighter moments I joke that the best thing about living in New Zealand is that you can see worldwide trends that are heading this way, but the worst part is that no-one believes you. This is not a lighter moment. Suicide is a serious issue and one that is growing dramatically among my peer group: white middle-aged men.

The first people to notice the emerging pattern in the United States were Princeton economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case. The New York Times reported on 2nd November, 2015 that the researchers had uncovered a surprising shift in life expectancy among middle-aged white Americans – what traditionally would have been considered the most privileged demographic group on the planet.

The researchers analyzed mountains of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as other sources. As reported by the Times, “they concluded that rising annual death rates among this group are being driven not by the big killers like heart disease and diabetes but by an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids. The mortality rate for whites 45 to 54 years old with no more than a high school education increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people from 1999 to 2014.”

The most amazing thing about this discovery is that the Princeton researchers stumbled across these findings while looking into other issues of health and disability. But as we hear so often, everything is connected. A month before releasing this finding Dr. Deaton was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics based on a long career researching wealth and income inequality, health and well-being, and consumption patterns.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences credited Dr. Deaton for contributing significantly to policy planning that has the potential to reduce rather than aggravate wealth inequality. In other words, to make good decisions policy writers need good research based on good data. Too often this is not the case. “To design economic policy that promotes welfare and reduces poverty, we must first understand individual consumption choices. More than anyone else, Angus Deaton has enhanced this understanding.”

Days before hearing the news about New Zealand’s rising suicide rate I learned of another major finding from demographic researchers in the United States. For the first time in history the life expectancy of white American women had decreased, due primarily to drug overdose, suicide and alcoholism. This point is worth repeating as it marks a watershed moment for white American women. After seeing life expectancies continually extend throughout the history of the nation, the trend has not only slowed but reversed. Data show the slip is only one month, but the fact that it’s a decrease instead of another increase should be taken as significant milestone.

Please note that the following sentence is not meant in the least to make light of the situation, but is simply stating a fact. The demographic groups that are experiencing the highest rates of drug overdose, suicide and alcoholism are also the most likely to be supporters of Donald Trump in his campaign for the U.S. Presidency. It does not take a Nobel Laureate to observe a high level of distress among white middle-class Americans. Trump simply taps into that angst.

As reported by CBS News, “The fabulously rich candidate becomes the hero of working-class people by identifying with their economic distress. That formula worked for Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. Today, Donald Trump’s campaign benefits from a similar populist appeal to beleaguered, white, blue-collar voters – his key constituency.”

I don’t blame most Americans for being angry. That the very architects of the global financial crisis have only become richer and more powerful since they crashed the world economy in 2008 is unforgivable. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen and the chasm has now engulfed white middle-aged workers. As the Pope consistently tells us, wealth and income inequality is the greatest threat to humanity alongside climate change.

Instead of going down the Trump track for the rest of this piece, I’d rather wrap it up by bringing the issue back to Aotearoa (New Zealand) and my small provincial city of Whanganui. To provide some background for international readers, the NZ economy relies significantly on dairy exports and many dairy farmers hold large debts. Dairy prices are known for their volatility, and recently the payouts have dropped below break-even points for many farmers.

Earlier this month Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy announced that the government would invest $175,000 to study innovative, low cost, high performing farming systems already in place in New Zealand. Stuff.co.nz reported, “The government is set to pick the brains of New Zealand’s top dairy farmers in an effort to help those struggling with the low dairy payout.”

That is great news, but the government’s investment in researching the best of the best farmers is a pittance when compared with what is spent addressing issues of depression and suicide prevention among Kiwi farmers. Isn’t this a case of putting the cart ahead of the horse, or treating symptoms instead of causes?

Research shows that financial stress contributes significantly to the increasing suicide rates here and abroad. We know that innovative farmers who use low-input/high-performance systems are more profitable that their conventional farming brethren. Would it then be a stretch to conclude that depression and suicide is much lower among these innovative and profitable farmers? At the same time, research shows that wealth and income inequality in our more urban centres contribute to anti-social behaviours such as crime, domestic abuse and illegal drug usage.

Angus Deaton, the Nobel-winning economist, would argue that in order for policy planners to address these issues effectively they must understand the underlying causes and resultant costs. Thankfully, we do see glimmers of that from central government instead of the usual neoliberal claptrap. Credit must be given to Finance Minister Bill English for his actuarial approach to some social issues rather than the inaccurate dogmatic position often adopted by the right.

But closer to home for me, such enlightened policy planning has yet to reach our city by the awa (river). To start off, the Council’s rates structure is stunningly regressive, clearly taking significantly higher proportions of household wealth from low-income families than from high-income families. If we believe the research in this field (ie, The Spirit Level, etc) wouldn’t we expect the widening gap between rich and poor to result in even more anti-social behavior in our city that already suffers from reputation problems nationwide?

Secondly, the council’s vision documents and long-term plan are nearly devoid of intelligent strategies to address the underlying issues of anti-social behaviour, depression, poor health, and domestic problems that afflict our community. The Council pours mountains of money into an art gallery and arts events while providing token services and events for low-income families.

Will it take our own Trump or Sanders running for office to stimulate a populist revolt against regressive policies that potentially do more harm than good to our community? What will it take for us to finally get it? I first wrote about these issues in our city’s newspaper, the Chronicle, two and a half years ago… but, apparently, no one believed me. Welcome to provincial New Zealand!

Apr 132016
 
 April 13, 2016  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Lewis Wickes Hine Child labor at Gorenflo Canning Co., Biloxi, Mississippi 1911

What in the World’s Going on with Banks this Week? (WS)
The “Independent” Fed Is About to Become Partisan (JR)
IMF Cuts World Growth Forecast, Warns Over Brexit (AFP)
Don’t Trust Ben Bernanke On Helicopter Money (Steve Keen)
Bundesbank’s Weidmann Rebukes Draghi Critics In Berlin (FT)
China Rail Freight Volume Plunges 10.5%, and The Economy Still Grows 6.9%? (WS)
Peabody, World’s Top Private Coal Miner, Files For Bankruptcy (Reuters)
IMF Says Greek Debt ‘Highly Unsustainable’, Debt Relief ‘Essential’ (R.)
Pro-EU Leaflets Spark ‘Return To Sender’ Revolt In Britain (AFP)
Why Younger People Can’t Afford A House: Money Became Too Cheap (G.)
Iceland Shocked By Elite’s Love Of Offshore Holdings (AFP)
Swiss Banker Whistleblower: CIA Behind Panama Papers (CNBC)
Australia Issues The Most Hideous Banknote In History (SMH)
Canadian First Nation Suicide Epidemic Has Been Generations In The Making (G.)
Brussels Gives Greece Two Weeks To Tighten Borders (Kath.)
Refugees Become Smugglers Following EU-Turkey Deal (MEE)
Greek Coast Guard Rescues 120 Refugees Off Lesvos, Samos (Kath.)

Obama meets with Biden and Yellen. Hadn’t happened since Truman?!

What in the World’s Going on with Banks this Week? (WS)

Just about every major banker and finance minister in the world is meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, following two rushed, secretive meetings of the Federal Reserve and another instantaneous and rare meeting between the Fed Chair and the president of the United States. These and other emergency bank meetings around the world cause one to wonder what is going down. Let’s start with a bullet list of the week’s big-bank events:
• The Federal Reserve Board of Governors just held an “expedited special meeting” on Monday in closed-door session.
• The White House made an immediate announcement that the president was going to meet with Fed Chair Janet Yellen right after Monday’s special meeting and that Vice President Biden would be joining them.
• The Federal Reserve very shortly posted an announcement of another expedited closed-door meeting for Tuesday for the specific purpose of “bank supervision.”
• A G-20 meeting of finance ministers and central-bank heads starts in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, too, and continues through Wednesday.
• Then on Thursday the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund meet in Washington.
• The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta just revised US GDP growth for the first quarter to the precipice of recession at 0.1%.
• US banks are expected this coming week to report their worst quarter financially since the start of the Great Recession.
• The press stated that the German government will sue the European Central Bank if it launches a more aggressive and populist form of quantitative easing, often called “helicopter money.”
• The European Union’s new “bail-in” procedures for failing banks were employed for the first time with Austrian bank Heta Asset Resolution AG.
• Italy’s minister of finance called an emergency meeting of Italian bankers to engage “last resort” measures for dealing with €360 billion of bad loans in banks that have only €50 billion in capital.

It is rare for presidents to meet with the chair of the Federal Reserve. The last time President Obama met with Janet Yellen was in November of 2014, a year and a half ago. It is even more rare for the vice president of the United States to join them. In fact, I’ve heard but haven’t verified that it has never happened in a suddenly called meeting with the Fed before. For security reasons, the president and vice president don’t regularly attend the same events. There are, of course, many planning sessions or emergency meetings where they do get together, but not with the head of the Federal Reserve. Emergency meetings where the VP is included in the planning session would include situations related to dire national security in case the VP winds up having to take over.

In fact the meeting with the prez and vice prez is so rare that the White House is bending over backwards to assure the entire nation that the president is not meeting with Yellen to try to influence the Fed, which is required to act independently of politics (so they say). According to the White House, President Obama is meeting with the Fed chair and Biden to discuss the nation’s “longer-term economic outlook,” even though Yellen just told the entire nation that the economy was strong and had arrived nearly back at “full health.” The president says they will be “comparing notes.” Do their notes about the nation’s outlook disagree?

Read more …

Clinton and Cameron: monsters under the bed.

The “Independent” Fed Is About to Become Partisan (JR)

Late last night it was revealed that President Obama has summoned Janet Yellen to the White House today. There’s nothing unusual in itself about the president meeting with the Chair of the Federal Reserve over lunch to discuss policy. Bush 43, for example, frequently met with Alan Greenspan to discuss the economy. But this meeting is different… This isn’t a casual lunch. It’s a high-profile, last-minute meeting Obama orchestrated. The last time something like this happened was in 1951, when Harry Truman summoned the entire Federal Reserve Board of Governors to the White House. Since this is something that hasn’t happened in almost 70 years, today’s meeting is a fairly extraordinary event. Why did Obama order the meeting? There are a few factors to consider… Number one, Obama does not want the Fed to raise rates.

If the Fed remains on its path of interest rate hikes this year, it would give the Republicans the strongest chance at the White House in this fall’s election. That’s because rate hikes would likely lead to recession, and that would bode poorly for the Democrats. Obama is deeply concerned about his legacy, which the Republicans would like to reverse. So the best chance the Democrats have in the upcoming presidential election is if rates stay low. Janet Yellen herself is a Democrat, with a background as a labor economist and a career at U.C. Berkeley. She’s not necessarily hostile to Obama’s message. By bringing her to the White House, Obama is sending Yellen a highly visible public message. Don’t raise rates. You can consider this meeting more like an implied threat. There are two openings on the Fed’s Board of Governors. Obama could nominate two of Yellen’s biggest policy opponents if he wanted to play hardball with her.

Those two opponents could fight Yellen at every turn and threaten her control. Or, Obama could no nothing if she confirms and let her maintain control of the board. He’s very cleverly held the vacancies open, which he can use as leverage to influence Yellen’s course of action. He can nominate her worst opponents if she doesn’t follow his wishes. There’s also another factor at play: The Democrats are as afraid of Bernie Sanders as Republicans are of Donald Trump. Sanders has won seven straight primaries and caucuses. One of his biggest weapons is his bashing of the big banks, Wall Street and his criticism of Hillary Clinton for being in their pocket. Sanders has demanded that Hillary release the transcripts of her three speeches to Goldman Sachs, for which she received $675,000. She has refused to release those transcripts. That’s the Achilles heel of the Clinton campaign, and Sanders is making the most of it.

Read more …

No credibility.

IMF Cuts World Growth Forecast, Warns Over Brexit (AFP)

The IMF said Tuesday that the global economy faces wide-ranging threats from weak growth and rising protectionism, warning of possible “severe” damage should Britain quit the EU. The Fund cut its global forecast for the third straight quarter, saying economic activity has been “too slow for too long,” and stressed the need for immediate action by the world’s economic powers to shore up growth. It said intensifying financial and political risks around the world, from volatile financial markets to the Syria conflict to global warming, had left the economy “increasingly fragile” and vulnerable to recession. The IMF raised concerns over “fraying” unity in the European Union under pressure from the migration crisis and the “Brexit” possibility.

And it pointed to the contractions in large emerging market economies, most notably Brazil, where the economic downturn has been accompanied by deep political crisis that has President Dilma Rousseff facing impeachment. Seeing a broad fall in trade and investment, the IMF cut its forecast for world growth this year to a sluggish 3.2%, 0.2 percentage points down from its January outlook and down from the 3.8% pace expected last July. That reflects a glummer view of growth in both developed and emerging economies, with the forecasts for Japan and oil-dependent Russia and Nigeria all sharply lowered. Growth expectations for most leading economies were pared back by 0.2 percentage points. The outlook for the United States – hit by the impact of the strong dollar – was trimmed to 2.4% this year, from 2.6% in January.

Only the pictures in China and developing eastern Europe were better. But at a slightly upgraded pace of 6.5% growth, China was still on track for a significant slowdown from last year. The growth downgrade was expected but the tone of the IMF message was more dire than in recent months. It came as an increasing number of countries are approaching the IMF and World Bank for financial support. Last week Angola, its finances devastated by the crash in oil prices, asked the IMF for a three-year bailout program. And the World Bank said requests for loan support had reached levels seen only during financial crises. IMF chief economist Maurice Obstfeld said there was a risk of a full stall in global growth without efforts to boost investment and demand. “The weaker is growth, the greater the chance that the preceding risks, if some materialize, pull the world economy below stalling speed,” he said.

Read more …

It’s too late for helicopter money. It would evaporate before touching the ground.

Don’t Trust Ben Bernanke On Helicopter Money (Steve Keen)

Ben Bernanke earned the sobriquet “Helicopter Ben” for his observations in a 2002 speech that “the U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost”, that the existence of this technology means that “sufficient injections of money will ultimately always reverse a deflation”, and that using this technology to finance a tax cut is “essentially equivalent to Milton Friedman’s famous “helicopter drop” of money.” But just because he’s called “Helicopter Ben” doesn’t mean that he knows how “Helicopter Money” would actually work.

His column “What tools does the Fed have left? Part 3: Helicopter money” discusses both the nuts and bolts of actually implementing a “Helicopter Drop” (or as he more accurately describes it, “an expansionary fiscal policy—an increase in public spending or a tax cut—financed by a permanent increase in the money stock”) and also discusses how such a policy might affect the real economy. While his discussion of the nuts and bolts is realistic, his discussion of how it would work is fantasy. The nuts and bolts are straightforward (and Bernanke has a good practical suggestion for how to implement it too, which I’ll discuss at the end of this post). “Helicopter money” (or as he excitingly renames it, “a Money-Financed Fiscal Program, or MFFP”) is a direct injection of money from the government into people’s bank accounts, which is financed by a loan from the Federal Reserve to the Treasury. This differs from the standard way that Government spending is financed, which is by issuing Treasury Bonds that are then bought by the public.

The standard method doesn’t put additional money into circulation in the economy, because the increase in some private sector bank accounts caused by the government spending—a tax rebate, for example—is completely offset by the fall in other private sector bank accounts as they buy the Treasury Bonds that financed the tax rebate. But with “MFFP”, the tax rebate is financed by new money created by the Federal Reserve “at essentially no cost”. It thus directly increases the money supply, and this is where Friedman’s “Helicopter” analogy comes from. In the private sector economy, the money supply is increased when private banks lend to the public. Money created by private bank lending also goes by the nickname of “inside money”, since it is created by institutions that are “inside” the private sector—private banks.

Government-created money, which is what a tax rebate financed by a direct loan from the Federal Reserve to the Treasury would be, is “outside money”, because it comes from outside the private sector. Friedman’s analogy likened it to a helicopter flying over an economy and dropping new dollar bills from the sky. So how does “Helicopter Money” differ in impact from the standard way of financing government spending? Here’s where Bernanke passes from the practical nuts and bolts to the fantasy world of mainstream economics. According to Ben, the Helicopter flies, so to speak, because it causes “a temporary increase in expected inflation,” and because it “does not increase future tax burdens.”

Read more …

Best friends?!

Bundesbank’s Weidmann Rebukes Draghi Critics In Berlin (FT)

Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann has rebuked German politicians for attempting to pressure European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi over his easy money policies, suggesting their criticism was interfering with the bank’s independence. “It’s not unusual for politicians to have opinions on monetary policy, but we are independent,” Mr Weidmann told the Financial Times last Thursday. “The ECB has to deliver on its price stability mandate and thus an expansionary monetary policy stance is appropriate at this juncture regardless of different views about specific measures.” The head of Germany’s central bank and his counterpart at the ECB have often been at odds over how to respond to the threat of falling prices, with Mr Weidmann frequently raising objections to measures tabled by Mr Draghi.

But they have emerged as unlikely allies at a time when monetary policymakers around the world are facing mounting criticism over record-low interest rates, including the decision by some central banks – among them the ECB – to cut rates below zero and into negative territory to counter the threat of a vicious bout of deflation. The policy has been deeply unpopular in Germany, prompting criticism from senior politicians, led by finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, that the central bank’s low interest rates are expropriating savings from the German public and fuelling the rise of rightwing populism.

While the ECB targets inflation of just below 2%, the latest reading was minus 0.1%. Mr Weidmann also said the German debate on the ECB is focused too narrowly on the consequences of low interest rates for savers. “The debate does not focus enough on the broader macroeconomic consequences of monetary policy. People are not just savers: they’re also employees, taxpayers, and debtors, as such benefiting from the low level of interest rates,” he explained. The Bundesbank built its reputation on its independence from politics, frequently falling out with German lawmakers in the 1970s and 1980s over the central bank’s use of high interest rates to tackle inflation. But Mr Weidmann faces a more sensitive challenge: defending an EU institution from criticism from within Germany at a time of acute unease fuelled by the refugee crisis.

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Riddle me this.

China Rail Freight Volume Plunges 10.5%, and The Economy Still Grows 6.9%? (WS)

Rail freight volumes are an indicator of China’s goods-producing and goods-consuming economy, not just manufacturing, construction, agriculture, and the like, but also consumer goods. Thus they’re also an indication of consumer spending on goods. Alas, rail freight volume is collapsing: the first quarter this year puts volume for the whole year on track to revisit levels not seen since 2007. While China’s economy was strong, rail freight volumes were soaring. For example, in 2010, when China was pump-priming its economy, rail freight volume jumped 10.8% from a year earlier. In 2011, it rose 6.9%. It had soared 44% from 2005 to 2011! But 2011 was the peak. In 2012, volume in trillion ton-kilometers declined one notch and in 2013 stagnated. But in 2014, volume skidded 5.8%.

And in 2015, volume plunged 10.5% to 3.4 billion tons, according to Caixin, citing figures from the National Railway Administration. It was the largest annual decline ever booked in China. It was a year that the People’s Daily, the official paper of the Communist Party, described in this elegant manner: “Dragged by a housing slowdown, softening domestic demand, and unsteady exports, China’s economy expanded 6.9% year on year in 2015, the weakest reading in around a quarter of a century.” Which is precisely where things stop making sense: rail freight volume plunges 10.5% in 2015, and the economy still increases 6.9%? I mean, come on. At the time, Caixin said that China’s central planners aimed to increase rail freight volumes to 4.2 billion tons by 2020. This would assume an average annual growth rate of 4.3%.

So these declines are not part of the planned transition to a consumption-based economy. They’re totally against that plan or any other plan. They’re very inconvenient for the rosy scenario! Then came the first quarter of 2016. Rail freight volume plunged 9.4% year-over-year to 788 million tons, according to data from China Railway Corporation, cited today by the People’s Daily. At this rate, rail freight volume for 2016 will be down 20% from 2014, which had already been a down year! At this rate, volume in 2016 will end up where it had been in 2007! China — hobbled by soggy domestic demand, perhaps even soggier demand overseas, rampant factory overcapacity, cooling investment, an insurmountable mountain of bad debt, and a million other domestic problems — may be trying to transition from a manufacturing-based economy to an economy based on consumption.

But even consumer goods must be transported, even those purchased online! Only services don’t require much transportation. But we doubt that service sales have jumped in two years to the extent that they would even halfway make up for the crashing demand for goods transported by rail. The World Bank just figured that China’s economy would grow 6.7% in 2016, the IMF pegs it at 6.5%, both kowtowing to the GDP declarations issued by the Chinese government. Whose Kool-Aid have they been drinking? This would make 2016 another year when rail freight plunges by a dismal 10% or so while economic growth soars nearly 7% – which would make China one of the fastest growing economies in the world. So something in this convoluted, government-imposed math doesn’t add up here.

Read more …

Demand destruction and debt deflation.

Peabody, World’s Top Private Coal Miner, Files For Bankruptcy (Reuters)

Peabody Energy, the world’s largest privately owned coal producer, filed for U.S. bankruptcy protection on Wednesday in the wake of a sharp fall in coal prices that left it unable to service a recent debt-fueled expansion into Australia. The company listed both assets and liabilities in the range of $10 billion to $50 billion. Falling global coal demand, stricter environmental controls and a glut of natural gas have pushed big miners, including the second largest U.S. coal producer, Arch Coal, into bankruptcy protection over the past year.

Read more …

It’s cruel game that EU and IMF enjoy far too much.

IMF Says Greek Debt ‘Highly Unsustainable’, Debt Relief ‘Essential’ (R.)

The IMF wants Greece’s European partners to grant Athens substantial relief on its debt which it sees remaining “highly unsustainable”, according to a draft IMF memorandum seen by Reuters. Earlier on Tuesday, Greece and inspectors from its EU/IMF lenders adjourned talks on a crucial bailout review, mainly due to a rift among the lenders over a projected fiscal gap by 2018 and over Athens’ resistance to unpopular reforms. They will resume the review after this week’s IMF spring meetings in Washington, where the lenders are also expected to discuss Greek reforms and debt., Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who told Reuters on Tuesday that he saw no need for debt restructuring, will also be there.

“Despite generous concessional official financing and further reform plans … debt dynamics are projected to remain highly unsustainable,” the IMF draft said. “To restore debt sustainability, in addition to our reform efforts, decisive action by our European partners to grant further official debt relief will be essential.” EU institutions expect Greece to have a fiscal shorfall equivalent to 3% of economic output in 2018, while the IMF projects a 4.5% shortfall. The EU institutions also believe Athens can reach a primary surplus – the budget balance before debt-servicing costs – of 3.5% of GDP by 2018, as targeted in its latest financial bailout.

But the IMF’s draft Memorandum of Financial and Economic Policies (MFEP), which is compiled during the review, projected a primary deficit of 0.5% this year, a surplus of 0.25% in 2017 and a primary surplus of just 1.5% in 2018. It said these figures reflected reform fatigue after five years of adjustments and social pressures in Greece due to high unemployment, which rose to 24.4% in January. The draft projected an average rate of economic growth of 1.25% for the long term, which is lower than its previous forecast. The targets, which it called “ambitious, yet realistic”, could be underpinned by implementing measures that would save the equivalent of 2.5% of GDP by 2018, including reforms to its pension system, income tax, value-added tax and the public sector wage bill.

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If Cameron stays on, Brexit is here.

Pro-EU Leaflets Spark ‘Return To Sender’ Revolt In Britain (AFP)

Britons who want to leave the EU in June’s referendum are sending the government’s pro-Europe leaflets back to Downing Street in a furious protest against a campaign critics have slammed as scaremongering. The “Post It Back” campaign on Facebook and Twitter has attracted support from hundreds of people who do not appreciate the taxpayer-funded, pro-European Union leaflets being delivered to their homes this week. Kirsty Stubbs posted a picture of her leaflet on Facebook defaced with slogans including “What scaremongering rubbish” and “Vote Leave!” before sending it back. Alex Armstrong sent his leaflet back to a freepost address for Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives with an added special package in the hope of lumbering the party with a large bill for postage.

“Just sent back the propaganda leaflet to the freepost address with a suitably heavy attachment – a lump of concrete,” he wrote on Facebook. Others burnt their leaflets or said they would use them as toilet paper, coffee mats or cat litter. Eurosceptic MPs are also angry that Cameron’s government has spent over £9 million on the leaflets, which will eventually go to every home in Britain. They forced a debate on the issue in the House of Commons on Monday. “It is bad enough getting junk mail, but to have Juncker mail sent to us with our own taxes is the final straw,” said Liam Fox, a senior Conservative, punning on the name of European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker. Another Conservative, Nigel Evans, spoke of his work as an election monitor and compared ministers’ campaign tactics to those in Zimbabwe.

“If in any of the countries I visit I witnessed the sort of spiv (racketeer) Robert Mugabe antics that I have seen carried out by this government, I would condemn the conduct of that election as not fair,” he said. More than 200,000 people have signed a petition on parliament’s website opposing the use of taxpayers’ money to pay for the “biased” leaflet, forcing MPs to schedule another debate on the issue for May 9. The glossy, 16-page leaflet makes a series of claims including that leaving the EU would “create years of uncertainty and potential disruption” and that EU membership “makes it easier to keep criminals and terrorists out of the UK”. The main pro and anti-EU campaigns will each be entitled to send a publicly-funded leaflet to all households or electors, worth up to £15 million each, in the run-up to the June 23 vote. But opponents say that by spending £9 million on this extra leaflet before the formal campaign period begins on Friday, the government is getting an unfair advantage.

Read more …

Housing bubbles save governments.

Why Younger People Can’t Afford A House: Money Became Too Cheap (G.)

House prices have risen by 10% in the last year, the Halifax announced last week. Whoopeedoo. What that means is that the intergenerational wealth divide just rose by another 10% – and anyone born after 1985 is going to find it 10% harder to ever buy a home. There is perhaps no greater manifestation of the wealth gap in this country than who owns a house and who doesn’t, and yet it’s so unnecessary. Ignoring land prices for the moment, houses do not cost a lot of money to build – a quick search online shows you can buy the materials for a three-bed timber-framed house for less than £30,000; in China a 3D printer can build a basic home for less than £3,000 – and the building cost of the houses we already have has long since been paid. How can it be that, in the liberal, peaceful, educated society that is 21st-century Britain, a generation is priced out?

These are not times of war, nor are they, for the most part, periods of national emergency, so why should one couple be able to settle down and start a family and another not, by virtue of the fact that one was born 15 years earlier than the other? There has been a failure in both the media and government to properly diagnose the cause of high house prices. Until the causes – our systems of money and planning – are properly understood, we cannot hope to fix the problem. The standard solution is: “we need to build more”, but this is not a simple supply-and-demand issue. Between 1997 and 2007 the housing stock grew by 10%, but the population only grew by 5%. If house prices were a function of supply and demand, they should have fallen slightly over this period. They didn’t. They rose by more than 300%. The cause of house price rises is the unrestrained supply of something else: money.

Mortgage lending over the same period went up by 370%, thinktank Positive Money’s research shows. It was newly created debt that pushed up prices in a decade of extraordinarily loose lending, which gave birth to a national obsession. Houses were no longer places to live, but financial assets. Property owners became immensely wealthy without actually doing anything. And this great, unearned wealth saw the rise of a new rentier class: the buy-to-let landlord. When you have runaway inflation such as this, the Bank of England has a responsibility to quash it, usually by putting up interest rates. But – and here is the great sleight of hand – the Bank has seen fit not to include house prices in its measures of inflation. So, throughout the 90s and 00s, they could then “prove” inflation was low or moderate and interest rates meandered lower. Meanwhile, more and more mortgages were issued, and so more and more money was created, and it pushed up prices. The government didn’t mind.

Read more …

Hilarious.

Iceland Shocked By Elite’s Love Of Offshore Holdings (AFP)

Cabinet ministers, bankers and CEOs: the offshore companies at the heart of the leaked Panama Papers have drawn large numbers of Iceland’s elite into a scandal that has already brought down the country’s premier. The documents from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), revealed just how many Icelanders had holdings hidden away in tax havens.That number is astounding: some 600 Icelanders are named in the documents, in a country of just 320,000. That’s the highest per capita number for any country, according to Johannes Kristjansson, an independent Icelandic journalist who worked with the Consortium. In the streets of Reykjavik, people are disgusted.

“It’s a small clique, and even after the 2008 (financial) crisis they wouldn’t let go. It just confirms that money made during the boom years didn’t disappear into thin air,” a 50-year-old resident, Kolbrun Elfa Sigurdardottir, told AFP. “Who are the people who benefited from this system? We all want to know,” asked Alli Thor Olafsson, 32. The offshore companies are part of the legacy from the euphoria that was rampant in Iceland’s financial sector in the early 2000s when the country’s banks borrowed beyond their means to fund aggressive investments abroad, ultimately causing the 2008 collapse of the three main banks. According to Sigrun Davidsdottir, a journalist at public television RUV who has been investigating offshore holdings since the 2008 crisis, Iceland’s financial advisors were quick to suggest to all and sundry that their money should be placed offshore.

“During the heady years up to 2008, a source said to me that you just weren’t anyone unless you owned an offshore company,” she wrote on her blog. By now, the best-known case is that of ousted prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. In 2007, his then-future wife, Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottir, placed her inheritance from her wealthy businessman father in an offshore tax haven, the British Virgin Islands, via the Credit Suisse bank. Gunnlaugsson owned 50% of the offshore company, named Wintris, a fact he neglected to disclose as required in April 2009 when he was elected to parliament. He resigned last week after massive public protests. Offshore accounts were so well-known in Iceland that the expression “Tortola company” – referring to the most populated island in the British Virgin Islands – had been widespread in Icelandic media, though not the extent to which they were used and by whom.

Gunnlaugsson was definitely not the only government official to own an offshore company. Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson owns a company in the Seychelles, while Interior Minister Olof Nordal has one in Panama. Both have so far managed to hold onto their cabinet posts despite the scandal. A former central bank governor and ex-industry minister, Finnur Ingolfsson, the head of pharmaceutical group Alvogen, Robert Wessman, as well as journalist Eggert Skulason of the daily DV are all known to be on the Panama Papers list of offshore account holders.

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All files should be transferred to a Wiki-style open source server.

Swiss Banker Whistleblower: CIA Behind Panama Papers (CNBC)

Bradley Birkenfeld is the most significant financial whistleblower of all time, so you might think he’d be cheering on the disclosures in the new Panama Papers leaks. But today, Birkenfeld is raising questions about the source of the information that is shaking political regimes around the world. Birkenfeld, an American citizen, was a banker working at UBS in Switzerland when he approached the U.S. government with information on massive amounts of tax evasion by Americans with secret accounts in Switzerland. By the end of his whistleblowing career, Birkenfeld had served more than two years in a U.S. federal prison, been awarded $104 million by the IRS for his information and shattered the foundations of more than a century of Swiss banking secrecy.

In an exclusive interview Tuesday from Munich, Birkenfeld said he doesn’t think the source of the 11 million documents stolen from a Panamanian law firm should automatically be considered a whistleblower like himself. Instead, he said, the hacking of the Panama City-based firm, called Mossack Fonseca, could have been done by a U.S. intelligence agency. “The CIA I’m sure is behind this, in my opinion,” Birkenfeld said. Birkenfeld pointed to the fact that the political uproar created by the disclosures have mainly impacted countries with tense relationships with the United States. “The very fact that we see all these names surface that are the direct quote-unquote enemies of the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, Argentina and we don’t see one U.S. name. Why is that?” Birkenfeld said. “Quite frankly, my feeling is that this is certainly an intelligence agency operation.”

Asked why the U.S. would leak information that has also been damaging to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, a major American ally, Birkenfeld said the British leader was likely collateral damage in a larger intelligence operation. “If you’ve got NSA and CIA spying on foreign governments they can certainly get into a law firm like this,” Birkenfeld said. “But they selectively bring the information to the public domain that doesn’t hurt the U.S. in any shape or form. That’s wrong. And there’s something seriously sinister here behind this.” Birkenfeld also said that during his time as a Swiss banker, Mossack Fonseca was known as one piece of the vast offshore maze used by bankers and lawyers to hide money from tax authorities. But he also said that the firm that is at the center of the global scandal was also seen as a relatively small player in the overall offshore tax evasion business.

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Ha!

Australia Issues The Most Hideous Banknote In History (SMH)

The new $5 note continues Australia’s proud history of monetary innovation. When the British founded the convict colony of NSW in 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip embarked on a unique social experiment. He would establish a society without money, as having it around would only give the convicts something else to steal. Rum became the currency of choice, with the pound making way for the pint and the shilling swapped for the shot. In 1814, Governor Lachlan Macquarie decided he could not run a colony on a currency prone to spillage and evaporation. He bought 40,000 Spanish pieces of eight, the currency more pirates prefer, and cut the centre out of each piece, creating two coins, the holey dollar and the dump. In a moment of Scottish fiscal genius, Macquarie declared the two new coins would have a combined value of one-and-a-quarter pieces of eight, generating a tidy profit for his government.

Australia’s first banknote was printed by the Bank of NSW in 1817. The bank, established by convicted criminals, was commonly known as the Convict’s Bank and is now known as Westpac. In 1988, Australia celebrated its bicentenary by revolutionising banknote design, issuing the world’s first polymer note, the brainchild of Australia’s CSIRO. The organisation was so good at the science of making money that this is now the only science the Australian government will let it do. And now, with the new $5 note, Australia is again leading the world in banknote design. The Reserve Bank is proud to announce it has designed, possibly, the most hideous banknote in history. This is the start of a campaign to make our currency so nauseatingly unappealing that people will switch to electronic payments (saving the Australian government printing costs).

The new wattle motif, designed to look like anthrax spores, will stop old people sending money by mail (saving the Australian government postage costs). The government must have retained the designer of Australia’s 1984 Olympic uniforms to come up with a startling combination of off-pink and bilious yellow, before giving the Reserve Bank’s gibbon the keys to the inkjet. Blind people will love the new banknote for its revolutionary tactile features, but mainly because they won’t be able to see it. The worst thing about the new $5 note, however, is that it dispenses with one of the greatest Australians ever, Catherine Helen Spence – who was commemorated in 2001 for the note issued to celebrate the centenary of federation.

Spence was the first Australian woman novelist to write about Australian issues, the mother of the Australian foster care system, the leading campaigner for proportional representation in government, a hero of the women’s suffrage movement, and Australia’s first female political candidate. And those are but a few of her achievements. Spence has been forced to make way for a lump of neo-brutalist architecture – our Parliament House –topped by a giant Australian flag. A non-Australian, the Queen retains pride of place on the new note.

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Canada, US, Australia and more.

Canadian First Nation Suicide Epidemic Has Been Generations In The Making (G.)

The Attawapiskat First Nation, or the people of the parting rocks, as they are known in their indigenous Swampy Cree language, number roughly 2,000 souls. They live on a small Indian reserve 600 miles north of the Canadian capital of Ottawa, at the mouth of James Bay’s Attawapiskat River. This subarctic First Nation declared a state of emergency after 11 community members tried to take their own lives Saturday night. Since last September, more than 100 Attawapiskat people have attempted suicide in what local MP Charlie Angus has described as a “rolling nightmare” of a winter. The ghastly toll reveals a grim reality with which a nation in the midst of a process of truth and reconciliation now must reckon.

Suicide does not merely roll in like a hurricane to uproot homes and families, and drown out neighborhoods before receding from where it came. No, this has been an emergency generations in the making, tacitly supported by a Canada fully willing to mine natural resources, proselytize and brutalize generations of children in residential schools, and then leave with basic housing, education systems and healthcare in a state of disrepair. In 2011, Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency due to a “severe housing shortage”. In 2014, the community opened the first proper elementary school to serve Attawapiskat’s children in 14 years. At the same time, the De Beers mining company pulled $392m worth of diamonds out of their Victor Lake mine on lands taken from the Attawapiskat First Nation through an extension of Treaty 9 in 1930.

This is how First Nations live in the Bantustans of Canada’s north. Broke and broken people with little to no opportunities live in cold, run-down homes and suffer from generations of sexual, physical and psychological abuse. They look on as hundreds of millions of dollars worth of resources are mined from their ancestral homelands. This is not an emergency – a catastrophe for which Canada was unprepared and never saw coming. No, this is and always has been part of the design and devastation that colonization wrought. In order to take the land, Canadian settlers needed to eliminate First Nations and their prior and legitimate political claims to territories. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, infectious diseases and state-supported starvation gave way to the institutional violence of Indian reserves and residential schools, where more than 150,000 First Nations children were taken from 1876 to 1996.

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No more Schengen.

Brussels Gives Greece Two Weeks To Tighten Borders (Kath.)

The European Commission on Tuesday gave Greece two weeks to determine how it plans to tighten control of its borders, noting that although progress has been made, the process of registering thousands of migrants streaming through the country remained inadequate. The Commission criticized an action plan submitted by Athens, noting that it lacked “detailed time frames” for fixing problems. It also demanded guarantees that EU funding for migration will be used properly. “The Commission requests that Greece provide the additional elements and clarifications by 26 April,” it said in a statement which acknowledged Athens had made “significant progress.” If Greece fails to take remedial action, Brussels could authorize other EU member-states to extend border controls in the Schengen passport-free area for up to two years instead of the normal six months. Such a scenario would effectively suspend Greece’s participation in the Schengen zone.

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Can’t stop this.

Refugees Become Smugglers Following EU-Turkey Deal (MEE)

Refugees and migrants in Greece have begun joining smuggling networks in growing numbers in a desperate bid to earn enough cash to pay for their own journeys north since an agreement between the EU and Turkey has made it more difficult for people to make it to places like Germany. In Idomeni, the northern border between Greece and Macedonia where more than 11,000 people have been stuck for weeks, the smugglers have been out in full force since the controversial deal officially – slated as a major blow to smuggling rings in Turkey and Europe – began to be implemented and the first migrants sent back. In contrast to the stated aim of cutting down on smuggling, smugglers can be seen in parking lots of hotels and abandoned gas stations, nor are the locals working alone.

In their bid to earn enough cash to make it north, some of the refugees and migrants stranded in Greece have started working as “fixers” for the smugglers, while smaller groups, mostly from Afghanistan, have started to self-organise and develop their own smuggling routes through parts of the Balkans. While the development is not altogether new, and some new arrivals have long stayed on with smugglers, the practice appears to be accelerating and is happening more in the open than ever before. [..] Despite the dangers, growing numbers of people feel they have no choice as border closures and barbed wire fences have made paying smugglers even more expensive. Karam, a Syrian refugee who paid smugglers to get to Germany last year and has now returned to Greece as a volunteer, says that prices have gone up and that he only paid $2,700 to make it all the way to Germany, significantly less than the journey would cost today.

“When I travelled to Germany, the smugglers did not see us as people but as commodities. We were often in risky situations during the trip and they didn’t care much. The only thing important to them was to transfer us as quickly as possible and return back for a new tour of people. I suppose they treat people even worse now,” said Karam. “I think that today, in this situation, I would apply to stay in Greece.”

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And the beat goes on and on.

Greek Coast Guard Rescues 120 Refugees Off Lesvos, Samos (Kath.)

Greek coast guard officers rescued 120 refugees and migrants in three separate incidents off Lesvos and Samos, authorities said on Wednesday morning. Officials said that between Tuesday and Wednesday morning there had been 101 arrivals on the Aegean islands. There are currently 3,644 people at the Lesvos hotspot, 1,827 in Chios and 516 on Samos, according to authorities.

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Apr 082016
 
 April 8, 2016  Posted by at 9:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Wyland Stanley Golden Gate Bridge under construction 1935

US Braces for Worst Earnings Season Since 2009 (BBG)
Albert Edwards: Coming ‘Tidal Wave’ Will Throw The US Into Recession (BI)
Asian Shares Drop As Banks Come Under Pressure (Reuters)
KKR’s Chilling Message about the ‘End of the Credit Cycle’ (WS)
China Steel Exports Will Stay At High Levels For Years (BBG)
US Politics Is Closing The Door On Free Trade (FT)
VW Managers ‘Refuse To Forego Bonuses’ (AFP)
It’s Time To Start Worrying About The Health Of European Banks (BBG)
More Than 40% of Student Borrowers Aren’t Making Payments (WSJ)
UK’s Cameron Admits He Profited From Father’s Offshore Fund (AFP)
European Bankers Step Down as Panama Papers Pile on Pressure
Pirate Party Backed By Almost Half Of Iceland’s Voters (Ind.)
Turkey Will Ditch Migrant Deal If EU Breaks Promises: Erdogan (AFP)
Amnesty: ‘Serious Flaws’ Mar Greek Side Of EU-Turkey Migrants’ Deal (Reuters)
Questions Mount Over EU’s Role In Processing Greece Asylum Requests (IT)
Greece Ferries Second Boat Of Migrants To Turkey Under EU Pact (Reuters)
Refugees In Greece Warn Of Suicides (G.)

See under ‘Recovery’ in your dictionary.

US Braces for Worst Earnings Season Since 2009 (BBG)

U.S. corporate profits are expected to drop the most in 6 1/2 years in the first quarter, led by a wipeout in the embattled energy sector. Earnings for companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index will fall 9.8% year-over-year, which would be the sharpest decline since the third quarter of 2009 and a fourth consecutive quarter of contraction, according to Bloomberg data. Results will be insufficient to justify current stock valuations, says Alex Bellefleur, head of global macro strategy and research at Pavilion Global Markets.

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“The US is in for a full-blown end to the economic cycle.”

Albert Edwards: Coming ‘Tidal Wave’ Will Throw The US Into Recession (BI)

A tidal wave is coming to the US economy, according to Albert Edwards, and when it crashes it’s going to throw the economy into recession. The Societe Generale economist, and noted perma-bear, believes that the profit recession facing American corporations is going to lead to a collapse in corporate credit. “Despite risk assets enjoying a few weeks in the sun our fail-safe recession indicator has stopped flashing amber and turned to red,” wrote Edwards in a note to clients on Thursday. He continued (emphasis added): “Whole economy profits never normally fall this deeply without a recession unfolding. And with the US corporate sector up to its eyes in debt, the one asset class to be avoided — even more so than the ridiculously overvalued equity market — is US corporate debt. The economy will surely be swept away by a tidal wave of corporate default.

Edwards said that many economic researchers discredit profits as a measure of the business cycle, and it is one of the reasons why they are so bad at predicting recessions. Profits are on the decline for two reasons, according to Edwards. On the one hand, they are dropping because of margin pressure from rising labor costs. But this sort of decrease because of higher wages does not always signal a recession, like in 1986. Additionally, much like the mid-1980s decline, an oil-price crash is disproportionately dragging down profits. The second reason is because companies cannot pass on these increasing wage pressures to consumers through prices. In turn, they decrease spending and hiring, and the most vulnerable cannot make debt payments.

Edwards enumerated three reasons why this time around is a recessionary decrease, not a 1986-style aberration. They are:
• “When the oil price slumped in 1986 the economy was steaming ahead at a 4% pace and so withstood the downturn in business investment.”
• “In 1986 Fed Funds were cut from over 8% to less than 6% at a time when the consumer was re-leveraging, i.e. not debt averse as now.”
• “Finally, companies in 1986 were not up to their necks in debt as they currently are, and their solvency now is far more vulnerable to a profits downturn.”

So this time will not be a quick, oil-driven recovery. The US is in for a full-blown end to the economic cycle. Edwards did include some advice to investors on how to weather the coming wave, though. “And if I had to pick one asset class to avoid it would be US corporate bonds, for which sky high default rates will shock investors,” he wrote. You’ve been warned.

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This will only lead to more stimulus until and unless financial markets start applying serious pressure.

Asian Shares Drop As Banks Come Under Pressure (Reuters)

Asian shares extended losses to three-week lows on Friday, while the yen soared to a 17-month high against the dollar as investors bet Japan would be hard pressed to drive down its currency in the face of widespread foreign opposition. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.5%, heading for a weekly drop of 1.8%. Japan’s Nikkei pared earlier losses to near-two-month lows to trade 0.6% lower, with financials under pressure. It’s on track for a decline of 3.1% for the week. China’s Shanghai Composite slid 0.9%, poised for a similar drop for the week. The CSI 300 was down 0.8%, set for a 1.2% weekly decline. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.7%, headed for 1.9% loss for the week.

Bank shares led losses in Europe and the U.S. markets on Thursday, amid talk of more layoffs and cutbacks planned by Europe’s major lenders as they struggle with zero rates. The U.S. S&P 500 lost 1.2%, with financial shares falling 1.9%. In Europe, the FTSE closed down 0.8%, hurt by a drop of more than 2% in financials. “When bank shares are making big falls and their CDS spreads are rising like this, obviously you would think something is afoot. If they keep falling in today’s session, that is going to be really worrying,” said Daisuke Uno, chief strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Bank. U.S. stock futures slipped about 0.1% further in Asian trade after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, in a conversation with former Fed chairmen, said the U.S. economy is on a solid course and still on track to warrant further interest rate hikes.

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All vultures all the way.

KKR’s Chilling Message about the ‘End of the Credit Cycle’ (WS)

After seven years of “emergency” monetary policies that allowed companies to borrow cheaply even if they didn’t have the cash flow to service their debts, other than by borrowing even more, has created the beginnings of a tsunami of defaults. The number of corporate defaults in the fourth quarter 2015 was the fifth highest on record. Three of the other four quarters were in 2009, during the Financial Crisis. At stake? $8.2 trillion in corporate bonds outstanding, up 77% from ten years ago! On top of nearly $2 trillion in commercial and industrial loans outstanding, up over 100% from ten years ago. Debt everywhere! Of these bonds, about $1.8 trillion are junk-rated, according to JP Morgan data. Standard & Poor’s warned that the average credit rating of US corporate borrowers, at “BB,” and thus in junk territory, hit a record low, even “below the average we recorded in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 credit crisis.”

The risks? A company with a credit rating of B- has a 1-in-10 chance of defaulting within 12 months! In total, $4.1 trillion in bonds will mature over the next five years. If companies cannot get new funds at affordable rates, they might not be able to redeem their bonds. Even before then, some will run out of cash to make interest payments. A bunch of these companies are outside the energy sector. They have viable businesses that throw off plenty of cash, but not enough cash to service their mountains of debts! Among them are brick-and-mortar retailers that have been bought out by private equity firms and have since been loaded up with debt. And they include over-indebted companies like iHeart Communications, Sprint, or Univsion.

The “end of the credit cycle” has dawned upon the markets. As credit tightens, companies that can’t service their debts from operating cash flows may be denied new credit with which to service existing debts. The recipe of new creditors’ bailing out existing creditors worked like a charm for the past seven years. But it isn’t working so well anymore. What follows is a debt restructuring — either in bankruptcy court or otherwise. Money is now piling up in funds run by private equity firms, to be deployed at the right moment to profit from this. But not by playing the entire market, or to bail out existing investors. No way. This money will be deployed at the expense of existing investors. One of the biggest players is PE firm KKR, which just raised $3.35 billion to take advantage of opportunities in “distressed assets.” Existing investors, brace yourself!

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The west doesn’t stand a chance without protectionism.

China Steel Exports Will Stay At High Levels For Years (BBG)

Exports of steel from China will remain at high levels as local demand shrinks for years, according to Li Xinchuang, president of the country’s Metallurgical Planning Institute, who said mills in developed markets including the U.K. are struggling because their competitiveness is weak. While export volumes won’t increase from last year’s record, they won’t decline significantly either, Li said. Steel overcapacity is a global problem and China is already playing its part with proposals to close as much as 150 million tons that will put more than half a million people out of work, Li said, speaking in an interview and at a conference. Steel shipments from China surged in 2015 as Asia’s largest economy slowed and domestic demand shrank, with the flood of cargoes boosting global competition, hurting prices and squeezing profits. Britain faces an industry crisis after India’s Tata Steel said last week it was considering selling its unprofitable U.K. division, jeopardizing about 15,000 jobs.

Some steelmakers in the U.K. and U.S. “can’t meet local demand and they can’t compete globally,” Li said on Wednesday, rejecting claims that shipments from China are traded unfairly. “China is competitive for three reasons: good price, good service, good quality.” Tata Steel’s plan to sell its British plants has led to U.K. calls for tougher trade measures against China, which accounts for half of global output. China is prepared to defend itself at the World Trade Organization, according to Li, who’s also deputy secretary general of the China Iron & Steel Association. Fortescue CEO Nev Power sees the country becoming more competitive. “The new steel mills that are being built in China are very efficient, very energy-efficient, very productive,” he said in a Bloomberg TV interview on Thursday. “China is setting itself up to be a very competitive supplier to other emerging economies throughout Asia.”

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Sign of the times.

US Politics Is Closing The Door On Free Trade (FT)

Donald Trump wants to slap punitive tariffs on China. Hillary Clinton opposes the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership she once hailed as a gold standard for a new generation of free trade deals. Republicans are embracing Democrat demands for “fair” trade. The US, the architect of the open global system, is turning inwards. The rest of the world should sit up. This is about more than the raw political emotions stirred by a US presidential race. The WTO’s failed Doha Round saw the end of the multilateral trade liberalisation that gave us the globalised economy. The failure of the TPP would read the rites over the big plurilateral deals that promised an alternative. Free trade has been a powerful source of prosperity. It has lost political legitimacy. And not only in the US: European populists of left and right share the Trumpian disposition to throw up the barricades.

Optimists hope the protectionist turn in the US is cyclical. Things will get back to normal once the cacophony of the presidential contest subsides. Freed from the primary challenge of Bernie Sanders, Mrs Clinton, the most likely successor to President Barack Obama, will find a way to change her mind again. The TPP could yet be smuggled through Congress during the lame-duck interlude after November’s elections. Such is the line from Mr Obama’s White House and from a diminishing band of Republicans true to their free trade heritage. All the evidence points the other way. Globalisation has gone out of fashion. Shrewd Washington observers have concluded that, as one puts it, “ there is not a chance in hell” of the next president or the next Congress – of whatever colour – backing the TPP.

As for the mooted, and now being negotiated, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) designed to integrate the US and European economies, dream on. Mr Trump has struck a powerful chord among his core constituency in blaming foreigners for America’s economic ills. The backlash against free trade, though, runs deeper than cheap populism. The middle classes have seen scant evidence of the gains once promised for past deals. Republicans, fearful that they have already lost the presidency, do not want to risk handing Congress to fair-trade Democrats. Some problems are specific to the TPP. The prospective wins for the US are heavily tilted towards technology businesses on the west coast.

Manufacturing America thinks it secures little in the way of better access to Asian markets and complains that the deal leaves US companies vulnerable to currency manipulation by overseas competitors. Many more Americans than would ever gift their votes to Mr Trump question whether they get anything out of trade deals. Free trade has always created losers, but now they seem to outnumber the winners. There is nothing populist about noticing that globalisation has seen the top 1% grab an ever-larger share of national wealth.

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Time for shareholders.

VW Managers ‘Refuse To Forego Bonuses’ (AFP)

Top executives at Volkswagen are refusing to forego their bonuses this year, despite prescribing belt-tightening for the carmaker’s workforce in the wake of the massive emissions-cheating scandal, the weekly magazine Der Spiegel reported on Thursday. Without naming its sources, the magazine said that shortly before a supervisory board decision that executive board members had made it clear they were willing to “accept a cut in their bonuses, but not forego them entirely”, even though they have repeatedly told the workforce that the crisis threatens the group’s very existence. VW’s former chief executive Martin Winterkorn received a bonus of more than €3 million a year ago. A company spokesman told AFP that the board pay would be published in VW’s annual report on April 28.

“The management board is determined to set an example when it comes to the adjustment in the bonuses,” he said, dismissing the Spiegel article as “pure speculation.” Winterkorn’s successor Matthias Mueller was parachuted in last year to steer the carmaker out of its deepest-ever crisis which erupted when VW was exposed as having installed emissions-cheating software into 11 million diesel engines worldwide. At the time, Mueller told the workforce that there would have to be “belt-tightening at all levels” from management down to the workers. But according to Der Spiegel, the former finance chief Hans-Dieter Poetsch, who was appointed to the head of the supervisory board in October, pocketed nearly €10 million as “compensation” for the lower pay he would receive as a result.

The scandal is expected to cost VW still incalculable billions of euros in fines and possible legal costs. Unions are concerned that the belt-tightening needed to cope with the fallout from the engine-rigging scandal could lead to job cuts. “We have the impression that the diesel engine scandal could be used as a backdoor for job cuts that weren’t up for discussion until a couple of months ago,” the works council wrote in a letter to the management of VW’s own brand and published on the website of the powerful IG Metall labour union.

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“.. 90% of the world’s banks will have disappeared in the next 20 years..”

It’s Time To Start Worrying About The Health Of European Banks (BBG)

European banks have lost their mojo. A toxic combination of negative interest rates, comatose economies and a regulatory backdrop that might euphemistically be described as challenging is wreaking havoc with bank business models. Their collective market value has dropped by a quarter so far this year. The smoke signals emanating from the European Central Bank in recent weeks suggest regulators aren’t blind to this. Daniele Nouy, who chairs the ECB’s bank supervisory board, said earlier this week that the central bank “is aware that the low-interest-rate environment is putting pressure on the profitability of European banks.” Regulators may respond by going easier when drafting new rules.

Bank-failure rules to prescribe how banks design their balance sheets to absorb potential losses may be eased, according to a European Commission discussion paper prepared last month. Meanwhile, a global panel of regulators will hold a meeting in London this month to let banks give additional feedback on proposed rules about how much capital they must set aside to back their trading activities. This comes none too soon. The drop in industry capitalization, which reflects investor unease about future profitability, is rearranging the pecking order in European finance. Deutsche Bank, for example, was the most active manager of European bond sales in 2014 with a market share approaching 6.5%; last year it slipped to third, and so far this year it ranks fourth. At the end of 2015 the German lender was Europe’s 14th biggest bank; now it’s 20th:

Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Officer John Cryan said last month that, burdened by restructuring and legal costs, he doesn’t expect his firm to be profitable this year. It’s far from the only one struggling; on Tuesday, Barclays warned that its first-quarter investment banking income will be worse than it was last year. In Italy, officials are scrambling to create a state-backed fund to prop up an industry burdened by more than €200 billion of the €1.2 trillion of bad loans hampering the euro zone’s recovery. No wonder ECB President Mario Draghi spent much of his press conference a month ago answering questions about the damage negative interest rates are doing to banks. They have to pay for the privilege of holding cash on deposit at the central bank, but can’t pass those costs onto their own depositors.

The current structure of the banking system is “unfeasible,” and 90% of the world’s banks will have disappeared in the next 20 years, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA Chairman Francisco Gonzalez said in an interview published by El Pais newspaper last week. Banks that can’t cover their cost of capital aren’t viable, making industry consolidation inevitable, he said.

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Subprime revisited. The weight will shift from borrowers to lenders.

More Than 40% of Student Borrowers Aren’t Making Payments (WSJ)

More than 40% of Americans who borrowed from the government’s main student-loan program aren’t making payments or are behind on more than $200 billion owed, raising worries that millions of them may never repay. The new figures represent the fallout of a decadelong borrowing boom as record numbers of students enrolled in trade schools, universities and graduate schools. While most have since left school and joined the workforce, 43% of the roughly 22 million Americans with federal student loans weren’t making payments as of Jan. 1, according to a quarterly snapshot of the Education Department’s $1.2 trillion student-loan portfolio. About 1 in 6 borrowers, or 3.6 million, were in default on $56 billion in student debt, meaning they had gone at least a year without making a payment.

Three million more owing roughly $66 billion were at least a month behind. Meantime, another three million owing almost $110 billion were in “forbearance” or “deferment,” meaning they had received permission to temporarily halt payments due to a financial emergency, such as unemployment. The figures exclude borrowers still in school and those with government-guaranteed private loans. The situation improved slightly from a year earlier, when the nonpayment rate was 46%, but that progress largely reflected a surge in those entering a program for distressed borrowers to lower their payments. Enrollment in those plans, which slash monthly bills by tying them to a small%age of a borrower’s income, jumped 48% over the year to 4.6 million borrowers as of Jan. 1.

Advocacy groups, some members of Congress and the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fault loan servicers—companies the government hires to collect debt—for not doing enough to reach troubled borrowers to offer such payment options. “The servicers aren’t quite promoting them in the way they should be—I think some of it’s information failure,” said Rachel Goodman, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Foot. Mouth.

UK’s Cameron Admits He Profited From Father’s Offshore Fund (AFP)

British Prime Minister David Cameron admitted Thursday he had held a £30,000 stake in an offshore fund set up by his father, after days of pressure following publication of the so-called Panama Papers. Cameron sold the stake in the Bahamas-based trust in 2010, four months before he became prime minister, he said in an interview with television channel ITV. Downing Street have issued four statements on the affair this week following Sunday’s publication of the leaked Panama Papers, which showed how Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca had helped firms and wealthy individuals set up offshore companies. “We owned 5,000 units in Blairmore Investment Trust, which we sold in January 2010. That was worth something like £30,000,” Cameron said.

“I sold them all in 2010, because if I was going to become prime minister I didn’t want anyone to say you have other agendas, vested interests.” He insisted he had paid income tax on the dividends from the sale of the units, which he bought in 1997. Downing Street first dismissed the story as a private matter on Monday before saying Cameron had no offshore funds, then saying he and his wife and children did not benefit from any offshore funds. It later added that Cameron would not benefit from such funds in the future. The row is the latest headache for Cameron, who faces a tight race to ensure Britain stays in the European Union in a referendum due to be held on June 23.

The prime minister has been under intense pressure from the main opposition Labour party and media this week to come clean over his financial arrangements past and present. Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson told Sky News that, while it was too early to say whether Cameron should quit, “he may have to resign over this but we need to know a lot more about what his financial arrangements have been”.

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A wave of lost jobs.

European Bankers Step Down as Panama Papers Pile on Pressure

European regulators pressed the region’s banks for details of their offshore business dealings, as two senior bankers resigned over allegations arising from the Panama document leak. Britain’s financial watchdog sent out letters asking banks and other financial companies to disclose any ties to Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca, said a person with knowledge of the situation. Swiss regulator Finma said it would also investigate “suspicious” connections unearthed by the Panama Papers. “The leaked database from Panama is just the latest proof of how money flows like water through multiple jurisdictions, sometimes for legitimate purposes, sometimes not,” Finma director Mark Branson told reporters in Bern on Thursday.

Media reports this week based on millions of documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca revealed how its lawyers, including a Geneva team, worked with Credit Suisse, UBS and other banks to create offshore shell companies for world leaders, athletes and other rich clients. On Thursday, ABN Amro announced the resignation of supervisory board member Bert Meerstadt after his name appeared in the leaked records. He said in a statement that he had already planned to leave but was now resigning immediately “to prevent any detrimental effects to the bank.” Meerstadt was a shareholder of a British Virgin Island-based entity in March 2001, Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad reported Thursday. ABN Amro CEO Gerrit Zalm said he had never heard of Mossack Fonseca before the leak and that he doesn’t know the facts of the case but considers it a private matter. In Austria, the chief executive officer of Vorarlberger Landes- und Hypothekenbank, resigned after the province-owned bank was mentioned in reports about offshore companies.

Michael Grahammer cited “biased” local media reports about offshore accounts linked to Gennady Timchenko, a Russian billionaire targeted by U.S. sanctions since 2014. “I’m still 100 percent convinced that the bank has at no time violated laws or sanctions,” Grahammer said. “At the end of the day, the media bias against Hypo Vorarlberg and myself that showed in the last few days was the main reason for me to take this step.” In its letters, the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority gave firms an April 15 deadline to disclose any connections to Mossack Fonseca. In Sweden, the government will consider tightening laws against money laundering and tax evasion. Financial Markets Minister Per Bolund said. He said authorities are investigating allegations that Nordea Bank, the biggest bank in Scandinavia, helped clients evade tax through shell companies in low-tax countries.

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More signs of the times.

Pirate Party Backed By Almost Half Of Iceland’s Voters (Ind.)

The Pirate Party would receive nearly half of voters’ support if Iceland held a general election now, new statistics have revealed. The anti-establishment party received 43% of the vote according to research by Icelandic media organisations Frettabladid, Stod 2 and Visir. The Progressive Party, currently in a coalition with the Independence Party, would only receive 7.9% support, Iceland Monitor reports. The rising popularity of the Pirate Party, which campaigns in favour of transparency and direct democracy, among people in Iceland is in response to the leak of the Panama Papers. The documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca reportedly revealed that Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who stood aside as Prime Minister for an unspecified amount of time earlier this week, owned an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands with his wife.

Mr Gunnlaugsson did not declare Wintris, which held millions in the bonds of failed Icelandic banks, when he entered parliament, according to the International Consortium of Journalists. He has denied any wrongdoing and says he sold his shares in the company to his wife. But MPs in the opposition have said it is a conflict of interest with his duties. The government has named Fisheries Minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson as Prime Minister and he is due to meet Iceland’s president Olafur Ragnar Grimsson on Thursday. However the opposition in planning on pursuing a vote of no confidence in the government in parliament. Earlier, Pirate Party member Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson said: We will still push forward for a proposal to dissolve parliament and hold earlier elections. Elections have now been brought forward to autumn.

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The EU will cause the deaths of many more people.

Turkey Will Ditch Migrant Deal If EU Breaks Promises: Erdogan (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday warned the European Union that Ankara would not implement a key deal on reducing the flow of migrants if Brussels failed to fulfil its side of the bargain. Erdogan’s typically combative comments indicated that Ankara would not sit still if the EU fell short on a number of promises in the deal, including visa-free travel to Europe for Turks by this summer. Meanwhile, the Vatican confirmed that the pope would next week make a brief, unprecedented trip to the Greek island of Lesbos where thousands of migrants are facing potential deportation to Turkey under the deal. “There are precise conditions. If the European Union does not take the necessary steps, then Turkey will not implement the agreement,” Erdogan said in a speech at his presidential palace in Ankara.

The March 18 accord sets out measures for reducing Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II, including stepped-up checks by Turkey and the shipping back to Turkish territory of migrants who land on the Greek islands. In return, Turkey is slated to receive benefits including visa-free travel for its citizens to Europe, promised “at the latest” by June 2016. Turkey is also to receive a total of €6 billion in financial aid up to the end of 2018 for the 2.7 million Syrian refugees it is hosting. Marc Pierini, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, described the visa-free regime as one of the “biggest benefits for Turkey” in the migrant deal. He told AFP that Turkey still has to fulfil 72 conditions on its side to gain visa-free travel to Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone and that the move would also have to be approved by EU interior ministers.

“We shall see if that is a realistic prospect,” he said. Turkey’s long-stalled accession process to join the EU is also supposed to be re-energised under the deal. But Pierini said there were many conditions still to be fulfilled here. “The worst reading of the EU-Turkey deal would be to imagine that Turkey is about to get a ‘discount’ on EU membership conditions just because of the refugees,” he said. Erdogan argued Turkey deserved something in return for its commitment to Syrian refugees, on whom it has spent some $10 billion since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. “Some three million people are being fed on our budget,” the president said. “There have been promises but nothing has come for the moment,” he added.

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Europe’s true character is being revealed.

Amnesty: ‘Serious Flaws’ Mar Greek Side Of EU-Turkey Migrants’ Deal (Reuters)

Migrants held on the Greek islands Lesbos and Chios live in “appalling” conditions with little access to legal aid or information about their fate under a European Union agreement that will send some back to Turkey, Amnesty International said on Thursday. Under a deal between the EU and Ankara in place since March 20, undocumented migrants who cross to Greek islands will be kept in holding centers until their asylum claims are processed. Those who do not qualify will be returned to Turkey. The first group of 202 migrants to be returned, most of them from Pakistan and Afghanistan, were sent back to Turkey on Monday.

“People detained on Lesbos and Chios have virtually no access to legal aid, limited access to services and support, and hardly any information about their current status or possible fate,” said Amnesty Deputy Director for Europe Gauri van Gulik. “The fear and desperation are palpable,” she said. In a report published Thursday, Amnesty said among those held in the centers are a small baby with complications after an attack in Syria, heavily pregnant women, people unable to walk, and a young girl with a developmental disability. Many refugees spoke about the lack of access to doctors or medical staff. Legal aid is scarce and inaccessible to the vast majority, and asylum procedures are expected to be rushed, it said. Refugees told Amnesty that they did not get enough information about what the asylum process will entail. Many have received no or incomplete documentation of their registration.

“It is likely that thousands of asylum seekers will be returned to Turkey despite it being manifestly unsafe for them,” Amnesty wrote. Monitors visited the islands this week. One Syrian woman told Amnesty she and her family signed several documents despite not having an interpreter present, and were not provided with copies. “I don’t need food, I need to know what is happening,” the woman was quoted as saying. “Serious and immediate steps must be taken to address the glaring gaps we’ve documented in Lesbos and Chios,” Amnesty’s van Gulik said. “They show that in addition to Turkey not being safe for refugees at the moment, there are also serious flaws on the Greek side of the EU-Turkey deal. Until both are fully resolved, no further returns should take place.”

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Chaos is the MO.

Questions Mount Over EU’s Role In Processing Greece Asylum Requests (IT)

Four days after the deportation by the EU border agency Frontex of the first group of migrants from Greece to Turkey following the signing of the EU-Ankara deal, questions are mounting as to the EU’s role in processing asylum applications from the thousands of people who have arrived on Greece’s islands since March 20th, when the agreement came into force. While no more deportations have taken place since Monday, almost 5,500 people are now in detention on four Greek islands, 3,100 of them in the Moria hotspot on Lesbos alone, including women, children and other vulnerable groups. According to Boris Cheshirkov of the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, “close to everyone” in Moria has submitted an asylum application.

Under the new regime created by the EU-Turkey agreement, asylum applications from island detainees must be processed within two weeks, in a fast-tracked time frame that includes the appeal process. Previously, the Greek asylum service took an average of three months to adjudicate on each application. A key aspect sees the European Asylum Support Office (Easo), another EU agency, advise overburdened Greek asylum officials on the “admissibility” of each asylum seeker at the initial stage of processing. Easo spokesman Jean Pierre Schembri told the BBC: “This is a relatively short process involving our experts … accessing every applicant on his or her own merits. We then issue an opinion and the Greek authorities then issue the final decision.”

But human rights organisations fear the outcome of this truncated, two-step process, where Greek officials will essentially sign off on Easo recommendations, is predetermined to result in most applicants being returned to Turkey, a “safe third country” according to the agreement. Referring to Syrians, Schembri said Turkey “for one may be safe, but for the other it might not be”. Groups such as Amnesty International say that far too many questions remain about how Easo will make its recommendations. “You can’t have confusion or doubt around these procedures before you kick it off,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty’s deputy director for Europe.

“The biggest question for us is what information and which criteria will be used to decide whether someone is or isn’t at risk in Turkey . . . In some cases, it is quite random how some people are targeted, so it’s not about the individual’s experience or how long they’ve lived in Turkey, alone. It’s also about Afghans not getting any status legally in Turkey if they go back. “The bottom line is that here is no permanent protection for anyone [in Turkey]. There’s only temporary protection status for Syrians and then there’s the practice of certain groups being tolerated for a certain while, which is very different to having protection, access to work and access to social services.”

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After saying yesterday nothing would happen for 2 weeks…

Greece Ferries Second Boat Of Migrants To Turkey Under EU Pact (Reuters)

A ferry carrying 45 migrants left the Greek island of Lesbos for Turkey on Friday, the second such journey carried out under a controversial EU deal to stem mass irregular migration to Europe. A second boat carrying a larger group was scheduled to leave the island later in the morning, state TV reported. Those who left early on Friday were from Pakistan, it said. The first group of 202 migrants to be returned, most of them from Pakistan and Afghanistan, were sent back to Turkey on Monday. At the port of Mytilene, at least two activists jumped into the water close to the small ferry, dangling from the heavy chain of the anchor and flashing the ‘v’ sign for victory. They were hoisted out of the water by the Greek coastguard.

The first group of 202 migrants to be returned, most of them from Pakistan and Afghanistan, were sent back to Turkey on Monday. Under the EU-Turkey deal, Ankara will take back all migrants and refugees, including Syrians, who enter Greece through irregular routes in return for the EU taking in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and rewarding it with more money, early visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.

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No decency, no mercy, no nothing.

Refugees In Greece Warn Of Suicides (G.)

Syrians and Afghans threatened with deportation from the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios have said they would rather take their own lives than be expelled from the EU under its migration deal with Turkey. On Monday, 202 migrants were forcibly returned from Lesbos and Chios to the Turkish coast under the landmark deal aimed at halting “irregular” migration to Europe. But Souaob Nouri from Kabul, who is held in the high-security camp in Chios, said: “If they deport us, we will kill ourselves. We will not go back.” A man next to him warned of “terrible scenes” if Greek authorities insisted on pursuing policies that have already caused alarm among human rights groups.

“We are not terrorists,” said the man, who gave his name as Akimi. “We are refugees. The conditions here are very bad. There is no water. They hit pregnant women. Why do they treat us like this? All we want is asylum.” Similar threats of self harm were echoed on Lesbos this week. In a letter passed to the Guardian by aid volunteers on the island, inmates held in the Moria detention centre wrote that they would rather “accept death” than be deported to Turkey. “We will accept death but not return back,” the letter said, adding: “We will all commit suicide if they deport us.” The expulsions have been fraught with controversy.

Thirteen of the 66 deportees who were sent back across the Aegean Sea from Chios under armed guard are believed to have “expressed intent” to apply for asylum – enough, say UN officials, to have kept them in Greece until their requests were examined. “Between 20 March when the deal came into effect and 1 April when it was voted into legislation [by Greek MPs] we have seen limits in the ability of authorities to process claims,” said Katerina Kitidi with the UN refugee agency on Chios, an east Aegean island south of Lesbos. “There has been a definite lack of clarity.” The uncertainty has quickly fuelled tensions on the island. More than 800 inmates broke out of the vastly overcrowded detention facility last week in violent scenes that ultimately saw men, women and children march into Chios town.

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Apr 222015
 
 April 22, 2015  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Jack Delano AT&SF Railroad locomotive shops, San Bernardino, CA 1943

Appalled doesn’t cover it. Disgusted won’t do either. Angry doesn’t come close. Maybe I have yet to learn of a word that would express my feelings on the following topic. There’s a disease, an epidemic, that spreads through out the western world. We are all turning into accomplices to murder. And I still believe we are better than that. Just perhaps not all of us.

The US, and the rest of the west, have made plenty enemies already without needing to create their own out of thin air – as if there were ever a need to create enemies. But that’s still what we’ve been doing in many places in the world, including Ukraine. And there’s an entire multi-billion machine working just to make us think what someone else wants us to think about these ‘enemies’.

These days, when you call someone ‘pro-Russian’, that’s about on on the same level as ‘murderer’, rapist, things like that. And that must be why the western press once again resorts to ‘pro-Russian’ as a swear word, or even curse, in reporting on the murders of at least 10 people in Ukraine over the past 3 months. As far as we can see, all were considered ‘allies’ of former President Yanukovych (whatever ‘allies’ may mean in this context) and 2 were journalists (of whom at least 1 was also a historian).

Yanukovych was (or is, actually) not a saint. He was the utterly corrupt president of a country that has been utterly corrupt for a very long time. It still is today, and it’s getting worse, fast. Whereas Russia didn’t feel it had the right or need to interfere in the country, the west did. Its interference culminated in the ouster of Yanukovych in late February 2014, and the introduction of a ‘government’ that is extremely pro-western and extremely anti-anything-‘that has anything to do’-with Russia (including the language).

First, we saw the US install its puppet Yatsenyuk as PM (we know about this through leaked tapes of US Dep. Secretary Victoria Nuland). ‘Yats’ to this day has never been elected to office by ‘his’ people (or any other people, for that matter) . A few months later came oligarch Poroshenko as president, who was.

Both men have been instrumental in waging a very bloody and deadly war against a significant segment (a third) of their own population, in east Ukraine. This warfare has coincided with an ever more blatant propaganda war against anything-‘that has anything to do’-with Russia, both in Ukraine and across the west. Need I repeat not one of the accusations against Russia has, still to date, ever been substantiated, despite the best spy satellites etc. equipment in human history?

Whereas someone who cannot be accused of anything worse than being pro-Russian is merely equal to a murderer or rapist, being – labeled as – pro-Putin is several levels worse than that. Meanwhile, Russian President Putin himself has been compared to the biggest mass-murderers in human history, amongst others by US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

And lest we forget, Yatsenyuk has labeled all east Ukrainians ‘subhuman’. Let’s see any other prime minster in any other country in the world do that and remain in office.

So far, nothing new. Why then get back to this? Because of all those people who are being killed. The Kiev regime for quite a while attempted to label them all ‘suicides’ (something that was eagerly quoted in western media), hindered in this ‘policy’ only by facts getting in the way.

And when these facts get in the way, they blame Russia for the murders. The ‘rationale’ being that Moscow sought to prevent all these now deceased Ukrainians from divulging details about ‘anti-Maidan’ protests they may have been involved in (can’t have that in a democracy).

One western ‘news source’ even quoted an ‘expert’ just the other day as claiming Putin had ordered two of the murders to coincide with his latest yearly phone-in TV show last week: “political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko said the fact that the killings coincided with Vladimir Putin’s annual phone-in “aroused great suspicion”.

What remains most galling – well, other than us supporting cold blooded murder – is the extent to which western media blindly keep reporting whatever Kiev says, despite the fact that it should be clear to every single reporter that neither Poroshenko nor Yatsenyuk has ever been caught saying anything of substance that proved to be true.

Putin did mention the murder of journalist and historian Oles Buzina last week briefly on that show, and added there has been a series of murders recently in Ukraine, which are not being (or don’t seem to be) properly investigated by Kiev. “”This is not the first political assassination. Ukraine is dealing with a whole string of such murders..”

‘The difference with Russia, Vladimir Putin said, was that killings such as that of opposition figure Boris Nemtsov got properly investigated, leading to arrests. “In Ukraine, which pretends to be a democratic state and wants to be part of a democratic Europe, nothing like that is happening. Where are the murderers of these people? They are simply not there, neither those who carried them out nor those who ordered them, But Europe and North America prefer not to notice.“’

While the killing spree is ongoing, US troops arrived last week to ‘train’ the Ukraine government (and oligarchs) army. The British have had ‘instructors’ there for a long time. We know Blackwater aka XE aka Academi has boots on the ground. We also know that Right Sector leader Dmitro Yarosh (known for various photographs with his ‘troops’ which feature swastikas), was appointed to a high post in that same Ukraine army. Yarosh is also an MP. Nice assembly.

And ‘we’ support this? By we, I mean not only the US, Europe is just as hungry for a fight, and just as blind when it comes to facts vs fiction. But what on earth are we doing paying for all this? Have we all completely lost our heads, hearts and minds? We’re supposed to support democracies, not death squads!

Here’s a list of the victims, largely taken from a piece by Justin Raimondo last week, with a few additions on my part. As you can see, most of them would be considered intellectuals. The ‘cream’ of what was left in Ukraine and did not support Poroshenko, Yatsenyuk and their supporters abroad, in the west, is systemically being eradicated and may now be gone.

• January 26 – Nikolai Sergienko, former deputy chief of Ukrainian Railways and a supporter of Viktor Yanukoych’s Party of Regions, reportedly shot himself with a hunting rifle. The windows were all locked from inside, and no note was found.

• January 29 – Aleksey Kolesnik, the former chairman of the Kharkov regional government and a prominent supporter of the now-banned Party of Regions, supposedly hung himself. There was no suicide note.

• February 24 – Stanislav Melnik, another former Party of Regions member of parliament, was found dead in his bathroom: he is said to have shot himself with a hunting rifle. We are told he left a suicide note of “apologies,” but what he was apologizing for has never been revealed, since the note has not been released.

• February 25 – Sergey Valter, former Party of Regions activist and Mayor of Melitopol, was found hanged hours before his trial on charges of “abuse of office” was set to begin. Whoever was responsible neglected to leave a “suicide” note.

• February 26 – Aleksandr Bordyuga, Valter’s lawyer and former deputy chief of Melitopol police, was found in his garage, dead, another “suicide.”

• February 26 – Oleksandr Peklushenko, a former Party of Regions member of parliament and chairman of Zaporozhye Regional State Administration, was found dead in the street with a gun wound to his neck. Officially declared a “suicide.”

• February 28 – Mikhail Chechetov, a professor of economics and engineering, former member of parliament from the Party of Regions, and former head of the privatization board, supposedly jumped from the seventeenth floor window of his Kiev apartment. Another “suicide”!

• March 14 – Sergey Melnichuk, a prosecutor and Party of Regions loyalist, “fell” from the ninth floor window of an apartment building in Odessa. Or was he pushed?

• April 15 – Oleg Kalashnikov, yet another prominent Party of Regions leader, died of a gunshot wound – the eighth since the beginning of the year.

• April 16 – Oles Buzina, historian and journalist, shot dead.

• April 16 – Serhiy Sukhobok, journalist, shot dead.

• April 17? – Olga Moroz, editor-in-chief of the Neteshinskiy Vestnik, found dead in her home. Her body showed ‘signs of violent death’.

Moreover, in a perhaps separate incident, on March 22, Yanukovych’s 33-year-old son Viktor Jr., a former Ukraine MP, died after his car ‘apparently fell through ice on Russia’s Lake Baikal’.

There are also an unknown number of people who simply disappeared. This happened for instance on April 15 with Dr. Skorokhodov Vitali and ‘militiaman’ Alexey Astanin. There may be many more. Which reminds me of an interview that Patrick Smith posted a few days ago in Salon, with Stephen F. Cohen, arguably America’s top expert on Russia. One of the things Cohen said – more of him later – puts a major question mark behind official – UN – numbers of Ukraine civil war casualties:

The horror of this has been Kiev’s use of its artillery, mortars and even its airplanes, until recently, to bombard large residential cities, not only Donetsk and Luhansk, but other cities. These are cities of 500,000, I imagine, or 2 million to 3 million. This is against the law. These are war crimes, unless we assume the rebels were bombing their mothers and grandmothers and fathers and sisters.

This was Kiev, backed by the United States. So the United States has been deeply complicit in the destruction of these eastern cities and peoples. When Nuland tells Congress there are 5,000 to 6,000 dead, that’s the U.N. number. That’s just a count of bodies they found in the morgues. Lots of bodies are never found. German intelligence says 50,000.

We haven’t seen the German data Cohen cites, but we see no reason to doubt him either. It would place the entire matter in a whole different light, however.

There are some details behind the murder spree coming to the surface. There’s a site called ‘Peacemaker’ (psb4ukr.org), supported by Ukraine MP and government advisor Anton Gerashchenko, who has said: “Information from the website of the “Peacemaker” center has long enjoyed the Ministry of Internal Affairs, security service, intelligence, border service to collect information to open criminal cases and obtaining a court decision on the detention and arrest of separatists and terrorists.”. Gerashenko is also involved in financing the operation.

“Peacemaker”
RESEARCH CENTRE FEATURES OF CRIMES AGAINST UKRAINE’S NATIONAL SECURITY, PEACE, SECURITY AND HUMANITY international law
Information for law enforcement authorities and special services about pro-Russian terrorists, separatists, mercenaries, war criminals, and murderers.

The site apparently has a list to download with some 7,700 names of “saboteurs” and “terrorists”. People are invited to post personal information, including addresses and phone numbers, of people deemed hostile to the Kiev regime. Such information for Buzina and Kalashnikov was posted on the site less than 48 hours before they were murdered.

A few people in the west have done some further digging into the site’s origins (with ‘traceroutes’, ‘nslookup’, ‘reverse nslookup’ etc.), and they claim to have found links to Dallas, Texas and Calgary, Alberta, as well as one to a NATO server – located in Dallas. You can find further details at Moon of Alabama and Niqnaq.

Meanwhile, the murders were claimed by a group that calls itself Ukrainian Insurgent Army, quoted by the BBC as having written: “We are unleashing a ruthless insurgency against the anti-Ukrainian regime of traitors and Moscow’s lackeys. From now on, we will only speak to them using the language of weapons, all the way to their elimination.”

As far as I can tell, nobody has been arrested for any of the murders to date.

And yes, we are all involved in this. You, me, all of us. How did we get there? Perhaps the second quote from that interview with Stephen F. Cohen serves to explain how we did:

Stephen F. Cohen on the U.S./Russia/Ukraine History the Media Won’t Tell You
(The New York Times “basically rewrites whatever the Kiev authorities say”)

I wrote an article in, I think, 2012 called the “The Demonization of Putin,” arguing that there is very little basis for many of the allegations made against Putin, and that the net result was to make rational analysis in Washington on Russian affairs at home and abroad impossible, because it was all filtered through this demonization. If we didn’t stop, I argued, it was only going to get worse to the point where we would become like heroin addicts at fix time, unable to think about anything except our obsession with Putin. We couldn’t think about other issues. This has now happened fully. The article was turned down by the New York Times, and an editor I knew at Reuters published it on Reuters.com.

The history of how this came about [begins] when Putin came to power, promoted by Yeltsin and the people around Yeltsin, who were all connected in Washington. These people in Moscow included Anatoly Chubais, who had overseen the privatizations, had relations with the IMF and had fostered a lot of the corruption. He came to United States to assure us that Putin was a democrat, even though he had been at the KGB.

When he came to power, both the Times and the Post wrote that Putin was a democrat and, better yet, he was sober, unlike Yeltsin. How we got from 2000 to now, when he’s Hitler, Saddam, Stalin, Gaddafi, everybody that we have to get rid of, whom we know killed Boris Nemtsov because from the bridge where Nemtsov was killed [on February 27] you can see the Kremlin…. Well, remember, Sarah Palin could see Russia from Alaska! It’s preposterous. But the demonization of Putin has become an institution in America. It is literally a political institution that prevents the kind of discussion that you and I are having.

Kissinger had the same thought. He wrote, last year, I think, “The demonization of Putin is not a policy. It’s an alibi for not having a policy.” That’s half correct. It’s much worse now, because they did have a policy. I think the “policy” growing in some minds was how to get rid of Putin. The question is, “Do they have the capacity to make decisions?” I didn’t think so, but now I’m not so sure, because in a lot of what comes out of Washington, including the State Department, the implication is that Putin has to go.

I asked a question rhetorically several years ago of these regime changers: Have you thought about what would happen in Russia in the event of regime change? If what you say is true, if Putin is the pivot of the whole system, you remove Putin the whole system collapses. Russia has every known weapon of mass destruction in vast quantities. What would be the consequence of that conceit on your part—that we’re going to get rid of Putin—for the rest of the world?

So this Putin phenomenon has to be explained. How did he go from a democrat for sure, now to maybe the worst Russian leader since Ivan the Terrible. How do you explain it? Does that tell us more about Putin or more about us?

I guess the main question is not ‘How did we get here?’, but ‘How do we get out?’.

Here’s the now unfortunately no longer among us Oles’ Buzina talking about the history of Ukraine (don’t forget to turn on subtitles/CC)