Aug 072017
 
 August 7, 2017  Posted by at 9:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Fred Stein Man on bumper, New York 1949

 

EU Membership For Poland Is Like A Teaser Rate On A Bad Loan – Steve Keen (RT)
How China’s Billion Savers Embarked On A Household Debt Binge (SCMP)
Trump Challenging China On Trade Would Spark ‘Very Aggressive’ Response (G.)
Imperial Folly Brings Russia and Germany Together (Escobar)
A Supervolcano Waiting To Erupt Beneath A Seemingly Beautiful Market (CNBC)
Dead. Market. Walking (ZH)
The Transformation of the ‘American Dream’ (Shiller)
Gentrification In Brooklyn Is A “Humanitarian Emergency” (NYRoB)
Thousands Of Houses In Greece For Sale To Cover Debts (K.)

 

 

“If you look at what their actual objectives were on the Maastricht Treaty, it was to have governments spend less money every year to try to run a surplus… if you spend less money – surprise, surprise – your economy shrinks…”

EU Membership For Poland Is Like A Teaser Rate On A Bad Loan – Steve Keen (RT)

Brexit, the near victory of Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election, rumblings in Italy – it is all a sign the EU system is not working, and Poland might be wise to reexamine the EU, Steve Keen, professor of Economics at Kingston University, says. Poland and the EU probably don’t need each other, according to European Council chief Donald Tusk. “There is a question mark over Poland’s European future today,” the former Polish prime minister said at a press conference in Warsaw on Thursday. The follows last month’s approval by the Polish parliament of controversial reforms to the judiciary, handing the government control over the country’s courts, and the EU’s threats to strip Poland of voting rights.

RT: So can we take this as a Polexit? Steve Keen: I think it is a sign that the EU is not working, and that is what’s not getting through to Brussels at all. There wouldn’t be the clamoring for exit from the UK. There wouldn’t be the potential, very recent, almost victory of Marine Le Pen; all the rumblings in Italy – it is all a sign the system is not working. This is something fundamental at the core of the European Union that is leading people to either want to leave or not join. And it is still not getting through to Brussels… that this is their problem, their failure that’s causing all these eruptions around their borders.

RT: Poland has benefited hugely from its membership in the Union, as it has been on the receiving end of billions in funds, its economy has enjoyed a huge boost. What would it mean for the country if it left the bloc? Steve Keen: Not a lot, because, again, the EU is contractionary… If you look at what their actual objectives were on the Maastricht Treaty, it was to have governments spend less money every year to try to run a surplus… if you spend less money – surprise, surprise – your economy shrinks. What happens as often there seem to be carrots to attract you into the EU first instance – but it’s the fundamental guiding policy of cutting spending every year that actually leads to a contracting economy, and people, once they’re in, they want to get out again. So I think Poland might be very wise to say to say, “this doesn’t look like such a good deal in the long term.”

RT: Do you think that the EU is making an effort to hang on to Poland in fear that other countries might follow suit? Steve Keen: I think they will, but what we really need to do is to say: “Let’s get down and reconsider what on Earth we were trying to achieve in the EU in the first place, and why is it being so unsuccessful?” Why is it only benefitting in the northern states, which have got enormous trade surpluses, while the southern ones are suffering with trade deficits and all the contraction that forces upon them? When you look at it in that way and say, “we have to reconsider the entire structure of the EU,” maybe we should even let the parliamentarians propose bills, which, of course, the EU is the only parliament that doesn’t allow that. So it is a time for a fundamental reexamination of the EU. If this message doesn’t get through to parliament, well… who’s next? Italy?

Read more …

“China’s rate of private property ownership to 89.68% [..] the rate in the US is only 65% and that in Japan just 60%.”

How China’s Billion Savers Embarked On A Household Debt Binge (SCMP)

Although China’s household debt level is still low compared to the 79.5% of GDP in the US and 62.5% in Japan, it has risen too steeply to be safe, according to a research report by the Institute for Advanced Research at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics which was published last month and led by former central bank statistics chief Sheng Songcheng. “The speed of China’s household debt accumulation … has exceeded that of US household debt accumulation before the subprime crisis,” it said, warning that the rapid growth would squeeze consumer spending and might lead to dangerous scenarios. “As early as in 2020, the ratio of mortgage payments and disposable incomes in China will match the peak level in the US before the financial crisis,” it concluded, adding that the rising debt burden would “restrict China’s economic growth to some extent”.

Cao and her husband are rich on paper: their flat is now worth more than 5 million yuan, but they still live in a frugal life. They’ve let the flat out 6,000 yuan a month and she lived with her husband at his army quarters. To make sure they can repay their debts and make ends meet, she has minimised discretionary spending on restaurant meals, clothing and travel. The impact of rising household debt has been most obvious in China’s major, tier-one cities, where property prices are chasing those in Hong Kong, London and New York. Uniqlo, a mass-market Japanese casual wear brand, is now a favourite of middle class Chinese, who also shop online in search of bargains. Meanwhile, property has become the only reliable investment channel in China.

“Property has become a de facto carrier of wealth in China … and the ultimate choice for investors given its high return in the past decades,” said Jin Li, deputy dean of Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management. That’s lifted China’s rate of private property ownership to 89.68% according to a survey by Chengdu’s Southwestern University of Finance and Economics – among the highest in the world and up from close to zero two decades ago. By way of comparison the rate in the US is only 65% and that in Japan just 60%. More than half of Chinese family wealth is now held in the form of property and, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, residential mortgages comprise 60.3% of household debt. The rapid rise of leverage and household debt has sparked concerns China could be galloping down the same road to ruin followed by Japan in the early 1990s and the US in 2008.

Read more …

Actually, I think China realizes Trump is right on many points, and will seek to negotiate rather than protet too much. They knew it wouldn’t last forever.

Trump Challenging China On Trade Would Spark ‘Very Aggressive’ Response (G.)

Moves by Donald Trump to confront China on trade would elicit a “very aggressive” response, a former top US trade negotiator has predicted, as Beijing said an upcoming visit from the US president would help “map out” the next half century of ties between the world’s top two economies. There has been speculation since last week that Trump – who is due to travel to China this year – is preparing to launch a potentially incendiary investigation into its alleged abuse of intellectual property rights. After China’s decision to back a UN security council resolution against North Korea on Saturday, some reports suggested that inquiry might have been put on ice. The Financial Times called the anticipated move “the trade diplomacy equivalent of a wooden club” and warned it could provoke “a full-blown trade war”.

In an interview with the Guardian, Charlene Barshefsky, the US trade representative under Bill Clinton, agreed challenging Beijing could “engender a downward spiral” in relations. “When China is displeased with US actions … you see China act in ways that are very aggressive, designed to intimidate, designed to force the US to back down,” said the veteran lawyer, who negotiated China’s 2001 entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) with its then premier Zhu Rongji. “The US rarely backs down, which is absolutely correct – it should not. But this is China’s way: it bullies in situations like this.” Barshefsky, who is now at the US law firm WilmerHale, said it was unclear what measures the Trump administration might take against Beijing but she did not expect the White House to cave in to Chinese pressure.

“Then the question is: ‘What is the next move?’ And, ‘How much more heated does this get?’ And, ‘Does it engender a downward spiral?’” “We will have to see how this plays out. But there will be a lot of very heated and aggressive rhetoric on both sides, there is no question about it … [And] China will likely not just talk the talk but they will begin to walk the walk, and before too long US companies will start complaining about being even further ill-treated in China. Not blocked; not retaliated against in any large sense. But the environment will become more and more difficult. And China will do that as a way of pressuring the US to back off.”

Read more …

“..an Orwellian 99% majority that would delight the Kim dynasty in North Korea..”

Imperial Folly Brings Russia and Germany Together (Escobar)

The Empire of Whiners simply can’t get enough when it comes to huff, puff and pout as the Empire of Sanctions. With an Orwellian 99% majority that would delight the Kim dynasty in North Korea, the “representative democracy” Capitol Hill has bulldozed its latest House/Senate sanctions package, aimed mostly at Russia, but also targeting Iran and North Korea. The White House’s announcement — late Friday afternoon in the middle of summer — that President Trump has approved and will sign the bill was literally buried in the news cycle amidst the proverbial 24/7 Russia-gate related hysteria. Trump will be required to justify to Congress, in writing, any initiative to ease sanctions on Russia. And Congress is entitled to launch an automatic review of any such initiative.

Translation; the death knell of any possibility for the White House to reset relations with Russia. Congress in fact is just ratifying the ongoing Russia demonization campaign orchestrated by the neocon and neoliberalcon deep state/War Party establishment. Economic war has been declared against Russia for at least three years now. The difference is this latest package also declares economic war against Europe, especially Germany. That centers on the energy front, by demonizing the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and forcing the EU to buy US natural gas. Make no mistake; the EU leadership will counterpunch. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission (EC), put it mildly when he said, “America first cannot mean that Europe’s interests come last.”

On the Russia front, what the Empire of Sanctions faces does not even qualify as a hollow victory. Kommersant has reported that Moscow, among other actions, will retaliate by banning all American IT companies and all US agricultural products from the Russian market, as well as exporting titanium to Boeing (30% of which comes from Russia). On the Russia-China strategic partnership front, trying to restrict Russia-EU energy deals will only allow more currency swaps between the ruble and the yuan; a key plank of the post-US dollar multipolar world. And then there’s the possible, major game-changer; the German front.

Read more …

Yellowstone.

A Supervolcano Waiting To Erupt Beneath A Seemingly Beautiful Market (CNBC)

Warning: A correction in the market is “inevitable” and there are three key factors that could spark chaos on Wall Street, according to James Advantage Fund president Barry James. The investor likened the market to Yellowstone National Park’s famous supervolcano, which many believe is close to eruption. Stocks continued to hit record highs on Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average setting its 8th consecutive all-time high. “Even though [the market] looks beautiful—setting new highs, good momentum, and earnings have been coming in strong, [there are] things to worry about,” explained the portfolio manager recently on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” Aside from the rise of passive investing, which James says is creating a “herd mentality” among investors, he also believed that the earnings picture isn’t telling the whole story.

“In the 18 months ending in June, we saw companies that had no earnings, they were losing money, outperform those that were making money,” said James. He highlighted many stocks’ performances this year may not be reflective of their revenues. But the biggest threat to the market rally, according to James, is the current valuation levels of stocks. “We went back to 1994 and researched team data that said [that if we look at cyclically adjusted P/E, one out of two times] the market was down in the next 12 months, and about one out of three times it was down more than 10%,” he said. James’ observations seem to mirror a note released more than a week ago by Goldman Sachs, which found that when valuations have been this high, 10-year returns on the S&P 500 have been either in the single digits or negative 99% of the time.

In other words, the market could be in oversold territory, which James does believe. “It doesn’t mean that we’ll see a volcanic eruption in the immediate future, and these market peaks take a long time, but we’re definitely in the latter stages of this market advance,” he said. “We’re going to see the inevitable correction, I just wish I could say I knew when.”

Read more …

All on red, and on the same side of the dinghy.

Dead. Market. Walking (ZH)

While all eyes have been focused on the incessant rise in the price-weighted farce known as The Dow Jones Industrial Average, a funny thing happened in the ‘real’ market… The S&P 500 went nowhere… 2474, 2473, 2473, 2470, 2477, 2478, 2475, 2472, 2470, 2476, 2478, 2472, 2477…

How unusual is this? Simple – it’s never, ever (in 90 years of S&P history) happened before…

Since The Fed (et al.) began tinkering (red shaded box), markets have slowly (and now quickly) died.Perhaps even more worrisome, Investors are positioning for more of the same…

There has never been a bigger speculative position tilted towards still-lower volatility…ever!

Read more …

White picket fences.

The Transformation of the ‘American Dream’ (Shiller)

[..] the writer James Truslow Adams popularized it in 1931, in his book “The Epic of America.” Mr. Adams emphasized ideals rather than material goods, a “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.” And he clarified, “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and recognized by others for what they are.” His achievement was an innovation in language that largely replaced the older terms “American character” and “American principles” with a forward-looking phrase that implied modesty about current success in giving respect and equal opportunity to all people.

The American dream was a trajectory to a promising future, a model for the United States and for the whole world. In the 1930s and ’40s, the term appeared occasionally in advertisements for intellectual products: plays, books and church sermons, book reviews and high-minded articles. During these years, it rarely, if ever, referred to business success or homeownership. By 1950, shortly after World War II and the triumph against fascism, it was still about freedom and equality. In a book published in 1954, Peter Marshall, former chaplain of the United States Senate, defined the American Dream with spiritually resounding words: “Religious liberty to worship God according to the dictates of one’s own conscience and equal opportunity for all men,” he said, “are the twin pillars of the American Dream.”

The term began to be used extensively in the 1960s. It may have owed its growing power to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, in which he spoke of a vision that was “deeply rooted in the American Dream.” He said he dreamed of the disappearance of prejudice and a rise in community spirit, and certainly made no mention of deregulation or mortgage subsidies. But as the term became more commonplace, its connection with notions of equality and community weakened. In the 1970s and ’80s, home builders used it extensively in advertisements, perhaps to make conspicuous consumption seem patriotic. Thanks in part to the deluge of advertisements, many people came to associate the American Dream with homeownership, with some unfortunate results.

Read more …

And so many other places. Homes are for people, not for money.

Gentrification In Brooklyn Is A “Humanitarian Emergency” (NYRoB)

New York City is in the throes of a humanitarian emergency, a term defined by the Humanitarian Coalition of large international aid organizations as “an event or series of events that represents a critical threat to the health, safety, security or wellbeing of a community or other large group of people.” New York’s is what aid groups would characterize as a “complex emergency”: man-made and shaped by a combination of forces that have led to a large-scale “displacement of populations” from their homes. What makes the crisis especially startling is that New York has the most progressive housing laws in the country and a mayor who has made tenants’ rights and affordable housing a central focus of his administration.

The tide of homelessness is only the most visible symptom. There are at least 61,000 people whose shelter is provided, on any given day, by New York’s Department of Homeless Services. The 661 buildings in the municipal shelter system are filled to capacity nightly, and Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced plans to open ninety new sites, many of which are already being ferociously resisted by neighborhood residents. A packed meeting in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, about a proposed shelter for 104 men over the age of fifty that I attended this winter quickly devolved into a cacophony of ire. “You dump your garbage on us because you think we’re garbage!” shouted a black woman to a city official. The official seemed stunned, and police watched anxiously as the meeting broke up.

The revulsion against the homeless seemed linked to a deep suspicion of “the powers that be, whoever they may be,” as one attendee put it. There were already several shelters in the area. The de Blasio administration’s argument that the homeless should be placed in the neighborhoods they come from so they can renew connections and have a better chance of getting back on their feet only compounded the insult. Were the local residents “connected” to the homeless—those on the lowest social rung? When the city changed eligibility for the shelter to men sixty-two and older, residents opposing it were not assuaged: a neighborhood association filed a lawsuit that blocked the shelter from opening for nearly two months, until it was dismissed by a judge in late May.

[..] New York is the only city in the United States to have taken on the legal obligation of providing a bed for anybody who asks for one and has nowhere else to sleep. This came about after advocates for the homeless argued, in a series of lawsuits in the 1970s, that shelter was a fundamental right, not just a social service. To establish this they pointed to an article in the New York State Constitution that implies public responsibility for “the aid, care and support of the needy.”

Read more …

We’re nowhere near the end of Greek misery.

Thousands Of Houses In Greece For Sale To Cover Debts (K.)

More than 20,000 houses have been put up for sale in Greece over the last 12 months because their owners are unable to meet their obligations, particularly regarding mortgage payments. Fearing that their bank accounts will be frozen or their properties confiscated, owners are being forced to put their homes on the market at prices low enough to attract buyers and to pay their way out of financial troubles. This is the picture conveyed to Kathimerini by property market professionals who are closely monitoring developments related to the process of bad loan settlements, and especially as regards mortgages. Giorgos Litsas, head of chartered property surveyors GLP Values, which cooperates with credit institutions in the assessment of properties, says that some 10 to 15% of the existing stock of unsold houses – i.e. between 20,000 and 25,000 properties – involve cases where owners have found themselves at an impasse.

Read more …

Dec 242016
 
 December 24, 2016  Posted by at 9:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle Christmas Eve 2016
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Alfred Palmer Annette del Sur in salvage campaign, Douglas Aircraft Co., Long Beach, CA 1942

The Connection Between Work and Dignity (B.)
2016 Year In Review: A Clockwork Orange (Dave Collum)
A Week On Jury Duty With Rex Tillerson (Roden)
Putin Shrugs Off Trump’s Nuclear Plans, Says Democrats Sore Losers (R.)
President Xi Open to Growth in China Falling Below 6.5% (BBG)
Barclays Refuses To Settle With US DoJ Over ‘Craptacular Loans’ (G.)
Greek PM in Open Confrontation With German FinMin (GR)
Greece Takes Dig At Lenders With Scrooge Christmas Card (R.)
Is A Big Change Underway In Global Capitalism? (Parramore/Chanos)
Shanghai Water Supply Hit By 100-Tonne Wave Of Garbage (G.)
3.5 Trillion Insects Migrate Over Southern Britain Each Year (CSM)
One of Earth’s Most Dangerous Supervolcanoes Is Rumbling (NatGeo)
Mediterranean Death Toll Is Record 5,000 Refugees, Migrants This Year (R.)

 

 

Best ever case for basic income. And then he doesn’t even mention it!

The Connection Between Work and Dignity (B.)

If we work hard and produce something of tangible value, we tend to feel a sense of self-worth when society rewards us for it with a decent, middle-class life. This was the essence of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal – if you work, you eat. The continuing power of this idea is visible everywhere. Witness Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the city gave homeless people jobs and it made them feel “human again.” Or look at the Job Corps program, where giving poor people jobs made them more likely to get married. If you give people work with tangible, visible value, you give them dignity. This, of course, is a reason the U.S.’s falling labor participation rate is such a concern – so many Americans are out of the workforce and are missing out on the dignity that comes with a job:

So is there work to be done in the U.S. that produces tangible, visible value? Of course there is. To realize this, just take a one-week trip to Japan. Where American sidewalks are cracked and uneven, Japanese ones are neat and beautiful. Where tables in American Starbucks are littered with crumbs and dirt, Japanese Starbucks tables get wiped down after every customer leaves. Where American cities like Chicago and Detroit are full of broken windows and crumbling facades, Japanese cities are clean and modern, with well-maintained, reliable public transit. Before we start complaining about make-work, let’s make the U.S. look like that. Let’s fix the sidewalks and renovate – or knock down and rebuild – all the old buildings. Let’s wipe down every Starbucks table, build quality public-transit systems and hire the workers to make them run on time.

And let’s take care of our people as well as our cities. Let’s provide child care for working moms, and elder care for old people. Let’s hire more teachers to reduce class sizes. These are all jobs that produce real, tangible results. When you fix up a building or build a train station, you can see the fruits of your labors. When you take care of an old person, you can see a real human being benefit. The value created by these jobs is a lot more tangible and clear than the value created by a lot of activities that the market rewards much more, such as high-frequency trading. The free-market age has made the economy more efficient, but it has come at a dramatic price – lost dignity for so many. The U.S. has moved away from the idea of a social compact with work at its core. That’s something that deserves to be reversed.

Read more …

I warn you, don’t do it. Don’t even start reading. This innocent-enough looking ‘organic chemical professor’ with his cultivated hobo-under-the-bridge look has one thing in mind, and one only: to ruin your holidays. Being holed up with his review means no valuable and precious time left to spend with your families, letting the turkey burn in the oven (oh, would he like that!) and having no eyes for the beautiful snowy landscape out there. Talk about the Grinch who stole Christmas!

2016 Year In Review: A Clockwork Orange (Dave Collum)

With some notable exceptions, the mainstream media has degenerated into a steaming heap of detritus that is so bad now that it gets its own section. A congenital infobesity has morphed into late-stage disinfobesity. Enter social media—the fever swamp—to fill the void. As we shall see, however, all is not well there either. I sift and pan, looking for shiny nuggets of content that reach the high standards of a rant. Shout-outs to bloggers would have to include Michael Krieger, Charles Hugh Smith, Peter Boockvar, Bill Fleckenstein, Doug Noland, Jesse Felder, Tony Greer, Mike Lebowitz, Mish Shedlock, Charles Hugh Smith, and Grant Williams.

News consolidators and new-era media include Contra Corner, Real Vision, Heatstreet, and Automatic Earth. A carefully honed Twitter feed is a window to the world and the road to perdition. My actions speak to my enthusiasm for Chris Martenson and Adam Taggart at Peak Prosperity. However, if you gave me one lens through which to view the world, I would have to choose Zero Hedge (or maybe LadySonya.com).

Read more …

Nice story. Don’t demonize the man. Give him a chance.

A Week On Jury Duty With Rex Tillerson (Roden)

Nine years ago, I showed up to the Denton County Courthouse for jury duty and got myself picked for the job. A young girl had accused her mom’s boyfriend of sexual assault, and the case was being brought to trial. If you’ve ever served on a jury trial before, you understand the almost immediate yet very temporary bond that ties 12 strangers together who are randomly chosen from each of their private lives to fulfill a solemn public purpose. One of our first tasks was to choose our jury foreman. Perhaps it was his business suit, his impressive stature, or his charisma, but almost everyone in that jury room suggested that this middle-aged man with graying hair was likely the most fit for the task. Thanks, but I decline. I’m not interested in the spotlight, he told us. I didn’t think anything of it.

I had just bought my first BlackBerry and used my breaks to catch up on all the emails I was missing from my week at the courthouse. I recall leaving the jury room on a break with this man and remarking how busy I was and how much work I had to do. He smiled as he sat and read the paper. From the first day of jury selection, we all noticed another suited man always present in the courtroom. His presence was intriguing due to the ear piece in his ear. While grabbing lunch at Denton County Independent Hamburger on the square the second day of the trial, we noticed this mysterious man dining with our fellow juror who’d declined the foreman spot. The intrigue grew, and it was the talk of the jury: Who were these men? Finally, during a break in the jury room, one juror had the nerve to ask: “Who are you? And what do you do?”

Our fellow jury member was reading the paper again and pointed out an article with Exxon in the headlines. I work for them, he said humbly. There are a lot of people in this world who hate me for what I do, so they give me and my family guys like that to protect me. I immediately felt embarrassed for complaining about how much work I had to do. It didn’t take long before a few internet searches revealed that I was serving on this jury with the CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson. The trial concluded, and it was time for the jury to deliberate. The story was heartbreaking, and the facts of the case were clear enough to make the majority of the jury convinced of the guilt of this sexual offender of a little girl. But the defense did a good enough job to create a couple of hold-outs. As our deliberations came to a close, it appeared we might have a hung jury.

That’s when Tillerson began to speak. Humbly, delicately and without an ounce of condescension toward those who disagreed, he began walking us all through the details of the case. I even recall being moved by his thorough explanation about the nature of doubt and the standards set forth by our justice system. With great patience, this man who strikes multibillion-dollar deals with foreign heads of state brought our scrappy jury together — to bring a sexual predator to justice and to deliver justice for a scared and deeply wounded little girl. A local nonprofit was instrumental in fostering that young girl through this process, providing her counseling and legal help. I was so struck by their mission that I toured their facility the week after the case to learn how I could donate and volunteer to their cause.

On a whim, I decided to reach out to Tillerson to encourage him to do the same. I found an email for him online and sent him a note, touting the role this agency played in our trial and urging him to consider supporting the great work they do. To my surprise, I received an email back thanking me for my note and my jury service, and ensuring me that he would contact the agency. I later received a call from the director of that nonprofit to let me know that Tillerson followed through and gave a generous donation.

Read more …

Putin was impressive. Among many other things, he announced cuts in defense spending from 4.7% of GDP in 2016, to 3.3%, and 2.8% in 2019. “If anyone is unleashing an arms race it’s not us … We will never spend resources on an arms race that we can’t afford.”

Putin Shrugs Off Trump’s Nuclear Plans, Says Democrats Sore Losers (R.)

Russia’s Vladimir Putin said on Friday he was unfazed by President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to boost the U.S. nuclear arsenal, praising Trump for being in touch with U.S. public opinion while branding the Democrats sore election losers. Speaking at his annual news conference in Moscow, the Russian president said earlier comments he had made about his country’s own military modernization had been misunderstood in the United States and that he accepted that the U.S. military, not Russia’s, was the most powerful in the world. Putin said on Thursday Russia’s military was “stronger than any potential aggressor”. Trump later tweeted that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

Asked to clarify his comments on Friday, MSNBC reported that Trump had said: “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.” But Putin said he did not regard the United States as a potential aggressor and had only been talking about countries he thought might realistically launch an attack on Russia. “I was a bit surprised by the statements from some representatives of the current U.S. administration who for some reason started to prove that the U.S. military was the most powerful in the world,” Putin said, referring to State Department comments from Thursday. “Nobody is arguing with that.” Putin said he saw nothing new or remarkable about Trump’s own statement about wanting to expand U.S. nuclear capabilities anyway. “In the course of his election campaign he (Trump) spoke about the necessity of strengthening the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and strengthening the armed forces. There’s nothing unusual here,” said Putin.

“If anyone is unleashing an arms race it’s not us … We will never spend resources on an arms race that we can’t afford.” [..] Putin dismissed suggestions Moscow had helped Trump to victory in any way however. “It’s not like that,” he said. “All of this (the accusations) speaks of the current administration’s systemic problems.” Putin, who spoke positively of Trump before his election win, said that only Moscow had believed in his victory however. “Trump understood the mood of the people and kept going until the end, when nobody believed in him,” Putin said, adding with a smile. “Except for you and me.” Putin said he would be willing to visit the United States if Trump invited him and expected U.S.-Russia ties to return to normal now, particularly in the security and economic spheres.

Read more …

Xi finds an opening to blame lower growth on something other than himself, and dives right in.

President Xi Open to Growth in China Falling Below 6.5% (BBG)

President Xi Jinping isn’t wedded to China’s 6.5% economic growth objective due to concerns about rising debt and an uncertain global environment after Donald Trump’s election win in the U.S., according to a person familiar with the situation. Xi told a meeting of the Communist Party’s financial and economic leading group this week that China doesn’t need to meet the objective if doing so creates too much risk, said the person, who asked not to be named because the discussions were private. Leaders at the gathering agreed that the $11 trillion economy would remain stable with slower growth as long as employment stays firm, the person said.

Below-target growth would be in line with analyst projections that the expansion will keep decelerating in coming years from an estimated pace of 6.7% in 2016. The slowdown coincides with the nation’s broad shift from an export-led economy to services, which accounted for more than half of growth last year for the first time, and domestic consumption. Last year, policy makers pledged an annual growth rate of at least 6.5% for five years through 2020. Some economists criticize the growth objective for motivating officials to take risks that may jeopardize financial stability. The IMF is among those that have recommended a lower target.

Read more …

Who came up with that word?

Barclays Refuses To Settle With US DoJ Over ‘Craptacular Loans’ (G.)

Barclays is refusing to settle with the US Department of Justice over allegations it deliberately sold mortgage bonds to investors that it knew contained “craptacular loans”. The DoJ’s legal filing outlines an array of colourful descriptions of the types of mortgages that it alleges were used by Barclays to package up in bonds – known as residential mortgage bond securities – which could be sold on to investors. It accuses Barclays of selling investors RMBS “backed by loans it knew were made to borrowers who were not creditworthy and which were supported by house appraisals it knew were inflated”. The DoJ said Barclays was not lending to customers itself but using loans from mortgage lenders Fremont, New Century, WMC, Countrywide, and IndyMac as the basis of the bonds it was selling.

To support its case the DoJ published conversations between bankers which it claimed proved they knew they were selling poor investments. They included: • One Barclays banker in charge of reviewing the deals observed that one loan pool was “about as bad as it can be”. • On another occasion, the same banker said this “scares the shit out of me”. He also remarked about a package of loans from Wells Fargo that “we have to eat their shit loans”. • A Barclays salesperson described “the deluge of Fremont garbage being put out there”, the DoJ said. Barclays, becoming the first major lender to fail to reach a settlement with the DoJ, said it rejected the claims made in the complaint. “Barclays considers that the claims made in the complaint are disconnected from the facts. We have an obligation to our shareholders, customers, clients, and employees to defend ourselves against unreasonable allegations and demands. Barclays will vigorously defend the complaint and seek its dismissal at the earliest opportunity,” the bank said.

Read more …

“No matter how big fiscal surpluses some countries manage, they will never reach the surplus of soul that Greek people have..”

Greek PM in Open Confrontation With German FinMin (GR)

“Those who are not at peace with their souls can not cope with the problems of their country, neither Europe’s nor the world’s,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Thursday. The prime minister had in mind the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who said that he can’t show any understanding to the Greek prime minister for accusing the German government of hurting Greek pensioners. Tsipras spoke in Greek parliament in an event dedicated to unescorted refugee children. “Those who shake the finger at us in the name of the agreements, and address Greek people in a condescending way, they must honor their commitments first before they turn to criticize us,” Tsipras said. Schaeuble has repeatedly said in the past that Greece is not implementing the reforms needed to help the economy to recover. “Our efforts aim to Greece so that it stands on its feet again,”he said.

Then the German minister explained further: “Solidarity can only be justified when the aid is limited and leads to change something in a positive direction. In Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus that was evident. After implementing the program, their economies are growing, rapidly for some. Greece is the third program and without the financial help of billions of euros would be bankrupt long ago. Then the Greek citizens would suffer much more.” The Greek prime minister said during his speech that the compassion and solidarity Greece showed during the refugee crisis is more important than state budgets and fiscal targets. “We now open our arms — and I believe this reflects the feelings of the vast majority of the Greek people — to these weak people. Despite our difficulties we keep our dignity and this is much greater wealth and much larger surplus of all budget surpluses. No matter how big fiscal surpluses some countries manage, they will never reach the surplus of soul that Greek people have,” Tsipras said.

Read more …

That’ll go down well.

Greece Takes Dig At Lenders With Scrooge Christmas Card (R.)

Greece’s Finance Ministry took a page out of Charles Dickens’s classic “A Christmas Carol” to have a dig on Friday at the international lenders who have imposed unpopular austerity on the country. An e-card from the press office of the Greek Finance Ministry, sent to journalists, showed a picture of a frail, stingy Ebenezer Scrooge warming by the fire during a visit of his former business partner Jacob Marley, the ghost of Christmas Past shackled in chains. “Perhaps all Christmas stories feature a terrifying Ebenezer welcoming the spirits of Christmas in his desolate loneliness, and perhaps our Christmas story is no exception,” the e-card reads. “But dear friends and colleagues, our wishes will prevail over all the Ebenezers of this world. A very happy new year, with health and love focused on those all around us.”

Read more …

Lynn Parramore talks to Jim Chanos.

Is A Big Change Underway In Global Capitalism? (Parramore/Chanos)

Jim Chanos: Bush was the MBA president who was going to be pro-business, cut taxes, and deregulate. Meanwhile, he had two recessions on his watch, less employment than when he started, and two bear markets in the stock market — probably the worst president for business since Herbert Hoover. The business guy! Yet, he did tighten up the Justice Department and go after corporate crime. The Ashcroft Justice Department, as bad as it was in lots of other things, went after corporate fraud and accounting fraud, criminally. In 2002, we got Sarbanes-Oxley to curb fraud. I don’t know that all this was Bush’s predilection — remember, his biggest supporter was Enron. But because of Enron and the other dot-com era scandals, he got backed into a corner to go hard on them.

I’ve joked that the only person who put more corporate executives in jail than George W. Bush was his father during the Savings and Loan Crisis. On these issues, I’d rather have Bush any day of the week than Obama. Both Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer of Obama’s Justice Department said in TV interviews and testimony that they factored in non-judicial aspects as to whether to mount prosecutions. I think that this had political costs to the Democrats. The crony capitalism still bothers people — the idea that Wall Street got off scot-free and they are still struggling. That lack of justice applied equally under the law was corrosive, not necessarily for Obama personally, but certainly for the party following him.

LP: How do you see a Trump presidency in this light? JC: You and I have talked about how it has become a cost calculus for lots of corporations and financial institutions to cheat. “If I get caught,” they say, “I’m just going to pay a fine.” How does this change with new faces in Washington? You still have this very pro-corporate group on Capitol Hill whose main bailiwick, in my opinion, is to protect the corporate class and the very wealthy. You’ve got what ostensibly is a proto-populist in the White House with a cabinet that is a mélange of different types, so who knows?

In my overall view, stuff happens to change people. If we go back to Bill Clinton, his “Putting People First” manifesto in ’92 was quite left-of-center, but he didn’t govern that way. If you look at things like NAFTA, Welfare reform, and cutting capital gains taxes — well, in many ways, Ronald Reagan would have been proud of him. Events conspire to derail our perceptions of presidents. When we look at their platforms, we think we know where things are headed. But in modern times, the only two presidents that I can think of who really got their ideas and platforms enacted wholesale were FDR and Reagan. Everybody else has gotten compromised, or has had events overwhelm them.

Read more …

“This is so sad, just humanity digging its own grave..”

Shanghai Water Supply Hit By 100-Tonne Wave Of Garbage (G.)

Medical waste, broken bottles and household trash are some of the items found in more than 100 tonnes of garbage salvaged near a drinking water reservoir in Shanghai. The suspected culprits are two ships that have been dumping waste upstream in the Yangtze river. It has then flowed downstream to the reservoir on Shanghai’s Chongming island which is also home to 700,000 people. The reservoir at the mouth of the river is one of the four main sources of drinking water for the country’s largest city, according to local media. China has struggled with air, soil and water pollution for years during its economic boom, with officials often protecting industry and silencing citizens that complain. China’s cities are often blanketed in toxic smog, while earlier this year more than 80% of water wells used by farms, factories and rural households was found to be unsafe for drinking because of pollution.

Officials dispatched more than 40 workers to clean up the mess, but the area around the reservoir will take about two weeks to clear, the Shanghai Daily reported. Shanghai’s water authority claims supplies are still safe to drink, but has stopped the flow coming in while it continues testing, the paper said. Videos circulating on social media showed beaches and wetlands covered in a rainbow of plastic bags. “There’s enough trash to cover several football fields,” a local resident can be heard saying in one video. Catheter bags and used IV sacks are pulled from the water, and in some places only a sea of trash can be seen, completely obscuring the river water. “This is so sad, just humanity digging its own grave,” one commenter on Twitter-like Sina Weibo said.


A tourist surrounded by rubbish on a beach in China. Photograph: Feature China / Barcroft Media

Read more …

“..Britain’s overhead populations are probably “close to minimum values” because of the area’s cold and dry climate. The warm, moist skies of the Amazon – or southern California, for example – likely see far more than 3.5 trillion insects each year.”

3.5 Trillion Insects Migrate Over Southern Britain Each Year (CSM)

Three and a half trillion. That’s how many insects migrate over southern Britain in one year, according to a study published Friday in the journal Science. To put that number in perspective, that’s the equivalent of more than 54 bugs for every person in Britain. The team of scientists from Britain, China, and Israel spent a decade tracking insect migration at altitudes between 492 and 3,937 feet using entomological radar and an aerial insect-catching net. “High-altitude aerial migration of insects is enormous,” University of Exeter entomologist and co-author Jason Chapman told Reuters. “These aerial flows are an unappreciated aspect of terrestrial ecosystems, equivalent to the oceanic movements of plankton which power the oceanic food chains.” And the vast quantity was not the only surprising aspect of their study.

The researchers also discovered that insects migrate north and south seasonally (just like birds), and can reach speeds between 18 and 37 miles per hour by choosing wind patterns that are blowing in their chosen direction, Ars Technica reports. The trillions of migrating insects weigh a combined total of 3,200 tons – the equivalent of more than 636 elephants flying overhead each year. But if hundreds of elephants’ worth of bugs were flying overhead each year, wouldn’t we know about them already? No, say scientists: the vast majority of these bugs are super small. Take the marmalade hoverfly, for example. “It’s only about a centimeter long, it’s orange with black stripes, but it’s a hugely abundant migrant, and it actually does some very important jobs” such as pollinating crops and wildflowers, Dr. Chapman told NPR.

And the authors say Britain’s overhead migration is likely modest compared to other regions of the world. In fact, Chapman tells the Los Angeles Times that Britain’s overhead populations are probably “close to minimum values” because of the area’s cold and dry climate. The warm, moist skies of the Amazon – or southern California, for example – likely see far more than 3.5 trillion insects each year. While some bug-averse people might find this study chilling, it is really quite encouraging, say scientists. Healthy insect populations are crucial for a productive environmental landscape. “We could not function without them,” Chapman tells Reuters. The insects pollinate plants, feed birds and bats, and promote healthy soil through decomposition and other important processes.

Read more …

Does ‘volatile’ capture it?

One of Earth’s Most Dangerous Supervolcanoes Is Rumbling (NatGeo)

A long-quiet yet huge supervolcano that lies under 500,000 people in Italy may be waking up and approaching a “critical state,” scientists report this week in the journal Nature Communications. Based on physical measurements and computer modeling, “we propose that magma could be approaching the CDP [critical degassing pressure] at Campi Flegrei, a volcano in the metropolitan area of Naples, one of the most densely inhabited areas in the world, and where accelerating deformation and heating are currently being observed,” wrote the scientists—who are led by Giovanni Chiodini of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics in Rome. A sudden release of hot magmatic gasses is possible in the near future, which could trigger a large eruption, the scientists warn. Yet the timing of any possible eruption is unknown and is currently not possible to predict.

In response to the news, Italy’s government has raised the volcano’s threat level from green to yellow, or from quiet to requires scientific monitoring. In other words, the government is urging a measured response to the study, followed by additional scientific work. Campi Flegrei means “burning fields” in Italian. The volcanic region is also known as the Phlegraean Fields. Like other supervolcanoes—such as the one responsible for the geothermal features of Yellowstone—it is not a single volcanic cone. Rather, it’s a large complex, much of it underground or under the Mediterranean Sea, that includes 24 craters, as well as various geysers and vents that can release hot gas. Supervolcanoes are usually characterized by a large caldera, or depression, that formed from past explosive eruptions. Campi Flegrei’s depression, just west of Naples, is more than seven miles across.

Campi Flegrei is thought to have formed hundreds of thousands of years ago. A massive eruption 200,000 years ago spewed so much ash that it darkened the skies around the planet, triggering a “volcanic winter.” That event is thought to have been the largest volcanic episode in the history of Europe over that time. The volcano erupted again 35,000 and 12,000 years ago. An eruption about 40,000 years ago might have contributed to the extinction of the Neanderthals, a 2010 study suggested, although that report has been debated. The volcanic area was also known by the ancient Greeks.

Read more …

14 per day, every single day. Before you know it, you’re talking real loss of life.

Mediterranean Death Toll Is Record 5,000 Refugees, Migrants This Year (R.)

A record 5,000 migrants are believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year, following two shipwrecks on Thursday in which some 100 people, mainly West Africans, were feared dead, aid agencies said on Friday. Two overcrowded inflatable dinghies capsized in the Strait of Sicily after leaving Libya for Italy, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said. “Those two incidents together appear to be the numbers that would bring this year’s total up to over to 5,000 (deaths), which is a new high that we have reported during this crisis,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a Geneva briefing. The Italian coast guard rescued survivors and had recovered eight bodies so far, he said. IOM staff were interviewing survivors brought to Trapani, Italy, he added.

Just under 3,800 migrants perished at sea during all of 2015, according to IOM figures. UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said the “alarming increase” in deaths this year appeared to be related to bad weather, the declining quality of vessels used by smugglers, and their tactics to avoid detection. “These (reasons also) include sending large numbers of embarkations simultaneously, which makes the work of rescuers more difficult,” he said. The UNHCR appealed to states to open up more legal pathways for admitting refugees. Resettlement programmes, private sponsorship, family reunification and student scholarships would help “so they do not have to resort to dangerous journeys and the use of smugglers”, Spindler said.

Read more …