Aug 062018
 August 6, 2018  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »

Vasily Polenov Étretat 1874


Stock Market Manias of the Past vs the Echo Bubble (Tenebrarum)
US Bond Market Takes Looming Treasuries Deluge In Stride (R.)
America 10 Years After The Financial Crisis (NYMag)
Nassim Taleb: ‘No One Who Caused The Crisis Paid Any Price’ (ST)
Fears Of A ‘Car-Crash Brexit’ Make Life Difficult For Mark Carney (G.)
Rich, Reckless Brexit Zealots Are Fighting A New Class War (G.)
Saudi Expels Canadian Envoy, Recalls Its Own Over ‘Interference’ (AFP)
Chinese State Media Slams Trump For ‘Extortion’ In Trade Dispute (R.)
Wells Fargo Blames Computer Glitch For Customers Losing Homes (Hill)
Russian Gas Is A Problem For Germany (R.)



Buybacks prop up ever weaker stocks.

Stock Market Manias of the Past vs the Echo Bubble (Tenebrarum)

The diverging performance of major US stock market indexes which has been in place since the late January peak in DJIA and SPX has become even more extreme in recent months. In terms of duration and extent it is one of the most pronounced such divergences in history. It also happens to be accompanied by weakening market internals, some of the most extreme sentiment and positioning readings ever seen and an ever more hostile monetary backdrop. The above combination is consistent with a market close to a major peak – although one must always keep in mind that divergences can become even more pronounced – as was for instance demonstrated on occasion of the technology sector blow-off in late 1999 – 2000.

Along similar lines, extremes in valuations can persist for a very long time as well and reach previously unimaginable levels. The Nikkei of the late 1980s is a pertinent example for this. Incidentally, the current stock buyback craze is highly reminiscent of the 1980s Japanese financial engineering method known as keiretsu or zaibatsu, as it invites the very same rationalizations. We recall vividly that it was argued in the 1980s that despite their obscene overvaluation, Japanese stocks could “never decline” because Japanese companies would prop up each other’s stocks. Today we often read or hear that overvalued US stocks cannot possibly decline because companies will keep propping up their own stocks with buybacks.

Of course this propping up of stock prices occurs amid a rather concerning deterioration in median corporate balance sheet strength, as corporate debt has exploded into the blue yonder (just as it did in Japan in the late 1980s). The fact that an unprecedented number of companies is a single notch downgrade away from a junk rating should give sleepless nights to fixed income and stock market investors alike – as should the oncoming “wall of maturities”. A giant wall of junk bond maturities is looming in the not to distant future. Unless investors remain in a mood to refinance all comers, this threatens to provide us with a spot of “interesting times”. Something tells us that “QT” could turn into a bit of a party pooper as the “Great Wall” approaches.

It should also be mentioned that past stock market peaks as a rule coincided with record highs in buybacks. This indicates that record highs in buybacks are mainly a contrarian indicator rather than a datum providing comfort at extreme points. Of course, what actually represents an “extreme point” can only ever be known with certainty in hindsight, as extremes tend to shift over time – particularly in a fiat money system in which the supply of money and credit can be expanded willy-nilly. What can be stated with certainty is only whether the markets are entering what we would call dangerous territory.

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But the Fed is retreating.

US Bond Market Takes Looming Treasuries Deluge In Stride (R.)

U.S. government debt supply will likely continue to boom, but bond market investors seem to be taking it in stride. The Treasury Department is having to sell more debt to finance the government’s ballooning deficit, stemming from the massive federal tax overhaul in December and the spending deal passed in February. Still, bond yields have remained in a narrow range, suggesting investors may not be fretting about the swelling debt supply. “There will be no relief from supply especially from bills going into October,” said Tom Simons, money market strategist at Jefferies & Co in New York. Supply is expected to run high at least until the Treasury provides updated forecasts on its borrowing needs, next due in November – and might even accelerate further.

This week, the Treasury will sell $34 billion in three-year notes, with $26 billion in 10-year debt on Wednesday and $18 billion in 30-year bonds on Thursday. It will also auction $51 billion in three-month bills and $45 billion in six-month bills, together with an expected $65 billion in one-month bills. The supply will fall short of a record week of $294 billion set in March but continues a trend higher since February. Analysts, who said the market would have no trouble digesting this week’s offerings, see the government as becoming increasingly dependent on private investors for cash as the Fed further reduces its bond holdings. The goal is to shrink a balance sheet that had grown to more than $4 trillion from three massive rounds of asset purchases to combat the previous recession.

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“That loose civic concept known as the American Dream [..] has been shattered.”

America 10 Years After The Financial Crisis (NYMag)

If you were standing in the smoldering ashes of 9/11 trying to peer into the future, you might have been overjoyed to discover this happy snapshot of 2018: There has been no subsequent major terrorist attack on America from Al Qaeda or its heirs. American troops are not committed en masse to any ground war. American workers are enjoying a blissful 4 percent unemployment rate. The investment class and humble 401(k) holders alike are beneficiaries of a rising GDP and booming stock market that, as measured by the Dow, is up some 250 percent since its September 10, 2001, close. The most admired person in America, according to Gallup, is the nation’s first African-American president, a man no one had heard of and a phenomenon no one could have imagined at the century’s dawn. Comedy, the one art whose currency is laughter, is the culture’s greatest growth industry. What’s not to like?

Plenty, as it turns out. The mood in America is arguably as dark as it has ever been in the modern era. The birthrate is at a record low, and the suicide rate is at a 30-year high; mass shootings and opioid overdoses are ubiquitous. In the aftermath of 9/11, the initial shock and horror soon gave way to a semblance of national unity in support of a president whose electoral legitimacy had been bitterly contested only a year earlier. Today’s America is instead marked by fear and despair more akin to what followed the crash of 1929, when unprecedented millions of Americans lost their jobs and homes after the implosion of businesses ranging in scale from big banks to family farms.

It’s not hard to pinpoint the dawn of this deep gloom: It arrived in September 2008, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers kicked off the Great Recession that proved to be a more lasting existential threat to America than the terrorist attack of seven Septembers earlier. The shadow it would cast is so dark that a decade later, even our current run of ostensible prosperity and peace does not mitigate the one conviction that still unites all Americans: Everything in the country is broken. Not just Washington, which failed to prevent the financial catastrophe and has done little to protect us from the next, but also race relations, health care, education, institutional religion, law enforcement, the physical infrastructure, the news media, the bedrock virtues of civility and community. Nearly everything has turned to crap, it seems, except Peak TV (for those who can afford it).

That loose civic concept known as the American Dream — initially popularized during the Great Depression by the historian James Truslow Adams in his Epic of America — has been shattered. No longer is lip service paid to the credo, however sentimental, that a vast country, for all its racial and sectarian divides, might somewhere in its DNA have a shared core of values that could pull it out of any mess. Dead and buried as well is the companion assumption that over the long term a rising economic tide would lift all Americans in equal measure. When that tide pulled back in 2008 to reveal the ruins underneath, the country got an indelible picture of just how much inequality had been banked by the top one percent over decades, how many false promises to the other 99 percent had been broken, and how many central American institutions, whether governmental, financial, or corporate, had betrayed the trust the public had placed in them. And when we went down, we took much of the West with us. The American Kool-Aid we’d exported since the Marshall Plan, that limitless faith in progress and profits, had been exposed as a cruel illusion.

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“If anything, banks today are even more on government support.”

Nassim Taleb: ‘No One Who Caused The Crisis Paid Any Price’ (ST)

A year or so after the 2008 crisis, Nassim Taleb, a financial trader turned bestselling author, was called to Washington to talk to a commission that was compiling a report on what went wrong. Taleb, after all, had predicted the crisis with eerie prescience in his 2007 book The Black Swan, which talked about the underappreciated “tail risks” faced by the global economy. “They heckled me for about two or three hours on technicalities,” he recalls. “But not a single one of my points was in the report. Bunch of f****** bureaucrats. No wonder people voted for Donald Trump.” Taleb believes we have learnt nothing from the crisis. “Not only did people not get why it happened,” he says, “but the moral hazard in the system actually increased.”

The problem, in Taleb’s view, is what he calls a “Bob Rubin trade”. In the build-up to the crash, Robert Rubin, a former Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, spent years advising the investment bank Citigroup, eventually becoming its chairman. After the crash happened, he resigned and walked away having made tens of millions. “What’s most depressing is that nobody who was involved in causing the crisis paid any price for it,” Taleb says. “America’s debt is now trillions higher because people transferred risk to the state, owing to mistakes made by individuals.” The crisis highlighted the licence to take risk that banks had, knowing the government would step in if things went wrong.

“People realised that, hey, you can do that with impunity,” Taleb says. “If anything, banks today are even more on government support.” He does identify one bright spot. “Some people have realised there was a problem,” he says. “There is an immense amount of disgruntlement by people who see this point, on the left in Europe and on the right in America. “So you have what is mislabelled ‘populism’ as a first-order reaction, which may be correct or incorrect. But at least some people are starting to see these methods are bullshit.”

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Yet another variation of Brexit.

Fears Of A ‘Car-Crash Brexit’ Make Life Difficult For Mark Carney (G.)

There may be times when Mark Carney regrets extending his stint at the Bank of England by an extra year. Had things gone as originally planned, Carney would have handed over the keys to Threadneedle Street a month ago and someone else would have had the task of steering the economy through what is certain to be a fiendishly tricky period. That would be the case even without Brexit. The UK economy has recovered more slowly and more unevenly than Carney envisaged when he took over at the Bank from Mervyn King in 2013. It was only last week that the Bank’s monetary policy committee felt confident enough to raise interest rates above the 0.5% emergency level that they reached in March 2009.

But Brexit is taking up half the governor’s time and it is clear that he is starting to get concerned. Certainly, his remarks when questioned on the BBC Today programme on Friday were blunt. With just eight months to go before Britain leaves the European Union, the risk of a no-deal Brexit is “uncomfortably high”. There was a time when such plain speaking from the governor of the Bank of England would have raised a few eyebrows in Downing Street. Not now. The line since the cabinet signed up to Theresa May’s soft Brexit plan is that the government has made all the concessions it can, and that means unless Brussels gives something in return there is a danger of chaos next March.

So the prime minister would not have been troubled when Carney said that a no-deal Brexit would be “highly undesirable” and something all parties should seek to avoid, because that’s the official Whitehall line. There will be no complaints if the governor continues to stress the importance of London as a source of low-cost capital for European governments and companies.

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Britain reveals what it really is.

Rich, Reckless Brexit Zealots Are Fighting A New Class War (G.)

We now know it beyond doubt: however we leave the European Union, the result is likely to be damage that Britain is in no position to absorb. Job losses are certain. A stack of Brexit impact reports from local authorities obtained last week by Sky News identified a catalogue of dire consequences, from farms in Shetland that could be plunged into impossible losses, through social care services in East Sussex already being hit by labour shortages, to the M26 being turned into a giant lorry park. With his characteristic emollience, the trade secretary, Liam Fox, says a no-deal Brexit is now more likely than a negotiated deal; Jeremy Hunt reckons we could fall off the came cliff-edge “by accident”, and reports about stockpiled food and medicines attest to the awfulness of any such prospect.

March 2019, then, could well mark a watershed point in a drawn-out disaster. But so, in a different way, could somehow nullifying the result of the referendum and staying put. It would be comforting to think that what George Orwell called “the gentleness of the English civilisation” would mean that an overturning of 2016’s outcome would be grudgingly swallowed by the vast majority of leave voters, but I would not be so sure. Ukip is back in the polls, and has newly strengthened links to the far right. A couple of weeks ago, I was in Boston in Lincolnshire, the town whose 75.6% vote for Brexit made it the most leave-supporting place in the UK. Many of the people I spoke to were already convinced that Brexit was doomed, and full of talk of betrayal.

Some of what I heard was undeniably ugly, though much of it was based on an undeniable set of facts. People were asked to make a decision, and they did. The referendum was the one meaningful political event in millions of voters’ lifetimes, and we were all assured that its result would be respected. Whatever the noise about a second referendum, this is the fundamental reason why the likelihood of Brexit interrupted remains dim.

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Our best friends.

Saudi Expels Canadian Envoy, Recalls Its Own Over ‘Interference’ (AFP)

Saudi Arabia said Monday it was expelling the Canadian ambassador and had recalled its envoy while freezing all new trade, in protest at Ottawa’s vigorous calls for the release of jailed activists. The kingdom gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country, in an abrupt rupture of relations over what it slammed as “interference” in its internal affairs. The move, which underscores a newly aggressive foreign policy led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, comes after Canada demanded the immediate release of human rights campaigners swept up in a new crackdown. “The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Saudi foreign ministry tweeted.

“The kingdom announces that it is recalling its ambassador to Canada for consultation. We consider the Canadian ambassador to the kingdom persona non grata and order him to leave within the next 24 hours.” The ministry also announced “the freezing of all new trade and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action”. Canada last week said it was “gravely concerned” over a new wave of arrests of women and human rights campaigners in the kingdom, including award-winning gender rights activist Samar Badawi. Samar was arrested along with fellow campaigner Nassima al-Sadah last week, the latest victims of what Human Rights Watch called an “unprecedented government crackdown on the women’s rights movement”.

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“street fighter-style deceitful drama of extortion and intimidation”.

Chinese State Media Slams Trump For ‘Extortion’ In Trade Dispute (R.)

Chinese state media on Monday lashed out at U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade policies in an unusually personal attack, even as they sought to reassure investors about the health of China’s economy as growth concerns roiled its financial markets. China’s strictly controlled news outlets have frequently rebuked the United States and the Trump administration as the trade conflict has escalated, but they have largely refrained from specifically targeting Trump.

The latest criticism from the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper singled out Trump, saying he was starring in his own “street fighter-style deceitful drama of extortion and intimidation”. Trump’s desire for others to play along with his drama is “wishful thinking”, a commentary on the paper’s front page said, arguing that the United States had escalated trade friction with China and turned international trade into a “zero-sum game”. “Governing a country is not like doing business,” the paper said, adding that Trump’s actions imperiled the national credibility of the United States.

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So buy them new ones. But seriously, can anyone explain how Wells Fargo is still in business?

Wells Fargo Blames Computer Glitch For Customers Losing Homes (Hill)

Wells Fargo is blaming a computer glitch for more than 400 customers losing their homes between 2010 and 2015. The bank revealed in regulatory filings last week that the technological error resulted in 625 customers being denied loan modifications, and about 400 costumers having their houses foreclosed on, CNN Money reported on Friday. The filing says the bank has set aside $8 million to compensate the affected customers, it added. Wells Fargo apologized for the error and said in a statement that it is “providing remediation” to customers whose mortgages were affected, according to CNN.

The Treasury Department set up a program in 2009 to help Americans struggling to pay their mortgages, offering them the opportunity to apply for loan modifications, the network noted, adding that the computer error rejected applications from 625 Wells Fargo customers. A bank spokesperson told CNN that there is “not a clear, direct cause and effect relationship” between the error and foreclosures, but said some customers who were denied loan modifications lost their homes. Multiple government agencies are also probing Wells Fargo for its financing of low-income housing developments, Reuters reported. The embattled bank last week agreed to pay more than $2 billion to settle allegations related to offering subprime mortgages in the years before the 2008 financial crisis.

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Russia hysteria all over.

Russian Gas Is A Problem For Germany (R.)

For decades, the Friendship pipeline has delivered oil from Russia to Europe, heating German homes even in the darkest days of the Cold War. But a new pipeline that will carry gas direct from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany is doing rather less for friendship, driving a wedge between Germany and its allies and giving Chancellor Angela Merkel a headache. For U.S. President Donald Trump, Nord Stream 2 is a “horrific” pipeline that will increase Germany’s dependence on Russian energy. Ukraine, fighting Russian-backed separatists, fears the new pipeline will allow Moscow to cut it out of the lucrative and strategically crucial gas transit business.

It comes at an awkward time for Merkel. With the fraying of the transatlantic alliance and an assertive Russia and China, she has acknowledged that Germany must take more of a political leadership role in Europe. “The global order is under pressure,” Merkel said last month. “That’s a challenge for us … Germany’s responsibility is growing; Germany has more work to do.” In April she accepted for the first time that there were “political considerations” to Nord Stream 2, a project she had until then described as a commercial venture. Most European countries want Germany to do more to project European influence and protect eastern neighbors that are nervous of Russian encroachment.

But letting Russia sell gas to Germany while avoiding Ukraine does the opposite, depriving Kiev of transit revenues and making it, Poland and the Baltic states more vulnerable to cuts in gas supplies. “The price would be an even greater loss of trust from the Baltics, Poland and Ukraine,” said Roderich Kiesewetter, a Merkel ally on the parliamentary foreign affairs committee. “We Germans always say that holding the West together is our ‘center of gravity’, but the Russian approach has succeeded in dragging Germany, at least in terms of energy policy, out of this western solidarity.”

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Jul 032018

Edward Hopper Summer interior 1909


Buybacks Are The Only Thing Keeping The Stock Market Afloat (CNBC)
Stock Markets Look Ever More Like Ponzi Schemes (Murphy)
A Japanese Tsunami Out Of US CLOs Is Coming (HC)
The Eurozone’s Coming Debt Crisis (Lacalle)
The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Sectors Of Global Debt (Rochford)
UK’s Latest Brexit Proposal Is Unrealistic, Say EU Officials (G.)
Nassim Taleb Slams “These Virtue-Signaling Open-Borders Imbeciles” (ZH)
Merkel Dodges Political Bullet With Controversial Migrant Deal (AFP)
Austria Says To ‘Protect’ Its Borders After German Migrant Deal (AFP)
Is Facebook A Publisher? In Public It Says No, But In Court It Says Yes (G.)
Tesla’s All-Nighter To Hit Production Goal Fails To Convince Wall Street (R.)
The New York Times Squares off with the Truth, Again (AHT)
Anthony Kennedy and Our Delayed Constitutional Crisis (GP)
‘Snowden is the Master of His Own Destiny’ – Russia (TeleSur)



And then QE ends.

Buybacks Are The Only Thing Keeping The Stock Market Afloat (CNBC)

Stocks right now are hanging by a thread, boosted by a bonanza of corporate buying unrivaled in market history and held back by a burst in investor selling that also has set a new record. Both sides are motivated by fear, as corporations find little else to do with their $2.1 trillion in cash than buy back their own shares or make deals, while individual investors head to the sidelines amid fears that a global trade war could thwart the substantial momentum the U.S. economy has seen this year. “Corporate cash is going to find a home, and it’s either going to be in buybacks, dividends or M&A activity. What it’s not going to be is in capex,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley FBR.

“Individuals are looking at the turbulence we’ve seen this year that we had not seen last year. That creates its own sort of exit sign for investors who don’t want to deal with that.” The numbers showing where each side put their cash in the second quarter are striking. Companies announced $433.6 billion in share repurchases during the period, nearly doubling the previous record of $242.1 billion in the first quarter, according to market research firm TrimTabs. Dow components Nike and Walgreens Boots Alliance led the most recent surge in buybacks, with $15 billion and $10 billion, respectively, last week. In all, 31 companies announced buybacks in excess of $1 billion during June.

At the same time, investors dumped $23.7 billion in stock market-focused funds in June, also a new record. For the full quarter, the brutal June brought global net equity outflows to $20.2 billion, the worst performance since the third quarter of 2016, just before the presidential election. The selling is particularly acute in mutual funds, which saw $52.9 billion in outflows during the quarter and are typically more the purview of the retail side.

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“People think their savings and pensions are safe because of rising share prices. They do not realise it is all a con-trick.”

Stock Markets Look Ever More Like Ponzi Schemes (Murphy)

The FT has reported this morning that: “Debt at UK listed companies has soared to hit a record high of £390bn as companies have scrambled to maintain dividend payouts in response to shareholder demand despite weak profitability.” They added: “UK plc’s net debt has surpassed pre-crisis levels to reach £390.7bn in the 2017-18 financial year, according to analysis from Link Asset Services, which assessed balance sheet data from 440 UK listed companies.” So what, you might ask? Does it matter that companies are making sense of low-interest rates to raise money when I am saying that government could and should be doing the same thing?

Actually, yes it does. And that’s because of what the cash is being used for. Borrowing for investment makes sense. Borrowing to fund revenue investment (that is training, for example, which cannot go on the balance sheet but still adds value to the business) makes sense. But borrowing to pay a dividend when current profits and cash flow would not support it? No, that makes no sense at all. Unless, of course, you are CEO on a large share price linked bonus package and your aim is to manipulate the market price of the company. It is that manipulation that is going on here, I suggest. These loans are being used to artificially inflate share prices.

The problem is systemic. In the US the problem is share buybacks, which I read recently have exceeded $5 trillion in the last decade, meaning that US companies are now by far the biggest buyers of their own shares. That is, once again, market manipulation. And this manipulation does matter. People think their savings and pensions are safe because of rising share prices. They do not realise it is all a con-trick. And companies claim that their pension funds are better funded as a result of these share prices, and so they are meeting their obligations to their employees when that too is a con-trick. They may be insolvent when the truth is known, so serious is the fraud.

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Japan plays a strange role in the global economy. It won’t be able to keep that up much longer. The Bank of Japan has many options; none are good.

A Japanese Tsunami Out Of US CLOs Is Coming (HC)

Japan is at the very centre of the global financial system. It has run current account surpluses for decades, building the world’s largest net foreign investment surplus, or its accumulated national savings. Meanwhile, other nations, such as the US, have borrowed from nations like Japan to live beyond their own means, building net foreign investment deficits. We now have unprecedented levels of cross-national financing.

Much of Japan’s private sector saving is placed in Yen with financial institutions who then invest overseas. These institutions currency hedged most of their foreign assets to reduce risk weighted asset charges and currency write down risks. The cost of hedging USD assets has however risen due to a flattening USD yield curve and dislocations in FX forwards. As shown below, their effective yield on a 10 year US Treasury (UST) hedged with a 3 month USDJPY FX forward has fallen to 0.17%. As this is below the roughly 1% yield many financial institutions require to generate profits they have been selling USTs, even as unhedged 10 year UST yields rise. The effective yield will fall dramatically for here if 3 month USD Libor rises in line with the Fed’s “Dot Plot” forecast for short term rates, assuming other variables like 10 year UST yields remain constant.

As Japanese financial institutions sell US Treasuries, which are considered the safest foreign asset, they are shifting more into higher yielding and higher risk assets; foreign bonds excluding US treasuries as well as foreign equity and investment funds. This is a similar pattern to what we saw prior to the last global financial crisis. In essence, Japan’s financial institutions are forced to take on more risk in search of yield to cover rising hedge costs as the USD yield curve flattens late in the cycle. Critically as the world’s largest net creditor they facilitate significant added liquidity for higher risk overseas borrowers late into the cycle.

I follow these flows closely. One area I think is rather interesting is US Collateralised Loan Obligations (CLOs) which Bloomberg reports “ballooned to a record last quarter thanks in large part to unusually high demand from Japanese investors”. CLOs are essentially a basket of leveraged loans provided to generally lower rated companies with very little covenant protection. Alarmingly, some US borrowers have used this debt to purchase back so much of their own stock that their balance sheets now have negative net equity. A recent Fed discussion paper shows in the following chart that CLOs were the largest mechanism for the transfer of corporate credit risk out of undercapitalised banks in the US and into the shadow banking sector. Japanese financial institutions have been the underwriter of much of that risk in their search for yield.

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“This reduction in costs is financed by pensioners and savers who are forced to invest in these debt instruments, often by institutional mandate.”

The Eurozone’s Coming Debt Crisis (Lacalle)

The European Central Bank (ECB) has signaled the end of its asset purchase program and even a possible rate hike before 2019. After more than 2 trillion euros of asset purchases and a zero interest rate policy, it is long overdue. The massive quantitative easing (QE) program has generated very significant imbalances and the risks far outweigh the questionable benefits. The balance sheet of the ECB is now more than 40 percent of the eurozone GDP. The governments of the eurozone, however, have not prepared themselves at all for the end of stimuli. They often claim that deficits have been reduced and risks contained. However, closer scrutiny shows that the bulk of deficit reductions came from lower cost of government debt.

Eurozone government spending has barely fallen, despite lower unemployment and rising tax revenues. Structural deficits remain stubborn, and in some cases, unchanged from 2013 levels. In other words, the problems are still there, they were just hidden for a while, swept under the rug of an ever-expanding global economy. The 19 eurozone countries have collectively saved 1.15 trillion euros in interest payments since 2008 due to ECB rate cuts and monetary policy interventions, according to German media outlet Handelsblatt. This reduction in costs is financed by pensioners and savers who are forced to invest in these debt instruments, often by institutional mandate.

However, that illusion of savings and budget stability will rapidly disappear as most Eurozone countries face massive amounts of debt coming due in the 2018–2020 period and wasted precious years of quantitative easing without implementing strong structural reforms. The recent troubles of Italian banks are just one precursor of things to come. Taxes rose for families and small and medium-sized enterprises, while current spending by governments barely fell, competitiveness remained poor, and a massive 1 trillion euro in nonperforming loans raises doubts about the health of the European financial system.

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Good overview. Crises wherever you look.

The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Sectors Of Global Debt (Rochford)

When considering where the global credit cycle is at, it’s often easy to form a view based on a handful of recent articles, statistics and anecdotes. The most memorable of these tend to be either very positive or negative otherwise they wouldn’t be published or would be quickly forgotten. A better way to assess where the global credit cycle is at is to look for pockets of dodgy debt. If these pockets are few, credit is early in the cycle with good returns likely to lie ahead. If these pockets are numerous, that’s a clear indication that credit is late cycle.

In reviewing global debt, twelve sectors standout for their lax credit standards and increasing risk levels. There’s excessive risk taking in developed and emerging debt, as well as in government, corporate, consumer and financial sector debt. This points to global credit being late cycle. Central banks have failed to learn the lessons from the last crisis. By seeking to avoid or lessen the necessary cleansing of malinvestment and excessive debt, this cycle’s economic recovery has been unusually slow. Ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing have increased the risk of another financial crisis, the opposite of the financial stability target many central bankers have.

For global debt investors, the current conditions offer limited potential for gains beyond carry. With credit spreads in many sectors at close to their lowest in the last decade, there is greater potential for spreads to widen dramatically than there is for spreads to tighten substantially. Keeping credit duration low, staying senior in the capital structure and shifting up the rating spectrum will cost some carry. However, the cost of de-risking now is as low as it has been for a long time. If the risks in the dirty dozen sectors materialise in the medium term, the losses avoided by de-risking will be a multiple of the carry foregone.

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I’d say it’s about time for the British to wake up to the damage May et al are inflicting on the nation.

UK’s Latest Brexit Proposal Is Unrealistic, Say EU Officials (G.)

A draft of Theresa May’s Brexit plan has already been dismissed as unrealistic by senior EU officials, who say the UK has no chance of changing the European Union’s founding principles. The prime minister is gathering her squabbling ministers at Chequers on Friday for a one-day discussion to thrash out the UK’s future relationship with the EU. But EU sources who have seen drafts of the long-awaited British white paper said the proposals would never be accepted. “We read the white paper and we read ‘cake’,” an EU official told the Guardian, a reference to Boris Johnson’s one-liner of being “pro having [cake] and pro-eating it”. Since the British EU referendum, “cake” has entered the Brussels lexicon to describe anything seen as an unrealistic or far-fetched demand.

May’s white paper is expected to propose the UK remaining indefinitely in a single market for goods after Brexit, to avoid the need for checks at the Irish border. While the UK is offering concessions on financial services, it wants restrictions on free movement of people – a long-standing no-go for the EU. Jean-Claude Piris, a former head of the EU council’s legal service, said it would be impossible for the EU to split the “four freedoms” underpinning the bloc’s internal market, which are written into the 1957 treaty that founded the European project: free movement of goods, services, capital and people. “The EU is in difficulties at the moment; the one and only success which glues all these countries together is a little bit the money and the internal market,” Piris said. “If you fudge the internal market by allowing a third state to choose what they want … it is the beginning of the end.”

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Not easy to find the right position on the topic. But Europe seems to show that uncontrolled immigration leads to the rise of right wing movements. Merkal gave birth to Salvini.

Nassim Taleb Slams “These Virtue-Signaling Open-Borders Imbeciles” (ZH)

As liberals across America continue to attempt to one-up one another with the volume of virtue they can signal, specifically on the question of ‘open borders’ – especially since ‘jenny from the bronx’ victory over the weekend, none other than Nassim Nicholas Taleb unleashed a trite 3-tweet summary of how farcical this argument is…

What intellectuals don’t get about MIGRATION is the ethical notion of SYMMETRY:

1) OPEN BORDERS work if and only if the number of pple who want to go from EU/US to Africa/LatinAmer equals Africans/Latin Amer who want to move to EU/US

2) Controlled immigration is based on the symmetry that someone brings in at least as much as he/she gets out. And the ethics of the immigrant is to defend the system as payback, not mess it up. Uncontrolled immigration has all the attributes of invasions.

3) As a Christian Lebanese, saw the nightmare of uncontrolled immigration of Palestinians which caused the the civil war & as a part-time resident of N. Lebanon, I am seeing the effect of Syrian migration on the place.

So I despise these virtue-signaling open-borders imbeciles.

Silver Rule in #SkinInTheGame

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Mutti’s holding centers.

Merkel Dodges Political Bullet With Controversial Migrant Deal (AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel survived a bruising challenge to her authority with a compromise deal on immigration but faced charges Tuesday that it spelt a final farewell to her welcoming stance toward refugees. In high-stakes crisis talks overnight, Merkel had put to rest for now a dangerous row with her hardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer that had threatened the survival of her fragile coalition government. In separate statements, Merkel praised the “very good compromise” that she said spelt a European solution, while Seehofer withdrew a resignation threat and gloated that “it’s worth fighting for your convictions”.

In a pact both sides hailed as a victory, Merkel and Seehofer agreed to tighten border controls and set up closed holding centres to allow the speedy processing of asylum seekers and the repatriations of those who are rejected. They would either be sent back to EU countries that previously registered them or, in case arrival countries reject this – likely including frontline state Italy – be sent back to Austria, pending an agreement with Vienna. CSU general secretary called the hardening policy proposal the last building block “in a turn-around on asylum policy” after a mass influx brought over one million migrants and refugees.

But criticism and doubts were voiced quickly by other parties and groups, suggesting Merkel may only have won a temporary respite. Refugee support group Pro Asyl slammed what it labelled “detention centres in no-man’s land” and charged that German power politics were being played out “on the backs of those in need of protection”. Bernd Riexinger of the opposition far-left Die Linke party spoke of “mass internment camps” as proof that “humanity got lost along the way” and urged Merkel’s other coalition ally, the Social Democrats (SPD), to reject the plan.

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And Merkel made Kurz possible, too.

Austria Says To ‘Protect’ Its Borders After German Migrant Deal (AFP)

Austria’s government warned Tuesday it could “take measures to protect” its borders after Germany planned restrictions on the entry of migrants as part of a deal to avert a political crisis in Berlin. If the agreement reached Monday evening is approved by the German government as a whole, “we will be obliged to take measures to avoid disadvantages for Austria and its people,” the Austrian government said in a statement. It added it would be “ready to take measures to protect our southern borders in particular,” those with Italy and Slovenia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached a deal Monday on migration with her rebellious interior minister, Horst Seehofer, to defuse a bitter row that had threatened her government.

Among the proposals is a plan to send back to Austria asylum seekers arriving in Germany who cannot be returned to their countries of entry into the European Union. Austria said it would be prepared to take similar measures to block asylum seekers at its southern borders, with the risk of a domino effect in Europe. “We are now waiting for a rapid clarification of the German position at a federal level,” said the statement, signed by Austria’s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his allies of the far-right Freedom party, Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and Interior Minister Herbert Kickl. “German considerations prove once again the importance of a common European protection of the external borders,” the statement said.

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Wonder what the strategy meetings were like.

Is Facebook A Publisher? In Public It Says No, But In Court It Says Yes (G.)

Facebook has long had the same public response when questioned about its disruption of the news industry: it is a tech platform, not a publisher or a media company. But in a small courtroom in California’s Redwood City on Monday, attorneys for the social media company presented a different message from the one executives have made to Congress, in interviews and in speeches: Facebook, they repeatedly argued, is a publisher, and a company that makes editorial decisions, which are protected by the first amendment. The contradictory claim is Facebook’s latest tactic against a high-profile lawsuit, exposing a growing tension for the Silicon Valley corporation, which has long presented itself as neutral platform that does not have traditional journalistic responsibilities.

The suit, filed by an app startup, alleges that Mark Zuckerberg developed a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to exploit users’ personal data and force rival companies out of business. Facebook, meanwhile, is arguing that its decisions about “what not to publish” should be protected because it is a “publisher”. In court, Sonal Mehta, a lawyer for Facebook, even drew comparison with traditional media: “The publisher discretion is a free speech right irrespective of what technological means is used. A newspaper has a publisher function whether they are doing it on their website, in a printed copy or through the news alerts.” [..] Mehta argued in court Monday that Facebook’s decisions about data access were a “quintessential publisher function” and constituted “protected” activity, adding that this “includes both the decision of what to publish and the decision of what not to publish”.

David Godkin, an attorney for Six4Three, later responded: “For years, Facebook has been saying publicly … that it’s not a media company. This is a complete 180.” Questions about Facebook’s moral and legal responsibilities as a publisher have escalated surrounding its role in spreading false news and propaganda, along with questionable censorship decisions. Eric Goldman, a Santa Clara University law professor, said it was frustrating to see Facebook publicly deny that it was a publisher in some contexts but then claim it as a defense in court. “It’s politically expedient to deflect responsibility for making editorial judgements by claiming to be a platform,” he said, adding, “But it makes editorial decisions all the time, and it’s making them more frequently.”

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He did pull it off. But it may be too little too late. Biggest no-no: Model 3 was supposed to be $35,000. ended up at $78,000.

Tesla’s All-Nighter To Hit Production Goal Fails To Convince Wall Street (R.)

Tesla’s burning the midnight oil to hit a long-elusive target of making 5,000 Model 3 vehicles per week failed to convince Wall Street that the electric carmaker could sustain that production pace, sending shares down 2.3% on Monday. Tesla met the target by running around the clock and pulling workers from other projects, workers said. The company also took the unprecedented step of setting up a new production line inside a tent on the campus of its Fremont factory, details of which Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted last month. Tesla’s heavily-shorted shares rose as much as 6.4% to $364.78 in early trading, but sank after several analysts questioned whether Tesla would be able to sustain the Model 3 production momentum, which is crucial for the long-term financial health of the company.

“In the interim, we do not see this production rate as operationally or financially sustainable,” said CFRA analyst Efraim Levy. “However, over time, we expect the manufacturing rate to become sustainable and even rise.” Levy cut CFRA’s rating on Tesla stock to “sell” from “hold.” Tesla, which Chief Executive Elon Musk hailed on Sunday as having become a “real car company,” said it now expects to boost production to 6,000 Model 3s per week by late August, signaling confidence about resolving technical and assembly issues that have plagued the company for months. Tesla also reaffirmed a positive cash flow and profit forecast for the year. Tesla has been burning through cash to produce the Model 3. Problems with an over-reliance on automation, battery issues and other bottlenecks have potentially compromised Tesla’s position in the electric car market as a host of competitors prepare to launch rival vehicles.

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NATO is “justified by the need to manage the security threats provoked by its enlargement.”.

The New York Times Squares off with the Truth, Again (AHT)

Whenever I’m having a rough day and need a pick-me-up, I turn to The New York Times’ editorial page. It’s always a gas to see how far the empire’s leading propaganda outfit is prepared to go in its mission to pull the wool over we the people’s gullible little eyes. The good editors have come through for me again with their latest entry, “Trump and Putin’s Too-Friendly Summit.” (Original title: “Trump and Putin: Best Frenemies for Life”). No doubt the original headline was deemed rather too impish for such a serious newspaper—it might, for instance, have alerted readers to the fact that the editorial’s content is not to be taken very seriously—and so was understandably jettisoned.

“One would think,” the editors write, “that the president of the United States would let Mr. Putin know that he faces a united front of Mr. Trump and his fellow NATO leaders, with whom he would have met days before the [Putin] summit in Helsinki.” Alas, during said meeting Trump reportedly remarked that “NATO is as bad as NAFTA”—the “free trade” agreement that has succeeded in decimating most of the manufacturing jobs spared by the automation wrecking ball. In other words, Trump does not necessarily think it’s a good idea to encircle Russia with a hostile military alliance whose existence, according to geopolitical expert Richard Sakwa, is “justified by the need to manage the security threats provoked by its enlargement.” (If you haven’t read Professor Sakwa’s comprehensive study of the Ukrainian crisis, Frontline Ukraine, put it at the top of your summer reading list.)

One notes the Turgidsonian delight with which the Times reminds us that, should push come to shove, we’ve got those Russki bastards outgunned. Of course, gullibles like you and I are to pay no mind to the fact that such a confrontation (a military one, for the Times brought up NATO) would almost certainly involve a nuclear exchange, rendering the disparity in manpower that so excites the Times totally meaningless. No, what’s important is that NATO has twenty-nine member states and counting, while the Warsaw Pact was dissolved twenty-seven years ago: ergo, unless he wants the old mailed fist, Putin had better ask “how high?” when we tell him to jump. One would be hard-pressed to come up with a more delusional assessment of where things stand.

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“We are in that constitutional crisis now, but just at the start of it.”

Anthony Kennedy and Our Delayed Constitutional Crisis (GP)

Like “swing vote” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor before him, “swing vote” justice Anthony Kennedy has been one of the worst Supreme Court jurists of the modern era. With swing-vote status comes great responsibility, and in the most consequential — and wrongly decided — cases of this generation, O’Connor and Kennedy were the Court’s key enablers. They • Cast the deciding vote that made each decision possible • Kept alive the illusion of the Court’s non-partisan legitimacy. Each of these points is critical in evaluating the modern Supreme Court. For two generations, it has made decisions that changed the constitution for the worse. (Small “c” on constitution to indicate the original written document, plus its amendments, plus the sum of all unwritten agreements and court decisions that determine how those documents are to be interpreted).

These horrible decisions are easy to list. They expanded the earlier decision on corporate personhood by enshrining money as political speech in a group of decisions that led to the infamous Citizens United case (whose majority opinion, by the way, was written by the so-called “moderate” Anthony Kennedy); repeatedly undermined the rights of citizens and workers relative to the corporations that rule and employ them; set back voting rights equality for at least a generation; and many more. After this next appointment, many fear Roe v. Wade may be reversed. Yet the Court has managed to keep (one is tempted to say curate) its reputation as a “divided body” and not a “captured body” thanks to its so-called swing vote justices and the press’s consistent and complicit portrayal of the Court as merely “divided.”

The second point above, about the illusion of the Court’s legitimacy, is just as important as the first. If the Court were ever widely seen as acting outside the bounds of its mandate, or worse, seen as a partisan, captured organ of a powerful and dangerous political minority (which it certainly is), all of its decisions would be rejected by the people at large, and more importantly, the nation would plunged into a constitutional crisis of monumental proportions. We are in that constitutional crisis now, but just at the start of it. We should have been done with it long ago. Both O’Connor and Kennedy are responsible for that delay.

Image credit: Mike Thompson / Detroit Free Press

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A tale of two refugees
Putin: Snowden is free to do whatever he wants
Lenin: I ordered Assange to be gagged and isolated and am coordinating “next steps” with US

‘Snowden is the Master of His Own Destiny’ – Russia (TeleSur)

United States President Donald Trump is expected to pressure Russia to hand over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in exchange for sanctions relief at the upcoming Trump-Putin summit; however, Russia has emphasized that they “are not in a position” to expel Snowden and will “respect his rights” if any such attempt is made. “I have never discussed Edward Snowden with (Donald Trump’s) administration,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said to Channel 4 reporters. “When he (Putin) was asked the question, he said this is for Edward Snowden to decide. We respect his rights, as an individual. That is why we were not in a position to expel him against his will because he found himself in Russia even without a U.S. passport, which was discontinued as he was flying from Hong Kong.”

Snowden, who is being prosecuted in the United States for leaking classified documents that showed surveillance abuse by U.S. intelligence agencies, was given political asylum in Russia after his passport was revoked. “Edward Snowden is the master of his own destiny,” Lavrov said. Trump is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Helsinki, where Putin is expected to push for an end to U.S. sanctions. Trump has said he would like better relations with Russia, perhaps as a way of pulling them away from China, but Trump’s opponents in the United States are already applying political pressure on him for holding the summit, in the midst of the tensest U.S.-Russian relations since the height of the Cold War.

The fate of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange also lay in the balance when U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno this week. “The vice president raised the issue of Mr. Assange. It was a constructive conversation. They agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward,” a White House official said in a statement.

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Jun 232018

René Magritte Le Mal du Pays (Homesickness) 1940


The two most viral photographs of the ‘Trump Separation Scandal’ have now been debunked, or at the very least been proven to have been used ‘out of context’. This is a dangerous development, as are the reasons to use them the way they have been. Both pictures are of children who had not been separated from their mothers at all. But both were used to depict just that: a child being taken away from its mother.

What’s dangerous about this is, first, that those who spread the narrative regardless of the truth may next permit themselves to use images from entirely different locations or times to make their point. Yes, children have been taken from parents at US borders. And attention for that is warranted, very much so. But playing loose with the facts turns those facts into a mere narrative in which nobody can tell fact from fiction anymore.

First, a week ago already, I saw this on RT:


Debunked: Viral Image Of Crying, Caged Toddler ‘Detained By ICE’ Not What It Seems

A distressing image of a crying toddler locked in a barred cage after purportedly being detained by US immigration officials has gone viral – but despite online claims, it does not actually depict what has been alleged. The image, which shows a little boy crying in a cage as he looks out between its bars, was shared by activist journalist and undocumented migrant Jose Antonio Vargas as a comment on the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown on families.

In the same thread, Vargas admitted that he came across the photo on a friend’s timeline and was still looking for the original source. Nevertheless, the snap quickly went viral with Vargas’ post garnering more than 23,000 retweets and many others sharing the image across their own social media accounts.


Vargas explained that he shared the photo because when he was detained by ICE in McAllen, Texas in 2014, he encountered children who were locked up there. “It wasn’t okay then; it’s not okay now,” he wrote, adding that he’s been outraged about the incident for years.

It has since emerged that the picture was in fact not from a detention facility at all, and instead was taken at a protest against Trump’s immigration policies held on June 10 outside Dallas City Hall. The demonstration organized by Brown Berets de Cemanahuac was held to call out the policy of family separation and confining undocumented children.

Ergo: an activist journalist and undocumented immigrant makes it look as if a picture depicts something that in reality it did not. Note also that the article says he wanted to comment on the Trump immigration crackdown, because he has memories of the Obama immigration crackdown, when he saw children locked up. But then, hey, that’s social media, right? Anyone can say anything.

It’s different, though, when TIME Magazine uses such politics. And its editor-in-chief defends the use of the picture by saying it was the most visible symbol of something, even though he knew full well that the photo didn’t depict that something. That’s a mighty slippery scale. If they could have achieved the same effect with a picture of a overripe banana taken in the Pacific in the 1950’s, they probably would have used it. It’s the effect that counts, not the facts.


Fact-Check: Was Migrant Girl On US Border Taken From Mother? Unfounded

Two photos that went viral on social media depict scenes that are not directly related to the family separations taking place on the US-Mexico border since early May. The most prominent, of Honduran two-year-old Yanela Varela crying inconsolably, has become a global symbol of the separations – helping to attract more than $18 million in donations for a Texas non-profit called RAICES. The photograph was taken on June 12 in McAllen, Texas by John Moore, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for Getty Images.


An online article about the picture, published by Time Magazine, initially reported the girl was taken from her mother, but was subsequently corrected to make clear that: “The girl was not carried away screaming by US Border Patrol agents; her mother picked her up and the two were taken away together.” Time Magazine nonetheless used the image of the sobbing child on its cover, next to an image of President Trump looming over her, with the caption “Welcome to America”. The head of Honduras’ Migrant Protection Office Lisa Medrano confirmed to AFP that the little girl, just two years old, “was not separated” from her family.

The child’s father also said as much. Denis Varela told the Washington Post that his wife Sandra Sanchez, 32, had not been separated from their daughter, and that both were being detained together in an immigration center in McAllen. Under fire for its cover – which was widely decried as misleading including by the White House – the magazine said it was standing by its decision. “The June 12 photograph of the 2-year-old Honduran girl became the most visible symbol of the ongoing immigration debate in America for a reason,” Time’s editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal said.


Nassim Nicolas Taleb, of black swans and Fragility, has found the appropriate term for this ‘phenomenon’, and explains why it works so well that TIME apparently doesn’t care about the damage to its reputation caused by using photographs for such purposes.


Pedophrasty, Bigoteering, and Other Modern Scams

Pedophrasty Definition: Argument involving children to prop up a rationalization and make the opponent look like an asshole, as people are defenseless and suspend all skepticism in front of suffering children: nobody has the heart to question the authenticity or source of the reporting. Often done with the aid of pictures. [..] Pedophrasty is effective as it provides arguments to strike before the evidence is formed. People are moved into “doing something” Pedophrasts prey on our maternal (and paternal) instincts.

Pedophrasty has its most effects on actors, journalists and similar types who are intellectually insecure, deprived of critical judgment, and afraid of being classified as violators of some norm of political correctness. For instance, pedophrasty has been commonly used in the Syrian war by such propagandists as Julian Roepke continuously supplying the German public with pictures of dead children. Or the various lobbies hired by Saudi Barbaria (and allies), such as the Middle East Institute in Washington DC, to promote Sunni Islamist policies under the cover of “think tanks”.

The Nayirah testimony: a false congressional testimony by 15-year-old girl who provided only her first name, Nayirah (she turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S.) was a bit responsible into tipping the US into the war. Nayirah claimed that she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers take babies out of incubators a Kuwaiti hospital, and leave the babies to die. Nobody dared to question the veracity of her claims.

That’s what is dangerous: seeing a photo of a child in distress makes people halt their critical thinking. That’s also why such photos are used. They help build a narrative that doesn’t have to be factual to shock people. But at that point TIME becomes a fiction magazine; it’s where it leaves journalism behind.

The narrative also depends to a large extent on the singularity of Trump’s brutality compared to other presidents and nations’ leaders. It seeks to single him out as being extremely cruel. That narrative will fall to pieces going forward, and not only because the stories behind the photos have now been exposed.

First, here’s a look at what happened under earlier US presidents, in this case Obama, published by the ACLU in May 2018:


ACLU Obtains Documents Showing Widespread Abuse Of Child Immigrants In US Custody

Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union featured in a new report released today show the pervasive abuse and neglect of unaccompanied immigrant children detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The report was produced in conjunction with the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School.

“These documents provide a glimpse into a federal immigration enforcement system marked by brutality and lawlessness,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, ACLU Border Litigation Project staff attorney. “All human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their immigration status — and children, in particular, deserve special protection. The misconduct demonstrated in these records is breathtaking, as is the government’s complete failure to hold officials who abuse their power accountable. The abuse that takes place by government officials is reprehensible and un-American.”

The report is based on over 30,000 pages of documents dated between 2009 and 2014.

Then, what other ‘leaders’, who express their ‘disgust’ and worries at the Trump separation policies do at home. The Guardian yesterday:


Theresa May’s Brutal Family Separations Would Make Trump Blush

[..] as a British citizen I cannot, in good faith, reassure myself with that time-old mantra that we are somehow more civilised and less cruel or brutal than our cousins across the pond. Nor do I think that condemnation from our government can carry any real currency. Since long before anybody had heard the words “Make America great again”, splitting up families has been official policy in Theresa May’s Home Office – and it has been carried out with a brutality and on a scale that would make even President Trump blush.

The Children’s Commissioner has found that at least 15,000 children growing up in the UK live without a parent because the right of British citizens to reunite with a foreign spouse is limited by an unreasonable income threshold, an impossible complicated application system fraught with Home Office errors, and no legal aid for families to challenge incorrect decisions.

And the Sydney Morning Herald from December 2017:


Australia Is Wilfully Damaging The Health Of Children On Nauru To Make A Point – And It Is Appalling

When we visited Nauru as paediatric specialists three years ago, we were asked to see 30 of the 100 children being detained on the island. Among them was a six-year-old girl who had tried to kill herself and a two-year-old boy with such severe behaviour problems a doctor had prescribed anti-psychotic medicines. Their parents were in despair. They had fled persecution, trying to save their children from harm, but had ended up imprisoned on a remote island, without hope.

We left with the view that these were the most traumatised children we had ever consulted on, far worse than children we had seen in Australia, Africa, Asia or Europe. Three years later, 43 of those children remain on the island. Officially they are now free to move around, but reports of attacks by locals show Nauru is not safe and so they remain in the “Regional Processing Centre”.

In 2014, the Australian Human Rights Commission reported that children at this centre were deeply traumatised psychologically, and had even been abused. Their detention was harming them. When Australia introduced mandatory detention in 1992, it took 10 weeks on average to process an application for refugee status. Now it takes years. As the numbers of children in detention fall, the length of time in detention rises. This is deliberate: wilfully damaging children’s health to deter others from seeking asylum.

See, what TIME Magazine and others do, using pictures of crying children regardless of their actual context, may make for an initially appealing narrative, but in the end their approach only distracts from what really matters. Which is that children need to be with their mothers (and preferably fathers).

Just reporting the facts on this is not only enough, it’s the only way to report on it. Once you start making up stuff, you’re done, and the truth is done.

US immigration laws are clearly not working; so change them. ICE is a terrible organization that has attracted far too many sociopaths. Close it down. Child abuse as a tool to instill fear has been an international political tool for a very long time. Those are the things that should be making headlines. Turning this into yet another anti-Trump narrative, using crying children as shortcuts to people’s emotions, doesn’t work, or not for long.

This is not about Trump. Trying to make it about him is not going to help those children. And that’s what you want, right? Right?



Apr 222018

Vincent van Gogh Green Wheat Field With Cypress 1889


US Hints at China Truce as World Warns of Trade-War Threat (BBG)
US Banks Push Mortgage Apps As Home Lending Slows (R.)
Chinese Gangs Are Laundering Drug Money Through Vancouver Real Estate (GN)
New Zealand’s Ban On Home Sales To Foreigners Is “Discriminatory” – IMF (BBG)
Whirling Whirling (Jim Kunstler)
Home Office Under Theresa May Was Urged in 2014 To Act On Windrush (Ind.)
Tory Ministers Milking The System Are The Real Shirkers (G.)
Theresa May’s Hateful ‘Hostile Environment’ Immigration Policy (O.)
Europe’s Depopulation Time Bomb Is Ticking in the Baltics (BBG)
Members of European Parliament Call For Boycott of FIFA World Cup in Russia (UAW)
World Bank Recommends That Countries Eliminate Minimum Wage (BB)
Hopes For Greek Debt Deal Low Amid EU-IMF Discord (K.)
Turkish Justice Minister: Greece ‘A Gathering Place For Criminals’ (K.)
Nassim Nicholas Taleb Has Never Borrowed a Cent in His Life (Esq.)



At least in words, China has caved.

US Hints at China Truce as World Warns of Trade-War Threat (BBG)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he’s considering a trip to China amid a trade dispute with Beijing that finance chiefs warn could derail the global economic upswing. Mnuchin said he’s “cautiously optimistic” of reaching an agreement with China that bridges their differences over trade. “A trip is under consideration,” Mnuchin told reporters on Saturday in Washington at the IMF’s spring meetings. “I’m not going to make a comment on timing, nor do I have anything confirmed.” China’s Ministry of Commerce said Sunday it is aware that the U.S. is considering a visit to Beijing to negotiate economic and trade issues and welcomes such a move.

A visit by the U.S. Treasury secretary to China could signal a breakthrough in the spat between the world’s two-biggest economies, whose threats to slap tariffs on each other have rattled markets and raised fears of a trade war. It would come at a sensitive time for the region’s geopolitics, with negotiations under way on a planned meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Mnuchin’s remarks came as finance ministers and central bankers at the IMF meetings gave their latest economic assessments, often citing trade as a threat looming over the strongest upswing in seven years.

[..] Mnuchin said he met with Yi Gang, governor of the People’s Bank of China, at the IMF gathering this week. The discussions focused on issues related to the Chinese central bank, not trade, said the secretary. Mnuchin said they also discussed China’s planned further opening of some markets, a move that U.S. has encouraged and “appreciated.” “China will vigorously push forward the reform and opening-up of the financial sector, significantly relax market access restrictions, create a more attractive investment environment, strengthen the protection of intellectual properties and actively expand imports,” Yi said in a statement on Saturday. China has announced plans to gradually remove foreign ownership caps for limits for car-, ship- and aircraft-makers.

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“Buying a house is supposed to be a joyful thing..”

US Banks Push Mortgage Apps As Home Lending Slows (R.)

Big U.S. banks are racing to launch websites and mobile apps to make getting a mortgage faster and easier, investments that may have modest near-term payoffs as home lending activity slows. Lenders have been spending on digital tools to cut costs, eliminate error-prone paperwork and appeal to younger home buyers. However, they are chasing a shrinking pool of refinancing business and new home loan volumes are still below pre-crisis levels. Bank of America has spent $1 billion on its digital banking services in the last six years and launched its lineup of techy mortgage products last week. Wells Fargo rolled out its website and app service during the first quarter, and JPMorgan Chase, which is investing $1.4 billion in technology in 2018, plans to launch its offering later this year.

Bank of America’s app automatically fills in a customer’s address, employment history and other information that the bank already has, cutting out hundreds of boxes customers would otherwise have to fill. JPMorgan’s lets customers e-sign important documents. Quicken Loans was the first to gain traction with digital home loans following its 2016 Rocket Mortgage launch. The app is now key to its mortgage sales with more than 98 percent of the $20 billion in first-quarter lending volume accessing Rocket Mortgage at some point in the mortgage process, Quicken spokeswoman Brianna Blust said.

Quicken was the biggest home lender by volume in the fourth quarter of 2017 and first quarter of 2018, Blust said. It was the second-largest U.S. mortgage lender for the full year 2017, according to data from Inside Mortgage Finance Publications. “Buying a house is supposed to be a joyful thing,” said Steve Boland, Bank of America’s head of consumer lending. “Filling out 330 fields is not, I think, something that brings you joy.” Refinancing volumes have plunged as interest rates have risen, meaning lenders must compete for a much smaller revenue pie in fresh home purchases.

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Bit over the top?

Chinese Gangs Are Laundering Drug Money Through Vancouver Real Estate (GN)

Criminal syndicates that control chemical factories in China’s booming Guangdong province are shipping narcotics, including fentanyl, to Vancouver, washing the drug sales in British Columbia’s casinos and high-priced real estate, and transferring laundered funds back to Chinese factories to repeat this deadly trade cycle, a Global News investigation shows. The flow of narcotics and chemical precursors — and a rising death count in western Canada caused by synthetic opioids — is driven by sophisticated organized crime groups known as Triads. The Triads have infiltrated Canada’s economy so deeply that Australia’s intelligence community has coined a new term for innovative methods of drug trafficking and money laundering now occurring in B.C.

It is called the “Vancouver Model” of transnational crime. Details of the Vancouver Model are outlined in a November 2017 report obtained by Global News from B.C.’s provincial government, in a freedom of information request. The report, by John Langdale of the department of security studies and criminology at Macquarie University, was presented to Australian intelligence officers and Austrac, the country’s anti-money laundering agency. B.C. Attorney General David Eby has reviewed the report, and recently travelled to Ottawa to inform a federal committee of his concerns. His message was blunt. Eby testified that Canada’s anti-money laundering system has completely failed. He told the committee that gangsters have been openly carrying hockey bags stuffed with hundreds of thousands in drug cash into B.C. casinos, and there has not been a single prosecution.

In an interview with Global, Eby said the Australian report shows “that Vancouver is now recognized internationally as a hub of transnational money laundering.”

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Is this also about Chinese gangs?

New Zealand’s Ban On Home Sales To Foreigners Is “Discriminatory” – IMF (BBG)

The IMF has criticized New Zealand’s “discriminatory” ban on home sales to foreigners, saying it’s unlikely to improve housing affordability. “Foreign buyers seem to have played a minor role in New Zealand’s residential real estate market recently,” the IMF said in a statement Tuesday, after concluding its annual Article IV mission to New Zealand. If the government’s broader housing policy agenda is fully implemented, that “would address most of the potential problems associated with foreign buyers on a less discriminatory basis,” it said. The new Labour-led government has pledged to fix the nation’s housing crisis with a raft of measures, including a ban on foreign speculators buying residential property, removal of tax distortions and an ambitious building program.

House prices have surged more than 60% in the past decade amid record immigration and a construction shortfall, shutting many out of the housing market. [..] Proposed changes to the Overseas Investment Act, which the government says will bring New Zealand into line with neighboring Australia, will classify residential land as “sensitive,” meaning non-residents or non-citizens can’t purchase existing dwellings without the consent of the Overseas Investment Office. While non-resident foreigners will be allowed to invest in new construction, they will be forced to sell once the homes are built.

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“Their parting shot to an unjust world was voting for Donald Trump. Next time, they won’t even be around.”

Whirling Whirling (Jim Kunstler)

It begins to look like The USA will litigate itself into Civil War Two with the first battle being half the lawyers in the Department of Justice prosecuting the other half until Anthropogenic Global Warming puts the DC Swamp completely underwater and all parties concerned scuttle off into the deep blue sea. It was rather a shock to see the photo lineup of all those familiar faces — Comey, Hillary, McCabe, Loretta Lynch et. al. — in the criminal referral “matters” sent over to the DOJ by congress on Wednesday, as if they were some mob of goombahs caught running a waste management kickback racket in the Hackensack mud-flats.

But the evidence trail has been in plain sight for more than a year that Justice Department officials of various ranks and stripes colluded to bring off a legalistic coup d’etat against the loathed and despised winner of the 2016 election — with a little help from (of all things and personae) Russia, as in that political smallpox blanket known as the Steele Dossier. Mixed metaphors aside, it looks like all the clones of Ricky Ricardo and Lucy engineered in some CIA black lab will never satisfy the amount of ’splainin’ that needs to be done, and that the ensuing trials may last longer than the lifetimes of millennials still struggling on campus with their gender presentation. There may be even more line-ups to come.

I’m thinking players like Susan Rice, the Podesta brothers, Huma Abedin, John Brennan, James Clapper, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and perhaps the gentleman who preceded the Golden Golem of Greatness in the oval office. This melodrama will make The Lord of the Rings look like a knock-knock joke. Meanwhile, the Republic actually whirls around the drain, both as a legitimate polity between Montauk Point and the Farallon Islands, and as an actor on the world stage. The Washington bureaucracy is not the only swamp that needs to be drained. There’s also the reeking Okeefenokee wasteland known as the US economy, led by its financial avatars on Wall Street who engineered the orgy of asset-stripping that chewed through the industrial states like some flesh-eating bacteria.

There is nothing left in Flyover-land. I drove through part of it yesterday on a book-reporting chore: the “quiet corner” of northeastern Connecticut south of Worcester, Mass, a valley of decrepitating mill towns and opiate addiction, like some place out of H.P. Lovecraft’s demon-haunted imagination, where the sun comes up twenty minutes later than anywhere else, and a dwindling population of malevolent diseased imbeciles shriek their lonesome agonies of failure and destitution to a God that never returned from lunchbreak one day in 1985. Their parting shot to an unjust world was voting for Donald Trump. Next time, they won’t even be around.

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No accident.

Home Office Under Theresa May Was Urged in 2014 To Act On Windrush (Ind.)

Home Office officials were urged four years ago to act on the growing problems facing the Windrush generation, it has emerged, including recommendations to create a specialist taskforce which was only set up this week. It follows intense pressure on the government department and Theresa May over their handling of the Windrush scandal that has highlighted the plight of members of a generation of immigrants who arrived as British citizens in the mid-twentieth century. This week both Amber Rudd, the home secretary, and the prime minister have personally apologised for the debacle, promising compensation for those affected and setting up a new dedicated team in the Home Office tasked with helping members of the Windrush generation prove their right to British citizenship.

But the government now faces renewed criticism after it emerged that a similar recommendation – the creation of specialist Home Office unit – was made in October 2014 while Ms May was in charge of the department as home secretary. In a detailed report, published in October 2014 by the Legal Action Group, it was also warned that thousands of migrants who have been in Britain legally for decades were falling victim to the “hostile immigration” policies aimed at illegal immigrants in the UK. The recommendations of the Chasing Status report also included maintaining applicants’ ability to work and claim benefits while their status is resolved.

[..]The Labour MP David Lammy, who has been a leading campaigner for those members of the Windrush generation experiencing difficulties, told The Independent: “It is utterly extraordinary that the Home Office was clearly aware of the impact that their pernicious policies would have, yet ignored all the warnings and impact assessments. “The apologies made by the home secretary and prime minister are merely crocodile tears given that they were fully aware of the human cost that their policies would have. It’s time for a proper and independent review of our immigration policy and the hostile environment.”

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“Lose one form, and you lose cancer treatment and your liberty – lose a generation’s forms, and you’re the effing PM..”

Tory Ministers Milking The System Are The Real Shirkers (G.)

If I were editing a tabloid newspaper this week – and I’m always open to guest stints – I would have had advertising vans out since Monday. They would have been crawling v-e-r-y slowly back and forth past the houses of Theresa May, Amber Rudd, Nick Timothy and David Cameron – and those just for starters. Instead of the repulsive GO HOME message that adorned the infamous vans May’s Home Office sent out, which resulted in the eventual deportation of precisely 11 migrants, I would have something along the lines of STAY HOME. Stay home, permanently. Whether they would get the message is uncertain. Collectively, Britain did its very best to provide a hostile environment for May with the election result. The message was very clear: take a hike. Not a hiking holiday, but the full hike.

Yet the import does not seem to have got through to the prime minister, or the various arse-coverers around her. It’s fair to say we are dealing with a very specific class of unworthy here. There are few groups who take less responsibility for their actions, as this week in the Windrush scandal has laid starkly bare. Some of the most senior political figures in the land are – in the purest sense of one of their favourite terms – shirkers. They are feckless. They act like these things are happening to them, as opposed to because of them. Given the judgments they like to visit on the weaker members of society for comparatively minuscule transgressions, this makes them the most raging hypocrites too.

[..] And on they all go. If the government is in any doubt as to why so many millions think it’s one rule for them and another for the little people, then this week couldn’t be a better primer. You lose one form and you lose your job, your cancer treatment, your benefits, your liberty; you lose a generation’s forms and you’re the effing prime minister. Those condemned to battle the systems that ministers design know what happens if they make tiny errors. Furthermore, they know that if they messed up a tenth as badly in their jobs, they’d be sacked. But in the arse-over-tit world of government, you’re safe because your sacking would make the big boss – May – look weak. Just like your HR department, right? Except on crystal meth.

I don’t want to fall back on a series of politicians’ best-loved cliches, but this level of irresponsibility is just scrounging with a red box. They play for high stakes – but never their own. It’s the sort of system-milking demonised in a benefits office in Grimsby but regarded as career progression in Westminster. It makes it appear there’s no glass ceiling in modern political life, just a reinforced lead floor. Once you’re in, you basically have to die to stop earning rewards.

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“Children as young as 10 who were born in the UK are subjected to a “good character” test when they apply for citizenship..”

Theresa May’s Hateful ‘Hostile Environment’ Immigration Policy (O.)

History will judge Theresa May harshly. In recent weeks, the appalling stories about the impact of the government’s “hostile environment” policy reported by our sister paper, the Guardian, have continued to grow in number. They paint a shocking picture of a Kafkaesque state that has denied people who came to the UK from the Commonwealth as children their rightful entitlement to work, to housing and to healthcare. May has maintained these are people who have been wrongly caught up in her 2013 decision as home secretary to create a “really hostile environment” for people living in Britain illegally. But their tragic stories are the direct consequence of a policy so punitive that it would inevitably make life intolerable for legal British residents.

People without a passport are now being required to provide an absurd level of proof – four pieces of documentary evidence for each year of residence – of their legal status. Without this, they can no longer work, rent a home, open a bank account or access NHS care and may be detained and threatened with deportation. Doctors, bank clerks and landlords have become obliged to snoop on their fellow citizens by checking up on their immigration status.

[..] Those who become caught up in this are confronted with a cruel Home Office bureaucracy that operates outside the principles of natural justice. Officials are incentivised to reject applications for the tiniest of technical errors; immigration application fees are so high they are generating profits of up to 800% for the state, and there is no longer any right of appeal or legal aid available in most types of immigration cases. Children as young as 10 who were born in the UK are subjected to a “good character” test when they apply for citizenship; if they have been cautioned, their application can be refused.

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The EU fails everywhere, and spectacularly. It sucks the periphery dry. Just like Rome did.

Europe’s Depopulation Time Bomb Is Ticking in the Baltics (BBG)

With much of Eastern Europe already in the European Union or looking to join, living standards have been rising in the cities that dot these former Soviet satellites. More storefronts beckon to western tourists, who have grown more eager to wander among the cobblestones of historic capitals that were once less than hospitable. But a closer look outside the central squares reveals a different reality. According to the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, nine of the world’s countries most at risk of losing citizens over the next few decades are former East bloc nations. Porous borders and greater opportunity in the west have lured people away. Meanwhile, the populist wave sweeping the continent has made it next-to-impossible for African or Middle Eastern refugees to take their place.

Former Latvian economic minister Vjaceslavs Dombrovskis, now head of the Certus think tank, compared the westward migration of young eastern Europeans to the industrial revolution, when peasants rushed to large urban centers. He said these countries risk turning into what ancestral villages are for city dwellers: “a lovely place where you might spend an odd weekend with your folks.” The trend is hitting especially hard in the Baltics. Latvia, with a current population of 1.96 million, has lost about 25% of its residents since throwing off Soviet control in 1991. The UN predicts that by 2050, it will have lost an additional 22% of its current population—second only to Bulgaria—and by 2100, 41%.

In Estonia, with a population of 1.32 million, the UN foresees a 13% decline by 2050, growing to 32% by 2100. And in Lithuania, the current population of 2.87 million is expected to drop by 17% in 2050. By 2100, it will have lost 34%. As bad as those numbers look, the trend looks even worse for Ukraine and Moldova. The UN predicts 36% and 51% declines in those nations by the end of the century, respectively. Russia, meanwhile, is expected to lose 13% by 2100. Several factors are contributing to the depopulation of Eastern Europe, and Latvia has all of them: low income, compared with more developed EU nations; insufficient growth; and strong anti-immigrant sentiment. The average annual take-home pay among all EU nations was 24,183 euros ($29,834) in 2015, according to Eurostat, while in Latvia it was only 6,814 euros ($8,406).

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There are 751 members. 60 support this.

Members of European Parliament Call For Boycott of FIFA World Cup in Russia (UAW)

60 members of the European Parliament called on EU member states to boycott the FIFA World Cup in Russia, DW reports. The initiator of this appeal is a representative of the Green Party, Rebecca Harms. She believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot be a host of the World Cup while the war continues in Syria and Ukraine. She also pointed out that Russia supports right-wing extremist and anti-democratic parties in the EU and has been trying to influence elections. Overall, the statement was signed by representatives of 5 factions of the European Parliament from 16 countries. The authors of the document indicate that Russia itself is pushing Europe towards such steps.

A group of deputies reminded others about the poisoning of former GRU agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, which they called a mockery of European values. MEPs believe that EU member states should take the UK and Iceland as good examples of the countries which counter the “strengthening of the authoritarian and anti-Western course of the Russian president.” The authors also draw attention to the unsatisfactory situation with human rights and freedoms in Russia, especially the violation of freedom of speech. Earlier, a White House representative urged British and American fans to think twice before going to the World Cup in Russia.

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Let’s shut down the World Bank. It’s been rotting for too long.

World Bank Recommends That Countries Eliminate Minimum Wage (BB)

A draft of the World Bank’s annual flagship World Development Report says that its creditor-states (the poorest countries in the world) should eliminate their minimum wage rules, allow employers to fire workers without cause, and repeal laws limiting abusive employment contract terms. The bank argues that this is necessary to stop employers from simply investing in automation and eliminating workers altogether. The report does not contemplate the possibility that the world’s governments would just raise taxes on corporations and their investors to provide for all their citizens.

Poor countries – especially decolonized countries – are often in debt to organizations like the World Bank and IMF, sometimes because they were forced to literally buy their freedom (like Haiti, whose slave-descended population had to remit a sizable portion of its annual GDP to the descendants of French slavers until 1947), sometimes because their wealth was looted by colonists during and after the colonial period, and sometimes because rich creditor nations were complicit in the exfiltration of the nation’s treasure by gangster-politicians, a practice that continues to this day.

Countries generally carry more debt than they can hope to repay, and teeter on the brink of continuous default, putting them at the mercy of creditor-organizations, who can order changes to national laws, sell-offs of public industries and assets, and other measures that further reduce debtor-states’ ability to prosper, creating more debt and deeper concessions. The World Bank’s recommendations feel like the beginning of the end-game of late-stage capitalism, a recognition that the post-war era in which cruel exploitation of workers was considered a bug rather than a feature is drawing to a close, and a return to a kind of market feudalism, where property rights – no matter how corrupt their origins – always trump human rights.

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Divide and rule.

Hopes For Greek Debt Deal Low Amid EU-IMF Discord (K.)

Hopes for a breakthrough on the issue of Greek debt relief at a summit of eurozone finance ministers in Sofia on Friday are muted following a lack of progress in talks between European officials and representatives of the IMF in Washington over the weekend. Talks involved all of the key players in the debate on Greece’s debt, including IMF chief Christine Lagarde, European Monetary and Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovci, and the finance ministers of Germany, Italy, Spain and France. But a long-standing rift between EU and IMF officials over how a debt relief mechanism should operate continued, with the Fund representatives insisting that it should be automatic and the Europeans saying it should be tied to conditions.

In view of the resistance put up chiefly by Germany, the EU’s largest economy, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos expressed his concern that the debt relief being considered for Greece would be inadequate. Another worry is over creditors’ objections to a growth plan proposed by Greece. European officials responded with a 30-page memo to Greece’s 85-page proposal, requesting more detail and a stricter time frame. The growth plan was one of the issues discussed by leftist SYRIZA’s political secretariat during a session chaired by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Saturday.

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What you say about a neighbor you want good relations with.

Turkish Justice Minister: Greece ‘A Gathering Place For Criminals’ (K.)

Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul has written to his Greek counterpart Stavros Kontonis saying “Greece is becoming a gathering place for criminals” following a court ruling releasing one of eight Turkish servicemen seeking asylum in Greece, Anadolu reported on Saturday. Gul’s letter came a day after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim slammed the Council of State ruling, saying Greece was becoming a “safe haven” for Turkey’s enemies. The ruling issued on Thursday by Greece’s highest administrative court relates to Süleyman Özkaynakçı, who piloted the helicopter in which he and seven other Turkish servicemen fled to Greece in July 2016 following Turkey’s failed coup.

However it is expected to apply to all eight servicemen. In his comments on Friday, Yildirim said it was “unacceptable” for people who took part in the coup attempt in the summer of 2016 to be protected by Greece. “Unfortunately, recently, criminals of the FETO organization have started seeing Greece as a safe haven,” he said, referring to what Ankara describes as a terrorist group led by exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. “I hope they will extradite the members of this organization,” he said, adding that Turkish authorities “do not desire a negative impact on Greek-Turkish relations because of members of the FETO organization.”

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“We have to worry about the 2 percent—the intellectuals and politicians making the big decisions who don’t have skin in the game and are messing the whole thing up for everybody else.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb Has Never Borrowed a Cent in His Life (Esq.)

People ask me my forecast for the economy when they should be asking me what I have in my portfolio. Don’t make pronouncements on what could happen in the future if you’re immune from the consequences. In French, they use the same word for wallet and portfolio. I have never, ever borrowed a penny. So I have zero credit record. No loans, no mortgage, nothing. Ever. When I had no money, I rented. I have an allergy to borrowing and a scorn for people who are in debt, and I don’t hide it. I follow the Romans’ attitude that debtors are not free people. I carry euros, dollars, and British pounds. What I do with my money is personal. People who say they give it to charity, that’s a no-no in my book. Nobody should ever talk about a charitable act in public.

Better to miss a zillion opportunities than blow up once. I learned this at my first job, from the veteran traders at a New York bank that no longer exists. Most people don’t understand how to handle uncertainty. They shy away from small risks, and without realizing it, they embrace the big, big risk. Businessmen who are consistently successful have the exact opposite attitude: Make all the mistakes you want, just make sure you’re going to be there tomorrow. Don’t invest any energy in bargaining except when the zeros become large. Lose the small games and save your efforts for the big ones. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong, so long as you pay the price. A used-car salesman speaks well, they’re convincing, but ultimately, they are benefiting even if someone else is harmed by their advice.

A bullshitter is not someone who’s wrong, it’s someone who’s insulated from their mistakes. There is less “skin in the game” today than there was fifty years ago, or even twenty years ago. More people determine the fates of others without having to pay the consequences. Skin in the game means you own your own risk. It means people who make decisions in any walk of life should never be insulated from the consequences of those decisions, period. If you’re a helicopter repairman, you should be a helicopter rider. If you decide to invade Iraq, the people who vote for it should have children in the military. And if you’re making economic decisions, you should bear the cost if you’re wrong.

Ninety-eight percent of Americans—plumbers, dentists, bus drivers—have skin in the game. We have to worry about the 2 percent—the intellectuals and politicians making the big decisions who don’t have skin in the game and are messing the whole thing up for everybody else. Thirty years ago, the French National Assembly was composed of shop owners, farmers, doctors, veterinarians, and small-town lawyers—people involved in daily activities. Today, it’s entirely composed of professional politicians—people who are just divorced from real life. America is a little better, but we’re heading that way.

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Mar 262018

Dorothea Lange Gravestone St. George, Utah 1953


There are numerous ways to define the Precautionary Principle. It’s something we can all intuitively understand, but which many parties seek ways to confuse since it has the potential to stand in the way of profits. Still, in the end it should all be about proof, not profits. That is exactly what the Principle addresses. Because if you first need to deliver scientific proof that some action or product can be harmful to mankind and/or the natural world, you run the risk of inflicting irreversible damage before that proof can be delivered.

In one of many definitions, the 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle says: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

Needless to say, that doesn’t easily fly in our age of science and money. Cigarette makers, car manufacturers and oil companies, just to name a few among a huge number of industries, are all literally making a killing while the Precautionary Principle is being ignored. Even as it is being cited in many international treaties. Lip service “R” us. Are these industries to blame when they sell us our products, or are we for buying them? That’s where governments must come in to educate us about risks. Which they obviously do not.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb -of Black Swan and Antifragile fame- has made the case, in his usual strong fashion, for applying the Precautionary Principle when it comes to GMOs. His argument is that allowing genetically modified organisms in our eco- and foodsystems carries unknown risks that we have no way of overseeing, and that these risks may cause irreversible damage to the very systems mankind relies on for survival.

Taleb is not popular among GMO producers. Who all insist there is no evidence that their products cause harm. But that is not the point. The Precautionary Principle, if it is to be applied, must turn the burden of proof on its head. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Monsanto et al must prove that their products do no harm. They can not. Which is why they have, and need, huge lobbying, PR and legal departments.


But I didn’t want to talk about GMOs today, and not about Precautionary Principle alone. I wanted to talk about this: Paragraph 2 of article 191 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty (2009) states that:

“Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.”

In other words, the EU has committed itself to the Precautionary Principle. Well, on paper, that is. However, then we get to a whole series of reports on wildlife in Europe, and they indicate all sorts of things, but not that Brussels cares even one bit about adhering to the Precautionary Principle, either for its people or its living environment. One voice below calls it a “state of denial”, but I would use some other choice words. Let’s start with the Guardian this morning, because they have an interesting perspective:

Most Britons remain blithely unaware that since the Beatles broke up, we have wiped out half our wildlife…

since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the number of flying insects on nature reserves in Germany had dropped by at least 76% – more than three-quarters…

Things like ‘since you were born’, ‘since man landed on the moon’, ‘since the wall came down’ or ‘since 9/11’ may be a bit clearer than 100 years, or 25 years. Moreover, I read somewhere that since Columbus landed in 1492, America has lost on third of all its biodiversity, but that doesn’t yet explain the rate of acceleration that is taking place.

In October last year, the Guardian had this:


Three-Quarters Of Flying Insects In Germany Have Vanished In 25 Years

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years , according to a new study that has shocked scientists. Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said. The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research. “Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life , and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

[..] When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak. Previous reports of insect declines have been limited to particular insects, such European grassland butterflies, which have fallen by 50% in recent decades. But the new research captured all flying insects, including wasps and flies which are rarely studied, making it a much stronger indicator of decline.

Then last week from AFP:


France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects

Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said. Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France. “The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies. “Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.

The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century. A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%. The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.

“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize. Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years. Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to EU figures. “What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.

Not that it’s just Europe, mind you. Still ‘ove’ this one from Gretchen Vogel in ScienceMag, about a year ago, on a phenomenon most of you stateside will have noticed too:


Where Have All The Insects Gone?

Entomologists call it the windshield phenomenon. “If you talk to people, they have a gut feeling. They remember how insects used to smash on your windscreen,” says Wolfgang Wägele, director of the Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity in Bonn, Germany. Today, drivers spend less time scraping and scrubbing. “I’m a very data-driven person,” says Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon. “But it is a visceral reaction when you realize you don’t see that mess anymore.”

Some people argue that cars today are more aerodynamic and therefore less deadly to insects. But Black says his pride and joy as a teenager in Nebraska was his 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1—with some pretty sleek lines. “I used to have to wash my car all the time. It was always covered with insects.” Lately, Martin Sorg, an entomologist here, has seen the opposite: “I drive a Land Rover, with the aerodynamics of a refrigerator, and these days it stays clean.”

Though observations about splattered bugs aren’t scientific, few reliable data exist on the fate of important insect species. Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs. But few have paid attention to the moths, hover flies, beetles, and countless other insects that buzz and flitter through the warm months. “We have a pretty good track record of ignoring most noncharismatic species,” which most insects are, says Joe Nocera, an ecologist at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.

After all those numbers, and before they get worse -which they will, it’s already baked in the cake-, you would expect the EU to remember the Precautionary Principle all its member nations signed on to for the Lisbon Treaty. You would expect wrong. Instead Brussels vows to continue with the exact same policies that have led to its mind-boggling biodiversity losses.


EU In ‘State Of Denial’ Over Destructive Impact Of Farming On Wildlife

Europe’s crisis of collapsing bird and insect numbers will worsen further over the next decade because the EU is in a “state of denial” over destructive farming practices, environmental groups are warning. European agriculture ministers are pushing for a new common agriculture policy (CAP) from 2021 to 2028 which maintains generous subsidies for big farmers and ineffectual or even “fake” environmental or “greening” measures, they say. In a week when two new studies revealed drastic declines in French farmland birds – a pattern repeated across Europe – the EU presidency claimed that the CAP continued to provide safe food while defending farmers and “protecting the environment”.

“The whole system is in a state of denial,” said Ariel Brunner, head of policy at Birdlife Europe. “Most agriculture ministers across Europe are just pushing for business as usual. The message is, keep the subsidies flowing.” Farm subsidies devour 38% of the EU budget and 80% of the subsidies go to just 20% of farmers , via “basic payments” which hand European landowners £39bn each year.

Because these payments are simply related to land area, big farmers receive more, can invest in more efficient food production – removing hedgerows to enlarge fields for instance – and put smaller, less intensive farmers out of business. France lost a quarter of its farm labourers in the first decade of the 21st century, while its average farm size continues to rise.

A smaller portion – £14.22bn annually – of EU farm subsidies support “greening” measures but basic payment rules work against wildlife-friendly farming: in Britain, farmers can’t receive basic payments for land featuring ponds, wide hedges, salt marsh or regenerating woodland. Signals from within the EU suggest that the next decade’s CAP [..] will continue to pay farmers a no-strings subsidy, while cash for “greening”, or wildlife-friendly farming, may even be cut. Birdlife Europe said the “greening” was mostly “fake environmental spending” and wildlife-friendly measures had been “shredded” by “loophole upon loophole” introduced by member states.

[..] This week studies revealed that the abundance of farmland birds in France had fallen by a third in 15 years – with population falls intensifying in the last two years. It’s a pattern repeated across Europe: farmland bird abundance in 28 European countries has fallen by 55% over three decades, according to the European Bird Census Council. Conservationists say it’s indicative of a wider crisis – particularly the decimation of insect life linked to neonicotinoid pesticides.

20% of farmers work 80% of the land in Europe. That is used as an argument to single them out to pay them billions in subsidies. But it simply means these 20% use the most detrimental farming methods, most pesticides, most chemicals. The subsidies policy guarantees further deterioration of an already disastrous situation. The polluter doesn’t pay, as the Lisbon Treaty demands, but the polluter gets paid.

And even that is apparently still not enough for the fast growing bureaucracy. In a move perhaps more characteristic of the EU than anything else, it approved something last week that a million people had vehemently protested: the Bayer-Monsanto merger. The European parliament may have thrown out all Monsanto lobbyists recently, and voted to ban Roundup, but the die has been cast.

A million citizens can protest in writing, many millions in France and Germany and elsewhere may do the same on the street, none of it matters. The people who brought you WWII nerve gases and Agent Orange can now come together to take over your food supply.


EU Approves Buyout Of Monsanto By German Chemical Firm Bayer

German conglomerate Bayer won EU antitrust approval on Wednesday for its $62.5bn (£44.5bn) buy of US peer Monsanto, the latest in a trio of mega mergers that will reshape the agrochemicals industry. The tie-up is set to create a company with control of more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market. Driven by shifting weather patterns, competition in grain exports and a faltering global farm economy, Dow and Dupont, and ChemChina and Syngenta had earlier led a wave of consolidation in the sector. Both deals secured EU approval only after the companies offered substantial asset sales to boost rivals.

Environmental and farming groups have opposed all three deals, worried about their power and their advantage in digital farming data, which can tell farmers how and when to till, sow, spray, fertilise and pick crops based on algorithms. The European Commission said Bayer addressed its concerns with its offer to sell a swathe of assets to boost rival BASF [..] “Our decision ensures that there will be effective competition and innovation in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture markets also after this merger,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “In particular, we have made sure that the number of global players actively competing in these markets stays the same.”

[..] Vestager said the Commission, which received more than a million petitions concerning the deal, had been thorough by examining more than 2,000 different product markets and 2.7 million internal documents to produce a 1,285-page ruling. [..] Online campaigns group Avaaz criticised the EU approval. “This is a marriage made in hell. The Commission ignored a million people who called on them to block this deal, and caved in to lobbying to create a mega-corporation which will dominate our food supply,” Avaaz legal director Nick Flynn said.

Dow-Dupont, ChemChina and Bayer Monsanto have a lot more political influence than a million Europeans, or ten million Americans. They have even convinced numerous, if not most, people that without their products the world would starve. That their chemicals are needed to feed a growing human population. Farming based on algorythms.

They are not ‘seed companies’. They are ‘seeds-that-need-our-chemicals-to-grow’ companies. And they are out to conquer the entire world. A 100-times worse version of Facebook. And our governments subsidize the use of their products. As we not-so-slowly see our living world be massacred by those products.

We don’t know how bad GMOs will turn out to be. Which is in itself a very good reason to ban them. Since once they spread, they can’t be stopped anymore. Then the chemical boys will own all of our food. But we do know how bad the pesticides and other chemicals they produce are. And we’re not even banning those. We just eat all that sh*t and shut up.

It’s a failure to understand what science is: that you must proof harm first before banning stuff. The only real science is the one that has adopted the Precautionary Principle. Because science is supposed to be smart, and there’s nothing smart about destroying your own world. Because science should never be used to hurt people or nature. Science can only be good if it benefits us. Not our wallets, but our heads and hearts and forests, and our children. Do no harm.

Yeah, I know, who am I fooling, right?



Jul 172016
 July 17, 2016  Posted by at 4:08 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »

Ben Shahn Daughter of Virgil Thaxton, farmer, near Mechanicsburg, Ohio 1938

Recently, I posted a two-tear old article on that was shared so many times it seems to make sense to use it for an Automatic Earth article as well. The article asks how toxic the wheat we eat is – or Americans, more specifically-, and why that is.

But first I would like to touch on a closely connected issue, which is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s ‘war’ on GMOs. Taleb, of Black Swans fame, has been at it for a while, but he’s stepped up his efforts off late.

In 2014, with co-authors Rupert Read, Raphael Douady, Joseph Norman and Yaneer Bar-Yam, he published The Precautionary Principle (with Application to the Genetic Modification of Organisms), an attempt to look at GMOs through a ‘solidly scientific’ prism of probability and complex systems. From the abstract:

The precautionary principle (PP) states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing severe harm to the public domain (affecting general health or the environment globally), the action should not be taken in the absence of scientific near-certainty about its safety. Under these conditions, the burden of proof about absence of harm falls on those proposing an action, not those opposing it. PP is intended to deal with uncertainty and risk in cases where the absence of evidence and the incompleteness of scientific knowledge carries profound implications and in the presence of risks of “black swans”, unforeseen and unforeseable events of extreme consequence.

[..] We believe that the PP should be evoked only in extreme situations: when the potential harm is systemic (rather than localized) and the consequences can involve total irreversible ruin, such as the extinction of human beings or all life on the planet. The aim of this paper is to place the concept of precaution within a formal statistical and risk-analysis structure, grounding it in probability theory and the properties of complex systems. Our aim is to allow decision makers to discern which circumstances require the use of the PP and in which cases evoking the PP is inappropriate.

This puts into perspective the claims made by Monsanto et al that since no harm has ever been proven to arise from the use of GMOs, they should therefore be considered safe. Which is the approach largely taken over by American politics, and increasingly also in Europe and other parts of the world. In their paper, Taleb et al say the approach does not meet proper scientific standards.

This is very close to my personal opinion, expressed in many articles in the past, that GMOs pose such risks on such a wide scale to the food supply of every human being on earth -as well as a much wider selection of organisms- that they should not be legalized before perhaps 100 years of tests have been done by large and independent teams of specialists.

Note that if you, as an individual farmer, as a community or even as a nation, want to ban GMOs but your neighbors do not, you will in the case of many crops not stand a chance of keeping your plants GMO free. For which you can subsequently be sued by the ‘owner’ of the genetically altered plants and seeds.

Also, I think it is irresponsibly dangerous to give a handful of companies (Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, Syngenta), who all happen to be chemical giants dating back to the 20th century interbellum, and all with questionable pasts, a quasi-monopoly over the -future of- world’s food. Because that is where things will go unless proper principles are applied, both scientific and legal.

One of the main arguments proponents of GMOs use is that through thousand of years mankind has altered crops through selection ‘anyway’, so talking about anything ‘pure’ or ‘natural’ in this regard is not relevant. Taleb put the difference between altering a staple through this ‘generational’ selection on the one hand and the modifying of genes in a lab into a sketch:

The sketch was later annotated by Rahul Goswami, approved and shared by Taleb:

I think it is obvious that ‘generational’ selection through breeding is localized, can be rejected by nature. Genetic modification is something completely different, it takes a much bigger step (a giant leap) and forces itself -as a more or less alien body- onto a much larger eco-system.

It’s not about trying to figure out what works, but about forcing itself upon the world and its inhabitants regardless of the consequences. The precautionary principle is missing where it is most needed.

A few examples of Taleb’s tweets on the topic in the past few days make his stance abundantly clear.

“GMO issue is ignorance of the properties of complex systems/fattails (Monsanto’s 107 Nobels, 80 y.o. are 50 y behind)”

“Anyone pro-GMOs on “scientific” grounds is 50 years behind, ignorant of complexity, or just stupid”

“Monsanto pulled no stop trying to discredit me: 1000 mails to Univ (!),>1000 shill posts. Nada. F***you money works.”

Then, on to the article I started talking about above. As I said, it was written some two years ago by Sarah at the Healthy Home Economist. From the reactions to my posting it on Facebook -a huge number of shares- I surmise that many people A) had no idea that what Sarah describes is common practice, and B) have a profound interest in the topic.

Note: while a fair number of people said they had never heard of this, and/or doubted it was true at all, quite a few confirmed it as common where they live, and not just stateside, but in Scotland, Argentina etc.

Let’s see how we get through this. I don’t want to just post the whole thing, but I’ll need large portions of it.

The Real Reason Wheat is Toxic

The stories became far too frequent to ignore. Emails from folks with allergic or digestive issues to wheat in the United States experienced no symptoms whatsoever when they tried eating pasta on vacation in Italy. Confused parents wondering why wheat consumption sometimes triggered autoimmune reactions in their children but not at other times.

In my own home, I’ve long pondered why my husband can eat the wheat I prepare at home, but he experiences negative digestive effects eating even a single roll in a restaurant. There is clearly something going on with wheat that is not well known by the general public. It goes far and beyond organic versus nonorganic, gluten or hybridization because even conventional wheat triggers no symptoms for some who eat wheat in other parts of the world.

What indeed is going on with wheat? For quite some time, I secretly harbored the notion that wheat in the United States must, in fact, be genetically modified. GMO wheat secretly invading the North American food supply seemed the only thing that made sense and could account for the varied experiences I was hearing about. I reasoned that it couldn’t be the gluten or wheat hybridization. Gluten and wheat hybrids have been consumed for thousands of years.

It just didn’t make sense that this could be the reason for so many people suddenly having problems with wheat and gluten in general in the past 5-10 years.

Finally, the answer came over dinner a couple of months ago with a friend who was well versed in the wheat production process. I started researching the issue for myself, and was, quite frankly, horrified at what I discovered. The good news is that the reason wheat has become so toxic in the United States is not because it is secretly GMO as I had feared (thank goodness!).

The bad news is that the problem lies with the manner in which wheat is grown and harvested by conventional wheat farmers. You’re going to want to sit down for this one. I’ve had some folks burst into tears in horror when I passed along this information before.

Common wheat harvest protocol in the United States is to drench the wheat fields with Roundup several days before the combine harvesters work through the fields as the practice allows for an earlier, easier and bigger harvest

Pre-harvest application of the herbicide Roundup or other herbicides containing the deadly active ingredient glyphosate to wheat and barley as a desiccant was suggested as early as 1980. It has since become routine over the past 15 years and is used as a drying agent 7-10 days before harvest within the conventional farming community.USDA pesticides applied to wheat.

According to Dr. Stephanie Seneff of MIT who has studied the issue in depth and who I recently saw present on the subject at a nutritional Conference in Indianapolis, desiccating non-organic wheat crops with glyphosate just before harvest came into vogue late in the 1990’s with the result that most of the non-organic wheat in the United States is now contaminated with it.

Seneff explains that when you expose wheat to a toxic chemical like glyphosate, it actually releases more seeds resulting in a slightly greater yield: “It ‘goes to seed’ as it dies. At its last gasp, it releases the seed” says Dr. Seneff. According to the US Department of Agriculture, as of 2012, 99% of durum wheat, 97% of spring wheat, and 61% of winter wheat has been treated with herbicides. This is an increase from 88% for durum wheat, 91% for spring wheat and 47% for winter wheat since 1998.

Wheat farmer Keith Lewis: “I have been a wheat farmer for 50 yrs and one wheat production practice that is very common is applying the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) just prior to harvest. Roundup is licensed for preharvest weed control. Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup claims that application to plants at over 30% kernel moisture result in roundup uptake by the plant into the kernels. Farmers like this practice because Roundup kills the wheat plant allowing an earlier harvest.

A wheat field often ripens unevenly, thus applying Roundup preharvest evens up the greener parts of the field with the more mature. The result is on the less mature areas Roundup is translocated into the kernels and eventually harvested as such. This practice is not licensed. Farmers mistakenly call it “dessication.”

Consumers eating products made from wheat flour are undoubtedly consuming minute amounts of Roundup. An interesting aside, malt barley which is made into beer is not acceptable in the marketplace if it has been sprayed with preharvest Roundup. Lentils and peas are not accepted in the market place if it was sprayed with preharvest roundup….. but wheat is ok.. This farming practice greatly concerns me and it should further concern consumers of wheat products.”

This practice is not just widespread in the United States either. The Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom reports that use of Roundup as a wheat desiccant results in glyphosate residues regularly showing up in bread samples. Other European countries are waking up to to the danger, however. In the Netherlands, use of Roundup is completely banned with France likely soon to follow.

Using Roundup on wheat crops throughout the entire growing season and even as a desiccant just prior to harvest may save the farmer money and increase profits, but it is devastating to the health of the consumer who ultimately consumes the glyphosate residue laden wheat kernels.

The chart below of skyrocketing applications of glyphosate to US wheat crops since 1990 and the incidence of celiac disease is from a December 2013 study published in the Journal Interdisciplinary Toxicology examining glyphosate pathways to autoimmune disease. Remember that wheat is not currently GMO or “Roundup Ready” meaning it is not resistant to its withering effects like GMO corn or GMO soy, so application of glyphosate to wheat would actually kill it.

While the herbicide industry maintains that glyphosate is minimally toxic to humans, research published in the Journal Entropy strongly argues otherwise by shedding light on exactly how glyphosate disrupts mammalian physiology. Authored by Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff of MIT, the paper investigates glyphosate’s inhibition of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes, an overlooked component of lethal toxicity to mammals.

The currently accepted view is that glyphosate is not harmful to humans or any mammals. This flawed view is so pervasive in the conventional farming community that Roundup salesmen have been known to foolishly drink it during presentations! However, just because Roundup doesn’t kill you immediately doesn’t make it nontoxic. In fact, the active ingredient in Roundup lethally disrupts the all important shikimate pathway found in beneficial gut microbes which is responsible for synthesis of critical amino acids.

Friendly gut bacteria, also called probiotics, play a critical role in human health. Gut bacteria aid digestion, prevent permeability of the gastrointestinal tract (which discourages the development of autoimmune disease), synthesize vitamins and provide the foundation for robust immunity. In essence:

Roundup significantly disrupts the functioning of beneficial bacteria in the gut and contributes to permeability of the intestinal wall and consequent expression of autoimmune disease symptoms

In synergy with disruption of the biosynthesis of important amino acids via the shikimate pathway, glyphosate inhibits the cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes produced by the gut microbiome. CYP enzymes are critical to human biology because they detoxify the multitude of foreign chemical compounds, xenobiotics, that we are exposed to in our modern environment today.

As a result, humans exposed to glyphosate through use of Roundup in their community or through ingestion of its residues on industrialized food products become even more vulnerable to the damaging effects of other chemicals and environmental toxins they encounter! What’s worse is that the negative impact of glyphosate exposure is slow and insidious over months and years as inflammation gradually gains a foothold in the cellular systems of the body.

The consequences of this systemic inflammation are most of the diseases and conditions associated with the Western lifestyle: Gastrointestinal disorders, Obesity ,Diabetes, Heart Disease, Depression, Autism, Infertility, Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, etc.

In a nutshell, Dr. Seneff’s study of Roundup’s ghastly glyphosate which the wheat crop in the United States is doused with uncovers the manner in which this lethal toxin harms the human body by decimating beneficial gut microbes with the tragic end result of disease, degeneration, and widespread suffering

[..] The bottom line is that avoidance of conventional wheat in the United States is absolutely imperative even if you don’t currently have a gluten allergy or wheat sensitivity. The increase in the amount of glyphosate applied to wheat closely correlates with the rise of celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

Dr. Seneff points out that the increases in these diseases are not just genetic in nature, but also have an environmental cause as not all patient symptoms are alleviated by eliminating gluten from the diet. The effects of deadly glyphosate on your biology are so insidious that lack of symptoms today means literally nothing. If you don’t have problems with wheat now, you will in the future if you keep eating conventionally produced, toxic wheat!

I guess we can leave it at that for now. Do go to the original article for more. Whether you look at it from a scientific viewpoint, as Taleb et al do, or from a common sense one, as Sarah does, the common thread seems obvious: Monsanto and other rich chemical giants seek to be the sole providers -even owners- of the world’s food, handed to us for free by nature and generations of our ancestors.

And to achieve that magnitude of power -and riches- they are more than willing to literally drive over sick and dead bodies. Once again, Taleb:

The precautionary principle (PP) states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing severe harm to the public domain (affecting general health or the environment globally), the action should not be taken in the absence of scientific near-certainty about its safety. Under these conditions, the burden of proof about absence of harm falls on those proposing an action, not those opposing it.

That is not what’s happening, and there’s not much time left to start applying it before it’s too late. Because GMOs, once they’ve been introduced in a large enough environment, are near impossible to get rid of.

To end on a somewhat happier note, Taleb thinks that Monsanto is doing quite poorly these days, financially. Then again, that’s why Bayer wants to buy them, and that would only mean a continuation or even increase of the present practices.

What we need is decision makers who understand the science of complex systems, probability and the precautionary principle. And I don’t know about you, but when I look at who’s vying to be the leaders of the US, UK and many other nations, I think we’re a long way away from that.

Only Putin seems to get it. His stated goal is to make Russia the largest producer of organic food in the world. So maybe there is still hope.

Jul 022016
 July 2, 2016  Posted by at 8:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »

Walker Evans Vicksburg, Mississippi. “Vicksburg Negroes and shop front.” 1936

Everyone’s a Winner in Brexit Aftermath as Doves Rescue Market (BBG)
The European Union Is ‘Doomed To Fail’ : Taleb (CNBC)
Hungary’s Migrant Referendum Shows Europe’s Post-Brexit Challenge (R.)
Kyle Bass Says China’s Corporate Bond Market Is ‘Freezing Up’ (BBG)
QE Only Works When You’re The Only Country Doing It: Kyle Bass (ZH)
Bad-Loan Ultimatum in India Sees Default Risk Climb Most in Asia (BBG)
World Biggest Pension Fund Seen Losing $43 Billion Last Quarter (BBG)
We May Have Reached Peak Pensioner (G.)
Hacked Emails Reveal US NATO General Plotting Against Obama (Intercept)
Australia Accused Of Torturing, Waterboarding Refugees (Ind.)



Bad news is good news again. No more uncertainty.

Everyone’s a Winner in Brexit Aftermath as Doves Rescue Market (BBG)

One week after Brexit, the lesson investors are taking away is that there’s no problem central banks can’t fix. Just days after the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union roiled financial markets around the world, stocks and bonds surged in tandem this week as policy makers once again rode to the rescue, dropping hints of further stimulus and suggesting they’ll keep interest rates lower for longer. Traditionally, what’s good for one asset class has not been good for the other, and stocks and bonds more often move in opposite directions on the same information. Yet with unprecedented monetary easing showing no signs of slowing, that relationship continues to break down.

With almost $12 trillion of government bonds globally paying less than zero, a rush into Treasuries Friday pushed yields to record lows, even as encouraging economic data helped propel U.S. stocks toward all-time highs. “This may be the new normal,” said Aaron Kohli, a fixed-income strategist in New York at BMO Capital Markets, one of 23 primary dealers that trade with Fed. “If you flood the markets with liquidity, and you have the anticipation that the central banks are going to be dovish — either adding to quantitative easing or becoming less hawkish, as the case may be for the U.S. Fed — any assets that aren’t impaired or encumbered are going to do very well.”

Read more …

“This is 2016. They are still thinking 1950 economics..”

The European Union Is ‘Doomed To Fail’ : Taleb (CNBC)

The European Union is doomed to fail, “Black Swan” author Nassim Nicholas Taleb said Thursday. He told CNBC’s “Power Lunch” the EU has become a “metastatic and rather incompetent bureaucracy” that is too intrusive. “The way they’ve been building it top down from Brussels is doomed to fail. This is 2016. They are still thinking 1950 economics,” said Taleb, who is also the author of “Antifragile” and is an advisor to Universa Investments. Taleb has warned about an EU breakup for some time, calling it a horrible, stupid project back in 2012. In fact, the U.K.’s vote to exit the EU last week didn’t turn out to be the catastrophe that was expected, he said. While Brexit fears initially rattled global markets, stocks have been climbing back up over the last few days.

While he’s against the current bureaucracy in place in the Europe, he still believes countries can work together, forming free trade agreements and joint military and economic policies. He envisions an Anglo-Saxon economic zone that encompasses the U.S., Ireland, Scotland and Britain. Taleb also doesn’t see Brexit as an isolated event. “People just realize that these elites don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s nice to have don’t want them to tell you what to do,” he said. “So they are tired of that and it’s a rebellion.” “You have waves and of course we have a wave and I think that .. it’s spreading.” That can be seen in the popularity of Donald Trump, he added. “He’s a brilliant salesperson. He knows how to sell you real estate.. He knows what people want. And he detected exactly that point. And he’s delivering but through trial and error.

Read more …

Note: On July 1, Slovakia took over from Holland as chair of the EU. Slovakia is very much opposed to the migrant quota plans.

And Orban is a dick, but he poses a basic question on sovereignty. Which the EU should not just try to sweep under the carpet, because it represents the very core of all the issues. It’s worrisome to me that the right seems to be the only side asking the right questions these days.

Hungary’s Migrant Referendum Shows Europe’s Post-Brexit Challenge (R.)

Emboldened by Britain’s shock vote to quit the EU, Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban is forging ahead with his own referendum on migration, in what European diplomats see as a sign of battles to come with anti-Brussels populists across the continent. The 53-year-old Orban, in power since 2010, has clashed several times with the EU on issues ranging from independence of the courts and the central bank to his handling of the migrant crisis, which has included a fence on Hungary’s southern border. His next clash pits him against an EU Commission plan to resettle refugees across member states based on quotas, which Orban sees as an act of out-of-touch Brussels bureaucrats usurping national authority.

“We need to fight to prove to people that it is possible to form an EU migration policy that is in line with the Hungarian national interest,” Orban said days after the Brexit vote. “This is going to be a long struggle for which I will need a strong mandate, which cannot be ensured without a referendum,” said Orban, who is in favor of remaining in the EU but wants more powers for member states. Orban has enlisted allies, such as neighboring Slovakia, which also opposes the quotas and this week joined a chorus of eastern EU states calling for the powers of the EU Commission to be reined in after Britain’s vote to leave.

“We have a big problem with the proposed reform of the Dublin system,” Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said. “We think it’s stupid, because this is exactly what will keep dividing Europe if (countries) will be asked to pay €250,000 for each migrant they refuse to take.” [..] Orban has said the migration crisis could drive more countries out of the EU. His government will ask Hungarians: “Do you agree that the European Union should be able to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of parliament?”

Read more …

“..the largest macro imbalance in world history..” People who’ve been reading me for a while will know I fully agree with Bass. Except perhaps for his optimism about China as a buying opportunity. You must take into account, in my view, the inevitable massive losses for Chinese citizens, and their potential reaction to them.

Kyle Bass Says China’s Corporate Bond Market Is ‘Freezing Up’ (BBG)

Kyle Bass, the hedge-fund manager who’s wagering on a devaluation in China, said the country’s $3 trillion corporate bond market is “freezing up” amid rising defaults and canceled debt sales. “We’re starting to see the beginning of the Chinese machine literally break down,” Bass, the founder Hayman Capital Management, said in an interview on Real Vision. China’s corporate bond market contracted by a record in May as tepid economic growth and a raft of missed payments spooked investors. Seventeen publicly-traded Chinese bonds have defaulted so far this year, up from six in 2015, and at least 188 firms have scrapped or delayed debt sales since the end of March, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Bass, who rose to fame after prescient bets against U.S. subprime mortgages, has so far had less success with his China wagers, saying they’ve contributed to his “terrible” performance over the past two years. While his corporate bond warning follows signs of market stress, there’s no evidence yet of a collapse. Yields on junk-rated Chinese debt fell the most this year in June, while companies were able to sell 1.85 trillion yuan ($278 billion) of onshore notes in the second quarter. Defaults have ramifications beyond the corporate debt market, according to Bass. It also threatens to undermine the $3.5 trillion market for wealth management products, which raise money from Chinese individuals to invest in bonds, stocks and derivatives, he said.

The products receive less regulatory oversight than banks and often have mismatches between their maturities and underlying assets. Bass said in February that China’s lenders may suffer losses more than four times those at American banks during the 2008 credit crisis. He also predicted the yuan will fall in excess of 30%. In the Real Vision interview, Bass reiterated that China’s lending binge in recent years has created “the largest macro imbalance in world history.” He expects bank losses of $3 trillion to trigger a bailout, with the central bank slashing reserve requirements, cutting the deposit rate to zero and expanding its balance sheet – all of which will weigh on the yuan.

Read more …

Great interview with Bass.

QE Only Works When You’re The Only Country Doing It: Kyle Bass (ZH)

Grant : this idea of helicopter money, and the idea of banning cash, and all these things that, when you sit here in the cold like that, you can see exactly why they need to do these things. You watch the narrative unfold in the media, and then the trial balloons get floated. But you’re right, they have to go to helicopter money, they’re really not going to have a choice. And it seems to me that they are going to have to try to ban cash. Because, as you say, the U.S. savings rate has tripled since 2007, and that’s literally the last thing they want or need. So is there any way out for these guys? Because that’s the thesis that I keep checking. I can’t see a way out, absent cold fusion.

Kyle : Look, I had a fascinating out of body experience meeting with one of the world’s top central bankers in a private meeting about three years ago. And he said, “You know Kyle, quantitative easing only works when you’re the only country doing it.” He would never say that publicly. And I’ll protect his name, because it was a private meeting. But it was one of those moments where I…it was one of those epiphanies almost, where it’s something you and I knew, but hearing him say it, call it one of the four top central bankers in the world, it was a jarring experience for me, because when I look around the world today, everyone’s in the same boat. So we’re all trying…we’re attempting through our treasury and our Fed to get the rest of the world to not devalue against us, while we quietly attempt to devalue ourselves against them, and it’s all this…it is the race to the bottom, it is the beggar thy neighbor policies that we all talk about. And I believe that there is no way out.

Read more …

Another economic miracle showing rot.

Bad-Loan Ultimatum in India Sees Default Risk Climb Most in Asia (BBG)

Investors are starting to show nerves over the Reserve Bank of India’s ultimatum for state lenders to clean up their rising pile of bad loans this fiscal year. Bank of India’s credit-default swaps jumped 31 basis points in the past month, the most among Asian banks, after it was one of three lenders downgraded by S&P Global Ratings on May 30. Yield premiums on dollar bonds of the Mumbai-based company, Indian Overseas Bank and Syndicate Bank climbed to the highest in at least four months after the action. “It’s one of the most trying times for the public sector banks and how they handle this will be crucial for their future survival,” said Rajesh Mokashi at CARE Ratings. “I see a substantial jump in non-performing loans for most banks for the year to March 31, 2017.”

RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, who will hand over the reins to an as-yet-undecided successor in September, has given lenders until March 31 to clean up stressed loans that surged to 11.5% of their assets last fiscal year. The rating downgrades will make it harder to raise capital for India’s state-owned commercial lenders, which issued no dollar bonds this year, versus $895 million in the first half of last year.

Read more …

From AAA to stocks. It took only a few years. And there goes your pension.

World Biggest Pension Fund Seen Losing $43 Billion Last Quarter (BBG)

Losses for the world’s biggest pension fund likely deepened in the quarter just ended, extending what may be its worst annual loss since the global financial crisis, brokerage estimates showed. Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund will probably post a 4.4 trillion yen ($43 billion) loss in the April-June quarter, according to calculations by Yohei Iwao, executive director of the institutional equities division at Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities. That follows what he estimates was a 5 trillion yen decline in the fiscal year ended March 31, which would amount to the worst performance since fiscal 2009 when the fund lost 9.7 trillion yen.

The calculations come amid criticism the government has put the public’s pension money at risk after the fund known as the whale for the size of its assets increased its equity allocations in 2014. That’s prompted the main opposition party to pledge GPIF will move investments back into safer ones in its manifesto ahead of elections this month. “Looks like the scrutiny on GPIF will continue,” Morgan Stanley MUFG’s Iwao said. GPIF has been hurt after global stock routs in mid-2015 and early this year helped wipe about $7.4 trillion off world equities in the past 12 months. Japan’s Topix index has tumbled 19% in 2016 to be the second-worst performing developed stock market as the yen strengthened, reducing returns from overseas holdings.

Read more …

No politician wants to touch this. Not in their timeframe.

We May Have Reached Peak Pensioner (G.)

Since 2004-05 the average income of all pensioners has jumped from £250 a week to £297. For pensioner couples the average income is £444, or £23,000 a year. During the same period, incomes for working people have stagnated or fallen; even today, average net disposable income is below where it was in 2007-08. Two factors have driven pensioner incomes up: first, the “triple lock” for state pensions, which has guaranteed that it rises every year by the highest of price inflation, earnings growth or 2.5%. During the global financial crash the triple lock meant pensioners received income rises even when pay for working people was falling. Income from welfare benefits has increased for pensioners since 1994-95, but fallen for working people.

[..] generous final salary pension schemes are in catastrophic decline, now confined almost entirely to the public sector. In the private sector their replacements will only pay a fraction of the amount enjoyed by the generation before them. While many previously picked up two-thirds of their final salary, today’s workers will be lucky to pick up 25%-30% of their former salary. Today’s well-off pensioners are, literally, a dying breed. This is not an argument to say that today’s pensioners should in any way be stripped of their incomes. There is huge inequality among pensioners themselves.

You know all those stories about pensioners saying their incomes have been destroyed by a decade of super-low interest rates? The truth is that the median weekly income from savings in retirement is just £6 a week. The average, though, is £64 a week. That tells you that a small number of pensioners have a large investment income, but the majority have almost nothing. There is a debate to be had about generational fairness. Britain, like all developed nations, is an ageing country. How do we arrange our national finances so that the elderly are protected, while at the same time the young are not overly burdened paying for it?

The problem is that the reforms suggested so far fall on today’s working generation. For example, the age at which you will qualify for the state pension is rising steeply. That’s an inevitable consequence of improved longevity, but one that will hit people in their late 50s, especially women, hard, not the existing retired. Another widely mooted reform is to slash pension tax relief, but the losers there are again the existing working population. Should better-off pensioners be expected to pay more as well? Maybe. But as we know from the referendum result, the old vote and the young don’t.

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Breedlove is a nasty piece of work. So is NATO.

Hacked Emails Reveal US NATO General Plotting Against Obama (Intercept)

Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, until recently the supreme commander of NATO forces in Europe, plotted in private to overcome President Barack Obama’s reluctance to escalate military tensions with Russia over the war in Ukraine in 2014, according to apparently hacked emails from Breedlove’s Gmail account that were posted on a new website called DC Leaks. Obama defied political pressure from hawks in Congress and the military to provide lethal assistance to the Ukrainian government, fearing that doing so would increase the bloodshed and provide Russian President Vladimir Putin with the justification for deeper incursions into the country.

Breedlove, during briefings to Congress, notably contradicted the Obama administration regarding the situation in Ukraine, leading to news stories about conflict between the general and Obama. But the leaked emails provide an even more dramatic picture of the intense back-channel lobbying for the Obama administration to begin a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine. In a series of messages in 2014, Breedlove sought meetings with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, asking for advice on how to pressure the Obama administration to take a more aggressive posture towards Russia.

“I may be wrong, … but I do not see this WH really ‘engaged’ by working with Europe/NATO. Frankly I think we are a ‘worry,’ … ie a threat to get the nation drug into a conflict,” Breedlove wrote in an email to Powell, who responded by accepting an invitation to meet and discuss the dilemma. “I seek your counsel on two fronts,” Breedlove continued, “… how to frame this opportunity in a time where all eyes [sic] on ISIL all the time, … and two,… how to work this personally with the POTUS.”

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Unbelievable. Australians themselves need to address their government’s despicable behavior.

Australia Accused Of Torturing, Waterboarding Refugees (Ind.)

[..] in a devastating critique of Australia’s methods, medical ethicists have warned there is “increasing evidence that Australia is engaged in torturing asylum seekers” with refugees imprisoned for more than a year without trial. There are allegations of waterboarding, another method of torture called “zipping” in which people are tied to a bed that is then thrown into the air, sexual assault and exploitation, and child abuse. And the inmates of detention centres created outside of Australia to avoid its laws are held in conditions of secrecy that prevent scrutiny of their treatment while laws prevent doctors speaking out about mistreatment.

Last year, a United Nations report accused Australia of breaking the Convention Against Torture over its treatment of migrants. The then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, responded that “Australians are sick of being lectured to by the United Nations”, saying their policies had stopped refugee boats from trying to make the perilous sea journey to Australia and “ended the deaths at sea”. In a paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics, the ethicists, Dr John-Paul Sanggaran, of the University of New South Wales, and Professor Deborah Zion, of Victoria University, wrote that there was “increasing evidence that Australia is engaged in torturing asylum seekers”.

“There are allegations of situations, circumstances and actions that also constitute cruel and unusual punishment throughout Australian immigration detention,” they wrote. They pointed to allegations by guards at a detention centre on the island of Nauru “of waterboarding, familiar to most as a torture technique that simulates drowning used by the CIA in places like Guantanamo bay”. “‘Zipping’ is also alleged. It is described as tying an individual to a metal bed frame with cable ties, the bed is then thrown into the air causing injury to the bound individual when the frame crashes to the ground,” they added.

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