The battlefield stances appear to be hardening. Facebook warns about extremism, there are more and more articles published in outlets belonging to the Trusted News Initiative (which is all major outlets) that deny and/or question anything related to dangers of vaccines and/or safety of ivermectin et al. The walls are closing in. Keep safe.
If you’re a member of one or more of the following groups, the chance that exposure to Covid will harm you is ~0:
• You’ve had Covid and recovered.
• You’ve been vaxxed.
• You’re under 60 and not obese.
This covers virtually all Americans. There is literally no one left to “protect.”
One of the UK’s leading childhood health experts has said there is not enough evidence to support vaccinating children against Covid, and the body that will make the decision on whether to jab under-18s has indicated it will take a cautious approach. Prof Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said there was “rock-solid data” to show that the risk of severe harm to children from Covid was “incredibly low”. Speaking to BBC Breakfast in a personal capacity, he said not enough was yet known about possible damaging side-effects if children were given Covid jabs. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been given approval by the UK medicines regulator for children aged 12-15, and it is being administered for these age groups in the US and Israel.
Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said it would decide within weeks whether to allow children to be vaccinated. “JCVI are very aware of the issues surrounding both the pros and the cons of vaccinating their children, which we will talk about it in due course, but actually what we need to be absolutely sure is that these vaccines benefit children in some way … so we are looking at this data very carefully,” Harnden told BBC Radio 4 Today’s programme. He added: “Clearly we’re going to have to make a view on it over the forthcoming weeks.” Semple said: “There’s very nuanced debate going on here, but at the moment I don’t think there’s enough evidence to support vaccinating children.
“We’ve looked really carefully at Sars-Cov infection in children in the second wave and the first wave, so we’ve got really rock-solid data, and the risks of severe disease, and even the risk of long Covid and multi-inflammatory syndrome, are incredibly low.” He added: “Vaccines are safe, but not entirely risk free. We are aware in adults about clots, and there’s some safety data from America showing rare heart problems associated with some of the vaccines. So until that data is really complete for children. I’m not persuaded that the risk benefit for children has been clarified.”
New research published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) has found that wearing a face mask causes children to inhale dangerous levels of carbon dioxide that becomes trapped behind the mask. The peer-reviewed research letter from Dr Harald Walach and colleagues found that the air masked children inhaled contained more than six times the legal safe limit set down for closed rooms by the German Federal Environmental Office. The safe limit is 0.2% while the air the masked children inhaled was over 1.3% carbon dioxide. The effect was worse for younger children, with one seven year-old child inhaling air with 2.5% carbon dioxide, over 12 times the safe limit. The study looked at two types of mask, FFP2 masks and surgical masks, and found no significant difference between the two.
The authors explained that this alarming result likely explains the complaints from children who wear face masks for long periods. “Most of the complaints reported by children can be understood as consequences of elevated carbon dioxide levels in inhaled air. This is because of the dead-space volume of the masks, which collects exhaled carbon dioxide quickly after a short time. This carbon dioxide mixes with fresh air and elevates the carbon dioxide content of inhaled air under the mask, and this was more pronounced in this study for younger children. This leads in turn to impairments attributable to hypercapnia. A recent review concluded that there was ample evidence for adverse effects of wearing such masks. We suggest that decision-makers weigh the hard evidence produced by these experimental measurements accordingly, which suggest that children should not be forced to wear face masks.”
Tucker Carlson covers the latest research on the dangers of forcibly muzzling children.
"These studies shouldn't actually surprise us. Our public health officials knew from the beginning that forcing children to wear masks could be counterproductive." pic.twitter.com/uI6TGSrfYc
America’s favourite Chinese lab funding coronavirus doomonger doctor Anthony Fauci announced Tuesday that there are now two Americas, a vaccinated America and an unvaccinated America. In an appearance on Dom Lemon’s CNN panic hour, Fauci declared that “When you have such a low level of vaccination super-imposed upon a variant that has a high degree of efficiency of spread, what you are going to see among under-vaccinated regions, states, cities or counties you’re going to see these individual types of blips. It’s almost like it’s going to be two Americas.”
“You’re going to have areas where vaccination rate is high, where more than 70% of the population received at least one dose,” he continued, adding “When you compare that to areas where you may have 35% of the people vaccinated, you clearly have a high risk of seeing these spikes in those selected areas.” Inevitably, Fauci concluded “The thing that’s so frustrating about this, Don, is that this is entirely avoidable, entirely preventable.” “If you are vaccinated, you diminish dramatically your risk of getting infected and even more dramatically your risk of getting seriously ill. If you are not vaccinated, you are at considerable risk,” Fauci once again repeated.
The Delta variant of the coronavirus could be dominant in Germany in the next few days, meaning that current bans on most travellers from Britain or Portugal may be lifted, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Thursday. “I expect that in the course of July we will see Delta accounting for over 70 to 80 percent of infections in our country,” Spahn told a government press conference in Berlin. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) health agency reported on Wednesday that the Delta variant, first identified in India, already accounted for 37 percent of infections in Germany the week to June 20. The variant is expected to account for at least half of all new infections by this week, the experts said.
If the Delta variant becomes dominant in Germany, so-called coronavirus variant countries such as Britain and Portugal — from which most travel is currently banned — could be reclassified, Spahn said. Given the increasing spread of Delta and research showing that full vaccination protects well against it, “we will look at the situation in the next few days”, Spahn said. “If both of these things are confirmed, we will then be able to treat Portugal and the United Kingdom as high-incidence areas”, rather than variant countries, he said. Only citizens and residents of Germany are permitted to enter from a variant country and are subject to a two-week quarantine, regardless of whether they are fully vaccinated or can provide a negative Covid-19 test.
Trump Organization Executive Vice President Donald Trump Jr. blasted the Manhattan DA’s office Thursday night for bringing tax fraud and other charges against the company’s longtime chief financial officer, calling the case “political persecution of a political enemy.” “This is what Vladimir Putin does,” the eldest son of former President Donald Trump told “Fox News Primetime,” later adding that “after … 3 million documents, countless witnesses and hours of grand jury testimony, outside forensic auditors, this is what they come up with: they’re going to charge a guy who’s 75 years old on crimes of avoiding paying taxes on a fringe benefit.” Allen Weisselberg pleaded not guilty in Manhattan Supreme Court to charges of tax fraud, conspiracy, grand larceny and falsifying business records.
Prosecutors say Weisselberg and the company concocted a 15-year scheme to compensate the CFO and other Trump Organization executives “off the books.” In Weisselberg’s case, prosecutors say, he received “indirect compensation” of more than $1.7 million, as well as free rent at a Manhattan apartment, luxury cars and private school tuition for his family members — without paying taxes on any of it. “The taxable portion of that [$1.7 million] to New York State is 8 percent,” Trump Jr. said. “That’s $136,000 over 16 years. That’s 10 grand [actually $8,500] a year. Half of that, because my father’s a good guy, he paid for this guy’s grandchildren’s education. Our tax experts say that’s not even taxable. You can pay for someone’s education that way. So you cut it down, it comes out to … closer to five grand a year if you take out the education. And that’s what they’ve got.”
The charges against Weisselberg are the first brought by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who has been investigating Trump’s business empire for two years along with New York Attorney General Letitia James. In a statement Thursday, James vowed that her office’s investigation would go on, “and we will follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead. “This is a farce. It’s a disgrace that they spent millions of dollars and years, instead of prosecuting actual murderous thugs on the streets of New York, they go after their political enemies,” raged Trump Jr., adding, “this is banana republic stuff, and if our press was even a little bit intellectually honest, they’d be calling it that … this is nonsense and it has to be called out as such.”
A judge has ruled that dozens more documents about Ghislaine Maxwell’s personal affairs should be made public, including some that could reveal more about her finances and her relationship to the Clintons. Judge Loretta Preska said that unsealing the documents would not impact Maxwell’s right to a fair trial in November as her lawyers have claimed. Among the documents which will be made public in two weeks’ time will be Maxwell’s efforts to quash requests from Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who sued Maxwell for defamation, to obtain her financial records. Giuffre’s lawyers demanded a vast array of documents from Maxwell including ‘funding received from the Clinton Global Initiative and the Clinton Foundation,’ according to court filings.
The judge also ruled that documents relating to a request from Giuffre for email accounts that Maxwell allegedly kept secret from the court should also be made public. They could give an insight into powerful men who Maxwell knew, such and Prince Andrew of the British royal family. The documents are part of a tranche of material gradually being released by Judge Preska from the defamation case Giuffre filed against Maxwell in 2016 for calling her a liar. Giuffre claims Maxwell recruited her when she was 16 and took her to Jeffrey Epstein to be repeatedly raped and abused, including by Prince Andrew, which he denies.
The defamation case was settled in 2017 but after requests from the media organization the documents are gradually being unsealed. During a hearing at New York’s federal court, Judge Preska said she was not persuaded by Maxwell’s argument that ‘continued unsealing of these materials implicates her right to a fair trial in her pending criminal case’, which is due to start in November. Among the documents made public will be a motion for a protective order filed by Maxwell’s lawyers to limit the amount of information about her finances they had to hand over. Giuffre’s lawyers sought such information so they would be better informed if the case went to a settlement, which it did.
Following the (completely contrived) Capitol Hill “riot” on January 6th, Joe Biden made it clear – or rather, the people that control Joe Biden made it clear – “domestic terrorism” was going to be a defining issue of his presidency. Indeed, in an act of startling prescience, the incoming administration had been talking about a new “Domestic Terrorism Bill” for well over three months before the “riot” happened. The media had been calling for one for at least six. Major universities were writing papers about it. It’s funny how often that happens, isn’t it? I wrote at the time that the Capitol Hill “riot” could prove to be America’s Reichstag Fire – a fake attack, blamed on an invisible enemy and used to rush through restrictive legislation and emergency powers. A 9/11 sequel, extending the Patriot Act franchise.
Now, just a few short months later, the Biden White House has released their National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism. Let’s take a look inside it, shall we? The first thing to say about the “strategy”…is that it’s not really a strategy. It’s more of a mission statement or even a press release. It hits talking points, but not real policies. Its watchword is “vague” – in both definition of the problem and proposed solutions (with a couple of noteworthy exceptions, but we’ll get to that.) For starters – who or what IS a “domestic terrorist”? Well, their answer to that is, essentially, potentially anybody. They’re not identifying any particular ideology or cause or group – but rather EVERY ideology cause or group. I wrote, back in January, that any definition would be kept intentionally loose, and the strategy does not disappoint.
The cause of “domestic terrorism” can be racism, religious intolerance, environmental protest, anti-government feeling, animal rights, anti-abortion campaigners, “perceived government overeach”, “incel ideology”, “anti-corporate globalization feeling” or a mixture of any of the above. “Domestic terrorists” may espouse violence or they may not espouse violence. They may work in groups, or be loners, or be loose associations with no organizational structure. They can be left wing or right wing, religious or secular. They can be anybody who thinks anything. There is a lot of entirely intentional vagueness here. Again and again, we are told that “the domestic terrorism threat is complex, multifaceted, and evolving”. They are keeping their options open.
The United States has put Turkey on a list of countries that are thought to have been using child soldiers since at least last year. The US State Department is compiling the list, known as 2021 Trafficking in Persons (TIP). Turkey is the first and only NATO ally to be added. The State Department found that Turkey was providing what they call “tangible support” to the Sultan Murad faction of Syrian opposition that frequently uses child soldiers. Turkey also has a military presence in Libya, which has used child soldiers as well. A senior State Department official addressed these findings in a statement made to the press:
“With respect to Turkey in particular…this is the first time a NATO member has been listed in the child soldier prevention act list,” the State Department official said. “As a respected regional leader and member of NATO, Turkey has the opportunity to address this issue, the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Syria and Libya.” Countries put on the State Department’s list could face regulations on security aid and the commercial licensing of military equipment, but the State Department has not said whether or not Turkey will be restricted. Turkey has fought in Syria and used Syrian armed forces three times. The United Nations has accused these forces of human rights violations, which Turkey has repeatedly denied.
In Hong Kong right now, Jimmy Lai is sacrificing all — his fortune and possibly his life — for his God, his fellow man, and for freedom. Lai is a billionaire, although he wasn’t always one. Born two years before the Communists defeated the nationalists in China’s civil war, his father fled and his mother was sent to a labor camp when he was a young child. Carrying bags for train passengers and getting by as a street vendor, he first tasted freedom when a man from British Hong Kong gave him a bar of chocolate. Lai is a British citizen, although he wasn’t always one. Having seen a glimpse of prosperity and freedom, he chased it to the then-free British island colony, stowing away aboard a ship when he was just 12 years old and working on the floor of a clothing factory.
Lai is a Catholic, although he wasn’t always one. He met the faith through his wife, a pious woman he accompanied to church, where he heard the homilies of Cardinal Joseph Zen and in 1997 was baptized into the church by the same great man. Today Lai is in a prison cell in Hong Kong, and the Communist dictatorship has once again seized one of his life’s works, shutting down his newspaper. But of all that has changed since he was a young boy, persecution by the communists has remained a constant. If you stand by your faith, in China there’s no way around it. “I have a soul,” he said in early 2019, and so the truth lives in him. “No one can say we didn’t fight… Prison life is the pinnacle of my life. I am completely at peace.”
Lai’s path to success in Hong Kong began on the floor of a garment factory. He rose quickly, eventually joining management. He saved his money, invested in the stock market, and used the profits to buy a factory and start making clothing for middle-class consumers. After the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, where peaceful pro-democracy protesters were trapped, shrouded in darkness, and run over and gunned down by tanks, Lai sacrificed his stake in his mainland business by printing and selling pro-democracy shirts and starting a tabloid magazine that covered scandal and corruption in the party. Undeterred by his loss, and still a very wealthy man, Lai channeled his time and fortune toward fighting their evil, enduring arrest, persecution, fire bombings, car attacks, and intimidation for it.
Last week he was arrested again, and his and his company’s finances seized under the auspices of China’s new “national security law.” Stories of his self-made riches and pro-democracy bravery dot corporate media, but unless you dig into the columns of those who’d met him, or read Christian news sources, you might miss what actually drives and fortifies him in the face of a vast and relentless enemy. You’d miss why a serial entrepreneur who has spent his life building and creating is willing to give it all, and you’d miss the truth behind why. “The Communists,” he told Economic Strategy Institute President Clyde Berkowitz, “think they can buy and or intimidate everyone off, create their own reality, and write their own history. Effectively, they assume the role of God. They are kind of a religion or an anti-religion.”
Facebook has introduced a new feature that will warn you when one of your friends is sharing free and independent thoughts on its network. Should you encounter an unapproved opinion, Facebook will provide a pop-up warning letting you know that if you’re concerned about a friend expressing opinions derived from free thought that is not in line with big tech companies, major corporations, Hollywood, universities, or the government, you can get them help. The social media platform will allow you to take steps to report people who are sharing unapproved opinions. You may report them to Facebook, who will reach out to them to help them by forcibly sending them to a Facebook reeducation camp.
“Yes, the camp is mostly brainwashing,” Mark Zuckerberg admitted, “but the food is pretty good. They serve mac and cheese with the little cut-up hot dogs in there every Tuesday. Plus, we’ve got one of those big inflatable launcher things out on the lake, which you can use to relax and launch each other into the water. It’s a ton of fun. If we kidnap you and take you to our camp, we guarantee you’ll love hanging out there on the lake.” “Once you finish your reeducation sessions, of course.”
Stocks, bonds, gold and bitcoin—assets that rarely move in unison—have all been surging this spring, an everything rally that leaves investors confounded about how to play the plodding U.S. expansion and vulnerable to sharp reversals in fortune. Major U.S. stock indexes have soared to records this month, reflecting some investors’ confidence in the continued U.S. economic recovery along with expectations that large technology firms will accrue further market-share gains. At the same time prices of bonds, which often decline when stocks are rising, have risen lately, as U.S. inflation readings cooled off alongside a slowdown in some key industries. Gold has gained following terror attacks in the U.K., and turmoil in U.S. politics centering on the administration’s legislative prospects and a key congressional hearing this week featuring former FBI director James Comey.
The simultaneous gains have begun to concern some investors. Many point to a wave of money that is driving up asset prices, tied in part to lower bond yields and a lower dollar—a confluence of events they say feels good while it lasts but can’t go on forever. “We do think there are distortions” in the markets, said Iman Brivanlou, who oversees high-income equities at asset manager TCW. The Dow Industrials this month have posted two record closes, their first since March, and the 30-stock index remains just 0.33% below its all-time high despite a decline Tuesday of 47.81 points to 21136.23. The Nasdaq Composite Index has hit more than three dozen new highs this year, reflecting the surge of red-hot tech stocks such as Alphabet and Amazon.com , both of which this month have surpassed $1,000 a share. Bitcoin has tripled this year, hitting a record high Tuesday.
At the same time, U.S. bond yields on Tuesday sank to their 2017 low at 2.147% and the price of gold, long viewed as a barometer of market concern about potential risks ahead, settled at $1,294.40, its highest in seven months. A Goldman Sachs Group index of financial conditions that takes into account credit spreads, equity prices and other market gauges, this month suggested the easiest conditions since early 2015, before the Federal Reserve began lifting rates. Another measure of stress in U.S. money markets fell to near its lowest in seven years, while measures of expected stock-market swings have been at the lowest in a decade.
After bingeing on credit for a half decade, U.S. consumers may finally be feeling the hangover. Americans faced with lackluster income growth have been financing more of their spending with debt instead. There are early signs that loan burdens are growing unsustainably large for borrowers with lower incomes. Household borrowings have surged to a record $12.73 trillion, and the%age of debt that is overdue has risen for two consecutive quarters. And with economic optimism having lifted borrowing rates since the election and the Federal Reserve expected to hike further, it’s getting more expensive for borrowers to refinance. Some companies are growing worried about their customers. Public Storage said in April that more of its self-storage customers now seem to be under stress.
Credit card lenders including Synchrony Financial and Capital One Financial are setting aside more money to cover bad loans. Consumer product makers including Nestle posted slower sales growth last quarter, particularly in the U.S. Companies may have reason to be concerned. Consumer spending notched its weakest gain in the first quarter since the end of 2009, a problem in an economy where consumers account for 70% of spending, though analysts expect the dip to be transitory. And debt delinquencies are rising even as the job market shows signs of strength. “There are pockets of consumers that are going to be sorely tested,” said Christopher Low, chief economist at FTN Financial. “We’ve conditioned American consumers to use debt to close the gap between their wages and their spending. When the Fed hikes, riskier borrowers are going to get pinched first.”
Since the 2008 financial crisis, the Fed has kept rates low to encourage companies and consumers to borrow more and spur economic growth. Much of the gains in household debt since 2012 have come from student loans, auto debt and credit cards. Over that time, wage growth has averaged around 2.2% a year, and the pace has been slowing for much of this year. Even if economists forecast that income growth will accelerate, those pickups have remained elusive. Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election in part by convincing voters that he understood their economic pain. Keeping up with household debt payments is still broadly manageable for consumers. As of the end of last year, the ratio of principal and interest payments to disposable income for Americans was just shy of 10%, less than the average going back to 1980 of 11.33%.
And it’s too soon to say whether growing signs of pain among borrowers are just a return to more normal levels of delinquencies or evidence of a more serious credit downturn. Loan delinquencies are creeping higher after plunging from 2010 until the middle of 2016, but are still below historical averages.
If you want to have a drink while watching former FBI director James Comey testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, you’re in luck. Bars in Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Houston, Texas, are opening early on Thursday to screen Comey’s testimony, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. EST. “Come on… you know you want to watch the drama unfold this Thursday,” Shaw’s Tavern, which will be serving $5 Stoli vodka and “FBI” sandwiches, wrote on Facebook. “Grab your friends, grab a drink and let’s COVFEFE!”
There have been only three fleeting periods in the past half-century when the U.S. unemployment rate was as low as it is today. This would be cause for celebration but for one disturbing fact: in hindsight, each period was associated with boiling excesses that led to serious economic trouble. Low unemployment of the late 1960s preceded an inflation spiral in the 1970s. The late 1990s bred the Dot-com bubble and bust. The mid-2000s saw the buildup and collapse of U.S. housing. While there is reason to believe today’s economy isn’t boiling over as in the past, those episodes call for caution. “It’s not a matter of superstition, it’s a matter of being mindful of the history of what such a low unemployment rate usually is followed by,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist of J.P. Morgan Chase.
While initially a welcome development, low unemployment in the 1960s laid the groundwork for a buildup of wage and price pressures, spurred on by low interest rates and aggressive government spending programs. The unemployment rate dropped to 4.3% in September 1965 and then below 4%. Today’s unemployment rate, also at 4.3%, could drop below 4% in the next year if it maintains its present trajectory. Unemployment returned again to 4.3% in January 1999. This time the inflation rate remained below 2% and it seemed that, unlike the late 1960s, the economy wasn’t overheating. But asset prices—the stock market in particular—soared after what had already been a long climb. The DJIA shot above 10000 for the first time in March 1998. Highflying tech companies commanded billion-dollar valuations with no profits to report. In hindsight, an internet bubble grew out of control.
Prime Minister Theresa May said she’d be willing to tear up human rights legislation in the battle against terrorists, as security continued to dominate the final days of the U.K. election campaign. Speaking to supporters at a campaign event in Slough, west of London, the premier said she wanted to make it easier for the authorities to deport foreign terror suspects and to limit the freedoms of individuals who pose a threat but who can’t be prosecuted in court. “If our human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change the laws so we can do it,” May said. “If I am elected as prime minister on Thursday, that work begins on Friday.” May is facing criticism over her record overseeing U.K. homeland security in the wake of two terrorist attacks in two weeks ahead of Thursday’s national vote.
An overwhelming majority of people agree with Jeremy Corbyn that British involvement in foreign wars has put the public at greater risk of terrorism, according to a new poll. The exclusive ORB survey for The Independent found 75% of people believe interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have made atrocities on UK soil more likely. The poll – conducted before Saturday night’s devastating attack – comes after Mr Corbyn was lambasted for suggesting foreign policy decisions were linked to terrorism in the UK and that the “war on terror” had failed. The deadly strike at London Bridge and Borough Market, the third attack in Britain in as many months, has seen security dominate the final days of the election campaign, with cabinet ministers squabbling over whether it could have been stopped.
Theresa May’s record as Home Secretary has been questioned and she has faced a call to resign over the matter from Mr Corbyn, not to mention a former aide to ex-Prime Minister David Cameron. In the wake of the Manchester attack, which killed 22 people last month, the Labour leader highlighted the potential role foreign military interventions play in increasing the likelihood of atrocities in the UK. Despite experts like Baroness Eliza Manningham-Bullerformer, a former MI5 chief, and Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, ex-chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, expressing similar views, he was accused by Conservatives of making excuses for terrorism.
But the ORB survey for The Independent found three-quarters of people – taking in all age groups, political persuasions and social classes – agreed Britain’s military involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya had increased the risk of terrorist acts. Within that, some 68% of Tory voters agreed foreign wars have enhanced the risks of terrorism at home. So did 80% of Labour supporters and 79% of people that voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2015.
Australia marked a world-record 26 years without a recession Wednesday, as the economy grew 0.3% in the first-quarter, official data showed. The Australian Bureau of Statistics put the annual rate of growth at 1.7%, down from 2.4% in the previous three months. The soft quarterly reading was widely expected by analysts amid the impact of category four Cyclone Debbie on eastern Australia in late March, weaker trade figures and tepid wages growth. “The results today demonstrate the continued resilience of the Australian economy,” Treasurer Scott Morrison told reporters. The Australian dollar rallied by a quarter of a US cent to 75.27 cents just after the data was released, as some analysts had predicted a negative first-quarter reading.
Australia last recorded two negative quarters of economic growth in March and June 1991, before enjoying 103 quarters without a recession to equal the record set by the Netherlands. Economists said the resources-rich nation’s long stretch of expansion was supported by economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, such as the floating of the local currency, a flexible labour market, financial sector and capital markets deregulation and lower tariffs. Australia has also benefited from China’s economic growth and hunger for natural resources, which led to an unprecedented mining investment boom and record commodity prices. But economists have warned that economic growth in the next few years may not be as rosy. “In the context of the past few years, it is still a fairly weak outcome,” JP Morgan economist Tom Kennedy told AFP of the latest figures.
Australia’s economy may have achieved a remarkable winning streak, avoiding a recession for 25 years, but there are now clear signs that the consumers who have driven much of the growth are running out of puff. With cash interest rates at a record low and house prices near record highs, the nation’s household debt-to-income ratio has climbed to an all-time peak of 189%, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). That means there are an increasing number of people who have little cash for discretionary spending – on everything from cars to electrical appliances and new clothes – as their pay packets get consumed by large mortgages and high rental payments in the country’s red-hot property market.
And it’s not as if a sudden plunge in home prices would help – it might well expose and exacerbate the problem, at least in the short run, squeezing many who have bought into the frothy market with high mortgage repayments and little equity in their homes. “We are seeing a considerable spike in stress even in more affluent households. Large mortgages, big commitments but no income growth,” said Digital Finance Analytics (DFA) Principal Martin North. “Stressed households are less likely to spend at the shops, which acts as a drag anchor on future growth.” North estimates a record 52,000 households risk default in the next 12 months and that 23.4% of Australian families are under mortgage stress, meaning their income does not cover ongoing costs. That compares with about 19% a year ago.
“People are up to their ears in mortgages,” said Brad Smith, a car sales consultant at MotorPoint Sydney which has seen a stark slowdown in sales in the past six months. “They are all on a budget. Everyone’s got all their money in houses, that’s how it is.” Australians are also facing a cash crunch because price inflation in essential items such as food, electricity and insurance is accelerating at a 3.4% annual rate at a time when Australian wages are rising at their slowest pace on record, just 1.9% in the year to March. Meanwhile, growth in retail sales, personal loans and luxury car sales are all at multi-year lows, suggesting the household sector – nearly 60% of Australia’s A$1.7 trillion ($1.3 trillion) economy – is under severe strain.
Does anyone who has witnessed the pomp and circumstance of the Queen’s Jubilee, the funnelling of public money into Syrian airstrikes, or the systematic cutting of taxes for the rich really think we’re not paying nurses properly because we simply don’t have the money? Absolutely not: we don’t pay nurses properly because the government makes a choice not to. This fact calls to mind the words of the Texan minister Robert Fulghum: “It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and our air force has to have a bake-sale to buy a bomber”. But the magic money tree is not a just daft expression in terms of how governments spend public money, it’s also misleading in terms of how the economy works as a whole.
Since 2008, we’ve been encouraged to see the economy like a household budget: if households spend too much money, they need to cut down on living costs so they don’t get into too much debt. To that end, the magic money tree says that if we spend too much money, we can’t just simply grow more. But actually, a country’s whole economy can grow more money if it needs to. Since 2009 the Bank of England has created £453bn of new electronic money to buy debt from the private sector using a mechanism called quantitative easing. Yes, you read that right: the Bank of England has created £453,000,000,000 of new money in the last eight years. Turns out the magic money tree is pretty big. Growing money is possible because an economy is nothing like a household budget. In a household, money comes in via people’s wages and goes out via living costs.
But in an economy, we all pay each other’s wages. Money doesn’t just travel in one direction in the economy, it circulates around. It’s the difference between one car driving in one end of a tunnel and out of the other, and lots of cars zigzagging around Spaghetti Junction. The issue isn’t whether we can grow money or not (we can – that’s just a fact), it’s where the money goes once it’s been grown. And the problem is that it doesn’t go to nurses, teachers or the public services they work for. It goes to institutions such as banks. The nurse in the BBC debate was highlighting a problem that exists across the whole economy: real wages haven’t increased for more than a decade, and this has meant more people have been relying on credit cards, with personal debt now higher than it was before the 2008 crash.
In other words, the fact that the nurse hasn’t had a pay rise is not just bad for her, it’s bad for all of us – because if that nurse is not earning enough, she won’t be spending money. And if she does spend money, she’ll do it by getting into unsustainable debt – which is itself outrageous considering the important, skilled work nurses do.
Banco Popular Espanol has been taken over by Santander after European regulators deemed that the bank was likely to fail. Popular will continue to operate under “normal business conditions” after all the bank’s shares and capital instruments were transferred to Santander, said the EU’s Single Resolution Board. The purchase price was €1, according to a statement. Santander plans to raise about €7bn (£6.1bn) of capital as part of the transaction. Popular had been looking for a buyer or a possible share sale after its balance sheet was battered by soured real estate loans that eroded its capital.
Its shares have dropped 53pc since the beginning of last week. In a statement, the ECB, which oversees the largest banks in the eurozone, said: “The significant deterioration of the liquidity situation of the bank in recent days led to a determination that the entity would have, in the near future, been unable to pay its debts or other liabilities as they fell due. “Consequently, the ECB determined that the bank was failing or likely to fail and duly informed the Single Resolution Board (SRB), which adopted a resolution scheme entailing the sale of Banco Popular Espanol to Banco Santander.”
For years, a wide spectrum of groups in the U.S. lectured, cajoled and entreated China to go green. Multinationals and nonprofits teamed up with Chinese environmental groups to promote eco-friendly causes; Coca-Cola restored forests in the upper Yangtze. U.S. labs offered scientific support. Academics collaborated on research. The former Treasury secretary, Hank Paulson, championed China’s disappearing wetlands, a haven for migratory birds. The well-funded effort amplified voices within China demanding the government take action. It was, says Orville Schell, a longtime China watcher and environmentalist, “the most effective missionary work in the past couple hundred years.” So it’s an irony of historic proportions how the roles have reversed: China, the world’s worst polluter by far, is now a convert on climate change while the White House under Donald Trump has turned apostate.
In pulling out of the 2015 Paris climate-change agreement, Mr. Trump has repudiated a signal accomplishment of the Obama presidency: persuading Beijing to become a partner in the effort to prevent the planet from heating up to the point of no return. Without China’s support, the Paris deal might have fallen apart. Mr. Paulson issued a statement saying he was dismayed and disappointed. “We have left a void for others to fill,” he said. When it comes to the environment, China is still torn by conflicting priorities. It has installed more solar and wind capacity than any other nation—and plans to invest another $360 billion in renewable energy between now and 2020. The economy is rebalancing away from heavy industry and manufacturing toward much cleaner services and consumption.
Coal consumption has declined for three straight years. On current trends, many scientists expect that China will reach peak carbon emissions well before its target date of 2030 under the Paris accord. Yet Beijing remains committed to rapid growth. And coal is still king. Just ask the residents of Beijing. Whenever economic policy makers set out to boost growth, spending flows to new real-estate and infrastructure projects, the steel mills around the capital fire up their coal furnaces—and commuters reach for their face masks. This winter was particularly hard on the lungs. A spending splurge meant that Beijing’s average pollution levels last year were double the national standard set by the State Council.
“Have you all lost your mind?” Vladimir Putin replied to one of Megyn Kelly’s thrusts about alleged Russian perfidy toward the US in the gala interview that debuted her new Sunday Night star-chamber on NBC. Old Vlad put his finger on something there. His view of the late goings-on in America is like that of the proverbial detached Martian observer of strange Earthly doings, rattling his antennae and clicking his mouth-parts in mirth. To which retort, by the way, one would have to answer, ”Yes, absolutely.” The toils of slow economic collapse, accompanied by the ceaseless effort by various arms of the Deep State to spin “the narrative” around the voting public’s collective head, has driven the polity insane. And this, of course, is on view in the bedlam that US politics has become, Trump and all.
I’m waiting for The New York Times to run the three-column headline that says Russia Racist, Misogynist, and Islamophobic to finally bring together the programmed paranoia of NeoCon / DemProg alliance with the esprit de corp of the new collegiate Red Guard. Mr. Putin does not have to lift a finger to detonate the groaning garbage barge of US domestic affairs. It’s already ignited and is faring toward a very peculiar species of civil war. You can be sure that the NeoCon/DemProg axis is determined to get rid of Trump at all costs. Impeachment requires some sort of high crime or misdeamenor. So far, going on a year, they haven’t come up with any evidence that the Golden Golem of Greatness acted as a Russian agent in some fashion, and that itself has got to be a little suspicious, considering the thousands of clerks in the spinning mills of those legendary seventeen Intel outfits the government runs.
How could they fail to come up with a video of the Donald and Vladimir swatting each other playfully with birch switches in a Moscow banya? Five TV sitcom writers could surely come up with an angle — as long as it was a plausible entertainment. In the meantime, Trump prevails, the mad bull elephant of the Republican herd, majestically swinging his trunk against everything breakable in the political china shop while trumpeting “Covfefe! Covfefe!” Last week it was the Paris Climate Accords. The op-ed writers in the usual places bounced off the walls of their virtual rubber room in response. Paul Krugman had to be dragged down to hydrotherapy at the NYT after he set his hair on fire. And Rachel Maddow practically popped a carotid artery in her muscular neck from all that shrieking.
I’m a bit more sanguine about the US withdrawal. To me, the Paris Accords were just another feel-good PR stunt enabling politicians to pretend that they could control forces that are already way out-of-hand, an international vanity project of ass-covering. The coming economic collapse will depress global industrial activity whether anybody likes it or not, and despite anyone’s pretense of good intentions — and then we will have a range of much more practical problems of everyday life to contend with.
Greeks are among the most pessimistic people in the world, according to the findings of a survey by the Pew Research Center which found that many Europeans as well as Japanese and Americans feel better about their national economies now than before the global financial crisis nearly a decade ago. Questioned about their national economy, only 2% of Greeks were upbeat, the lowest rate among the 32 countries polled. The Dutch, Germans, Swedes and Indians see their national economies in the most positive light, with more than 80% expressing optimism. The Pew survey also detected widespread concern about the future. A median of just 41% said they believed that a child in their country today would grow up to be better off financially than their parents. The most pessimistic about prospects for the next generation are the French (9%), the Japanese (19%) and the Greeks (21%).
Joseph Mallord William Turner Wreckers, Coast of Northumberland 1834
Is it sheer hubris, or is it just incompetence? It’s a question often asked when it comes to politics. And regularly, the answer is both. Still, what the ruling British political class has put on display recently seems to exist in a category all its own. Less than a year go, then-PM David Cameron lost the Brexit referendum that he called himself and was dead sure he would win by a landslide.
His successor Theresa May, Cameron’s Home Secretary and a staunch Remain advocate, lost the Brexit vote as much as her PM did, but stayed on, was promoted, and acted for 11 months like Downing Street 10 was hers by Divine Decree. Then she did the exact same thing Cameron did: she looked at polling numbers and decided to go for the jugular: more power through a snap vote.
In the process, May has succeeded in accomplishing the remarkable feat of rejuvenating her main opponent Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour party, who had been left for infighting dead until she called the election, while at the same time dividing her own Tories so much they now resemble Labour from just weeks ago.
The thing that sort of irks is that the speed and intensity with which it all came down would have been way more impressive if she had meant to do it. Oh, and what also irks is that despite a performance worthy of the Comedy Capers, May may still win, since there was always little time, there’s so little time left till Thursday and there have been terror attacks.
A nice addition to the comedy sphere, and I mean no disrespect to any of the terror victims, they’ve gotten enough of that from May et al, is the story behind the PM’s refusal to appear in public debates with Corbyn and perhaps others. When I first saw a few weeks ago that she had announced that refusal, I immediately thought she did not make that decision. She doesn’t have the savvy for that kind of thing.
Someone did it for her. I presumed there had been American advisers added to her team, but I didn’t read anything about that. Until a few days ago, when I saw that political -presumed- heavyweights like Australian Lynton Crosby and American Jim Messina had joined around the time of the snap election announcement on April 18.
And now of course I can’t help thinking that these guys are responsible for the epic failure that May has been over the past six weeks. But that might be giving them too much honor, she’s quite capable of screwing up the way she has all on her own.
And yes, it’s hard to escape a comparison with Hillary here. It’s not about gender, it’s about competence. And if you manage to -almost or entirely- lose to the likes of Trump and Corbyn, despite having a huge lead in the polls, as both ladies had, you’re simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not that Corbyn has won yet, at least not in the election.
Guys like Crosby and Messina get paid the big bucks for their expertise in both clean and dirty tricks. They have plenty experience in both. They don’t have opinions, but they make up voters’ opinions for them. Messina was Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign leader, Crosby did elections in Australia, New Zealand, Canada. Funny thing is if you check their records, they have lost quite a few of these campaigns. Even funnier would be if they lose this one too.
But you’re right, it’s not right to be laughing. This past weekend saw another attack on Britain, and another -to put it mildly- far below par performance by Theresa May in its wake. If after this the Britons still hand her a win in Thursday’s general election, give up the country for lost. Stick a fork in it.
May was the one who as Home Secretary was responsible for an investigation into the foreign funding of extremist Islamist groups in the UK that was set to be released a year ago. Instead, we saw last week, she’s actively suppressing its release now that she’s PM, ostensibly because the report mentions Saudi Arabia as a source of such funding, and May recently used her position to help UK arms manufacturers sell billions worth of additional weapons to the Saudi’s.
She’s even on record as saying that arms sales to the House of Saud make Britain more safe, though the report apparently fingers that same House of Saud as funding the very terrorism her country was hit by, three times in a row now, during her stint as PM.
Where does terrorism originate? May won’t admit it’s Saudi Arabia, so she tried, in her first post-attack speech, to deflect the obvious by blaming ‘the internet’. But the internet doesn’t sell arms to countries that support terrorism. Theresa May does.
As people understandably call for more protection after three hits in a row, May has another thing to suppress: as Home Secretary she has been responsible for cutting some 22,000 jobs in the police force, 20,000 in the army, and 60,000 in the healthcare system. And if she would win on Thursday, more of all that is in the offing. At least, that was what was planned; she may make yet another U-turn on that one.
It’s really quite amusing to see a candidate trying to hide from the very elections she herself called, but -again-, given the short time-frame this hide-and-seek tactic might actually work. Moreover, if the British media and his own Labour MPs had not turned against Jeremy Corbyn the way they did until very recently, would May be anywhere near having a shot at victory? It looks unlikely.
There are already bets going that even if she wins the election, which if it happens is sure to be a very narrow win, she’ll be replaced as PM by Boris Johnson before July 1. But he’s as much of a clown as all other major Tory figureheads are today.
The problem of course is that the problems for Britain won’t stop on Thursday, no matter who wins. The problems haven’t even started blooming yet, let alone flowering.
If Corbyn might win, he’s have the entire Conservative entitlement class on his back, and that would turn ugly fast. If May wins, she’ll be ousted in no time, she did far too bad of a job. And then in just a few weeks’ time the Brexit negotiations begin. But with what? With a country that’s been divided to the bone, that’s what.
As things are, Corbyn may yet succeed where Bernie Sanders was rejected and suppressed by his own party. The world today needs people like them, not because it needs ‘socialism’ that much, but because the political landscape has been thrown too far out of balance. If the left gets co-opted by neo-liberalism as much as the right is, there is no left left.
And a sound political system needs representation for the people, the poor(er), as much as representation for the richer ruling classes. It’s not about ideology, but about balance. If you allow either one side or the other of the political equation to run rampant, you will inevitably end up with a dysfunctional society.
And that is what Britain is today. There are plenty slogans out there after yet another terror attack that say things like ‘Britain Stands United’, “London is United” , but it doesn’t and they are not. It’s not terrorism that has divided the country, it’s the political class. It’s not terrorism that has ‘crippled democracy’, it’s the sense of entitlement that many -on both sides of the aisle- have brought to Whitehall.
You would think that at least Jeremy Corbyn could do something about that if he wins. But he would then face an EU negotiating team that operates with a very similar sense of entitlement. And they’re going to come after the British people the same way they have in Greece. Not exactly an enviable position.
And that’s just Brussels. Then there are the terrorist attacks, and there’s little reason to think they will stop. What Britain refuses to recognize until now, and has for hundreds of years as I said before, is that these attacks in London and Manchester are not where it has all started. They don’t come out of the blue, and they don’t come from people who ‘hate us for our freedom’.
The first step is the UK et al spreading terror in Libya and Syria and Iraq, bombing away and selling weapons to ‘friendly’ regimes, creating utter chaos as a political power tool. If you don’t stop that you don’t stop terrorism. The only way to stop terror directed at you is to stop directing it at others.
Stop bombing these countires with impunity, and use the money you save with that to rebuild what you’ve destroyed. That will take away the main reason why there is terrorism in our streets. It will likely go a long way towards solving the refugee problems as well.
All this seems a long way away. It’ll recede further if the entitlement-laden establishment win on Thursday. But whichever way the vote goes, Britain will face a decade or more of deepening hardship, don’t underestimate that; there is no easy way out, not for the people.
Oh wait, I totally forgot to mention that the housing bubble is going to burst too. Oh, well, when it rains…
The governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE are all wary of the Muslim Brotherhood because it enjoys support as an Islamist party among a broad base, Sluglett said. In the case of Iran, he added, a key factor is the Trump administration’s threat to review a landmark deal that lifted most economic sanctions against Iran in return for curbing its nuclear and missile programs. “The Americans cannot unilaterally back out of the deal as it is the P5+1 [permanent five members of the U.N. security council and Germany], so they are using the GCC and Egypt to put pressure on any countries supporting Iran,” Sluglett said, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council, which counts Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman as members.
Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, responded on Twitter to the news by pointing out that Qatar “is very heavily reliant on food supplies accessed” through Saudi Arabia, so a closing of the borders poses a “very” serious challenge to Doha. For its part, Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of backing militant groups and spreading their violent ideology, in an apparent reference to its influential state-owned satellite channel al Jazeera. “(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS (Islamic State) and al-Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly,” state news agency SPA said. The statement went on to accuse Qatar of supporting what it described as Iranian-backed militants in its restive and largely Shi’ite Muslim-populated Eastern region of Qatif and in Bahrain.
Qatar said in May that hackers had faked remarks by its emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, criticizing some leaders of fellow Gulf Arab states and calling for an easing of tensions with Iran, a regional adversary. But several Gulf Cooperation Council states rejected Qatar’s explanation, leaving local media to unleash a barrage of attacks accusing the emir of cozying up to Tehran. Qatar shares the world’s largest gas field, South Pars, with Iran. The commercial and business ties have irritated Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries at odds with Iran over Tehran’s support for Shia-linked militants. Sluglett noted that Qatar’s dealings with Iran center on the gas field and that Doha is uncomfortable at times with a hard push against Tehran: “They find it quite ridiculous to blindly follow U.S. views on Iran.”
Just days after president Trump left the region, a geopolitical earthquake is taking place in the Middle East tonight as the rift between Qatar and other members of the (likely extinct) Gulf Cooperation Council explodes with Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt cutting all diplomatic ties with Qatar accusing it of “speading chaos,” by funding terrorism and supporting Iran. The dispute between Qatar and the Gulf’s Arab countries started over a purported hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency. It has spiraled since, and appears to be climaxing now… just days after President Trump left the region. As Al Arabiya reports, Bahrain has announced it is cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, according to a statement carried on Bahrain News Agency.
The statement on Monday morning said Bahrain decided to sever ties with its neighbor “on the insistence of the State of Qatar to continue destabilizing the security and stability of the Kingdom of Bahrain and to intervene in its affairs”. The statement also said Qatar’s incitement of the media and supporting of terrorist activities and financing groups linked to Iran were reasons behind the decision. “(Qatar has) spread chaos in Bahrain in flagrant violation of all agreements and covenants and principles of international law Without regard to values, law or morals or consideration of the principles of good neighborliness or commitment to the constants of Gulf relations and the denial of all previous commitments,” the statement read. Qatari citizens have 14 days to leave Bahraini territories while Qatari diplomats were given 48 hours to leave the country after being expelled.
Meanwhile, Bahrain has also banned all of its citizens from visiting or residing in Qatar after the severance of ties. Additionally, Bahrain has has closed both air and sea borders with Qatar. Saudi Arabia then confirmed the same – cutting ties and shutting down all sea, airspace, and land crossings with Qatar as well as dissolving Qatar’s role in the Saudi-led coalition fighting against Yemen. Emirates, Etihad, Saudia, Gulf Air, and Egypt Air are no longer allowed to fly to Qatar and Saudi Arabia is providing facilities, services to Qatari pilgrims. Egypt then followed, confirming it was cutting diplomatic ties. Then UAE confirmed it would cut ties, shut down all sky, water, and land crossings, and expel all Qataris within 48 hours. The Maldives also just cut diplomatic ties with Qatar.
All of this happens within 24 hours of Iran calling out ‘The West’ for ignoring the real sponsors of terrorism around the world and UK’s Labor party leader outright name-shaming Saudi Arabia’s funding of terrorism. As a reminder, documents obtained by Middle East Eye show strategic alliance includes pledge by Ankara to protect Gulf state from external threats… “In December 2015, Turkey announced, to the surprise of many, that it planned to establish a military base in Qatar. Behind the scenes, the agreement was about forming a major strategic alliance. After a 100-year hiatus, Turkey is militarily back in the Gulf and ramping up its presence overseas. In January, Ankara announced that it would also establish a military base in Somalia. Specific details about the Qatar agreement, which Turkey described as an alliance in the face of “common enemies”, remain scant, but Middle East Eye has acquired copies of the agreements, as well as further details, which include a secret pledge by Ankara to protect Qatar from external threats.
Did Qatar just get scapegoated in the ‘war on terror’? One thing seems clear, support for a Syrian gas pipeline will be dwindling and with it the need for a Syrian war. Notably, this raises further doubts about OPEC’s stability. As Bloomberg notes, while Middle East ructions have historically added risk premia to oil prices, discord here could theoretically put downward pressure on prices as OPEC members struggle to maintain unity and compliance on production cuts.
Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron have challenged Theresa May over a long-delayed inquiry into foreign funding and support of jihadi groups in the UK, after the Home Office suggested the investigation may not be published. The inquiry into revenue streams for extremist groups was commissioned by David Cameron when he was prime minister and is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia. But the Guardian revealed last week that the report was still incomplete and its contents may not be published. The Labour leader used a speech in Carlisle on Sunday evening to challenge the prime minister over the delayed report. Corbyn referenced May’s speech after the London Bridge attack on Saturday, in which she said challenging terrorism would “require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations”.
In a speech that also criticised May for ignoring warnings about the impact of police cuts, he said: “Yes, we do need to have some difficult conversations, starting with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have funded and fuelled extremist ideology. “It is no good Theresa May suppressing a report into the foreign funding of extremist groups. We have to get serious about cutting off the funding to these terror networks, including Isis here and in the Middle East.” The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Tom Brake, wrote to May last week asking her to commit to not shelving the report. Writing in the Guardian on Monday, the Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, said it was essential the report was not suppressed. “Theresa May now has a choice. Does she publish that report or keep it hidden?” Farron said.
“Theresa May talks of the need to have some difficult and sometimes embarrassing conversations. That should include exposing and rooting out the source funding of terror, even it means difficult and embarrassing conversations with those like Saudi Arabia that the government claims are our allies.” The Conservatives were criticised last year for selling billions of pounds of arms to the Saudis. Cameron ordered the investigation as part of a deal with the Lib Dems in exchange for the party supporting the extension of British airstrikes against Islamic State into Syria in December 2015. The Home Office’s extremism analysis unit was directed by Downing Street in January 2016 to investigate overseas funding of extremist groups in the UK, with findings to be shown to the then home secretary May and Cameron. Eighteen months on, the Home Office said the report, originally due to be published in spring 2016, had not yet been completed and publication was not guaranteed, given the sensitive nature of the content. .
The Prime Minister should resign over her alleged failure to prevent the London Bridge terror attack, a former senior aide to the last Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has said. Former Downing Street director of Strategy, Steve Hilton, on Monday claimed the Theresa May was “responsible” for the attack that left seven people dead and many more injured, and called for her to resign rather than seek re-election. “Theresa May responsible for security failures of London Bridge, Manchester, Westminster Bridge,” he tweeted. “Should be resigning not seeking re-election.” Hilton posted an excerpt from a Daily Mail report, suggesting that security services had been warned about at least one of the terrorists behind the attack on Saturday.
The Mail reported that one of the attackers had featured in a documentary about extremists and been reported to the security services by friends concerned that he had been radicalised. The paper also reported evidence that the suspect had been quizzed by police last year. Previous reports have indicated that the terrorists behind the Manchester and Westminster attacks earlier this year were also known to security services. May is also under pressure to release a suppressed report Home Office report into the international funding of terror groups in the UK. The report was commissioned by the last coalition government in 2015 and due to be published last year but has never been emerged. The Home Office admitted last week that it may never be published due to the “very sensitive” nature of the report.
The report is expected to reveal links between Saudi Arabia and extremist groups in the UK. Critics of the government believe it has been suppressed due to the UK government’s ongoing trade relationships with the country. The UK recently approved £3.5bn worth of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia, despite criticisms over its involvement in the bombing campaign in Yemen.
Cultures live by myths. These create their own reality. Britons may not know much history, but they all know about the spirit of the Blitz, and many lived through the bombing campaigns of the Irish Republican Army of the 1970s and ’80s. Many will remember that, in 1984, on the day Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and half her cabinet team were blown out of their beds in the early morning by the Brighton bomb, in which five people died, she insisted that the Conservative Party conference should still start as scheduled at 9.30 a.m. Terrorism, she said, would never cripple democracy. The country is proud of that stoicism, and on the whole, wishes to live up to it. And yet. Today, there is a ripple of unease spreading through Britain, after the third brutal and unexpected attack in three months. It is the chilling realization that whatever the antiterror strategy has been so far, it clearly hasn’t worked.
However many plots are being foiled, now that anyone with the access to a car or van, a kitchen knife or the internet can choose to kill, some will succeed. This is a bleak and, frankly, unbearable prospect, and it’s concentrating minds. My 25-year-old son says that what terrifies him and his friends is their impotence. If this were indeed the Blitz, they could join up. If it was the ’70s they could either fight the I.R.A. or lobby for peace talks. But here, they have no idea how to combat this, whom to talk to, how to do anything other than wait for the next atrocity to happen, and then send sympathy and hashtags in the aftermath. Others, seeing that good will and candlelit vigils have their limits, are demanding radical action. On social media and phone-ins, and in private conversations, some people are calling for the immediate internment of the 3,000 suspected radicals on the terrorist watch lists, or their deportation, or for mass aerial bombing of the Islamic States abroad.
None of these will be solutions, but everyone is beginning to understand that savagery may become a regular occurrence, rather than an exceptional one — unless whoever is in government can offer a different and more successful approach. That is why Prime Minister Theresa May, only days away from a general election where she is fighting to keep her parliamentary majority, announced this morning that “enough is enough” in the war against terrorism, and that “things need to change.” There had been too much tolerance of extremism in Britain. The police and security services should have all the powers they needed. The internet giants, Facebook and Google, must be held responsible for radicalizing material that appeared on their sites.
Mrs. May knows just how vulnerable she is on these issues. She is already performing unexpectedly badly in the election campaign, appearing wooden and uneasy in comparison to her Labour challenger. Normally, she and the Tories could count on scoring high for law and order, but Mrs. May is in the uncomfortable position of denouncing counterterror policies for which she herself has been responsible over the past six years (in five years as home secretary and one as prime minister).
Up to 10 million Britons or nearly a third of the UK workforce do not have secure employment, according to the GMB union, which has warned of a heavy impact on health and family life. The union’s research, unveiled at its 100th annual congress in Plymouth on Monday, attempts to quantify people in what it calls precarious employment – those in the gig economy, on zero- or short-hours contracts, temporary workers, the underemployed and those at risk of false self-employment. The data, based on a survey of nearly 3,500 people of working age, emerged before the publication this month of recommendations from Matthew Taylor, a former adviser to Tony Blair who was appointed by the current prime minister to lead a review into the gig economy. He is expected to recommend changes to the rights of self-employed workers.
Tim Roache, the GMB’s general secretary, said: “This paints a shocking picture of the modern world of work. Up to 10 million people go to work either not knowing what their hours are, if they’ll be able to pay the bills, or what their long-term prospects are. That’s a sorry state of affairs in the 21st century and a product of government’s failure to tackle bogus self-employment, the use of agency contracts as a business model and point-blank refusal to ban zero-hours contracts.” Further interviews of those who identified themselves as insecure workers found that 61% had suffered stress or anxiety as a result of their current job and the same proportion said they had been to work while unwell for fear of not being paid, losing their job or missing out on future hours. The rapid change in employment practices was highlighted by more than three-quarters of those interviewed who said they had previously been in permanent employment.
Banksy has offered fans an exclusive free print if they vote against the Conservatives in the general election. The artist posted on his website asking voters in six Bristol-area constituencies to send him a photo of their ballot paper showing that they voted against the Tories to receive a limited-edition work. He wrote: “Simply send in a photo of your ballot paper from polling day showing you voted against the Conservative candidate and this complimentary gift will be mailed to you.” The artwork is taken from his iconic “girl with a balloon” motif but now features a Union Jack flag in the balloon. Banksy said that it will be released on 9 June. However, critics have pointed out that this would contravene laws designed to ensure votes remain secret, and could also break rules against bribery.
In a “lawyer’s note” disclaimer, Banksy’s post added: “This print is a souvenir piece of campaign material, it is in no way meant to influence the choices of the electorate, has no monetary value, is for amusement purposes only and is strictly not for resale. “Terms and conditions to follow, postage not included.” Under Section 66 of the Representation of the People’s Act, it is a criminal offence to “induce a voter to display his ballot paper after he has marked it so as to make known to any person the name of the candidate for whom he has or has not voted”. It is also illegal to show the paper’s unique identification number. An Electoral Commission spokesman told the BBC: “Given the risk that someone taking a photo inside a polling station may be in breach of the law, whether intentionally or not, the commission’s advice is against taking any photos inside polling stations.”
The World Bank is keeping its forecast for global growth in 2017 unchanged, because for the first time in years, no new risks have arisen to threaten the outlook. “Over the past four years this is the first time we didn’t have a downgrade and I think that’s very good sign. Growth is firming,” World Bank economist Ayhan Kose told AFP. The World Bank expects the global economy to grow by 2.7% this year, and 2.9% in 2018 and 2019, the same as the January forecast. And after 10 years of crisis and tepid recovery, keeping a stable growth forecast is news. Kose, who heads the World Bank’s Development Prospects Group, which twice a year prepares the global economic forecasts, attributes the good news to the fact the risks, while still present, have receded.
The issues that had the potential to derail the incipient recovery included stress in financial markets as they adapt to rising US interest rates, uncertainty over the stability of oil prices, and concerns about election outcomes in Europe. But after the Federal Reserve’s two rate increases in recent months, markets have reacted “very well,” European political uncertainty “has receded quite a bit” – French voters rejected the anti-EU candidate – and oil prices while still low, have stabilized after OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers extended the agreement to limit output. “All in all, we still think that risks are tilted to the downside but the risk profile is a little bit more improved today versus six months ago,” Kose said.
However, uncertainty over policies, especially US trade protectionism and immigration restrictions under the Trump administration, is having immediate, real impacts on conditions that could dampen growth, Kose cautioned. Companies may delay business decisions and postpone investments in the absence of “well-defined policies,” for example in a case where companies have cross-border operations impacted by the North American Free Trade Agreement which President Donald Trump has opened to renegotiation. Kose noted the “serious slowdown” in investment in emerging markets and developing economy already seen over the past six years. “We are of course worried about how policy uncertainty impacts investment growth and then ultimately impacts growth in the real economy,” he said.
Italy faces a “horror” scenario when the ECB winds down its bond buying programme in a move that risks sparking a surge in the country’s borrowing costs, according to one of the world’s largest bond managers. The Pacific Investment Management Company (Pimco) said the ECB’s €60bn-a-month QE programme was “very supportive” for countries such as Italy and Portugal and had helped to limit volatility in these countries. Andrew Balls, chief investment officer for global fixed income, said removing that support was likely to push up bond yields in a country that has struggled to implement reforms and reduce its massive debt pile amid weak growth. Italian 10-year benchmark borrowing costs currently stand at around 2.2pc, compared with 0.2pc in Germany and close to 3pc in Portugal.
Mr Balls said funding Italy at these rates “doesn’t look particularly attractive” considering the risks facing the eurozone’s third largest economy. He said removal of ECB support raised the risk that Italy could be forced into a bail-out programme if its borrowing costs rose to unsustainable levels, even though the country has long lived within its means excluding debt interest costs. “The thing which fills me with horror is an environment where the ECB has finished QE, Italy does need support, and the message is you need to go to the European Stability Mechanism [the eurozone’s bail-out fund],” said Mr Balls. “Replaying the events of a few years ago with Portugal, Greece and others in the case of Italy would be an event that would raise an awful lot of risk – and you’d want to get paid a lot more than a 2pc return over 10 years to take that risk.”
While Pimco believes an Italian exit from the eurozone is “not our baseline”, Mr Balls added: “It doesn’t seem terribly unlikely either”. “Italy can’t grow,” he said. “You have limited political will to implement reform …In contrast to Portugal it’s big and systemic, but its not clear how Italy improves the situation. “In the event of a recession or shock it’s not clear how the policy apparatus deals with something as large as Italy.”
President Obama and I were engaged with all parties in the Greek financial crisis, because we wanted to prevent Greece from experiencing financial collapse. Grexit would have had very serious long-term consequences for Greece and Europe – and could potentially have triggered a wider crisis of confidence in the global economy. We were concerned that in the high-stakes negotiation between Greece and its creditors, failure to reach a sensible agreement would have made all parties much worse off in the end. But because of each side’s desire to secure the best possible terms, this worst-case scenario was a real possibility.
While the ultimate decision was up to the leaders of Greece, the IMF, and the eurozone countries, I think we helped steer the conversation in a more pragmatic direction because of the credibility we had in Athens, Brussels and Berlin. We argued with the creditor countries that Greece had been saddled with an unsustainably high debt burden and that reform would only go so far with such a large debt overhang. At the same time, we encouraged the Greek leadership to think about how to demonstrate to its creditors that it had a credible roadmap for systemic economic reform, which was necessary. While a deal was reached and the worst of the crisis is behind us, we are not yet completely out of the woods. I believe the United States continues to have a role to play in supporting the parties as they move forward with discussions on Greece’s economic future.
The U.S. Federal Reserve’s long-stalled ‘liftoff’ of interest rates may finally get airborne this year as policymakers from Chair Janet Yellen on Friday to regional leaders across the United States signaled that the era of easy money is drawing to a close. Yellen capped off a seemingly coordinated push from the central bank on Friday when she cemented the view that the Fed will raise interest rates at its next meeting on March 14-15, and likely be able to move faster after that than it has in years. It’s a welcome turn for the Fed chair, who has hoped to get rates off the ground throughout her three-year tenure, and now sees the economy on track and investors aligned around the idea.
“At our meeting later this month, the committee will evaluate whether employment and inflation are continuing to evolve in line with our expectations, in which case a further adjustment of the federal funds rate would likely be appropriate,” Yellen said at a business luncheon in Chicago. “The process of scaling back accommodation likely will not be as slow as it was in 2015 and 2016,” she added. Stocks were up slightly, and futures tied to rate-hike expectations moved little on Yellen’s remarks. The comments from Fed speakers this week had already pushed market pricing of a March hike to 80%. The Fed has struggled for the past three years to raise interest rates off the zero lower bound as the U.S. economy slowly healed after the Great Recession. Issues from sluggish inflation globally to the dampening effect of a strong dollar and low energy prices blew them off course. By contrast, 2017 may be the year the Fed is able to follow through on its forecast of three rate hikes.
Stocks are at record highs. And while the Trump administration’s early days have been filled with internal political chaos, the market’s reaction has continued to remain positive. On Wednesday, when U.S. stocks had their best day of the year, the popular SPY ETF, which tracks the S&P 500, saw $8.2 billion in new inflows, its single-best day since December 2014. But something else happened on Wednesday that should have equity bulls quite a bit more concerned: markets got behind the idea the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in March and, perhaps, be more aggressive about raising rates in than previously expected.On Friday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen signaled that a March rate hike is on the table and said the pace of the Fed raising rates in 2017 would likely exceed that seen in 2015 and 2016.
And while an accomodative Fed has been seen as a backstop for markets during the post-crisis bull run higher, a tighter Fed is bad news for stocks because when rates begin to rise, the end of the bull market has already been signaled. As we highlighted in our daily market outlook post, David Rosenberg at Gluskin Sheff wrote Thursday that, “Monetary policy is profoundly more important to the markets and the economy than is the case with fiscal policy, though all the Fed is doing now is removing accommodation.” Rosenberg added that, “there have been 13 Fed rate hike cycles in the post-WWII era, and 10 landed the economy in recession. Soft landing are rare and when they have occurred, they have come in the third year of the expansion, not the eighth.”
The gray bars mark recessions. Ahead of recessions, rates usually rise. Right now, rates are set to rise.
Wall Street’s so-called fear index has started to move in lockstep with stock prices and that has one money manager warning of an impending selloff even as market sentiment remains fairly stable. Jesse Felder, founder of the Felder Report and an alumni of Bear Stearns, on Friday shared a chart that showed an increasingly positive correlation between the S&P 500 and the CBOE Market Volatility Index. “Normally stocks and the VIX move in opposite directions…and it makes sense that rising stock prices mean less fear and vice versa,” said Felder. However, that reverse relationship has started to change in recent days as expectations of a market correction mount.
The VIX is a measure of the market’s expectation for volatility over the next 30 days and is calculated from the implied volatilities of S&P 500 index options. A low reading indicates a placid market while a higher number suggests elevated uncertainty. “The options market is pricing in greater volatility ahead even though stocks don’t yet reflect this same dynamic,” Felder told MarketWatch. “Over the past few years this signal has preceded anywhere from a 2% to a 10% correction.”
That this trend comes on top of the 10-year Treasury yield’s nearly 40% surge over the past year as the Federal Reserve prepares to tighten monetary policy suggest risky assets such as equities will face significant selling pressure. Analysts are projecting the Fed to raise interest rates three times this year, a view reinforced by comments from Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen on Friday that a rate hike at the next Federal Open Market Committee in mid-March is likely. “The Fed looks like it will take its third step toward tightening here soon so it might pay to remember the old Wall Street adage ‘three steps and a stumble.’ For these reasons, I think the chance of a major reversal is higher than it has been in the past,” he said.
The ObamaCare quandary. A fiasco for sure. Under it, not uncommonly, a family pays $12,000-a-year for a policy that carries a $5,000 deductible. That’s an interesting number in a land were most people don’t even have enough ready cash for routine car repairs. The cruel and idiotic injustice of such a set-up could only happen in a society that has normalized pervasive lying, universal accounting fraud, and corporate racketeering. I personally doubt the existing health care system can be reformed. Anyway, we’re starting in the wrong place with it. The part that nobody talks about is the psychopathic pricing system that drives medicine. The average cost for a normal (non-surgical) hospital childbirth in America these days is $10,000. WTF? An appendectomy: between $9,000 and $20,000 depending on where. WTF?
These days, a hip replacement runs about $38,000. Of course, you will never find out what a treatment or procedure costs before-the-fact. They simply won’t tell you. They’ll say something utterly ridiculous like, “we just don’t know.” You’ll find out when the bills roll in. Last time I had a hip replacement, I received a single line-item hospital charge report from the insurance company that said: “Room and board, 36 hours… $23,000.” Say what? This was apart from the surgeon’s bill and the cost of the metal implant, just for occupying a bed for a day and a half pending discharge. They didn’t do a damn thing besides take my blood pressure and temperature a dozen times, and give me a few hydrocodone pills.
The ugly truth, readers, is that medicine in the USA is a hostage racket. They have you in a tight spot at a weak moment and they extract maximum payment to allow you to get on with your life, with no meaningful correlation to services rendered — just whatever they could get. Until these racketeers are compelled under law to post their prices openly and transparently, no amount of tweaking the role of insurers or government policy will make any difference. Note, too, that there is a direct connection between the outrageous salaries of hospital executives and their non-transparent, dishonest, and extortionist pricing machinations. The pharma industry is, of course, a subsidiary racket and needs to be subject to the kind of treatment the Department of Justice used to dispense to the likes of the Teamsters Union.
The healthcare system probably will not be reformed, but rather will collapse, and when it does, it will reorganize itself in a way that barely resembles current practice. For one thing, citizens will have to gain control over their own disastrous behavior, especially their eating, or else suffer the consequences, namely an early death. Second, the hospital system must be decentralized so that localities are once again served by small hospitals and clinics. The current system represents a mergers-and-acquisitions orgy that went berserk the past quarter century. The resulting administrative over-burden at every medical practice in the land is a perfectly designed fraud machine for enabling rackets. Preliminary verdict: congress will get nowhere in 2017 trying to fix this mess. Some things are too big to fail; some are too broken to fix. The coming debacle in finance, markets, and currencies will speed its demise.
In an industry first, one of the world’s biggest oil companies has warned it could face legal action over climate change. Chevron, the California-based multinational, admitted it could be the subject of “governmental investigations and, potentially, private litigation” because of its role in causing global warming. And the firm added that regulations designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions might also render the “extraction of the company’s oil and gas resources economically infeasible”. Environmentalists suggested the decision to admit the threat to the company could be a reaction to legal case brought last year against Exxon Mobil by the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation, which alleges the fossil fuel company tried to discredit climate science despite knowing the risks in order to make money.
Chevron was one of a number of oil firms targeted in a campaign by the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US to “stop funding climate disinformation”. And, in an official filing about the state of its financial health to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company lays out possible reasons why it might have been in its interest to cast doubt on scientific evidence that its products are causing a problem. Laws requiring the reduction of emissions – like legislation that could be in the UK Government’s long-delayed Emissions Reduction Plan – “may result in increased and substantial … costs and could, among other things, reduce demand for hydrocarbons”, Chevron said in a section called “risk factors”.
“In the years ahead, companies in the energy industry, like Chevron, may be challenged by an increase in international and domestic regulation relating to greenhouse gas emissions,” it said. “Such regulation could have the impact of curtailing profitability in the oil and gas sector or rendering the extraction of the company’s oil and gas resources economically infeasible.”
A row between Ankara and Berlin over a series of cancelled Turkish political rallies in Germany is continuing to escalate. On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Berlin of “aiding and harbouring” terror. He said a German-Turkish journalist detained by Turkey was a “German agent” and a member of the outlawed Kurdish militant group, the PKK. A source in Germany’s foreign ministry told Reuters the claims were “absurd”. Earlier German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she respected local authorities’ decisions to cancel rallies that Turkey’s justice and economy ministers had been scheduled to address. Turkey is trying to woo ethnic Turkish voters ahead of a key referendum. About 1.4 million Turks living in Germany are eligible to vote in the April referendum, in which President Erdogan aims to win backing for sweeping new powers.
The constitutional changes would boost Mr Erdogan’s presidency and significantly weaken parliament’s role. Turkish officials have been angered after local German officials withdrew permission for rallies in Gaggenau, Cologne and Frechen. Gaggenau authorities had said there was insufficient space for the rally, while Cologne officials said they had been misled about the purpose of the event. Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, who had been due to speak in Gaggenau, said he saw “old illnesses flaring up” between the two Nato allies. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the German government of backing opposition to Mr Erdogan’s planned constitutional changes. He said: “You are not Turkey’s boss. You are not a first class [country] and Turkey is not second class. We are not treating you like that, and you have to treat Turkey properly. “If you want to maintain your relations with us, you have to learn how to behave.”
Germany’s foreign ministry said the central government had nothing to do with the cancellations, and Ankara should refrain from “pouring oil on the fire”. The growing row is troubling for Chancellor Merkel because she persuaded Turkey to help block the surge of migrants – many of them Syrian refugees – into the EU. Separately, the Dutch government on Friday described plans for a Turkish referendum campaign rally in Rotterdam as “undesirable”. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was reportedly meant to attend the rally scheduled for 11 March. Ties between Berlin and Istanbul are also strained over Turkey’s arrest of Deniz Yucel, a journalist who works for Die Welt. Mr Yucel “hid in the German embassy as a member of the PKK and a German agent for one month”, Mr Erdogan said. “When we told them to hand him over to be tried, they refused.” German’s foreign ministry called the spy claims “absurd”. Ms Merkel, referring to the case earlier, told reporters in Tunis: “We support freedom of expression and we can criticise Turkey.”
The UK could walk away from the European Union in 2019 without paying a penny, the House of Lords has said, in a report bound to raise tensions with Brussels in the run-up to Brexit talks. The British government would have no legal obligation to either pay a €60bn Brexit bill mooted by the European commission or honour payments into the EU budget promised by the former prime minister David Cameron, according to analysis by the House of Lords EU financial affairs sub-committee. In a report published on Saturday, the committee argues that the British government would be on strong legal ground if it chose to leave the EU without paying anything, adding that Brussels would have no realistic chance of getting any money.
The peers stress, however, that if the government wants goodwill from EU countries and a deal on access to European markets, agreement on the budget will be important. “The UK appears to have a strong legal position in respect of the EU budget post-Brexit and this provides important context to the article 50 negotiations,” said Lady Falkner of Margravine, the Liberal Democrat peer who chairs the sub-committee. “Even though we consider that the UK will not be legally obliged to pay into the EU budget after Brexit, the issue will be a prominent factor in withdrawal negotiations. The government will have to set the financial and political costs of making such payments against potential gains from other elements of the negotiations.”
[..] The peers’ argument will be toxic to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, whose staff drew up the mooted bill ranging from €55bn-€60bn. This covers the UK’s share of EU civil staff pensions, unpaid bills and decommissioning nuclear power plants. Barnier is expecting the UK to pay into the EU budget in 2019 and 2020, putting the UK on the hook for payments worth £12.4bn, agreed by Cameron in 2013. The EU’s €1tn, seven-year budget was negotiated in late 2013 by EU leaders including the British prime minister. It is due to expire at the end of 2020, although bills may be trickling in until 2023. This reflects that payments for EU-funded infrastructure projects, such as roads or airports, are not settled until two to three years after being promised.
Greece and its creditors look poised to strike a deal that will allow the nation to draw down aid and avoid defaulting on its debts in July. That sounds good, but it is, in fact, just a fudge. What’s needed instead is for the country to regain access to capital markets in its own right. To help make that happen, the European Central Bank should add Greek bonds to the list of securities eligible for purchase under its quantitative easing program.
The deal Greece is about to agree with its European partners and the IMF is the latest in a long line of compromises that have failed to address the core issue – that Greece’s debts, now 170% of economic output, are so burdensome they are preventing a recovery. The IMF is right to argue that Greece needs additional debt relief on the €174 billion it owes to the European Financial Stability Facility and the European Stability Mechanism. With elections looming this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, however, details about that relief will probably have to wait until next year; voters don’t want to hear about Greek bailouts right now. But the ECB can act swiftly to include Greek bonds in its asset purchase program.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told ECB President Mario Draghi that she’s willing to let inclusion in his QE program be used as an incentive to persuade Greece to agree to the new deal, the Greek news service Kathimerini reported on Wednesday, without identifying the source of its information. Draghi has made a new agreement between Greece and its lenders a condition of adding Greek debt to the 60 billion euros of bonds the central bank will buy from April, as it scales back the monthly program from 80 billion euros. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told lawmakers last week that he’s hopeful the latest bailout review can be completed by March 20, when euro-region finance ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels.
While Greek yields have declined in recent weeks, they remain too high for the country to attempt to tap the markets. Greece’s two-year borrowing cost of about 7%, for example, compares with just 2% for Italy and 1.7% for Spain, both of which have benefited from the support of ECB purchases:
Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the politician who previously accused the U.S. of arming ISIS, is still calling on the U.S. government to stop its disastrous regime change policies in the Middle East. According to a press release made public on Tuesday, Gabbard has again called for the U.S. to stop aiding terrorists like al-Qaeda and ISIS. Gabbard’s guest at the presidential address to Congress, a Kurdish refugee activist, also called for an end to the U.S. policy of “regime change in Syria.” Gabbard said:
“In the face of unimaginable heartbreak, Tima has been a voice for the voiceless, a champion for refugees worldwide, and a strong advocate for ending the regime change war in Syria. I am honored to welcome her to Washington tonight as we raise our voices to call on our nation’s leaders to end the counterproductive regime change war in Syria that has caused great human suffering, refugees, loss of life, and devastation. We urge leaders in Congress to pass the Stop Arming Terrorists Act and end our destructive policy of using American taxpayer dollars to provide direct and indirect support to armed militants allied with terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria, who are fighting to overthrow the Syrian government.”
Gabbard also reportedly told Russian state-owned news station RT: “For years, our government has been providing both direct and indirect support to these armed militant groups, who are working directly with or under the command of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, all in their effort and fight to overthrow the Syrian government.” The activist, Tima Kurdi, is more widely known as the aunt of a three-year-old boy who drowned on the shores of Turkey in September 2015. The image went viral on social media and was easily manipulated by the mainstream media to further the United States’ agenda in the region, never once laying blame to the U.S. military establishment for spending over $1 billion a year arming Syrian rebels.
In a bill aimed at encouraging asylum seekers to leave voluntarily, Austrian lawmakers are considering halting the provision of food and accommodation to migrants who are denied asylum and refuse to leave the country. Austria took in roughly 90,000 asylum seekers in 2015, more than 1 percent of its population, as it was swept up in Europe’s migration crisis when hundreds of thousands of people crossed its borders, most on their way to Germany. As Reuters notes, it has since tightened immigration restrictions and helped shut down the route through the Balkans by which almost all those people – many of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere – arrived. Asylum applications fell by more than half last year.
Asylum seekers in Austria get so-called basic services, including free accommodation, food, access to medical treatment and €40 pocket money a month. But now, Austria’s centrist coalition government on Tuesday agreed on a draft law which would allow authorities to stop providing accommodation and food to rejected asylum seekers who refuse to leave the country. “The first thing is basically that they don’t get anything from the Austrian state if they don’t have the right to stay here. Is that so hard to understand?” As Politico reports, Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said the law, which will need approval by parliament, was designed to encourage rejected asylum seekers to leave voluntarily.
Women and children crossing together illegally into the United States could be separated by US authorities under a proposal being considered by the Department of Homeland Security, according to three government officials. Part of the reason for the proposal is to deter mothers from migrating to the United States with their children, said the officials, who have been briefed on the proposal. The policy shift would allow the government to keep parents in custody while they contest deportation or wait for asylum hearings. Children would be put into protective custody with the Department of Health and Human Services, in the “least restrictive setting” until they can be taken into the care of a US relative or state-sponsored guardian.
Currently, families contesting deportation or applying for asylum are generally released from detention quickly and allowed to remain in the United States until their cases are resolved. A federal appeals court ruling bars prolonged child detention. Donald Trump has called for ending so-called “catch and release”, in which people who cross illegally are freed to live in the United States while awaiting legal proceedings. Two of the officials were briefed on the proposal at a 2 February town hall for asylum officers by US Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum chief John Lafferty. A third DHS official said the department was actively considering separating women from their children but has not made a decision. About 54,000 children and their guardians were apprehended between 1 October 2016, and 31 January 2017, more than double the number caught over the same time period a year earlier.
Parents who immigrated illegally to the United States and now fear deportation under the Trump administration are inundating immigration advocates with requests for help in securing care for their children in the event they are expelled from the country. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) advocacy group has been receiving about 10 requests a day from parents who want to put in place temporary guardianships for their children, said spokesman Jorge-Mario Cabrera. Last year, the group said it received about two requests a month for guardianship letters and notarization services. At the request of a nonprofit organization, the National Lawyers Guild in Washington D.C. put out a call this week for volunteer attorneys to help immigrants fill out forms granting friends or relatives the right to make legal and financial decisions in their absence.
In New Jersey, immigration attorney Helen Ramirez said she is getting about six phone calls a day from parents. Last year, she said, she had no such calls. “Their biggest fear is that their kids will end up in foster care,” Ramirez said. President Donald Trump’s administration has issued directives to agents to more aggressively enforce immigration laws and more immigrants are coming under scrutiny by the authorities. For parents of U.S. citizens who are ordered removed, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency “accommodates, to the extent practicable, the parents’ efforts to make provisions” for their children, said ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez. She said that might include access to a lawyer, consular officials and relatives for detained parents to execute powers of attorney or apply for passports and buy airline tickets if the parents decide whether or not to take the children with them.
Randy Capps of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a Washington-based non-profit that analyzes the movement of people worldwide, said that while putting contingency plans in place is a good idea, he does not think the level of fear is justified. During the previous administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, the likelihood of both parents being deported was slim, Capps said. He doubts there will be a huge shift under Republican Trump toward deporting both parents. “The odds are still very low but not as low as they were – and this is just the beginning of the administration,” he said.
Vincent van Gogh Branches Of An Almond Tree In Blossom in Red 1890
Think about it for a second: If America -and UK, France- were to announce today that they would immediately cease bombing Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, would the US be any less safe? Would Europe?
How about if we’d promise to spend all the billions saved by not throwing bombs on them, to help rebuild these countries? Would that make us less safe, from terrorists, from anyone at all? Do you think ‘they’ would ‘hate’ us for that?
It becomes a pretty stupid non-discussion pretty fast, doesn’t it?
Will the euro-fanatics please stop lying to the people of Greece? And while they’re at it, will they please stop lying to the rest of us as well? Can they stop pretending that life outside the euro — for the Greeks or any other European country — would be a fate worse than death? Can they stop claiming that if the Greeks go back to the drachma, they will be condemned to a miserable existence on the dark backwaters of European life, a small, forgotten and isolated country with no factories, no inward investment and no hope? Those dishonest threats are being leveled this week at the people of Greece, as they gear up for the weekend’s big referendum on more austerity.
The bully boys of Brussels, Frankfurt and elsewhere are warning the Greek people that if they don’t do as they’re told, and submit to yet more economic leeches, they may end up outside the euro … at which point, of course, life would stop. Bah. Take a look at the chart. It compares the economic performance of Greece inside the euro with European rivals that don’t use the euro. Those other countries cover a wide range of situations, of course — from rich and stable Denmark, to former Soviet Union countries, to Greece’s neighbor Turkey, which isn’t even in the EU. But they all have one thing in common.
During the past 15 years, while Greece has been enjoying the “benefits” of having Brussels run their monetary policies, those poor suckers have all been stuck running their own affairs and managing their own currencies (if you can imagine). And you can see just how badly they’ve suffered as a result. They’ve crushed it. Romania, Turkey, Poland, Sweden, Croatia — you name it, they’ve all posted vastly better growth rates than Greece. The data come from the International Monetary Fund itself. It measures growth in gross domestic product, per person, in constant prices (in other words, with price inflation stripped out). Greece adopted the euro in 2001.
And after 14 years in the same club as the big boys, they are back right where they started. Real per-person economic growth over that time: Zero. Meanwhile Romania, with the leu, has only … er … doubled. Everyone else is up. The Icelanders, who suffered the worst financial catastrophe on the planet in 2008, have nonetheless managed to grow. Yes, all data points have caveats. Each country has its own story and its own advantages and disadvantages. But the overall picture is clear: The euro has either caused Greece’s disastrous economic performance, or at least failed to prevent it.
On Sunday the Greeks vote while the rest of Europe holds its breath. No matter how clunky the wording on the ballot paper, everyone knows what’s at stake. This is a moment of great peril, not only for the euro but for the European project itself. If Greece votes no, it’s hard to see how it can stay in the euro, which will represent the most grievous blow in the 16-year history of a currency whose momentum was always meant to be irreversible. If yes wins, and Syriza duly falls, the victory for the European powers could prove to be pyrrhic. Too many will believe that Brussels, and more pointedly Berlin, engineered the toppling of a democratically elected government.
Once Alexis Tzipras had, admittedly, put a gun to his own head by calling Sunday’s vote, the EU in effect told the Greek nation that the leaders they had chosen just six months ago were unacceptable and had to be removed. The moment will be cited ever after as proof that the EU’s approach to democracy is akin to Henry Ford’s view of consumer choice: you can have whatever colour you like, “so long as it is black”. For things to have reached such a pass – in which Greeks are being asked to select yes for organised penury or no for the chaotic variety – is surely an indictment of the single currency. Any scheme that can result in such a crisis – to say nothing of the stagnant growth, unemployment and poverty that have plagued much of the eurozone since the crash – is bound to be branded an unambiguous failure.
What’s more, it is now acting as a repellent for the European idea itself: witness the rise of populist anti-EU parties in Spain, Italy and beyond. That prompts a question, one that will only get sharper whether the Greeks leave the euro and descend into economic mayhem or stay and suffer back-breaking debt repayments. Is the disaster of the euro strangling the larger European project it was meant to serve? Could it be time to kill off the euro in order to save the European Union?
The latest Greek crisis should end next week after the people surrender this weekend, but Europe’s foundations will continue to weaken: this won’t be the last existential crisis for the euro. Unless greater fiscal and political union accompanies the monetary union, it will eventually, noisily, fall apart. But this crisis, at least, is almost over. The Greeks would vote ‘yes’ on Sunday to almost any question they are asked to get access to what’s left of their euros. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will then agree to Germany’s demands for reform against the overruled objections from his party, German cash will start flowing again through the ECB, and Greece’s banks will reopen to sighs of relief all round. Most importantly, funds will be released to repay the IMF.
The eurozone’s mistake was letting the IMF get involved in 2010. The incompetence, or negligence, of its then managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who acted against the advice of many of his member countries (including Australia) and half of its staff, set up Greece for failure. The IMF’s refusal to restructure Greece’s debt in 2010, and instead to insist on crushing austerity in return for more cash, was a terrible mistake. The Eurogroup attempted to repair the situation in 2012 with the restructure that replaced almost all of the private lenders, but the damage to the Greek economy had been done. Ironically, the IMF has changed its mind and is now arguing that Greece needs some debt relief.
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis declared this week that he would rather cut off his arm than sign another “pretend and extend” agreement that did not include debt relief, and that he’d resign if the people voted ‘Yes’. Meanwhile the IMF issued this review of Greece’s debt and commented that it needs €60 billion over three years, plus debt relief. The IMF’s central position in the 2010 bailout inserted a hard-line outsider into what had been a cosy arrangement — the 15-year-old European Monetary Union, in which Germany props up the southern countries with loans and they stagger on, burdened with debt, propping up Germany’s export machine. Greece’s failure to make its IMF loan repayment on Tuesday was a disaster for everyone: the IMF, Greece, Germany and the ECB. It is a mistake that should never have happened.
The IMF now has the largest and most prominent delinquent debtor in its history; Greece sits on the edge of catastrophe and Germany, the ECB and the EU are complicit in the threat to the euro itself. They accepted the IMF’s money and conditions in 2010 and now, in reality, it is they who are refusing to repay.
Several days ago, we posted a NSA cable leaked by Wikileaks, in which then French finance minister Moscovici (currently a European commissioner) was admitted that the French economic situation was “worse than anyone [could] imagine and drastic measures [would] have to be taken in the next two years.” It has not improved since then. Overnight, in another perhaps even more relevant to the current quagmire in Greece leak, Wikileaks has released another intercepted NSA communication between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her personal assistant which reveals that not only Merkel, but Schauble, were well aware that even with a debt haircut (which took place in 2012 but only for private creditors and whose impact was promptly countered with the debt from the second bailout) Greek debt would be unsustainable.
Technically, she did not use that word: she said that “Athens would be unable to overcome its problems even with an additional haircut, since it would not be able to handle the remaining debt.” She was right. And yet here she is, telling Tsipras and the Greek people that all Greece needs is to comply with the existing program when she knows well by her own admission that Greece is insolvent in its current state – precisely what Syriza is arguing and demanding be part of any deal. Because why bother making a deal if Greece will once again be in default a few months down the line, just as Varoufakis said earlier today. But where it gets really humorous is where the cable notes that even “Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble alone continued to strongly back another haircut, despite Merkel’s efforts to rein him in… with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde described as undecided on the issue.”
Fast forward to today and now Lagarde is decided, and the IMF admits a 30% Greek haircut is necessary. So, one wonders, why is Syriza getting hell for pushing what both Germany in 2011 and the IMF now admit has to happen in order to have a viable Greek nation. Unless, of course, they don’t want a viable Greek nation, and instead want a vassal state that is constantly on the brink of collapse and thus creating enough systemic risk to constantly push the EUR lower. Because, just in case anyone has forgotten, the real issue here is not the fate of Greece or even the rest of the PIIGS, but how can Germany continue enjoying a currency that is substantially weaker than what a far stronger, and export-crushing Deutsche Mark would be at this very moment.
Greece has stockpiled enough reserves of fuel and pharmaceutical supplies to withstand a long siege, and has set aside emergency funding to cover all the country’s vitally-needed food imports. Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, said the left-Wing Syriza government is still working on the assumption that Europe’s creditor powers will return to the negotiating table if the Greek people don’t agree to their austerity demands in a referendum on Sunday. “Luckily we have six months stocks of oil and four months stocks of pharmaceuticals,” he told The Telegraph. Mr Varoufakis said a special five-man committee from the Greek treasury, the Bank of Greece, the trade unions and the private banks is working feverishly in a “war room” near his office allocating precious reserves for top priorities.
Food has been exempted from an import freeze since capital controls were introduced last weekend. Grains, meats, dairy products, and other foodstuffs should be able to enter the country freely, averting a potential disaster as the full tourist season kicks off.
The cash reserves of the banks are dwindling fast as citizens pull the maximum €60 a day allowed under the emergency directive – already €50 at many banks. “We can last through to the weekend and probably to Monday,” Mr Varoufakis said. Despite assurances, the crisis is likely to escalate fast if there is no resolution early next week. Businesses in Thessaloniki and other parts of the country are already creating parallel private currencies to keep trade alive and alleviate an acute shortage of liquidity. [..]
The Greek crisis is likely to come to a head one way or another soon after the referendum. The ECB is expected to restore emergency liquidity for the Greek banking system almost immediately if there is a “yes”, an outcome likely to trigger the downfall of the Syriza government and the creation of a national unity administration. The ECB has given strong hints that it will tighten the tourniquet yet further if there is a “no” vote – probably by raising collateral requirement – pushing Greek banks that it also regulates towards the abyss. This is a legal minefield since the ECB has a treaty duty to uphold financial stability. Syriza has said it will consider legal action at the European Court of Justice if this occurs.
Mr Varoufakis warned that the EU institutions are courting trouble if they respond to a democratic vote by the Greek people in such a way. “I find it hard to believe that Europe will continue to insist on an impasse because their own money will go up in smoke,” he said. The eurozone has well over €300bn of exposure in one form or another. Apart from normal bail-out loans, the ECB itself has €27bn of Greek bonds and has extended roughly €120bn in liquidity support through ELA funding for the banks and Target2 payments support. “They are very vulnerable. Target2 becomes a real loss if a country leaves the euro,” he said.
Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, has accused the country’s creditors of terrorism, in an interview published on Saturday. “What they’re doing with Greece has a name: terrorism,” Varoufakis told Spain’s El Mundo. “What Brussels and the troika want today is for the yes [vote] to win so they could humiliate the Greeks. Why did they force us to close the banks? To instil fear in people. And spreading fear is called terrorism.” The escalation of his rhetoric comes as Greece prepares to vote on Sunday in the referendum that could decide the country’s continued membership of the eurozone.
The Greek economy is on the brink of collapse after the capital controls imposed before the referendum left the country with shortages of food and drugs, the tourist industry facing a wave of cancellations and banks with barely enough money to survive the weekend. Holding political rallies and publishing new opinion polls are banned 24 hours before the vote, the result of which remains too close to call. Polls have narrowed in recent days after warnings from the European commission and Greece’s eurozone partners that a no vote would lead to Greece’s ejection from the single currency. A GPO poll put the yes voters on 44.1% and no on 43.7%, while an Alco survey found 44.5% would vote yes, with 43.9% intending to vote no.
Many voters have switched to the yes camp since capital controls were imposed this week limiting daily cash machine withdrawals to just €60. Greeks queued once again on Saturday morning to make withdrawals as fears mounted about the state of the country’s economy. Banks said they had a €1bn cash buffer to see them through the weekend – equal to just €90 (£64) a head for Greece’s 11 million people. However, they will need immediate help from the European Central Bank on Monday whatever the result of the referendum.
Debt relief ought to be at the centre of negotiations over a New Deal for Greece. That has been our government’s mantra from 26th of January, our first day on the job. Exactly five months later, on 26th of June, the IMF has conceded the point (as evidenced earlier today by the NYT) – on the very day Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called for a referendum so that the Greek people could reject an IMF-led proposal that offered no… debt relief. The IMF’s latest debt sustainability analysis (DSA) is a fascinating read. For the first time, the IMF recognised that, in its fifth review assessment, there was a low probability that Greece’s public debt would prove sustainable.
Here is an extract from the IMF’s own report confessing that, to portray Greek public debt as sustainable (without substantial debt relief), its researchers had to make the assumption that “…Greece would go from having the lowest average total factor productivity (TFP) growth in the euro area since it joined the EU in 1981 to having among the highest TFP growth, and that it would go to the highest labor force participation rates and to German employment rates.” Pigs would, of course, sooner fly!
When asked how productivity growth would do the ‘pole vault’ from the euro area’s lowest to the euro area’s highest levels, with employment recovering fully (and in the absence of credit and investment), the IMF’s standard answer is: “To achieve TFP growth that is similar to what has been achieved in other euro area countries, implementation of structural reforms is therefore critical.” But, Chapter 3 of the IMF’s April 2015 World Economic Outlook report tears this assumption to pieces. Indeed, the IMF’s own research shows that labour market reforms have a negative impact on total factor productivity while product market reform has a neutral one.
Another weekend, another Greek knife’s edge. As the markets close ahead of the weekend, they will be prepared for another couple of days of drama in the epic saga of the Greek debt crisis, looking to see whether the country will vote for or against the latest bailout package in a referendum scheduled for Sunday, and whether that in turn is the trigger its final exit from the euro. We will find out by Monday morning. One thing should be clear, however. Sooner or later, Greece is going to get out of the single currency. And there is a paradox in that which most commentators have so far missed. When the moment comes, the Greeks themselves will be just fine. But the collateral damage will be huge.
Most countries that tumble out of dysfunctional currency unions are back on their feet very quickly. Its victims? It will be a black day for the IMF, for the EU, for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and for the gold bugs. Their standing may never recover from the blow that a “Grexit” will deliver. The situation in Greece has descended so deep into chaos that it is anyone’s guess what will happen next. It might still be in the euro next week. It might have re-launched the drachma, or a parallel euro. Heck, who knows, perhaps it will have adopted the dollar or the ruble as its currency? Everyone in Athens, Brussels and Berlin seems to be flying blind at this point, and if there is a plan somewhere no one can find it right now. Anything might happen.
Even so, if there is a Grexit, and that seems the most likely option with the banks already closed, and the country already in default, then in fact the country will recover fairly quickly. The Gr-covery will not be long in coming (after which, there should be a ban on smart-alec words starting with “Gr” — they are getting Gr-iresome). Most countries that tumble out of dysfunctional currency unions are back on their feet very quickly. Take Argentina for example. After the dollar peg ended in 2002, between 2003 and 2007 it averaged growth of 8.5% a year. Greece might not quite manage that, but with wage costs equal to Eastern Europe after devaluation, and with all the infrastructure that comes from being in the EU for 30 years, it should do just fine.
The ECB is set to extend a backstop facility to Bulgaria and is ready to assist other nations in the region to ward off contagion from Greece, according to people familiar with the situation. The ECB would provide access to its refinancing operations, offering euros to the banking system against eligible collateral, the people said, asking to remain anonymous because the matter is confidential. The ECB and the Bulgarian central bank declined to comment. Eastern Europe is at risk of tremors from Greece via ties ranging from trade to finance, with lenders from the debt-ridden country owning almost a third of banking assets in Bulgaria. The possibility of Greece abandoning the euro after shutting banks and imposing capital controls has left eastern European currencies among this week’s worst emerging-market performers.
“The threat of ‘Grexit’ has understandably cast a dark cloud over the outlook” for the region, London-based Capital Economics Ltd. said last week in a note. “Ties with Greece are sizable in a few places, including Bulgaria and Romania.” Bulgaria and its banks have been a main focus of concern for European Union officials looking at potential fallout from the Greek crisis in the region, according to people familiar with their thinking. Yields on euro-denominated Bulgarian government debt due 2024 were little-changed at 3.14% Friday, having risen during the past week on Greek concerns.
Last Friday morning, the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, gathered his closest advisers in a Brussels hotel room for a meeting that was meant to be secret. All the participants had to leave their phones outside the door to prevent leaks. A week of tense negotiations between Greece and its creditors was coming to an end. And it was becoming increasingly clear to the left-leaning prime minister that he could not accept the tough economic terms that his lenders were demanding in exchange for new loans. As Mr. Tsipras paced and listened on the 25th floor of the hotel, his top aides argued that neither Germany nor the International Monetary Fund wanted an agreement and that they were instead pushing Greece into default and out of the euro.
The night before, at a meeting of eurozone leaders at the EU headquarters, Mr. Tsipras had asked Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany about including debt relief with a deal, only to be rebuffed again. This is going nowhere, the 40-year-old Greek leader said in frustration, according to people who were in the room with him. The more we move toward them, the more they are moving away from us, Mr. Tsipras said. After hours of arguing back and forth about possible responses, Mr. Tsipras made a decision to get on a plane and go home to call a referendum, according to the people who were in the room. This decision by Mr. Tsipras to ask his people to back or reject, as he had recommended, the latest set of austerity measures for Greece sent shock waves through Europe.
Just days before the Sunday vote, the outcome remained too close to call. Many here, however, now think that a “no” vote would ultimately lead to Greece’s exit from the euro. This referendum will be one of the most important votes in Greece since it became an independent nation in 1830. Why Mr. Tsipras took such an extreme step remains puzzling. But a close look at the events of the last week — based on interviews with some of the participants and others briefed on the discussions — reveals an accumulation of slights, insults and missed opportunities between Greece and its creditors that led the prime minister to conclude that a deal was not possible, regardless of any concessions he might make.
Greece’s creditors see it differently, of course. In their view, Mr. Tsipras, who swept into power on a wave of anti-austerity support, was only interested in a deal that would go light on austerity measures and deliver maximum debt relief. He could not and would not comply with any agreement that required more sacrifices from the Greek people. Still, for a week that ended with so much enmity, its start was auspicious.
Do these things, they said, for all our sakes and you will return to prosperity with our help. They lied. “They have decided to strangle us, whether we say yes or no”, said a Greek woman to me yesterday. “The only choice we have is to make it quick or slow. I will vote “oxi” (no). We are economically dead anyway. I might as well have my conscience clear and my pride intact.” Her view is not atypical among friends and relations I have canvassed in the last few days. Trust has evaporated. Faith in European Institutions is thin on the ground. Lines have been crossed. At times of financial strain, a country’s currency issuer, its central bank, should act as lender of last resort and prime technocratic negotiator. In Greece’s case, the European Central Bank, sits on the same side as the creditors; acts as their enforcer.
This is unprecedented. The ECB has acted to asphyxiate the Greek economy – the ultimate blackmail to force subordination. The money is there, in our accounts, but we cannot have access to it, because the overseers of our own banking system, the very people who some months ago issued guarantees of liquidity, have decided to deny liquidity. We have phantom money, but no real money. There is a terrifying poetry to that, since the entire crisis was caused by too much phantom money in the first place. EU Institutions are now openly admitting that their aim is regime change. A coup d’état in anything by name, using banks instead of tanks and a corrupt media as the occupiers’ broadcaster. The rest of Europe stands back and watches. Those leaders who promised the Syriza government support before the election, have ducked for cover.
I understand it. They sympathise, but they don’t want to be next. They are honourable cowards. They look at the punishment beating being meted out and their instinct is to protect their own. Many people within Greece have the same reaction. “[Tsipras] is an idealist”, a friend wrote, “but I don’t know whether idealism has the power to change reality. Life has shown me the opposite to be true. I will vote “yes”, with tears in my eyes. I will be another Brutus.” This tacit collusion, both within Greece and around Europe and the World, with the economic waterboarding being administered to a country on its knees, is made possible by a single politically expedient narrative: That Greece deserves to suffer and should just pay its debts. It is the single most common comment I have had on social media. And the most bitter to swallow.
Greek banks are preparing contingency plans for a possible “bail-in” of depositors amid fears the country is heading for financial collapse, bankers and businesspeople with knowledge of the measures said on Friday. The plans, which call for a “haircut” of at least 30 per cent on deposits above €8,000, sketch out an increasingly likely scenario for at least one bank, the sources said. A Greek bail-in could resemble the rescue plan agreed by Cyprus in 2013, when customers’ funds were seized to shore up the banks, with a haircut imposed on uninsured deposits over €100,000. It would be implemented as part of a recapitalisation of Greek banks that would be agreed with the country’s creditors — the EC,IMF and ECB.
“It [the haircut] would take place in the context of an overall restructuring of the bank sector once Greece is back in a bailout programme,” said one person following the issue. “This is not something that is going to happen immediately.” Eurozone officials said no decision had been taken to wind up any Greek banks or initiate a bail-in of depositors, a process that would be started by the ECB declaring the banks insolvent or pulling emergency loans. Greece’s banks have been closed since Monday, when capital controls were imposed to prevent a bank run following the leftwing Syriza-led government’s call for a referendum on a bailout plan it had earlier rejected. Greece’s highest court rejected an appeal by two citizens on Friday who had asked for the referendum to be declared unconstitutional.
Depositors can withdraw only €60 a day from bank ATM cash machines, while requests to transfer funds abroad have to be approved by a special finance ministry committee in co-operation with the Greek central bank. Two senior Athens bankers said the country had only enough cash to keep ATMs supplied until the middle of next week. This followed the ECB’s decision this week not to increase Greece’s allocation of emergency liquidity assistance after the bailout programme ended on June 30.
Euro zone countries tried in vain to stop the IMF publishing a gloomy analysis of Greece’s debt burden which the leftist government says vindicates its call to voters to reject bailout terms, sources familiar with the situation said on Friday. The document released in Washington on Thursday said Greece’s public finances will not be sustainable without substantial debt relief, possibly including write-offs by European partners of loans guaranteed by taxpayers. It also said Greece will need at least €50 billion in additional aid over the next three years to keep itself afloat. Publication of the draft Debt Sustainability Analysis laid bare a dispute between Brussels and the IMF that has been simmering behind closed doors for months.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras cited the report in a televised appeal to voters on Friday to say ‘No’ to the proposed austerity terms, which have anyway expired since talks broke down and Athens defaulted on an IMF loan this week. It was not clear whether an arcane IMF document would influence a cliffhanger poll in which Greece’s future in the euro zone is at stake with banks closed, cash withdrawals rationed and commerce seizing up. “Yesterday an event of major political importance happened,” Tsipras said. “The IMF published a report on Greece’s economy which is a great vindication for the Greek government as it confirms the obvious – that Greek debt is not sustainable.”
At a meeting on the IMF’s board on Wednesday, European members questioned the timing of the report which IMF management proposed at short notice releasing three days before Sunday’s crucial referendum that may determine the country’s future in the euro zone, the sources said. There was no vote but the Europeans were heavily outnumbered and the United States, the strongest voice in the IMF, was in favor of publication, the sources said.
Angela Merkel relishes her reputation as queen of Europe. But she hasn’t learned how to use her power, instead allowing a bad situation to heat up to the boiling point. Her inability to take unpopular stances badly exacerbated the Greek crisis. Angela Merkel was already leaving for the weekend when she received the call that would change everything. The chancellor had just had a grueling day, spending all of it in meetings with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras – sometimes as part of a larger group, and others with only him and French President François Hollande. They discussed debt restructuring and billions of euros in additional investments. When it comes to issues important to him, Tsipras can be exhaustingly stubborn.
In the end, though, Merkel was left with the feeling the EU summit was the milestone that could quite possibly mark a turn for the better. Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, had pulled Merkel aside in Brussels and whispered to her that Tsipras was seeking allies in the opposition, with whom he could push a reform program through Greek parliament even without the consent of the radical wing of Syriza, if necessary. “Can you help me?” Tsipras had asked Schulz. Schulz has good connections in the Social Democratic PASOK Party. But when Merkel returned to Berlin, she received a call from Tsipras. He told her that he was not interested in a deal, but that he intended to hold a referendum in Greece first. A short time later, he tweeted: “With a clear ‘NO,’ we send a message that Greece is not going to surrender.”
Merkel is known for not being easily fazed. She has made it this far in part because she has firm control of her emotions. And she remained silent throughout the weekend. But at a Monday meeting of leading members of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), she hinted at the depth of her disappointment in Tsipras. His policies are “hard and ideological,” she said, adding that he is steering his country into a brick wall “with his eyes wide open.” Merkel had always described Tsipras as a man who, while leading a crazy organization, was quite open and accommodating in person. She had hoped that Tsipras would ultimately help reason prevail. Now, though, it appears that he has handed Merkel the greatest debacle of her tenure as chancellor.
In the end, of course, it will primarily be the fault of the radical Greek government if the country is ejected from the euro zone. How should one deal with a prime minister who conducts negotiations using the language of military mobilization? “We have justice on our side. If we can overcome fear, then there is nothing left to fear,” Tsipras tweeted on Monday. But the divide that is now opening up in Europe also has something to do with Merkel’s leadership style – and with her idiosyncrasy of allowing things to drift for extended periods. This method works when it comes to negotiating a compromise, and when everyone involved is interested in a favorable outcome. But it reaches its limits when someone like Tsipras is determined to carry things to the extreme.
“Throughout the crisis, European elites have faced a simple choice: Acknowledge and explain to electorates their own mistakes, or revert to a much older playbook and manufacture scapegoats. Such tiny, tiny people.”
The fact of the matter is no country, not Germany, not France, would voluntarily put up with the sort of “adjustment” that has been forced on Greece, for the good reason that gratuitous great depressions are not actually helpful to an economy. Creditors have had five years to mismanage Greece and they’ve done a startlingly effective job. Syriza has had five months to object. However much you may dislike their negotiating style, however little you think of their competence, Greece’s catastrophe was not Syriza’s work. If creditors respond to Syriza’s “intransigence” with maneuvers that cause yet more devastation, that will be on the creditors. Blaming victims for having insufficiently perfect leaders is standard fare for apologists of predation.
Unfortunately, understanding this may be of little comfort to the disemboweled prey. Europe’s creditors are behaving exactly as one might naively predict private creditors would behave, seeking to get as much blood from the stone as quickly as possible, indifferent to the cost in longer-term growth. And that, in fact, is a puzzle! Greece’s creditors are not nervous lenders panicked over their own financial situation, but public sector institutions representing primarily governments that are in no financial distress at all. They really shouldn’t be behaving like this.
I think the explanation is quite simple, though. Having recast a crisis caused by a combustible mix of regulatory failure and elite venality into a morality play about profligate Greeks who must be punished, Eurocrats are now engaged in what might be described as “loan-shark theater”. They are putting on a show for the electorates they inflamed in order to preserve their own prestige. The show must go on. Throughout the crisis, European elites have faced a simple choice: Acknowledge and explain to electorates their own mistakes, which do not line up along national borders of virtue and vice, or revert to a much older playbook and manufacture scapegoats. Such tiny, tiny people.
When Times correspondent George Steer entered the city of Guernica in April 1937, what struck him were the incongruities. He noted precisely the bombing tactics “which may be of interest to students of the new military science”. But his report begins with a long paragraph describing the city’s ceremonial oak tree and its role in the Spanish feudal system. Sitting in Athens this week, I began to understand how Steer felt. Sunday’s referendum will take place under a kind of financial warfare not seen in the history of modern states. The Greek government was forced to close its banks after the European Central Bank, whose job is technically to keep them open, refused to do so. The never-taxed and never-registered broadcasters of Greece did the rest, spreading panic, and intensifying it where it had already taken hold.
When the prime minister made an urgent statement live on the state broadcaster, some rival, private news channels refused to cut to the live feed. Greek credit cards ceased to work abroad. Some airlines cancelled all ticketing arrangements with the country. Some employers laid off their staff. One told them they would be paid only if they turned up at an anti-government demonstration. Martin Schulz, the socialist president of the European parliament, called for the far-left government to be replaced by technocrats. And the Council of Europe declared the referendum undemocratic. With ATM cash limited to €60 a day, one shopkeeper described the effect on her customers: on day one, panic buying; day two, less buying; day three, terror; day four, frozen.
The words you find yourself using in reports, after looking into the eyes of pensioners and young mothers, make the parallel with conflict entirely justified: terror, fear, flight, panic, uncertainty, sleeplessness, anxiety, disorientation. If the effect was to terrorise the population, it has only half worked. The pollsters are simply finding what Greek political scientists already know: society is divided, deeply and psychologically, between left and right.
Greece’s economy is on the brink of collapse after the capital controls imposed ahead of Sunday’s referendum left the country with shortages of food and drugs, the tourist industry facing a wave of cancellations and banks with barely enough money to survive the weekend. Banks said they had a €1bn cash buffer to see them through the weekend – equal to just €90 (£64) a head for the 11 million-strong population – and would require immediate help from the ECB on Monday whatever the result of the referendum, in which the two sides are running neck and neck. Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, was fighting for his political life on Friday night, using a rally to say that a no vote would enable him to negotiate a reform-for-debt-relief deal with the country’s creditors.
The survival of the Syriza coalition, formed just over five months ago to repudiate five years of austerity programmes, was in doubt as Greece started to suffer shortages of basic provisions, including the sale of vital drugs in pharmacies nationwide. Food staples, such as sugar and flour, were also fast running out on Friday as consumers started to feel the effect of the restrictions. “We have shortages,” said Mary Papadopoulou, who runs a pharmacy in the picturesque district of Plaka beneath the ancient Acropolis. “We’ve run out of thyroxine [thyroid treatment] and unless things change dramatically we’ll be having a lot more shortages next week.”
Greek islands, where thousands of holidaymakers headed this week, have also been hit, with popular Cycladic destinations such as Mykonos and Santorini reporting shortages of basic foodstuffs. More than half of Greece’s food supplies – and the vast majority of pharmaceuticals – are imported, but with bank transfers now banned, companies are unable to pay suppliers. Queues were reported at every cash machine in Athens on Friday night and business groups warned that the economic shutdown in the week since Tsipras called the referendum had already caused lasting damage to the economy. “Imports, exports, factories, firms, transport – everything is frozen,” said Vasilis Korkidis, who heads the national Confederation of Hellenic Commerce. “The only sectors in demand are food and fuel.”
The insurance protecting shale drillers against plummeting prices has become so crucial that for one company, SandRidge Energy Inc., payments from the hedges accounted for a stunning 64% of first-quarter revenue. Now the safety net is going away.
The insurance that producers bought before the collapse in oil — much of which guaranteed minimum prices of $90 a barrel or more — is expiring. As they do, investors are left to wonder how these companies will make up the $3.7 billion the hedges earned them in the first quarter after crude sunk below $60 from a peak of $107 in mid-2014.
“A year ago, you could hedge at $85 to $90, and now it’s in the low $60s,” said Chris Lang, a senior vice president with Asset Risk Management, a hedging adviser for more than 100 exploration and production companies. “Next year it’s really going to come to a head.” The hedges staved off an acute shortage of cash for shale companies and helped keep lenders from cutting credit lines, many of which are up for renewal in October. With drillers burdened by interest payments on $235 billion of debt, $89 billion of it high-yield, a U.S. regulator has warned banks to beware of the “emerging risk” of lending to energy companies.
Payments from hedges accounted for at least 15% of first-quarter revenue at 30 of the 62 oil and gas companies in the Bloomberg Intelligence North America Exploration and Production Index. Revenue, already down 37% in the last year, will fall further as drillers cash out contracts that paid $90 a barrel even when oil fell below $44. West Texas Intermediate for August delivery added 78 cents to $57.74 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 10:45 a.m. New York time. Hedges purchased from banks or other traders allow drillers to lock in a sale price. Some guarantee a specific value. Others ensure a minimum payment regardless of how much the market moves, but require the oil company to pay some of it back if the price exceeds a certain threshold.