Aug 132017
 
 August 13, 2017  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Vincent van Gogh Still life with bible 1885

 

China Takes On State-Owned Firms (Balding)
Trump Warns Xi: Trade War With China Begins Monday (ZH)
The Actual Terrorists (PCR)
How Money Launderers Used Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CNBC)
The Euro Area Is Due for a Reboot. Here’s What Is Being Proposed
Italy’s Midsummer Dream: Shaking Off Sick Man of Europe Label (BBG)
Greece Seen Needing Credit Line To Exit Program (K.)
Stop Targeting the Greeks, says Merkel in First Pre-Election Rally (GR)
Canada Orders Ships To Reduce Speed To Prevent Whale Deaths
Scientists Discover 91 Volcanoes Below Antarctic Ice Sheet (G.)

 

 

A very communist style economy still.

China Takes On State-Owned Firms (Balding)

A little-noticed statement last week could portend the next big battle in China’s effort to control its debt. On Aug. 2, the finance ministry issued directives that state-owned companies improve returns, control risks and make sure that “projects are financially viable before decisions are made.” That the government feels the need to spell out such obvious goals tells you the depth of the problem. China’s sprawling array of state-owned enterprises — with millions of employees across all sectors of the economy — may be the biggest obstacle to its broader effort at financial reform. Previous attempts to rein them in have largely failed. But if the government has any hope of real deleveraging, this time will have to be different. SOEs are huge, and so are their liabilities. They’re responsible for non-financial corporate debt equal to 90% of GDP.

Facing limited competitive pressure, they’ve driven the worst of China’s debt-led excess: Return on assets for these firms in 2016 was a paltry 2.9%, compared to 10.2% in the private sector. One reason is that China’s banking industry, which is itself almost exclusively state-owned, channels loans to SOEs in the expectation that they’ll have an implicit government guarantee. SOEs provide only 16% of China’s jobs and less than a third of its output, but they receive an astonishing 30% of all loans. With credit so easily available, they have little incentive to economize. They’re also burdened with conflicts of interest. Despite the new directive to focus on profitability, SOEs are still subject to orders from Party committees that sit above their corporate boards. Some firms have chafed at this arrangement, but in general political objectives – such as maximizing local employment – take priority over profits. Party leaders even refer to privatization as “wrongheaded thinking.”

China’s “Belt and Road” initiative offers a case in point. Even amid a broad crackdown on overseas investment, firms are being prodded to plow hundreds of billions of dollars into the initiative — mostly for unprofitable infrastructure projects — while simultaneously being told to prioritize return on investment. They can be forgiven for being a little confused. Given all these challenges, complying with the new directives will be difficult. Regulators have tried numerous reform strategies in the past. One has been to merge multiple inefficient SOEs, in the unlikely hope that combined they will create one efficient SOE. Another has been to draw distinctions between “commercial” and “public service” SOEs, hoping to give the former some private-sector-like flexibility. But as long as these companies can fall back on favorable bank loans, the impetus to improve efficiency will be limited.

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Xi understands. But the risk is he will use it as a rallying cry at the Communist Party Congress in the fall.

BTW, I don’t want to comment on Charlottesville. Other than: there’s so much underlying hatred in America, built up over so many years, and something other than blame seems necessary.

Trump Warns Xi: Trade War With China Begins Monday (ZH)

As if there weren’t enough geopolitical stress points in the world to fill a lifetime of “sleepy, vacationy” Augusts, late on Friday night President Trump spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping and told him that he’s preparing to order an investigation into Chinese trade practices next week, according to NBC. Politico confirms that Trump is ready to launch a new trade crackdown on China next week, citing an administration official, a step that Trump delayed two weeks ago under the guidance of his new Chief of Staff Gen. Kelly, but now appears imminent. It is also an escalation which most analysts agree will launch a trade war between Washington and Beijing. As Politico details, Trump on Monday will call for an investigation into China over allegations that the nation violated U.S. intellectual property rights and forced technology transfers, the official said.

While it’s unclear how much detail Trump will get into in the announcement, administration officials expect U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to open an investigation against China under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974. The ordering of the investigation will not immediately impose sanctions but could lead to steep tariffs on Chinese goods. Trump has expressed frustration in recent months over what he sees as China’s unfair trade policies. As we discussed two weeks ago, Trump had planned to launch the trade investigation more than a week ago, but he delayed the move in favor of securing China’s support for expanded U.N. sanctions against North Korea, the senior administration official said.

The pending announcement also comes amid heightened tension between the United States and China, even after the Trump administration scored a victory in persuading Beijing to sign onto new United Nations sanctions on North Korea. Still, Trump has delayed trade action before, amid pressure from business groups and major trading partners: Two Commerce Department reports examining whether to restrict steel and aluminum imports on national security grounds were expected by the end of June but have been bottled up in an internal review. Trading partners raised threats of retaliation and domestic steel users complained of being hurt by price increases and restricted supply.

The trade investigation will immediately strain relations between the U.S. and China as the two countries wrestle with the unpredictable situation over North Korea. Should Trump follow through, the move will lay the groundwork for Trump to impose tariffs against Chinese imports, which will mark a significant escalation in his efforts to reshape the trade relationship between the world’s two largest economies. In other words, even if there is now conventional war announced with either North Korea or Venezuela, Trump’s next step is to launch a trade war against China.

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Bit confusing at times with reagrds to who said what, but the gist is clear.

The Actual Terrorists (PCR)

This is an article written by an Austrian, Klaus Madersbacher, who, somehow, was able to see through the heavy blanket of Amerian propaganda that suffocates the ability to think and to pereive throughout the entirety of Europe. He correctly undersands the Western destruction of Libya as a war crime. Germans were executed by the Nuremberg Tribunal for less. Madersbacher is correct that Libya was a monstrous war crime committed by the Obama regime and Washington’s NATO puppets. However, Libya is a worse crime than the Nazis committed, as is Afghanistan, Iraq, Yeman, Somalia, and parts of Syria. The Germans never destroyed entire countries and murdered the leaderships. Life in Nazi-occupied France was not as pleasant as in unoccupied France, but it was far more pleasant than life today in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalis, Yemem, and part of Syria after America “brought democracy” to the countries.

Under the Nuremberg standard, the country (or countries) that originates war is the country that is responsible for the war crimes. The irony is that World War 2 was the responsibility of the British and French who started the war by declaring war on Germany. So under the Nuremberg standard it is Britian and France who are responsible for the war crimes. Madersbacher believes, as I did prior to reading David Irving’s book, Nuremberg, that Robert Jackson, the chief prosecutor, succeeded in establishing the legal principle that it is a war crime to launch a war of aggression. In actual fact, the principle was not established. Irving points out that no other Tribunal was ever formed until the Clinton regime sent the Serbian president, Milosevic, to a tribunal that cleared Milosevic of the orchestrated charges.

Of course, as Madersbacher understands, for now Washington’s “might makes right” prevails, and no one is going to send the criminal regines of Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump if he follows their path, to a War Crimes Tribunal. But if Washington one day is militarily defeated or suffers economic collapse that makes the US dependent on foreign support, Washington’s war criminals, who exceed in number Nazi war criminals, could be finally held accountable. As Madersbacher writes, we await a Stalingrad 2.0 that paves the way to a Nuremberg 2.0.

The actual terrorists – Klaus Madersbacher, www.antikrieg.com

”Sometimes I ask myself about the value of a ‘culture’ which isn´t able to provide people with sufficient mental capacity to enable them to recognize if they are lied to as impudently as it is presently done by the media. It doesn´t need to be said that these are targeting the interests of the overwhelming majority of mankind.” I wrote this in July 2011, when three big European nations of culture and civilization together with some smaller ones under the leadership of the cultural superpower bombed peaceful Libya into ruins and systematically devastated the whole country. This is exactly the kind of crime the Nazi leaders have been hanged for. The crime against peace, which apparently only very few seem to know that it does exist at all. The crime against peace – “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” – the International Court at Nuremberg declared.

Simply said that means, that the party which initiates a war is responsible for all crimes committed in the context of this war. In the next two paragraphs, Madersbacher is saying, I think, that countries called democracies are excluded as war criminals because a parliament or congress acting for the people fund the war. He disagrees, correctly in my opinion, from this excuse for criminality. It’s not like that, that killing or hurting people in war is no crime, that the destruction of houses etc. is no crime, when carried out by means of high tech war machinery by armies financed by a budget decided by a parliament. Even if such outstanding democratic institutions as the Congress of the United States of America, her Majesties´ Parliament or the German Bundestag authorize such activities, this wouldn´t change a fart of the fact that these are crimes.

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Slap on the wrist. Want to bet?

How Money Launderers Used Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CNBC)

In a run-down mall in one of Sydney’s biggest Chinese neighborhoods in 2015, 29-year-old Jizhang Lu showed up at the top-floor offices of a meat export company carrying a carrier bag stuffed with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. According to police documents filed in court and reviewed by Reuters, Lu said he made the trip to the shopfront of CC&B International eight times over three weeks. Each time a CC&B employee would hand him a receipt showing a different company had bought tens of thousands of kilograms of meat. The cash — as much as A$530,200 ($416,840) at a time — was then deposited at a Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) branch, according to the police statement of facts agreed by Lu.

But the apparent purchases were fake, and last year Lu was jailed for two years after pleading guilty to helping launder A$3.2 million of what police allege were proceeds from an unidentified international drug syndicate. The court records reviewed by Reuters did not name Lu’s lawyer. Lu could not immediately be contacted directly because he was in custody. The police case against Lu is now one of several being cited by financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC in its statement of claim against CBA, the largest civil court action of its kind in Australian corporate history.

AUSTRAC has accused CBA of “serious and systemic” breaches of money-laundering and counter-terrorism financing rules, alleging the country’s second biggest mortgage lender failed to detect suspicious transactions nearly 54,000 times. It faces fines potentially amounting to billions of dollars. CBA has said it will fight the AUSTRAC lawsuit, saying it would never deliberately undertake action that enables any form of crime. CBA said a coding error with new automated teller machines was behind most of the breaches but that it recognized there were “other serious allegations” in AUSTRAC’s claim were unrelated to that software problem.

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Europe needs to step back from these ever more Europe plans.

The Euro Area Is Due for a Reboot. Here’s What Is Being Proposed

When France elected Emmanuel Macron in May, the prospects of mending the euro’s inherent flaws suddenly brightened. Adopted in 1999, the common European currency was intended as a political project to foster unity, but the crisis in Greece a decade later exposed the euro’s inability to enforce shared rules, principally on government debt and spending. The French president is pushing for greater fiscal integration among the 19 nations that now use the euro as a way to address at least some of those shortcomings. With Germany indicating an openness to Macron’s calls, the political stars may be aligning to overhaul the euro, and so reboot the European Union.

A common budget Macron has proposed the creation of a euro-area budget, aiming to help fund investments to boost growth, provide emergency financial assistance and streamline the bloc’s response to economic crises. While nations would still have discretion over their own budgets, this common pool of resources could be a boon during periods of financial turmoil and would reduce reliance on the European Central Bank to stimulate the euro-zone economy. Access to this budget would be contingent on states sticking to the bloc’s rules. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she’s open to the idea. “I’ve personally always said: it depends on how,” Merkel said during a July 13 press conference in Paris. “I have nothing against a euro-area budget. I have proposed in 2012 a smaller euro-area budget and failed miserably.” “I’m very glad that this idea is being introduced again,” she said.

A single finance minister Macron has also proposed creating the role of a finance chief for the euro area, an idea long supported by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. This person would be responsible for a budget and could operate under the supervision of the European Parliament. Schaeuble has said that such a change would require adjusting EU treaties, which isn’t realistic at the moment.

Debt sharing Perhaps the most controversial proposal is the issuance of debt that would be guaranteed by the euro states, an idea that has been rejected by Schaeuble as putting too much risk on taxpayers. In an effort to quell objections, the commission floated the creation of so-called European Safe Assets, a financial instrument that would bundle sovereign debt from across the currency bloc so it can be sold to investors as one product.

A European Monetary Fund One idea supported by large euro-area members including Germany is to turn the Luxembourg-based European Stability Mechanism – the euro-area bailout fund – into a European Monetary Fund by giving it greater power on fiscal monitoring and more say over future rescue programs. This would allow the fund to monitor the finances of countries that are in trouble and oversee future bailouts, a move that could take some powers away from the European Commission, which is in charge of fiscal surveillance. Giving the ESM a broader remit would also hand more powers to the fund’s board of governors — euro-area finance ministers themselves. Germany is in favor, pushing to strengthen the role of the fund, while the commission would most likely prefer to keep as many of its powers concentrated in Brussels.

Completing the banking union Many officials argue that the most crucial reforms are in the field of financial regulation. This primarily means concluding the so-called third leg of the banking union: a common deposit guarantee framework. Germany has so far resisted, concerned that its taxpayers might end up responsible for problems lurking on bank balance sheets in other countries. Instead, Berlin is seeking risk reduction among member states through limiting lenders’ exposure to government debt. But this idea has few supporters (beyond Germany, only Finland and the Netherlands have been in favor) and has been vehemently opposed by other countries such as Italy. States are also trying to complete the establishment of a common financial backstop to the single resolution fund, an entity designed to foot the bill for winding down failed banks. While the commission and countries including France and Italy have been pushing for the ESM to offer a credit line for that backstop, Germany has been strongly opposed.

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Something tells me it’s much worse than this.

Italy’s Midsummer Dream: Shaking Off Sick Man of Europe Label (BBG)

Italy is working hard to shake off the sick man tag. Through government tensions, bank rescues and a migrant crisis, business sentiment has improved and the economy managed to maintain consistent growth after multiple false dawns. A report on second-quarter economic expansion this week is expected to top off a streak of encouraging numbers ranging from the labor market to exports. Yet, the country still has challenges from a drought that hit farming and – longer term – a less favorable monetary policy and elections next year that may produce a hung parliament. GDP probably rose 0.4% in the three months through June, economists forecast, matching the pace of the previous quarter. That gain would boost expectations that full-year growth could top 1% for first time since 2010, helping the economy regain ground lost in the financial crisis of a decade ago.

Italy’s recovery from a record-long recession is still lagging behind growth in euro-area peers Germany, France and Spain, while the economy faces more uncertainty in the coming months. Elections are due in the first half of next year and about the same time the ECB is expected to start rolling back its stimulus, progressively reducing its purchase of Italy’s government bonds. Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan has downplayed the effect of less expansionary monetary conditions, telling SkyTg24 television on Aug. 3 that the economy is strong enough to withstand higher interest rates and bond yields. According to UniCredit economist Loredana Federico, a 0.4% quarterly growth pace would help Italy reduce its debt ratio, which at more than 130% of GDP is the second highest in the euro area. “It would certainly allow it to weather the possible difficulties of higher debt-financing costs” as quantitative easing ends, she said.

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Keep walking in chains.

Greece Seen Needing Credit Line To Exit Program (K.)

Not everyone in the government shares the optimism that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras expressed recently that Greece will be able to achieve a “clean exit” from the bailout program in August 2018, in other words without the support of a credit line. Finance Ministry officials are preparing for the start of the third review, which involves pushing through a number of prior actions that have to be completed. They are also preparing new legislation and planning for the possibility of Greece needing a credit line after the bailout program ends. This would come with conditions, although they would be less strict than the terms Athens currently has to meet. In its strictest form, the European Stability Mechanism’s credit line, or ECCL, foresees a quarterly review. It is said that finance ministers are always more conservative than their prime ministers and it appears that Euclid Tsakalotos is no exception.

For Greece to make a clean exit from its program, it needs the full confidence of the markets so that it can borrow at a reasonable rate. Sources on the institutions’ side do not believe this will be possible. The credit line would provide some security, helping secure better borrowing terms from the market. Exactly what will happen, though, is still under discussion. The third review is expected to begin after the German elections, which are scheduled for September 24. According to sources, though, the Greek negotiating team will hold preliminary talks with the lenders toward the end of August or beginning of September either via teleconference or in Brussels. The aim of the meeting will be to set a timetable for the negotiations.

[..] The Finance Ministry does not foresee the IMF asking for additional measures in 2018, even though the IMF does not expect Greece to reach its 3.5% of GDP primary surplus target. Athens does not rule out the possibility that the IMF will ask for the reduction to the tax-free threshold to be brought forward by a year and implemented in 2019, along with the planned pension cuts.

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No one has more responsibility for what happened to Greece than Merkel, but: “We should not generalize and say that Greeks cannot work, or that the Germans have a fetish with austerity. Every person has its own dignity..”

Stop Targeting the Greeks, says Merkel in First Pre-Election Rally (GR)

Chancellor Angela Merkel kicked off her re-election campaign on Saturday with a plea to European solidarity and the values that govern the European Union. Speaking in Dortmund, she focused mainly on the economy, but she also highlighted the importance of the EU for Germany. “It should be clear that, despite the difficulties, it is in our own interest, in the interests of peace and prosperity that we remain engaged in Europe,” she said. In this context and referring to the values that govern the EU – “freedom, solidarity, justice, social market economy, protection of human dignity” – the Chancellor asked everyone to refrain from targeting other nations and stop categorizing them.

“We should not generalize and say that Greeks cannot work, or that the Germans have a fetish with austerity. Every person has its own dignity…In Germany, as in any other nation, there are both lazy and hardworking people,” she said. Merkel is far ahead of her rivals in opinion polls but, wary of complacency setting in among her supporters, she plans 50 rallies in towns and cities across Germany in the run-up to the September 24 election, when she will seek a fourth term in office.

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Horses and barns.

Canada Orders Ships To Reduce Speed To Prevent Whale Deaths

Certain ships are being ordered to reduce speed because of the deaths of at least 10 North Atlantic right whales in Canada’s Gulf of St Lawrence during the past two months, the government said on Friday. The deaths have made 2017 the deadliest year for the endangered marine mammal since scientists began tracking their numbers in the 1980s, researchers said. The ministries of transport and fisheries issued a temporary order for vessels 20 meters or longer to slow to a maximum of 10 knots in the western portion of the Gulf, which stretches from Quebec to north of Prince Edward Island. There have been an increase in right whales in the area over the last three to four years, said Tonya Wimmer, director of the Marine Animal Response Society.

Human activity has caused at least some of the deaths. Three whales died from blunt force trauma consistent with being struck by a large vessel and one was entangled in fishing nets. Wimmer said reducing ship speeds can improve the chance of survival for the whales. The whales can weigh up to 96,000 kilograms (105.8 tons). The order will be enforced by Transport Canada inspectors and the Canadian Coast Guard. It is effective immediately and will be lifted once the whales have migrated from the area, usually by the time of the northern winter. Ships violating the order could be fined up to C$25,000 ($19,706.76). There are only 300 to 500 North Atlantic right whales left, and despite conservation efforts since the 1930s, there is no evidence of population growth, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

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“..the densest region of volcanoes in the world..”

Scientists Discover 91 Volcanoes Below Antarctic Ice Sheet (G.)

Scientists have uncovered the largest volcanic region on Earth – two kilometres below the surface of the vast ice sheet that covers west Antarctica. The project, by Edinburgh University researchers, has revealed almost 100 volcanoes – with the highest as tall as the Eiger, which stands at almost 4,000 metres in Switzerland. Geologists say this huge region is likely to dwarf that of east Africa’s volcanic ridge, currently rated the densest concentration of volcanoes in the world. And the activity of this range could have worrying consequences, they have warned. “If one of these volcanoes were to erupt it could further destabilise west Antarctica’s ice sheets,” said glacier expert Robert Bingham, one of the paper’s authors. “Anything that causes the melting of ice – which an eruption certainly would – is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea. “The big question is: how active are these volcanoes? That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible.”

The Edinburgh volcano survey, reported in the Geological Society’s special publications series, involved studying the underside of the west Antarctica ice sheet for hidden peaks of basalt rock similar to those produced by the region’s other volcanoes. Their tips actually lie above the ice and have been spotted by polar explorers over the past century. But how many lie below the ice? This question was originally asked by the team’s youngest member, Max Van Wyk de Vries, an undergraduate at the university’s school of geosciences and a self-confessed volcano fanatic. He set up the project with the help of Bingham. Their study involved analysing measurements made by previous surveys, which involved the use of ice-penetrating radar, carried either by planes or land vehicles, to survey strips of the west Antarctic ice.

[..] These newly discovered volcanoes range in height from 100 to 3,850 metres. All are covered in ice, which sometimes lies in layers that are more than 4km thick in the region. These active peaks are concentrated in a region known as the west Antarctic rift system, which stretches 3,500km from Antarctica’s Ross ice shelf to the Antarctic peninsula. “We were amazed,” Bingham said. “We had not expected to find anything like that number. We have almost trebled the number of volcanoes known to exist in west Antarctica. We also suspect there are even more on the bed of the sea that lies under the Ross ice shelf, so that I think it is very likely this region will turn out to be the densest region of volcanoes in the world, greater even than east Africa, where mounts Nyiragongo, Kilimanjaro, Longonot and all the other active volcanoes are concentrated.”

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Feb 192015
 
 February 19, 2015  Posted by at 1:20 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Russell Lee “Yreka, California, seat of a county rich in mineral deposits” 1942

The US Will Have To Bail Out Greece (MarketWatch)
Greece – It’s a Revolution, Stupid! (Mathew D. Rose)
Germany Rejects Greece’s Application To Extend Its Loan Agreement (CNBC)
Europe and Greece Are at War Over Nothing (Bloomberg ed.)
How I Became An Erratic Marxist (Yanis Varoufakis)
For Greece And Many Others, Economic Reform Kills Economic Health (Steve Keen)
February 24 To Be The First Crunch Day For Greek State Coffers (Kathimerini)
Greek Debt Payment Plan Offers Huge Haircut (Kathimerini)
Greek Philosophy: Conflict Of Ideas Driving The Crisis (CNBC)
Greece Runs Up The Austerity White Flag In Brussels (Guardian)
Besieged Ukraine Town Debaltseve Falls (Reuters)
‘Guantanamo of the East’: Ukraine Locks Up Refugees at EU’s Behest (Spiegel)
Ukraine Finance Minister’s American ‘Values’ (Robert Parry)
Are the World’s Biggest Banks Moving Money for Terrorists? (Bloomberg)

“The IMF looks to have abdicated all responsibility for fixing the mess.”

The US Will Have To Bail Out Greece (MarketWatch)

Fighting has flared up again in the Ukraine. The Egyptians are sending soldiers into Libya as another North African state collapses into chaos. The militants of Islamic State are spreading their influence across the region. You’d think Barack Obama might have bigger foreign policy issues to worry about than a small state of 10 million people on the eastern edges of the Mediterranean. But Greece may be about to turn from a European into an American problem. As the game of brinkmanship between the radical Syriza government elected last month and the European Union gets played out, it has become increasingly clear that both sides may have a strong interest in the talks failing. The IMF looks to have abdicated all responsibility for fixing the mess.

The worrying point is this: Both sides have an increasing interest in a catastrophic failure. But the U.S., with the U.K. perhaps in a subsidiary role, has an equally strong interest in a stable Greece. If a crunch comes, America will have no choice but to bail Greece out. How? It may well need to extend emergency loans, prop up its banks, and if necessary help it establish a new currency as well. On Monday, talks between Greece and the finance ministers of the eurozone ended chaotically. The Syriza government, led by the charismatic young Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, is committed to ending the austerity regime imposed on Athens by the EU and the IMF and is refusing to borrow any more money under the terms of the bailout agreement.

The rest of the EU, led by Germany, is standing firm. It may be willing to make some minor concessions, such as rebranding the loans or extending their duration. But it does not look willing to compromise on the core issue — that Greece has to stick to the austerity plan, and keep tight controls on public spending. There may still be a deal to be struck. Greece after all only accounts for a small percentage of the total eurozone economy. Its debts amount to just 315 billion euros, hardly a massive sum in the context of an economic bloc with a total gross domestic product of €9.5 trillion. But the worrying point is this: Both sides have an increasing interest in a catastrophic failure.

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“The German government has never wanted democratic reform in Greece..”

Greece – It’s a Revolution, Stupid! (Mathew D. Rose)

I fear most people have become so fixated on the Greek debt and the fate of the Euro, that they have completely ignored the political dimensions of the current conflict in Europe, shich are no less dramatic. The ongoing dispute between the German and Greek governments is nothing less than a democratic revolution against German hegemony and the attempt of the Germans and their paladins in the EU to dictate Greek domestic policy. It is a struggle by the Greeks to re-establish national sovereignty. What is more, this is the first time in the history of the EU that a political party with true leftist credentials has led a member nation. For reactionary Germany, with its neoliberal agenda, that is intolerable. This conflict is profound, if not existential, and thus could well be intractable.

The Greek people have made a decision to liberate themselves from a repressive regime of austerity and its incumbent humanitarian disaster. The Germans on the other hand refer to the developments of the past five years in Greece as a success. Yes, it has been a success in the sense that the Germans and French were able to rescue their banks and leave the Greek people to foot the bill. It was even more successful in that Greece was stripped of its political and economic autonomy – with the assistance of the quislings Antonis Samaras and Evangelos Venizelos. The German government has never wanted democratic reform in Greece, leaving the perpetrators of the Greek financial crisis, the political and financial elites, unscathed.

Success has meant Greece being reduced to a vassal state, raising the market above all other values, where multinational corporations, including German companies, could take over profitable state assets cheaply and German tourists could enjoy cut-rate holidays or buy holiday homes at bargain prices. What occurred in Greece with the bailout is an occupation, not with troops and panzers, but by financial means. Following the recent elections in Greece, Germany and its EU compradors are making it clear who is in charge. The Germans are currently not offering any compromise, but iterate the same blunt demand: Greece has to accept what is being dictated; in other words, capitulate or be annihilated. This time it will not be the Wehrmacht und Luftwaffe that are to force the Greek nation into submission, but a weapon just as lethal: national bankruptcy.

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“The letter does not meet the criteria agreed by the Eurogroup on Monday..”

Germany Rejects Greece’s Application To Extend Its Loan Agreement (CNBC)

Germany has rejected Greece’s application to extend its loan agreement and renegotiate the terms of its bailout, raising the very real threat of Athens running out of money in the coming weeks. The Berlin government Thursday said Greece’s application for a six-month extension of its loan and a renegotiation of some its terms was “no substantial solution.” “In truth it goes in the direction of a bridge financing, without fulfilling the demands of the program. The letter does not meet the criteria agreed by the Eurogroup on Monday,” German finance ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said in a statement.

Earlier Thursday Athens had formally placed a request to prolong its “master financial assistance facility agreement.” In the proposal the left-leaning Syriza Party had offered a series of concessions to the previous hardline stance that it would unilaterally scrap the austerity measures imposed as part of the country’s €240 billion bailout. However, the Greek proposal Thursday had pledged to work with the EU and the IMF in reworking the terms of the bailout and to not make any unilateral decisions when it came to the terms of the austerity package.

The Eurogroup of finance ministers from the 19 countries that use the single currency is due to meet on Friday to discuss the Greek plan. There has to be unanimous agreement among the group for any policy decision to go ahea.d The current program – which included the EU and IMF as creditors – was due to expire in little more than a week. Without further funds, Greece would soon run out of money rasing the prospect of a default on its bonds and a possible exit from the euro zone.

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“The EU is staking the future of its monetary union not on principles but on semantics.”

Europe and Greece Are at War Over Nothing (Bloomberg ed.)

Even by the demanding standards of European dysfunction, the continuing standoff between Greece and the other euro countries is impressive. On substance, the distance between the two sides has narrowed almost to nothing — yet the stalemate and the risk of a new financial crisis drag on as if it were vast. The EU is staking the future of its monetary union not on principles but on semantics. Initially, the new Greek government was at fault for making reckless election promises and presenting these to its European Union partners as non-negotiable. It has since climbed down a long way – in particular, dropping its demand for big debt write-downs. Now it wants a new bailout with softer terms and a temporary arrangement to bridge the financing gap between the present deal and the new one.

Reportedly, it’s even willing to call this bridge an “extension.” With Germany’s government leading the demand for strict propriety, Europe’s response has been to say that the current program must be successfully concluded, perhaps with some flexibility, before anything else can be discussed. So here’s the puzzle. What’s the difference between an extension that’s a bridge to a new program and an extension with flexibility pending agreement on a new program? To the sane observer, too little to care. Yet because of this difference, whatever it may be, the euro system threatens to break apart. Funny, isn’t it, that Europe’s voters express growing disenchantment with the whole project?

The situation is all the more absurd because the details of any transitional provisions don’t much matter anyway. What’s crucial are the terms of the new longer-term agreement — which the EU is refusing to discuss until Greece capitulates. The need for a new deal isn’t seriously disputed. The existing bailout imposed too tight a fiscal squeeze, which held back growth. The country’s debt burden therefore failed to shrink as intended in relation to gross domestic product. The error has been widely acknowledged, including by the International Monetary Fund (one of the plan’s architects) and by other EU governments.

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“Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces..”Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces

How I Became An Erratic Marxist (Yanis Varoufakis)

In 2008, capitalism had its second global spasm. The financial crisis set off a chain reaction that pushed Europe into a downward spiral that continues to this day. Europe’s present situation is not merely a threat for workers, for the dispossessed, for the bankers, for social classes or, indeed, nations. No, Europe’s current posture poses a threat to civilisation as we know it. If my prognosis is correct, and we are not facing just another cyclical slump soon to be overcome, the question that arises for radicals is this: should we welcome this crisis of European capitalism as an opportunity to replace it with a better system? Or should we be so worried about it as to embark upon a campaign for stabilising European capitalism?

To me, the answer is clear. Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath, while extinguishing the hope for any progressive moves for generations to come.For this view I have been accused, by well-meaning radical voices, of being “defeatist” and of trying to save an indefensible European socioeconomic system. This criticism, I confess, hurts. And it hurts because it contains more than a kernel of truth. I share the view that this European Union is typified by a large democratic deficit that, in combination with the denial of the faulty architecture of its monetary union, has put Europe’s peoples on a path to permanent recession.

And I also bow to the criticism that I have campaigned on an agenda founded on the assumption that the left was, and remains, squarely defeated. I confess I would much rather be promoting a radical agenda, the raison d’être of which is to replace European capitalism with a different system. Yet my aim here is to offer a window into my view of a repugnant European capitalism whose implosion, despite its many ills, should be avoided at all costs. It is a confession intended to convince radicals that we have a contradictory mission: to arrest the freefall of European capitalism in order to buy the time we need to formulate its alternative.

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“I want you to bear this empirical reality in mind when you consider the pressure that is being applied to Greece to get it to “stick with the program..”

For Greece And Many Others, Economic Reform Kills Economic Health (Steve Keen)

A quick quiz: which four countries do you think have done the most to reform their economies over the last seven years? OK, who said Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain? No one? Actually, someone did: the OECD. Yes, I kid you not, according to the OECD, the country that has done the most to reform its economy over the last seven years—that is, from before the 2008 economic crisis until well after it—is Greece. Followed at some distance by Portugal, Ireland and Spain. I saw this in a tweet, and even though I am a total sceptic on the value of what conventional economists call “economic reform”, I still couldn’t believe this graphic: surely it was an Onion spoof? I simply had to go searching to see for myself.

And there it was, on page 111 of the OECD’s publication Going For Growth 2015, released on February 9 (in a slightly different form, and with New Zealand pipping in between Ireland and Spain—maybe this graphic was revised later). The top economic reformers were the basket cases of Europe and the world in general. Unemployment in Greece is 27%; in Portugal it’s 15%, Ireland 12%, and Spain 25%. Those are very, very sick economies. And yet they are also the OECD’s top reformers. You are, I hope, wondering “how come? Isn’t reform supposed to be good for you?” Well, that’s the fairy story—sorry, theory—purveyed and fervently believed in by mainstream economists: reform your economies according to our recommendations, and—whatever else happens—your economy will grow more rapidly and be more stable to boot.

Unfortunately for those purveying this fairytale, they also developed metrics by which the degree of reform could be measured, so that a decade later, we can compare the fairy story to the reality. And one quick look shows that we’ve been had. We were told to expect the beautiful Cinderella at the economic ball; instead we got one of her ugly step-sisters. I’ll cover at length someday soon why economic reform as recommended by mainstream economists will normally make your economy more dysfunctional and unstable. For now, I want you to bear this empirical reality in mind when you consider the pressure that is being applied to Greece to get it to “stick with the program” invented for it by the EU.

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“Finance Ministry officials assure they have identified resources they could tap if a small extension on Greece’s bailout obligations, up to the first week of March, is granted from the eurozone.”

February 24 To Be The First Crunch Day For Greek State Coffers (Kathimerini)

February 24 is expected to be the first crucial day for state finances, as projections of cash flows see state coffers starting to run dry on that date. Finance Ministry officials, however, assure they have identified resources they could tap if a small extension on Greece’s bailout obligations, up to the first week of March, is granted from the eurozone. The state of cash reserves – not robust before – has deteriorated further in recent days due to a shortfall in revenues, as a €1 billion hole in January revenues is putting the execution of the state budget in jeopardy and hampering the management of cash reserves. According to figures released yesterday by the Bank of Greece, in January the net cash result of the central administration posted a deficit of €217 million, against a surplus of €603 million in January 2014.

Budget revenues reached €3.1 billion, against 4.4 billion in January 2014, while expenditure dropped to €3.2 billion from €3.6 billion last year. Given these figures, the Finance Ministry estimates that cash reserves will run out next Tuesday. It has the option, however, of using the reserves of general government entities kept in commercial banks in order to cover short-term needs next week. However, the problem that cannot be addressed as things stand concerns needs for the first week of March. Unless something changes drastically to the country’s funding, Greece will not be able to fulfill all of its March obligations. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis had called on the ECB to increase the limit of treasury bills to €23 billion from the current 15 billion in a bid to address this shortfall.

The additional funds would have covered the state’s short-term obligations while also providing a cushion until the Greek government is able to strike a deal with its eurozone partners. The request, however, was rejected, as the ECB deemed it an act of direct monetary funding: In practical terms the European Central Bank would have been financing the obligations of a state, which contravenes its regulations.

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“Depending on the number of installments, there will be a reduction to penalties and fines ranging from 30% to 90%..”

Greek Debt Payment Plan Offers Huge Haircut (Kathimerini)

A new repayment plan for expired debts to the state and social security funds announced by the government on Wednesday provides for a reduction to the fines and penalties levied against debtors as well as for a writedown of the original debt, reaching as much as 50% rate in some cases. The new scheme, which has already generated concern among Greece’s international creditors but also among consistent taxpayers, foresees the repayment of debts in up to 100 monthly installments regardless of their size. The minimum installment will be set at €20, while for debts up to €5,000 there will be no interest attached. Depending on the number of installments, there will be a reduction to penalties and fines ranging from 30% to 90%, and in cases of repayment in a lump sum the penalties will be written off entirely.

Crucially, for debts generated up until December 31, 2013, a part of the original debt can be written off, by as much as 50% in certain cases. The plan further waives the limit of 1 million euros for debts that can be negotiated for settlement, making repayment easier for major state debtors. In presenting the new scheme yesterday, Alternate Finance Minister Nadia Valavani stressed that this will be the very last opportunity given to taxpayers to settle their debts to the state. She added that at a later stage there will be another, more favorable plan, concerning only those who find themselves in financial hardship. Ministry calculations show that out of the €76 billion of outstanding debts by taxpayers and corporations to the state, no more than €9 billion can actually be collected.

Social security funds are anticipating a total of €1.2 billion from debt repayments this year thanks to the new plan, from total arrears of €20 billion. The bill in Parliament, which Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Tuesday would be put before Parliament on Thursday, has been postponed until next week. The official explanation cites a need for technical changes to be made to draft, though it has been suggested that the postponement of the process was decided in order to prevent a reaction from the country’s creditors in this week’s crucial negotiations.

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“Whether “doing what is right” in this case means “doing what Varoufakis wants” is, of course, open to debate.”

Greek Philosophy: Conflict Of Ideas Driving The Crisis (CNBC)

As European politicians ponder how to solve the current impasse over Greece’s debts to international creditors, some of the key players seem to be digging out their philosophy books.The country’s erudite Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, cited German philosopher Immanuel Kant in a New York Times editorial published Tuesday – a nice reminder of Europe’s shared cultural history – as he pled with those reading to help the Greek people escape the bonds of austerity. Kant “taught us that the rational and the free escape the empire of expediency by doing what is right,” he argued.

Whether “doing what is right” in this case means “doing what Varoufakis wants” is, of course, open to debate. Wolfgang Schaueble, the German finance minister, seemed to be adopting a rather dogmatic philosophy, by contrast. When asked about the potential for changes to the existing programme by German state television channel ZDF Tuesday night, he said: “It’s not about extending a credit programme but about whether this bailout programme will be fulfilled, yes or no.”

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I don’t think so.

Greece Runs Up The Austerity White Flag In Brussels (Guardian)

The white flag has been raised over Athens. Greece has bowed to the intense pressure of its eurozone partners and will stick to austerity. After defiantly saying for the past three weeks that it will end the country’s fiscal waterboarding, the Syriza-led government is suing for peace. That, bluntly, is the only way to interpret news that Greece has formally asked for a six-month extension to its bailout agreement. There is no longer the pretence that the bailout is to be replaced by a loan agreement with no strings attached. The hated troika of the European Central Bank, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund will be monitoring Greece’s economy for the next six months, something that has been anathema to Syriza until now.

The Greek government has some demands of its own. It wants to negotiate a new growth deal for the four years until 2019. It is asking for debt relief under the terms of the bailout agreement signed in November 2012. And it wants to be able to take steps to deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by the 25% collapse in the size of the economy over the past five years. None of these demands are unreasonable. Indeed, they are all entirely sensible. As Dhaval Joshi of BCA Research has noted, for every euro the Greek government has saved through spending cuts or tax increases the economy has contracted by €1.2. Austerity has resulted in Greece’s debt to GDP ratio going up, not down. A change of tack is overdue. It is unlikely, though, that Syriza will get much of what it wants. The rest of Europe does not really want to negotiate with Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis; it wants capitulation.

What’s more, it is in a position to get it. Tsipras has two big weaknesses. Firstly, Greece is suffering from capital flight and is dependent on emergency support from the ECB for its banks. This funding has just been increased by the ECB but not by as much as Greece would have liked. The life support could be cut off at any time. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, Greece has failed to deploy its most potent weapon: a threat to leave the euro. For all the talk in Brussels and Berlin that the single currency could withstand a Greek departure from the single currency, the threat of withdrawal would have put the frighteners on. Would the euro group really want to risk chaos given the shaky state of the economy? Would Angela Merkel want to go down in history as the German chancellor responsible for rolling back more than half a century of European integration?

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Curiously left out of the ceasefire deal.

Besieged Ukraine Town Debaltseve Falls (Reuters)

Ukraine pulled thousands of troops out of an encircled town on Wednesday after a massive assault by pro-Russian rebels, who ignored a new ceasefire to seize the strategic railway junction. The fall of the besieged town of Debaltseve was one of the worst defeats of the war for Ukraine’s troops, who proved unable to stop an advance by Moscow-backed rebels fighting for territory the Kremlin calls “New Russia”. President Petro Poroshenko told security chiefs on Wednesday night that six Ukrainian soldiers had been killed during the pullout from Debaltseve. “According to preliminary data, six Ukrainian heroes were killed during the withdrawal, more than 100 were wounded,” he said, according to Interfax news agency.

Twenty-two Ukrainian soldiers had earlier been killed in the town in the past few days, the Ukrainian military high command said, with more than 150 wounded. Poroshenko, who flew to the frontline, nevertheless tried to cast the battle in a positive light, saying that by holding out as long as they had, Ukraine’s troops had exposed “the true face of the bandits and separatists who are supported by Russia”. The Ukrainian troops had held out for three days beyond the start of a Europe-brokered ceasefire, forcing the rebels to disavow the truce to pursue their advance on the town. Ukrainian troops, their faces blackened, some in columns, some in cars, arrived in Artemivsk, about 30 km (20 miles) north of Debaltseve in government-held territory.

Fighting did not halt with the retreat. A Reuters correspondent near Debaltseve saw black smoke rising over the town and heard loud blasts hours after the withdrawal began. “One hundred and sixty-seven wounded have been taken to Artemivsk. They did not pick up a lot of bodies. I don’t know the total figure,” Semen Semenchenko, who heads the Donbass paramilitary battalion, said on Facebook.

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Bet you never knew.

‘Guantanamo of the East’: Ukraine Locks Up Refugees at EU’s Behest (Spiegel)

Hasan Hirsi has been learning German for the last year and a half, and recently even enrolled in a class that meets for five hours a day, from 1 to 6 p.m. Nevertheless, he still has no words to describe what happened to him before his arrival in Germany. Hirsi, a 21-year-old refugee from Somalia, is huddled on a worn sofa in an apartment in Landau, a small town in southwestern Germany, which he shares with three other Somalian asylum-seekers. He is wearing a gray hoodie and has short, black hair. A retiree from Landau who has volunteered to assist the refugees is sitting next to him. He wants to help Hirsi adjust to his new life in Europe.

But Hirsi is finding it difficult to forget the past. Indeed, he still has nightmares about Ukraine, a place where he became stranded for a lengthy stay on his way to Europe. He now refers to the country as “hell.” Staring at the floor, Hirsi says: “It is difficult.” He repeats the same word, “difficult,” in different languages. After fleeing from Somalia in the summer of 2008, Hirsi tried several times to reach Europe through Ukraine. He was detained once each by Ukrainian and Hungarian border patrols, and twice by police in Slovakia. Ukrainian security forces robbed, beat and tortured him, he says. After being apprehended, he spent almost three years in four different Ukrainian prisons – for committing no crime other thanseeking shelter and protection in Europe.

Most migrants reach Europe through Italy or Greece and many of them die on the way. A broad coalition, ranging from Pope Francis to German President Joachim Gauck, is demanding better protection for refugees on Europe’s southern border and the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, describes the route across the Mediterranean as the world’s deadliest. But when it comes to the eastern route, and the fate of migrants like Hasan Hirsi, interest has thus far been limited. SPIEGEL and “Report Mainz,” a program on Germany’s ARD public television network, have now taken a closer look at the stories of refugees who were locked up in Ukrainian prisons for months during their journeys to Europe.

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Bad smell.

Ukraine Finance Minister’s American ‘Values’ (Robert Parry)

Ukraine’s new Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, who has become the face of reform for the U.S.-backed regime in Kiev and will be a key figure handling billions of dollars in Western financial aid, was at the center of insider deals and other questionable activities when she ran a $150 million U.S.-taxpayer-financed investment fund. Prior to taking Ukrainian citizenship and becoming Finance Minister last December, Jaresko was a former U.S. diplomat who served as chief executive officer of the Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), which was created by Congress in the 1990s and overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. AID) to help jumpstart an investment economy in Ukraine.

But Jaresko, who was limited to making $150,000 a year at WNISEF under the U.S. AID grant agreement, managed to earn more than that amount, reporting in 2004 that she was paid $383,259 along with $67,415 in expenses, according to WNISEF’s public filing with the Internal Revenue Service. Later, Jaresko’s compensation was removed from public disclosure altogether after she co-founded two entities in 2006: Horizon Capital Associates (HCA) to manage WNISEF’s investments (and collect around $1 million a year in fees) and Emerging Europe Growth Fund (EEGF) to collaborate with WNISEF on investment deals. Jaresko formed HCA and EEGF with two other WNISEF officers, Mark Iwashko and Lenna Koszarny. They also started a third firm, Horizon Capital Advisors, which “serves as a sub-advisor to the Investment Manager, HCA,” according to WNISEF’s IRS filing for 2006.

U.S. AID apparently found nothing suspicious about these tangled business relationships – and even allowed WNISEF to spend millions of dollars helping EEGF become a follow-on private investment firm – despite the potential conflicts of interest involving Jaresko, the other WNISEF officers and their affiliated companies. For instance, WNISEF’s 2012 annual report devoted two pages to “related party transactions,” including the management fees to Jaresko’s Horizon Capital ($1,037,603 in 2011 and $1,023,689 in 2012) and WNISEF’s co-investments in projects with the EEGF, where Jaresko was founding partner and chief executive officer. Jaresko’s Horizon Capital managed the investments of both WNISEF and EEGF.

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Interesting lawsuit.

Are the World’s Biggest Banks Moving Money for Terrorists? (Bloomberg)

Steven Vincent had just left a money exchange in the southern Iraqi city of Basra when a group of men in police uniforms drove up in a white truck and grabbed him and his translator. It was Aug. 2, 2005. Vincent, a freelance American journalist, had reported on the war for two-and-a-half years. British troops occupied Basra, but he operated without an embed arrangement. British and Iraqi authorities later found Vincent on the outskirts of the city shot dead. The Iraqi translator survived. Three days earlier the New York Times had published an op-ed article by Vincent, Switched Off in Basra, in which he described the infiltration of the local police by Iranian-backed Islamic extremists. Steven was executed for what he wrote, says his widow, Lisa Ramaci.

She’s set up a foundation in his name that donates money to the families of Iraqis injured or killed because of their work with U.S. journalists. And Ramaci did something else. In November she joined a lawsuit on behalf of relatives of U.S. soldiers and civilians who’ve died in Iraq as a result of violence linked to Iranian-backed militias and terrorist groups. The suit, filed in federal court in Brooklyn, seeks hundreds of millions of dollars not from death squads, whose members aren t likely to show up with lawyers in tow. Instead, it targets five of the largest banks in the world: HSBC, Credit Suisse, Barclays, Standard Chartered, and Royal Bank of Scotland. Defendants, the suit declares, committed acts of international terrorism. The suit, known as Freeman v. HSBC, takes its name from lead plaintiff Charlotte Freeman, whose husband, Brian, an Army captain, died in a Jan. 20, 2007, attack by Iranian-trained militants in Karbala, Iraq.

This far-fetched-seeming attempt to pin culpability for violent deaths on bankers relies on an intricate theory of causation: The European-based banks have handled hundreds of billions of dollars in international transfers for Iranian financial institutions. The Iranian financial institutions, in turn, have moved money for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an elite Iranian paramilitary organization, and for Hezbollah, the militant Shia movement based in Lebanon and backed by Iran. The Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah have trained and armed Shia groups in Iraq that have kidnapped, shot, and blown up Americans, including Vincent and Freeman. Can the global banking industry be held liable for the detonation of improvised explosive devices and destruction of lives? It may sound wild-eyed or quixotic, but that s what we re trying to do, says Gary Osen, the New Jersey lawyer who recruited the 230 plaintiffs for Freeman v. HSBC.

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