Mar 282017
 
 March 28, 2017  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Abandoned cafe in Carey, Texas 1937

 


A Nation of Landowners – But For How Long? (M.)
Middle-Class, Even Wealthy Americans Sliding Inexorably Into The Red (MW)
Italy’s Monte Paschi Bailout Has Some ECB Supervisors Grumbling
NY Fed: “Oil Prices Fell Due To Weakening Demand” (ZH)
Why Did Preet Bharara Refuse to Drain the Wall Street Swamp? (Bill Black)
A Detailed “Roadmap” For Meeting The Paris Climate Goals (Vox)
In UK Access To Justice Is No Longer A Right, But A Luxury (G.)
The Curse of the Thinking Class (Jim Kunstler)
Tensions Flare As Greece Tells Turkey It Is Ready To Answer Any Provocation (G.)
Erdogan Races Against the Dollar in Campaign for Unrivaled Power (BBG)
Tillerson Will Not Meet Turkey Opposition In Ankara Visit This Week (R.)
Troika Pushes Greece To Sell Up To 40% Of State-Controlled Power Utility (R.)
Fraport Greece Signs Funding Deal With 5 Lenders (K.)
Contraction Of Credit Continues Unabated In Greece (K.)
Mikis Theodorakis: ‘In Tough Times, Greeks Become Heroes or Slaves’ (GR)
Nearly 1,200 Migrants Picked Up Off Libya, Heading To Italy (R.)
Italy Calls For Investigation Of NGO Supported Migrant Fleet (Dm.)

 

 

“To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced.”

A Nation of Landowners – But For How Long? (M.)

Land occupies a unique position in the economy because it is essential for any activity and, given its fixed supply, an increase in demand for it can only increase its price. Meanwhile finance, which facilitates that demand, has been available in ever-greater abundance since the deregulation of mortgage lending in the 1970s and 1980s. The interaction between the inelastic supply of land and the highly elastic supply of mortgage lending lies at the heart of the house price boom over the past few decades. But while the finance part of the story is relatively new (before the 1970s mortgages were harder to get and lending restricted by the conservative practices of the building societies), the land question has been around for centuries.

Ever since Henry VIII seized the monastery lands in the early 16th century a market has been evolving in land as a privately-owned tradable commodity. What is crucial to the contemporary housing debate, and what this book illustrates brilliantly, is how the control of land is, or has at least been allowed to become, fundamental to economic and political power relations. Because land is permanent and immovable, those who own the exclusive rights to its use are able to siphon off the value of any economic output that is dependent on it. The value of a piece of land therefore reflects the level of activity conducted on or around it, as well as any speculation arising from expectations about its potential future use. This price does not reflect the efforts or ingenuity of its owner, and so it does not reward productive activity but rather penalises it in the form of rent.

This ability of landowners to extract economic rent from productive activity, or the unearned increment, was once at the centre of political discourse. It was an issue that troubled classical economists ranging from Adam Smith to Karl Marx. As the industrial revolution advanced in the 18th and 19th centuries, productivity levels improved, and so the owners of land began to enjoy the fruits of the community’s labour. A land reform movement gathered momentum towards the late 19th century and the writings of the American economist Henry George advocating a land value tax attracted a following. In 1909, a young Winston Churchill (then 35, and a Liberal) decried the land monopolist’s free ride in what remains one of the best descriptions of the dilemma:

“Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains and all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and cost of other people and the taxpayers. To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced.”

Churchill was careful to stress that it was the system he was attacking not the landowner himself (‘We do not want to punish the landlord. We want to alter the law’). But the law was as it was because landowners controlled parliament and indeed the Liberals’ plan for a land value tax in the People’s Budget, in support of which Churchill had been speaking, was thrown out by the House of Lords.

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How to kill a city part 832.

Middle-Class, Even Wealthy Americans Sliding Inexorably Into The Red (MW)

Not even a high six-figure salary is enough to keep New York City families out of the red. But spare a thought for the average American family, whose costs easily outpace the average income. A recent analysis from Sam Dogen at his personal finance website Financial Samurai showed how difficult it is for high earners to escape the rat race in New York City, one of the priciest places to live in the world. He analyzed a mock budget for an imaginary family of four in which the two 35-year-old breadwinners each make $250,000 a year. After factoring in taxes, 401(k)contributions, home and child care costs, the family was left with just $7,300 for the year — as if they were living “paycheck to paycheck.”

Perhaps nobody is crying for lawyers making $500,000 a year or even $250,000, but the analysis shows just how easy it is for spending habits to take a high salary and turn it into table scraps. Dogen said pressure from peers to spend more is a big contributing factor, adding “everywhere I go, and I’ve been all over the world, high income earners are secretly feeling the same squeeze.” “They are unhappy, getting divorces, and always comparing themselves to wealthier and wealthier people,” he said. “Heck, even a friend who is worth over $200 million after founding and taking public a company feels like he needs to continue working because he has to ‘keep up with the Zuckerbergs.’”

So how would the average American family fare by the same lifestyle? MarketWatch crunched the numbers and found they would be racking up approximately $27,000 in debt a year if they spent the average of what Americans spend on the same activities. This vast difference in economic stability comes even after adjusting for cheaper housing costs and lowering the number of vacations to one a year — the average in the U.S.

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Beware of any central bank announcements made the day after Christmas.

Italy’s Monte Paschi Bailout Has Some ECB Supervisors Grumbling

When the European Central Bank declared Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena solvent last December, the first step toward a state-funded rescue, some members of the 19-nation Supervisory Board weren’t fully on board. Confronted with what they saw as a political agreement to bail out the world’s oldest lender, dissenters went along with the consensus despite their concerns about the bank’s health…[..] To make sense of the Monte Paschi debate, you have to start with a 2014 law known as the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive, which sets out the EU’s bank-failure rules. The law assumes that if a firm needs “extraordinary public financial support,” this indicates that it’s failing and should be wound down. In that process, investors including senior bondholders can be forced to take losses.

An exception, known as a precautionary recapitalization, is allowed for solvent banks if a long list of conditions is met. As the name suggests, this tool isn’t intended to clear up a bank’s existing problems, such as Monte Paschi’s mountain of soured loans. This temporary aid is allowed to address a capital shortfall identified in a stress test. Daniele Nouy, head of the ECB Supervisory Board, reiterated in an interview on Monday that Monte Paschi and other Italian banks in line for a bailout are “not insolvent, otherwise we would not be talking about precautionary recapitalization.” Not everyone is convinced the bank, whose woes date back many years, qualifies for this special treatment.

“It is unclear if Monte Paschi meets the BRRD’s exemption criteria, and their use has the appearance of promoting national political concerns over a stricter reading of the newly established European rules,” said Simon Ainsworth at Moody’s. “The plan could risk damaging the credibility of the resolution framework, especially given that it would mark its first major test case.” The ECB’s decision on Monte Paschi’s solvency and capital gap was announced by the lender the day after Christmas. The ECB published an explanation of the precautionary recapitalization process a day later, but said little else publicly. On Dec. 29, the Bank of Italy issued a statement that broke down the €8.8 billion rescue into its parts. Solvency in the case of a precautionary recapitalization is determined based on two criteria, the ECB said: the bank meets its legal minimum capital requirements, and it has no shortfall in the baseline scenario of the relevant stress test.

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I’ve been talking about falling oil demand for so long that when other bring it up now it seems all new again.

NY Fed: “Oil Prices Fell Due To Weakening Demand” (ZH)

[..] one aspect of price formation that is rarely mentioned is demand, which is generally assumed to be unwavering and trending higher with barely a hiccup. The reason for this somewhat myopic take is that while OPEC has control over supply, demand is a function of global economic growth and trade (or lack thereof) over which oil producers have little, if any control. And yet, according to the latest oil price dynamics report issued by the Fed, it was declining global demand that pushed prices lower in the most recent, volatile period. As the New York Fed report in its March 27 report, “Oil prices fell owing to weakening demand” and explains as follows: “A decline in demand expectations together with a decreasing residual drove oil prices down over the past week.”

While there was some good news, namely that “in 2016:Q4, oil prices increased on net as a consequence of steadily contracting supply and strengthening, albeit volatile, global demand” offsetting the “modest decline in oil prices during 2016:Q3 caused by weakening global demand expectations and loosening supply conditions,” the Fed’s troubling finding is that the big move lower since 2014 has been a function of rising supply as well as declining demand: Overall, since the end of 2014:Q2, both lower global demand expectations and looser supply have held oil prices down. And while this trend appeared to have reversed in 2016:Q2 and 2016:Q4, recent indications suggest that demand may once again be slowing, which in turn has pressured oil prices back to levels last seen shortly after OPEC’s Vienna deal.

It is curious that according to the NY Fed, at a time when OPEC vows it is cutting production, the Fed has instead found “loose” supply to be among the biggest contributors to the latest decline in oil prices. But what may be concering to oil bulls is that as the decomposition chart below shows, while oil demand was solidly in the green ever since Trump’s election victory, in recent weeks it appears to have also tapered off along with the supply contribution to declining oil prices. This seems to suggest that along with most other “animal spirits” that were ignited following the Trump victory, only to gradually fade, oil demand, and thus price, may be the next to take another leg lower unless of course Trump manages to reignite the Trumpflation trade which, however, over the past month appears to have completely faded.

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“Indeed, Bharara never mustered the courtesy to respond to Bowen’s offers to aid his office.”

Why Did Preet Bharara Refuse to Drain the Wall Street Swamp? (Bill Black)

The New York Times’ editorial board published an editorial on March 12, 2017, praising Preet Bharara as the “Prosecutor Who Knew How to Drain a Swamp.” I agree with the title. At all times when he was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (which includes Wall Street) Bharara knew how to drain the swamp. Further, he had the authority, the jurisdiction, the resources, and the testimony from whistleblowers like Richard Bowen (a co-founder of Bank Whistleblowers United (BWU)) to drain the Wall Street swamp. Bowen personally contacted Bharara beginning in 2005.

“You were quoted in The Nation magazine as saying that if a whistleblower comes forward with evidence of wrongdoing, then you would be the first to prosecute [elite bankers]. I am writing this email to inform you that there is a body of evidence concerning wrongdoing, which the Department of Justice has refused to act on in order to determine whether criminal charges should be pursued.” Bowen explained that he was a whistleblower about Citigroup’s senior managers and that he was (again) coming forward to aid Bharara to prosecute. Bowen tried repeatedly to interest Bharara in draining the Citigroup swamp. Bharara refused to respond to Bowen’s blowing of the whistle on the massive frauds led by Citigroup’s senior officers.

Bharara knew how to drain the Wall Street swamp and was positioned to do so because he had federal prosecutorial jurisdiction over Wall Street crimes. Whistleblowers like Bowen, who lacked any meaningful power, sacrificed their careers and repeatedly demonstrated courage to ensure that Bharara would have the testimony and documents essential to prosecute successfully some of Wall Street’s most elite felons. Bharara never mustered the courage to prosecute those elites. Indeed, Bharara never mustered the courtesy to respond to Bowen’s offers to aid his office. [..] Bharara knew how to drain the Wall Street swamp. He had the facts, the staff, and the jurisdiction to drain the Wall Street swamp. Bharara refused to do so.

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We all realize that this is never ever going to happen, right?!

A Detailed “Roadmap” For Meeting The Paris Climate Goals (Vox)

To hit the Paris climate goals without geoengineering, the world has to do three broad (and incredibly ambitious) things: 1) Global CO2 emissions from energy and industry have to fall in half each decade. That is, in the 2020s, the world cuts emissions in half. Then we do it again in the 2030s. Then we do it again in the 2040s. They dub this a “carbon law.” Lead author Johan Rockström told me they were thinking of an analogy to Moore’s law for transistors; we’ll see why. 2) Net emissions from land use — i.e., from agriculture and deforestation – have to fall steadily to zero by 2050. This would need to happen even as the world population grows and we’re feeding ever more people. 3) Technologies to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere have to start scaling up massively, until we’re artificially pulling 5 gigatons of CO2 per year out of the atmosphere by 2050 — nearly double what all the world’s trees and soils already do.

“It’s way more than adding solar or wind,” says Rockström. “It’s rapid decarbonization, plus a revolution in food production, plus a sustainability revolution, plus a massive engineering scale-up [for carbon removal].” So, uh, how do we cut CO2 emissions in half, then half again, then half again? Here, the authors lay out a sample “roadmap” of what specific actions the world would have to take each decade, based on current research. This isn’t the only path for making big CO2 cuts, but it gives a sense of the sheer scale and speed required:

2017-2020: All countries would prepare for the herculean task ahead by laying vital policy groundwork. Like: scrapping the $500 billion per year in global fossil fuel subsidies. Zeroing out investments in any new coal plants, even in countries like India and Indonesia. All major nations commit to going carbon-neutral by 2050 and put in place policies — like carbon pricing or clean electricity standards — that point down that path. “By 2020,” the paper adds, “all cities and major corporations in the industrialized world should have decarbonization strategies in place.”

2020-2030: Now the hard stuff begins! In this decade, carbon pricing would expand to cover most aspects of the global economy, averaging around $50 per ton (far higher than seen almost anywhere today) and rising. Aggressive energy efficiency programs ramp up. Coal power is phased out in rich countries by the end of the decade and is declining sharply elsewhere. Leading cities like Copenhagen are going totally fossil fuel free. Wealthy countries no longer sell new combustion engine cars by 2030, and transportation gets widely electrified, with many short-haul flights replaced by rail.

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Brexit hardly seems Britain’s biggest problem. It’s the gutting of an entire society that is.

In UK Access To Justice Is No Longer A Right, But A Luxury (G.)

Laws that cost too much to enforce are phoney laws. A civil right that people can’t afford to use is no right at all. And a society that turns justice into a luxury good is one no longer ruled by law, but by money and power. This week the highest court in the land will decide whether Britain will become such a society. There are plenty of signs that we have already gone too far. Listen to the country’s top judge, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who admits that “our justice system has become unaffordable to most”. Look at our legal-aid system, slashed so heavily by David Cameron and Theresa May that the poor must act as their own trial lawyers, ready to be skittled by barristers in the pay of their moneyed opponents. The latest case will be heard by seven supreme court judges and will pit the government against the trade union Unison. It will be the climax of a four-year legal battle over one of the most fundamental rights of all: the right of workers to stand up against their bosses.

In 2013, Cameron stripped workers of the right to access the employment tribunal system. Whether a pregnant woman forced out of her job, a Bangladeshi-origin guy battling racism at work, or a young graduate with disabilities getting aggro from a boss, all would now have to pay £1,200 for a chance of redress. The number of cases taken to tribunal promptly fell off a cliff – down by 70% within a year. Citizens Advice, employment lawyers and academics practically queued up to warn that workers – especially poor workers – were getting priced out of justice. But for Conservative ministers, all was fine. Loyal flacks such as Matthew Hancock (then employment minister) claimed those deterred by the fees were merely “unscrupulous” try-ons, intent on “bullying bosses”. Follow Hancock’s logic, and with all those time-wasters weeded out, you’d expect the number of successful tribunal claims to jump. They’ve actually dropped.

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“Do they covet our Chick-fil-A chains and Waffle Houses? Our tattoo artists? Would they like to induce the Kardashians to live in Moscow? Is it Nascar they’re really after?”

The Curse of the Thinking Class (Jim Kunstler)

Let’s suppose there really is such a thing as The Thinking Class in this country, if it’s not too politically incorrect to say so — since it implies that there is another class, perhaps larger, that operates only on some limbic lizard-brain level of impulse and emotion. Personally, I believe there is such a Thinking Class, or at least I have dim memories of something like it. The farfetched phenomenon of Trumpism has sent that bunch on a journey to a strange land of the intellect, a place like the lost island of Kong, where one monster after another rises out of the swampy murk to threaten the frail human adventurers. No one back home would believe the things they’re tangling with: giant spiders, reptiles the size of front-end loaders, malevolent aborigines! Will any of the delicate humans survive or make it back home?

This is the feeling I get listening to arguments in the public arena these days, but especially from the quarters formerly identified as left-of-center, especially the faction organized around the Democratic Party, which I aligned with long ago (alas, no more). The main question seems to be: who is responsible for all the unrest in this land. Their answer since halfway back in 2016: the Russians. I’m not comfortable with this hypothesis. Russia has a GDP smaller than Texas. If they are able to project so much influence over what happens in the USA, they must have some supernatural mojo-of-the-mind — and perhaps they do — but it raises the question of motive. What might Russia realistically get from the USA if Vladimir Putin was the master hypnotist that Democrats make him out to be?

Do we suppose Putin wants more living space for Russia’s people? Hmmmm. Russia’s population these days, around 145 million, is less than half the USA’s and it’s rattling around in the geographically largest nation in the world. Do they want our oil? Maybe, but Russia being the world’s top oil producer suggests they’ve already got their hands full with their own operations? Do they want Hollywood? The video game industry? The US porn empire? Do they covet our Chick-fil-A chains and Waffle Houses? Our tattoo artists? Would they like to induce the Kardashians to live in Moscow? Is it Nascar they’re really after?

My hypothesis is that Russia would most of all like to be left alone. Watching NATO move tanks and German troops into Lithuania in January probably makes the Russians nervous, and no doubt that is the very objective of the NATO move — but let’s not forget that most of all NATO is an arm of American foreign policy. If there are any remnants of the American Thinking Class left at the State Department, they might recall that Russia lost 20 million people in the dust-up known as the Second World War against whom…? Oh, Germany.

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“The Turkish nationalist opposition leader, Devlet Bahçeli, has gone even further, claiming that several Greek islands are under occupation and reacting furiously when Kammenos visited the far-flung isle of Oinousses. “Someone must explain to this spoiled brat not to try our patience,” he railed. “If they [the Greeks] want to fall into the sea again, if they want to be hunted down, they are welcome, the Turkish army is ready. Someone must explain to the Greek government what happened in 1922. If there is no one to explain it to them, we can come like a bullet across the Aegean and teach them history all over again.”

Tensions Flare As Greece Tells Turkey It Is Ready To Answer Any Provocation (G.)

Fears of tensions mounting in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean Seas reignited after the Turkish president raised the prospect of a referendum on accession talks with the EU and the Greek defence minister said the country was ready for any provocation. Relations between Ankara and European capitals have worsened before the highly charged vote on 16 April on expanding the powers of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Western allies have argued that a vote endorsing the proposed constitutional change would invest him with unparalleled authority and limit checks and balances at a time when they fear the Turkish leader is exhibiting worrying signs of authoritarianism. Erdogan has been enraged by recent bans on visiting Turkish officials rallying “yes” supporters in Germany and the Netherlands.

Highlighting growing friction between Ankara and the bloc, he raised the spectre of a public vote on EU membership at the weekend. “We have a referendum on 16 April. After that we may hold a Brexit-like referendum on the [EU] negotiations,” he told a Turkish-UK forum attended by the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. “No matter what our nation decides we will obey it. It should be known that our patience, tested in the face of attitudes displayed by some European countries, has limits.” The animus – reinforced last week when the leader said he would continue labelling European politicians “Nazis” if they continued calling him a dictator – has also animated tensions between Greece and Turkey, and Erdogan’s comments came hours after the Greek defence minister said armed forces were ready to respond in the event of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity being threatened.

“The Greek armed forces are ready to answer any provocation,” Panos Kammenos declared at a military parade marking the 196th anniversary of Greece’s war of liberation against Ottoman Turkish rule. “We are ready because that is how we defend peace.” Although Nato allies, the two neighbours clashed over Cyprus in 1974 and almost came to war over an uninhabited Aegean isle in 1996. Hostility has been rising in both areas, with the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades recently voicing fears of Turkey sparking a “hot incident” in the run-up to the referendum. “I fear the period from now until the referendum in Turkey, as well as the effort to create a climate of fanaticism within Turkish society,” he told CNN Greece. Turkey’s EU negotiations have long been hindered by Cyprus, and talks aimed at reuniting its estranged Greek and Turkish communities are at a critical juncture but have stalled and are unlikely to move until after the referendum.

But it is in the Aegean where tensions, matched by an increasingly ugly war of words, have been at their worst. After a tense standoff over eight military officers who escaped to Greece after the abortive coup against Erdogan last July – an impasse exacerbated when the Greek supreme court rejected a request for their extradition – hostility has been measured in almost daily dogfights between armed jets and naval incursions of Greek waters by Turkish research vessels. Both have prompted diplomats and defence experts to express fears of an accident at a time when experienced staff officers and pilots have been sidelined in the purges that have taken place since the attempted coup. The shaky migration deal signed between the EU and Turkey to thwart the flow of refugees into the continent has only added to the pressure.

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The falling dollar is setting up Turkey for dictatorship. The world will come to regret this.

Erdogan Races Against the Dollar in Campaign for Unrivaled Power (BBG)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lambasted friend and foe alike in a campaign for vast new powers, but his political fate may hang on the one thing he’s stopped carping about: the price of money. With the April 16 vote on strengthening the presidency too close for pollsters to call, Erdogan is no longer berating the central bank and commercial lenders over borrowing costs they’ve pushed to a five-year high. He’s betting any measures taken to arrest the lira’s plunge will pay off at the ballot box. The lira’s value versus the dollar is more than just a pocketbook issue in Turkey, where millions of voters still remember the abrupt devaluations that ravaged their livelihoods in past decades and view the exchange rate as the most important indicator of the nation’s economic health.

Turkey’s trade deficit is the biggest of all top 50 economies relative to output and most of its imports and foreign debt are priced in dollars, so sharp declines in the lira can be ruinous for legions of entrepreneurs like Ramazan Saglam, who owns a print shop in a working-class neighborhood of Ankara. “I bitterly recall when the dollar jumped in 1994 and 2001 – my business collapsed both times,” Saglam said. “I’m supporting the new presidential system wholeheartedly because I don’t want to go bankrupt again.” Saglam nodded at the big red banner billowing from his second-story window to illustrate his point. The Chinese cloth and South Korean ink he used to make it were all bought with dollars, as was the American printer that produced Erdogan’s image and the slogan, “Yes. For my country and my future.”

Given the choice between paying more for credit to buy supplies and keeping the lira in check, he said he’d choose sound money every time. Supporters of the proposed constitutional changes say handing Erdogan sweeping new authority is the only way to achieve the stability that society craves and businesses need to thrive. But opponents say approving the referendum is an invitation to dictatorship, particularly since Erdogan, already the most dominant leader in eight decades, jailed or fired more than 100,000 perceived enemies after rogue army officers attempted a coup in July. “Everybody on the street tracks the exchange rate on a daily basis and Erdogan wins support as long as Turkey can keep the lira stable,” said Wolfango Piccoli, the London-based co-president of Teneo Intelligence, a political risk advisory firm. “But the challenge here is the external backdrop. They can’t really predict what’s coming.”

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The US must cease labeling the PKK a terrorist organization. Or stop backing the Kurds in Syria. Can’t have both.

Tillerson Will Not Meet Turkey Opposition In Ankara Visit This Week (R.)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will not meet members of Turkish opposition groups during a one-day visit to Ankara this week where talks with President Tayyip Erdogan will focus on the war in Syria, senior U.S. officials said on Monday. Thursday’s visit comes at a politically sensitive time in Turkey as the country prepares for a referendum on April 16 that proposes to change the constitution to give Erdogan new powers. A senior State Department official said Tillerson will meet with Erdogan and government ministers involved in the fight against Islamic State in Syria. “It is certainly something we are very acutely aware of and the secretary will be mindful of while he is there,” one State Department official told a conference call with reporters, referring to political sensitivities ahead of the referendum.

American officials expect Erdogan and others to raise the case of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of orchestrating a failed coup last July. The focus of the Ankara talks is the U.S.-led offensive to retake Raqqa from Islamic State and to stabilize areas in which militants have been forced out, allowing refugees to return home, officials said. A major sticking point between the United States and Turkey is U.S. backing for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey considers part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that has been fighting an insurgency for three decades in Turkey. But the United States has long viewed Kurdish fighters as key to retaking Raqqa alongside Arab fighters in the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). “We are very mindful of Turkey’s concerns and it is something that will continue to be a topic of conversation,” a second U.S. official said.

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Fire sale. The minister actually called these practices ‘cannibalistic’, and rightly so. And that’s not even the best of it. A Greek paper details how a Greek bank, Alpha Bank, lends the money to German investors to buy up Greece’s Public Power Corp. That is about as close to cannibalism as you can get. Economic warfare 101.

Troika Pushes Greece To Sell Up To 40% Of State-Controlled Power Utility (R.)

A Greek minister on Monday accused international lenders of reneging on a 2015 bailout deal by trying to force a fire-sale of its main electricity utility PPC to serve “domestic and foreign business interests.” Under terms of a 2015 bailout deal for Greece worth up to €86 billion, Public Power Corp. (PPC) is obliged to cut its dominance in the Greek market to below 50% by 2020. Although it is not clearly specified in the deal, lenders want Greece to sell some of PPC’s assets. PPC, which is 51% owned by the state, now controls about 90% of the country’s retail electricity market and 60% of its wholesale market. Greece last year launched power auctions to private operators as a temporary mechanism and has proposed that PPC team up with private companies to help achieve this target. But lenders doubt the effectiveness of the measure.

“What they want is that power production infrastructure of up to 40% – PPC’s coal-fired production- is sold. This is what they want right know, which is beyond the (2015) deal,” Interior Minister Panos Skourletis, a former energy minister, told Greek state television. Skourletis on Monday accused the lenders pressing the country to sell-off PPC units at a very low price to serve European and domestic competitors. “It is an assault which has set its sights on PPC’s assets to pass it on to specific European and domestic business interests at a humiliating price,” Skourletis said in an Op-Ed penned for the Efimerida Ton Syntakton daily.

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More warfare, more cannibalism. Airports also ‘privatized’, ‘reformed’. Alpha Bank is also the largest lender in this case. Nice partners too: “..the International Finance Corporation (€154.1 million), a member of the World Bank Group [..] is also the sole provider of euro interest rate hedging swaps..”

Fraport Greece Signs Funding Deal With 5 Lenders (K.)

Five leading financial institutions have signed a long-term financing agreement with German-Greek consortium Fraport Greece, which will soon be managing, operating, upgrading and maintaining 14 regional Greek airports under a 40-year concession contract. The agreement is for total financing of 968.4 million euros. The lenders are Alpha Bank (participating with €284.7 million), the Black Sea Trade & Development Bank (€62.5 million), the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (€186.7 million), the European Investment Bank (€280.4 million), and the International Finance Corporation (€154.1 million), a member of the World Bank Group.

IFC is also the sole provider of euro interest rate hedging swaps to help Fraport Greece hedge potential fluctuations in interest rates through the term of the loan. Over two-thirds of the total amount (€688 million) will be used to cover the upfront payment (of €1.234 billion) due to state sell-off fund TAIPED upon the airports’ delivery, while €280.4 million will be used to finance upgrading work at the 14 airports. Meanwhile, Fraport Greece recently announced a capital increase raising the company’s total capital to €650 million, most of which will go toward the upfront payment.

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But domestic credit is still collapsing. And so is the economy, of course.

Contraction Of Credit Continues Unabated In Greece (K.)

Bank of Greece figures revealed on Monday a further contraction in the financing of the Greek economy last month, a result of the general uncertainty hanging over the economy and the drop deposits at the country’s banks. The total funding of the economy was down 2% YOY in February, from -1.5% in January, while the monthly net flow of total financing was negative by €801 million, against a negative flow of €1.261 billion in January. The main factor in that decline was the drop in funding to the state, as the annual rate concerning the general government sector posted a 3.7% contraction in February against a 0.1% increase in January. In the private sector it was negative by 1.6% as funding shrank by a net €101 million. The image was somewhat different for enterprises as there was an €82 million monthly increase in the net flow of funding last month, compared with a €643 million decline in January. However, the flow of credit to private clients and nonprofit organizations dipped by €153 million or 2.7% in February.

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Wise old genius. “As soon as three Greeks get together, they start talking of who’s going to be the leader..”

Mikis Theodorakis: ‘In Tough Times, Greeks Become Heroes or Slaves’ (GR)

“During tough times, a Greek can become a hero or a slave,” said legendary Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis in an interview published in Proto Thema Sunday newspaper. The 92-year-old musician, who is also an emblematic figure of the Greek Left, spoke about Greece’s current state, the leftist government, the main opposition party and the bailout agreements. Theodorakis said that he is not shocked about the current condition Greece is in because, historically, the country has been through turmoil several times. He said the Greek spirit, like a light, shines through at the end because Greeks have an inner harmony that prevails. However, Theodorakis said, this is a hard period for Greece and this time he is afraid for the future of the country: “When the Greek is with his back against the wall, he becomes a hero or a slave.”

When asked to compare the current state of the nation with the times of the German Occupation, Theodorakis said that what Greece is going through now is worse: “I don’t remember people going through the trash to find food. I don’t remember elderly people waiting in line to get a cabbage.” Theodorakis spoke in length about the time (2012) opposition leader Alexis Tsipras and leftist legend Manolis Glezos approached him and asked him to join SYRIZA and win the upcoming elections. He said he refused to join because the young candidate did not have a plan on how to get Greece going without supervision and financial aid from the EU and the IMF. He described Greece as a train rolling on tracks laid by the EU and the IMF.

“I told him ‘if you’re planning to come to power without having a plan to change the tracks and provide Greek people with what they need, then you are opportunists and you will only succeed in destroying the country and humiliating the Greek Left’,” the composer said about Tsipras. “With great sadness, I believe that the current plight of the country confirms exactly what I said to Alexis Tsipras, here in my house, in the meeting that I mentioned earlier,” Theodorakis said. The composer said that Greeks have a lust for power: “As soon as three Greeks get together, they start talking of who’s going to be the leader,” he said characteristically.

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A new issue has come to light: where are the NGOs picking up the refugees?

Nearly 1,200 Migrants Picked Up Off Libya, Heading To Italy (R.)

Humanitarian ships rescued almost 1,200 migrants who were crossing the Mediterranean Sea at the weekend on an array of small, tightly packed boats, Doctors Without Borders said on Sunday. A young woman was found unconscious on one of the vessels and later died, the group said. Some 412 people were crammed onto a single wooden boat, while the others were picked up from huge inflatable dinghies, which had set sail from the coast of Libya. The weekend rescues mean that about 22,000 mainly African migrants have been picked up heading to Italy so far this year, while around 520 have died trying to make the crossing.

An Italian prosecutor said last week that humanitarian ships operating off Libya were undermining the fight against people smugglers and opening a corridor that is ultimately leading to more migrant deaths. The chief prosecutor of the Sicilian port city of Catania, Carmelo Zuccaro, said he also suspected that there may be direct communication between Libya-based smugglers and members of charity-operated rescue vessels. NGOs deny any wrongdoing, saying they are simply looking to save lives, but they are facing criticism in Italy, which has taken in about half a million migrants since the start of 2014.

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Italy thinks George Soros is sponsoring this.

Italy Calls For Investigation Of NGO Supported Migrant Fleet (Dm.)

Italian authorities are calling for monitoring of the funding of an NGO fleet bussing migrants into the EU from the North African coast after a report released the European Border and Coast Guard Agency has determined that the members of the fleet are acting as accomplices to people smugglers and directly contributing to the risk of death migrants face when attempting to enter the EU. The report from regulatory agency Frontex suggests that NGOs sponsoring ships in the fleet are now acting as veritable accomplices to people smugglers due to their service which, in effect, provides a reliable shuttle service for migrants from North Africa to Italy. The fleet lowers smugglers’ costs, as it all but eliminates the need to procure seaworthy vessels capable making a full voyage across the Mediterranean to the European coastline.

Traffickers are also able to operate with much less risk of arrest by European law enforcement officers. Frontex specifically noted that traffickers have intentionally sought to alter their strategy, sending their vessels to ships run by the NGO fleet rather than the Italian and EU military. On March 25th, 2017, Italian news source Il Giornale carried remarks from Carmelo Zuccaro, the chief prosecutor of Catania (Sicily) calling for monitoring of the funding behind the NGO groups engaged in operating the migrant fleet. He stated that “the facilitation of illegal immigration is a punishable offense regardless of the intention.” While it is not a crime to enter the waters of a foreign country and pick them migrants, NGOs are supposed to land them at the nearest port of call, which would have been somewhere along the North African coast instead of in Italy.

The chief prosecutor also noted that Italy is investigating Islamic radicalization occurring in prisons and camps where immigrants are hired off the books. Italy has for some months been reeling under the pressure of massive numbers of migrants who have been moving from North Africa into the southern states of the European Union. In December 2016, The Express cited comments made by Virginia Raggi, the mayor of Vatican City, stating that Rome was on the verge of a “war” between migrants and poor Italians. The wave of migrants has also caused issues in southern Italy, where the Sicilian Cosa Nostra has declared a “war on migrants” last year amid reports that the Italian mafia had begun fighting with North African crime gangs who entered the EU among migrant populations.

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Mar 222017
 
 March 22, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Ray K. Metzker Philadelphia 1963

 


Vancouver Won’t Have A Middle Class Left In The Future (CBC)
Nomi Prins: Financial System Worse Now Than 2007 (EIR)
Kashkari: “A Market Drop Is Unlikely To Trigger A Crisis” (ZH)
Dijsselbloem Says Southern Europe Blew Cash On ‘Drinks And Women’ (Tel.)
Dijsselbloem Not Fit To Be Eurogroup President – Socialist MEP Leader (Pol.)
Dijsselbloem ‘Mail Bomb Target’ (AFP)
Greece Won’t Last In Eurozone In Long Run, Says Bavarian FinMin (R.)
IMF Wants Greek Opposition To Also Commit To Fiscal Targets, Measures (Naft.)
As Bailout Talks Drag, Greece Says May Not Sign EU Rome Treaty (K.)
Fresh Increase In Registered Greek Unemployed (K.)
Italy’s Populist ‘Mad Man’ Extremely Worrying For Eurozone Stability (CNBC)
Germany Rejects Arms Exports To Turkey (Kom)
Turkey Says EU Refugee Deal Near Collapse (BBG)
The Mechanical Turn in Economics and Its Consequences (Inet)
The Kagans Are Back; Wars to Follow (Robert Parry)
Ganges and Yamuna Rivers Granted Same Legal Rights As Human Beings (G.)
More Than 100 Chinese Cities Now Above 1 Million People (G.)
Access To Nature Reduces Depression And Obesity (G.)
The Man Who Planted A Tree And Grew A Whole Family Of Forests (G.)

 

 

How to Kill a City part 831. I should write the article I’ve long had in my head. But this is the trendline. Which will break, but then you have untold millions of ‘homeowners’ with properties worth much less than their mortgages -and a low interest rate is but a detail-, and a banking system threatening to topple. Again.

Vancouver Won’t Have A Middle Class Left In The Future (CBC)

A former city planner warns if Vancouver doesn’t start protecting dedicated housing for middle-income residents, there won’t be a middle class left in the city in the future. “The estimates are by 2030, if you’re a Millennial household with about $72,000 to $75,000 in your income, you won’t be able to be in this housing market at all. In fact, it would take all of your income to buy a very modest place,” explained Larry Beasley, who is currently a professor with the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning. Beasley says the solution to the problem is to create secure middle income housing. “We have a low-income sector that’s all owned by government and it’s basically rental and we have a market sector for all the rest,” he said.

“We need to protect a middle income sector of housing … It would be protected from being in the open market where it could sell at any price and rent at any price … It would be delivered, either rented or sold, time and time again to middle income people.” Although some middle income people get help from their parents, buy further away or buy smaller places, he said, this cushion won’t last forever and eventually middle income residents will be completely shut out of the city’s real estate market. “It doesn’t matter how much you save and it doesn’t matter how much you borrow from government, you still won’t be able to get into the market. People will face some pretty stark choices.” [..] “If you rule out the middle class, you rule out the potential of creativity. You rule out the people who are doing the jobs everyday and you rule out the people who are driving the day-to-day economy.”

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Private debt is much higher than 10 years ago, in far too many places, because of the housing bubbles.

Nomi Prins: Financial System Worse Now Than 2007 (EIR)

Financial analyst, Author and fmr. Goldman Sachs Managing Director, Nomi Prins sits down with EIR’s Paul Gallagher to discuss just how rotten the current financial system is, making a sobering case that we are far worse off today than we were before the 2007-08 crisis. Prins refers to her political and financial road map for 2017, (nomiprins.com) and discusses the important, combined role China and Japan can play in bringing the US back from the brink and into the new paradigm of investment in the real economy.

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Contradictions, Watson?

Kashkari: “A Market Drop Is Unlikely To Trigger A Crisis” (ZH)

Former Goldmanite and current Minneapolis Fed president, Neel Kashkari, conducted another #AskNeel session on Twitter where the dovish FOMC voter (he was the only one to dissent in last week’s rate hike decision) received numerous question. Among them was the following one from Zero Hedge:

His response:

At this point we would like to “timestamp” Kashkari’s claim that a “stock market drop is unlikely to trigger a crisis” It was not clear just how the Fed president separates a market crash from “financial instability”, but Kashkari’s response that the Fed is not concerned about the level of the S&P500, and instead is more focused on comprehensive market stability, is not being taken well by the market which has continued to sell off as Kashkari responds to further questions, among which the following exchanges:

In response to a question about rising inflation, Kashkari said he would tolerate 2.3% inflation for as long as U.S. has had below-target inflation, “if we really believe 2% is a target. That is what a target means” and adds that “Not sure if my colleagues wld really buy into that however.” We wonder how that question would look like if instead 2.3% inflation one used 3.6%, which is the current true level of inflation according to PriceStats. At least the Fed has been polite enough to advise America it will tolerate a material “overshoot” in its inflation target.

When asked about the two latest rate increases, he said that “data didn’t support a hike. Data basically hasn’t changed. Moving sideways rather than toward dual mandate.” He also said that he would like to see plan on balance sheet normalization soon, adding: “I would prefer to see it before we increase the federal funds rate again” and added that the balance sheet “needs to grow as economy and demand for dollars grows. We will shrink but not to 2006 levels.”

In short, Kashkarhi – who allegedly does not care about the level of the  S&P500 – is willing to risk a market crash and a Fed balance sheet-driven bond tantrum. Or, to paraphrase Richard Breslow, “The Fed Is Making This Up As They Go Along“”

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What a douche.

Dijsselbloem Says Southern Europe Blew Cash On ‘Drinks And Women’ (Tel.)

The head of the eurozone’s finance ministers has been criticised for stating that southern European countries blew their money on “drinks and women”. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who leads the group, made the comments in an interview on Monday with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). “During the crisis of the euro, the countries of the north have shown solidarity with countries affected by the crisis,” he said.“As a Social Democrat, I attribute exceptional importance to solidarity. “But you also have obligations. “You cannot spend all the money on drinks and women and then ask for help.” Inside the European parliament, MEPs turned on Mr Dijsselbloem on Tuesday, calling his remarks “insulting” and “vulgar”.

Gabriel Mato, a Spanish MEP, said the remarks were “absolutely unacceptable” and an “insult” to southern member states – claiming he had lost his neutrality as finance chief. Ernest Urtasun, another Spanish MEP, said: “Maybe this is funny for you, but I don’t think it is. I would like to know if this is your first statement as a candidate to renew your post as president of the eurogroup.” Mr Dijsselbloem’s term ends next year, and he is believed to be considering running for re-election. He attempted to brush off the criticism, telling the MEPs: “Don’t be offended.” He continued: “It is not about one country, but about all our countries.” He then attempted to dig himself out of the hole by saying all countries had failed to uphold the financial rules set by the EU. “The Netherlands also failed a number of years ago to comply with what was agreed,” he said. “I don’t see a conflict between regions of the eurogroup.”


If the money was spent on drinks and women, it wasn’t the Greeks

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He never was, because “..it was “not the first time” that Dijsselbloem has expressed opinions “which are openly in contradiction with the line of the European progressive family.”

MEP=Member of European Parliament.

Dijsselbloem Not Fit To Be Eurogroup President – Socialist MEP Leader (Pol.)

Jeroen Dijsselbloem is “not fit to be president of the Eurogroup,” Socialist MEP leader Gianni Pittella said Tuesday, accusing the Dutch finance minister of making “discriminatory comments” about southern EU countries in German media. Without naming names, Dijsselbloem told the Frankfurter Allgemeine on Monday that “countries in crisis” should stick to the deficit targets set by the European Commission and show the same solidarity as northern eurozone states during the financial crisis. “As a social democrat, for me solidarity is extremely important,” Djisselbloem said. “But those who call for it (solidarity) also have duties. I cannot spend all my money on liquor and women and plead for your support afterwards. This principle applies on the personal, local, national and also European level.” On Tuesday, Pittella described these comments as “shameful and shocking.”

“Dijsselbloem went far beyond by using discriminatory arguments against the countries of southern Europe,” he said. “There is no excuse or reason for using such language, especially from someone who is supposed to be a progressive.” Dijsselbloem has been Eurogroup president since January 2013 and was re-elected for a second term in July 2015. However, his Dutch Labor Party (PvdA) did badly in last week’s election and he will almost certainly not stay on as finance minister. Pittella said it was “not the first time” that Dijsselbloem has expressed opinions “which are openly in contradiction with the line of the European progressive family.” “I truly wonder whether a person who has these beliefs can still be considered fit to be president of the Eurogroup,” he added. Portuguese Foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva joined in the criticism, saying Dijsselbloem should not be able “to remain at the head of the Eurogroup and the Portuguese government shares this opinion.”

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Only surprise: What took them so long?

Dijsselbloem ‘Mail Bomb Target’ (AFP)

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem was targeted by a mail bomb which had been “intercepted,” his spokesman said Tuesday, a day after Greek police found eight “suspect” packages addressed to European officials. “I can confirm that Minister Dijsselbloem was the target of a mail bomb,” Coen Gelinck told AFP. “It was however intercepted,” said Gelinck, declining to give any further information or to confirm whether it was one of the packages found in Athens. Police in the Greek capital found eight packages Monday at the postal service’s main sorting centre north of Athens. The news came after a domestic militant group last week sent mail bombs to the IMF and the German finance ministry.

Monday’s packages were intended for “officials at European countries,” Greek police said. A police source later said the packages were intended for officials at the Eurogroup and other global institutions. Last week, a mail bomb sent to the IMF’s offices in Paris exploded and injured a secretary. A second bomb sent to the German finance ministry was intercepted by security. The investigation so far suggests that both the IMF and the German finance ministry bombs were sent by a far-left group called the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, which police thought they had mostly dismantled in 2011.

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Why stay one day longer, then?

Greece Won’t Last In Eurozone In Long Run, Says Bavarian FinMin (R.)

Greece will not last in the eurozone in the long run and officials working on a review of its bailout package should prepare for such a possibility, a senior member of the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives said. Greece has lost a quarter of its national output since it first sought financial aid in 2010. Its current bailout package is the third in seven years. “Greece is unlikely to survive in the eurozone over the long term,” Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Soeder told the Handelsblatt newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday. Soeder urged officials working on the bailout review to develop a “Plan B” or alternative plan. “We’ll see if Greece meets the conditions. I’m very skeptical,” Soeder said, adding that the participation of the International Monetary Fund was essential.

Soeder’s Christian Social Union is the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats and has long accused Greece of failing to implement reforms promised under its bailout packages. Germany faces national elections in September and the anti-euro Alternative for Germany party (AfD), which has been particularly critical of eurozone bailouts, is expected to perform well. Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said on Monday he planned to stay in Brussels for further consultations with his country’s creditors towards finalizing the latest bailout review. He said he hoped for a preliminary deal by April 7. Greece and its international lenders are still at odds over pension, labor and energy market reforms that are needed before new loans can be disbursed to Athens. The IMF has yet to decide whether to participate in Greece’s €86 billion bailout, expressing deep concerns over debt sustainability in the crisis-hit nation.

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And their grandchildren too, while we’re at it?!

IMF Wants Greek Opposition To Also Commit To Fiscal Targets, Measures (Naft.)

The IMF wants Greece’s political opposition to also approve any new agreement for fiscal measures and targets after 2019, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin maintained on Tuesday, an abrupt revelation that would further complicate ongoing negotiations between Athens and its institutional creditors if proved true. The French minister also expressed his surprise over the Fund’s latest demand vis-a-vis the Greek program. “Can you image if they asked us, the French, to ask for the opposition’s commitment,” he said, adding that such a demand is unrealistic. Moreover, he referred to the IMF’s “obsessions” with labor market liberalization and social security reform.

With fiscal targets dictating an annual primary budget surplus of 3.5% (as a percentage of GDP) in the “medium term” after 2019, the IMF has pressed for – and European creditors have accepted – that austerity measures are enacted now in order to ensure that targets are achieved after the third bailout ends in mid 2018. Sapin made the statement in Brussels, a day after yet another Eurogroup meeting ended without a staff-level agreement between creditors and the increasingly embattled leftist-rightist government in Athens. Finally, he said all parties should assume their responsibilities in concluding the now utterly delayed second review of the Greek program, which he said will have repercussions on others, and not just the Greek economy.

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Let’s see you do it, Alexis.

As Bailout Talks Drag, Greece Says May Not Sign EU Rome Treaty (K.)

With Greece’s international creditors indicating that insufficient progress has been achieved for bailout monitors to return to Athens, government sources have threatened to block the Rome Declaration, Kathimerini understands, connecting it to the negotiations on the second review. According to sources, the Greek official participating in preparatory talks ahead of the drafting of a common statement that EU leaders are expected to sign at a summit in Rome on Saturday, regarding the bloc’s common values and principles, told his interlocutors that Greece cannot agree to such a text while being pressed to implement unrealistic demands of the IMF.

Sources said that Greek officials aim to ensure that the joint declaration includes a paragraph referring to European regulations protecting citizens’ labor rights. It is the issue of labor rights — and the IMF’s demands for further liberalization of the sector — that has become the major sticking point in talks between Greece and its lenders. On Monday, finance ministers discussing Greek bailout negotiations deemed that inadequate progress had been achieved for foreign auditors to return to Athens. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos commented that he and other Greek ministers would remain in Brussels for further negotiations in a bid to establish enough common ground for bailout monitors to return to the Greek capital and resume talks.

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Inevitable. All the recovery claims are bogus. The Greek economy CANNOT recover under present conditions.

Fresh Increase In Registered Greek Unemployed (K.)

The number of people registered as unemployed at Greece’s Manpower Organization (OAED) rose by about 6,000 in February to almost 1.1 million at the end of the month, a dramatic rate which is expected to continue until at least the end of 2017. This trend corresponds with the rise seen in the quarterly jobless rate late last year. The sum of OAED-registered unemployed who are seeking work amounted to 936,110 people, with more than half of them (503,431 people or 53.78%) having been registered for at least 12 months. There is a significant difference between men and women, as they break down into 576,491 women (61.58%) and 359,619 men (38.42%). Another 159,756 people were registered who are not seeking work, of whom 32,897 or 20.59% had been on the register for at least a year. The number of unemployment benefit recipients came to 178,105 people last month, of whom 73,205 (41.1%) were seasonal workers in the tourism industry.

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Shoddy journalism. The Party is named M5S, not 5SM. Common knowledge. (Corrected)

And you can’t claim that “Europe should be strong enough to manage a “mad man” like Grillo becoming Italy’s Prime Minister”, because Beppe is not a candidate -for any office-, and won’t be.

Italy’s Populist ‘Mad Man’ Extremely Worrying For Eurozone Stability (CNBC)

Italy’s anti-establishment and anti-euro party Five Star Movement (M5S) represent the greatest threat to euro area stability, analysts told CNBC on Tuesday, as the populist party surged ahead of its political rivals in the latest opinion poll, putting it on course to be the biggest party if elections were called. M5S leader Beppe Grillo has enjoyed a recent, and remarkable, uptick in support, buoyed in part by the divisions in the ruling Democratic Party (PD) as former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi attempts to regain support. Grillo, who has campaigned for Italy to hold a referendum on the single currency if elected, has overseen M5S’s support grow to 32.3%, according to an Ipsos poll published in daily newspaper Correa della Sera on Tuesday.

“If Five Star Movement could secure 30 or 40% of the vote then of course that would be extremely worrying for the euro area’s stability. Whether they can gain an absolute majority… we’ll have to wait and see,” Claus Vistesen, chief euro zone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics told CNBC via telephone. Italy is due to hold its next national election by early 2018 and, although Europe’s heavy political calendar has pushed the thought of Italy to the back of most investors’ minds, Deutsche Bank analysts argued it is Rome that poses the greatest threat to the euro area’s stability. The German lender suggested its base case scenario is for Renzi’s PD party, currently second in the polls, to fracture as a result of internal feuds. If this were to happen, it would then leave M5S in the driving seat ahead of the country’s general election.

[..] At the moment, parties in Italy are still looking to draw up a new electoral law, which most observers expect to result in a form of proportional representation that could reward a stable majority government to any party that can secure over 40% of the vote. M5S are significantly below the 40% threshold and have ruled out any desire to form a coalition government. However, Vistesen and Stringa both suggested with some confidence that Italy could expect weak economic growth throughout 2017 and therefore it would be conceivable for Grillo’s M5S to enjoy even greater support in the run up to a vote. Both France and Germany are due to elect new premiers before Italy and Vistesen concluded that, so long as the political favorites are able to win in each country, then Europe should be strong enough to manage a “mad man” like Grillo becoming Italy’s Prime Minister.

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The US will fill in. Or Britain, France.

Germany Rejects Arms Exports To Turkey (Kom)

Germany has rejected more requests for arms exports to Turkey during the past 5 months than in five years between 2010 and 2015, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Tuesday. The sharp increase in rejections, mainly handguns, ammunition and parts needed in weapons production, is due to “the risk of a deployment in the context of internal repression or the Kurdish conflict,” according to a written response by State Secretary Matthias Machnig to a question posed by lawmaker Jan van Aken. “Respect for human rights is a matter of particular importance for arms export decisions,” the answer from Machnig of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy also outlined.

“This is a first step,” van Aken told Sueddeutsche Zeitung, “And the next must be that Turkey does not get any weapons from Germany,” the Left Party (Die Linke) law maker said, adding that the Turkish government is waging a war both within its own borders and in Syria while fast becoming a dictatorship. Relations between Germany and Turkey are strained. Turkey’s plans to campaign in Germany ahead of the referendum were refused on several occasions and Turkish politicians, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused Germany of Nazi measures.

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EU membership is now linked to the death penalty?!

Turkey Says EU Refugee Deal Near Collapse (BBG)

Turkey’s agreement with the European Union to help stem the largest flow of refugees since World War II is inching closer to collapse, according to Turkey’s minister in charge of EU integration. By hosting about 3 million refugees – the most of any nation – and halting their migration to Europe, Turkey has saved the EU from a “racist” backlash that threatens the bloc’s democratic character, Omer Celik said in an interview on Tuesday in Ankara. Describing the deal as one-sided, he said Turkey is under no obligation to continue implementing it, adding that his country’s commitment to seeking EU membership wasn’t unconditional. “We won’t abandon these people to their deaths, but an agreement has two sides and if one side doesn’t abide by its obligations, neither will the other,” Celik said. “If the refugee agreement collapses, what we foresee is clear: we won’t cooperate with any mechanisms acting on behalf of the EU.”

The prospects of Turkey joining the union are dissipating as politicians lash out ahead of a series of votes that could define relations for decades. In Europe, populists are campaigning on anti-Muslim and anti-immigration sentiment, while in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been appealing to nationalists ahead of an April referendum on endowing his office with full executive authority. European officials have voiced their disapproval of the plebiscite, saying it would undermine democracy in the NATO member. [..] While support in Turkey for EU membership remains high, belief that it will happen has collapsed, Celik said. Ultimately, the issue could be put to the public as part of a referendum on reintroducing the death penalty, he said. “This issue depends on whether relations with the EU are maintained or not.” he said. “It is up to the Turkish people whether to keep the EU process or halt it.”

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I’ve had this sitting in a tab for a while. It’s good that people are now picking it up, but it always seems weird that these things need to be explained this way. Economics truly is a blind field. Nature? Nature of man? Nah..

The Mechanical Turn in Economics and Its Consequences (Inet)

With Adam Smith, and hints before in Ricardo and others, economics took the path of treating the economy as a natural object that should not be interfered with by the state. This fit the Newtonian ethos of the age: science was great, science was mathematics; science was true, right and good. But along the way the discussion in, for example, Montaigne and Machiavelli — about the powers of imagination, myth, emotions, sentiment, human relations and community — was abandoned by the economists. (Adam Smith had written his Theory of Moral Sentiments 20 years earlier and sort of left it behind, though the Wealth of Nations is still concerned with human well-being.) Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was published in 1776, the same year as Smith’s Wealth, but hardly read today by most economists.

In philosophy and the arts (romanticism among others) there was great engagement in these issues economics was trying to avoid. But that philosophy and art criticism have not been widely read for many years. The effect of ignoring the human side of lives was to undermine the social perspective of the “political,” by merging it with the individually focused “interest.” So, instead of exploring the inner structure of interest (or later utility or preference), or community feeling and the impact of culture, these were assumed to be irrelevant to the mechanics of the market. Politics, having to do with interest groups and power arrangements, is more vague and harder to model than economic activity. Those who wanted economics to be a science were motivated by the perception that “being scientific” was appreciated by the society of the time, and was the path to rock-solid truth.

But the move towards economics as a science also happened to align with a view of the landed and the wealthy that the economy was working for them, so don’t touch it. We get the equation, embracing science = conservative. This is still with us because of the implication that the market is made by god or nature rather than being socially constructed. Since economics is the attempt at a description of the economy, it was more or less locked in to the naturalist approach, which ignores things like class and ownership and treated capital as part of economic flow rather than as a possession that was useable for social and political power. Even now, economics still continues as if it were part of the age of Descartes and avoids most social, historical and philosophical thought about the nature of man and society. Names like Shaftesbury and Puffendorf, very much read in their time, are far less known now than Hobbes, Descartes, Ricardo, Mill and Keynes.

Karl Polanyi is much less well known than Hayek. We do not learn of the social history such as the complex interplay in Viennese society among those who were classmates and colleagues such as Hayek, Gombrich, Popper and Drucker. The impact of Viennese culture is not known to many economists. The result is an economics that supports an economy that is out of control because the feedback loops through society and its impact of the quality of life – and resentment – are not recognized in a dehumanized economics, and so can’t have a feedback correcting effect. The solution, however, is not to look for simplicity, but to embrace a kind of complexity that honors nature, humans, politics, and the way they are dealt with in philosophy, arts, investigative reporting, anthropology and history. Because the way forward cannot be a simple projection of the past. We are in more danger than that.

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Parry is an authorative voice.

The Kagans Are Back; Wars to Follow (Robert Parry)

Back pontificating on prominent op-ed pages, the Family Kagan now is pushing for an expanded U.S. military invasion of Syria and baiting Republicans for not joining more enthusiastically in the anti-Russian witch hunt over Moscow’s alleged help in electing Donald Trump. In a Washington Post op-ed on March 7, Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century and a key architect of the Iraq War, jabbed at Republicans for serving as “Russia’s accomplices after the fact” by not investigating more aggressively. Then, Frederick Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the neocon American Enterprise Institute, and his wife, Kimberly Kagan, president of her own think tank, Institute for the Study of War, touted the idea of a bigger U.S. invasion of Syria in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on March 15.

Yet, as much standing as the Kagans retain in Official Washington’s world of think tanks and op-ed placements, they remain mostly outside the new Trump-era power centers looking in, although they seem to have detected a door being forced open. Still, a year ago, their prospects looked much brighter. They could pick from a large field of neocon-oriented Republican presidential contenders or – like Robert Kagan – they could support the establishment Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, whose “liberal interventionism” matched closely with neoconservatism, differing only slightly in the rationalizations used for justifying wars and more wars. There was also hope that a President Hillary Clinton would recognize how sympatico the liberal hawks and the neocons were by promoting Robert Kagan’s neocon wife, Victoria Nuland, from Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs to Secretary of State.

Then, there would have been a powerful momentum for both increasing the U.S. military intervention in Syria and escalating the New Cold War with Russia, putting “regime change” back on the agenda for those two countries. So, early last year, the possibilities seemed endless for the Family Kagan to flex their muscles and make lots of money. As I noted two years ago in an article entitled “A Family Business of Perpetual War”: “Neoconservative pundit Robert Kagan and his wife, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, run a remarkable family business: she has sparked a hot war in Ukraine and helped launch Cold War II with Russia and he steps in to demand that Congress jack up military spending so America can meet these new security threats.

[..] But things didn’t quite turn out as the Kagans had drawn them up. The neocon Republicans stumbled through the GOP primaries losing out to Donald Trump and then – after Hillary Clinton muscled aside Sen. Bernie Sanders to claim the Democratic nomination – she fumbled away the general election to Trump. After his surprising victory, Trump – for all his many shortcomings – recognized that the neocons were not his friends and mostly left them out in the cold. Nuland not only lost her politically appointed job as Assistant Secretary but resigned from the Foreign Service, too. With Trump in the White House, Official Washington’s neocon-dominated foreign policy establishment was down but far from out. The neocons were tossed a lifeline by Democrats and liberals who detested Trump so much that they were happy to pick up Nuland’s fallen banner of the New Cold War with Russia.

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How about the Colorado river, or the Rhine? Can you see it happening?

Ganges and Yamuna Rivers Granted Same Legal Rights As Human Beings (G.)

The Ganges river, considered sacred by more than 1 billion Indians, has become the first non-human entity in India to be granted the same legal rights as people. A court in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand ordered on Monday that the Ganges and its main tributary, the Yamuna, be accorded the status of living human entities. The decision, which was welcomed by environmentalists, means that polluting or damaging the rivers will be legally equivalent to harming a person. The judges cited the example of the Whanganui river, revered by the indigenous Maori people. people, which was declared a living entity with full legal rights by the New Zealand government last week. Judges Rajeev Sharma and Alok Singh said the Ganges and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries would be “legal and living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities”.

The court in the Himalayan resort town of Nainital appointed three officials to act as legal custodians responsible for conserving and protecting the rivers and their tributaries. It ordered that a management board be established within three months. The case arose after officials complained that the state governments of Uttarakhand and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh were not cooperating with federal government efforts to set up a panel to protect the Ganges. Himanshu Thakkar, an engineer who coordinates the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, said the practical implications of the decision were not clear. “There are already 1.5bn litres of untreated sewage entering the river each day, and 500m litres of industrial waste,” he said. “All of this will become illegal with immediate effect, but you can’t stop the discharge immediately. So how this decision pans out in terms of practical reality is very unclear.”

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I see slums in your future.

More Than 100 Chinese Cities Now Above 1 Million People (G.)

China now has more than 100 cities of over 1 million residents, a number that is likely to double in the next decade. According to the Demographia research group, the world’s most populous country boasts 102 cities bigger than 1 million people, many of which are little known outside the country – or even within its borders. Quanzhou, for example, on the south-east coast of China, was one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world a millennium ago, when it served as a hub for traders from across Asia and the Middle East. It is now home to more than 7 million people, nearly 800,000 more than Madrid. But while Madrid is a cultural powerhouse and the centre of Spanish politics, Quanzhou, with its 1,000-year-old mosque and charming cafes, is rarely discussed even within Chinese media, whereas Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong continue to get most of the headlines.

Outside China, meanwhile, few will even have heard of Kaifeng, a former imperial capital that was once a terminus on the Silk Road, or Weihai, both cities bigger than Liverpool (estimated population of urban area 880,000). The scale of China’s urban ambitions is staggering: it now has 119 cities bigger than Liverpool. By 2025, according to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, that number is predicted to have more than doubled. One reason is that the government is actively encouraging rural residents to urbanise. China aims to have 60% of its people living in cities by 2020, up from 56.1% currently, and the World Bank estimates a billion people – or 70% of the country’s population – will be living in cities by 2030. Thousands of government officials have campaigned across the country to convince farmers to move to newly built urban districts, turning centuries-old villages into ghost towns.

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Poorly argued but still true. The Chinese had better plant a zillion trees in those cities of them.

Access To Nature Reduces Depression And Obesity (G.)

People living close to trees and green spaces are less likely to be obese, inactive, or dependent on anti-depressants, according to a new report. Middle-aged Scottish men with homes in deprived but verdant areas were found to have a death rate 16% lower than their more urban counterparts. Pregnant women also received a health boost from a greener environment, recording lower blood pressures and giving birth to larger babies, research in Bradford found. Overall, nature is an under-recognised healer, the paper says, offering multiple health benefits from allergy reductions to increases in self-esteem and mental wellbeing.

A study team of 11 researchers at the Institute for European environmental policy (IEEP) spent a year reviewing more than 200 academic studies for the report, which is the most wide-ranging probe yet into the dynamics of health, nature and wellbeing. The project first appeared as an unpublicised 280-page European commission literature review last autumn, before being augmented for Friends of the Earth Europe with analysis of the links between nature-related health outcomes and deprivation. “The evidence is strong and growing that people and communities can only thrive when they have access to nature,” said Robbie Blake, a nature campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, which commissioned the analysis.

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Talking about planting trees:

This is a great story, which should have many people follow the example, for if we would all plant just one tree every day, we would never have a lack of trees again.

And of course I can’t post this without adding a famous French 1953 story by Jean Giono, The Man Who Planted Trees, which inspired Québec’s Frédérick Back to make his 1987 Oscar winning animation. What a masterpiece it still is. Please watch. It’ll make you feel so much better.

The Man Who Planted A Tree And Grew A Whole Family Of Forests (G.)

When Antonio Vicente bought a patch of land in São Paulo state and said he wanted to use it to plant a forest, people called him crazy. It was 1973 and forests were seen by many as an obstacle to progress and profit. Brazil’s then military government encouraged wealthy landowners to expand by offering them generously subsidised credit to invest in modern farming techniques, a move the ruling generals hoped would boost national agriculture. But water, or an impending lack of it, was Vicente’s concern as he worriedly watched the expansion of cattle grazing and industry, the destruction of local forests, and the growth of the population and the rapid urbanisation of the state. One of 14 children, Vicente grew up on a farm where his father worked. He’d watched him cut down the trees at the owners’ orders, for use in charcoal production and to clear more land for grazing cattle.

Eventually the farm’s water springs dried up and never returned. Maintaining forests are essential for water supplies because trees absorb and retain water in their roots and help to prevent soil erosion. So with some donkeys and a small team, he worked on his little patch – 31 hectares (77 acres) of land that had been razed for grazing cattle – and set about regenerating. “The area was totally stripped,” he says, demonstrating by pointing to a painting of the treeless land in 1976. “The water supplies had nearly dried up.” His neighbours, who were cattle and dairy farmers, used to tell him: “You are dumb. Planting trees is a waste of land. You won’t have income. If it’s full of trees, you won’t have room for cows or crops.” But what started off as a weekend gig has now become a full-time way of life. More than 40 years later, Vicente – now 84 – estimates he has replanted 50,000 trees on his 31 hectare Serra da Mantiqueira mountain range property.

“If you ask me who my family are, I would say all this right here, each one of these that I planted from a seed,” he says. [..] Vicente has seen first-hand the devastating effects of mass deforestation. He travelled at one point to Rondonia, now one of Brazil’s most deforested Amazon states, in 1986 during a drive by the Brazilian government to settle the region which proved disastrous as following mass deforestation, the land yielded poor results. “The government were giving the land away for cheap, but the land didn’t serve for anything,” he says. “People cut down the trees but after 3 to 4 years, the soil turned into sand and nothing grows.” Speaking of his own project in the Mantiqueira mountain range: “I didn’t do it for money, I did it because when I die, what’s here will remain for everyone.” He adds: “People don’t call me crazy any more.”

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Mar 192017
 
 March 19, 2017  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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DPC Broadway from Chambers Street, NYC 1910

 


More Proof of Janet Yellen’s Idiocy (David Stockman)
How The Bosses ‘Game’ Workers (Moore)
Oz Parliamentary Budget Office Costs Plan To Kill Off Stamp Duty (SMH)
Russian Parliament Backs Investigation Into US Media (R.)
German Foreign Minister: Turkey Further Away From EU Membership Than Ever (R.)
Turkey Furious As Kurds Rally In Frankfurt With PKK Insignia (AFP)
Fear Stalks Refugees Huddled Along Hungary’s Border (G.)
Dirty Deals Done Dirt Cheap (ECRE)
Desperate Conditions In Greece’s Migration Jails (AlA)
‘Exiles in the Aegean’: A Year After The EU–Turkey Deal (Christopoulos)

 

 

“..corporate America will desperately unload inventories, workers and assets to appease the robo-machines of Wall Street.”

More Proof of Janet Yellen’s Idiocy (David Stockman)

During the last 129 months, the Fed has held 86 meetings. On 83 of those occasions it either cut rates or left them unchanged. So you can perhaps understand why Wednesday’s completely expected (for the last three weeks!) 25 bips left the day traders nonplussed. The Dow rallied over 100 points that day. Traders understandably believe that this monetary farce can continue indefinitely, and that our Keynesian school marm’s post-meeting presser was evidence that the Fed is still their friend. No it isn’t! Janet Yellen’s sing-song gibberish was the equivalent of a monetary DEFCON 1, alerting all except the most addicted Kool-Aid drinkers to get out of the casino.

Our monetary politburo has expanded its balance sheet by a lunatic 22X during the last three decades and in the process has systematically falsified financial asset prices and birthed a mutant debt-fueled of simulacrum of prosperity. But once it begins to withdraw substantial amounts of cash from the canyons of Wall Street as per its newly reaffirmed “normalization” policy, the whole house of cards is destined to collapse. There will be a stock market implosion soon, and that will in turn generate panic in the C-suites as the value of stock options vanish. Like in the fall of 2008 — except on an even more sweeping and long-lasting scale — corporate America will desperately unload inventories, workers and assets to appease the robo-machines of Wall Street. But there is nothing left to brake the casino’s fall.

If the money market rate conforms to the Fed’s latest command and settles at 88 basis points, it is still effectively at the zero bound. Our monetary politburo is thus still out of dry powder — except for the nuclear option of QE4, which Yellen herself made quite clear would never happen until after the next recession is already underway. Yet by then it will be too late — way too late. That’s because the market is priced as if the business cycle has been outlawed and as if the feckless band of Keynesian pretenders who have seized control of financial markets have ushered in the Nirvana of permanent full-employment. World without end. Needless to say, they haven’t because they haven’t repealed the law of supply and demand. That is, if the Fed plans to keep raising until rates until they reach 3.0% by 2019, it will have to suck massive amounts of cash out of the financial markets.

So doing, it will drive long-term yields substantially higher and thereby obliterate the ultra-low cap rate delusion on which the entire regime of Bubble Finance is based. In fact, in a blathering response at her presser about the pace by which the Fed intends to shrink its bloated $4.4 trillion balance sheet, Yellen proved she is clueless about the financial firestorm our rogue central bank is about to unleash. She claimed that the Fed could implement 3-4 money market rate increases a year, while deferring the shrinkage of its balance sheet into the indefinite future. But that it most assuredly cannot do. With a staggering overhang of $2.1 trillion of excess reserves in the financial system, even our vaunted monetary politburo cannot command the tides to recede. If it wants the money rate to rise on its appointed path through 2019, it must drain loads of cash from Wall Street.

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“In Australia, the bottom 3.9 million people share the same level of wealth as the top 10 individuals. And the gap is growing.”

How The Bosses ‘Game’ Workers (Moore)

When was the last time we heard someone talking about economic sustainability? When was the last time an economist was heard talking about equitable sharing of the economic growth? Australia “averted a recession” with 1.1 per cent growth in the December quarter. Let’s celebrate! Good news. Well, good for some. Not so good for others. Increasing disparity! The good news: company profits are “at record levels”. In the December quarter company profits rose by a whopping 20.1 per cent. One of the big winners is mining. Mining! Those same companies who were crying doom and gloom a few years ago when they defeated the government’s attempt to apply some level of taxation on their “super profits”. The bad news: well, that is for wage earners. While profits grew by 20 per cent, average wages dropped.

Tom Kennedy, of JP Morgan, explained to the ABC: “Some of the support for profits in the non-mining economy seems to be from weaker wage payments, which fell 0.5 per cent quarter-on-quarter (annual run rate slowed further to 1 per cent year-on-year) on the precarious combination of weaker wage growth, fewer hours and elevated underemployment.” In simple language Kennedy could have said: business increased profits by cutting workers’ wages, reducing hours and by employing less people. Any number of economic inquiries or reports suggest good ideas about taxation, employment and economic growth. A much smaller number examines what is equitable sharing of wealth. Even in the current climate, where the government is constantly bombarding the community about living within our means, Turnbull’s government is determined to deliver a $50 billion tax break for the corporate sector.

They have a good return on investment for political party donations. In Australia, the bottom 3.9 million people share the same level of wealth as the top 10 individuals. And the gap is growing. Sensible taxation measures are just one method of reducing the disparity by applying straightforward rules that are not subject to exemptions. In a globalised environment, corporations avoid current tax measures by moving money around the world at a touch of a button. One alternative, to provide a fair way to levy the corporate sector and one that is difficult to “game”, is a tax on gross turnover within a country. Such a tax is simple. It is hard to avoid. Big business would pay their share and contribute to community infrastructure from which they draw significant advantage.

Personal income is also “gamed”. American tycoon Warren Buffett noted his secretary paid a higher percentage of income tax than him simply because he could afford better accounting advice. The answer is to apply a “floor level” for high-income earners. It would catch the 77 individuals, identified by the Australian Tax Office in 2015, who earned over $1 million and paid NO tax. With the “Buffett Rule”, this group of selfish leeches would not have been able to avoid their fair contribution to the education, health and infrastructure that they all use. The Australia Institute identifies an injection of $2.5 billion if a 35 per cent “Buffet Rule” level was applied to just the top 1 per cent of salary earners. Surely good government means finding ways to reduce disparity. Inequality is fodder for populist movements around the world. A disparity index is just one way to remind our politicians of their responsibilities.

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Thinking about land tax is not a bad thing. But using it to lure more people into mortgage debt is.

Oz Parliamentary Budget Office Costs Plan To Kill Off Stamp Duty (SMH)

The Parliamentary Budget Office has costed a proposal that would kill stamp duty and replace it with land tax, saving home buyers up to $40,000 in Sydney and $55,000 in Melbourne, while delivering billions of dollars to fund schools and hospitals. The costing will put land tax back up for debate when Parliament returns next week as the government looks to mark its authority on the housing affordability crisis less than two months out from the federal budget. Both the NSW and Victorian governments have thrown their weight behind broader stamp duty tax reform and Treasurer Scott Morrison has indicated his support for a transition to taxing land. “When you talk about tax reform, this is far and away the biggest prize on offer,” said John Daley, the chief executive of independent think tank the Grattan Institute.

Under current regulations, home buyers pay tens of thousands of dollars in stamp duty, creating an additional hurdle for people looking to enter the market amid soaring property prices in Sydney and Melbourne. Removing stamp duty and implementing an annual land tax on all newly purchased homes would help level the playing field and generate billions of dollars in annual returns to the NSW and Victorian budgets, while also relieving federal government spending over a 15-year-period. Under the policy submitted by the Greens and backed by the Grattan Institute and the Council of the Ageing, home buyers would no longer stump up to $40,000 in stamp duty when purchasing a property worth $1 million in Sydney. In Melbourne, a home buyer would save $55,000 stamp duty on a property of the same value.

Research from the Grattan Institute shows an annual tax of $1 per every $1000 of a home’s value would cost the median Sydney household $845 a year in tax and the median Melbourne home $623 a year. To offset the cost of losing lucrative stamp duty payments, the Commonwealth would have to loan money to the states. The loans would peak in 2020 when the hit to the budget bottom line would grow to $800 million. Rising land tax revenues would enable the states to pay back the loan by 2030. The Parliamentary Budget Office estimates that in the next four years alone the tax would generate $2.3 billion in revenue for the states, but warned the overall costings were of low reliability due to the variations in number of properties sold across Australia each year.

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“..the senator should have included a clause drawing up a list of books for burning..”

Russian Parliament Backs Investigation Into US Media (R.)

The Russian lower house of parliament, the State Duma, has approved a proposal to launch an investigation into U.S. media organizations that operate in Russia, it said in a statement posted on its web site late on Friday. The investigation, which will be conducted by the Duma’s information policy, technologies and communications committee, will check whether CNN, the Voice of America, Radio Liberty and “other American media” are complying with Russian law. The statement said the Duma backed the move on Friday evening after Konstantin Zatulin, an MP from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, proposed an investigation to retaliate for what he called a “repressive” U.S. move against Russian state-funded broadcaster RT.

He said he was referring to an initiative by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who has introduced a bill to empower the Justice Department to investigate possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act by RT. Shaheen, a Democrat, cited a U.S. intelligence agency assessment that suggested RT was part of a Russian influence campaign to help Donald Trump win the White House last year. The Kremlin and RT have strongly rejected that allegation. Foreign media in Russia are overseen by the Russian Foreign Ministry, whose spokeswoman Maria Zakharova this week singled out Shaheen’s demarche for criticism, quipping ironically that the senator should have included a clause drawing up a list of books for burning. The U.S. move also solicited the ire of Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief, who on Wednesday told the daily Izvestia it had echoes of the activities of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy..

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EU nations would never have accepted a nation of 82 million muslims as a member. Turkey’s as far away as ever, not more, not less.

German Foreign Minister: Turkey Further Away From EU Membership Than Ever (R.)

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in an interview with news magazine Der Spiegel published on Saturday that Turkey has never been less likely to join the European Union than now, as relations between Ankara and Berlin hit a low point. “Today Turkey is definitely further away from becoming a member of the European Union than ever before,” Gabriel said in the interview. He also said that he always had doubts about whether Turkey should join the EU but found himself in the minority in his Social Democrat (SPD) party. Before taking power in Germany in 2005, Chancellor Angela Merkel was an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s membership and instead called for a “privileged partnership”.

Gabriel disliked that idea because he thought it would make Turks feel like second-class Europeans but he said his opinion had changed since Britain’s decision to leave the EU. “Today the situation is totally different due to Brexit. We’d be well advised to bring about a ‘special relationship’ with Great Britain after its exit from the EU,” Gabriel said. “That will be an important learning process for the EU and perhaps some of it can serve as a blueprint for other countries in the long term,” Gabriel said. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is courting Turks abroad for support in an April 16 referendum that would grant him sweeping new powers. He infuriated Germany and the Netherlands by describing bans on planned rallies by Turkish ministers as “fascist”. The arrest of a Turkish-German journalist in Ankara has also caused upset.

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EU and US still define PKK as a terrorist organization. That should be reconsidered.

Turkey Furious As Kurds Rally In Frankfurt With PKK Insignia (AFP)

Some 30,000 pro-Kurdish demonstrators rallied in the German city of Frankfurt on Saturday calling for “democracy in Turkey” and urging a “no” vote in an upcoming referendum on expanding Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers. Turkey angrily denounced the demonstration as “unacceptable”. Many demonstrators carried symbols of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has battled the Turkish state for over three decades in a continuing insurgency. Tensions are already running high between Berlin and Ankara after German authorities refused to allow some Turkish ministers to campaign in the country for a “yes” vote in the April 16 referendum that would hand Erdogan an executive presidency. Significantly more people turned up than organisers had been expecting for the rally, which took place ahead of the annual Newroz festival when Kurds mark the traditional New Year.

Saturday’s protest march in Frankfurt went off peacefully, a police spokesman said. Some of the participants carried flags and banners of the outlawed PKK, as well as portraits of the group’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence in Turkey, calling for his release. Police said no banners or flags were confiscated so as to not provoke the crowd, but added that photos had been taken which could lead to future prosecutions. Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in a statement that the presidency “condemned in the strongest terms” the fact that the rally had been allowed to go ahead. “It is unacceptable to see PKK symbols and slogans… when Turkish ministers and lawmakers are being prevented from meeting their own citizens,” he said. He said the “scandal” of the Frankfurt demonstration showed that some EU countries were actively working in favour of a “no” vote in the critical referendum.

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For those hailing Merkel for her dealings with Trump, and calling her the leader of the western world: this is what she produced in Europe, where she really is the leader.

Fear Stalks Refugees Huddled Along Hungary’s Border (G.)

Behind a high metal fence topped with loose curls of barbed wire, the newly positioned blue shipping containers lined neatly along Hungary’s southern border at Röszke provide a glimpse of the new plans of the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, to detain thousands of asylum seekers, including children. Construction on Hungary’s new detention camps and a second electrified fence, which stretches 108 miles along its border with Serbia, are now under way despite virulent opposition from the UN, human rights groups and a European court ruling which it was hoped might halt the country’s determination to imprison refugees. President János Áder signed the bill, which will allow all asylum seekers to be locked up in detention camps, and will also permit police to return asylum seekers from anywhere in the country back to Serbia.

Orbán, leader of the rightwing populist Fidesz party, has described migration as the “Trojan horse for terrorism” and considers Muslim migrants a threat to European identity and culture. More than 7,000 asylum seekers trying to reach western Europe are stuck in Serbia, outside the EU, following Hungary’s decision last summer to introduce strict limits on the number of refugees allowed to enter and began patrolling the borders with a controversial new wing of its police force known as Határvadász, or border hunters. At an open transit camp in Subotica, Serbia, 15 miles from the border crossing, where families and unaccompanied children wait to have their asylum claims processed in Hungary, officials say the new law will cause trouble for Serbia and more hardship for people here.

“We are like storage for the Hungarians,” said Nikola Ljubomirovic, coordinator at the camp, run by Serbia’s commissariat for refugees and migrants. [..] The majority of families at this camp are fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. They have made arduous journeys but are out of funds which would enable them to try other routes to Europe. Their only option is to claim asylum in Hungary. They face a long wait. Hungary has reduced the number of asylum seekers it accepts per day from Serbia from 200 in 2015 to 10 in January this year. The decision as to which 10 people can enter the country every weekday via two transit zones, Horgos and Kelebija, is arbitrary, far from transparent, and appears to be managed in part by refugee community leaders, leading to uncertainty and confusion among already desperate families.

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“..a legitimate objective for the EU Member States to pursue is undermining rather than ensuring the right to asylum..”

Dirty Deals Done Dirt Cheap (ECRE)

The impact of the EU Turkey – Deal is widely debated and often misrepresented. The triumphant progress reports of the Commission hail the drop in numbers of refugees arriving in Greece and people drowning in the Aegean, but ignore the wider devastating impact of Europe’s containment policy on the international protection regime and beyond. If anything, one-year into its existence the deal has “succeeded” in contributing to problematic developments in four inter-linked ways: It is a key factor in the transformation of the political debate at EU level, which moves towards a consensus that a legitimate objective for the EU Member States to pursue is undermining rather than ensuring the right to asylum (enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights) is.

By endorsing this deal, the EU has jeopardized not only its own credibility as a global human rights actor but also the values of democracy, respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law upon which it is based. It has become the blueprint for outsourcing Europe’s protection responsibility to third countries often characterized by instability and with problematic human rights records in exchange for development aid or political favours as if refugees were tradable commodities. Finally, it has transferred substantial political capital from the EU to the regimes in question, leaving the EU beholden –with Turkey itself as the most obvious example of the increasing ability of these third countries to influence Europe rather than the other way around. No, for Europeans who believe in universal human rights there is nothing to celebrate but lots to regret at the one-year anniversary of the EU-Turkey Deal!

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There needs to be an EU summit on this, and a UN summit on the whole refugee issue. But I’ve been saying that for a long time, and it still has not happened. It will be done only when chaos rules and it’s too late.

Desperate Conditions In Greece’s Migration Jails (AlA)

Greece has struggled to implement the controversial EU-Turkey deal agreed last March, and many who arrived on the islands after March 19, 2016, ended up being held in closed detention facilities for months on end. This treatment of new arrivals is likely to only become even more strict. Greek authorities are building new detention facilities for irregular migrants on Samos, Lesvos and Kos, while looking for spaces in the islands of Leros and Chios. Maarten Verwey, coordinator for the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement, said that new detention facilities in Greece would be temporary. But a year ago, the UN’s refugee agency decided not to back Greek authorities. “We will not provide support to mandatory ‘detention centers’ for refugees in Greece,” said an official announcement from the UNHCR.

Greece is using ex-military camps, police stations and specially built detention centres to house those seeking refuge in the medium term. These are different from the reception and identification centres at the hotspots where newly arrived refugees and migrants are initially held. There are currently six detention centres with a total of 5,215 places in Amygdaleza, Petrou Ralli, Corinth, Paranesti, Xanthi and Orestiada. A new report, titled Forgotten, by Aitima, an Athens-based NGO, says there are some 2,000 “irregular migrants” now detained in Greece – but this number might increase fast in the next few months as pre-departure facilities on the islands are completed. Officials believe that the creation of “closed-structure facilities”, each with a capacity of 150-200 people, will be the key to easing pressure on islands where more than 10,000 new arrivals are stranded.

Conditions inside existing detention facilities in Greece continue to be alarming. Most are without hot water, reports Aitima. They have no heating, there are no interpreters, no social workers and no psychologists. Detained migrants complain about inedible food. No provisions of clothes and shoes from the authorities are given. Doctors visit detention areas only in very urgent cases.

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History repeating.

‘Exiles in the Aegean’: A Year After The EU–Turkey Deal (Christopoulos)

Bert Birtles, an Australian journalist and poet, arrived in Athens in the fall of 1935 to meet Dora “at sunset under the Parthenon”. Very soon, the interest of the young devoted admirers of classical Greece shifted from the archaeological ruins to contemporary politics. In 1936, following a fascist coup, Bert and Dora started visiting islands of the Aegean that were used as destinations for exiles. In 1938, Birtles published Exiles in the Aegean, his “personal narrative of Greek politics and travel”. The book offers an exciting first-hand chronicle of the experiences and lives of the exiled leftists on the islands of Anafi and Gavdos, but also Leros, Karpathos and Lesvos. These islands continued to operate as spaces of “administrative displacement” throughout the twentieth century, and it was only in 1974, after the end of the colonels’ dictatorship, that this practice came to an end.

Even for my generation, born in the late 1960s, the phrase “to the dry islands” was the synonym of isolation, just as the phrase “to the mountains” was the synonym of resistance against the Axis forces in the 1940s. And then, in the 1980s, the “dry islands” became the ideal tourist resort, one of the must-see destinations of the world: a synonym of pleasure and relaxation. At the dawn of the 21st century, the islands of the eastern Aegean, close to the Turkish coast, became the first entry point to the EU for the thousands fleeing their countries, either for fear of being persecuted, or just in search of a decent life in Europe. Islands became the stepping stone to Athens, and, in turn, Athens a stepping stone to northern Europe. Islands offer a prototype for an exercise in control and biopolitics, as Foucault would put it.

The pre-1974 Greek state, which was not exactly famous for its democratic culture, knew this well. The European Union, on the other hand, only really realised this a year ago, with the infamous EU-Turkey statement addressing what the Europeans labelled a “migration crisis”, i.e. the arrival of a million refugees in a continent of half a billion inhabitants… Islands, both now and then, are regarded as the ideal quarantine zone: first it was for communists so they wouldn’t intoxicate their environment with their ideas, now for migrants and refugees, with a twofold objective. First, to send the message that this is what lies ahead for those who intend to make their way across the Aegean. Second, to send a message to European citizens and to address their primary fear: the buffer zone at the periphery of the EU ensures that no more refugees and immigrants can enter the ‘promised land’.

Read more …

Mar 182017
 
 March 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Andreas Feininger Production B-17 heavy bomber at Boeing plant, Seattle 1942

 


How Bankers Became The Top Exploiters Of The Economy (Michael Hudson)
World Out Of Whack: What’s Next For Global Real Estate? (CE)
Make Big Banks Put 20% Down—Just Like Home Buyers Do (Kashkari)
Deepening EU Banking Crisis Meets Euro-TARP on Angel Dust (DQ)
The Paranoid Attempts To Tie Trump To Russia (Qz)
Clinton Ally Says Smoke, But No Fire: No Russia-Trump Collusion (NBC)
Justice Dept. Delivers Documents On Wiretap Claim To Congress (R.)
Secret Service Says Laptop Stolen From Agent’s Car In New York (R.)
A Bad Week and Getting Badder Bigly Fast (Jim Kunstler)
Athens Sees Turk Effort To Dispute Greek Sovereignty In Aegean (K.)
Turkey Threatens To Send Europe ‘15,000 Refugees A Month’ (AFP)
Over 10,000 Refugees Relocated, IOM Says (K.)

 

 

Absolutely brilliant interview with Michael Hudson. Read the whole thing. It’ll give you so much insight.

How Bankers Became The Top Exploiters Of The Economy (Michael Hudson)

There are two ways of thinking about the economy. The school textbooks only talk about was producing goods and services for wages and profits. They don’t talk about rent or unearned income. That’s what I mean by “unreal” – not grounded in production. And they don’t talk about interest either, or the framework of debt and property rights. There’s a lot of talk about what seems to be the circular flow between producers and consumers. That circular flow is called Say’s law. For example, Henry Ford said he paid his workers $5 a day so that they could afford to buy the cars that they produced. Workers are depicted as paying their wages to buy what they make. All that seemed to make sense, but the economy of production is different from financial and property wealth. Who owns the assets, and who owes debts to whom?

If you look at the economic framework in terms of assets and debt, you find that the 1% makes its money by holding the 99% in debt. Or at least, you could say that the 5% make its money by holding the 95% in debt. The trick is to get other people in debt. How do you do that? You make them think that they can gain. They’re willing to borrow to buy a home, because they think that since 1945, the way that most American families have gotten rich – indeed, the way the middle class was created throughout most western countries – was by the increasing price of real estate they bought on credit. What they didn’t realize was that the price of real estate was being bid up in two ways. Number 1: By more bank lending, on easier terms. Number 2: By public infrastructure spending. Cities, states and federal governments built parks, museums, roads, railroads, water and sewer systems, and electric utilities. But this began to come to an end with Reagan and Thatcher in 1980.

You have had a privatization of public infrastructure – goods that the public sector provided for free, saving people from having to pay monopoly prices. Instead of financing public investment by progressive taxation, it was financed by borrowing. Banks got more and more aggressive and reckless in creating new credit, because they felt they were guaranteed against loss. That was the essence of financialization. Financial engineering replaced industrial engineering. What people thought was wealth turned out to be a rentier overhead. This confusion between real tangible wealth and financial overhead claims on the economy was recognized already over 100 years ago by somebody who won a Nobel Prize: Frederick Soddy. But he won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. He wrote many books saying what people think of wealth— stocks and bonds, bank loans and property rights —are virtual wealth. They are financial claims on real wealth.

A stock or bond is a claim on the income that real wealth can make. So it’s on the opposite side of the balance sheet from assets. It’s on the liabilities side. Economists used to talk about land as a factor of production. But land rights are really a property claim, like a monopoly claim. It’s as if you’d say Walt Disney’s patents on Mickey Mouse or movies that Walt Disney makes are a factor of production. They’re really a property right to charge a monopoly price. The right to charge a monopoly price for a cable service isn’t really a factor of production. It’s extractive. It’s what economists call a zero-sum activity. So classical economics has a different idea of what national income is from today’s idea. A monopoly right is not an addition to national wealth or income just because monopolists make more. It’s a subtraction from the economy’s circular flow.

Read more …

Painful.

World Out Of Whack: What’s Next For Global Real Estate? (CE)

Ever since anyone can remember, global real estate prices have been going up. Pretty much doesn’t matter which country you’re from (unless, of course, it’s Syria, or Iraq… or Fuhggedistan): if you bought something in the last 2 to 3 decades, it’s like the ceilings were insulated with helium. Even when the 2008 crisis hit and we had Captain Clever ensuring the world that things were just peachy: “At this juncture, however, the impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime market seems likely to be contained. In particular, mortgages to prime borrowers and fixed-rate mortgages to all classes of borrowers continue to perform well, with low rates of delinquency.” – Ben Bernanke, March 28, 2007 Even with that setback real estate has marched upward. The US, of course, took a decent breather and is only today back to where it was pre the GFC. But the US isn’t the world, so let’s look at what everyone else has been up to. Take a look at this:

In truth, it hasn’t just been Mr. and Mrs. Smith in their tweed coats buying up UK properties, just as it hasn’t been Sheila and Bruce in Sydney, or even Maple and Hudson in Canada. A significant amount of buying power in these markets has come from offshore buyers, largely frightened Chinese money being parked. It’s pretty extraordinary, really.Prices alone don’t provide us with the entire picture or provide us with context. I mean, real estate prices in Harare went through the roof, too, in the 2008-09 period (in ZWD) but the currency went through the floor and real purchasing power collapsed. Context, therefore, is important.Also, clearly a swanky penthouse in Manhattan overlooking the Hudson river shouldn’t be priced the same as a swanky penthouse in Vientiane overlooking the Mekong. The main difference? Incomes. So let’s take a look at prices relative to incomes for a better understanding.

Buying a house in the US actually makes a lot more sense. Certainly relative to its international peers the US is cheap. In fact, if you factor in the ability to fix debt for a ridiculously long time in a currency that’s ultimately going to get hammered, and if you need to find somewhere to live then you’ve found a way to essentially be synthetically short the bond market (provided you fix your rates). I’m not advocating this as a strategy but merely pointing out the mechanics of the trade. As investors we’re interested in viewing real estate as we would any investment or asset, and as such understanding the cashflows is important. Naturally, incomes relative to asset prices tell us what the owner’s cashflows are relative to the asset they’ve buying… and the same analysis can be conducted against student loans, car loans – any credit instrument, really. Here’s rents (cashflows) relative to asset prices:

Read more …

Kashkari makes sense. Lots of it. But will he push it through? Put his career on the line for it?

Make Big Banks Put 20% Down—Just Like Home Buyers Do (Kashkari)

There’s a straightforward way to help prevent the next financial crisis, fix the too-big-to-fail problem, and still relax regulations on community lenders: increase capital requirements for the largest banks. In November, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, which I lead, announced a draft proposal to do precisely that. Our plan would increase capital requirements on the biggest banks—those with assets over $250 billion—to at least 23.5%. It would reduce the risk of a taxpayer bailout to less than 10% over the next century. Alarmingly, there has been recent public discussion of moving in the opposite direction. Several large-bank CEOs have suggested that their capital requirements are already too high and are holding back lending.

[..] Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan recently asked, “Do we have [to hold] an extra $20 billion in capital? Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s $200 billion in loans we could make.” It is true that some regulations implemented after the 2008 financial crisis are imposing undue burdens, especially on small banks, without actually making the financial system safer. But the assertion that capital requirements are holding back lending is demonstrably false. How can I prove it? Simple: Borrowing costs for homeowners and businesses are near record lows. If loans were scarce, borrowers would be competing for them, driving up costs. That isn’t happening. Nor do other indicators suggest a lack of loans. Bank credit has grown 23% over the past three years, about twice as much as nominal GDP.

Only 4% of small businesses surveyed by the National Federation of Independent Business report not having their credit needs met. If capital standards are relaxed, banks will almost certainly use the newly freed money to buy back their stock and increase dividends. The goal for large banks won’t be to increase lending, but to boost their stock prices. Let’s not forget: That’s the job of a bank CEO. It isn’t to protect taxpayers. [..] There is a simple and fair solution to the too-big-to-fail problem. Banks ask us to put 20% down when buying our homes to protect them in case we run into trouble. Similarly, taxpayers should make large banks put 20% down in the form of equity to prevent bailouts in case the financial system runs into trouble. Higher capital for large banks and streamlined regulation for small banks would minimize frustration for borrowers. If 20% down is reasonable to ask of us, it is reasonable to ask of the banks.

Read more …

This is why we get the calls for Eurobonds again, and the world’s biggest bad bank.

Deepening EU Banking Crisis Meets Euro-TARP on Angel Dust (DQ)

The total stock of non-performing loans (NPL) in the EU is estimated at over €1 trillion, or 5.4% of total loans, a ratio three times higher than in other major regions of the world. On a country-by-country basis, things take look even scarier. Currently 10 (out of 28) EU countries have an NPL ratio above 10% (orders of magnitude higher than what is generally considered safe). And among Eurozone countries, where the ECB’s monetary policies have direct impact, there are these NPL stalwarts: Ireland: 15.8%; Italy: 16.6%; Portugal: 19.2%; Slovenia: 19.7%; Greece: 46.6%; Cyprus: 49%. That bears repeating: in Greece and Cyprus, two of the Eurozone’s most bailed out economies, virtually half of all the bank loans are toxic. Then there’s Italy, whose €350 billion of NPLs account for roughly a third of Europe’s entire bad debt stock.

Italy’s government and financial sector have spent the last year and a half failing spectacularly to come up with a solution to the problem. The two “bad bank” funds they created to help clean up the banks’ toxic balance sheets, Atlante I and Atlante II, are the financial equivalent of bringing a butter knife to a machete fight. So underfunded are they, they even strugggled to hold aloft smaller, regional Italian banks like Veneto Banca and Popolare di Vicenza, which are now pleading for a bailout from Rome, which in turn is pleading for clemency from Brussels. What little funds Atlante I and Atlante II have left are hemorrhaging value as the “assets” they’ve been used to buy up, invariably at prices that were way too high (often at over 40 cents on the euro), continue to deteriorate. The recent decision of Italy’s two biggest banks, Unicredit and Intesa Sao Paolo, to significantly write down their investment in Atlante is almost certain to discourage the private sector from pumping fresh funds into bailing out weaker banks.

Which means someone else must step in, and soon. And that someone is almost certain to be the European taxpayer. In February ECB Vice President Vitor Constancio called for the creation of a whole new class of government-backed “bad banks” to help buy some of the €1 trillion of bad loans putrefying on bank balance sheets. Constancio’s idea bore a striking resemblance to a formal proposal put forward by the European Banking Authority (EBA) for the creation of a massive EU-wide bad bank that, in the words of EBA president Andrea Enria, would “make it much easier to achieve critical mass and to create a well functioning market for (impaired) assets.” Here’s how it would work, according to Enria’s words:

“The banks would sell their non-performing loans to the asset management company at a price reflecting the real economic value of the loans, which is likely to be below the book value, but above the market price currently prevailing in illiquid markets. So the banks will likely have to take additional losses. The asset manager would then have three years to sell those assets to private investors. There would be a guarantee from the member state of each bank transferring assets to the asset management company, underpinned by warrants on each bank’s equity. This would protect the asset management company from future losses if the final sale price is below the initial transfer price.”

Read more …

The Democrats are self-imploding over this. They need leadership, fast. And untainted.

The Paranoid Attempts To Tie Trump To Russia (Qz)

In the months following Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the US presidential election, it has become increasingly clear that the Democratic party is unwilling—and perhaps unable—to come to terms with the country’s post-election reality. The party’s inability to accept defeat has since manifested itself through an increasingly hysterical campaign to blame Hillary Clinton’s defeat on alleged Russian interference. The charge that Russia, in the words of respected Russia expert and longtime Clinton associate Strobe Talbott, breached “the firewall of American democracy” has been repeated so often and by so many that it has taken on the patina of fact. It has become an article of faith, among disappointed Clinton partisans, mainstream political commentators, Democrats on Capitol Hill and Republicans like senator Lindsey Graham, that the election was tainted and that Trump’s legitimacy as president is questionable, at best.

The tendency to blame domestic disappointments on foreign bogeymen is not new and is perhaps better understood as a wave that periodically surfaces, then temporarily subsumes American politics. Indeed, this current reliance on conspiracy theories and accusations of unpatriotic disloyalty has been a feature, not a bug, of discourse regarding Russia since the onset of the crisis in Ukraine in early 2014. Yet this paranoia is, so far, little more than a distraction. By blaming Clinton’s loss on Russia, the political establishment is able to largely ignore the way economic, trade, and foreign policies failed large numbers of Americans. And, by elevating Vladimir Putin to supervillain status, this neo-McCarthyism is hindering debate and undermining legitimate attempts to deescalate tensions with our Russian colleagues.

MSNBC’s house intellectual Rachel Maddow has been among the most vociferous and, at times, most incisive critics of president Trump. Yet she also recently questioned whether Trump is actually under the control of the Kremlin. During her broadcast on March 9, Maddow told viewers that what she finds “particularly unsettling” is that “we are also starting to see what may be signs of continuing [Russian] influence in our country. Not just during the campaign but during the administration. Basically, signs of what could be a continuing operation.” That Maddow, a popular and respected liberal voice, would indulge in rhetoric of this sort is a worrying sign given the lack of hard evidence it is based on.

While many have convinced themselves that Russia tipped the scale of the election toward Trump, the more sinister allegations of Putin infiltrating the White House have not been born out. Even the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd in early March that he has “no knowledge” and “no evidence” of “collusion” between Russia and the Trump campaign. Yet Maddow’s charge recalls some of the worst excesses of the early 1950’s, when our political life was marred by the Red Scare and a climate of paranoia prevailed. Unsubstantiated allegations, not dissimilar to the kind Maddow just levied, were characteristic of that era.

Read more …

Steele was paying his ‘sources’ through third parties.

Clinton Ally Says Smoke, But No Fire: No Russia-Trump Collusion (NBC)

Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who endorsed Hillary Clinton and called Donald Trump a dupe of Russia, cast doubt Wednesday night on allegations that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Morell, who was in line to become CIA director if Clinton won, said he had seen no evidence that Trump associates cooperated with Russians. He also raised questions about the dossier written by a former British intelligence officer, which alleged a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. His comments were in sharp contrast to those of many Clinton partisans — such as former communications director Jennifer Palmieri — who have stated publicly they believe the Trump campaign cooperated with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the election against Clinton. Morell said he had learned that the former officer, Christopher Steele, paid his key Russian sources, and interviewed them through intermediaries.

“On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all,” Morell said at an event sponsored by the Cipher Brief, an intelligence web site. “There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.” Morell pointed out that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on Meet the Press on March 5 that he had seen no evidence of a conspiracy when he left office January 20. “That’s a pretty strong statement by General Clapper,” Morell said. About the dossier, Morell said, “Unless you know the sources, and unless you know how a particular source acquired a particular piece of information, you can’t judge the information — you just can’t.” The dossier “doesn’t take you anywhere, I don’t think,” he said.

Read more …

No proof on this side of the fence either. Everybody’s just making stuff up.

Justice Dept. Delivers Documents On Wiretap Claim To Congress (R.)

The U.S. Justice Department on Friday said it delivered documents to congressional committees responding to their request for information that could shed light on President Donald Trump’s claims that former President Barack Obama ordered U.S. agencies to spy on him. The information was sent to the House and Senate intelligence and judiciary committees, said Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Devin Nunes, said in a statement late on Friday that the Justice Department had “fully complied” with the panel’s request.

A government source, who requested anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said an initial examination of the material turned over by the Justice Department indicates that it contains no evidence to confirm Trump’s claims that the Obama administration had wiretapped him or the Trump Tower in New York. The House Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on Monday on allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers will testify and are expected to field questions on Trump’s wiretap claim. Leaders of both the House and Senate intelligence committees, including from Trump’s Republican Party, have said they have found no evidence to substantiate Trump’s claims that Obama ordered U.S. agencies to spy on Trump or his entourage. The White House has publicly offered no proof of the allegation.

Read more …

What an insane story this is. How did the media get all their info?

Secret Service Says Laptop Stolen From Agent’s Car In New York (R.)

The U.S. Secret Service said on Friday a laptop was stolen from an agent’s car in New York City but that such agency-issued computers contain multiple layers of security and are not permitted to contain classified information. The agency said in a statement that it was withholding additional comment while an investigation continues. ABC News, citing law enforcement sources, said the laptop contained floor plans for Trump Tower, details on the criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and other national security information. The New York Daily News, citing police sources, said authorities had been searching for the laptop since it was stolen on Thursday morning from the agent’s vehicle in the New York City borough of Brooklyn.

Some items stolen with the laptop, including coins and a black bag with the Secret Service insignia on it, were later recovered, the newspaper reported. CBS News, also citing law enforcement sources, said that some of the documents on the computer included important files on Pope Francis. The agent also told investigators that while nothing about the White House or foreign leaders is stored on the laptop, the information there could compromise national security, the Daily News reported. “There’s data on there that’s highly sensitive,” a police source told the newspaper, adding: “They’re scrambling like mad.”

Read more …

Jim was interviewed by Tucker Carlson about this, hope the video shows below (embedding Fox doesn’t always work). Really, Jim, Fox? I know, who else is left?

A Bad Week and Getting Badder Bigly Fast (Jim Kunstler)

[..] it also looks a bit as though the Golden Golem of Re-Greatification has wandered into a political minefield so dense with booby traps that he’s already out of moves. First there’s the debt ceiling problem — which has so far received almost no attention from the Kardashianized collective news media. As David Stockman has pointed out on his blog, the US Treasury amassed a “war chest” of nearly half a trillion dollars last fall (via various book-keeping shenanigans) in expectation that President Hillary would need it to ride out some fiscal bad weather early in her reign. Then, the truly inconceivable happened and Hillary won bigly in the wrong states and not bigly enough in the right ones, and, well….

Immediately, with Trump ascendant, the Treasury and its handmaidens at the Federal Reserve engineered a rapid burn-through of the war chest at a rate of about $90-billion a month since November, so that now there remains only about a month’s worth of walking-around money to run the US Government. With the old debt ceiling truce expired, congress would have to resolve to raise it, to legally enable the Treasury to resume its massive borrowing operations, or else the government won’t be able to pay invoices or issue pension checks or meet any obligations. It could even default on its “no risk” bonds. Those dangers are theoretical for the moment, especially since there is always more accounting fraud to resort to when all else fails. But the longer a debt ceiling stalemate goes on in congress, the more trapped President Trump will be.

The cherry on top is the Federal Reserve’s move to raise interest rates the same day the debt ceiling truce expired. That will thunder through the system, making many loans more expensive to repay, dampening the real estate markets (at a time when commercial real estate is already tanking), and draining all kinds of other mojo (however falsely engineered) from the Potemkin economy. As if being trapped in a political minefield isn’t bad enough, the remaining safe patch Trump is stranded on turns out to be the LaBrea Tar Pit of health care reform. At this point, the crusade is doing worse than going nowhere — it’s getting sucked into the primordial bitumen where the mastodons and camelops sleep.

Read more …

Watch out, Merkel, Trump, NATO. You’re playing with fire.

Athens Sees Turk Effort To Dispute Greek Sovereignty In Aegean (K.)

In what is seen in Athens as an effort by Ankara to push through its message that Greece has limited sovereignty in the area of the Eastern Mediterranean surrounding the island of Kastelorizo, Turkish forces have in recent days maintained a steady presence in the region, either through military exercises or with the dispatch of research vessels. According to a navigational telex (navtex) issued by Turkey, the Piri Reis oceanographic vessel will remain in the area south of Kastelorizo until Monday. Furthermore, according to another two navigational telexes, Turkey is planning to conduct exercises with live ammunition in areas west and east of Kastelorizo (within Turkish territorial waters).

Moreover, Ankara has already announced that it will conduct hydrocarbon explorations in the Eastern Mediterranean next month. It remains to be seen exactly what part of the Eastern Mediterranean Turkey plans to explore. In Athens, Turkey’s moves are seen to be clearly linked to the decision by Cyprus to move ahead, in spite of Ankara’s objections, with the extraction of natural gas from drilling block 11 in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In an interview with CNN Greece, which will be broadcast Friday, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades again expressed his concerns over the tensions that may be further fueled in the period stretching “from now until the Turkish referendum (on April 16),” and by the ongoing effort to create “an atmosphere of fanaticism within Turkish society.”

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The Erdogan referendum is one month from now. Much more important to him till then than international relations.

Turkey Threatens To Send Europe ‘15,000 Refugees A Month’ (AFP)

Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has threatened to “blow the mind” of Europe by sending 15,000 refugees a month to EU territory, in an intensifying dispute with the bloc. Ankara and Brussels almost a year ago on March 18 signed a landmark deal that has substantially lessened the flow of migrants from Turkey to Europe. But the accord is now hanging in the balance due to the diplomatic crisis over the blocking of Turkish ministers from holding rallies in Europe. “If you want, we could open the way for 15,000 refugees that we don’t send each month and blow the mind” of Europe, Soylu said in a speech late Thursday, quoted by the Anadolu news agency. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has already indicated that Turkey could rip up the deal and said Turkey was no longer readmitting migrants who crossed into Greece.

The crisis was sparked when the Netherlands and Germany refused to allow Turkish ministers to campaign in a April 16 referendum on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers, prompting the Turkish strongman to compare them with Nazi Germany. Soylu, a hardliner considered close to Erdogan, accused The Hague and Berlin of involvement in June 2013 anti-Erdogan protests, October 2014 pro-Kurdish riots and the July 15, 2016 failed coup attempt. “They are trying to complete the work that they did not finish. Who is doing this work? It’s the Netherlands and Germany,” Soylu said. He accused Europe of failing to help Turkey enter the bloc and of not helping with its fight against terror. “Europe, do you have that kind of courage…? Let us remind you that you cannot play games in this region and ignore Turkey,” he added.

Read more …

There were supposed to be 160,000. And this is less than one month of what Turkey threatens to send over.

Over 10,000 Refugees Relocated, IOM Says (K.)

More than 10,000 asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea have been relocated from Greece to other European Union states since the launch of the bloc’s relocation program in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration, which is implementing the scheme. Since the beginning of March, 367 people have left Greece for Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain, bringing the total number of people relocated from Greece to 10,004, IOM said on Friday. Over the same period, another 475 people were relocated from Italy. The total number of people relocated from Greece and Italy since the program was launched in October 2015 now stands at 14,439, the organization said.

“We have seen a steady increase of pledges and acceptance from participating EU countries in the past few months. At this rate, there will be a further 15,000 to 18,000 relocations from Greece by the end of the program,” said Eugenio Ambrosi, director of IOM’s Regional Office for the EU, Norway and Switzerland. The numbers are short of the original target as 66,400 places had been allocated for relocation from Greece and 39,600 from Italy. “We cannot rest at ease because the overall numbers are too low given the needs in Greece and the commitments that were made. We continue to encourage EU member-states to follow through fully on their commitments,” Ambrosi said.

Read more …

Mar 162017
 
 March 16, 2017  Posted by at 9:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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Arthur Rothstein “Quack doctor, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania” 1938

 


Hawaii Judge Halts Trump’s New Travel Ban Before It Can Go Into Effect (R.)
Trump Proposes Historic Cuts Across Government to Fund Defense (BBG)
Janet Yellen Explains Why She Hiked In A 0.9% GDP Quarter (ZH)
Fed Rate Hikes + Low Growth = Recession (MW)
How The Fed Rate Hike Will Impact Millions Of Americans (MW)
How Global Central Banks Have Set Interest Rates Since 2008 (Tel.)
Beware the Debt Ceiling (BBG)
Amazon Is Going To Kill More American Jobs Than China Did (MW)
PM Mark Rutte Sees Off Challenge Of Geert Wilders In Dutch Election (G.)
Northern Ireland Vote Jolts Already Disunited Kingdom (R.)
Erdogan, Europe Head for Political Blow-Up They Can’t Afford (BBG)
Turkey Protests Dutch Government by Returning 40 Holstein Cows (BBG)
Spike In Number Of Greeks Renouncing Inheritance To Avoid Taxes (K.)
New Zealand River Granted Same Legal Rights As Human Being (G.)

 

 

Not much room left to move, it would seem. And the Supreme Court is still some distance away, if the case even gets there.

Hawaii Judge Halts Trump’s New Travel Ban Before It Can Go Into Effect (R.)

Just hours before President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban was set to go into effect, a U.S. federal judge in Hawaii on Wednesday issued an emergency halt to the order’s implementation. The action was the latest legal blow to the administration’s efforts to temporarily ban refugees as well as travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries, which the President has said is needed for national security. Trump lashed out at the judge’s ruling, saying it “makes us look weak.” Trump signed the new ban on March 6 in a bid to overcome legal problems with a January executive order that caused chaos at airports and sparked mass protests before a Washington judge stopped its enforcement in February. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson put an emergency stop to the new order in response to a lawsuit filed by the state of Hawaii, which argued that the order discriminated against Muslims in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Judge Watson concluded in his ruling that while the order did not mention Islam by name, “a reasonable, objective observer … would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion.” Watson was appointed to the bench by former Democratic President Barack Obama. Speaking at a rally in Nashville, Trump called his revised executive order a “watered-down version” of his first. “I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way, which is what I wanted to do in the first place,” Trump said. Trump called the judge’s block “unprecedented judicial overreach” and said he will take the case “as far as it needs to go,” including to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Department of Justice called the ruling “flawed both in reasoning and in scope,” adding that the president has broad authority in national security matters. “The Department will continue to defend this Executive Order in the courts,” it said a statement.

[..] The government, in its court filings cautioned the court against looking for secret motives in the executive order and against performing “judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of heart.” Watson said he did not need to do that, because evidence of motive could be found in the president’s public statements. He said he did not give credence to the government’s argument that the order was not anti-Muslim because it targeted only a small percentage of Muslim-majority countries. “The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed,” the judge wrote.

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The military-industrial complex.

Trump Proposes Historic Cuts Across Government to Fund Defense (BBG)

President Donald Trump is proposing historically deep budget cuts that would touch almost every federal agency and program and dramatically reorder government priorities to boost defense and security spending. The president’s fiscal 2018 budget request, which will be formally delivered Thursday to Congress, would slash or eliminate many of the Great Society programs that Republicans have for decades tried to peel back while showering the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security with new resources. Some of the deepest cuts are reserved for the agencies and programs Trump has often derided. The State Department would be hit with a 28% reduction below fiscal 2016 levels that mainly targets international aid and development assistance; the EPA would face a 30% reduction.

Also in the crosshairs are agriculture programs, clean energy projects and federal research funding. “You see reductions in many agencies as he tries to shrink the role of government, drive efficiencies, go after waste, duplicative programs,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters. “If he said it in the campaign, it’s in the budget.” Trump’s proposal for $1.15 trillion in federal discretionary funding for fiscal year 2018 is certain to face vigorous opposition from lawmakers in both parties who will resist chopping favored programs, whether foreign aid, rural water projects, or development grants for Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta. In addition to a solid wall of opposition from Democrats, senior Republicans including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have raised objections to specific agency cuts even before the budget request went to the Capitol.

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It’s all about credibility. “Fighting inflationary pressures”?!

Janet Yellen Explains Why She Hiked In A 0.9% GDP Quarter (ZH)

It appears that, the worse the economy was doing, the higher the odds of a rate hike.

Putting the Federal Reserve's third rate hike in 11 years into context, if the Atlanta Fed's forecast is accurate, 0.9% GDP would mark the weakest quarter since 1980 in which rates were raised (according to Bloomberg data).

We look forward to Ms. Yellen explaining her reasoning – Inflation no longer "transitory"? Asset prices in a bubble? Because we want to crush Trump's economic policies? Because the banks told us to?

For now it appears what matters to The Fed is not 'hard' real economic data but 'soft' survey and confidence data…

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“..raising interest rates off ultralow levels during a period of tepid economic growth coincides with recessions in the following three to nine months..”

Fed Rate Hikes + Low Growth = Recession (MW)

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday lifted benchmark interest rates for only the third time in about a decade, and that has caused trepidation among some market participants. Lance Roberts, chief investment strategist at Clarity Financial, makes the case in one chart that raising interest rates off ultralow levels during a period of tepid economic growth coincides with recessions in the following three to nine months (see chart below, which compares real, inflation-adjusted, GDP to Fed interest rate levels).

The Fed lifted key rates by a quarter-point Wednesday to a range of 0.75% to 1%. The rate increase comes as the U.S. economy has been growing at a lackluster pace. Government data show that gross domestic product—the official report card of economic performance—was growing at a seasonally adjusted pace of 1.9% in the fourth quarter compared with 1.6% in 2016 and 2.6% in 2015. “Outside of inflated asset prices, there is little evidence of real economic growth, as witnessed by an average annual GDP growth rate of just 1.3% since 2008, which by the way is the lowest in history since…well, ever,” Roberts wrote in a blog post March 9 (see chart below):

Woeful productivity, defined as the average output per hour of work, has been another bugaboo for economists and the Fed, for the past six years. Higher rates could exacerbate both problems, especially since corporations tend to benefit when borrowing costs are low. Roberts told MarketWatch in a recent interview that the “Fed lifts interest rates to slow economic growth and quell inflationary pressures.” He argues that outside of a stock market that has been mostly zooming higher, “economic growth is weak.”

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Debtors get screwed, savers get some air. Sounds cute and all, but there’s so much debt out there.

How The Fed Rate Hike Will Impact Millions Of Americans (MW)

Bad news for those with credit card debt: The Federal Reserve hiked its key rate on Wednesday by a quarter%age point and, as a result, your own interest rates could rise almost immediately. The Fed raised the rate for federal funds by a quarter%age point, to 0.75% to 1% at the end of its two-day meeting on Wednesday, and signaled two further rates rises in 2017. In other words, the Fed announced an increase in how much banks will be charged to borrow money from Federal Reserve banks. (The Fed raises and lowers interest rates in an attempt to control inflation.) That increase will most likely eventually be passed on to consumers, said Sean McQuay, a credit card expert at the personal finance website NerdWallet. Many households with credit card debt — the average household carrying credit card debt has more than $16,000 — will likely take a hit. Here’s how the latest Fed rate increase could impact your credit cards and bank accounts.

Credit cards Because a rise in the federal funds rate means banks will likely pay more to borrow from the Federal Reserve, they may pass that cost on to consumers. Credit card interest rates are variable (banks and credit card companies should state that their rates are variable in the literature customers receive to learn about their cards), and they are tied to the prime rate, an index a few%age points above the federal funds rate. It is a benchmark that banks use to set home equity lines of credit and credit card rates; as federal funds rates rise, the prime rate does, too. As a result, credit card holders are likely to see their interest rates rise, and that will happen soon, said Greg McBride, the chief financial analyst at the personal finance company Bankrate, told MarketWatch.

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Written just before Yellen’s hike.

How Global Central Banks Have Set Interest Rates Since 2008 (Tel.)

After the financial crisis in 2008 central banks across the world cut their base lending rates to varying degrees, with some introducing negative rates of interest. [..] The US economy has performed strongly in recent months, leading Fed chair Janet Yellen to say that policymakers are now ready to change their stance on interest rates. The expectation is that there will be a steady hike in rates in the coming years and that, in the longer term, interest rates should be hovering around 3pc. Market traders are predicting three interest rate rise in the US this year alone. Ms Yellen has said that waiting too long to raise interest rates risked more rapid increases later if the economy started to overheat. If the Fed does see fit to continue to increase interest rates, it could signal the start of a similar pattern in other countries that have, thus far, kept rates very low since the financial crisis.

The Bank of England’s base lending rate stood at 5.75pc in July 2007 but was slashed repeatedly in the following months and years. Since March 2009 the Bank’s lending rate has been languishing below 1pc. In contrast to the expected direction of interest rates in the US, last August BoE Governor Mark Carney cut the rate again from 0.5pc to 0.25pc. [..] The ECB’s deposit rate has been at -0.4pc since early 2016 while the Swiss National Bank’s lending rate has been even lower than this. Mark Carney has said that the next move on interest rates in the UK will be an upward one but that it will be “limited and gradual”. However with the economic uncertainty surrounding Brexit it may be some time before rate rises catch up with the US. And it is likely to be some time before the ECB feels it can gamble with a significant rate rise.

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June 1 drop-off.

Beware the Debt Ceiling (BBG)

Euphoria has been pervasive in the stock market since the election. But investors seem to be overlooking the risk of a U.S. government default resulting from a failure by Congress to raise the debt ceiling. The possibility is greater than anyone seems to realize, even with a supposedly unified government. In particular, the markets seem to be ignoring two vital numbers, which together could have profound consequences for global markets: 218 and $189 billion. In order to raise or suspend the debt ceiling (which will technically be reinstated on March 16), 218 votes are needed in the House of Representatives. The Treasury’s cash balance will need to last until this happens, or the U.S. will default. The opening cash balance this month was $189 billion, and Treasury is burning an average of $2 billion per day – with the ability to issue new debt.

Net redemptions of existing debt not held by the government are running north of $100 billion a month. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has acknowledged the coming deadline, encouraging Congress last week to raise the limit immediately. Reaching 218 votes in favor of raising or suspending the debt ceiling might be harder than in any previous fiscal showdown. President Donald Trump almost certainly wants to raise the ceiling, but he may not have the votes. While Republicans control 237 seats in the House, the Tea Party wing of the party has in the past has steadfastly refused to go along with increases. The Republican Party is already facing a revolt on its right flank over its failure to offer a clean repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Many members of this resistance constitute the ultra-right “Freedom Caucus,” which was willing to stand its ground during previous debt ceiling showdowns.

The Freedom Caucus has 29 members, which means there might be only 208 votes to raise the ceiling. (It’s interesting to recall that, in 2013, President Trump himself tweeted that he was “embarrassed” that Republicans had voted to extend the ceiling.) It may be unrealistic to expect Democrats to save the day – at least initially. House Democrats may be more than happy to sit back and watch Republicans fight among themselves. If the Democrats eventually ride to the rescue, it probably won’t be until after a period of Republican-on-Republican violence. Nobody wants the Treasury to reach the point where it has to prioritize payment of interest over other obligations – a threshold where creditworthiness and market confidence will have begun to retreat. The bond market already seems to be reacting to this possibility, sending yields higher and prices lower, even as the S&P/Dow/Nasdaq have been on a tear and are showing scant concern over the potential turmoil.

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Change with an enormous impact. Do we really want this?

Amazon Is Going To Kill More American Jobs Than China Did (MW)

Amazon.com has been crowing about its plans to create 100,000 American jobs in the next year, but as with other recent job-creation announcements, that figure is meaningless without context. What Amazon won’t tell us is that every job created at Amazon destroys one or two or three others. What Jeff Bezos doesn’t want you to know is that Amazon is going to destroy more American jobs than China ever did. Amazon has revolutionized the way Americans consume. Those who want to shop for everything from books to diapers increasingly go online instead of to the malls. And for about half of those online purchases, the transaction goes through Amazon.

For the consumer, Amazon has brought lower prices and unimaginable convenience. I can buy almost any consumer product I want just by clicking on my phone or computer — or even easier, by just saying: “Alexa: buy me one” — and it will be shipped to my door within days or even hours for free. I can buy books for my Kindle, or music for my phone instantly. I can watch movies or TV shows on demand. But for retail workers, Amazon is a grave threat. Just ask the 10,100 workers who are losing their jobs at Macy’s. Or the 4,000 at The Limited. Or the thousands of workers at Sears and Kmart, which just announced 150 stores will be closing. Or the 125,000 retail workers who’ve been laid off over the past two years.

Amazon and other online sellers have decimated some sectors of the retail industry in the past few years. For instance, employment at department stores has plunged by 250,000 (or 14%) since 2012. Employment at clothing and electronics stores is down sharply from the earlier peaks as more sales move online. “Consumers’ affinity for digital shopping felt like it hit a tipping point in Holiday 2014 and has rapidly accelerated this year,” Ken Perkins, the president of Retail Metrics, wrote in a research note in December. And when he says “digital shopping,” he really means Amazon, which has increased its share of online purchases from about 10% five years ago to nearly 40% in the 2016 holiday season.

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Rutte lost big and is the winner.

PM Mark Rutte Sees Off Challenge Of Geert Wilders In Dutch Election (G.)

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, has seen off a challenge from the anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders to claim a resounding victory in parliamentary elections widely seen as a test for resurgent nationalism before key European polls. With nearly 95% of votes counted and no further significant changes expected, Rutte’s centre-right, liberal VVD was assured of 33 MPs, by far the largest party in the 150-seat Dutch parliament, national news agency ANP said. Wilders’ Freedom party (PVV) looked certain to finish second, but a long way behind on 20 seats, just ahead of the Christian Democrat CDA and liberal-progressive D66 which both ended up in third position on 19 seats. “Our message to the Netherlands – that we will hold our course, and keep this country safe, stable and prosperous – got through,” Rutte told a cheering crowd of supporters at the VVD’s election night party.

After Britain’s shock Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s presidential victory in the US, he added, the eyes of the world had been on the vote: “This was an evening when … the Netherlands said ‘Stop’ to the wrong sort of populism.” A first-place finish for the anti-immigration, anti-EU PVV would have rocked Europe. In France, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen is expected to make the second-round runoff in the presidential election in May, while the Eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is on target to win its first federal parliament seats later in the year. Relieved European politicians were quick to applaud. A spokesman for European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker hailed “a vote against extremists” while French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault tweeted: “Congratulations to the Netherlands for halting the advance of the far right.”

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What’s going to be left by the time Brexit is reality?

Northern Ireland Vote Jolts Already Disunited Kingdom (R.)

A nationalist surge at elections in Northern Ireland and a Scottish demand for a second independence referendum have raised doubts over whether the United Kingdom can hold together after it leaves the European Union. Last year’s referendum on EU membership saw England and Wales vote to leave while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain, straining the ties that bind the UK together. Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon dealt a blow to British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday by demanding a new vote on independence in late 2018 or early 2019, making her move much sooner than expected. But while the Scottish issue had been well flagged since the Brexit vote, a snap provincial assembly election in Northern Ireland produced a genuine shock: for the first time since the partition of Ireland in 1921, unionists lost their majority.

Nationalist party Sinn Fein, backed by many of Northern Ireland’s Catholics, narrowed the gap with the Democratic Unionist Party, whose support base is among pro-British Protestants, to just one seat. This has revived the slow-burning question of whether Northern Ireland will stay in the United Kingdom over the long term or become part of the Republic of Ireland. This could be achieved by a referendum, often referred to as a border poll. “A border poll might be 10 years away and it might still be lost, but clearly this election has shown a different dynamic in Northern Ireland politics,” said Peter Shirlow, Director of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool. “This opens the door for a different scenario.”

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No visa-free travel either.

Erdogan, Europe Head for Political Blow-Up They Can’t Afford (BBG)

Politicians in Turkey and the European Union stoking tensions for short-term electoral gain may have done lasting damage to vital economic and security ties. While relations between the EU and Turkey have been rocky for years, the furor of recent days – with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan freely hurling the Nazi epithet at his western antagonists – marks a rift that could prove irreparable. Turkey has been negotiating EU membership since 2005, but progress has come close to a halt. “Even without anyone saying it, Turkey’s EU membership talks will go into an irreversible coma now,” said Marc Pierini, who served as the EU’s ambassador to Turkey from 2006-2011 and is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, a Brussels-based think tank. “That will suit everybody, except Turkey’s democrats.”

[..] Pierini sees a wider clash between two populisms – one anti-Muslim in Europe, and the other fighting for the Islamization of the secular Turkish Republic – that risks an uncontrolled downward spiral. Europe’s leaders, he said, “are losing sight of the fundamentals, that you have a counter-revolution going on in Turkey,” where Erdogan is trying to reverse the westward course on which Mustafa Kemal Ataturk set the country in 1923. Hanging in the balance is a deal struck a year ago, under which Turkey agreed to cooperate in stemming the flow of refugees from Syria. In exchange, the EU provided more than $3 billion in economic aid and pledges both to “re-energize” Turkey’s stalled membership talks and deliver visa-free travel for Turks entering the 26-nation Schengen area, both of which are increasingly politically toxic for EU leaders.

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Where it hurts.

Turkey Protests Dutch Government by Returning 40 Holstein Cows (BBG)

Two months after a Turkish butcher broke the Internet, the country’s red meat producers are trying a novel way to break the Dutch government’s resolve. Members of the Ankara-based Beef and Lamb Producers Association have sent 40 Holstein cows back to the Netherlands to show their displeasure at a decision to prevent Turkish ministers from conducting political campaigning on their soil, the association’s chairman Bulent Tunc said in telephone interview. A fiery diplomatic spat has erupted between the two countries after the EU state, which is holding its own elections on Wednesday, refused access to Turkish ministers seeking to campaign on a referendum to expand President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers.

While Tunc called the number of cows being shipped away “symbolic,” he spoke of widespread support for the Turkish president’s stance among association members, who number 160,000. Those involved in the cattle trade are also considering putting a stop to purchases of tractors, equipment, feed and bull semen — and extending the boycott to Austria, which Tunc accused of sharing the Dutch government’s stance. “There are many alternatives,” he said, citing Brazil and Romania as possibilities. “Turkey is a huge market for livestock imports and countries are dying to get in.”

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More Greek tragedies. Imagine having to give up age-old family homes and/or land because you can’t afford taxes.

Spike In Number Of Greeks Renouncing Inheritance To Avoid Taxes (K.)

An increasing number of people are turning their backs on properties they have inherited to avoid paying the higher taxes that accompany them, according to new data from the country’s courts which show that applications for renunciation of property rose 86.4% last year compared to 2013. According to the latest statistics, which were made public on Wednesday, a total of 54,422 such applications were lodged with the country’s local courts last year, compared to 45,628 in 2015 and 29,199 in 2013. Experts attribute the rise to the tremendous increase in property taxes that successive governments have imposed over the years as part of bailout agreements with Greece’s creditors. According to official figures, property owners paid seven times more in taxes last year compared to 2009, the year before the crisis hit.

In 2009, property taxes did not exceed €500 million, while revenue collected from property reached €3.5 billion last year. Most of those who filed documents last year to renounce their inheritance did so in the country’s major cities, with 11,655 applications recorded in Athens, 5,563 in Thessaloniki, 1,938 in Piraeus and 1,473 in Patra. People are not only giving up family houses and apartments but also plots of lands. According to Nikos Stasinopoulos, formerly the head of the association representing Greek notaries, many people in the provinces give up inherited land even when the tax they would have to pay on it is relatively small. He offered the example of one beneficiary in the region of Gortynia who gave up a plot on which he faced a €150 levy, and a second who inherited a total of 98 plots of land in the region of Larissa from his father and aunt and was “relieved” to discover that he could hand them over to the state to avoid paying tax.

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We have lost all wisdom. Only native peoples have any left.

“..all Maori tribes regard themselves as part of the universe, at one with and equal to the mountains, the rivers and the seas.”

New Zealand River Granted Same Legal Rights As Human Being (G.)

In a world-first a New Zealand river has been granted the same legal rights as a human being. The local Maori tribe of Whanganui in the north island has fought for the recognition of their river – the third-largest in New Zealand – as an ancestor for 140 years. On Wednesday, hundreds of tribal representatives wept with joy when their bid to have their kin awarded legal status as a living entity was passed into law. “The reason we have taken this approach is because we consider the river an ancestor and always have,” said Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the Whanganui iwi [tribe]. “We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as in indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.”

The new status of the river means if someone abused or harmed it the law now sees no differentiation between harming the tribe or harming the river because they are one and the same. Chris Finlayson, the minister for the treaty of Waitangi negotiations, said the decision brought the longest-running litigation in New Zealand’s history to an end. “Te Awa Tupua will have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person,” said Finlayson in a statement. “The approach of granting legal personality to a river is unique … it responds to the view of the iwi of the Whanganui river which has long recognised Te Awa Tupua through its traditions, customs and practise.” Two guardians will be appointed to act on behalf of the Whanganui river, one from the crown and one from the Whanganui iwi.

Albert said all Maori tribes regarded themselves as part of the universe, at one with and equal to the mountains, the rivers and the seas. [..] “We can trace our genealogy to the origins of the universe,” said Albert. “And therefore rather than us being masters of the natural world, we are part of it. We want to live like that as our starting point. And that is not an anti-development, or anti-economic use of the river but to begin with the view that it is a living being, and then consider its future from that central belief.”

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Mar 152017
 
 March 15, 2017  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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Russell Lee Proprietor of small store in market square, Waco, Texas 1939

 


MSNBC’s Non-Story: Trump Made $150 Million, Paid 25% Tax Rate (ZH)
The Most Important Chart To See Before The Dutch Election (Ed Harrison)
Fragmentation Is the Solution, Not the Problem (CHS)
Economists Are Political Actors (Sapir)
One Chart That Captures the Debate Over Quantitative Easing (BBG)
Fed Expected To Raise Rates As US Economy Flexes Muscle (R.)
Britain Is Politically Dead From The Neck Down (Monbiot)
Turkish Paradoxes (K.)
World’s Spiders Eat More “Meat” Than All Of Mankind (G.)
Monsanto Accused of Ghostwriting Papers on Roundup Cancer Risk (BBG)
Monsanto Colluded With EPA, Could Not Prove Roundup Doesn’t Cause Cancer (ZH)
Greece: A Year of Suffering for Asylum Seekers (HRW)
As Greek Crisis Grinds On, Children Pay Price (K.)

 

 

Boomerang.

MSNBC’s Non-Story: Trump Made $150 Million, Paid 25% Tax Rate (ZH)

While Rachel Maddow drones on with the coherence of Janet Yellen, losing thousands of viewers by the minute, the MSNBC anchor was promptly scooped not only by the White House which revealed her “secret” one hour in advance, but also by the Daily Beast which reported that its contributor David Cay Johnston had obtained the first two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal income tax return, allegedly receiving them in the mail, and posted his “analysts” on his website, DCReport.org. According to the documents, Trump and his wife Melania paid $38 million in total income tax, consisting of $5.3 million in regular federal income tax, and an additional $31 million of “alternative minimum tax,” or AMT.

The White House statement confirmed the finding: “Before being elected President, Mr. Trump was one of the most successful businessmen in the world with a responsibility to his company, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required,” the White House said in a statement. “That being said, Mr. Trump paid $38 million dollars even after taking into account large scale depreciation for construction, on an income of more than $150 million dollars, as well as paying tens of millions of dollars in other taxes such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes and this illegally published return proves just that.” As the Beast notes, 2005 was the year that Trump, then a newly minted reality star, made his last big score as a real-life real estate developer, when he sold two properties, one on Manhattan’s west side and one in San Francisco, to Hong Kong investors, accounting for the lion’s share of his income that year.

“It is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns,” the White House statement concluded. “The dishonest media can continue to make this part of their agenda, while the President will focus on his, which includes tax reform that will benefit all Americans.” But the real story here is that there is no story: what MSNBC confirmed is that Trump made more money than some of his critics said he made in the period in question, and more importantly, that he paid a generous effective income tax rate, well above the 14.1% rate paid by Mitt Romney, and even higher than the 13.5% federal tax rate paid by Bernie Sanders in 2014.

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Three articles in a row that deal with decentralization, each from their own angle. Most important chart I don’t know, but a good indicator of the entire west moving away from traditional parties. The majority of votes may go to new parties, not established ones.

The Most Important Chart To See Before The Dutch Election (Ed Harrison)

The present Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, is the first Prime Minister from a party other than the two traditional centrist parties, the PvdA and the CDA, and their predecessor parties since the Dutch constitution and voting system was fundamentally changed in 1917. Clearly, we are seeing a change in voting patterns. But what is even more remarkable is that right now poling for parties that have always been in opposition is almost half of the vote for this election. Why it matters: We are in the midst of an economic upswing in Europe and globally as well. By all macro accounts, the Dutch economy is performing well. Yet, between them, previous ruling coalition parties —the VVD, PvdA, CDA, D66 and CU — are projected to only get 52% of the vote.


Source: Legatum Institute

They could even get fewer votes than the parties that have never been in government during the 100 years of the modern Dutch electoral system. People talk about voters turning to populists. But what happens to electoral patterns in a recession — or another sovereign debt crisis? And how would more populist platforms or parties in Europe deal with the existing economic orthodoxy, dominated by the stability and growth pact’s 3 and 60% deficit-debt hurdles? The next coalition in the Netherlands could be unstable, as it is likely to be cobbled together to exclude the PVV. Overall, the political risks in Europe may be high right now, but depending on how the economy does, the risks can rise further still.

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As I’ve addressed many times. Centralization is in the past.

Fragmentation Is the Solution, Not the Problem (CHS)

The fragmentation of political consensus (i.e. the consent of the citizenry) is presented by the Powers That Be and their media servants as being a disaster. The implicit fear is real enough: how can we rule the entire nation-empire if it fragments?\ As I noted the other day, fragmentation terrifies the Establishment of racketeers and insiders, for when the centrally-enforced rentier skims and scams collapse, those who own and control the rentier skims, scams and rackets will lose the source of their wealth and power. To understand why fragmentation is the solution rather than the problem, we have to look at how power is leveraged in centralized government. Let’s take the recent increase in a common pinworm treatment from $3 to $600: Pinworm prescription jumps from $3 to up to $600 a pill (via J.F.).

In a top-down, centralized hierarchy of political power (i.e. the central state), the pharmaceutical company only needs to lobby a few authorities in the central state to impose its rentier skim/scam on the entire nation. Lobbying/bribing a relative handful of federal officials and elected representatives is remarkably inexpensive: a financier or corporation only needs to focus on these few key players, and smoothing the PR pathway via a highly concentrated corporate media. A mere $5 million spent in the right places guarantees $100 million in future profits– profits earned not from open competition in a transparent market, but profits plundered as rentier skims: the product didn’t get any better or effective when the price leaped from $3 to $600, and competition was squelched by regulatory capture and high barriers to entry.

Now imagine if the pharmaceutical company had to lobby/bribe officials in each of America’s 3,142 counties to impose its rapacious rentier skim on the populace of each county. The lobbying/bribing effort will be orders of magnitude more costly and complex, and the national corporate media is less effective at the local level, where community groups and local media have some influence. If we look at the source of the 2008 Global Financial Meltdown, we find that the centralization of capital and power were the primary enablers of the meltdown. If the financial system were composed of 1,200 local banks, each of which had to comply with local and state regulations instead of five behemoth banks that had the capital and klout to buy Washington D.C.’s approval of their leverage and shady dealings, some hundreds of the smaller banks might have failed–but the system would have survived.

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Sapir is interesting. But economics is still not a science. Also addresses decentralization.

Economists Are Political Actors – Sapir (AHT)

[..] economists have appropriated a power that is not theirs. They have indeed penetrated the inner workings of the ruling apparatus. This is true at the State level, as to that of major international organizations, whether it is in the European Union, the OECD or the WTO. They are thus increasingly inclined to intervene on all social and political problems. But when they occur, it is by mixing an experts position and a position of political actors. This poses an immediate problem. For, if the expert is legitimate to speak on behalf of an acquaintance, the political actor must comply with the rule of democratic debate. By having it both ways, economists are exonerated from the problem of verification. The problem, therefore, is to know in which space one speaks, in that of pure competence or in that of political choices. If it is in the latter, it is no longer possible to accept that the “expertise” alone can decide the debate, expertise which can no longer be verified because any judgment would combine elements of competence and political values.

If one is in the political space, then the question of legitimacy arises. Now, this question immediately refers to the higher-level issue of sovereignty. In the space of politics, one asks first who is legitimate, and who is sovereign. But there is a problem that is deeper. The scientific credibility they claim to be is far from being indisputable, or undisputed. There are very serious reasons for this, which I explained in a book dating back to the early 2000s [1]. The very way in which the majority of the profession, the economists of the mainstream, understands the object of its work, is today debated and strongly criticized [2]. The methods used by these economists, the models on which they are based, are openly contested. [..] In fact, economists do politics, what nobody ever thinks to reproach them for, but they do politics by pretending not to do so, and by delegitimizing in advance any critical discourse. This is, of course, a serious attack on democracy.

[..] It is wrong here to speak of “Europe” as if it were an institution or a federation. The only reality of Europe is a historical reality, diverse, and above all a cultural reality. If you go to Vladivostok in Russia, you are in a European city. What is now a problem for democracy is the existence of the European Union, which is an institution and of which we can follow the evolution from the origin, that is to say the Maastricht Treaty. Indeed, the evolution of the European Union since 2007-2009 is a real problem. There, yes, unquestionably, we are in the presence of a structure that tends to develop itself without control or responsibility. The statements of Jean-Claude Juncker in the Greek election of January 2015 testify it [37].

The behavior of the EU and the institutions of the Euro zone call for an overall reaction because these institutions contest this freedom that is sovereignty [38]. Let us remind here the quotation from Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, the successor of the ineffable Barroso at the head of the European Commission: “There can be no democratic choice against European treaties”. This revealing statement dates from the Greek election of January 25, 2015, which precisely saw the victory of SYRIZA. In a few words, everything is said. It is the quiet and satisfied affirmation of the superiority of non-elected institutions over the voting of voters, of the superiority of the technocratic principle over the democratic principle.

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The mother of all asset bubbles.

One Chart That Captures the Debate Over Quantitative Easing

Not all price increases are created equal. Goldman Sachs raises questions about the success of the efforts by the Federal Reserve and its peers to spark inflation in the wider economy with a chart showing what’s happened with prices in the largest developed economies since the start of 2009. A replication of their analysis shows a big spread in gains. While wages would never show swings on par with the likes of high-yield bonds, the chart does illustrate how well financial markets recovered from the 2007 to 2009 meltdowns. By contrast, consumer price inflation, incomes and other such gauges of the “real” economy have put in muted performances. For politicians, the chart sums up the frustrations that have helped propel the populism that Brexiteers and Donald Trump rode to victory.

Few would question that the real economy would have been in much worse shape without the Fed, ECB and Bank of Japan’s determination to avert a financial-industry meltdown last decade, an effort that saw their balance sheets balloon by trillions of dollars. [..] Economic growth and wage increases have disappointed in recent years, depressed by poor productivity gains and historically low labor-force participation – dynamics that lie outside the purview of central banks. Now that monetary policy makers are leaving the onus on governments to address growth, and contemplating the easing off of stimulus, the big question for investors is how resilient markets will be. For now, optimism prevails – everything from corporate-bond premiums to emerging-market bonds are flashing confidence. It’s perhaps no wonder: though the Fed has ended its QE, continuing programs at the ECB and BOJ are driving almost $200 billion of purchases a month, according to Deutsche Bank estimates.

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Yawn…

Fed Expected To Raise Rates As US Economy Flexes Muscle (R.)

The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates for the second time in three months on Wednesday, encouraged by strong monthly job gains and confidence that inflation is finally rising to its target. A rate hike at the conclusion of the Fed’s latest two-day policy meeting is already baked into bond yields and financial markets overall, with investors putting the likelihood of such a move at 95%, according to CME Group’s FedWatch program. Attention is turning instead to whether the U.S. central bank will signal an even faster pace of monetary tightening this year than the current three rate hikes that it projected at the December policy meeting.

“Expectations have some catching up to do regarding the Fed’s need to ‘lean into the wind’ of rising inflation, strong growth, robust sentiment, easy financial conditions, and the likelihood of fiscal stimulus in 2018,” analysts from Goldman Sachs wrote ahead of the meeting. They said they regarded a fourth rate increase this year as a “close call.” A rate increase on Wednesday would push the Fed’s target overnight lending rate to a range of between 0.75% and 1.00%, still low but approaching the range that the central bank has typically operated within. The Fed is scheduled to release its latest policy statement along with updated economic forecasts at 2 p.m. EDT. Fed Chair Janet Yellen is due to hold a press conference half an hour later.

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“Will my family and I truly be better off by going it alone? Will we really be more safe and secure?”

Britain Is Politically Dead From The Neck Down (Monbiot)

Here is the question the people of Scotland will face in the next independence referendum: when England falls out of the boat like a block of concrete, do you want your foot tied to it? It would be foolish to deny that there are risks in leaving the United Kingdom. Scotland’s economy is weak, not least because it has failed to wean itself off North Sea oil. There are major questions, not yet resolved, about the currency it would use; its trading relationship with the rump of the UK; and its association with the European Union, which it’s likely to try to rejoin. But the risks of staying are as great or greater. Ministers are already trying to reconcile us to the possibility of falling out of the EU without a deal.

If this happens, Britain would be the only one of the G20 nations without special access to EU trade – “a very destructive outcome leading to mutually assured damage for the EU and the UK”, according to the Commons foreign affairs committee. As the government has a weak hand, an obsession with past glories and an apparent yearning for a heroic gesture of self-destruction, this is not an unlikely result. On the eve of the first independence referendum, in September 2014, David Cameron exhorted the people of Scotland to ask themselves: “Will my family and I truly be better off by going it alone? Will we really be more safe and secure?” Thanks to his machinations, the probable answer is now: yes.

In admonishing Scotland for seeking to protect itself from this chaos, the government applies a simple rule: whatever you say about Britain’s relationship with Europe, say the opposite about Scotland’s relationship with Britain. In her speech to the Scottish Conservatives’ spring conference, Theresa May observed that “one of the driving forces behind the union’s creation was the remorseless logic that greater economic strength and security come from being united”. She was talking about the UK, but the same remorseless logic applies to the EU. In this case, however, she believes that our strength and security will be enhanced by leaving. “Politics is not a game, and government is not a platform from which to pursue constitutional obsessions,” she stormed – to which you can only assent.

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“And the last of the paradoxes is that Turkish electoral law prohibits pre-election rallies abroad..”

Turkish Paradoxes (K.)

What Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to accomplish is perfectly clear: He wants to win the April 16 referendum on constitutional reform and thus gain the enhanced powers his ambitious nature so covets, some of which he already enjoys after turning last summer’s failed coup into an opportunity. His strategy is also clear: criminalizing any opposition, be it in actions or mere words, mainly at the expense of journalists and the Kurds, as well as condemning in summary fashion anyone perceived as being pro-Gulen. The second part of his strategy involves exporting his edginess and bullying rhetoric, first and foremost to the Aegean at the expense of Greece, and then to the European Union in a bid to win favor among Gray Wolves voters.

The Turkish president is also trying to strong-arm Western Europe into recognizing his prerogative (and that of his subordinates, though only those who vote his way next month) to a right that he himself openly scorns and denies his opponents. History is full of such paradoxes. Another is that while Erdogan accuses the West of Islamophobia, he is doing everything in his power to strengthen this sentiment because it will benefit him at the polls, as for years he has been cultivating the myth that he is the leader of all of Islam, both in the East and the West. In contrast to Erdogan, what the EU is trying to achieve vis-a-vis Ankara is not so clear, neither in terms of strategy nor even in tactics. Overall, it’s hard to know what it’s thinking about Turkey’s “European prospects” and, more specifically right now, about the pre-election speeches of Turkish pro-Erdogan officials in EU member-states.

Pre-election anxiety strengthened by the rising popularity of anti-systemic, anti-migrant, far-right forces, has been instrumental in Europe as well, especially in the Netherlands and Germany. It has resulted in bans against Turkish officials that demonstrate fear rather than faith in the strength of democracy, even when it is exposed to the test of regimes which are hardly democratic, such as Turkey. Meanwhile, fears that the European Union’s refugee deal with Turkey may collapse have prevented the German and Dutch leaderships from openly condemning the human rights violations in Turkey, resulting in them basically swallowing profound insults from Erdogan and some of his ministers referring to fascists and Nazis. Here’s another paradox: Turkey, which didn’t exactly shine in the war against Nazism, condemning the Netherlands, a victim of Nazism.

And the last of the paradoxes is that Turkish electoral law prohibits pre-election rallies abroad.

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I’d be interested to see a study like this done for bats. They eat a lot of insects. And there are lots of them: 1/3 of all mammals is a bat I recall reading.

World’s Spiders Eat More “Meat” Than All Of Mankind (G.)

The world’s spiders eat 400-800m tonnes of insects every year – as much meat and fish as humans consume over the same period, a study said Tuesday. In the first analysis of its kind, researchers used data from 65 previous studies to estimate that a total of 25m metric tonnes of spiders exist on Earth. Taking into account how much food spiders need to survive, the team then calculated the eight-legged creatures’ annual haul of insects and other invertebrates. “Our estimates … suggest that the annual prey kill of the global spider community is in the range of 400-800m metric tons,” they wrote in the journal The Science of Nature. This showed just how big a role spiders play in keeping pests and disease-carriers at bay – especially in forests and grasslands where most of them live.

“We hope that these estimates and their significant magnitude raise public awareness and increase the level of appreciation for the important global role of spiders,” the study authors wrote. For context, the study points out that humans consume about 400m tonnes of meat and fish every year, while whales feed on 280-500 tonnes and seabirds about 70m tonnes of seafood. There are about 45,000 known spider species, all of them meat-eating. And the critters can travel far to feed, swinging from place to place on silken threads that allow them to cover up to 30km (19 miles) in a day. Spiders are found everywhere from the Arctic to the most arid of deserts, in caves, on ocean shores, sand dunes and flood plains, the study authors said.

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Unbelievable.

Monsanto Accused of Ghostwriting Papers on Roundup Cancer Risk (BBG)

Monsanto was accused in court documents of ghostwriting scientific literature that led a U.S. regulator to conclude a key chemical in its Roundup weed killer shouldn’t be classified as carcinogenic. Lawyers suing the company on behalf of farmers and others, who claim exposure to glyphosate caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, alleged in a court filing which was partially blacked out until Tuesday that the Environmental Protection Agency “may be unaware of Monsanto’s deceptive authorship practice.” The filing was made public by a federal judge in San Francisco handling the litigation. The judge said last month he’s inclined to require a retired EPA official to submit to questioning by plaintiffs’ lawyers who contend he had a “highly suspicious” relationship with Monsanto.

The former official oversaw a committee that found insufficient evidence to conclude glyphosate causes cancer and left his job last year after his report was leaked to the press. The plaintiff lawyers said in the filing that Monsanto’s toxicology manager and his boss were ghost writers for two of the reports, including one from 2000, that the EPA committee relied on to reach its conclusion. Among the documents unsealed Tuesday was a February 2015 internal e-mail exchange at the company about how to contain costs for a research paper. The plaintiff lawyers cited it to support their claim that the EPA report is unreliable, unlike a report by an international agency that classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.

“A less expensive/more palatable approach” is to rely on experts only for some areas of contention, while “we ghost-write the Exposure Tox & Genetox sections,” one Monsanto employee wrote to another. The names of outside scientists could be listed on the publication, “but we would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak,” according to the e-mail, which goes to on say that’s how Monsanto handled the 2000 study.

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And this is even more unbelievable. After 25 years of Roundup being on the market, not one cancer study has been done.

Monsanto Colluded With EPA, Could Not Prove Roundup Doesn’t Cause Cancer (ZH)

newly unsealed court documents released earlier today seemingly reveal a startling effort on the part of both Monsanto and the EPA to work in concert to kill and/or discredit independent, albeit inconvenient, cancer research conducted by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)….more on this later. But, before we get into the competing studies, here is a brief look at the ‘extensive’ work that Monsanto and the EPA did prior to originally declaring Roundup safe for use (hint: not much). As the excerpt below reveals, the EPA effectively declared Roundup safe for use without even conducting tests on the actual formulation, but instead relying on industry research on just one of the product’s active ingredients.

“EPA’s minimal standards do not require human health data submissions related to the formulated product – here, Roundup. Instead, EPA regulations require only studies and data that relate to the active ingredient, which in the case of Roundup is glyphosate. As a result, the body of scientific literature EPA has reviewed is not only primarily provided by the industry, but it also only considers one part of the chemical ingredients that make up Roundup.” Meanwhile, if that’s not enough for you, Donna Farmer, Monsanto’s lead toxicologist, even admitted in her deposition that she “cannot say that Roundup does not cause cancer” because “[w]e [Monsanto] have not done the carcinogenicity studies with Roundup.”

[..] In early 2015, once it became clear that the World Health Organization’s IARC was working on their own independent study of Roundup, Monsanto immediately launched their own efforts to preemptively discredit any results that might be deemed ‘inconvenient’. That said, Monsanto, the $60 billion behemoth, couldn’t possibly afford the $250,000 bill that would come with conducting a legitimate scientific study led by accredited scientists. Instead, they decided to “ghost-write” key sections of their report themselves and plotted to then have the independent scientists just “sign their names so to speak.”

Finally, when all else fails, you call in those “special favors” in Washington D.C. that you’ve paid handsomely for over the years. And that’s where Jess Rowland, the EPA’s Deputy Division Director for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and chair of the Agency’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee, comes in to assure you that he’s fully exploiting his role as the “chair of the CARC” to kill any potentially damaging research…”if I can kill this I should get a medal.”

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Even HRW has moved to using the politically correct ‘asylum seekers’. for refugees.

Greece: A Year of Suffering for Asylum Seekers (HRW)

The EU-Turkey deal has trapped thousands of people in abysmal conditions on the Greek islands for the past year, while denying most access to asylum procedures and refugee protection, Human Rights Watch said today. This assessment of conditions is released ahead of the first anniversary of the agreement, signed on March 18, 2016. To carry out the deal, the Greek government has adopted a containment policy, keeping asylum seekers confined to the islands, including in the so-called refugee hotspots and other reception facilities, to facilitate speedy processing and return to Turkey. But continued arrivals, the mismanagement of aid funding, and the slow pace of decision-making, as well as the positive decisions of Greek appeals committees rejecting summary returns to Turkey as unsafe, have led to overcrowded and abysmal conditions on the Greek islands.

These factors, combined with the Greek authorities’ failure to properly identify vulnerable asylum seekers for transfer to the mainland, have resulted in deteriorating security conditions, unnecessary suffering, and despair. “The EU-Turkey deal has been an unmitigated disaster for the very people it is supposed to protect – the asylum seekers trapped in appalling conditions on Greek islands,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Greek authorities should ensure that people landing on Greece’s shores have meaningful access to asylum and put an end to the containment policy for asylum seekers. The deal’s flawed assumption that Turkey is a safe country for asylum seekers would allow Greece to transfer them back to Turkey without considering the merits of their asylum claims.

But in the months after the deal was completed, Greek asylum appeals committees have rightly ruled in many instances that Turkey does not provide effective protection for refugees and that asylum applications should be admitted for regular examination on their merits in Greece. Following EU pressure, however, Athens changed the composition of the appeals committees in June, and the restructured committees have ruled in at least 20 cases that Turkey was a safe country, even though it excludes non-Europeans from its refugee protection. That finding was challenged by two Syrian asylum seekers at Greece’s highest court, the Council of State, which heard their case on March 10. No one has yet been forcibly returned to Turkey on the grounds that their asylum application was inadmissible because they could obtain effective protection in Turkey. But if the Council of State turns down the appeal, it could pave the way for mass returns of asylum seekers to Turkey.

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Boy, the sadness…

As Greek Crisis Grinds On, Children Pay Price (K.)

In Greece’s grinding economic crisis, a home for abused children is now taking in those whose parents are struggling to feed them. It is perhaps the darkest sign of economic devastation in Greece, where traditionally strong family ties are starting to crumble after years of depression. A quarter of Greece’s workforce is unemployed and a quarter of its children live in poverty, according to United Nations figures, forcing parents to depend on grandparents for handouts. But pensions too have been cut a dozen times. In Athens, the Model National Nursery, set up a century ago for orphans of war, can hardly keep up with the number of parents turning to it for help. Unable to cover their basic needs, parents leave their children in the home all week.

Iro Zervaki, its head, says at least 40 children are on the waiting list, four times as many as a couple of years ago. The home sleeps 25 in a bare room with rows of beds draped in blue blankets, and lacks the staff and funds to increase capacity, she said. Most places are for abused children. Dozens of other children, all aged two to five, come in daily, but the days away from their parents are long. “We had incidents where children even attempted to leave, to run away, to go to their mother,” Zervaki said. In the buzzing playground, a little girl tugged the social worker’s blouse and yelled: “Miss! When will I go to my mum?” “They can’t tell the days apart so every day they ask: ‘Is it Friday?’” Anthoula Zarmakoupi, the social worker, said. “They know mum will pick them up at the weekend.”

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Mar 132017
 
 March 13, 2017  Posted by at 5:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Vincenzo Camuccini La Morte Di Cesare 1804

 

I don’t think Holland realized they planned their election on the Ides of March, don’t remember the date or event ever being mentioned when I lived there as a child. That Washington knew what it was doing when back in 2013 it set the end of the latest debt ceiling compromise to March 15 is not likely either. Nor is Janet Yellen deliberately setting the Fed’s ‘next’ rate hike on the date. They may all, in hindsight, wish they had possessed a little more historical knowledge.

When Shakespeare (and Plutarch before him) wrote ‘Beware the Ides of March’, he was talking about the murder of Julius Ceasar in 44 BC, by a group of senators, which included Brutus. But the incident can also be more broadly seen as the separation line between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. And now we’re getting somewhere interesting when looking at present day events. Democracy under threat of absolutism.

Leafing through the Dutch press, opinions differ on which politicians will profit most from the sudden row with Turkey that flared up over the weekend. Is it far right Wilders, who can now claim that he always foresaw things like this? Or is it “just a little less right” PM Rutte, who gets to look like a statesman and a decision maker? None of the other parties, there are 31 in total, look positioned to reap any gains from the bewildering developments.

The Netherlands is the ‘capital of fascism’, said Turkish foreign minister Cavusoglu on Sunday in France, where he ended up after being refused landing rights on Saturday. I know I’m biased, but no matter how you twist and turn it, that’s quite a statement about the country of Anne Frank, which lost most of its extensive Jewish population, and it was only a follow-up to Turkish president Erdogan earlier calling the Dutch ‘nazi’s and ‘remnants of fascists’.

Erdogan later managed ‘banana republic’. And declared that no-one can treat ‘his citizens’ the way a photograph taken Saturday night seemed to depict, in which a Turkish protester was attacked by a police dog. Apart from the question whether dogs should ever be used in quelling protests, this raises another issue crucial to the whole story. That is, Turkey insists that people who’ve lived in other countries for decades are nevertheless ‘its citizens’ (and not of their adopted countries).

As an aside, that story and photo of the dog – a German shepherd- reminds me of ‘When We Were Kings’, the movie about the Rumble in the Jungle fight in Kinshasa between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, in which the latter emerges, upon arrival, from his plane with a huge German shepherd and thereby loses the sympthy of the local people, and some say the whole fight, people had very bad memories about such dogs.

 

So what happened in Holland? About 10 days ago, someone announced there would be a meeting (a rally) on Saturday March 11 in a ‘party hall’ in Rotterdam, that would be attended by Turkish foreign minister Cavusoglu. This set off an alert inside the Dutch government, because in Germany similar meetings had been cancelled in the preceding days. The reason for the cancellations is that these are political rallies to gain support from Turks living abroad for an April 16 referendum designed to give Erdogan very far-reaching powers.

Turkey claims the right to freedom of speech and political gathering. And they would perhaps have been granted this, if not for the July 15 2016 coup in the country, and especially its aftermath. Both Germany and Holland have been aware of Erdogan and his people putting pressure on their ‘citizens’ living abroad to for instance report ‘hidden’ Gülen supporters to embassies and consulates and mosques. In other words, to create divisions between one group of (Dutch or German) Turks and another.

Needless to say, neither Berlin not The Hague wants anything to do with that. But they want to reach some sort of compromise. No matter how they may feel about the country post-coup, Turkey is a NATO partner and the EU has an all-important deal with Ankara to keep refugees away from Europe. Even though it was obvious from the start that this was the dumbest deal with the devil anyone since Faust has ever signed, elections trump common sense and principles.

Over the next days, the Dutch tell Ankara they consider foreign minister Cavusoglu’s planned rally ‘undesirable’. Rotterdam mayor Aboutaleb, a Dutch-Morrocan muslim, bans the planned meeting. But the Turks respond that Cavusoglu will come no matter what, and for Holland to arrange an alternative venue. The Dutch don’t like this at all, but try to compromise with a meeting with a small group of invitees. On Friday, Turkey suggests the Rotterdam residence of the Turkish consul. Aboutaleb is not amused: the location of the home ‘invites’ the gathering of a large number of people outside.

Saturday morning comes with a lot of discussion. The consulate is suggested as a venue. Then, Turkey sends a message to a large group of Dutch Turks to come to the consulate. And while talks are ongoing, Cavusoglu tells CNNTürk TV that if Holland revokes his plane’s landing rights, something that has been mentioned in negotiations only as a last resort, there will be ‘economic and political sanctions’.

 

Rutte and his crew see no other choice than to do just that: revoke the landing rights. To which the response is to drive the -female- Turkish Minister of Family Affairs, Kaya, who’s in Germany, to Rotterdam. There were allegedly even multiple convoys, with decoys and all, so Holland wouldn’t know what car she was in. Meanwhile, the allegations of nazism and fascism had started to be unloaded on The Hague.

As someone remarked: all Erdogan wanted was a photo-op, a picture with 10,000 Turks waving their flags in the streets of Holland. Things turned out different. Minister Kaya made it to Rotterdam, but was refused entry into the consulate, declared an undesirable alien and told she must return to Germany. It took many hours, but finally she was put into a different car than the one she came in and driven back across the border.

From where she took a private plane to Istanbul. Turkey apparently was not clear on the difference between someone having a diplomatic passport and having diplomatic immunity. These things are regulated in the Vienna Convention, and Turkey wants Holland to be found in violation of it. But it doesn’t look like they are. And there are a few other things as well:

 

 

What I don’t get: where in the world does it say that you are free to hold political campaign events in any country you choose? Can you see Guatemalan rallies in the streets of LA? With the risk of clashes between rival groups? And what would Turkey say if an anti-Erdogan protest were held in Berlin tomorrow? You think political rallies by foreigners are allowed in Turkey?

And then the rioting started late Saturday night in Rotterdam. What struck me in the pictures of the riots, and in other footage, is how many times they contain men making hand-signs of either the Muslim Brotherhood or the Grey Wolves, an ultra right wing Turkish group. I don’t get how that fits in the streets of countries like Germany and Holland, and I don’t get how it fits in with the man who’s seen as a demi-god in Turkey, founder in 1923 of the secular country of Turhey, Kemal Atatürk.

It looks like Erdogan is trying to idolize Atatürk, as any Turkish leader would have to do to get votes, and at the same time make the country an islamic state, something Atatürk definitely did not want, but which could Erdogan hand a majority for the referendum next month. Why else does he accuse western Europe of being Islamophobic?

Oh, and how does Michael Flynn fit into this picture? Trump’s former security adviser worked for Erdogan -indirectly- while sitting in on security meetings, and pushed the US to extradite Erdogan’s no. 1 enemy, Fethullah Gülen. If Washington had had proof that Gülen was behind the coup last year, one would think he’d already have been extradited. Flynn’s role gets curiouser by the day. Is this why he was cast out of the Trump team? For being a foreign agent?

 

Also curious is the fact that Erdogan on Friday, the day before the Holland situation played out, was visiting Russia to meet with Putin. He arrived back home to say something about an anti-missile defense system they could build together, and suggested that Putin agreed with him on the danger of the Kurdish fighters in Syria and beyond. Only, Putin never acknowledged such a thing, and Putin has never forgiven Erdogan for downing a Russian jet in November 2015. He just waits for the right payback time. But Turkey is a NATO country.

The EU should never have kept the Union membership carrot dangling in front of Erdogan’s face, knowing full well Turkey would never be accepted as a member, zero chance. It should not have signed the refugee deal either; that could only ever have blown up into its face. The first and major victim of that will once again be Greece. Another country that Erdogan has been trying to bully.

Turkish jets violating Greek airspace are so common people tend to ignore them. Recently, army ships have been sailing into Greek waters too. The idea seems to be some sort of preparation for contesting the 1923 Lausanne Treaty , which settled ownership disputes post-Ottoman Empire. There are so many islands and islets and rocks, anyone who wants to can always find something to fight over. And then of course there’s still Cyprus; negotiations are ongoing, but so are efforts to frustrate them.

And it’s not that the Turkish economy is doing so well, the lira lost 30% in 2016 and another 10% so far this year. But unlike Greece, Turkey still has its own currency, and therefore the ability to devaluate it and absorb financial shocks. Still, 40% in 15 months is a lot. Imports are getting very expensive. Maybe that’s what Erdogan is trying to drown out with his fighting words.

 

This afternoon, Turkey’s Parliament Speaker compared Dutch PM Rutte to Hitler, Franco AND Mussolini. Pol Pot must have slipped his mind for a moment. Denmark, France, Angela Merkel and Brussels have all told Turkey to tone down. But at the same time, German TV network ZDF reports there are 30 more Erdogan rallies and meetings planned in the country in the next month.

Erdogan is trying to let his people see him as a strongman, not afraid of anyone. He only has to paint this picture for another month, through his state owned TV channels, and he’ll get his near absolute powers. Meanwhile, the US and all of the EU are too busy trying to manage their own election issues. But that may not be such a wise choice. On April 17, they may be faced with a near dictator as member of NATO, and with a pro-Islam and anti-EU agenda.

Erdogan is done winning in Europe, and it was even only ever for his home audience to begin with. His biggest gains in votes -and he looks to be 48%-52% behind right now- will have to come from the war theater, where he pretends to fight ISIS only to send his army to kill the Kurds. It would be a good thing if besides Putin there were a few other powers to tell him that’s a no-go. Donald?! Turkey will never beat the Kurds, it’s just an endless bloody battle. Time to make Kurdistan a nation, one way or the other.

It all sort of fits in with the whole political picture these days, doesn’t it? And with Ceasar and the Ides of March.

 

 

Mar 132017
 
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DPC The Mammoth Oak at Pass Christian, Mississippi 1900

 


The Ides of March Could Be A Critical Turning Point For The Stock Market (MW)
The US As The “Cleanest Dirty Shirt” (Snider)
A Third Of American Families Have ‘Roller Coaster’ Finances (MW)
US Interest Rate Rise To Deepen Developing Countries’ Debt Crisis (G.)
The Issue Is The Leverage And Instability Of The System (Rickards)
Who Bleeds When the Wolves Bite? (CNBC)
When It Comes to Wall Street, Preet Bharara Is No Hero (PP)
China’s Economic Miracle Is Over (Friedman)
Iceland Exits Capital Controls Eight Years After Banking Crash (BBG)
Steve Keen Is In The House (YT)
We Will All Need A Stiff Drink To Swallow Hammond’s Austerity (G.)
No Proof Russia Disrupts UK Democracy, But They Can – Boris Johnson (RT)
Brussels Keeping 2015 Emergency Grexit Plan Locked Away (K.)
Fukushima Evacuees Face ‘Forced’ Return As Subsidies Withdrawn (G.)
Police Raid Athens Squats, Detain Dozens Of Refugees (K.)
What Would You Do To Keep Your Children Alive? (I’Cept)

 

 

The Fed, the debt ceiling and the Dutch election. All this Wednesday, March 15.

The Ides of March (Latin: Idus Martiae, Late Latin: Idus Martii) is a day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to 15 March. It was marked by several religious observances and became notorious as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC..

The Ides of March Could Be A Critical Turning Point For The Stock Market (MW)

As much as Julius Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March signaled an inflection point in Roman history, March 15 may also mark a watershed moment for the U.S. stock market with the Federal Reserve poised to seek closure to its loose monetary policy regime. “The coming week has the potential to be huge for trading opportunities,” said Colin Cieszynski, chief market strategist at CMC Markets, in a note. “Everything centers around the Ides of March…with a number of key developments coming out both on [March] 15 and 16.” The Fed’s monetary policy decision on Wednesday will take center stage with markets nearly 100% certain of a rate increase following solid February jobs data. The focus will be on the Fed’s statement rather than the decision itself.

“The commentary will help determine how many more hikes the market has to get used to and then when it has to start preparing,” said Bob Pavlik at Boston Private Wealth. If the central bank strikes a hawkish tone, it could trigger a selloff in the market although Pavlik expects Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen to keep her comments positive to avoid upsetting the market. Still, investors should keep in mind is that this is the third hike in the current tightening cycle, and history is working against the market. Since 1971, stocks have fallen an average of 2.2% on the third hike over the following three months, said Tom Lee at Fundstrat Global Advisors. To be sure, there are always exceptions. Stocks rose sharply in the following three months after the Fed hiked for a third time in both June 1984 and September 2004, he said.

Most analysts agree that stocks have largely priced in a rate hike of 25 basis points. But there are still bargains to be found in automobile, semiconductors, consumer finance and insurance sectors, which are cheap but benefit from a hawkish Fed, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Aside from the Fed, eight other central banks are scheduled to meet next week, including the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England, providing a quick insight into whether other countries will adjust their policies in response to the Fed. Meanwhile, Trump is expected to present his preliminary budget request to the Congress on Thursday, outlining his administration’s priorities. It will serve as a critical test for whether the euphoria that propelled stocks to record territory in anticipation of tax reforms and ramped up fiscal spending under President Donald Trump is warranted.

The S&P 500 has risen 4.5% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA has gained 5.3% in the first 50 days since Trump took office, the best ever for a GOP president. However, if Trump’s budget proposal fails to meet the market’s expectations, it could spark a major unwinding in positions, leading to a sharp drop in prices. “Thursday could be the day the instant speed of markets crashes into the glacial speed of government,” said Cieszynski.

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Boy, what a bubble this is turning into.

The US As The “Cleanest Dirty Shirt” (Snider)

It is surely one of the primary reasons why many if not most people have so much trouble accepting the trouble the economy is in. With record high stock prices leading to record levels of household net worth, it seems utterly inconsistent to claim those facts against a US economic depression. Weakness might be more easily believed as some overseas problem, leading to only ideas of decoupling or the US as the “cleanest dirty shirt” – the US economy has problems, but how bad can they be? Yet, despite asset price levels and even record debt, all those prove is just how disconnected those places have become from what used to be an efficient way to redistribute financial resources.

According to the Fed’s Z1 report, Household net worth climbed by $2 trillion in Q4 alone to $92.8 trillion. That is a 69% increase from the low in Q1 2009, even though Final Sales to Domestic Purchasers have grown by just 30% in that same time. The wealth effect is dead, or, more specifically, it never was.

From the view of net worth, the increase to record debt levels seems manageable. From the more appropriate view of income and economy, it does not, even though US debt levels have grown more slowly post-crisis. That would mean debt is partway between assets and economy, sort of splitting the difference of what monetary policy believes and what it, at best, “achieved.”

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The Great Volatility.

A Third Of American Families Have ‘Roller Coaster’ Finances (MW)

When it comes to making money, consistency may be almost as important as quantity. Families that had large fluctuations in their incomes — even when it was a 25% gain — were more likely than those with stable incomes to say they wouldn’t be able to come up with $2,000 for an unexpected need, according to a study by Pew Charitable Trusts released this week. The study looked at “income volatility” among more than 5,600 families the term for a year-over-year change in annual income of 25% or more, between 2014 and 2015. “Volatility in general, regardless of the direction, is very disruptive to families,” said Erin Currier, the director of Pew’s financial security and mobility project, who called that volatility “a roller coaster” for many Americans. “It makes it harder for them to plan.”

More than a third of those households surveyed experienced these large changes in their incomes from 2014 to 2015, Pew found. That number has been fairly consistent over time, Currier said. Households of various incomes see major dips and drops, but since volatility is measured as a percentage change in income, those with lower incomes had the lowest threshold for qualifying as having volatile incomes, Pew’s report says. In fact, there were more households in the years Pew studied that saw a gain in their incomes than those who saw dips, which is probably less surprising given that the economy was growing in those years and many families were finally getting back on their feet after the Great Recession.

Roller coaster finances are more common than many people realize. A quarter of people saw their incomes rise or drop by 30% or more, according to an analysis of 27 million Chase bank accounts between 2013 and 2014 by the J.P. Morgan Chase Institute JPM, -0.32% a J.P. Morgan Chase think tank. Those fluctuations were about the same, regardless of account holders’ incomes. One problem: Although income and spending both change, they don’t always change in the same direction, which can create budgeting problems. Put bluntly, some people keep spending even when they and their families experience a reversal of fortune.

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Been warning about this for a long time. It could get completely out of hand. Much of it is private debt.

US Interest Rate Rise To Deepen Developing Countries’ Debt Crisis (G.)

Developing countries are struggling with steep rises in their debt payments after being hit by a double whammy of lower commodity prices and a stronger dollar, with more pain to come once the US central bank raises interest rates this week, campaigners warn. The Jubilee Debt Campaign said that some of the world’s poorest countries have seen the cost of repaying their debts – as a proportion of government revenue – hit the highest level for a decade. Government coffers have been depleted by lower revenues from commodity exports and the size of dollar-denominated debts has risen as the US currency has strengthened.

The dollar has risen more than 6% against a basket of other big currencies over the past six months as investors anticipate that big spending plans by President Donald Trump will boost US growth and that the US Federal Reserve will follow up December’s interest rate rise with more increases this year. After the latest US jobs numbers on Friday beat expectations, a rate rise from the Fed’s policymakers when they meet this Wednesday is seen as imminent among investors. That would further increase the cost of debt payments for poor countries, which have taken out big loans in recent years from western countries where interest rates have been low, said the Jubilee Debt Campaign.

Tim Jones, economist at the campaign group, warned the rising cost of debt payments was putting developing countries under extra strain just when they needed to be spending more money at home to meet the UN sustainable development targets – a series of goals for human development intended to be achieved by 2030. “The rapid increase in debt payments in many countries comes after a boom in lending, a fall in commodity prices, the rising value of the US dollar and now increasing dollar interest rates,” said Jones. He warned there was a danger that loans from the IMF and other lenders would be used to bail out “reckless lenders” who were at risk of not getting repayments from crisis-hit countries. That would lead to year of economic stagnation, just as in debt-laden Greece, Jones added. “Instead, reckless lenders should be made to shoulder some of the costs of recent economic shocks by accepting lower payments,” he said.

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Has been for may years.

The Issue Is The Leverage And Instability Of The System (Rickards)

[..] expectations of a Fed rate hike March 15 are now near 100% based on surveys of economists and fed funds futures contracts. Markets are looking at things like business cycle indicators, but that’s not what the Fed is watching these days. The Fed is desperate to raise rates before the next recession (so they can cut them again) and will take every opportunity to do so. But as I’ve said before, the Fed is getting ready to raise into weakness. It may soon have to reverse course. My view is that the Fed will raise rates 0.25% every other meeting (March, June, September and December) until 2019 unless one of three events happens — a stock market crash, job losses or deflation. But right now the stock market is booming, job creation is strong and inflation is emerging. So none of the usual speed bumps is in place. The coast is clear for a rate hike this Wednesday.

But growth is being financed with debt, which has now reached epic proportions. A lot of money has been printed since 2007, but debt has expanded much faster. The debt bubble can be seen at the personal, corporate and sovereign levels. If the debt bubble bursts, things can get very messy. In a liquidity crisis, investors who think they have “money” (in the form of stocks, bonds, real estate, etc.) suddenly realize that those investments are not money at all — they’re just assets. When investors all sell their assets at once to get their money back, markets crash and the panic feeds on itself. What would it take to set off this kind of panic? In a super-highly leveraged system, the answer is: Not much. It could be anything: a high-profile bankruptcy, a failed deal, a bad headline, a geopolitical crisis, a natural disaster and so on. This issue is not the catalyst; the issue is the leverage and instability of the system.

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Bit curious coming from a judge, but good title.

Who Bleeds When the Wolves Bite? (CNBC)

The question posed was, “Who Bleeds When the Wolves Bite?” It’s the title of an evocative paper written by Leo Strine, the chief justice of the Delaware Supreme Court. By wolves, he means hedge funds, and his answer, found within a 113-page paper set to be published next month in the Yale Law Review, is that average American investors are the ones getting bit by the existing corporate-governance system. While little known in circles outside the highest ranks of corporate America, Strine’s voice is among one of the most powerful in the business community. That’s because two-thirds of American companies are legally based in Delaware, meaning corporate litigation often takes place in that state, so his opinions on such topics can hold tremendous sway.

Strine’s paper is one of the strongest repudiations to date of hedge-fund activism — or what critics of the industry describe as the practice of investors with major stock holdings aggressively forcing companies into changes that will quickly pump up stock prices, often without regard for those same companies’ long-term health. Strine looks at what he calls a “flesh and blood” perspective on how hedge funds, and specifically hedge-fund activists, are harmful to typical American investors. He calls regular Americans “human investors,” distinguishing from the “wolf packs” of hedge funds. Human investors are those who invest in the capital markets and save for events like retirement or college for their children, according to Strine. Strine’s main argument is that the “current corporate governance system … gives the most voice and the most power to those whose perspectives and incentives are least aligned with that of ordinary Americans.”

Strine’s critics — largely hedge funds and hedge fund advisers — privately criticized the paper, arguing that a justice should not be on the record condemning a group of people who tend to litigate in his court and the lower Delaware courts. Additionally, they say his paper does not offer much in the way of prescriptions for how to fix what he sees as a flawed system. They declined to be quoted, fearing retribution from Strine.

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A history lesson.

When It Comes to Wall Street, Preet Bharara Is No Hero (PP)

After his election in 1968, President Richard Nixon asked Robert Morgenthau, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to resign. Morgenthau refused to leave voluntarily, saying it degraded the office to treat it as a patronage position. Nixon’s move precipitated a political crisis. The president named a replacement. Powerful politicians lined up to support Morgenthau. Morgenthau had taken on mobsters and power brokers. He had repeatedly prosecuted Roy Cohn, the sleazy New York lawyer who had been Senator Joe McCarthy’s right-hand man. (One of Cohn’s clients and protégés was a young New York City real estate developer named Donald Trump.) When Cohn complained that Morgenthau had a vendetta against him, Morgenthau replied, “A man is not immune from prosecution merely because a United States Attorney happens not to like him.”

Morgenthau carried that confrontational attitude to the world of business. He pioneered the Southern District’s approach to corporate crime. When his prosecutors took on corporate fraud, they did not reach settlements that called for fines, the current fashion these days. They filed criminal charges against the executives responsible. Before Morgenthau, the Department of Justice focused on two-bit corporate misdeeds—Ponzi schemes and boiler room operations. Morgenthau changed that. His prosecutors went after CEOs and their enablers—the accountants and lawyers who abetted the frauds or looked the other way. “How do you justify prosecuting a nineteen-year old who sells drugs on a street corner when you say it’s too complicated to go after the people who move the money?” he once asked. Morgenthau’s years as United States Attorney were followed by political success. He was elected New York County District Attorney in 1974, the first of seven consecutive terms for that office.

There are parallels between Morgenthau, and Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District who was fired by President Trump this weekend. Like Morgenthau, the 48-year old Bharara leaves the office of US Attorney for the Southern District celebrated for taking on corrupt and powerful politicians. Bharara prosecuted two of the infamous “three men in a room” who ran New York state: Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the assembly and Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate majority leader. He won convictions of a startling array of local politicians, carrying on the work of the Moreland Commission, an ethics inquiry created and then dismissed by New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (This weekend, Bharara cryptically tweeted that “I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like,” a suggestion that he was fired as he was pursuing cases pointed at Trump or his allies.)

But the record shows that Bharara was much less aggressive when it came to confronting Wall Street’s misdeeds. President Obama appointed Bharara in 2009, amid the wreckage of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. He inherited ongoing investigations into the collapse, including a probe against Lehman Brothers. He also inherited something he and his young charges found more alluring: insider-trading cases against hedge fund managers. His office focused obsessively on those. At one point, the Southern District racked up a record of 85-0 in those cases. (Appeals courts would later throw out two prominent convictions, infuriating him and dealing blows to several other cases.)

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I know it’s George Friedman, but he’s right.

China’s Economic Miracle Is Over (Friedman)

Sustained double-digit economic growth is possible when you begin with a wrecked economy. In Japan’s case, the country was recovering from World War II. China was recovering from Mao Zedong’s policies. Simply by getting back to work an economy will surge. If the damage from which the economy is recovering is great enough, that surge can last a generation. But extrapolating growth rates by a society that is merely fixing the obvious results of national catastrophes is irrational. The more mature an economy, the more the damage has been repaired and the harder it is to sustain extraordinary growth rates. The idea that China was going to economically dominate the world was as dubious as the idea in the 1980s that Japan would. Japan, however, could have dominated if its growth rate had continued. Since that was impossible, the fantasy evaporates — and with it, the overheated expectations of the world.

In 2008, China was hit by a double tsunami. First, the financial crisis plunged its customers into a recession followed by extended stagnation, and the appetite for Chinese goods contracted. Second, China’s competitive advantage was cost, and they now had lower-cost competitors. China’s deepest fear was unemployment, and the country’s interior remained impoverished. If exports plunged and unemployment rose, the Chinese would face both a social and political threat of massive inequality. It would face an army of the unemployed on the coast. This combination is precisely what gave rise to the Communist Party in the 1920s, which the Party today fully understands. So, a solution was proposed that entailed massive lending to keep non-competitive businesses operating and wages paid. That resulted in even greater inefficiency and made Chinese exports even less competitive.

The Chinese surge had another result. China’s success with boosting low-cost goods in advanced economies resulted in an investment boom by Westerners in China. Investors prospered during the surge, but it was at the cost of damaging the economies of China’s customers in two ways. First, low-cost goods undermined businesses in the consuming country. Second, investment capital flowed out of the consuming countries and into China. That inevitably had political repercussions. The combination of post-2008 stagnation and China’s urgent attempts to maintain exports by keeping its currency low and utilize irrational banking created a political backlash when China could least endure it — which is now.

China has a massive industrial system linked to the appetites of the United States and Europe. It is losing competitive advantage at the same time that political systems in some of these countries are generating new barriers to Chinese exports. There is talk of increasing China’s domestic demand, but China is a vast and poor country, and iPads are expensive. It will be a long time before the Chinese economy generates enough demand to consume what its industrial system can produce.

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Greece has had capital controls for only 18 months or so.

Iceland Exits Capital Controls Eight Years After Banking Crash (BBG)

Iceland is back. The government at a hastily called press conference on Sunday in Reykjavik announced that effective Tuesday it will lift almost all of the remaining capital controls, allowing its citizens, corporations and pension funds full access to the global capital markets. The move ends an eight-year struggle to clean up after the 2008 banking collapse, which triggered the worst recession in more than six decades and enveloped the north Atlantic island of 340,000 people in political turmoil. Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson said this final step will “create more trust in the Icelandic economy,” with the most significant move being the removal of a requirement for businesses to return foreign exchange. “That will make direct foreign investment easier,” he said in an interview after the press conference.

The controls are being lifted as Iceland is booming, helped by a record surge in tourism. The economy is even at risk of overheating with money flowing back into the economy as the controls have been eased in steps. The economy last year surged 7.2%, driven by household spending and investments. Unemployment is down at about 3% and inflation is under control. The krona has rallied about 18% against the euro over the past year, in part as traders have been attracted to the nation’s higher interest rates. The government hopes these next moves will ease pressure on the currency to appreciate, according to Benediktsson. “We don’t have any exact hints as to what comes next,” he said. While pension funds have taken full use of exemptions that were granted in the past years, the public hasn’t rushed to invest abroad after other controls were eased, he said.

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In Britain, at least Steve gets invited. What good it will do is another matter.

Steve Keen Is In The House (YT)

This talk on whether we can avoid another financial crisis, and what caused the last one, was arranged by New City Agenda and held in a committee room of the House of Commons. I cover what caused the crisis (credit), why mainstream economics erroneously ignores credit, and the empirical data showing which countries face continued stagnation, and which countries face a future private debt crisis.

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Alcohol and politics?!

We Will All Need A Stiff Drink To Swallow Hammond’s Austerity (G.)

Yes, the Conservative party that for a long time believed the state had no role to play in industrial policy is now rediscovering the wheel – but has dismissed Michael Heseltine, who did not need to rediscover it. And the Treasury is placing great emphasis on the importance of “productivity” – ie the supply side of the economy – to provide the future growth on which higher living standards and tax revenues ultimately depend.

For the uncomfortable truth, underlined by the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation last week, is that, after a splurge of consumer spending largely financed by borrowing, the outlook for real incomes is pretty bleak – indeed, there are already signs of a slowdown, and the OECD is forecasting economic growth this year of a mere 1.6%. And the OBR’s post-Brexit forecasts are frightening. But austerity in the public sector is set to continue. Let no one be in doubt: this was a policy choice on the part of George Osborne in 2010, and it is a policy choice now. Underlying it all is the Conservative party’s obsession with shrinking the size of the state and minimising the so called “tax burden” – a “burden” which helps to ensure we have decent hospitals, schools and infrastructure generally.

There can be little doubt that, on his own terms, the decision of Chancellor Lawson in the 1988 budget to bring the top rate of income tax down from 60% to 40%, and the basic rate from 27% to 25%, was what is known in the trade as a “game changer”. Total taxation as a proportion of national income has been around 34% in recent years. But when the economy is operating close to capacity, as the OBR believes it now is, in a decent society the ratio of taxation to national income should be considerably higher – even close to 40% – in order to provide decent public services. For all their conciliatory talk, May and Hammond are pursuing Osborne’s austerity policies. Meanwhile, although for all his efforts Osborne failed to achieve anything like a budget surplus for the nation, he has managed – while capitalising on the lecture circuit upon his experience in office – to achieve a healthy budget surplus for himself. Some people are shameless.

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Lame and empty.

No Proof Russia Disrupts UK Democracy, But They Can – Boris Johnson (RT)

Russia is planning to use “all sorts of dirty tricks” to meddle in the political life of European countries, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned, though he admitted there is “no evidence” that Moscow is actually involved in anything of the kind. “We have no evidence the Russians are actually involved in trying to undermine our democratic processes,” Johnson told British ITV’s Peston on Sunday show. “But what we do have is plenty of evidence that the Russians are capable of doing that,” he insisted adding that Russians “have been up to all sorts of dirty tricks.” Remarkably, Johnson made these statements just weeks before his visit to Russia, during which he will meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. His visit would be the first made to Moscow by a British Foreign Minister in five years.

When asked what the UK’s approach to Russia should be now, he said that Britain needs to take “a twin-track approach” towards Russia. “As the prime minister has said, we’ve got to engage but we have to beware,” Johnson stated. Despite constantly saying there was solid proof that Russia had meddled in the affairs of other countries, such as by bringing down French TV stations and interfering in US elections, he failed to provide any concrete evidence to back his accusations. Johnson also implicated that Russia was involved in the situation in Montenegro, where a group of Serbian nationalists was arrested in October of 2016 suspected of planning to carry out armed attacks on the day of the country’s parliamentary elections.

The British Telegraph newspaper later reported that the group was sponsored and controlled by the Russian intelligence officers and had actually tried to stage a coup targeting its Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic with “the support and blessing” of Moscow. However, the paper’s report turned out to be based mostly on the assumptions of unidentified sources and Montenegrin Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime, Milivoje Katnic, confirmed that, despite the participation of several suspected “nationalists from Russia,” there was no “evidence that the state of Russia is involved in any sense.”

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Democracy, Transparency, EU.

Brussels Keeping 2015 Emergency Grexit Plan Locked Away (K.)

European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici has turned down a request from former Greek minister Anna Diamantopoulou for Brussels to make public the emergency plan it drafted in the summer of 2015 for the possibility of a Greek exit from the eurozone. Diamantopoulou, who also served as a European commissioner between 1999 and 2004, wrote to Moscovici earlier this year following a revival of Grexit speculation and asked for the plan to be published so Greeks could be aware of the dangers involved. However, Moscovici suggested in his response, which Diamantopoulou received a few days ago, that publishing the draft would simply fuel damaging speculation and would not be in the public interest as it would endanger financial, monetary and economic stability in Greece.

He also said that the document contains some highly sensitive issues. Parts of the plan, which is said to include emergency humanitarian aid for Greece, were discussed at the College of Commissioners in Brussels a few days before the July 5 referendum in 2015. “In our view, the public interest is best served when citizens know the whole truth about issues that affect their future,” Diamantopoulou, who now heads the Diktyo think tank, told Kathimerini. “When knowledge is absent, speculation, fear and populism flourish and we are left to watch the support for the euro wane day by day, while that for the drachma rises.”

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Japan’s leaders don’t admit failure easily.

Fukushima Evacuees Face ‘Forced’ Return As Subsidies Withdrawn (G.)

Thousands of people who fled the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant six years ago will soon lose their housing subsidies, forcing some to consider returning despite lingering concerns over radiation in their former neighbourhoods. The measure, condemned by campaigners as a violation of the evacuees’ right to live in a safe environment, will affect an estimated 27,000 people who were not living inside the mandatory evacuation zone imposed after Fukushima became the scene of the worst nuclear accident in Japanese history. The meltdown in three reactors occurred after a magnitude-9 earthquake on 11 March 2011 triggered a powerful tsunami that killed almost 19,000 people along Japan’s north-east coast and knocked out the plant’s backup cooling system.

As a “voluntary” evacuee, Noriko Matsumoto is among those who will have their subsidies withdrawn at the end of this month, forcing them to make a near-impossible choice: move back to homes they believe are unsafe, or face financial hardship as they struggle on living in nuclear limbo. “Many of the other evacuees I know are in the same position,” Matsumoto said at the launch of Unequal Impact, a Greenpeace Japan report on human rights abuses affecting women and children among the 160,000 people who initially fled from areas near the plant. As of last month, almost 80,000 were still displaced. Matsumoto said: “They would still have to contend with high radiation if they returned, but the government is forcing them to go back by withdrawing housing assistance – that’s tantamount to a crime.”

At the time of the incident, Matsumoto was living with her husband and their two daughters in the city of Koriyama, 43 miles (70km) west of the stricken facility, well outside the area where tens of thousands of people were ordered to leave. Matsumoto initially stayed put, but three months later, with her youngest daughter, then aged 12, having nosebleeds, stomach ache and diarrhoea, she left her husband behind and took their children to Kanagawa prefecture, more than 150 miles south of Fukushima. She said: “The government is playing down the effects of radiation exposure … Yet people who don’t return to places like Koriyama after this month will be left to fend for themselves. They will become internally displaced people. We feel like we’ve been abandoned by our government.”

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They should help them, not detain. For what purpose, send them to Turkey?

Police Raid Athens Squats, Detain Dozens Of Refugees (K.)

Police raided squats in central Athens early on Monday, reclaiming properties and detaining dozens of undocumented migrants. In the first raid, officers entered a building on Alkiviadou Street which has been occupied since February. They transferred 120 migrants from the premises to the Aliens Bureau on Petrou Ralli Street. Police subsequently raided a building in Zografou which has been occupied by members of anti-establishment groups since 2012. Noone was in the building at the time of the raid but they started returning while police were on the premises and seven people were taken to the Athens police headquarters. Riot police units were stationed outside the squat buildings to prevent their reoccupation.

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Refugee issues will keep growing until we help rebuild their countries, and work for stability instead of collateral damage control.

What Would You Do To Keep Your Children Alive? (I’Cept)

Women and children from Central America began arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in unprecedented numbers during the summer of 2014. Referring to the “urgent humanitarian situation,” President Barack Obama called on Congress to build new detention centers, hire new immigration judges, and increase border surveillance as tens of thousands of unaccompanied children were detained by U.S. immigration officials. At the same time, the United States backed a Mexican government initiative to increase patrols, detentions, and deportations along Mexico’s southern border. The idea was to stop Central Americans from getting into Mexico, let alone the United States. But the gang violence, kidnappings, and extortion sending families fleeing from the “Northern Triangle” comprising El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala hasn’t stopped.


People illegally cross the Suchiate River on the Mexico-Guatemala border – Alice Proujansky

The area has the highest murder rate in the world outside a war zone, and people are still coming to Mexico. Only now, as photographer Alice Proujansky documents, they are taking new routes and facing new dangers. “Entire families arrive with little more than backpacks,” Proujansky said. “Women and children are particularly vulnerable: increased enforcement on freight trains has driven migrants to ride buses and walk on isolated routes where they face robbery, assault, and sexual violence.”

Proujansky spent time with families who were hoping to receive asylum from Mexico. There are no reliable figures on how many people cross the border with Guatemala each year, which is still porous despite increased patrols. But between 2014 and the summer of 2016, Mexico detained 425,000 migrants, according to an analysis of government statistics by the Washington Office on Latin America, or WOLA, a human rights advocacy group. In that same time, only 2,900 people received asylum. Last year, there were some 8,700 applicants, of whom 2,800 have so far received protection. (In 2014, Mexico’s refugee agency had just 15 people to screen thousands of applications.)


Alice Proujansky

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Mar 122017
 
 March 12, 2017  Posted by at 9:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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NPC Newsstand with Out-of-Town Papers, Washington DC 1925

 


Individual Investors Wade In as Stocks Soar (WSJ)
Stock Market Valuations Are Totally Unprecedented (Felder)
US Subprime Auto Loan Losses At Highest Level Since Financial Crisis (BBG)
US Government Revenues Suffer Biggest Drop Since The Financial Crisis (ZH)
Trump Fires US Attorney Preet Bharara After He Refuses To Quit (ZH)
A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Boomers Betrayed America (MW)
Netherlands Bars Turkish Ministers As Rally Dispute Escalates (R.)
Flynn Attended Intel Briefings While Taking Money To Lobby for Turkey (NBC)
Turkish Diaspora In Germany Divided On Powers For Erdogan (G.)
Greek Activists Target Sales Of Homes Seized Over Bad Debts (G.)

 

 

Mom and pop get squeezed again.

Individual Investors Wade In as Stocks Soar (WSJ)

The stock-market rally presents a difficult choice for some individual investors: Miss out or risk getting in at the top. The scars of the financial crisis have left many wary, even as the second-longest bull run in S&P 500 history has added more than $14 trillion in value to the index since it bottomed in March 2009, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. Yet there are signs that caution is dissipating. Investors have poured money into stocks through mutual funds and exchange-traded funds in 2017, with global equity funds posting record net inflows in the week ended March 1 based on data going back to 2000, according to fund tracker EPFR Global. Inflows continued the following week, even as the rally slowed. The S&P 500 shed 0.4% in the week ended Friday.

The investors’ positioning suggests burgeoning optimism, with TD Ameritrade clients increasing their net exposure to stocks in February, buying bank shares and popular stocks such as Amazon.com and sending the retail brokerage’s Investor Movement Index to a fresh high in data going back to 2010. The index tracks investors’ exposure to stocks and bonds to gauge their sentiment. “People went toe in the water, knee in the water and now many are probably above the waist for the first time,” said JJ Kinahan at TD Ameritrade. That brings individual investors increasingly in line with Wall Street professionals. A February survey of fund managers by Bank of America Merrill Lynch found optimism about the global economy improving while investors were holding above-average levels of cash, leaving room for them to drive stocks still higher.

Bullishness among Wall Street newsletter writers reached 63.1%—the highest level since 1987—a week ago in a survey by Investors Intelligence, before falling to 57.7% this past week. Overall investor sentiment is strong right now for the U.S. stock market, said Ann Gugle, principal at Alpha Financial Advisors. She pointed to a typical growth-and-income portfolio with 70% in stocks and 30% in bonds and alternatives. The 70% allocation to stocks, she said, would ordinarily be evenly split between U.S. and international stocks, but for the past three years it has shifted about 40% to U.S. stocks and 30% international.

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“The Most Broadly Overvalued Moment in Market History”.

Stock Market Valuations Are Totally Unprecedented (Felder)

Last week I updated the Warren Buffett yardstick, market cap-to-GNP. The only time it was ever higher than it is today was for a few months at the top of the dotcom mania.

However, when you look under the surface of the market-cap-weighted indexes at median valuations they are currently far more extreme than they were back then. As my friend John Hussman puts it, this is now “the most broadly overvalued moment in market history.”

Another way to look at stock prices is in relation to monetary velocity and here, too, we see something totally unprecedented.

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Time for public transport investments, Donald.

US Subprime Auto Loan Losses At Highest Level Since The Financial Crisis (BBG)

U.S. subprime auto lenders are losing money on car loans at the highest rate since the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis as more borrowers fall behind on payments, according to S&P Global Ratings. Losses for the loans, annualized, were 9.1% in January from 8.5% in December and 7.9% in the first month of last year, S&P data released on Thursday show, based on car loans bundled into bonds. The rate is the worst since January 2010 and is largely driven by worsening recoveries after borrowers default, S&P said. Those losses are rising in part because when lenders repossess cars from defaulted borrowers and sell them, they are getting back less money. A flood of used cars has hit the market after manufacturers offered generous lease terms.

Recoveries on subprime loans fell to 34.8% in January, the worst since early 2010, S&P data show. With losses increasing, investors in bonds backed by car loans are demanding higher returns, as reflected by yields, on their securities. That increases borrowing costs for finance companies, with those that depend on asset-backed securities the most getting hit hardest. American Credit Acceptance, one of nearly two dozen subprime lenders to securitize their loans in recent years, had one of the highest cost of funds last year with yields on its securitizations as high as 4.6%, even as the two-year swap rate benchmark hovered around 1%, according to a report from Wells Fargo. The company relies heavily on asset-backed securities for funding.

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2nd article in a row that ends with “Since The Financial Crisis”.

US Government Revenues Suffer Biggest Drop Since The Financial Crisis (ZH)

[..] something more concerning emerges when looking at the annual change in the rolling 12 month total. It is here that we find that, like last month, in the LTM period ended Feb 28, total federal revenues, tracked as government receipts on the Treasury’s statement, were $3.275 trillion. This amount was 1.1% lower than the $3.31 trillion reported one year ago, and is the third consecutive month of annual receipt declines. This was the biggest drop since the summer of 2008. At the same time, government spending rose 3.8%. Why is this important? Because as the chart below shows, every time since at least 1970 when government receipts have turned negative on an annual basis, the US was on the cusp of, or already in, a recession. Indicatively, the last time government receipts turned negative was in July of 2008.

One potential mitigating factor this time is that much of the collapse in receipts is due to a double digit % plunge in corporate income tax, which begs the question what are real corporate earnings? While we hear that EPS are rising, at least for IRS purposes, corporate America is in a recession. How about that far more important indicator of overall US economic health, and biggest contributor to government revenue, individual income taxes? As of February, the YTD number was $611bn fractionally higher than the same period a year ago, and declining. Finally should Trump proceed to cut tax rates without offsetting sources of government revenue, a recession – at least based on this indicator – is assured.

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Why did he refuse?

Trump Fires US Attorney Preet Bharara After He Refuses To Quit (ZH)

The speculation over whether Trump would or would not fire the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, who earlier reportedly said he would not resign on his own, came to a close a 2:29pm ET when Preet Bharara, tweeting from his private Twitter account, announced he had been fired. “I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.” Bharara’s dismissal ended an “extraordinary” showdown in which a political appointee who was named by Mr. Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, declined an order to submit a resignation. “I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life,” Mr. Bharara wrote on his personal Twitter feed, which he set up in the last two weeks.

Bharara was among 46 holdover Obama appointees who were called by the acting deputy attorney general on Friday and told to immediately submit resignations and plan to clear out of their offices. But Bharara, who was called to Trump Tower for a meeting with the incoming president in late November 2016, declined to do so. As reported previously, Bharara said he was asked by Trump to remain in his current post at the meeting. Bharara met with Trump at Trump Tower, and then addressed reporters afterward. Before the firing, one of New York’s top elected Republicans voiced support for Bharara on Saturday.

The Southern District of New York, which Bharara has overseen since 2009, encompasses Manhattan, Trump’s home before he was elected president, as well as the Bronx, Westchester, and other counties north of New York City. Last weekend, Trump accused Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower in Manhattan, an allegation which various Congressmen have said they will launch a probe into. And now the speculation will begin in earnest why just three months after Bharara, who at the time was conducting a corruption investigation into NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio as well as into aides of NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo, told the press that Trump had asked him to “stay on” he is being fired and whether this may indicate that the NYSD has perhaps opened a probe into Trump himself as some have speculated.

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Don’t look at me, I didn’t write the book.

A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Boomers Betrayed America (MW)

Millennials have a reputation for being entitled, self-absorbed and lazy, but a new book argues that their parents are actually a bigger danger to society. In “A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Boomers Betrayed America,” Bruce Cannon Gibney traces many of our nation’s most pressing issues, including climate change and the rising cost of education, back to baby boomers’ idiosyncrasies and enormous political power. Raised in an era of seemingly unending economic prosperity with relatively permissive parents, and the first generation to grow up with a television, baby boomers developed an appetite for consumption and a lack of empathy for future generations that has resulted in unfortunate policy decisions, argues Gibney, who is in his early 40s. (That makes him Generation X.) “These things conditioned the boomers into some pretty unhelpful behaviors and the behaviors as a whole seem sociopathic,” he said.

The book comes as Americans of all ages are sorting through a new political reality, which Gibney argues that boomers delivered to us through years of grooming candidates to focus on their political priorities such as, preferential tax treatment and entitlement programs, and then voting for them in overwhelming numbers. Though these circumstances are new, making the argument that a generation – particularly boomers – are to blame for society’s ills is part of a storied tradition, said Jennifer Deal, the senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership. “There are a lot of people who like to blame the baby boomers for stuff and this has been going on for as far as I can tell since the late 60s,” Deal said. Indeed, a 1969 article in Fortune magazine warned that the group of then-20-somethings taking over the workplace were prone to job-hopping and having their egos bruised.

If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because it is. There’s no shortage of articles describing millennials similarly. Both are indicative of a natural human tendency to want to explain the world and other people through the lens of group mentalities, said Deal. “Everybody can think of someone older or someone younger who has done something annoying,” she said. “Everybody likes a good scapegoat.” Still, Gibney, a venture capitalist, argues there is something inherently different about the boomers from the generations that preceded them and those that followed: a sense of entitlement that comes from growing up in a time of economic prosperity.

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Rotterdam was absolutely flattened by Nazi bombers.

Netherlands Bars Turkish Ministers As Rally Dispute Escalates (R.)

Turkey told the Netherlands on Sunday that it would retaliate in the “harshest ways” after Turkish ministers were barred from speaking in Rotterdam in a row over Ankara’s political campaigning among Turkish emigres. President Tayyip Erdogan had branded its fellow NATO member a “Nazi remnant” and the dispute escalated into a diplomatic incident on Saturday evening, when Turkey’s family minister was prevented by police from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam. Hundreds of protesters waving Turkish flags gathered outside, demanding to see the minister. Dutch police used dogs and water cannon early on Sunday to disperse the crowd, which threw bottles and stones. Several demonstrators were beaten by police with batons, a Reuters witness said. They carried out charges on horseback, while officers advanced on foot with shields and armored vans.

Less than a day after Dutch authorities prevented Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu from flying to Rotterdam, Turkey’s family minister, Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, said on Twitter she was being escorted back to Germany. “The world must take a stance in the name of democracy against this fascist act! This behavior against a female minister can never be accepted,” she said. The Rotterdam mayor confirmed she was being escorted by police to the German border. Kaya later boarded a private plane from the German town of Cologne to return to Istanbul, mass-circulating newspaper Hurriyet said on Sunday. The Dutch government, which stands to lose heavily to the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders in elections next week, said it considered the visits undesirable and “the Netherlands could not cooperate in the public political campaigning of Turkish ministers in the Netherlands.”

The government said it saw the potential to import divisions into its own Turkish minority, which has both pro- and anti-Erdogan camps. Dutch politicians across the spectrum said they supported Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s decision to ban the visits. In a statement issued early on Sunday, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Turkey had told Dutch authorities it would retaliate in the “harshest ways” and “respond in kind to this unacceptable behavior”. Turkey’s foreign ministry said it did not want the Dutch ambassador to Ankara to return from leave “for some time”. Turkish authorities sealed off the Dutch embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul in apparent retaliation and hundreds gathered there for protests at the Dutch action.

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The curious story of Mr. Flynn.

Flynn Attended Intel Briefings While Taking Money To Lobby for Turkey (NBC)

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was attending secret intelligence briefings with then-candidate Donald Trump while he was being paid more than half a million dollars to lobby on behalf of the Turkish government, federal records show. Flynn stopped lobbying after he became national security advisor, but he then played a role in formulating policy toward Turkey, working for a president who has promised to curb the role of lobbyists in Washington. White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Friday defended the Trump administration’s handling of the matter, even as he acknowledged to reporters that the White House was aware of the potential that Flynn might need to register as a foreign agent.

When his firm was hired by a Turkish businessman last year, Flynn did not register as a foreign lobbyist, and only did so a few days ago under pressure from the Justice Department, the businessman told The Associated Press this week. [..] Flynn was fired last month after it was determined he misled Vice President Mike Pence about Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. His security clearance was suspended. When NBC News spoke to Alptekin in November, he said he had no affiliation with the Turkish government and that his hiring of Flynn’s company, the Flynn Intel Group, had nothing to do with the Turkish government. But documents filed this week by Flynn with the Department of Justice paint a different picture. The documents say Alptekin “introduced officials of the Republic of Turkey to Flynn Intel Group officials at a meeting on September 19, 2016, in New York.”

In the documents, the Flynn Intel Group asserts that it changed its filings to register as a foreign lobbyist “to eliminate any potential doubt.” “Although the Flynn Intel Group was engaged by a private firm, Inovo BV, and not by a foreign government, because of the subject matter of the engagement, Flynn Intel Group’s work for Inovo could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey,” the filing said. The firm was paid a total of $530,000 as part of a $600,000 contract that ended the day after the election, when Flynn stepped away from his private work, the documents say. During the summer and fall, Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was sitting in on classified intelligence briefings given to Trump.

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Funniest movie review in a while.

Turkish Diaspora In Germany Divided On Powers For Erdogan (G.)

Only 38 people turned up at screen 7 of Berlin s Alhambra cinema on Thursday night to watch a powerful Turkish president make a pitch for why he deserves even more power. But those who came were impressed. Reis (the Turkish word for chief), a biopic in which Recep Tayyip Erdogan is played by soap opera star Reha Beyoglu, premiered in Istanbul last month. It is now touring cinemas among Europe s Turkish diaspora communities in the run-up to the constitutional referendum on 16 April, a vote that could boost Erdogan’s powers and allow him to remain president until 2029. The film shows the co-founder of Turkey s ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) growing up in Istanbul’s working class Kasimpasa neighbourhood to become a man of prodigal talent and saintly self-denial, scoring the last-minute winner in a five-a-side football match with an overhead kick and getting up in the middle of the night to rescue a puppy that has fallen down a well.

His supporters are willing to use blunter means to defend their chief against Turkey s cosmopolitan elite. In the film s final scene, showing one of Erdogan’s guards punching an assailant in the face, the Berlin audience watching the film with German subtitles broke into spontaneous applause. The dialogue was widely understood to be a reference to last July s averted coup: Who are you? asks the assailant. The people, the guard replies. Smoking cigarettes on the pavement outside the cinema, a group of four Turkish-Germans in their late teens said Reis had only affirmed their decision to vote yes in the referendum. A strong Erdogan is good for a strong Turkey, said Ahmet, 19.

Tensions between the German and Turkish governments, triggered by the arrest of Die Welt s correspondent Deniz Yucel and culminating in Erdogan accusing Germany of Nazi practices over banned rallies in German cities, had merely strengthened his allegiance, said 20-year-old Mehmet. To be honest, when America, Germany and France tell me to vote no in the referendum, then I am going to vote yes. Both said no German party represented their interests: We are just foreigners to them. The heightened fervour of support for Erdogan even among younger members of Germany s population with Turkish roots, a community of about 3 million, of which roughly half are entitled to vote in April has scandalised the country’s public and media.

German politicians allege that the AKP is trying to influence the diaspora vote not just through public rallies but by covertly pressurising and threatening its opponents in Germany via religious and business networks. In January, Turkish-German footballer Hakan Calhanoglu was publicly criticised by his club Bayer Leverkusen for posting a video on social media in which he declared his allegiance with the evet (yes) camp. You are part of our country, Angela Merkel, the chancellor, appealed to the Turkish-speaking community on Thursday. We want to do everything to make sure that domestic Turkish conflicts aren’t brought into our coexistence. This is a matter of the heart for us.

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“They will have to evict people from their homes and that won’t be easy. The people will react in unforeseeable ways.”

Greek Activists Target Sales Of Homes Seized Over Bad Debts (G.)

The cavernous halls of Athens’ central civil court are usually silent and sombre. But every Wednesday, between 4pm and 5pm, they are anything but. For it is then that activists converge on the building, bent on stopping the auctions of properties seized by banks to settle bad debts. They do this with rowdy conviction, chanting “not a single home in the hands of a banker,” unfurling banners deploring “vulture crows”, and often physically preventing notaries and other court officials from sitting at the judge’s presiding bench. “Poor people can’t afford lawyers, rich people can,” says Ilias Papadopoulos, a 33-year-old tax accountant who feels so strongly that he has been turning up at the court to orchestrate the protests with his eye surgeon brother, Leonidas, for the past three years.

“We are here to protect the little man who has been hit by unemployment, hit by poverty and cannot keep up with mortgage payments. Banks have already been recapitalised. Now they want to suck the blood of the people.” The tall, bearded brothers were founding members of Den Plirono, an activist group that emerged in the early years of Greece’s economic crisis in opposition over road tolls. The organisation, which sees itself as a people’s movement, then moved into the power business – restoring the disconnected electricity supplies of more than 5,000 Greeks who could not afford to pay their bills. Auctions are their latest cause. “Solidarity is the only answer,” Papadopoulos insists. “Rich people have political influence. They can negotiate their loans and are never in danger of actually losing the roof over their heads.”

The protests have been highly effective. In law courts across Greece, similar scenes have ensured that auctions have been thwarted. Activists estimate that only a fraction of auctions of 800 homes and small business enterprises due to go under the hammer since January have actually taken place. Under pressure to strengthen the country’s fragile banking system, Athens’ leftist-led government has agreed to move ahead with around 25,000 auctions this year and next. In recent weeks they have more than doubled, testimony, activists say, to the relaxation of laws protecting defaulters. “There is not a Greek who does not owe to the banks, social security funds or tax office,” says Evangelia Haralambus, a lawyer representing several debtors.

“Do you know what it is like to wake up every morning knowing that you can’t make ends meet, that you might lose your home? It makes you sick.” [..] “We see our country as a country under occupation. It is inadmissible what has happened to Greece,” she splutters. “These vulture crows, homing in on the properties of the poor, are all part of the larger plan to control us.” [..] Fears are mounting that if the banks fail to recover losses, a Cypriot-style bail-in could follow and the government has announced that it will pushed ahead with electronic auctions. But the prospect of mass auctions at a click of a button has only incensed critics further. “It will create huge tensions and destabilise Greek society,” said Papadopoulos, claiming that laws protecting the poor had been increasingly whittled down. “They will have to evict people from their homes and that won’t be easy. The people will react in unforeseeable ways.”

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 March 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Robert Capa Warsaw, Poland 1948

 


US Jobs Report Means Fed Rate Hike Is A Bolt-On Certainty (G.)
US Household Wealth Has Never Been Higher Relative To Income (ZH)
Rising Household Debt A Concern Across Asia (TEP)
Sessions Asks 46 Obama-Era US Attorneys To Resign (R.)
Trump’s Revised Travel Ban Dealt First Court Setback (R.)
Trump To Ask Merkel For Advice On Putin, Ukraine (R.)
Nobel Economist Deaton Takes Aim At Rent-Seeking US Economy (MW)
US Regulators Reject Bitcoin ETF, Digital Currency Plunges (R.)
The Bag Holder and His Bag (Jim Kunstler)
New Island To Be Built In North Sea Under ‘Science-Fiction-Like’ Plan (Ind.)
General Flynn and the Strategic Deficit (K.)
Turkey Loses Momentum In Northern Syria As US Supports Kurds (ARA)
UN Accuses Turkey Of Abuses Against Kurds In Country’s Southeast (AlJ)
Greek Court To Rule On Turkey’s ‘Safe Country’ Status (K.)
Lagarde Insists On Greek Debt Restructuring (K.)
Roman Citizens Are Breaking The Law To Feed And Help Refugees (R.)
World Faces Worst Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945 – UN (G.)

 

 

Don’t be surprised if Yellen gets cold feet.

US Jobs Report Means Fed Rate Hike Is A Bolt-On Certainty (G.)

The latest US jobs report removes any lingering doubts about whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next week. Following news that the world’s biggest economy generated 235,000 net new non-farm jobs in February, it is a bolt-on certainty that the central bank will push up the cost of borrowing by a quarter of a point. It is now almost 10 years since the start of the financial crisis ushered in a period of ultra-low interest rates and it has been clear for a while that the Fed is anxious to speed up the normalisation process. A healthy labour market is the key to that process and it would have taken a shockingly bad report to stay the bank’s hand. This was not it. Indeed, the financial markets have already moved on from next week to musing about how many more times the Fed will tighten during the course of 2017. The feeling is that two more rate rises are in prospect.

It certainly seems unlikely that next Wednesday’s rise will be the end of the matter. The report from the Bureau of Labour Statistics showed employment up by more than the 190,000 expected by Wall Street and unemployment at 4.7%. Annual wage growth is running at 2.8%. Policymakers at the Fed will look at this data and conclude that inflationary pressures are building as the economy approaches full employment. With US productivity so weak, the central bank will certainly be tempted to move again if and when earnings growth hits 3%. There was plenty for Donald Trump to welcome. A mild winter has resulted in a big increase in construction jobs. Manufacturing employment was also up. The only weak spot was retailing. The new president has plans for a big package of tax cuts and spending increases but fiscal easing will mean more aggressive tightening from the Fed, which is already starting to fret about the risks of the economy overheating.

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Print and borrow. Rinse and repeat.

US Household Wealth Has Never Been Higher Relative To Income (ZH)

For 45 years – until Alan Greenspan in 1994 – the average wealth-to-income of American households had held steady around 4.9x – but as of Q4 2016, for the first time in US history, household wealth has reached a point where it is 6.5 times large than inflation-adjusted household disposable income in America. As Bloomberg reports, the surge – driven by higher stock prices and property values, according to The Fed – pushed this measure of relative exuberance (think of it as the country’s price-to-earnings ratio) above the housing boom peak of mid-2000s and well above the dot-com bubble driven highs of the last 1990s. As Alliance Bernstein economist Joe Carson wrote in a note: “Economic and financial history do not always repeat, but sometimes they do.” So the question is – what happens next?

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Debt and wealth feel eerily similar.

Rising Household Debt A Concern Across Asia (TEP)

Government officials, policymakers, economists, bankers and experts gathered here for the Second Annual Asean Consumer and Household Debt Conference on Feb 22 and 23. The two-day event aimed to provide insight into the implications of household debt and the challenges faced by the policymakers. “Over the years, household financial liabilities as a share of personal disposable income has gone up in Asia,” said Akrur Barua, an economist at Deloitte Services LP, setting the tone for the conference. According to Barua, a number of factors have led to the rise in household debt in Asia. Rising incomes in Asia have resulted in higher consumer demand for products and services. Along with income growth, there is an increase in access to credit across Asian economies.

Post- 2008, policymakers also offered fiscal and monetary incentives to entice consumers to spend more. In addition, rising demand and a flow of liquidity led to a surge in asset prices, especially in the housing sector. With demand for housing remaining strong and house prices rising, the result has been a rapid increase in the value of housing loans or mortgages. “Cyclical credit outpaced cyclical growth from 2011 to 2015 in many Southeast Asian countries”, noted Vincent Conti, Asia-Pacific economist at Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services Singapore. According to Barua, the household debt burden in many Asian economies is now even higher than the US figure prior to 2009, before the global financial crisis (see Chart 1). In fact, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan have crossed the 80% mark in household debt-to-GDP ratio.

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David Stockman on Twitter: “46 Obama US Attorneys must go ASAP. That means you, Preet Bharara. Enough self-righteous bullies with badges! “

Sessions Asks 46 Obama-Era US Attorneys To Resign (R.)

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions abruptly asked the remaining 46 chief federal prosecutors left over from the Obama administration to resign on Friday, including Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who had been asked to stay on in November by then President-elect Donald Trump. Although U.S. attorneys are political appointees, and the request from Trump’s Justice Department is part of a routine process, the move came as a surprise. Not every new administration replaces all U.S. attorneys at once. A Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed the resignation requests included Bharara, whose office handles some of the most critical business and criminal cases passing through the federal judicial system.

Bharara met with Trump in Trump Tower on Nov. 30. After, Bharara told reporters the two had a “good meeting” and he had agreed to stay on. On Friday, Bharara was unsure where he stood because he did not know if the person who contacted him about resigning was aware that Trump had asked him to remain in office, according to a source familiar with the matter. It was not immediately clear if all resignations would ultimately be accepted. A Justice Department spokesman said on Friday Trump had called Dana Boente, acting U.S. deputy attorney general, to decline his resignation. Trump also called Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, his pick to take over as deputy attorney general, to keep him in his post, the spokesman said.

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Broader views are needed.

Trump’s Revised Travel Ban Dealt First Court Setback (R.)

A federal judge in Wisconsin dealt the first legal blow to President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban on Friday, barring enforcement of the policy to deny U.S. entry to the wife and child of a Syrian refugee already granted asylum in the United States. The temporary restraining order, granted by U.S. District Judge William Conley in Madison, applies only to the family of the Syrian refugee, who brought the case anonymously to protect the identities of his wife and daughter, still living in the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo. But it represents the first of several challenges brought against Trump’s newly amended executive order, issued on March 6 and due to go into effect on March 16, to draw a court ruling in opposition to its enforcement.

Conley, chief judge of the federal court in Wisconsin’s western district and an appointee of former President Barack Obama, concluded the plaintiff “has presented some likelihood of success on the merits” of his case and that his family faces “significant risk of irreparable harm” if forced to remain in Syria. The plaintiff, a Sunni Muslim, fled Syria to the United States in 2014 to “escape near-certain death” at the hands of sectarian military forces fighting the Syrian government in Aleppo, according to his lawsuit. He subsequently obtained asylum for his wife and their only surviving child, a daughter, and their application had cleared the security vetting process and was headed for final processing when it was halted by Trump’s original travel ban on Jan. 27.

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Those are Merkel’s blind spots. And Greece.

Trump To Ask Merkel For Advice On Putin, Ukraine (R.)

President Donald Trump will ask Chancellor Angela Merkel for advice on how to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. officials said on Friday, as the U.S. and German leaders meet next week after sometimes pointed disagreements in recent months. Merkel will visit the White House on Tuesday for talks with Trump and a joint news conference in what will be their first face-to-face meeting since the new U.S. president took power on Jan. 20. They are expected to discuss Germany’s level of defense spending for the NATO alliance, the Ukraine conflict, Syrian refugees, the EU and a host of other issues, said three senior Trump administration officials who briefed reporters.

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, Trump regularly criticized Merkel for her open-door refugee policy, contrasting it with what he promised would be tighter controls in the United States if he won office. Merkel has been a leading critic of Trump’s effort to ban travelers temporarily from seven Muslim-majority nations, a list that has since been pared back to six. “My expectation is that they’ll have a very positive, cordial meeting,” said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Trump has long expressed desire for warmer U.S. relations with Russia but some of his top Cabinet officials are skeptical. “The president will be very interested in hearing the chancellor’s views on her experience interacting with Putin,” said another official. “He’s going to be very interested in hearing her insights on what it’s like to deal with the Russians.”

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Deaton is no fool.

Nobel Economist Takes Aim At Rent-Seeking Banking, Healthcare Industries (MW)

Income inequality is not killing capitalism in the United States, but rent-seekers like the banking and the health-care sectors just might, said Nobel-winning economist Angus Deaton on Monday. If an entrepreneur invents something on the order of another Facebook, Deaton said he has no problem with that person becoming wealthy. “What is not OK is for rent-seekers to get rich,” Deaton said in a luncheon speech to the National Association for Business Economics. Rent seekers lobby and persuade governments to give them special favors. Bankers during the financial crisis, and much of the health-care system, are two prime examples, Deaton said. Rent-seeking is not only does not generate new product, it actually slows down economic growth, Deaton said.

“All that talent is devoted to stealing things, instead of making things,” he said. Another prime example of rent-seeking is that the Medicaid is funding opioid prescriptions for low-income workers, Deaton said. The results are workers who are becoming addicted and overdosing while profits are going to the Sacker family which owns Purdue Pharma that makes OxyContin. Deaton said he favors a single-payer health system only because our current part-private and part-public system is exquisitely designed to give opportunities for rent-seeking. “So I, who do not believe in socialized health-care, would advocate a single-payment system…because it will get this monster that we’ve created out of the economy and allow the rest of capitalism to flourish without the awful things that healthcare is doing to us,” he said.

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But door is left open.

US Regulators Reject Bitcoin ETF, Digital Currency Plunges (R.)

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday denied a request to list what would have been the first U.S. exchange-traded fund built to track bitcoin, the digital currency. Investors Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss have been trying for more than three years to convince the SEC to let it bring the Bitcoin ETF to market. CBOE Holdings’ Bats exchange had applied to list the ETF. The digital currency’s price plunged, falling as much as 18% in trading immediately after the decision before rebounding slightly. It last traded down 7.8% to $1,098. Bitcoin had scaled to a record of nearly $1,300 this month, higher than the price of an ounce of gold, as investors speculated that an ETF holding the digital currency could woo more people into buying the asset.

[..] “Based on the record before it, the Commission believes that the significant markets for bitcoin are unregulated,” the SEC said in a statement. “The commission notes that bitcoin is still in the relatively early stages of its development and that, over time, regulated bitcoin-related markets of significant size may develop.” The regulators have questions and concerns about how the funds would work and whether they could be priced and trade effectively, according to a financial industry source familiar with the SEC’s thinking. [..] Advocates of the currency and the technology it relies on to document transactions, blockchain, were dismayed by the ruling. “How do we develop well-capitalized and regulated markets in the U.S. and Europe if financial innovators aren’t allowed to bring products to market that grow domestic demand for digital currencies like bitcoin?” asked Jerry Brito, executive director of Coin Center, an advocacy group.

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“RussiaGate — come on, let’s finally call it that —”

The Bag Holder and His Bag (Jim Kunstler)

[..] getting rid of Trump would only leave the Deep State with a bigger problem: itself. That is, an economy and a society that can’t be governed by any means. I think many professional observers-of-the-scene are missing something in this unspooling story: the Deep State is actually becoming more impotent and ineffectual, not omnipotent. Case in point: RussiaGate — come on, let’s finally call it that — the popular idea that Russia hacked the 2016 presidential election. It’s popular because it’s such a convenient excuse for the failure of a corrupt, exhausted, and brain-dead Democratic establishment. But all the exertions of the Deep State to put over this story since last summer were negated this week by two events.

First, there was former NSA Director James Clapper’s appearance on NBC’s Sunday Meet the Press show with Chuck Todd featuring the following interchange: CHUCK TODD: Does intelligence exist that can definitively answer the following question, whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials? JAMES CLAPPER: We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, “our,” that’s N.S.A., F.B.I. and C.I.A., with my office, the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report. CHUCK TODD: I understand that. But does it exist? JAMES CLAPPER: Not to my knowledge. And so what to make of the RussiaGate histrionics served up by CNN, The New York Times, the WashPo, NPR, and sundry tools as Senator Chuck Schumer (D–NY)?

What I make of it is a growing civil war in the government itself, and perhaps something arguably like sedition. Second matter: this week’s release of Wikileaks’ Vault-7 trove of purloined government documents. These seem to suggest that US Intel agencies have acquired the ability to spoof any activity on any sort of computer or program that makes it impossible to track the identity of any hacker and, what’s more, gives US Intel a tool to make any party appear culpable for any given case of hacking — meaning that if so called computer hacking “footprints” had been discovered linking Russia to the Hillary-DNC-Podesta emails, those footprints could have been engineered by US Intel itself… meaning further that any so-called “evidence” of Russian election hacking could not be proven one way or the other.

Now, this might be too fine a point for the RussiaGate partisans, but I don’t see how it fails to moot the issue. The partisans are still finding other ways to propagandize. On Thursday evening, NPR ran a story about Russia breaking a missile agreement with this wrap-up from correspondent David Welna: WELNA: Still unclear is how President Trump, an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, might respond to Moscow’s defiance. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. That lapse of newsmanship is the kind of thing that makes me (a still-registered Democrat) want to support the defunding of NPR.

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Far too many people still claim we can replace our current energy consumption with renewables. That idea will have to die first.

New Island To Be Built In North Sea Under ‘Science-Fiction-Like’ Plan (Ind.)

A vast artificial island is to be built at Dogger Bank in the North Sea, complete with a harbour, airstrip and homes, to help provide a vast new supply of renewable energy, under plans drawn up by two companies with the blessing of the European Union. The North Sea Wind Power Hub would act as a hub for offshore wind turbines and a new place to put solar panels, according to the German and Dutch arms of electricity firm TenneT and Danish company Energinet. The firms will sign a deal creating a consortium to develop the plan further in Brussels on 23 March in the presence of European Energy Union Commissioner, Maos Sefcovic. Torben Glar Nielsen, Energinet’s Danish technical director, said: “Maybe it sounds a bit crazy and science fiction-like, but an island on Dogger Bank could make the wind power of the future a lot cheaper and more effective.”

It is thought the island – or possibly islands – could act as a hub for thousands of new wind turbines, which would eventually generate green electricity for more than 80 million people. Under the proposals, the island would be connected by electricity cables to the UK, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Belgium. Mel Kroon, TenneT’s chief executive, said: “This project can significantly contribute to a completely renewable supply of electricity in north-west Europe. “TenneT and Energinet.dk both have extensive experience in the fields of onshore grids, the connection of offshore wind energy and cross-border connections.

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Flynn’s escapades as a foreign agent for Turkey are making Greeks very nervous.

General Flynn and the Strategic Deficit (K.)

It is as if a torpedo passed under our keel and we saw it only when it exploded elsewhere. The recent revelations from President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, retired General Michael Flynn, showed that we had a close call. A lawyer for Flynn filed paperwork with the Justice Department declaring that last year he undertook lobbying work that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.” For the work between August and November, Flynn Intel Group Inc was paid 530,000 dollars. Flynn was forced to resign from the position of Trump’s top security aide in February when it emerged that although he had met with the Russian ambassador to the United States he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about this, after which the latter repeated Flynn’s lies in public.

The extent of Flynn’s dealings with Russia and Turkey is not known, but it is clear that if he had not resigned he would have remained, at least, a former strong supporter of Turkey. On November 8, Flynn had published an opinion piece in The Hill, a Washington-based political newspaper, titled “Our ally Turkey is in crisis and needs our support.” Flynn argued that the United States should extradite the self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims was behind the failed coup in Turkey last July. “We should not provide him safe haven,” Flynn wrote of Gulen. “In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.”

On Wednesday, The Hill’s editor added a note to the piece, clarifying that the newspaper did not know that Flynn had been paid to write it, nor that the draft had been shown earlier to a Dutch company, Inovo BV, which, the note said, is “owned by a Turkish businessman with ties to Turkey’s president.” The Associated Press reported that according to the documents filed, Flynn, who was then a top aide to presidential candidate Trump, met in September with the Turkish ministers of foreign affairs and energy.

The cooperation ended in November, and though it is difficult to believe that Flynn was paid half a million dollars for one op-ed piece, we cannot claim that as national security adviser he would have made Turkish interests his priority. At the same time, can we really have expected him to have been completely unbiased in any Greek-Turkish dispute? We still don’t know the interests of people around the American president – who himself has business interests in Turkey, among other countries. Nothing is as it was. Prior US strategy cannot be taken for granted. This makes it imperative for our country to be clear about its own course, to implement its strategy calmly and decisively. We must avoid being caught up in the game of our excitable neighbors and keep our eyes on where we want to go.

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Things are only getting more confusing.

Turkey Loses Momentum In Northern Syria As US Supports Kurds (ARA)

Turkey has lost momentum in the war for northern Syria as the United States draws on Kurdish allies in the assault on ISIS-held Raqqa, but Ankara is still pressing Washington for a deal that allays its fears of Kurdish ascendancy. Syrian Kurdish groups meanwhile sense Washington is now more firmly behind them than before, a shift they hope will eventually aid their ambitions for autonomy after years of persecution by the Syrian government. One of the most complicated theatres in the multi-sided Syrian conflict, the war in the north has played out at lightning pace in the last few weeks with ISIS fighters either withdrawing or collapsing in swathes of territory. The Russian-backed Syrian army has benefited from this, creating a corridor to the Euphrates River that secures Aleppo’s water supplies and suggests at least tacit coordination with US-allied Kurdish militia – at Turkey’s expense.

In a swipe at Washington, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday it was unfortunate that some of Turkey’s allies had chosen the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a partner in the fight against ISIS in Syria. “The field in Syria at the moment is really very complicated,” said a senior Turkish official, stressing the fast-moving nature of events and the urgent need for agreement. “Anything could happen at any moment.” “Such a harsh step in completely excluding Turkey there will cause a problem for relations between the countries,” the Turkish official said. “Hence a share point must be found. Talks are still continuing.”

[..] Ankara had hoped to advance its strategy in northern Syria by persuading Washington to abandon its Kurdish allies and switch support to Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel groups for the final assault on Raqqa – a northern Syrian city that is ISIS’s de facto capital. But any hopes of this have faded in recent days. Conflicting US and Turkish agendas have surfaced clearly over Manbij, a city controlled by Kurdish-allied fighters since its capture from ISIS last year. A deployment of US forces there last week deterred a threatened Turkish attack. Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made clear Turkish sensitivities about the presence of Kurdish fighters in Manbij, a town Ankara sees as the next stepping stone in creation of a safe zone free of Kurdish influence west of the Euphrates. “We will not allow the YPG’s canton dreams (to come true),” NTV television cited Cavusoglu as saying. “If we go to Manbij and the PYD is there, we will hit them.”

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High time for EU, US to take a stand against Turkey, but the courage is failing.

UN Accuses Turkey Of Abuses Against Kurds In Country’s Southeast (AlJ)

A UN report has accused Turkish security forces of human rights violations during operations against Kurdish fighters in the country’s southeast, drawing an angry response by Turkey which rejected it as “biased”. The report by the UN Human Rights Office on Friday detailed accusations of massive infrastructure destruction, unlawful killings and other serious abuses committed between July 2015 and December 2016 following the collapse of a ceasefire. The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish state were engaged in a war for almost 30 years until a 2013 truce was declared and the two sides launched peace talks. The ceasefire largely held until the summer of 2015, and since then the two sides have been engaged in escalating clashes. Turkey, the US and the EU all consider the PKK a “terrorist” group.

The UN said that its study, which was carried through “remote monitoring”, was based on interviews, analysis of information provided by Turkey’s government and NGOs, as well as official records, open source documents, satellite images and other materials. Citing data from various sources, the report said that around 2,000 people were killed in the region between July 2015 and December 2016 amid security operations. “Reports generally put the number of local residents killed at approximately 1,200, of whom an unspecified number may have been involved in violent or non-violent actions against the state,” it said, adding that about 800 members of security forces were reportedly killed in clashes. More than 355,000 people were displaced and entire neighbourhoods were destroyed in various parts of southeastern Turkey, the report said.

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How could it possibly declare Turkey safe?

Greek Court To Rule On Turkey’s ‘Safe Country’ Status (K.)

Greece’s highest administrative court is expected to rule later this month on whether Turkey can be considered a safe country for refugees being returned under a deal with the European Union. The Council of State’s plenary on Friday heard arguments based on the appeal of two Syrian nationals whose asylum applications were rejected by the Greek Asylum Committee. The Syrians’ lawyers argued that the rejection is a violation of the UN Charter of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention as the committee based its decision solely on Turkey’s assurances, without a proper assessment of conditions in the neighboring country.

Another plaintiff acting on their behalf, the Greek Council for Refugees, has also raised questions regarding the partiality of the judges serving on the Asylum Committee’s panels. The appeal comes after seven judges at the Council of State’s Fourth Chamber ruled in favor of the Asylum Committee’s decision, saying that Turkey’s participation in the Geneva Convention defines it as a safe country. If the plenary upholds the Syrians’ appeal, this could undermine the deal signed between the European Union and Turkey a year ago for the latter to take back rejected asylum claimants in exchange for financial assistance.

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Yada yada.

Lagarde Insists On Greek Debt Restructuring (K.)

International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde has reiterated that Greece’s mountainous debt needs restructuring. Speaking to French newspaper Le Parisien, Lagarde insisted that the IMF can only join the Greek program if Athens implements more reforms and the country’s debt is made manageable. “We also need a sustainable debt,” she told the paper, adding that this could be done in different ways, including an extension of loan repayment periods and lower interest rates. She also said she was trying to convince European leaders to accept that Greece needs debt relief.

Meanwhile, representatives of Greece’s international creditors were expected to leave the capital on Friday without having reached an agreement with government officials on contentious issues including pension reform and overhauls to labor rights and the tax system. The IMF said some progress was made but differences “remain in important areas.” Despite the insistence by European officials that a conclusion of the bailout review is unlikely before May, the Greek government indicated that there is enough time for an agreement significantly sooner than that though probably not in time for a March 20 Eurogroup.

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Sounds very familiar 😉

Roman Citizens Are Breaking The Law To Feed And Help Refugees (R.)

Volunteers served macaroni in marinara sauce to dozens of migrants outside one of Rome’s biggest train stations this week, offering help to travelers largely ignored by institutions on the frontline of Europe’s migrant crisis. While other European cities including Milan have set up information centers and shelters for migrants, Rome has repeatedly cleared out impromptu camps citing security concerns. “We’ve had 13 evictions,” Andrea Costa, director of the Baobab Experience group of volunteers, said before the migrants settled in for a cold night. To keep from being cleared out yet again, volunteers cook meals at home and bring them to a bare plaza outside Tiburtina station where tents are set up at 9 p.m. and taken down in the early morning. There are now 50 migrants staying here, mostly from Africa, as they attempt to reach other European countries.

That number is expected to soar this summer with sea arrivals to Italy up 60% already this year after setting a record last year. “With boat arrivals at this pace, in a little while we’ll have hundreds of people to take care of,” Costa said. Baobab saw between 500 and 1,000 migrants per day last summer, and volunteers have helped almost 63,000 migrants over the past two years with no state funding – only donations. Robel Tesfit, a 27-year-old Eritrean-Ethiopian who everybody calls “Bob,” arrived in Italy by sea in 2015, hoping to reach Britain where he wanted “to play for Manchester United.” He never made it to Britain, and returned to Rome where he was granted asylum. Now he uses his knowledge of Italian, Arabic, Tigrinya and Amharic to help Baobab volunteers, who gave him food, shelter and advice on his journey.

Pointing to the men and women lining up for pasta, he said: “When I arrived, I was the same as them.” While Italy has shelters to house 175,000 asylum seekers, it does not fund structures for migrants in transit, in part because the European Union wants to stop migrants from moving on, not help them to do so. EU law says they must seek asylum in the country where they first set foot. At the end of last year, Rome set aside about 60 beds in a nearby Red Cross center for travelers and officials say they want to renovate a hotel near the station to provide beds for about 100 more.

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20 million people. And we think about the value of our houses. And where to go on holiday.

World Faces Worst Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945 – UN (G.)

The world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war with more than 20 million people in four countries facing starvation and famine, a senior United Nations official has warned. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, “people will simply starve to death” and “many more will suffer and die from disease”, Stephen O’Brien, the UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the security council in New York on Friday that He urged an immediate injection of funds for Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria plus safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid “to avert a catastrophe.” “To be precise,” O’Brien said, “we need $4.4bn by July”. Unless there was a major infusion of money, he said, children would be stunted by severe malnutrition and would not be able to go to school, gains in economic development would be reversed and “livelihoods, futures and hope lost”.

UN and food organisations define famine as when more than 30% of children under age 5 suffer from acute malnutrition and mortality rates are two or more deaths per 10,000 people every day, among other criteria. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations [in 1945],” O’Brien said. “Now, more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine.” O’Brien said the largest humanitarian crisis was in Yemen where two-thirds of the population — 18.8 million people — need aid and more than seven million people are hungry and did not know where their next meal would come from. “That is three million people more than in January,” he said.

[..] For 2017, O’Brien said $2.1bn was needed to reach 12 million Yemenis “with life-saving assistance and protection” but only 6% has been received so far. He announced that secretary-general Antonio Guterres will chair a pledging conference for Yemen on 25 April in Geneva. The UN humanitarian chief also visited South Sudan, the world’s newest nation which has been ravaged by a three-year civil war, and said “the situation is worse than it has ever been.” “The famine in South Sudan is man-made,” he said. “Parties to the conflict are parties to the famine — as are those not intervening to make the violence stop.” O’Brien said more than 7.5 million people need aid, up by 1.4 million from last year, and about 3.4 million South Sudanese are displaced by fighting including almost 200,000 who have fled the country since January.

“More than one million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished across the country, including 270,000 children who face the imminent risk of death should they not be reached in time with assistance,” he said.

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